Tag: "FTTH"

Posted January 26, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Conway is right in the middle – in the middle of Arkansas with its utility company, Conway Corp, in the middle of beefing up its broadband network.

In this city of 66,000 – home to the information technology company Acxiom Corporation and three colleges – residents and businesses have long relied on Conway Corp for more than just electricity since the utility first launched its cable and Internet service in 1997.

Conway Corp, which has been Conway’s electric utility for the past 90 years, has a unique relationship with the city’s government. “We are different in the way we are set up as compared to many other municipal networks. We are set up as a non-profit. We lease the network and operate it on behalf of the city,” explained Conway Corp Chief Marketing Officer Crystal Kemp.

At the heart of the utility’s network management has been the on-going work to stay ahead of the curve.

Prepared for the Pandemic

“When we launched Internet services in 1997, upstream capacity wasn’t a concern and systems were built with the average homes (and) businesses per geographic area, or node, at 500. Today those numbers are less than 95 per node. That’s been achieved through physical changes in the network and changes in our engineering practices,” Conway Corp’s Chief Technology Officer Jason Hansen told us last week. 

Upgrades to the Hybrid-Fiber-Coax (HFC) network began to take shape in 2019 with the deployment of DOCSIS 3.1, allowing Conway Corp to double its downstream capacity. They also began upgrading equipment that paved the way for expanded use of the RF (Radio Frequency) spectrum to boost the network’s bandwidth. As of December 2020, about 50 percent of the upstream upgrade work had been completed with the remainder expected to be finished by the summer of 2021.

Currently, Conway Corp has 21,608 Internet service customers, which translates into a take-rate of 72% on the residential side and over 50% on the business side. AT&T operates its gigabit service in town, but there are no other traditional citywide cable systems in operation in the area.

The network upgrade, which began in earnest in 2019, turned out to be prescient planning as the emerging COVID-...

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Posted January 25, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Mason, Enfield, and Springfield projects in the Granite State are bringing more connectivity to the region via Fiber-to-the-Home networks. Two of these projects are CARES Act-funded, and the other via a small startup. In all cases, work by local officials and citizens have been key in getting things off the ground. 

Posted January 22, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Western Massachusetts stands as maybe the most dynamic place for municipal broadband at the present, with almost two dozen cities pursuing projects. And while the slate has many similarities between them, each has a unique starting point and has followed its own path along the way. 

Cummington (pop. 800), which straddles the banks of the Westfield River thirty miles northwest of Springfield and twenty miles east of the New York border, has just completed its municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. It has been almost a decade in the making, and despite seeing its share of obstacles along the way, residents can now look forward to years of fast, affordable Internet access. 

Stuck on DSL

Ten years ago, Cummington had no high-speed Internet access options. Verizon offered the only DSL service in town, and its network in the area remained a relic of upgrades focused not on residents there but in the population centers to the east. Only half the town was covered, relegated to download speeds in the single digits and upload speeds at a fraction of that. The rest of the town’s residents were stuck with satellite service, which was even slower and more unreliable with changing weather. 

The story of broadband for western Massachusetts is a winding road. At the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, the state of Massachusetts received initially funding for its MassBroadband 123 backbone network (currently, it’s operated by KCST USA, formerly Axia Networks), which would bring middle-mile infrastructure to schools and libraries in 120 towns and communities in the area (including a spur in Cummington [pdf]) by 2014. Residents, however, remained unconnected. 

In 2010, Municipal Light Plant Chairman Allan Douglas shared, the town got together to explore options. In the spring and summer of 2011 it voted to join WiredWest, the consortium of towns which have banded together to pursue better broadband. An engineering study completed by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute determined last-mile...

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Posted January 19, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

What Becket Town Administrator William Caldwell called “one of the most anticipated news [events]” in town was announced at the North Becket Village fire station weeks before Christmas.

But town officials weren’t there to roll out a shiny new ladder truck or to bring their kids to meet Santa. They were there to bring glad tidings of the launch of construction for Becket Broadband, a municipal Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) network that will usher high-speed Internet connectivity into this small Massachusetts hill town.

Since the town received a $3 million state grant to fund the initial work to build the network nearly four years ago, Sertex construction crews have been working and will continue through the winter to string fiber cables on utility poles along the town’s approximately 100 miles of roads with the build-out expected to be complete in 2022.

The project manager for the network’s construction is Westfield Gas & Electric, the city of Westfield’s gas and electric utility which received $10.2 million from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II) auction to expand fiber networks in 20 nearby communities in western Massachusetts, including Becket.

The work will be done in phases, as network planners have created a map of the town carved up into 10 service areas, each of which will be connected as drops are installed to connect individual homes in those service areas. The...

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Posted January 13, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A new report out by CTC Technology and Energy and Rural Innovation Strategies, commissioned by the state of Vermont, gives us one of the clearest and most detailed pictures so far of the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on our attempts to live and work remotely. 

The “Covid-19 Responses Telecommunications Recovery Plan” [pdf], presented to the state in December 2020, includes both a comprehensive survey of conditions after a half-year of social distancing and intermittent lockdowns as well as recommendations for addressing immediate needs. But it offers solutions that provide a path forward by making sure that dollars spent now are in service to the state’s long-term goals of getting everyone in the Green Mountain State on fast, affordable wireline broadband service at speeds of at least 100/100 Megabits per second (Mbps). 

The report brings together network performance assessments from every level of government across the state over the last six months, pairs it with survey responses from citizens, libraries, hospitals, businesses, regional development corporations, and Communications Union Districts (CUDs), and offers analysis based on conditions for moving forward.

“Covid-19 has laid bare the challenges of lack of universal broadband in Vermont,” the report says, with “inequities in the availability and affordability of broadband create further inequities in areas such as education, telehealth, and the ability to work from home.” It offers a wealth of findings:

  • Broadband use has increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic, as would be expected. For example, respondents to an online poll report increased use of the Internet for telemedicine (an increase from 19 percent to 75 percent) and for civic engagement (an increase from 33 percent to 74 percent). Additionally, 62 percent of respondents use the Internet for teleworking on a daily basis, compared with 21 percent of respondents before the pandemic.
  • Overall, satisfaction with Internet service aspects has decreased during the pandemic, particularly for speed and reliability of service. More than one-half of respondents are not at all satisfied (approximately one-third) or are only slightly satisfied (approximately one-fifth) with connection speed and reliability during the pandemic.
  • Many municipalities have...
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Posted January 13, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Over the last three years, Le Sueur County, Minnesota has assembled a task force of citizens, local officials, and business leaders which have succeeded in dramatically improving broadband for thousands of residents who previously had poor or no connectivity. In doing so, they’ve also forged relationships, inventoried local resources, and created a model which is likely to see the landscape go from one where nearly all residents in the county were under- or unserved by basic broadband at the beginning of 2018 to one where the vast majority of the community will have access at 100/20 Mbps in the next couple years. And if efforts continue to succeed, it’s possible we might see full fiber coverage in Le Sueur by the end of the decade, making it one of the most connected counties in the state.

Le Sueur is located ninety miles southwest of Saint Paul, and had just under 29,000 residents and 11,000 households in 2019. There are 11 whole or partial cities in the county, of which Le Center and Montgomery are the largest at around 2,500 people each. The remaining communities sit between 200 and a 1,000 residents. More than a thousand farms dot the landscape, and agriculture, along with some tourism and resort development centered on the lake communities, comprise the bulk of the county’s economic picture.

Broadband infrastructure outside of the population centers in Le Sueur is generally poor, which was a problem for residents, for businesses, and for farmers looking to remain competitive and modernize operations: “the lack of this service means students have trouble completing schoolwork and seeking future opportunity, small businesses have trouble connecting with customers and vendors, farmers have less efficient operations, home sales and development lags, and options for telemedicine are closed.”

Until the middle of the last decade, residents were largely on their own to find solutions. Starting about five years ago, however, things began to change. One Le Sueur resident who had paid individually to bring better Internet access to her home so she could run her small business took the initiative to bring up issue to the county board. Shortly thereafter, a diverse and energetic group came together to form the local broadband task...

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Posted January 4, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A host of cities and counties in Arkansas are about to get a major broadband boost thanks to local officials taking steps to act on a grant program deployed by the state last year. Borne out of the state’s 2020 1st Extraordinary Session at the end of March 2020 in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, the new Rural Broadband I.D. Expenses Trust Fund Grant Program will disburse $2 million in funds divided into 30 one-time grants of $75,000 each to towns, cities, and counties to tackle the digital divide in the Toothpick State. The program is financed via Arkansas’ Restricted Reserve Fund with money given to the state by the CARES Act, and is administered by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. And while an array of projects have been awarded funds, money remains available and applications are being accepted on a rolling basis for those who have yet to take advantage.

A Win for Local Self-Reliance and Increasing Competition

The program is expressly designed to bridge the gap for communities that want to begin to improve local Internet access but are stymied by a necessary first step: paying for those economic, design, and feasibility analyses which require pulling together the wide range of options available in the context of local conditions. That’s where this program comes in, according to Rachel Ott, the UAMS Institute’s for Digital Health and Innovation Grant Director. Communities can use the work produced to apply for federal grants down the road, including the recently concluded Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program, funds from the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, and any other forthcoming federal funding programs. 

Cities, towns, counties, and unincorporated communities are all eligible to apply. Non-profits and for-profit entities are also eligible to apply, but only in unincorporated communities. If they want to undertake projects in cities or towns, they are required to...

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Posted December 31, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The Milton, Massachusetts Municipal Fiber Initiative recently launched a friendly petition to collect signatures to present to the city select board in support of a city-wide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to increase competition, speed, reliability, and customer service while lower Internet access costs for residents. From the group's website:

We are a community-led effort to create a fiber-optic, municipal broadband network in the town of Milton, MA.  We believe a community-owned, state of the art, 100% fiber network is necessary to provide everyone in town - residents, town government, local businesses and non-profits - with better access, more choice, lower prices, blazing fast speeds, and superior reliability...now and for decades to come!

The group indicates that the town has already created a municipal broadband committee as well as a design and cost estimate done by CTC Energy and Technology [pdf]. 

From the petition:

To all our Milton friends and neighbors -

The MMFI is collecting signatures for a friendly petition to the Milton Select Board. Our intention is to demonstrate public support for municipal broadband, and to urge the board to take the next steps towards the establishment of a municipal broadband network.

The Select Board has made some great progress already with the appointment of a Municipal Broadband Committee.   The committee's efforts culminated in a cost and design estimate for the creation of a 100% fiber, municipally-owned broadband network, providing the town with a viable road map to a town-wide, fiber-to-every-premise network.   

We're asking you to join us in our efforts to keep the process going.  We hope we can make the case to you, our Milton friends and neighbors, that municipal broadband is an investment in Milton's future, a public asset that will serve community needs for generations. 

Massachusetts has seen a flurry of recent activity in municipal broadband. Falmouth is considering a network, and Whip City Fiber (Westfield, Mass.) is in the process of helping almost...

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Posted December 29, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

There’s a new short essay out called “Future-Ready Information Infrastructure Must Be Open Access” from Underline, a firm which specializes in design, financing, construction, and operation of open access networks. It which outlines both the need for more growth of this model but also why, at this moment, we are particularly well positioned to do so today. Read a few excerpts below, but read the whole post over at Underline.

To develop the networks we need now, we must challenge the status quo & rebuild our information infrastructure from first principles: the only solution is open access, content and service agnostic, fiber-based networks.

Multi-purpose, open access fiber networks are equivalent to our “open access” roads. As the necessity of connectivity continues to extend far beyond sending email and online shopping—to virtual learning, remote work, distributed healthcare, new wireless solutions (e.g., 5G) and resilient modernized infrastructure—open access fiber networks are the critical and most efficient foundation.

We can and must efficiently build new information infrastructure as the foundation for resilient, flourishing communities to enjoy new economic opportunities, modernize other critical community infrastructure, and form a pathway to responsible energy creation and secure smart grid technology.

For more on open access networks, read our primer on the benefits they offer, or listen to Episode 424 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast below to hear Christopher talk with Jeff Christensen from EntryPoint Networks.

Posted December 23, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

If you have been following our series on the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All (AAIA) Act, you already know the proposed legislation calls for a $100 billion investment in expanding broadband access and affordability in unserved and underserved parts of the country. In this fourth installment of the series, we explore the part of the bill that contains the bulk of the funding. Of the $100 billion proposed in the bill, $85 billion of it can be found in the Title III - Broadband Access section.

Amending the Communications Act of 1934, Section 3101 of the bill appropriates $80 billion for “competitive bidding systems” to subsidize broadband infrastructure. That is to say, it requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and states, to use “competitive bidding systems” for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to bid on broadband deployment projects in “areas with service below 25/25 Megabits per second (Mbps), and areas with low-tier service, defined as areas with service between 25/25 and 100/100 Mbps.” The term “competitive bidding” seems to suggest a reverse auction process, though it hardly makes sense for each state to set up such a system given the logistical challenges. A legislative staffer responded to our email earlier this year saying he believed that language would allow for state programs that solicited applications from ISPs and scored them for evaluation, much like Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband program operates. However, he noted that the FCC would interpret that language ultimately. More on this below. 

Prioritizing Higher Upload Speeds

It’s worth noting that this part of the bill implicitly acknowledges the insufficiency of the current FCC definition of a minimum broadband speed of 25/3 Mbps. As it stands now, the FCC defines “unserved areas” as parts of the country where there is either no Internet access or broadband speeds under 25/3. This legislation raises the bar and broadens the definition of “unserved areas.” It’s a step in the...

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