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Cabot, AR Deploys 10 Gbps Capable City-Owned Fiber Network

Construction on a new city-owned fiber network in Cabot, Arkansas will soon bring affordable broadband access to every city resident and business in the state’s “Strawberry Capital.

The network comes courtesy of a partnership with Connect2First, the broadband subsidiary of local power company First Electric Cooperative Corporation, which continues to build on its significant presence across Arkansas.

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Bowl of Strawberries

According to a city announcement, the $20 million network will deliver fiber access at symmetrical speeds of up to 10 gigabit per second (Gbps) via an XGS-PON network passing all 26,000 residents and businesses of Cabot using 220 miles of fiber.

The network, which is expected to take several years to complete, will be built on the back of resident-approved bonds, and won’t utilize state or federal funding.

Construction has already begun in this suburb of Little Rock where city officials say hundreds of residents have already been connected.

In announcing the beginning of construction, Cabot Mayor Ken Kincade said:

“This unique project is the first of its kind in the state of Arkansas where a municipality has built its own fiber network and partnered with a local ISP to provide high speed fiber optic internet services to its constituents. The City of Cabot is thrilled to be able to leverage the proven expertise of Connect2First, who already had a presence in the city and was currently serving surrounding areas.”

USDA ReConnect Amps Up Broadband Funding to Tribal Nations

When a $25 million broadband funding award for the Colorado River Indian Tribe (CRIT) was announced in July 2023, CRIT Chairwoman Amelia Flores celebrated it as a “game changer.”

“Broadband access is essential,” Flores’s statement read, making “remote learning, telecommuting, conducting business, and simplifying staying connected” possible.

Coming amid a rolling series of announcements from the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program – each lauding millions of dollars in broadband funding for Tribes – it would have been easy to file away CRIT’s award as another from that pathbreaking broadband funding program for Tribes.

But this was not the TBCP. Rather, CRIT was among a handful of Tribes that received substantial funding awards from another federal source that has recently stepped up their grantmaking to Tribes – the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ReConnect Grant Program, administered by the department’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS).

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USDA ReConnect Awardees logo

CRIT’s award is a helpful reminder that TBCP is not the be-all-end-all of funding for Tribal broadband. With an award cycle now open, ReConnect offers powerful tools and incentives –  including dedicated Tribal funding, 100 percent grants, and consent for any new infrastructure on sovereign lands – for Tribes looking to expand or launch broadband service.

TBCP, ReConnect, and Federal Funding for Tribal Broadband Infrastructure

New Resource Alert: Rising Tide of Municipal Broadband Networks Fact Sheet

As the municipal broadband movement continues to gain momentum, we created a new fact sheet to highlight the dramatic surge in the number of communities building publicly-owned, locally controlled high-speed Internet infrastructure over the last three years.

In January, we announced our updated tally of municipal broadband networks across the U.S., which showed that between January 2021 and January 2024 at least 47 new municipal networks had been lit up for service.

Our census of new municipal broadband networks comes while dozens of other projects are still in the planning or pre-construction phase, which includes the possibility of building 40 new municipal networks in California alone.

The new fact sheet not only contains pertinent numbers to illustrate the rising tide of municipal broadband networks, it also includes snapshots of four recently launched networks now providing service to communities hungry for high-quality Internet connectivity and competitive choice.

You can find the new Rising Tide of Municipal Broadband fact sheet here.

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New Muni Fact Sheet screenshot

Community Broadband Resource Pairing

RantanenTown Ranch Turns Into Broadband Playground For Tribal Broadband Bootcamp 11

TBB11 marked an exciting development for the Tribal Broadband Bootcamps.

For this latest and newest iteration, TBB co-founder Matt Rantanen graciously permitted TBB to make a permanent fiber ring installation on his property, RantanenTown Ranch, last month. While TBB will continue to host bootcamps in partnership with Tribes in different regions of North America, the launch of this permanent broadband practice arena allows TBB to chart a new path towards even more in-depth and hands-on training.

Here is a photo-filled look at the many days of prep and three days of immersive programming that went into making it happen.

“Just the fact that we saw the fiber model in its open aspect with all the drama and issues right in front of us; my friends is the best learning methodology!” – TBB 11 Attendee

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TBB 11 Photo Essay Matt Pull

Ready or Not

Of course, building an entire, operating fiber network across RantanenTown Ranch was a massive undertaking that involved a lot of prep work.

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TBB 11 Photo Essay Spencer Matt Tractor

 

Caution Ahead: RDOF and BEAD Collision Course

The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) was supposed to drive affordable fiber into vast swaths of long-underserved parts of rural America. And while the FCC administered program accomplished some of that goal, a multitude of problems have plagued the program since its inception, putting both current and future broadband funding opportunities at risk.

The $20.4 billion RDOF program was created in 2019 by the Trump FCC as a way to shore up affordable broadband access in traditionally unserved rural U.S. markets.

The money was to be doled out via reverse auction in several phases, with winners chosen based on having the maximum impact for minimum projected cost.

During phase one of the program, the FCC stated that 180 bidders won $9.2 billion over 10 years to provide broadband to 5.2 million locations across 49 states and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

But, according to ILSR data, roughly 34 percent of census blocks that won RDOF funding–more than $3 billion in awards – are now in default. All told, 287,322 census blocks were defaulted on by more than 121 providers as of December 2023.

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RDOF top 10 screenshot

The defaults are only one part of a larger problem: namely that many communities bogged down in RDOF program dysfunction may risk losing out on the historic amount of federal funding to build modern broadband networks (BEAD) made possible by the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law.

One Big Giant Mess

Massachusetts and New York Look To Make Affordable Housing Broadband Ready

Massachusetts and New York officials hope to entice affordable housing property owners with new grant programs that would pay the retrofitting costs to expand high-speed Internet connectivity into decades-old affordable housing developments.

The programs aim to focus on the multitude of multi-dwelling units (MDUs) in those states, particularly housing developments built before the advent of the Internet.

With property owners and Internet service providers (ISPs) often reluctant to pay the costs of getting these buildings up to broadband speed, Massachusetts and New York have launched initiatives – using a portion of their federal broadband funds – to chip away at the digital divide in housing developments where a significant number of tenants live in buildings not wired to support reliable broadband or where the service is not affordable, thanks to agreements with monopoly providers.

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NY ConnectALL logo

New York Bytes Into Broadband Affordability

In December, New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s office announced the state’s ConnectALL Office (CAO) was setting aside $100 million New York State received from the federal Capital Projects Fund (courtesy of the American Rescue Plan Act) to bring broadband connectivity to 100,000 affordable housing units across the Empire State.

In announcing New York's Affordable Housing Connectivity Program, Hochul said:

“With work, school, and essential government services going digital, affordable homes need affordable, reliable broadband, and this funding will help bolster our efforts to build housing equipped with the basic tools that New Yorkers need to succeed.”

Selma, 17 Other Alabama Communities Will See Construction of $230 Million Open Access Fiber Network

Selma, Alabama – and parts of 16 other communities in eight different counties – will soon be connected to a new, $230 million open access fiber network that aims to bring affordable broadband to historically marginalized sections of the Yellowhammer State.

The deployment comes courtesy of a public private partnership (PPP) the city has struck with Meridiam Infrastructure and Meridiam-owned YellowHammer IT, an agreement that will expand fiber access across Alabama’s Black Belt region on the back of a $5.1 million Capital Projects Fund (CPF) grant.

At a March 2 press conference, Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. said the partnership with Meridiam and Yellowhammer should result in fiber access being deployed to 85 percent of city homes and businesses, regardless of residents’ income levels, with $45 million of the $230 million investment dedicated to bring fiber service to Selma, the “Queen City of the Black Belt.

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Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr.

“High-speed reliable broadband is no longer nice to have. Today, it’s as important as gas, water, and electricity,” Perkins stated at the event. “In our increasingly digital society, cities without access to fiber broadband risk falling behind. It’s critical that the City of Selma makes fiber broadband accessible citywide by building utility-like infrastructure that serves our residents’ needs today and for generations to come.”

Trojan Horse To Cripple Muni Broadband in New York Slipped Into State Assembly Budget Proposal

Language added to a New York State budget bill is threatening to undermine a municipal broadband grant program established by Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office earlier this year.

Known as the Municipal Infrastructure Program, it was designed to provide grant funding for municipalities in the state eager to build publicly-owned, locally controlled broadband infrastructure as a way to ensure ubiquitous, affordable access to high-quality Internet after decades of frustration with expensive, spotty and uneven service from the regional monopolies.

Currently, New York state lawmakers are in the midst of budget proposal season in which the Governor’s office and both legislative chambers (the state Senate and Assembly) have until April 1 to reconcile and complete a final budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Buried near the bottom of the Assembly budget proposal (A8805B) is a Trojan horse legislative sources say is being pushed by lobbyists representing Charter Spectrum, the regional cable monopoly and 2nd largest cable company in the U.S. that was nearly kicked out of New York by state officials in 2018 for atrocious service.

Rural Cooperative Hardy Telecommunications Does The Heavy Lifting In Unserved West Virginia

The rocky rural hills of West Virginia are a formidable foe when it comes to building high-speed Internet infrastructure that offers affordable high-quality service.

Nobody knows that better than Hardy Telecommunications (OneNet), a small community-owned cooperative that delivers affordable fiber to frustrated locals deemed too costly and cumbersome to be served by the incumbent telecom giants.

The cooperative serves parts of four counties (Hardy, Pendelton, Grant, and Hampshire). It connected its first fiber customer in 2013, after receiving $31.6 million in federal BTOP funding. Since then, the cooperative tells ILSR they’ve spent $20 million of their own funds to bring fiber to rural corners of the aptly-named Mountain State.

Derek Barr, Assistant General Manager at Hardy Telecommunications, says the cooperative currently delivers broadband service to 5,050 rural subscribers – 4,736 of which are on fiber lines that simply wouldn’t exist without federal funding programs. Hardy Telecommunications also provides 68 customers with fixed wireless access (FWA) broadband service.

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HardyNet service area map

“Our focus is fiber, and we're trying to build out fiber as much as we can,” Barr tells ILSR. “But it's very tough in our serving region. It's all mountains and a lot of trees, and a big chunk of our area is either state park or national forest land. It's also very hard to do fixed wireless because even if it might work in the winter, it's not going to work in the summer” when tree leaves block line of sight, he noted.

So the cooperative slowly and consistently expands fiber as it can, often in partnership with Pendleton County. As a result, locals have the option of a variety of double and triple play phone, cable, and fiber options, starting with a symmetrical 100 Mbps (megabit per second) downstream, 50 Mbps upstream fiber and phone bundle for $79 a month.

One Year After Launch, Dryden, NY Muni Network Making Steady Progress

One year after launching a municipal fiber network, Dryden, NY officials say they’re making steady progress in their quest to expand affordable fiber broadband to the entire town of 14,500.

While the effort hasn’t been without obstacles, town leaders say the public response to their foray into broadband has been overwhelmingly positive.

“While there are challenges, we are continuing to make great progress in the buildout,” Dryden Town Supervisor Jason Leifer tells ILSR. “We have support from our residents, who continue to show interest in this project. We also have financial support from Tompkins County in the form of grants–and from neighboring municipalities who are interested in replicating our model.”

The city’s network began with a 50-home trial pilot trial in the southwest part of town. The broader $15 million network will be funded by a combination of bonds, $2 million in federal COVID-19 disaster relief funding, an Appalachian Regional Commission grant, and eventually, subscriber revenues.

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Dryden Fiber map

The town took a phased approach to deployment, first by connecting the backbone of the network in the southeast of the city, followed by a focus on the western and eastern halves of the municipality, respectively. The Dryden fiber website features a build map that helps locals track network progress.

“We have currently passed over 420 addresses with our buildout,” freshly-appointed Dryden Fiber Executive Director David Makar tells ISLR. “This includes over 150 rental properties – mostly single family homes and apartments – as well as many owner occupied homes and businesses. We are still in phase one, and as we move into the village of Dryden and the hamlets of Varna, Ellis Hollow, and Etna, we will be in phase two.”