Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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Education Week Shines Light on Rural Schools' Plight
A recent series of in-depth articles from Education Week brings to light a persistent aspect of the digital divide: the lack of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity in rural schools. Throughout the country, schools struggle to pay exorbitant fees for aging copper networks. Teachers and students are cut off from digital learning opportunities as whole regions fall farther behind. Education Week brings these issues to the forefront - and community-owned institutional networks could be the answer.
The Education Week articles describes the harsh impact of these grim statistics. The nonprofit EducationSuperHighway found that for rural schools, the median price for connectivity is more than double that of urban or even suburban schools. Although the number of students without access to sufficient bandwidth has been cut in half since 2013, at least 21 million students do not have access to adequate connections.
In extremely rural communities, large service providers do not have an incentive to build high-speed networks, and small private providers often cannot take on those high upfront costs. This leaves communities with no choice, but to pay skyrocketing rates for slow, unreliable Internet access over aging infrastructure.
East and West: Students Face Similar Challenges
The articles present two compelling case studies of Calhoun County, Mississippi, and Catron County, New Mexico, to tell the story of how high-speed connectivity is so often out-of-reach for rural schools.
Two schools in sparsely-populated western New Mexico split 22 Megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth for $3,700 per month. An increase to 50 Mbps wouldn’t require new fiber, but the upgrade would cost an extra $1,003.47 each month. The local provider has a de facto monopoly in the region so the schools have no choice but to pay the going rate; with no competition they have no leverage for negotiating. According to the New Mexico Public School Facilities Authority, monthly rates range from $1.35 to $3,780 for each Mbps of speed across the state.
High-Speed Broadband Access Becomes Lifeblood for Modern Healthcare
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:
Madison, Wisconsin Pilot: Fiber In The Fall
Four low-income neighborhoods in Madison will soon have access to fast, reliable, affordable Internet access, thanks to a municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) pilot program.
Fast, Affordable, Reliable...Soon!
According to a recent Cap Times article, installation will begin in the spring of 2016; community leaders anticipate the network will start serving residents in the fall. The cost of the pilot is estimated at $512,000. The original plan was to offer the pilot in two areas, but in the City Council recently approved an amendment to the city budget to cover the cost of expanding the pilot. Funds for the construction will come from the city's capital budget.
When the city first released its RFP, it received 3 proposals. Ultimately, the city selection committee chose the only FTTH proposal over two wireless proposals, citing reliability and speed as determining factors. Local Internet service provider ResTech will build the network, which will be owned by the city. Residential subscribers will have access to a minimum 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 10 Mbps upload (symmetrical) service for $9.99 per month. There will be no data caps.
Testing the Waters
The Cap Times reports that the results of the pilot will determine the next steps for the city, population 243,000, which has flirted with the idea of a citywide municipal network in the past:
In conjunction with the pilot, Madison will be pursuing a feasibility study and cost-benefit analysis to determine whether to expand the Internet service to other parts of the city in the future.
The city is working with Columbia Telecommunications Corporation for the feasibility study component as a parallel track to the pilot.
The pilot will be two years, and [Chief Information Officer Paul] Kronberger said they hope to have enough data to do the cost-benefit analysis after about one year of operation.
Baltimore City Council Ponders Options for Moving Muni Fiber Forward
Baltimore's City Council has decided it's time to move forward with a plan for city-owned fiber and they are putting pen to paper to get the ball rolling.
Since 2010, we have covered Baltimore's efforts to improve connectivity for businesses and residents. For a time, they expected FiOs from Verizon but when the provider announced it would not be expanding its network, Baltimore began to explore a Plan B.
Plan B included a publicly owned option, possibly making use of fiber assets already had in place. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has supported taking steps to improve connectivity for Baltimore's economy, education, and general livability. A crowd funding initiative from the Baltimore Broadband Coalition has raised over $20,000 and the community has commissioned several studies. Baltimore even has a city broadband czar.
City Leaders Push On
Members of the City Council have recently renewed the call to action. Council Member Mary Pat Clarke introduced a resolution in September calling on the city to quickly develop a broadband plan. The resolution calls for fiber to all homes, businesses, and institutions in Baltimore in order to bring better connectivity to low-income households, improve economic development, and improve options for anchor institutions.
The resolution has been referred to the Departments of Planning, Transportation, Public Works, Finance, City Public School System, and is now in the Mayor's Office of Information Technology.
Westminster Inspires Immediate Action
Upgrade Seattle on Need For Better Access - Community Broadband Bits Episode 153
Seattle Energy Committee Meets to Discuss Muni Fiber Possibilities: Video Available
As the talk of municipal broadband grows louder in Seattle, city leaders are gathering to learn more about what deploying at a fiber network may entail. On May 13th, the Seattle Energy Committee and leaders from citizen group Upgrade Seattle met to discuss the needs, challenges, and possibilities. Chris joined them via Skype to provide general information and answer questions. He was in Atlanta at the time of the meeting. Video of the entire meeting is now available via the Seattle Channel and embedded below.
King5 also covered the meeting (video below).
"We're starting from a different place in terms of the infrastructure," said Karen Toering with Upgrade Seattle. "The city already has in place hundreds of miles of dark fiber that we're not even using right now that were already laid in the years previous to now."
Upgrade Seattle sees that dark fiber as the key to competition which will lead to better consumer prices and service from private providers.
Businesses are also interested in reliability, argues Upgrade Seattle. Devin Glaser told the committee:
"It's important to have double redundancies – to have two wires connecting everything – so one accidental cut doesn't take out the entire grid," Glaser said. "So anything we have at the city level would value our productivity rather than their profits."
You can watch the discussion below. The conversation on a municipal fiber network lasts about about an hour. Chris begins his presentation around 11:00 into the video. As a warning, there is a significant amount of profane language at the beginning of the video from one of the public commentors.
iTV-3 Increases Speeds for Free on UC2B Network
As the FCC works to update current policy to encourage ubiquitous Internet access and adoption, community networks are also taking an active role. Earlier this month, customers of iTV-3 received a boost in speed with no increase in price. iTV-3, a community minded local provider, chose to make the change in order to ensure all its customers were well within the new broadband speeds as redefined by the FCC in January 2015.
Early last year, UC2B and iTV-3 announced their new partnership. The company, which has provided services to residents and businesses to Illinois communities since 2009, is leasing UC2B infrastructure and equipment and will own any infrastructure it builds as part of expansion.
iTV-3 increased customers' speeds by 10 Mbps, according to a press release on the change:
20/20 Mbps increased to 30/30 Mbps
40/40 Mbps increased to 50/50 Mbps
50/50 Mbps increased to 60/60 Mbps
“We are increasing the speed tier of all existing Champaign and Urbana iTV-3 customers by 10 Mbps at no additional charge to ensure that every user will exceed the new FCC definition of broadband speed,” said Dinkla. “New areas will be constructed beginning this Spring, bringing gigabit Internet speeds to businesses and neighborhoods throughout the community. iTV-3 gigabit Internet is yet another reason for people to be excited to live, work, and do business in Champaign and Urbana.”