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Content tagged with "montana"
New Municipal Broadband Networks Skyrocket in Post-Pandemic America As Alternative To Private Monopoly Model
As the new year begins, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) announced today its latest tally of municipal broadband networks which shows a dramatic surge in the number of communities building publicly-owned, locally controlled high-speed Internet infrastructure over the last three years.
Since January 1, 2021, at least 47 new municipal networks have come online with dozens of other projects still in the planning or pre-construction phase, which includes the possibility of building 40 new municipal networks in California alone.
Hoping to ensure it can actually spend its share of historic broadband funding, Montana lawmakers have tweaked the state’s restrictions on community broadband. However, experts say most of the state law’s pointless restrictions remain intact, undermining state efforts to bring affordable, next-generation broadband access to Montana residents.
Montana’s one of seventeen states that have passed laws banning or restricting municipal broadband networks. The bills are usually ghost written by telecom monopoly lawyers, and in many states either outright prohibit community-owned broadband networks, or are designed to make funding and expanding such networks untenable.
Montana’s specific law, Mon. Code Ann. § 2-17-603, only allow municipalities to build and deliver broadband alternatives if there are no other private companies offering broadband within the municipality’s jurisdiction, or if the municipality can offer “advanced services” that are not available from incumbents.
Covid home schooling and telecommuting needs highlighted the counterproductive nature of such restrictions, driving some states—such as Arkansas and Washington—to dramatically roll back their restrictions.
Join us live on Thursday, August 25th, at 5pm ET for the latest episode of the Connect This! Show. Co-hosts Christopher Mitchell (ILSR) and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by regular guests Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber) and Doug Dawson (CCG Consulting. They'll dig into recent news - from Starlink announcing uncharacteristic price drops to "to reflect parity in purchasing power across our customers," to big cable companies and telcos going after BEAD grants, to a reflective look on how well (or not) we did with the broadband stimulus.
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Grant Challenges in Louisiana, 25 Gbps service in Chattanooga, and the Future of Video | Episode 51 of the Connect This! Show
Join us live on Thursday, August 25th, at 5pm ET for the latest episode of the Connect This! Show. Co-hosts Christopher Mitchell (ILSR) and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by regular guests Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber) and Doug Dawson (CCG Consulting). They'll dig into recent news - from big cable companies and telcos going after BEAD grants, to the announcement of 25 Gigabit per second service across the footprint of Chattanooga's municipal network, to the future of streaming video, to a reflective look on how well (or not) we did with the broadband stimulus.
Email us firstname.lastname@example.org with feedback and ideas for the show.
Although disappointing for advocates of local Internet choice weary of monopoly providers working to stifle competition, what we are seeing coming out of Montana’s state broadband grant program, Connect MT, shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Last week we learned that the state’s Department of Administration had recommended that nearly half of the Connect MT funding – $126 million – be awarded to Charter Communications, which has been aggressively lobbying Montana legislators (and funding campaigns in opposition to community broadband proposals in other states).
It did not go unnoticed by Montana Free Press deputy editor Eric Dietrich who recently reported that the recommended award to Charter “has plowed into rocky ground as (the state) considers a list of recommended projects this month.”
‘Not Perfect by Any Means’
The story raises questions about the state’s ranking system for proposed projects and notes that the lion’s share of grant money being recommended for Charter “has drawn the ire of smaller, Montana-based companies that want more support for their own networks.”
In hearings this month, Department of Administration Director Misty Ann Giles, the committee’s vice-chair, described the $258 million program as a learning experience for the state government, which hasn’t previously managed a large broadband program. The scoring system the department used to rank applications, she said at an Aug. 2 meeting, ‘is not perfect by any means.’
‘This is a first-in-kind program for the state of Montana, so there’s definitely some lessons learned,’ Giles said.
Giles and committee chair Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, have also said the state will have the chance to fine-tune its awards process and fund additional projects as it works through additional federal broadband money it expects to receive through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
After passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, the Republican-controlled Montana Legislature established advisory committees to make recommendations to the governor about how the state’s Rescue Plan funds should be spent on infrastructure, including broadband.
A year after a group of local broadband champions got together to see how they could improve Internet access in Missoula, Montana, the Missoula Valley Internet Cooperative has successfully raised funds and designed, deployed, and launched a wireless mesh network delivering 150 Megabit per second (Mbps) symmetrical service to more than 50 of 550 pre-registered households for, on average, $40-60/month. The community-owned option has injected some welcome competition to a stagnant local broadband market, with a second network already in the planning stages in a community to the north.
Both efforts are being driven by the Pacific Northwest Rural Broadband Alliance (PNWRBA), a Missoula, Montana-based nonprofit aiming to build resiliency, local capacity, and expand quality Internet access to the region by making use of a variety of community-oriented business models. The nonprofit serves not only to coordinate grassroots organizing efforts, but provide technical assistance and lead policy engagement with local leaders. It is running a dual mission. First, to bring faster and more affordable Internet access via a community-owned model to the area. And second, to prove out a series of models in the region with the hopes of generating additional community-based approaches to improving broadband in the region and beyond.
UTOPIA Fiber continues to grow and is now exporting its expertise into Bozeman, Montana – one of the fastest-growing cities of its size and often listed among the best places to live in the country.
Referred to by some as “Boz Angeles” because of the influx of Californians to the area, this Rocky Mountain city of 53,000, nestled in Gallatin Valley, is about to become even more attractive as a rising tech hub for millennials. At the Broadband Communities 2021 Summit last month, it was announced that Bozeman Fiber, a non-profit organization created by the city to expand high-speed Internet connectivity across the region, has partnered with Utah-based UTOPIA Fiber to build an open access fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network.
Bozeman Fiber has already built an open access fiber ring, serving city, county, and school facilities. It has also connected 200 commercial customers. The partnership with UTOPIA will allow Bozeman Fiber to extend the network across the city, passing 22,000 homes and businesses, with plans to extend further out into the more rural parts of Gallatin County down the road.
Network construction, which is estimated to cost $65 million, is slated to begin in the spring of 2022 and is expected to take three years to be completed.
“This is the first phase of a project that will cover the city and some areas of the county, and the intention is we’ll have future phases that reach further out into the county to hit more rural areas,” UTOPIA Fiber executive director Roger Timmerman said during the press conference announcing the partnership.
Bozeman Fiber CEO Greg Metzger added: “with this project, we’ll be able to attract and retain more businesses, and create jobs.”
County Provides Access to Bond Market
With American Rescue Plan funds flowing into state government coffers, about a third of the nation’s 50 states have announced what portion of their Rescue Plan dollars are being devoted to expanding access to high-speed Internet connectivity.
The federal legislation included $350 billion for states to spend on water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, though everything we have seen suggests that the vast majority of that will not go to broadband. There is also another $10 billion pot of rescue plan funds, called the Capital Projects Fund, that mostly must be used to expand access to broadband.
Laboratories of Broadband-ification
As expected, each state is taking their own approach. California is making a gigantic investment in middle-mile infrastructure and support for local Internet solutions while Maryland is making one of the biggest investments in municipal broadband of any other state in the nation. And although Colorado does not prioritize community-driven initiatives, state lawmakers there have earmarked $20 million for Colorado’s two federally-recognized Indian tribes to deploy broadband infrastructure with another $15 million devoted to boosting telehealth services in the state.
Undoubtedly, individual states’ funding priorities vary. Some states may be relying on previously allocated federal investments to boost broadband initiatives and/or have been persuaded the private sector alone will suffice in solving its connectivity challenges. And in some states, such as Illinois, Minnesota, and Maine, lawmakers have prioritized using state funds to support broadband expansion efforts while other states may be waiting on the infrastructure bill now making its way through Congress before making major broadband funding decisions.
As of this writing, 17 states have earmarked a portion of their Rescue Plan money (totaling about $7.6 billion) to address the digital divide within their borders. Those states are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
New Jersey establishes state committee to strategize deployment of community broadband networks
Louisiana Senate amends bill, opening state grant program to municipally-owned providers
Washington laws expanding municipal authority to provide retail service take effect
The State Scene
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, on July 7, enacted legislation (A.B. 850) establishing a new state committee tasked with evaluating where community broadband networks should be established across the state, by surveying areas where public networks would be most feasible to deploy.
The 19-member Broadband Access Study Commission “will consider the logistics of deploying community broadband networks and report on its findings to the Governor and the Legislature,” reports ROI NJ. “The mission includes completing a comprehensive study of the success and failures of similar networks around the nation, the costs of constructing and maintaining networks, and the costs to subscribers for monthly access.”
The Commission will also evaluate impediments to broadband access in the state, including those related to physical access, affordability, and digital literacy. After submitting recommendations to the state Governor and Legislature, the committee will dissolve within a year of its first meeting.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards recently signed a bill (H.B. 648) allocating $180 million of incoming federal relief funds toward establishing a grant program - open to both public and private broadband providers - aimed at jumpstarting the buildout of Internet infrastructure to unserved communities across the Bayou State.
Michigan broadband package repeals law prohibiting state grants from going to government entities
Montana Legislature duplicates federal limitations against schools and library self-constructing networks
U.S. House Republicans bill would give USDA authority over rural broadband, in place of FCC
The State Scene
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive directive on Wednesday establishing the Michigan High-Speed Internet (MIHI) Office, a new state office tasked with developing a strategy to make high-speed Internet more accessible to Michiganders.
Gov. Whitmer has argued that more than $2.5 billion in potential economic benefit is left unrealized each year due to a lack of Internet access across the state. MIHI will be housed inside the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). Speaking of the new office, LEO Acting Director Susan Corbin said, “We need to make major investments to support digital inclusion and this office will be focused on leveraging every dollar available through the American Recovery Plan and other federal programs,” reports WILX.
Michigan lawmakers are moving to answer Corbin’s call and recently proposed a $400 million one-time allocation of incoming federal relief funds to the newly created MIHI to work toward expanding access to broadband. With the funds, LEO would be tasked with maintaining a statewide broadband grant program, the Connecting Michigan Communities Broadband Grant.