Tag: "Wi-Fi"

Posted February 23, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

St. Louis Park (pop. 49,000), a suburb west of Minneapolis, Minnesota, has demonstrated commitment and creativity in bringing broadband access to the region over the last two decades. They’ve done so by connecting community anchor institutions and school district buildings, in supporting ongoing infrastructure via a dig once policy, by working with developers to pre-wire buildings with gigabit-or-better-capable connections, and by using simple, easy-to-understand contracts to lease extra dark fiber to private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to improve connectivity options for local residents. 

Conversations about improving broadband in St. Louis Park began in the 1990s, when local government officials and the St. Louis Park School District began talking about replacing the aging copper infrastructure it was leasing from the cable and telephone companies with fiber to support educational use and municipal services. At the time the city was paying about $45,000/year to stay connected and online. A 2003 projection suggested it could invest $380,000 to build its own network instead, take ownership of its infrastructure, and see a full return on investment in less than a decade.

Fiber, both the city and the school district decided, offered the best path forward for the range of tools and bandwidth that would bring success. The school district led off in connecting its structures, but by 2004 both were done, with each contributing to joint maintenance and operational costs. The city thereafter decided to keep going and expand its infrastructure wherever it made the most sense. In 2006 it advanced this agenda by adopting a dig-once policy by adding conduit — and sometimes fiber — any time a street was slated for repairs. 

Municipal Wi-Fi

St. Louis Park’s first foray into securing better connectivity for residents was a city-wide Wi-Fi project approved in December 2006. It began with a pilot project the previous April connecting 375 households across four neighborhoods which demonstrated strong demand from residents (21% signed up). Users also provided valuable feedback about the implementation obstacles that would need to be addressed, including a strong need for help...

Read more
Posted February 18, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

When Collin Boyce, the City of Tucson’s Chief Information Officer, was a young boy, he left his native island country of Trinidad and Tobago with his mother and three brothers and moved to Brooklyn, New York.

“We were poor but what my mother did for us in the summertime is send us to computer camps. And because of those camps three of us are in the IT industry today and the one we call the black sheep of the family is a neurosurgeon,” Boyce said.

He was joking about his neurosurgeon brother of course. But was dead serious about how being introduced to computer technology as a young kid led him into IT work and why it means so much to him to help build Tucson’s new municipal wireless network to provide Internet connectivity for low-income school students and seniors.

“This effort is an opportunity to give back what my mother gave me,” he said.

Tucson has hundreds of miles of fiber connecting the city’s municipal buildings. But, unlike a city like Chattanooga, which operates one of the premier Fiber-to-the-Home networks in the nation allowing America’s first Gig City to provide free high-speed Internet access to 12,000 low-income students in Chattanooga throughout the ongoing pandemic, Tucson has not built a fully fiber-optic municipal broadband network.

As the COVID crisis swept across Arizona and forced students to attend school remotely last spring, Boyce began to look for a way to ensure that the thousands of students who didn’t have Internet access at home wouldn’t be left behind. In a city with a population of about 530,000, an estimated 30 percent of city residents, or about 150,000 Tucsonans, don’t subscribe to wireline broadband, Boyce said.

Standing Up a New Network

“We needed to stand up some wireless technology,” he told us this week.

The stop-gap solution the city decided on was a Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) network that was financed using $5.1 million in CARES Act funds to leverage the city’s existing fiber infrastructure. Partnering with the IT management company Insight to help build the network and provide customer service, the construction work started in January and is already nearly finished. It involves erecting towers on fiber-connected municipal buildings and city-owned property at strategic locations across the city and installing converter devices that look...

Read more
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...

Read more
Posted December 8, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A new project borne out out of the Michigan Moonshot Initiative promises to help thousands of families and students without home Internet access get online. Led by the Merit Network, a coalition of partners (including Toyota, Cisco, the Detroit Public Library, the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force, and county school districts) is installing Wi-Fi hardware at 50 sites around the southeastern part of the state to bring broadband access to thousands. Nine locations are up and running, with more soon to follow. 

The effort is taking place in the cities of Detroit, Inkster, Flint, as well as Washtenaw County. Toyota and Cisco are providing funds and hardware, and the project takes advantage of the Merit Network’s extensive fiber backbone running throughout the state (4,000 miles in total). Wayne State University is also participating, and inviting students and faculty and staff to participate in a broadband survey. Funds are being dispersed in the form of grants which will go to community organizations to boost existing Wi-Fi networks at schools and other anchor institutions across participating areas.

At the moment, the Detroit Public Library’s nine sites are the only ones active, but there are an additional 24 ready to be activated, and ten more pending after that. These include a host of early childhood centers, elementary, middle, and high schools, private schools, and community centers; in addition to the nine Detroit Public Library sites, installation will take place at six community centers around the city of Detroit, seven township halls via the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force, and almost three dozen locations across the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. See the full list of active and upcoming sites, and a map of current sites below.

Atiim J. Funchess, assistant director of...

Read more
Posted October 22, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Along the banks of the Columbia River, Multnomah County (pop. 813,000), Oregon is considering a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network after being handed a study more than a year in the making. The report estimates that a countywide network reaching every home, business, and farm in a five-city area would cost just shy of $970 million, and bring with it a wealth of savings and other benefits to the community it serves.

Origins

The study has its origins in a 2017 push initiated by an advocacy group called Municipal Broadband PDX which has sought more affordable and equitable Internet access in the region. In 2018, the County Board of Commissioners agreed that it should be explored and approved the funding of a study, with the city of Portland and Multnomah County each contributing $100,000 and the remaining towns of Fairview, Gresham, Troutdale, and Wood Village joining the effort to collectively contribute an additional $50,000 for funding. Over the next year, CTC Technology and Energy conducted a comprehensive survey, analysis, and evaluation, and the results were delivered at the end of September.

The report offers good news: the majority of residents in Multnomah County want a publicly built and operated FTTH network, and it would be economically viable to provide symmetrical gigabit service to as many of the more than 320,000 households as want it for $80/month. At a projected 36% take rate on a 4% bond over a 20-year period, the network would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $966 million, depending on a host of local and market factors, some of which are fixed and others subject to change. It would see net positive income by the end of its fourth year of operation, and see a total of more than $54 million in positive net income by the end of its 20-year depreciation period (a standard model for fiber infrastructure, though they often last longer). These numbers change when adjusting the take rate and interest rate, but in the vast majority of scenarios, building a community owned FTTH network in Multnomah County is feasible. 

Broadband in Multnomah County

...

Read more
Posted October 1, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Over the last few months, a number of cities across the country have recognized the pressing need to find a way to get those in their community without Internet access connected. In San Rafael, California, San Antonio, Texas, and Champaign, Illinois, local governments along with a variety of philanthropic, technical, and private partners have developed a host of innovative ways to bring fixed wireless solutions to neighborhoods in need.

The city of McAllen (pop. 140,000) — near the mouth of the Rio Grande, at the southern tip of Texas — offers some additional lessons to be learned and a blueprint for success for other local governments thinking of doing the same. Quietly over the summer, it collected broadband data, designed, and deployed a fixed wireless network which to date covers more than three dozen neighborhoods and provides free connectivity for the city’s students and residents. 

Fiber From the Water Tower

Citywide Wi-Fi has been a long time coming in McAllen. Mayor Jim Dalson and the IT Department have wanted to do it for years, IT Director Robert Acosta said in an interview, but finding a way to pay for it has been the major barrier. In the meantime, his department has been adding wireless coverage to public spaces for the past half decade, at city parks, outside of government facilities, at the Museum of Art and Science, and at the Boys and Girls club. He also extended the network to traffic cameras, water towers, and other government facilities, and when the pandemic hit his department had more than 60 miles of fiber to call upon.

The current effort started in the middle of June, when the city commission and mayor allocated $2.9 million from county-distributed CARES money to the IT Department in order to get students connected for the upcoming school year (see map, right)....

Read more
Posted September 15, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed with stark clarity the impact of the digital divide across the country, and exacerbated the problem especially among the economically disadvantaged and in communities of color. With the onset of a new school year, school boards, city councils, and local governments have been distributing hotspots, equipping buses with Wi-Fi, and subsidizing subscription plans so that students can continue to learn over the summer. This week on the podcast Christopher talks with one community in California that took efforts to connect residents a step further.

Christopher is joined by Rebecca Woodbury, San Rafael Director of Digital Services and Open Government, and Air Gallegos, Director of Education & Career for the nonprofit Canal Alliance, who together worked with a coalition of dedicated people to begin building a neighborhood-wide Wi-Fi mesh network over the summer in response to the pandemic, and connect one of the city’s most vulnerable populations: those living in San Rafael's Canal neighborhood. Christopher, Rebecca, and Air talk about how it all came together, the impacts it’s already having, and the forethought that went into the network. 

They discuss the city’s work and the participation of local volunteers who helped jumpstart the effort, and the pivotal role played by the Canal Alliance, which has been fighting digital divide in the neighborhood for decades. The group also discusses lessons learned, expanding the network to reach as many resident as possible, and the ways that the coalition has tried to ensure that San Rafael’s Wi-Fi Mesh network works not just for the Canal neighborhood now, but in the future.

For additional detail on the San Rafael project, see our earlier story.

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

Read the transcript for this episode.

This show is 46...

Read more
Posted September 3, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Marin County and the city of San Rafael, California, are demonstrating what happens when local government, a community nonprofit, and generous stakeholders come together to do something right. Over the summer they’ve built a Wi-Fi mesh network in the city’s Canal neighborhood to connect over 2,000 students and their families in anticipation of the upcoming school year. How the project unfolded shows what a thoughtful, committed group of people can do to respond to a public health crisis, close the digital divide, and make a long-term commitment to the vulnerable communities around them. 

A Neighborhood in Need

The Canal neighborhood (pop. 12,000) was founded in the 1950s and sits in the southeast corner of Marin County, bounded by the San Francisco Bay to the east, the city of San Quentin to the south, China Camp State Park to the north, and the Mount Tamalpais Watershed to the west. It’s split down the middle by Highway 101 and Interstate 580.

Canal is populated by predominantly low-income workers, and remains one of the most densely settled areas in Marin County — one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. Its residents serve, according to San Rafael Director of Digital Services and Open Government Rebecca Woodbury, as the backbone of the area’s service economy. Those who live there are mostly Latinx residents, with a small but significant segment who identify as Vietnamese. A 2015 study highlighted the challenges the community faces. Its population grew by half between 1990 and 2013, while available housing units grew by just 15%. During the same period, median household income shrunk by nearly a third, and unemployment remains twice as high in Canal than in the rest of Marin. It suffers from the largest education disparity in the entire state. It’s also among the hardest hit in the community by the coronavirus pandemic: the Latinx population in Canal accounts for just 16% of Marin County but 71% of cases so far.

Canal neighborhood residents are also among the least connected in the county. A recent survey by local nonprofit Canal Alliance showed that 57% of residents don’t own a computer, compared to just 10% of those...

Read more
Posted May 21, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

As the novel coronavirus has spread across the United States, so too have efforts to bring Internet access to digitally disconnected households during a time of nationwide social distancing. Washington and Massachusetts are on different coasts, but both states are working with publicly owned broadband networks to deploy emergency Wi-Fi hotspots in underserved communities in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Washington, a state-led initiative is deploying hundreds of new Wi-Fi access points with the help of community networks, including Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet), a statewide middle-mile network, and several Public Utility Districts (PUDs). And on the other side of the country, Massachusetts has enlisted the help of municipal network Whip City Fiber to establish Wi-Fi hotspots in communities with poor connectivity.

The drive-up public hotspots will allow residents of both states to complete online school assignments, apply for unemployment insurance, and connect with healthcare providers, among other essential tasks.

“We’ve all been in a position where we understand to connect to the world during this really challenging time, Wi-Fi is essential,” said Dr. Lisa Brown, Director of the Washington Department of Commerce, during a livestreamed launch of the state Wi-Fi initiative.

Washington Partners with PUDs for Wi-Fi

The initiative in Washington is being led by the Washington State Broadband Office and the Department of Commerce in partnership with NoaNet, regional PUDs, the Washington Independent Telecommunications Association, Washington Technology Solutions, Washington State University, and others. In addition to the existing Wi-Fi hotspots that schools and libraries have made accessible from their parking lots, the partners plan to set up more than 300 new access points in underserved areas, using state funding and philanthropic donations. A map of all public Wi-Fi locations is...

Read more
Posted May 20, 2020 by Matthew Marcus

Across the country, more people than ever are working and learning from home, making a quality Internet connection vital for everyone in every locality during the Covid-19 pandemic. For Americans in inadequately connected areas — rural and urban — adapting to a more isolated and remote learning and working lifestyle proves extremely difficult when lacking a reliable Internet connection.

Many electric cooperatives and other broadband providers have quickly rolled out solutions to ensure that their subscribers are connected and well-equipped to adapt. Many of them are also working with community institutions to ensure all residents have some level of connectivity, especially children for remote learning purposes.

OzarksGo Brings Broadband to Busses

Ozarks Electric Cooperative has been working diligently with its fiber division, OzarksGo, to find solutions to improve connectivity for the communities it serves. In a phone interview, Steven Bandy, the general manager of Ozarks Electric, explained that as stay at home orders were issued, more and more homes within their service area were requesting new fiber hook ups. At the same time, families outside of their territory were scrambling for Internet connectivity.

school bus

OzarksGo serves nine counties in Arkansas and western Oklahoma, and they have thus far built out 75 percent of their network. They began deploying the network in 2016 and set a goal of having all of the fiber lit within six years. Bandy is still confident they can stick to this timeline, but he explained that the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted their supply chain and temporarily slowed their ability to make new connections to homes.

That said, they are still finding innovative ways to increase connectivity for residents in their area. When employees of Ozarks Electric saw that the school districts in the counties they serve were planning to set up Wi-Fi hotspots in decommissioned school busses, Bandy and his team at OzarksGo reached out to see how they could help.

They currently have at least six mobile hotspots, three of which are busses connected to fiber, that are providing increased Wi-Fi connectivity throughout the region. Three of the Wi-Fi hotspots are specifically placed around...

Read more

Pages

Subscribe to Wi-Fi