Tag: "municipal broadband"

Posted September 14, 2022 by Ann Treacy

On the southern border of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, Pharr Texas is the home of the largest commercial bridge from Mexico into the U.S. Now, the city is working on building an equally impressive virtual bridge to every home in Pharr with the construction of a municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network.

The progression has been steady despite pandemic induced setbacks, as city leaders are determined to solve the connectivity challenges in Pharr by leveraging the assets the city already owns while taking advantage of the unprecedented amount of federal funds now available to help communities expand access to broadband. To that end, the city has created regional partnerships, completed a feasibility study, and launched a pilot project. Now, Pharr officials are moving ahead with the construction of a city-wide municipal network. 

Wake Up Call in Rio Grande Valley

Pharr has a population of almost 80,000 people of which 94 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino with over 30 percent of families living below the poverty line. Their public meetings are often bilingual. But, it was in 2015 that the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reported that the Rio Grande Valley was on the wrong end of the digital divide. The report also highlighted the impact that had on the communities in the region:

The study involved focus groups with colonia residents. One theme that arose from the conversations with residents was the lack of access to the internet. The report found that the digital divide was a factor preventing residents from accessing regional labor market opportunities. Additionally, the report described the challenges colonia students face in school because of their inability to complete homework assignments due to lack of internet service and computers at home.

When earlier this week ILSR caught up with Jordana Barton Garcia, author of the report, she explained that “colonias” are informal neighborhoods where people live with no (or limited) infrastructure. Residents are sold lots without existing infrastructure, from water to broadband. 

When it comes to broadband, the city is served by AT&T, Spectrum, and T-...

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Posted June 23, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

While known for its annual "Tulip Time" celebration, Pella is now celebrating the flowering of a municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network in this small central Iowa city.

Network planners say construction, deploying 100 percent of the fiber underground, is on track to be finished this week. And, although the city has not launched a formal marketing campaign, they have already reached a take-rate of over 40 percent with one subscriber now getting 10 gig service.

The new network is known as Pella Fiber – a subsidiary of the city’s municipal electric utility, which, in the words of the Pella Chronicle, has been bringing “rays of light … (to) dispel the darkness” for residents and businesses in this community since 1911. Over a hundred years later, and with 92 percent approval at the ballot box, Pella voters in May of 2018 authorized the creation of a new municipal telecommunications utility that would transmit rays of light through fiber optic cables. The vote would lay the groundwork for future-proof connectivity in this city of about 10,000 residents, just 44 miles east of Des Moines.

It took two years to develop the business plan and design the network before the city hired Excel Utility Contractors to begin construction in June 2020. First having deployed nearly 34 miles of fiber, network builders connected Pella’s backbone to the Grinnell Hospital facilities nearby, a collaboration that linked the two cities, a critical part of the core network that allowed Pella to provide the needed bandwidth to build out to Pella residents and businesses.

In the fall of 2021, Pella Fiber began lighting up its first subscribers. Today, in the city that Wyatt Earp and his family once called home, residents no longer need to get out of Dodge to get triple play services as the fledgling municipal network is a one-stop shop for high-speed Internet access, cable, and phone service.

When we checked in with Pella Fiber this week, Telecommunications Director Doy Ousley told us they were “moving at a perfect pace.”

This week network construction will be complete and today we...

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Posted June 1, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

After years of discussing the possibility of building a city-wide municipal broadband network in the face of resistance from the city manager, the city of Cambridge, Boston’s next-door neighbor, is now getting serious about moving forward.

Followed by a budget stand-off in the spring of 2020 with City Councilors that brought the issue to a head, City Manager Louis DePasquale finally relented to the possibility being pushed by Upgrade Cambridge, a citizen-led group organized in 2018 to advocate for municipal broadband.

In October, the city that is home to MIT and Harvard University hired the consulting firm CTC Technology & Energy to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the digital landscape and present various business models Cambridge could pursue to bring its residents ubiquitous, reliable, and affordable high-speed Internet service as an alternative to the monopoly offerings of Comcast and Verizon DSL.

While Upgrade Cambridge founding member Roy Russell acknowledged DePasquale’s initial reluctance, he credits the soon-to-be-retiring city manager for coming around to the idea.

“With the pandemic and the money the federal government has supplied (for expanding access to broadband), he (DePasquale) has really stepped up,” Russell said when we spoke with him last week.

Comprehensive Assessment Underway

As it stands now, CTC is on track to complete its assessment by the fall of 2022. In early May, representatives of the consulting firm gave Upgrade Cambridge an update on where they are in the process. CTC reported a range of activities they are working on:

• Conducting site surveys and putting together a design and cost estimate

• Exploring business models

• Market analysis that includes a residential survey

• Planning engagement with business community

• Coordinating with Cambridge...

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Posted May 27, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

As communities across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are at various planning stages in laying the groundwork to build their own municipal broadband networks, a rural Bay State town about 50 miles west of Boston has moved past the planning phase and is now offering municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) service.

In Sterling (est. pop. 8,000) – the town that lays claim to Mary Sawyer Tyler, said to have inspired the “Mary Had a Little Lamb” poem – the town’s municipal utility is building out its aptly named Local Area Municipal Broadband (LAMB) network.

The project was initiated more than five years ago as a new division within the century-old Sterling Municipal Light Department (SMLD). As one of about 40 of the state’s 351 towns and cities with its own municipal electric utility, SMLD was awarded a $150,000 state grant to help finance the construction of a 23-mile regional I-Net ring in 2020. A year later, LAMB lit up its first residential customer in April of 2021.

Following an incremental approach, earlier this year, the LAMB added its 50th subscriber as construction crews are on track to build out a town-wide fiber network by the end of 2024.

Connecting with Nearby Towns

Like other communities across the nation with an established municipal utility, from a design and engineering standpoint, it was a relatively easy leap into broadband for SMLD, which currently supplies electricity to more than 3,700 residential, commercial and municipal customers.

Hanging fiber along SMLD’s utility poles to first build the network backbone, it allowed the town to connect 26 municipal buildings, which included the police and fire stations, library, town hall, the department of public works, water and radio towers, as well as SMLD’s substations.

It was a...

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Posted May 4, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

With an unprecedented opportunity for local communities to build their own ubiquitous high-speed Internet infrastructure, a new national organization has been formed to advocate on behalf of municipal broadband initiatives and to give local governments a seat at the table as federal and state officials craft legislation and grant programs to close the digital divide.

Today, at the Broadband Communities Summit 2022 in Houston, the group’s founding members held a press conference to announce the birth of the American Association of Public Broadband (AAPB).

“We were formed by a group of municipal officials in order to advance advocacy efforts for public broadband and to make sure they have a voice in Washington and in all 50 states,” said AAPB board member Bob Knight.

Knight went on to explain that while AAPB will be advocating for municipal solutions to local connectivity challenges, “we are model agnostic, whether you want to partner with a large ISP (Internet Service Provider), build your own network, or form a public-private partnership.”

A ‘Voice in the Conversation’

Noting that AAPB will work closely with ally organizations and industry groups, AAPB was founded primarily “because municipal networks didn’t have much of a voice in the conversation around broadband funding in the American Rescue Plan Act or the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” even as there was significant lobbying efforts on behalf of the big telecom companies.

AAPB Secretary Kimberly McKinley added that lawmakers are often assailed with stories about municipal broadband failures but that it was important for lawmakers to hear the whole story.

There are a lot of cities out there who run these networks successfully. And we want to be a place where local officials can go and learn the do’s and don’ts, the missteps, and challenges. We are not advocating that you can only do muni broadband, but that there should be an option. Ultimately, it’s about giving communities the option to take local control.

AAPB raised $50,000 in funding commitments from government agencies and private donors within the first half-hour of announcing the...

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Posted April 26, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

It’s official. Falmouth, Massachusetts has established a legal framework, a telecommunications utility, that is a key milestone in a local effort to bring fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) Internet service to this seaside community of approximately 32,000 famous for being home to a world-class marine science community as well as a popular summer vacation destination.

In the fall, Town Meeting voters voted 175-13 for the creation of the utility called a Municipal Light Plant (MLP). The law, however, requires two separate ‘yes’ votes with a 2/3 majority within a 13-month period. That second vote came earlier this month, when Town Meeting voters said “yes” to establishing an MLP by a vote of 159 to 25, well in excess of the 2/3 majority that was needed.

It allows Falmouth to move to the next step – figuring out the financing – which would allow Falmouth to join the growing ranks of communities in the Bay State (and be the first of 15 Cape Cod towns) to have undertaken municipal broadband projects over the last several years.

Voters Reject Opposition Arguments

Though a small group of municipal broadband critics strenuously argued in opposition to the formation of an MLP by raising a number of thoroughly debunked claims about locally-owned networks, ultimately Town Meeting voters were more persuaded by the experiences of resident’s such as Marilois Snowman who owns a digital marketing agency in town.

While the state does not require communities to establish an MLP in order to build a broadband network, establishing one enables municipalities to formally create a telecommunications utility, which offers several advantages for building a locally based network such as the ability to form alliances and more easily contract for services.

Snowman...

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Posted March 10, 2022 by Karl Bode

Last November the LA County Board of Supervisors quietly and unanimously approved a project that could dramatically reshape affordable Internet access in the largest county in the United States. While success will require coordination at an unprecedented scale to avoid the mistakes of the past, this new effort has momentum and funding options on its side.

The newly approved plan first aims to deliver wireless broadband to the 365,000 low-income households in Los Angeles county that currently don’t subscribe to broadband service, starting with a 12,500 home pilot project. But the vote also approved a new feasibility study into a Los Angeles county-wide municipal fiber network. 

The motion tasked the LA County Internal Services Department, directed by Director Selwyn Hollins, with coordinating the effort. Hollins in turn is working with the City of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Street lighting  (which had already received a CBDG grant to help fund local Wi-Fi networks) and other regional city agencies already engaged in digital divide efforts. 

Sources familiar with project planning say it’s too early to specify pricing and speeds, but one goal is to be able to provide symmetrical 100 Mbps service for $30/month. As with other communities (like Fort Pierce, Florida), the county then hopes to layer on the $30 discount from the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program to ensure costs are negligible for low income residents. 

The Covid crisis, as it did across countless U.S. communities, not only placed a bright spotlight on the overall lack of affordable broadband access across the Los Angeles area, organizers say it has galvanized unprecedented momentum...

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Posted February 18, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Welcome to In Our View. From time to time, we use this space to explore new ideas and share our thoughts on recent events playing out across the digital landscape, as well as take the opportunity to draw attention to important but neglected broadband-related issues.

As federal funds to expand high-speed Internet access began to flow to states and local communities through the American Rescue Plan Act, and with billions more coming under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Big Telecom is beginning to mount its expected opposition campaign designed to discourage federal (and state) decision-makers from prioritizing the building of publicly-owned networks.

Predictably, a centerpiece of this anti-municipal broadband campaign is the trotting out of well-worn - and thoroughly debunked - talking points, arguing that federal funding rules should not “encourage states to favor entities like non-profits and municipalities when choosing grant winners” because of their “well-documented propensity to fail at building and maintaining complex networks over time.” That’s what USTelecom, a trade organization representing big private Internet Service Providers (including the monopolies) wrote in a memo sent last week to President Biden, the FCC, cabinet secretaries, House and Senate members, Tribal leaders, as well as state broadband offices. 

Part of the impetus, no doubt, was the flood of responses to the NTIA’s Notice and Request for Comment (including ours) documenting the need for community-driven solutions in this once-in-a-generation investment that could close the digital divide forever. That’s if we don’t just give billions in taxpayer dollars to huge monopolies in the hope that they’ll suddenly decide to build connections to the households in their territory that they’ve been ignoring for years despite getting billions of dollars already via the...

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Posted February 14, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

In November, a majority of voters in China (not the country, but a small town in Maine) cast their ballots in opposition to a $6.4 million proposal for a municipal broadband network that, if built, would have provided high-speed Internet access to every household and business in this central Maine town of 4,300.

In recent weeks, China residents learned that Consolidated Communications would not be coming to the rescue. As reported by The Town Line, two representatives from Consolidated Communications attended China’s Broadband Committee (CBC) meeting in late January and the company reps “did not encourage (China) to expect an offer from the company to expand [I]nternet service to town residents.”

The CBC estimates that Consolidated currently serves about 20 percent of the town, while Spectrum serves about 70 percent of China’s households. But for the remaining 10 percent of China households without access to high-speed Internet service, the CBC meeting was a disappointing dose of post-election news.

Consolidated representatives Simon Thorne and Sarah Davis told the CBC that China is nowhere close to the top of their expansion plans, as the company bases its decisions on a combination of four primary factors: projected cost to build, number of potential customers, expected take rates, and whether a competitor also serves that market.

China’s population density is too low to offer enough profit to attract investors.

And just to be clear, when CBC member Tod Detre suggested the company is focused on “more profitable areas,” Davis replied, “You nailed it.”

‘Spirited Discussion’ About November Election

That, of course, led to a “spirited discussion” about last November’s election results. Ronald Breton, chairman of the select board and a guest at the CBC meeting, was emphatic in saying that town officials were still interested in facilitating town-wide connectivity, noting how even after the November ballot question failed the town select board unanimously voted that the CBC remain intact.

...

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