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Digital New England Community Broadband Summit Webcast Live

If you are not able to attend the Digital New England Community Broadband Summit in Portland, Maine, you are in luck. The conference is being webcast live from NTIA's Digital New England Community Broadband Summit website.

The conference will run until 4 p.m. Eastern today and is a collaboration between NTIA and Next Century Cities. NTIA describes the gathering:

The summit will present best practices and lessons learned from broadband network infrastructure buildouts and digital inclusion programs from Maine and surrounding states, including projects funded by NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and State Broadband Initiative (SBI) grant programs funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The summit will also explore effective business and partnership models.

You can view the full agenda online [PDF], complete with a list of guest speakers and moderators.

Fiber-optic Community Broadband Service in the Washington State Wilderness

The Spokane Business Journal recently wrote about the community broadband system in Pend Oreille County, a long a favored destination for all seasons outdoor recreation.  Beginning in 2013, the Pend Oreille County Public Utility District (PUD) began providing residents and tourists with high-speed fiber to the premises broadband via a 573-miles fiber network.  The network was made possible by a $27 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant.

Private companies commonly say that such rural areas are not densely populated enough to justify investing in high-speed broadband infrastructure, leaving many rural communities on the disadvantaged side of the digital divide.  High-speed community broadband systems like the one in Pend Oreille County cancel out this potential problem as they allow tourists, residents, and businesses alike to be closely connected with nature while staying connected for business demands. Indeed, as the website for Pend Oreille County’s Economic Development Council makes clear, the community broadband service is at the core of the county’s ambitious plans to attract people and businesses to the area.

In our recent report, ”All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access,” we wrote about rural communities in Minnesota like Cook County where the tourist industry is a large part of the local economy. As in Pend Oreille, insufficient Internet negatively impacted resorts, lodges, and outfitters that depended on customers who needed more than dial-up Internet access. To solve their problem, they invested in a municipal fiber network.

Local community and business leaders report that they have also started to see people and businesses relocating to the county, encouraged by the area’s combination of fiber-optic broadband and outdoor recreation offerings.  

Alex Stanton, an IT executive whose company is stationed near the banks of the Pend Oreille River in the small town of Newport, confirms the positive impact of the network:

“Today, because of access to high-speed Internet structure in Newport and Pend Oreille County we run a full half of the team out of Newport, and we’re in the process of moving the entire remote support and network operation to Newport,” he says. “We’ve been able to build a local team of people who live and want to work here. Fiber has made that possible.”

Another anecdote comes from a man explaining the pivotal role the fiber-optic broadband service in Pend Oreille County played in convincing him to relocate to the area: 

"My wife and I both work primarily from home, and we have spent the last year and a half trying to find the spot that would allow us to experience nature while still being able to pay for it!  We have searched all over the USA and have discovered that this type of internet access is almost always reserved for large cities.... My wife and I look forward to calling Newport home…"

Eugene Opens Up Dark Fiber for Commercial Connectivity

Businesses are now finding affordable connectivity in Eugene, Oregon, through a partnership between the city, the Lane Council of Governments (LCOG), and the Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB), reports the Register-Guard. A new pilot project has spurred gigabit Internet access in a small downtown area for as little as $100 per month.

According to the article, the city contributed $100,000, LCOG added $15,000, and EWEB spent $25,000 to fund last mile connections to two commercial locations. LCOG's contribution came from an $8.3 million BTOP grant.

The fiber shares conduit space with EWEB's electrical lines; the dark fiber is leased to private ISPs who provide retail services. XS Media and Hunter Communications are serving customers; other firms have expressed an interest in using the infrastructure.

Moonshadow Mobile, a firm that creates custom maps with massive amounts of data, saves money with the new connection while working more efficiently.

To upload just one of the large files Moonshadow works with daily — the California voter file — used to take more than an hour. Now it can be done in 77 seconds, [CEO Eimer] Boesjes said.

“This completely changes the way our data engineers work,” he said.

“It’s a huge cost savings, and it makes it much easier for us to do our work. We can do our work faster.”

The upgrade also will help spur innovation, he said.

“We can start developing tools that are tuned into fiber speeds that will be ubiquitous five to 10 years down the road, so that gives us a huge advantage,” Boesjes said.

The upgraded fiber also could bring more work and jobs to Eugene, he said.

“In December one of my customers said, ‘You can hire another system administrator in Eugene and we’ll move this work from Seattle to Eugene if you have fiber,’ and [at that time] I didn’t have fiber so that opportunity went away,” Boesjes said.

A 2014 article notes that EWEB began installing fiber to connect 25 of its substations and 3 bulk power stations in 1999. At the time, it installed 70 miles of fiber with the future intention of connecting up schools, the University of Oregon, local governments, and long-haul telecommunications providers. There is some speculation that the EWEB Board considered developing a municipal network to offer Internet access to residents and businesses and that the vision was abandoned shortly thereafter.

As word spreads, Eugene officials expect to see more retail customers and more ISPs sign on as participants.

“We had kind of a bidding war going on and that’s what the project was designed to do was to create competition,” [Milo] Mecham [from the LCOG] said.


“We’ve got prices that are competitive with Portland, Chicago, San Francisco — any place you want to go — and for Eugene they’re record breaking,” Mecham said. “These products are similar to what Google is offering in bigger markets, like Austin (Texas) and Charlotte (North Carolina).”

ZipRecruiter has already named Eugene one of the Top 10 Up-and-Coming Cities for Tech Jobs in 2015. As news of its efforts to spread gigabit connectivity take off, more entrepeneurs will head toward to his community of approximately 156,000.

The city plans to connect a third building this year with telecom revenue from the project.

Illinois Munis Partner with Local ISP for Gigabit Network - Community Broadband Bits Episode 160

The southern Illinois cities of Urbana and Champaign joined the University of Illinois in seeking and winning a broadband stimulus award to build an open access urban FTTH network. After connecting some of the most underserved neighborhoods, the Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband (UC2B) network looked for a partner to expand the network to the entire community.

In this week's Community Broadband Bits podcast, we talk with UC2B Board Chair Brandon Bowersox Johnson and the private partner iTV-3's VP and Chief Operating Officer Levi Dinkla. The local firm, iTV-3, already had a strong reputation as an Internet Service Provider as well as operating other lines of business as well.

In our conversation, we talk about iTV-3's commitment to customer service, their expansion plan, and how the network remains open access. Read our continuing coverage of UC2B here. See the neighborhood signups here.

Read the transcript from this show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."

NoaNet Touches Every County in Washington State - Community Broadband Bits Episode 159

The Northwest Open Access Network in Washington has a long history of expanding high quality Internet access into rural areas and now reaches into every county in the state. NoaNet is a nonprofit organization originally formed by local governments and now operating over 2,000 miles of fiber.

This week we talk with Dave Spencer, NoaNet Chief Operating Officer, about the history of NoaNet, how it has impacted the state, and what the future holds for this organization.

We also discuss the NoaNet expansion enabled by the federal broadband stimulus, how their open access fiber network has led to improved wireless connections in many rural areas, and what it takes for a nonprofit organization to thrive in an industry that can be very competitive despite often having very few competitors.

Our previous stories about NoaNet are available here.

Read the transcript from our discussion here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."

Gigabit Internet for North Central Ohio Schools

Consolidated Electric Cooperative, a nonprofit, member-owned cooperative, will soon offer gigabit broadband in rural North Central Ohio. They intend to first offer the gigabit to local schools and then to businesses.

According to eSchoolNews, Consolidated Electric Cooperative will provide 15 school districts with gigabit connectivity. The school districts will then have greater access to online resources and be better able to comply with mandated online testing in Ohio. In the article, Doug Payauys, vice-president of information systems for Consolidated Electric Cooperative, described the need for improved Internet access in schools:

"Technology is creating a shift in today’s classroom, and it’s transforming the way teachers educate and students learn. As the country becomes a more digital-based society, schools must work to transform lesson plans and accommodate new technologies” 

The gigabit broadband will also improve the Wi-Fi in the school districts, providing more bandwidth for wireless learning devices. Wireless connections almost always depend on wireline backhaul to ensure each access point does not have a bottleneck between the user and the larger Internet. With better Wi-Fi, the schools hope to support an online curriculum for students to learn at their own pace.

Consolidated Electric Cooperative also intends to offer the gigabit connectivity to local businesses. They already offer some broadband connections to businesses through their Enlite Fiber Optic Network. They first began to develop this network in 2010 with some costs covered through the Broadband Initiatives Program created by the stimulus effort. Since then, they have expanded the network which now consists of 200 miles of fiber optic cable from Columbus to Mansfield, spanning five rural counties in North Central Ohio.

They currently do not offer residential fiber, focusing instead on providing a middle mile connectivity to governments, schools and businesses. They are, however, prepared to adapt to support residential services in the future:

Payauys noted that the network has been designed to enable Consolidated to easily deploy residential broadband if the company were to choose to do so at a future time. And already some other network operators – including three wireless Internet service providers – have stepped up to offer residential broadband using the Consolidated network for aggregation and Internet connectivity.

Consolidated Electric Cooperative expects about a four-year payback on the network and appears ready to continue expanding broadband access in rural Ohio.

In Reedsburg, Expansion Weighed After Muni Fiber Success - Community Broadband Bits Episode 147

The first gigabit city in Wisconsin, Reedsburg, has a municipal fiber network operated by the city-owned electric utility. This week, we talk with General Manager of the Utility Commission, Brett Schuppner. Reedsburg fiber goes back to 2003, which makes it one of the oldest FTTH networks in the nation.

Located about an hour outside of Madison, Reedsburg has seen more investment from local industrial businesses because of its fiber network. They received a broadband stimulus award to expand their network into some surrounding rural areas and are now considering how they can continue expanding the network deeper into surround Sauk County without federal assistance.

We talk about what goes into these expansion discussions - what is the dynamic when one community has a great network and the County would like it to expand?

Read all of our Reedsburg coverage here.

Read the transcript from this conversation here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 13 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

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.”

UC2B has been lauded by the FCC as a model for public private partnerships. The last-mile project, received American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to bring fiber connectivity to urban homes in the Urbana Champaign area. It was deployed by the not-for profit corporation aimed at bringing high-speed service to residents in economically disadvantaged areas along with a number of community anchor institutions. Over the past year, iTV-3 has continued to expand and now also offers services in Peoria, in addition to its Dunlap and Tremont markets.

More Muni Fiber Projects in Maine

Local communities in Maine are mobilizing to jumpstart economic development, expand educational opportunities, and improve Internet access. The town of Orono, located near the center of the state, announced earlier this month that it will working with nearby Old Town and the University of Maine to deploy an open access fiber network pilot project in an area they wish to promote as a technology park.

The news highlights connectivity improvements in Maine happening at the local level. In August, Rockport solidified its plans to bring fiber to its downtown with partner GWI. Soon after, South Portland announced a similar partnership with GWI to spur economic development. Sanford and Isleboro [PDF] have commissioned studies.

The Main Campus reports that Orono, Old Town, the University of Maine, and GWI have been in the planning phase for some time, but lacked funding to deploy:

“We tried to be the first on the map [with fiber-optics], but there were too many obstacles. Now we have the opportunity to do something,” said Orono Town Manager Sophie Wilson at last Monday’s Economic Development Committee meeting, where the opportunity was presented.

In early 2012, the town was in talks with Old Town and Maine broadband service provider GWI about connecting the towns and the University of Maine to the Three Ring Binder, an 1,100-mile long highway of fiber optic infrastructure that passes underneath Bennoch Road. In order to take advantage of the opportunity, the towns planned on coming together in a collaborative called Old Town-Orono Fiber (OTO Fiber) and applied for grant funding to go through with the project.

Although they weren’t able to receive the necessary funds in 2012, the town is in a better position this time around.

The Three Ring Binder, an open access dark fiber network owned by the Maine Fiber Company, was funded with ARRA stimulus dollars and private investment. The network went live in 2012 but providers have not built out last-mile connections as anticipated. To fill the gaps, these communities are taking matters into their own hands and investing in that last-mile fiber infrastructure.

The partners recently received a $125,000 grant from ConnectME Authority but will need to secure matching funds from the Northern Border Regional Commission. The Commission was created as part of the 2008 Farm Bill to support economic development projects in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York. The pilot project will connect to the Three Ring Binder that runs near the park. Cost to the city is estimated at $25,000 - $30,000.

A new tenant, Eastern Maine Health, signed a lease contingent on the pilot project. Other entities are also interested in the location. 

According to Town Planner Evan Richert, Eastern Maine Health could potentially bring 150 new jobs to the area.

“It’s going to fill two buildings that have been vacant for two to three [or more] years and which have had quite a drag on the impression of our vitality [as a town],” Richert said.

“It’s also dragging the valuation down at the tech park, part of that $4 million loss in value [reported for fiscal year ‘14] was directly related to lack of rented space out there,” Wilson said.

Columnists from local press are opining about the state's poor connectivity. Bill Nemitz from the Portland Daily Press recently wrote about Wired West in Massachusetts, challenging readers to demand better from elected officials. Some of them already understand the need. Nemitz wrote:

As U.S. Sen. Angus King, a broadband cheerleader if ever there was one, put it in an interview Thursday, high-speed broadband is as important to rural Maine as stringing electrical wires to outlying homes and farms was back in the 1930s.

“We’ve absolutely got to do it,” said King. “It’s an economic death sentence for a community that can’t get broadband.”

In June, Bruce Segee, University of Maine professor of electrical and computer engineering, spoke with the Bangor Daily News about the pilot project:

“If [municipalities] want prosperity, [they] need to make something and bring people from outside to buy it,” Segee said.

Orono, Old Town, South Portland, and Rockport have decided to stop waiting for providers to bring that "something" to their communities and do it themselves. The Daily News:

A desire to attract and grow businesses is part of the reason why Orono and Old Town have taken steps toward building fiber for homes. For Richert, “the economic development of small communities rests less [now] with big developments and real estate but more with startups and established small companies innovating with new products.”

There’s no time to wait for Internet service providers to step up and make the investment themselves.

“We can’t afford to wait,” Richert said. “We need to grow small businesses.”

Lake County Provides Gap Funding To Keep Project On Track

Lake County has faced a number of challenges since it began deploying its fiber network in 2012. The latest wrinkle comes as the Rural Utility Service (RUS) is late in distributing funds to pay contractors. The agency is administering the stimulus funds used to build the $66 million project. The Lake County News Chronicle recently reported that the County Board of Commissioners will pay $500,000 to cover expenses until federal funds arrive.

The Chronicle reports:

County Administrator Matt Huddleston said the County typically submits financial requirement statements (FRS) to RUS, and the federal agency usually processes the request for funds within 20 days. FRS 15 was filed more than 50 days ago and RUS still hasn't paid the County. A second, more recent FRS has also been delayed.

Commissioners were concerned delayed payments to contractors would further delay the project, scheduled for completion by September 2015.

After the original partner and the County dissolved their partnership and a threat of a lawsuit from Mediacom slowed deployment, Frontier asserted ownership of a number of utility poles within Two Harbors. According to the Chronicle, Lake Connections and the County recently made the decision to bury fiber instead of stringing them on poles as a way to avoid more delays.

Commissioner Rick Goutermont said he was hopeful after speaking to RUS officials on a conference call Monday that RUS would approve the new plan, the project would move forward and RUS would reimburse the $500,000 quickly.

"If we make some kind of movement in the form of some gap financing ... to keep the boots on the ground out there working on it, I believe that would send a stronger message to RUS of our commitment and that we want to move forward," Goutermont said Tuesday.

We documented Lake County's story in our report, All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access.