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PCMag’s Fastest ISPs in America List Once Again Proves the Value of Cities Investing in Internet Infrastructure
After three years in a row with similar results, PCMag’s “Fastest ISPs in America” for 2021 analysis shows a clear trend: community owned and/or operated broadband infrastructure supports networks which, today, handily beat the huge monopoly Internet Service Providers (ISPs) - cable and telephone alike – for sheer speed.
The latest list proves it. Of the ten-fastest ISPs in the country, all of them feature operators that either are cities themselves or use city-owned fiber or conduit to deliver service across whole or parts of their footprint.
City-run networks making the list again this year include Longmont, Colorado (third); Chattanooga, Tennessee (sixth); and Cedar Falls, Iowa (seventh). Cedar Falls topped the list last year, but all three networks are regulars over the last three analyses done by the outlet. Broken down regionally, they are also joined by other municipal networks around the country, including FairlawnGig in Ohio and LUS Fiber in Louisiana.
By Working With Local Cooperatives, Drammen, Wisconsin Will See Fiber Expansion Throughout Town
Residents and businesses in Drammen, Wisconsin are about to benefit from a combination of state grants and public financing to bring fiber connectivity which promises to cover the whole town over the next two years. Twin projects by neighboring telephone cooperatives will utilize a total of $1.9 million to expand into the town of about 800, located 10 miles southwest of Eau Claire, which has long struggled with adequate Internet service.
By Our Powers Combined
The work comes in part as the result of two funding streams. The first is $1.5 million from among the $28.4 million awarded to 58 projects around the state by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin via the latest round of awards from the Broadband Expansion Grant Program, in March 2021. 24-7 & West Wisconsin Telcom Cooperative received $710,000 to connect six businesses and 110 residences on the west side of town, while Tri-County Communications Cooperative received $740,000 to connect six businesses and 156 residences on the east side of town. All told, the two cooperatives will install 58 miles of fiber connecting 278 residents and businesses.
Drammen is playing a key role in driving the project along, successfully acquiring a low-interest $400,000 loan from the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, which manages a state trust fund that supports, among an array of other activities, municipal infrastructure projects like these. The award, announced in April, will join the grants to facilitate the construction.
A Long, Local History
24-7 & West Wisconsin Telcom Cooperative was founded 65 years ago by local farmers trying to bring telecommunications to their areas. Today, it has connected communities in Chippewa, Dunn, Eau Claire, Pepin, Pierce and St. Croix counties.
MidCoast Maine Communities Vote To Establish Regional Broadband Utility
Last Tuesday, residents of three coastal Maine communities - Camden, Rockport, and Thomaston - voted to support Town Meeting articles authorizing each town's Select Boards to enter an interlocal agreement establishing the MidCoast Internet Development Corporation (MIDC), a nonprofit regional broadband utility in the Penobscot Bay Region of MidCoast Maine.
The type of regional utility the communities are seeking to establish is a broadband network utilizing an open-access model, in which the fiber infrastructure is municipally-owned, the maintenance of the network is managed by an outside firm, and private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide retail service to end-users. The ultimate goal of MIDC is to build an open-access, Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to provide universal Internet access across any towns which vote to sign onto MIDC’s interlocal agreement.
More than nine communities located in Knox and Waldo County formed the MidCoast Internet Coalition earlier this year, to indicate their support of establishing the MIDC regional utility district. Now, the towns which form the MidCoast Internet Coalition (Northport, Lincolnville, Hope, Camden, Rockport, Rockland, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Union, and Owls Head) are voting in phases to sign onto an interlocal agreement, legally recognizing the public utility under Maine law.
How Equal Access Santa Cruz is Bridging the Digital Divide - Episode 15 of Connect This!
On Episode 15 of the Connect This! Show, co-hosts Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) are joined by two representatives from the Internet Service Provider Cruzio: James Hackett (Director of Business Operations & Development) and Chris Frost (Director of Technology and Infrastructure).
The topic of the day is Equal Access Santa Cruz, and how Cruzio is expanding its network with philanthropy to serve low-income households. They talk about the organizing and technical efforts that got it started, challenges along the way, and the success they've seen as a result of their collective hard work.
The secret sauce of equal access programs? There is none. Just put together a coalition of groups that can continue to do what they already do best, the result of which is bringing affordable, fast Internet access to more families. School districts can continue to serve kids, community foundations can continue to raise money and build relationships, and the ISP can continue to construct and operate Internet connections and infrastructure.
One particular success of the project: bringing in a point-to-multipoint gigabit connection to 140 homes, two laundry rooms, and an office in one farm worker community, funded by the local agricultural firm, to provide free service for three years.
Read more about the project here.
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Join Us Live on Thursday at 5pm ET for Connect This! Episode 15 - How Equal Access Santa Cruz is Bridging the Digital Divide
Join us on Thursday, June 3rd at 5pm ET/4pm CT for a new episode of the Connect This! show, with co-hosts Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) joined by two representatives from the Internet Service Provider Cruzio: James Hackett (Director of Business Operations & Development) and Chris Frost (Director of Technology and Infrastructure).
The topic of the day is Equal Access Santa Cruz, and how a small ISP is expanding its network with philanthropy to serve low-income households. They'll talk about the organizing and technical efforts that got it started, challenges along the way, and the success they've seen as a result of their collective hard work.
The show will begin on Thursday, June 3 at 5pm ET/4pm CT.
Subscribe to the show using this feed, or visit ConnectThisShow.com
Email us firstname.lastname@example.org with feedback and ideas for the show.
Watch here, or below.
Waukegan, Illinois Broadband Task Force Issues RFP for Public-Private Partnership
Less than six months after its creation and a year after the city of Waukegan, Illinois (pop. 89,000) began exploring options to improve connectivity in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Request for Proposals (RFP) has been issued by the Waukegan Broadband Task Force in search of qualified applicants to assist in the creation of a broadband master plan. Applications are due June 30th, 2021.
Waukegan is situated about halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee, along the west coast of Lake Michigan. A 2020 initial broadband assessment showed challenges related to price, devices, digital skills for remote learning, and a lack of coordination to get income-qualified residents onto incumbent ISP's low-income plans. The city is served by a patchwork of ISPs, including cable from Comcast, DSL from AT&T and TDS, and fixed wireless from Rise Broadband with starting prices on plans ranging from $30/month to $60/month.
The Task Force website outlines the group's goals and stakes for the community:
There are few cities with the opportunities that exist within Waukegan. However, to truly become a ‘City of Progress’ , Waukegan must take the critical steps necessary to achieve its great potential. While 2020 brought challenges to communities around the globe, it also presented opportunities for innovation, collaboration, change and growth. The Waukegan Community Broadband Taskforce is an open, collective impact inititative of committed community stakeholders for all residents, businesses, institutions interested in working together to create a path to the future.
The RFP calls for solutions addressing access, adoption and utilization, sustainable funding, and communication and community engagement with a particular focus on remote learning, telehealth, and economic development.
The steering committee for the task force is made up of a collection of local nonprofits, the public library, the community center, city officials, and the school district. Funding for the master plan will come from private contributions.
Applicants can direct questions to email@example.com by 5pm on June 6th, with full RFPs due by June 30th.
How Long Prairie, Minnesota and a Local Cooperative Partnered to Build a Citywide Fiber Network
Tired of waiting for connectivity solutions to come to town, one Minnesota community has instead partnered with a local telephone cooperative to build a fiber network reaching every home and business in the city.
In embarking on its journey to improve local Internet access six years ago, Long Prairie (pop. 3,300) ended up partnering with one of the most aggressive fiber network builders in the state - Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) - on a solution that meets local needs. The two finished a ubiquitous Fiber-to-the-Home build in 2018, with CTC now owning and operating the network.
Looking for Solutions
The City of Long Prairie (pop. 3,300), the county seat in Todd County, Minnesota, has long struggled with connectivity. It has manifested in issues with connecting students from their homes, with losing parts of the local workforce, and in a lack of access to support larger healthcare institutions for their aging population.
In 2014, the city met with state officials as well as broadband providers to discuss the results of a feasibility study that was done back in 2011. Todd County stressed that this was a pressing issue that couldn’t wait anymore - they needed state support with funding and potentially help setting up a partnership with a local co-op. But this kind of partnership couldn’t just be with any co-op, it had to be a mutually beneficial partnership that could connect all of Long Prairie’s businesses and residents. It would take 2 more years before the community entered into an agreement with the right one.
CTC started in the 1950s as a telephone cooperative, and began offering Internet access via DSL service in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Around 2008, CTC’s Board of Directors decided that the best long-term strategy for providing strong, reliable connectivity would be to build out Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) for all of its members.
Building on that initial network, the main vision and mission driving the co-op over the last 10 years has been getting as many people in the area fast and reliable connectivity as possible. But because CTC is just one firm, that has meant developing relationships with other towns, cities, and counties that bloom into successful partnerships.
Fiber Network is ‘Life-Changing’ Music for Folks in Washington, MA
As the oldest son of the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie — the Town of Washington, Massachusetts’ most famous resident — built a name for himself as a singer-songwriter by letting folks know, “You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant.”
But if you ask the town’s Broadband Manager Kent Lew, there was one thing that was not on the menu in Washington before last year: high-speed Internet connectivity.
That’s no longer the case as the small town of Washington (pop. 549) has been on the vanguard of rural communities in the hill towns of the Berkshires that have built out (or are in the process of building out) Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks to bring gigabit speeds and affordable connectivity for residents for decades into the future.
The Pandemic: Curse & Blessing
“On the eve the Governor announced the (pandemic) shut down in March of 2020, our first Fiber Service Area was ready,” Lew recalled in a recent interview with us. “It was tremendous that we were able to do this just as people really needed it.”
As one of dozens of Western Massachusetts towns working in partnership with municipal utility provider Westfield Gas + Electric (which operates Whip City Fiber) to build broadband infrastructure, it was in 2015 that Town Meeting voters authorized a $770,000 bond issuance to finance half the construction costs of the $1.47 million network. The other half came from state grant funding.
Franklin County, Ohio Aims to Address Digital Equity in Urban Areas
Schools offer not only education, but nourishment, a place to form friendships and bonds, and a way to make sure youth are safe. When the pandemic hit, schools had to transition to distance learning and, as a result, many students disappeared because their family didn’t have access to or couldn’t afford a home Internet connection. It became immediately clear, all over the country, that a lack of broadband access and broadband affordability were no longer issues that could be ignored.
Many cities throughout the U.S. have been working over the last year to address this issue, but one city in particular - Columbus, Ohio - has been taking a holistic approach to broadband access.
The Franklin County Digital Equity Coalition was borne out of the emergency needs presented by the pandemic, but has shaped up to be a good model for how to address the broadband issues facing urban communities across the country.
After 11 months of meeting and planning, the coalition released a framework in March outlining its five pillars of focus: broadband affordability, device access, digital life skills and technical support, community response and collaboration, and advocacy for broadband funding and policy.
The coalition also developed two pilot programs to increase broadband access.
The first, which was a quickly deployed and desperately needed response to the lack of broadband access, was the Central Ohio Broadband Access Pilot Program. Launched in September 2020 in anticipation of the upcoming school year, it offered hotspot devices with unlimited data plans to central Ohio households with k-12 students. The program, while still growing, has been deployed with about 2,300 hotspots distributed so far with the help of PCs for People.
The second (the City of Columbus and Smart Columbus Pilot Projects) uses the city’s existing fiber backbone to bring affordable Internet service to the Near East and South Side neighborhoods in Columbus.
Both pilot programs are the result of nearly 30 organizations coming together to get affordable access to some of the city and county’s most vulnerable populations.
There’s Power in Numbers
Relationships Are Key: Partnering to Connect Minnesota - Episode 456 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
This week on the podcast, we're joined by two representatives from Minnesota based CTC, a firm that started as a telephone cooperative and has become one of the most aggressive fiber network builders in greater Minnesota. CTC partners with electric cooperatives and communities to undertake internet infrastructure projects around the state. CEO and General Manager, Kristi Westbrock, and Director of Business Development, Joe Buttweiler, talk with Chris about the history of the cooperative's decision to embark on a network upgrade bringing fiber to its 15,000 members almost 20 years ago.
We learn about the towns of Long Prairie and Little Falls, which struggled for better connectivity solutions before CTC became a partner. The two joined forces to bring fiber service to residents and businesses there today.
This show is 29 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
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Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.