Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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Dryden, New York, population 14,500, has formally launched the town’s municipal broadband network, becoming the first municipality in the state to provide residents with direct access to affordable, publicly owned fiber.
According to the Dryden Fiber website, the town now offers local access to fiber broadband at three speed tiers: symmetrical 400 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $45 a month, symmetrical 700 Mbps for $75 a month, and symmetrical gigabit broadband service for $90 a month.
LA County is accelerating its plan to deliver affordable broadband access to the city’s unserved and underserved, with an eye toward building one of the biggest municipal broadband networks in the nation. But the county is first taking baby steps, recently announcing target communities prioritized in a pilot program aimed at bridging the digital divide.
In late 2021, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a major new broadband expansion plan. The plan’s first order of business: deliver free broadband to the 365,000 low-income households in Los Angeles County that currently do not subscribe to service, starting with a 12,500-home pilot project.
To help coordinate the effort, LA county designated the Internal Services Department (ISD) as the lead agency responsible for managing this and any future projects. The ISD is now working in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to determine which areas of the county should see funding and logistical priority.
The ISD and LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell recently released a map of priority locations where the County will build low-cost internet for households in the Second District.
“I joined the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in the height of the pandemic,” Mitchell said in an announcement. “And it became very clear that access to reliable Internet was critical to our success of emerging out of the pandemic. In the Second District, as much as 30 percent of households lack home internet [access]. This is unacceptable, and Los Angeles County is working aggressively to upend this. We are leading the nation on a plan to crush the digital divide.”
This week, we bring you a special field report from Maryland-based radio and podcast producer Matt Purdy. Through interviews with citizens, digital equity advocates, and the city's new Director of Broadband and Digital Equity, Purdy documents the connectivity struggles that have persisted in Baltimore's historically marginalized neighborhoods for decades.
Those challenges have only become more pronounced with the pandemic, prompting local officials to begin making moves in the direction of something we've not yet seen in a community the size of Baltimore: building a city-owned, open access fiber network.
This is a great story, so we won't give anything else a way. Listen below, or here.
Hoping to leverage both a major new California broadband expansion initiative and American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, Chico, California is moving forward with its plan to deliver affordable fiber broadband to historically-underserved city residents.
The Chico city council last year began exploring using $4.8 million of the city’s $22 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to build a citywide fiber network. After spending $250,000 to research its options, the city council voted last week to move forward with the plan.
City leaders hope the network will provide more reliable connectivity for the first responders battling historic wildfires in the region. But like many communities, Chico was also spurred to action by telecom market failure, a lack of competition among regional monopolies, and the slow speeds, spotty coverage, and high prices that routinely result.
“All of us have had experience with the existing incumbents and what we pay for versus what we get,” said Chico's Information Systems Manager Josh Marquis. “There's a lot of areas of our region that do not have access either through affordability gaps or through service gaps.”
Much like Fort Pierce, Florida, Chico will begin by running a pilot project first targeting lower income parts of the city like the Chapman Mulberry neighborhood. There, residents will be provided inexpensive access to symmetrical fiber either through the city or a partner, made cheaper still once the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) discounts are applied.
A version of this story was originally published by the National League of Cities. Read the original here, with the full version below.
There’s an overwhelming tendency among regular Americans to conflate the basic infrastructure which surrounds us with permanence. Whether it’s the garbage truck predictably rumbling down the street at the same time every week, the water flowing from the tap, or our Internet connection, we assume that the physical ties which bind us together will always be there. And that’s because it mostly has, especially for community owned and operated infrastructure. When utility services are owned and operated by communities, they are by definition maintained by people who live locally for people who live locally. It’s hard to be taken by surprise and left without essential services.
But the odds tilt in the other direction when such services are delivered by outside firms. We’re seeing the consequences of this for electricity users in the wake of the Texas grid disaster last winter (as well as coming rumblings of heat-caused outages this June), but it’s a problem that’s been around longer than that for basic service providers of all types, where bankruptcies can leave whole communities high and dry.
The same consequences hold true when those firms are Internet Service Providers (ISPs), beholden to interests outside of the cities and towns they serve. Tens of thousands of American households learned this very lesson last fall when AT&T announced it was leaving the DSL business and no longer making new connections to its aging infrastructure, even though those wires will continue to sit in the ground for decades to come. Buy a new house in this area, and if AT&T DSL was the only provider in town, and you’ve got few or no options.
If you're a community considering building or partnering to build publicly owned broadband infrastructure in the near future, we want to hear from you.
Connect Humanity - an organization focused on making sure everyone has fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access - may be able to help speed the financing of community networks, including with some capacity to offer non-traditional borrowing or below-market rates. What is their approach?
Over the past 25 years, traditional telecom operators have only managed to connect half the world — and that was the easy half. Universal access will require alternative infrastructure providers, new types of financing and business models, changes in policy, digital skill-building at scale, and an increase in locally relevant content. To meet the needs of this moment and prepare for the years to come, we will need to invest in a diverse set of actors dedicated to ending the digital divide. There are no silver bullets here.
Connect Humanity, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, is rallying philanthropic organizations, investors, industry, governments, civil society leaders, and international experts to build a community of practice around the shared goal of connecting the unconnected, supported by the capital to do so. With awareness about the plight of the unconnected at an all time high, this is the moment to substantially invest in bringing Internet access to all people.
This initiative is open to creative ideas, but the focus will come back to a key question: What are the long-term results in terms of improving Internet access for historically-marginalized groups?
Don't know if your project fits? Email us and ask!
Even before the central Florida city of Ocala in Marion County became officially known as “The Horse Capital of the World,” the city – home to 61,810 Floridians and over 1,200 county-wide horse farms – was already galloping toward high-speed Internet connectivity. In recent years, the Ocala Fiber Network (OFN) has expanded into offering residential service, trotting carefully towards a citywide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) finish.
It began in 1995 with the Ocala municipal electric department upgrading its substation monitoring (SCADA) system, which has been estimated to have saved the city $25 million in networking costs since. Over the past two years, OFN has extended the network to bring affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet service to city residents, neighborhood by neighborhood.
While the municipal network has been providing high-speed Internet service for the past decade to area businesses, healthcare facilities, community anchor institutions, and schools throughout the county, OFN launched residential service in 2019 and is now serving 2,500 residential subscribers in four city neighborhoods.
“We did four pilot neighborhoods. Our target goal was to have a 30 percent take rate in each neighborhood. In the largest neighborhood (the Highlands neighborhood) with a thousand homes, we have a 42 percent take rate. We still have a challenge in one neighborhood (Happiness Homes) with about a 10 percent take rate that we think is mostly an educational challenge,” Ocala Fiber Network Director Mel Poole told us in a recent interview.
Franklin, Kentucky’s (pop. 8,400) electric utility is gearing up for an expansion of its partnership with Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation (WRECC) with the help of $2.3 million from the recent FCC Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). The new partnership will allow Franklin EPB to add new service to roughly 250 locations adjacent to a current project in the area.
The expansion project will add subscribers in the northeast region of Simpson County and nearby parts of the city of Franklin in the south-central part of the state, where the two entities are operating a two-area fiber pilot.
Born in Orono, Maine, the poet Frances Laughton Mace’s most notable verses were published in 1854 as a hymn entitled “Only Waiting.” Over a century and a half later, residents in her native town – and in the neighboring community of Old Town just four miles up the road – might be inclined to hum a line or two. Not because they are getting religion, but because of the wait in getting Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet connectivity.
After a decade of hopeful planning, disappointing setbacks, design work, and putting out multiple RFPs to move the project forward, the nonprofit OTO Fiber Corporation is on the verge of lighting up a six-mile fiber network this summer. With three miles of fiber deployed in Orono, a town of 11,000 residents and home to the University of Maine’s flagship campus, and the other half covering a portion of Old Town, the budding network will provide FTTH service to a limited number of residences and businesses in both towns. It’s a pilot project that, if successful, will serve as a core network which can eventually be extended to cover the entirety of both communities.
“It’s taken us forever to get to this point it seems. We started this process ten years ago and we are still slogging our way through while we’ve seen other communities zip ahead,” Belle Ryder, Orono Assistant Town Manager and President of OTO Fiber, told us this week. “It is really, really, really hard for communities relying on volunteers to pull off the feat of building and operating these networks.”
Ryder wasn’t complaining or exasperated. She was just being candid about the process she and her colleagues at OTO Fiber are committed to see through to the finish. The slog she is referring to goes back a decade when Orono was in the process of putting together a comprehensive development plan.
Families and Fiber, Fits and Starts
With just about half of the town’s population made up of college students living in off-campus apartments and the other half made up of residents 60 and older, “we really needed to draw families back,” Ryder explained.
In a livestream just before Thanksgiving, Christopher was joined by Althea Networks CEO Deborah Simpier and NetEquity Networks Founder and CEO Isfandiyar Shaheen (Asfi) to discuss an innovative financing model for building Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) with the potential to bring quality broadband connections to the millions of homes around the country that are currently un- or underserved. Best described as a “fiber condominium” approach, it pairs collectively owned network infrastructure with the equity boost that comes with bringing symmetrical gigabit access to residential housing.
In a new video, Shaheen explains how it works in both the short term and over time, with last-mile fiber connections made by leveraging Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOC) in modest amounts from local credit unions and a payment arrangement that covers everything from the construction to customer service calls.
The meat of the discussion starts around 6:35, with Shaheen describing how a $60-70/month payment for fiber Internet access breaks down. It covers everything needed, including payments for the HELOC to the local credit union, transit rates for the middle-mile network operator, maintenance fees, and an organizing entity like NetEquity Networks to bring all these stakeholders together and manage the connection.
It’s a fascinating model, with some new relationships that need to be created but no revolutionary technology or fundamentally new financing structures.
Watch the video below: