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Tens of thousands of homes, businesses, farms, schools, and community anchor institutions in the Sunflower State will see better connectivity options over the next few years. A recent executive order [pdf] establishing a Kansas Office of Broadband Development followed by the announcement of more than $49 million in grants to 67 projects around the state means a host of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), fixed wireless, and institutional networks will break ground in the near future. The measure comes in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
A Broadband Office and Grant Program
The new Office of Broadband Development has been placed in the state’s Department of Commerce, and given the task of promoting networks of all kinds — municipal, cooperative, private, and nonprofit — as well as supporting regional initiatives, developing a better broadband map, and removing policy barriers to fast deployment.
The state actually has two grant programs ongoing at the moment as part of the connectivity program approved the state’s Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) Taskforce and the State Finance Council. The Broadband Partnership Adoption Grants (BPAG) are designed to help low-income Kansans pay for service with existing plans. The large pot of grant money just announced, on the other hand, is part of the Define Connectivity Emergency Response Grant (CERG), which will use CARES funding to facilitate new builds between now and the end of the year.
Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems allow utility systems to gather and analyze real time data. The computer system reduces outages, keeps the utilities running efficiently, and allows staff to know where problems arise. Municipal utilities that use SCADA systems are increasingly taking the next step - using the fiber-optic infrastructure that supports SCADA to bring better connectivity to town. Clarksville took that route and is now considering ways to become one of the best connected communities in Arkansas.
"I Don't Think We're In Kansas Anymore"
As the seat of Johnson County, Clarksville is located in the northwest area of the state along I-40 and is home to just under 10,000 people living at the foothills of the Ozarks near the Arkansas River. The area is known for its scenery and its tasty peaches and every summer, the county holds a popular Peach Festival. The nearest urban areas are Little Rock, about 90 minutes to the east, and Fort Smith about an hour west.
Large employers in the community include University of the Ozarks, Tyson Foods, Haines, and Baldor, a motor and control manufacturing processor. There’s also a Walmart Distribution Center in Clarksville.
When he began as General Manager of Clarksville Light and Water (CLW) in 2013, John Lester realized that one of the challenges the municipal electric utility faced was that it did not have a SCADA system for managing the electric, water, or wastewater system communications. Even though the Clarksville utility system was well cared for and managed, a SCADA system could push it to the next level in efficiency and services.
Lester had been instrumental in optimizing the use of the fiber-optic network in Chanute, Kansas, which had been developed for the municipal utilities. He understood the critical nature of fiber connectivity to utility efficiency, public savings, and economic development. Over time, the Chanute network had attracted new jobs, opened up educational opportunities for K-12 and college students, and created substantial savings.
Plans for a fiber-optic middle mile network to serve the Brazos Valley in Texas are firming up and the project should be up and running within two years, reports KBTX from Bryan and College Station. The network will also have a fixed wireless complement.
The $22 million network backbone, funded through the FCC’s Healthcare Connect Fund and the Brazos Valley Council of Governments (BVCOG), will first connect healthcare providers such as hospitals, schools nurses, and jail clinics.
According to the April 2015 Network Plan from the Brazos Valley Council of Governments, 62 percent of the population in the proposed service area live in rural areas with poor access to quality healthcare. Twenty percent of residents in the region are 60 years of age or older. Texas A&M School of Public Health, one of the partners in the project, completed a study that indicated high percentages of chronic conditions in residents in the region. In 8 of 12 of those measures, the results were worse than the national average. In some cases, the rates were twice as high as national averages.Local leaders plan to next add libraries, workforce centers, schools, and a number of other local government facilities. "If our schools are spending a disproportionate amount of their funds on just providing the minimum of internet, that's not right. We can fix that," said Michael Parks, Executive Director of the Brazos Valley Council of Governments.
Garrett County is the westernmost county in Maryland. High in the Allegheny Mountains of the Appalachian Mountain Range; winters are harsh and forest covers 90 percent of the county. Before the county deployed a fiber-optic network, high-quality connectivity was hard to come by for schools, libraries, and other community anchor institutions. By making the most of every opportunity, Garrett County has improved efficiencies for the many small communities in the region and set the stage to improve connectivity for businesses and residents.
Rural, Remote, Ready For Better Connectivity
The county is more than 650 square miles but there are no large urban centers and over time a number of sparsely populated areas have developed as home to the county's 30,000 people; since 2000, population growth has stagnated. Many of the tiny communities where businesses and residents have clustered are remote and do not have public sewer or water. These places tend to have a high number of low-income people.
Unemployment rates are volatile in Garrett County, fluctuating with natural resources extraction industries. As the coal and lumber industries have waned, many jobs in Garrett County have disappeared. Garrett County Memorial Hospital and Beitzel industrial construction employ over 300 people and are the county’s largest employers.
All of these characteristics make Garrett County unattractive to the large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that want to maximize investment and focus only on densely populated urban areas. Verizon offers DSL and Comcast offers cable in limited areas but many people rely on mobile Internet access and expensive satellite Internet access.
It Started With BTOP Fiber
In 2010, the State of Maryland received over $115 million in grant funding through the Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program (BTOP). With a matching $43 million from state and in-kind contributions, Maryland deployed the One Maryland Broadband Network (OMBN). In August 2013, the middle mile fiber-optic network was complete, stretching 1,324 miles across the state connecting 1,068 CAIs.
More than ever before, innovations in healthcare technology are saving lives. A series of 2015 stories from around the nation highlight the importance of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity in using those technologies to serve patients in both urban and rural settings.
Broadband Speed and Medical Crises
The first story comes from Craig Settles, an expert on broadband access issues. In his line of work, Settles is constantly thinking about, talking about, and writing about the many virtues of broadband technology. But Settles explains that after recently suffering a stroke that required rapid medical attention, he gained a new perspective on the issue.
When someone suffers a stroke, they have three hours to get serious treatment or they often will not recover from its debilitating effects. I was lucky, but...while I worked through my recovery and rehab, a thought hit me: The process of my recovery would have been limited -- if not actually impossible -- had I been living in a small, rural or even urban low-income community without broadband.
Better Broadband, Better Medical Care in Rural West Virginia
The Charleston Gazette-Mail profiles the importance of broadband access at the St. George Medical Clinic in rural West Virginia. The clinic is wedged inside of a deep, wooded river valley, where geographic and topographic challenges interrupt access to reliable, high-speed broadband. In other words, the exact type of rural community Settles had in mind when he wrote about his frightening medical emergency.
But St. George Medical Clinic is different. With assistance from FCC funding, St. George recently laid a 12 miles of fiber optic line that delivers the hospital broadband access, essential to an increasing number of modern medical services. As the article explains:
The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) will present the first AnchorNETS Broadband Summit this November 16th & 17th in Mountainview, California. The event is designed to help leaders from anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals, and libraries connect and learn about solutions to help them achieve gigabit connectivity. The conference will be held at the Computer History Museum. Our own Christopher Mitchell will be there as well.
Keynote Speakers include:
- Evan Marwell, CEO & Founder, EductionSuperhighway
- Catherine Sandoval, Commissioner, California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)
- Sunne Wright McPeak, CEO, California Emerging Technology Fund
Attend AnchorNETS to:
- Gain information and practical guidelines to access funding from Federal, State and Local government
- Learn about the economics of middle-mile fiber deployment and the role of next generation wireless technology
- Develop new community engagement practices and programs
Download the flyer below for more information.
The Port of Lewiston, the most inland seaport of the West Coast, will soon be deploying a dark fiber network, according to a July city media release. The network will serve several of the community's largest businesses, the medical center, the state college, and the airport. Although the plan calls for $950,000 to construct the network, port officials intend to have it operational by year’s end.
“This is what ports do, we develop infrastructure to support, attract and grow businesses in order to build a stronger economy,” said Port Manager David Doeringsfeld. “In today’s world, businesses must have adequate bandwidth and redundancy to remain competitive.”
The project has been highly supported by the nearby Port of Whitman County which already has maintained their own open access fiber network for over 10 years. Connecting a fiber line through the Port of Lewiston would create a loop, improving redundancy on the Port of Whitman County’s network. Better redundancy could prevent outages and ensure the ongoing reliability of the network.
The Port of Whitman’s network is fairly successful - just one section of the network near Pullman, Idaho makes $250,000 annually. The Port of Lewiston plans to follow the same open access model in designing and constructing its network which will run throughout the 32,000-person City of Lewiston.
The two ports are already collaborating on a different fiber line through North Lewiston. The Port of Lewiston is paying $30,000 for construction costs, and the Port of Whitman County will build and administer the network. This fiber line will later connect to the planned Port of Lewiston's open access network.
ILSR is excited to announce a new short video examining an impressive municipal broadband network, Glasgow Kentucky. Glasgow was the first municipal broadband network and indeed, seems to have been the first citywide broadband system in the United States.
We partnered with the Media Working Group to produce this short documentary and we have the material to do much more, thanks to the hard work of Fred Johnson at MWG and the cooperation of many in Glasgow, particularly Billy Ray.
People who only recently became aware of the idea of community owned networks may not be familiar with Billy Ray, but it was he and Jim Baller throughout the 90's and early 2000's that paved the way for all the investment and excitement we see today.
I'm excited to be helping to tell part of this story and look forward to being able to tell more of it.
With a meeting on July 17th of city officials, local residents, institutional stakeholders, and technology consultants, Bozeman officially began its process of creating a master plan for its Broadband Initiative. The process will be lead by Design Nine, a consulting firm based in Virginia, and will include a survey of existing assets and needs, feasibility studies, and public outreach, among other elements. The entire process is expected to take about 6 months, with the end goal being a road map for improving access and affordability for businesses and public institutions in the Bozeman area.
The Montana city of almost 40,000 was initially inspired to examine the issue of municipal broadband by former Montana State University Chief Information Officer (CIO) Dewitt Latimer, who had previously worked on the Metronet Zing open access network in South Bend, Indiana, an innovative public-private partnership involving the University of Notre Dame that we have covered before. Unfortunately, Lattimer passed away in early 2013. But the seed of an idea had been planted.
In March of 2014, the City of Bozeman issued an RFP for a design firm willing to develop a plan for how the city could expand internet access going forward. After receiving a surprisingly competitive group of 12 responses, City officials eventually chose Design Nine to undertake the comprehensive study and make recommendations.
The City was able to secure $55,000 in grants from state and federal sources to fund the planning process, and solicited a further $80,000 from supportive local institutions including Deaconess Hospital, the local school district, and several local Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts.
The business community has been a driving force for the initiative as well, with the Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce committing $5,000 to the planning fund and expressing its enthusiastic support in a letter to the Mayor in April:
Its extensive free Wi-Fi has brought Ponca City into the limelight but the mesh network did not appear overnight. The community effort began with miles of fiber network that provide connectivity and enable the mesh network financially and technically.
Ponca City, home to 25,000, is located on Oklahoma's north central border; Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Wichita are all more than 90 miles away. The petroleum industry flourished in Ponca City until the oil bust in the 1990s and the population began to decline as workers moved away. Community leaders sought ways to salvage the local economy through economic development. They began to focus on the technology, manufacturing, and service industries.
The municipal electric department, Ponca City Energy, installed the first five miles of fiber in 1997 and five more in 1999 to connect outlying municipal buildings to City Hall. Line crews from the utility and the City Technology Services Department handled all installation to keep expenses down. The City continued to add to the network incrementally, exapanding it to over 350 miles. The network also serves the City's SCADA system.
In 2003, Ponca City Energy connected the local schools, and the Ponca City Medical Center to the network. The network also began providing Internet to the University Learning Center of Northern Oklahoma, now named the University Center at Ponca City. The Center collaborates with thirteen higher education institutions to provide distance learning in 48 online degree programs.
Ponca City eventually began offering Internet access via the fiber to commercial customers. According to Craige Baird, Technology Services Director, most businesses in the community purchase Internet access from the City. Revenue from commercial Internet customers, approximately $36,000 per month, pays for the wireless mesh network.