Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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With the construction of its 65-mile dark fiber backbone nearly complete, city officials in Boulder, Colorado are now ready to move into the next phase of their plan: test the waters for a partnership with private or nonprofit Internet service providers (ISPs) to build out a citywide fiber network to deliver last mile service to the city’s 104,000 residents and businesses.
Last week, the city issued a Request for Information (RFI) “to gauge the interest of for-profit and nonprofit entities in forming a public–private partnership (PPP) with the city to make Gigabit per second-class bandwidth available to all Boulder homes and businesses.”
“As we prepare for further City Council discussion on a future community broadband operating model, it is imperative that we understand the market potential for a PPP (public-private partnership) to meet the city’s goals related to connectivity. We look forward to responses that consider a variety of business models to share technological and operational responsibilities and financial risk with the city in innovative ways,” Innovation and Technology Deputy Director Mike Giansanti said in a press statement when the RFI was issued.
The city is looking for a partner or partners that will come to table with new ideas, create competition, and either fully fund or share costs.
Having prioritized a city-wide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) build, city officials have identified two main goals: serve the growing demand for “affordable, reliable, and sophisticated broadband technology; and support a thriving business environment.”
Responses to the RFI are due by May 19 at 4 pm MDT.
City officials say they will consider a range of construction and operation designs as well as a variety of ownership models as the City Council will likely vote on the path forward and the execution of a contract sometime this year.
Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s Office of Innovation and Performance just issued a Request for Information (RFI) [pdf] which seeks to gather information from private vendors in the initial stages of a plan to improve connectivity for those on the wrong side of the broadband gap in Cleveland and the surrounding area. Responses are due January 15th.
Grace Chu, Cleveland Foundation Public Service Fellow with the Cuyahoga County Office of Innovation & Performance, spoke with us about the origins of the RFI and what the county hopes to get out of the request. The county released a new strategic plan in 2017, and broadband played a prominent role. In the time since, the county has partnered with local organizations (like DigitalC and PCs for People) in distributing devices and hotspots to get families connected. Their efforts have intensified during in 2020 and in the wake of the pandemic, but local officials seek a longer term, more comprehensive solution to the connectivity crisis. It sees projects coming to fruition over the next couple of years.
In the announcement, County Executive Armond Budish emphasized the scope of the digital divide and how the efforts they’ve taken during the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic:
Sadly, Cuyahoga County is one of the worst connected communities in the U.S., with 19 percent of households not having any type of internet service. While we’ve been working to lessen the digital divide through partnerships with the Cleveland Foundation and PCs for People—we provided broadband access to over 3,000 homes through this initiative—this RFI allows us to work toward a more long-term solution that can reach more people and provide easier access for those who need it.
Granite Staters with poor Internet access in rural areas should soon realize the benefit of HB 1111, which just passed the state legislature and was signed into law by the governor. The measure provides for the establishment of communications districts to pursue Internet infrastructure projects in New Hampshire. In addition, the law makes it easier for municipalities to determine which areas under their purview are unserved in order to target broadband expansion efforts and expand access to all.
Removing Barriers, Providing New Tools
Two years ago SB 170 passed the legislature, allowing communities in the state to bond to develop publicly owned Internet infrastructure for the first time. The bill, however, made such moves contingent upon proving that the proposed areas were “unserved” by a connection of 25/3 megabits per second (Mbps). To do so local governments were required to issue an RFI to the existing Internet Service Provider (ISP). At the time we anticipated trouble with existing providers who had a history of claiming service to large areas when the reality was that many were unserved, and it turns out that worry was well-founded: communities reported that ISPs were ignoring requests for information, making it difficult for them to make progress.
HB 1111 changes that. If an RFI to a provider goes unanswered for 60 days, it is assumed the latter is unable to deliver broadband. Municipalities can then come together and form communications districts which have the authority to use general obligation bonds to fund an overbuild of the area and seek out public-private partnerships to provide new service.
West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council Issues RFI for Actions and Partnerships, Responses Due November 4th
In 2014, West Virginia wrote its Broadband Plan, but since then much has changed in the state, in the country, and with technology. Officials from the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council have now released a Request for Information on Actions and Partnerships to Advance Last Mile and Middle Mile Broadband Services in West Virginia (RFI). Responses are due November 4th and early responses are encouraged.
According to the RFI, the state has several reasons for releasing the RFI:
- To update to the West Virginia Broadband Plan, last written in 2014. They seek input from broadband service providers currently in the state, and others who may wish to expand service within the state.
- To identify unserved areas which the private sector is likely to serve in the near future so as to better target its efforts. To identify areas where deployment will require public-private partnerships and potential partners.
- To seek input from companies related to the development of middle mile assets that can support better last mile service in West Virginia. The Council expects to receive access to a limited number of fiber strands along long-haul fiber routes. Because the West Virginia Legislature has encouraged the electric utilities to undertake feasibility studies for constructing and operating middle mile broadband Internet projects, the Council seeks comment from last-mile providers regarding these types of networks.
The Council hopes to receive responses from:
- Last-mile broadband service providers.
- Middle-mile broadband service providers.
- Network operators.
- Infrastructure investors and developers.
Some of the goals that the program hope to fulfill include defining target areas that are unserved and helping local cities and counties in West Virginia obtain gigabit connectivity. The state is working with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on the latter’s mapping initiative. The project is intended to better map Internet access and improve accuracy on a more granular level.
For more than two years, officials from the Port of Ridgefield in Washington have planned for better connectivity by deploying dark fiber. This month, they took a significant step by issuing a Request for Information (RFI) for Partnership as they search for entities interested in leasing dark fiber to bring services to the community. Responses are due March 15, 2019.
Rural or Not
In the spring of 2018, Washington’s elected officials eliminated a barrier that prevented the Port of Ridgefield from taking the final steps to completing their vision by passing HB 2664. The legislation removed a restriction that only allowed rural ports to use their fiber infrastructure for the types of partnership agreements that the Port of Ridgefield is now seeking. The “rural” limitation meant that Ridgefield and more populous ports could not use their fiber infrastructure to enter into partnerships for service to people or entities. With approximately 7,000 people in and around the city of Ridgefield, the Port of Ridgefield was not considered “rural.”
Officials from the Port of Ridgefield, the city of Ridgefield and other ports in Washington lobbied to have the law changed so they could provide wholesale services to interested Internet access companies. Governor Jay Inslee signed the bill in March 2018. While the primary goals of the RFI focus on improving connectivity within the port district, the Port also prominently includes, "The Port hopes this initiative will support and accelerate private providers’ efforts to improve broadband service options in the County."
The Port and the Plan
There’s more than skiing stirring up Breckenridge, Colorado, this winter. Recently, the city released their Request for Interest (RFI) as they search for ISPs interested in delivering services via their future publicly owned fiber network. Responses are due November 26th, 2018.
The town is working with Foresite Group to develop an open access network in order to bring the connectivity businesses and residents need. In their RFI, they state that the town wants to fill the role of “fiber infrastructure provider” by developing a dark fiber network that will extend to all premises citywide. Breckenridge’s model does not include direct retail services from the city to the public at this time. Community leaders want to create long-term relationships with ISPs, stimulate competition, and discover new uses for the infrastructure along the way.
The city has determined that they will deploy the network in two phases with phase 1 scheduled for completion in 2021; they hope to finish the entire project some time in 2022. The first phase will begin mid-2019 and will focus on the fiber backbone along with connecting approximately 1,000 to 2,000 end users by the first year. While Breckenridge doesn’t have cost estimates for phase 2, they have determined that phase 1 should run around $8 million. The Town Council recently approved funding for phase 1.
The second phase will connect remaining Breckenridge premises, but depends in part on the results of the RFI issue. The city won’t connect premises until they find ISPs to work with and have a more concrete plan of what areas those companies plan to serve and the terms of agreements between the city and ISPs.
Over the past year, towns in rural areas of Maine have mobilized and are taking steps to improve local connectivity. The latest is the community of Penobscot, where the local Broadband Committee recently released a Request for Information (RFI) to seek out firms interested in helping them bring broadband to the coastal community. Responses are due by July 11, 2018.
Design and (Perhaps) Implementation
Primarily, the Committee seeks to find a firm interested in providing engineering design. Penobscot clearly states that their goal is to bring symmetrical service to every premise, that speeds are consistent and reliable, and that they expect to see proposals suggesting speeds higher than the FCC’s 25/3 broadband standard.
Like many of the smaller towns in rural Maine and elsewhere, Penobscot isn’t jumping at the chance to operate their own fiber optic network. They're hoping that respondents will be ISPs interested in also operating the network and offering services via the infrastructure.
Goals for Penobscot
According to the RFI, many of the 1,200 year-round residents support themselves with home-based businesses, one of the many sectors that require faster upload speeds for day-to-day operations. In addition to craft and artisans, seasonal businesses cater to tourists that visit each year. People in Penobscot feel that it’s time to take steps to attract younger families to keep the community alive and thriving and Penobscot understands that broadband is a priority for their target demographic. They also want to convince seasonal visitors to stay longer or relocate and free public Wi-Fi is a priority.
Traverse City Light & Power (TCLP) recently took the next step in their efforts to build out a citywide Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network. City leaders issued a Request for Information (RFI) for Partnership for Deployment; responses are due June 29th.
All the Possibilities
TCLP has had their own fiber network in place for about a decade. The city uses it to offer free Wi-Fi in the downtown area and leases excess capacity to anchor institutions, such as local hospitals and the school district. Like many other municipalities with similar infrastructure, TLCP invested in the network as a way to enhance electric services and provide communications between substations.
About a year ago, the community utility board decided unanimously to move forward with plans to adjust their capital improvement plan in order to fund fiber optic connectivity throughout the city. Their decision came after considerable deliberation on whether or not to expand their existing infrastructure and if the city should fill the role of Internet service provider (ISP).
They’ve had past conversations with local ISPs and a cooperative that is in the process of installing fiber within its service area. TCLP has also discussed various models, such as open access, retail services, and public-private partnerships. The community is taking time to do their homework and consider which approach is best for their unique situation.
Picking A Partner
A feasibility study completed last year recommended either operating a citywide network as a city utility or leasing it to a single partner. Last May, TCLP board members decided to seek out a partner rather than pursue the municipal utility option. The current RFI seeks a network operator to design, build, operate, and maintain what TCLP describes as the first phase of the project.
TCLP wants a relationship that:
1. Balances financial risk
About a year ago, the folks in Gainesville, Florida, decided to commission a feasibility study to explore the pros and cons of various municipal network models. Residents had had enough with the high rates from incumbent Cox Communications. City leaders and leadership at Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRUCom) recently released an invitation for qualified businesses to negotiate (ITN) an agreement for services in their search for fast, affordable, reliable broadband throughout the community. Responses are due April 23rd.
They Got GATORNET
Apartments and businesses in areas near the University of Florida have access to GATORNET, a fiber network that was established in the 90's. GRUCom had deployed fiber throughout Gainesville and had been offering services to government facilities and some businesses prior to the Gig.U project. In addition to some 600 miles of fiber and a data center in Alachua County, GRUCom provides wireless services.
With all these assets, local community members who were paying high rates for Internet access from incumbent Cox felt that the community should be considering using the fiber to provide competition — and encouraging better rates. Last year the grassroots group, Connected Gainesville, made a potential municipal fiber network an important election issue by pressing candidates for their positions on publicly owned Internet infrastructure investment.
From the press release:
“Through the robust fiber-optic network currently in place, the addition of increased internet speeds and lower costs, will keep Gainesville in a unique position to reduce disparities in our community when it comes to being connected,” said City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, Chair of the Broadband Connectivity Subcommittee. “The process will also allow us to explore new ways to further develop plans for smart city applications, infrastructure and communications systems in collaboration with private firms.”
Interested firms are encouraged to contact Clint Lockhart, Senior Buyer at LockhartCM(at)GRU.com or (352) 393-1250.
Responses are due April 23rd, 2018.
In recent years, leadership in Tacoma, Washington, has debated the future of the Click! Network. They recently released a Request for Information and Qualifications (RFI/Q) to gather ideas and proposals from potential partners. Responses to the RFI/Q are due by April 27.
A Dozen Goals
The Tacoma Public Utility Board and the City Council have established a list of 12 policy goals that they plan to adhere to while moving forward. At the top of the list is, “Continuing public ownership of the telecommunications assets, especially those assets necessary for Tacoma Power operations.” Back in 2015, the Tacoma community began discussing the possibility of leasing out operations of the network. In our four part series, "The Tacoma Click! Saga of 2015", we examined the history, challenges, and potential future of the municipal network.
Other goals are designed so that low-income residents will not be left behind, network neutrality principles are respected, user privacy remains protected, and open access is preserved to encourage competition. The City Council and the Public Utility Board also want to be sure that the infrastructure continues to be used for the city’s power utility and that the telecommunications business operations are financially stable. You can review all the goals on the city’s press release.
Tacoma invested in its network back in the 1990s. The coaxial cable network passes about 115,000 premises in the Tacoma Power Utility (TPU) service area. In addition to wholesale Internet connectivity in keeping with state law, the network offers cable television service. TPU used the network for smart metering in the past, but is switching to a wireless system, which will only require the fiber backbone. They feel that now is the time to find a partner to take over broadband operations to reduce their operational costs.