Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Content tagged with "last mile"Displaying 1 - 10 of 11
Golden State Connectivity Authority and UTOPIA Fiber to Build Open Access FTTH Network Across Rural California
Last week, the Golden State Connectivity Authority (GSCA) announced it has entered into formal partnership with the municipally owned open access network UTOPIA Fiber, for the Utah-based owner and provider to design, build, and operate a new open access fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network across the 38 rural counties in the state of California. It's a move that not only offers the chance to bring future-proof connections to millions of rural California households in the near future, but have wide policy and industry implications for open access fiber networks down the road.
Local Governments Band Together
The Golden State Connectivity Authority is a joint powers authority (JPA) created by the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), which represents more than three dozen rural counties across the state. RCRC seeks to tackle the variety of shared problems that the state's rural communities face by advancing concrete policy solutions across transportation, energy, natural resources, governance, healthcare, and a collection of other arenas.
Between the U.S. Treasury clarifying that American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds are eligible to be spent on middle-mile infrastructure and the U.S. Senate’s proposed infrastructure bill directing NTIA to establish a $1 billion grant program to support the deployment of middle-mile networks, federal assistance aiming to improve middle-mile access is imminent.
Cities and states across the U.S. have already committed portions of their federal relief funds to boost access to middle-mile infrastructure. City officials of Brownsville, Texas approved a plan in July to use $19.5 million of ARP funds to construct a 95-mile-long middle-mile broadband network. In Suffolk, Virginia, city council members set aside $5 million of relief funds for the first phase of a regional project to construct an open access, middle-mile fiber ring.
The Governor and State Legislature of California recently settled on a $3.25 billion agreement to build statewide public middle-mile infrastructure, “one of the largest state investments in public fiber in the history of the United States,” reports Ernesto Falcon for EFF.
The sudden surge in middle-mile investment may bring about confusion over what middle-mile infrastructure is and give rise to questions over the necessity of such investments. A new fact sheet from the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) clarifies commonly held misbeliefs about investing in public middle-mile infrastructure. Read CSAC’s new fact sheet here [pdf].
Investments in Public Middle-Mile Needed to Confront Monopolies
A recent announcement by fiber network builder, operator, and consulting firm Lit Communities signals both a proof of concept for a new public-private partnership and that progress is accelerating for residents in one region of Ohio who will soon enjoy Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service from a new provider.
In a press release last week [pdf], the company announced it had secured significant funding from private firms Stephens Capital Partners and The Pritzker Organization to support its work in partnering with communities that are looking to leverage their existing information infrastructure to finish connections to residents in cities and towns around the United States. The news means an infusion of cash for Lit Communities’ local last-mile venture, Medina Fiber, which will bring new fiber service to tens of thousands of homes in Medina County (pop. 180,000) at lower costs by utilizing the existing publicly owned, middle-mile open access Medina County Fiber Network (MCFN).
Publicly Owned Middle-Mile Supporting Privately-Owned Last-Mile
The collaboration will allow Lit Communities to save money and expedite residential rollout by connecting to MCFN. It is also a sign of success for local officials who have been looking for ways to use the existing infrastructure to spur high-speed Internet access beyond government buildings, schools, and commercial transport to hundreds of thousands of Ohioans in the near future.
MCFN will continue to own and operate the middle-mile portion of the network, with Medina Fiber owning and operating the last-mile residential connections as a private entity, paying MCFN for backhaul with the fees it generates from households that choose to subscribe.
The state of Kansas continues to build momentum with the announcement of a new, ten-year broadband grant program designed to drive network expansion in unserved and economically depressed areas. It will go towards connecting tens of thousands of residents in the state who currently have no or few options for Internet access, while bringing commercial development and connecting farms desperately in need.
Currently, 3.5% of the state’s population, totaling almost 100,000 people, have no Internet access options at all. Students sent home at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic have struggled all summer and fall to get online to do coursework. Both urban and rural areas have continued to face significant challenges over the last decade, and the problem has only increased in recent months. It’s also an issue that has had ramifications for employers like Citizens State Bank in Cottonwood Falls, which has considered cutting local positions and shifting them to places with better Internet access options.
The new Broadband Acceleration Grant Program (BAGP) [pdf] offers lots of provisions for positive progress. It prioritizes low-income, economically distressed areas, as well as those without access to speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps (Megabits per second). This likely means much of the money will end up in the southeastern and southwestern parts of the state (see map). The grant also urges applicants to engage local stakeholders in their communities and build relationships with community anchor institutions, businesses, and nonprofits so as to maximize impact.
Lighting up the Prairie State: First Round of Illinois Broadband Grants Includes $50 million in Awards
A year ago we wrote about Illinois’ $420 million commitment to broadband expansion, and now the first round of grant winners has been released. Together they total $50 million in state funds matched by $65 million in additional money for 28 projects by 18 different Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that will, ultimately, connect 26,000 homes, farms, community institutions, and businesses in the state. It represents the first milestone in what is a significant commitment to closing Illinois' broadband gap.
Lots of Winners, Some Caveats
The Broadband Grant Program offers applicants up to $5 million in funding for projects with the stipulation that they match it with an equal or greater amount of other, nonstate funds. First-round winners consist of both middle- and last-mile builds touching at least 27 counties throughout the state. For example, Cook County received a little under $2 million to expand its Chicago Southland Fiber Network (CSFN). CSFN provides backhaul services to many, including the Illinois Century Network — which serves over 3,400 public K-12 schools, universities, and libraries. Their application committed to focusing “on fiber paths that will provide distribution and host last mile service platforms addressing those communities with the greatest need, municipalities with no fiber assets . . and key regional education campus facilities.”
In response to the $1.25 billion Vermont received from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund, lawmakers immediately began discussing using $100 million of it to bridge the state's digital divide, with fully $45 million going to construction of new fiber networks across the Green Mountain State. But they were quickly stopped short by restrictions set on the monies, which stipulated the strict terms by which the funds were to be used. In the end, the state won't be seeing any construction from these funds. Instead a smaller amount — $43 million — will be directed at immediate relief efforts rather than long-term planning:
- "$13 million in proposed spending to connect Vermonters to broadband internet services. The bulk of that, $11 million, would create a program to be managed by the public service department called Get Vermonters Connected Now [to] provide subsidies to low-income Vermonters who can't afford to use broadband networks already available in their neighborhoods."
- "$20 million to compensate utilities . . . for the cost of continuing to serve people who stopped paying bills due to COVID-19."
- "$7.3 million for the Agency of Digital Services to make it more secure for state employees to work remotely and to upgrade the obsolete unemployment insurance computer system."
- "$500,000 for a "telecommunications recovery plan."
- "$466,500 for local cable access organizations in recognition of the additional coverage they've taken on during the pandemic."
It's possible that federal regulations could change, but in the meantime Vermonters will have to look inward to solve its connectivity challenges.
Blandford, Massachusetts, will work with Westfield Gas & Electric (WG+E) to develop a publicly owned fiber optic network. In order to help get the project started, the state’s Last Mile Program has awarded Blandford a $1 million grant.
The funding grant is part of $45 million allocated to broadband infrastructure last fall. In November 2016, the Governor signed a bill that directed the funding to help improve connectivity in western and north central Massachusetts.
Blandford’s network will connect to approximately 96 percent of its premises, including all the residents located on the town's public roads. A little more than 1,200 people live in the town that covers about 53 square miles. The hilltown community is known for the Blandford Ski Area, which has operated for more than 80 years.
Working With Westfield
Blandford joins a list of other western Massachusetts communities looking to WG+E for their expertise and to act as project managers. WG+E trucks began working in Otis last June and the towns of Ashfield, Shutesbury, Goshen, Colrain, Rowe, Chesterfield, Alford, and Heath have also decided to work with WG+E.
Westfield announced almost a year ago that a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot project had been so successful that they determined expanding the project to a citywide network made the most sense. Since then, they’ve been expanding one neighborhood at a time and are still working on covering the entire community of 42,000.
In the mean time, WG+E has also branched out to work with other communities like Blandford. They’ve helped prove that even small communities can establish high-quality Internet network infrastructure. WG+E have taken on differing roles with these other municipal partners, depending on what level of expertise the community seeks.
Not-for-profit Southern Tier Network (STN) is already providing infrastructure for local ISP Empire Access to compete with incumbents in some areas of south central New York state. Now that the dark fiber network construction is complete, STN recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a last mile broadband pilot project. Responses are due September 28, 2017.
For this project, STN seeks ISPs interested in serving a particular area in Schuyler County with the possibility of expanding to serve more premises in the future. The area in question is underserved for both residential and business connectivity.
Connectivity Opportunity In Rural New York
The network began as a partnership between Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board, Corning Incorporated, and Chemung, Schuyler, and Steuben Counties. Corning contributed $10 million of the $12.2 million to deploy the original network, while the three counties shared the balance.
In 2013, STN received a $5 million New York Empire State Development fund grant, which allowed the nonprofit to expand the network into two more counties and to several local universities. The original 235-mile ring has since been extended to include more than 500 route miles. The network now touches nine counties.
Since becoming operational in 2014, STN has taken on a multifaceted task. In addition to establishing infrastructure to encourage better connectivity for residents and businesses, STN is serving public entities. The dark fiber network is improving local connectivity for public safety, schools, health care clinics, and municipal facilities.
Pilot With Larger Goals In Mind
Goals of the initiative, as stated in the RFP are:
1. Establish partnerships between the STN and interested providers for the betterment of the communities involved and for quality of life enhancements.
Alford, Massachusetts, located along the western border of Massachusetts, recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for fiber optic network design and contractors; the community wants to deploy a Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network. Deadline for proposals is December 21, 2016.
A Long Journey To Now
Alford is home to approximately 500 residents and has pursued better connectivity since the early 2000s, when it first approached the incumbents. As is often the case, national providers continued to pass by Alford over the years leaving them with old, unreliable technology. During 2012 and 2013, the community took the necessary steps and voted to create a Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the entity that manages publicly owned networks in Massachusetts. Since then, they have formed a broadband committee, conducted surveys of local interest and requirements, and examined financial models.
In 2015, the town approved a measure to borrow $1.6 million to cover the expenses to deploy a FTTP network. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), the state agency tasked with administering more than $71 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and state funds, informed the MLP Board that the town will receive approximately $290,000 in grants funds.
The Alford MLP’s November update reports that the community has made significant progress on make-ready work to prepare utility poles:
The MLP has now come to an agreement with Verizon and National Grid about the extent of “make-ready” work required to prepare the poles to accept fiber. In the next few weeks the MLP will make payments to the utilities, clearing the way for the work to begin. The MLP has no control over the timing of the work, which will probably begin around year- end and which can take up to six months to complete.
Cape Cod's OpenCape is the latest of the stimulus-funded middle mile broadband projects to focus on expanding to connect businesses and residents. We talk to OpenCape Executive Director Steve Johnston about the new focus and challenge of expansion in episode 215 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Steve has spent much of his first year as executive director in meetings with people all across the Cape. We talk about how important those meetings are and why Steve made them a priority in the effort to expand OpenCape. We also talk about the how OpenCape is using Crowd Fiber to allow residents to show their interest in an OpenCape connection. They hope that expanding the network will encourage people to spend more time on the Cape, whether living or vacationing. The Cape is not just a vacation spot, it has a large number of full time residents that are looking for more economic opportunities and the higher quality of life that comes with full access to modern technology.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
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 Roller Genoa for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Safe and Warm in Hunter's Arms."