Almost 54,000 electric cooperative residents will see the benefits of a statewide law change in Maryland after a summer filled with changes. Choptank Electric, which serves meber owners across nine counties in Maryland’s Eastern Shore, voted in August to become member-regulated so that the cooperative can pursue broadband projects in a part of the state that has long suffered from poor or no connectivity options.
This week on the podcast Christopher talks with IT Manager John Leary and Customer Experience, Marketing, & Communications Manager Lisa Stowe from Westfield Gas & Electric, the municipal utility for the city of 40,000 in the southwestern quadrant of the Massachusetts. The topic of the day is Westfield's municipally owned fiber arm — Whip City Fiber — which is doing some wonderful things as it enters its next phase of life.
Janesville, Wisconsin (pop. 64,000) Information Technology Director Gordon LaChance has been investing in fiber infrastructure for city needs for the last 12 years, but he’s been hoping it would lead to something more. That day may have come, with the recent award of a $114,000 grant from Wisconsin Public Utility Commission.
Last December we wrote about Connecticut’s long-awaited victory by court affirmation in the fight to let its cities attach to utility poles at no cost in pursuit of spurring municipal broadband efforts. A similar effort seems to have stalled in its neighbor to the north, with HD 4492 languishing in the Massachusetts Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee.
Another year of the Broadband Communities annual summit is behind us, and it’s worth revisiting the most salient moments from the panels that touched on the wealth and variety of issues related to community broadband regulation, financing, and expansion today and in the future. We weren’t able to make it to every panel, but read on for the highlights.
In this episode of the podcast Christopher talks with Jeff O'Neill, City Administrator of Monticello, MN, about FiberNet, which is owned by the city but today operates in a public-private partnership with local telecommunications provider Arvig.
This year’s Broadband Community Summit has gone digital to adapt to the ongoing public health crisis, but will still offer a wealth of information on and seasoned experts speaking to all sorts of topics relevant to community broadband networks. It runs this week from Tuesday to Friday, and interested parties can register here.
Something for Everyone
Note that the Coalition for Local Internet Choice program has two panel sessions on partnerships of all colors and one on federal and state incentives on the first day of the summit. Other topics include:
- Public-Private and Public-Public Partnerships
- Funding Opportunities
- Broadband Mapping
Over the summer, Oregon took a second swing at revising its state Universal Service Fund program by passing SB 1603, a bill which will create a larger rural broadband development fund by including retail wireless and VoIP service (in addition to traditional telephone service) in the fees it collects to bring basic connectivity services to unconnected parts of the state. The new law lowers the current tax rate on telecommunications service provider's gross revenue (from 8.5% to 6%) but dramatically broadens the collection base, which will bring in needed dollars to expand broadband access to state residents without it in coming years. The move comes on the heels of the state’s move to establish a Broadband Office in 2018 to “to promote access to broadband services for all Oregonians in order to improve the economy and quality of life.”
In the city of Fullerton, California (pop. 140,000), SiFi Networks has turned on the first section of what will be a city-wide, open access Fiber-to-the-Home network. The project makes Fullerton SiFi’s first FiberCity — a privately built, financed, and operated open access network it plans to duplicate in more cities across the country in the future. When complete next fall, the Fullerton FiberCity network will pass every home and business in the city, with SiFi’s subsidiary, SiFi Networks Operations, selling wholesaling capacity to as many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as want to enter the market.
Over the summer, Windstream and Colquitt Electric Membership Corporation announced that the two entities will work together to expand fiber optic Internet access throughout the electric co-op’s service territory in rural south Georgia. Windstream, the fifth largest telephone company in the nation, will maintain ownership of the newly deployed network and use it to offer its Kinetic broadband services to residents and businesses, while Colquitt, which has more than 45,000 members, will take advantage of the fiber connectivity to improve the management of its electric grid.
When school shut down past spring, Unit 4 schools in Champaign, Illinois scrambled to get students connected like everyone else. The district handed out Chromebooks and teachers went to work transitioning to online instruction so the school year could continue. But the district noticed that a large percentage of its students weren't logging on and the bulk of them came from Shadowwood mobile home park, where although fiber ran up and down every street in the neighborhood only one family subscribed to wireline Internet access. So Mark Toalson, the city’s IT Director, began making calls, and by the end of the summer a coalition came together to build Shadowwood’s students a free fixed wireless network which went online in August.
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.
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s (NDIA's) Net Inclusion conference (which was moved to fall and then cancelled because of the ongoing public health crisis) has been converted into an eight-week long webinar series starting this Wednesday at 2pm ET. From the website, its aim is to:
[W]elcome digital inclusion community practitioners, advocates, academics, Internet service providers, and policymakers to discuss local, state, and federal policies and policy innovations impacting digital equity, sources of financial and programmatic support of digital inclusion programs, and digital inclusion best practices from across the country.
When Craig Eccher, CEO Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative, joined Christopher on the podcast last fall, he had an exciting project to talk about: the electric cooperative, after strong calls from its membership asking their utility to deliver broadband, stepped up and committed to an $80 million, 3,250-mile fiber build across the rugged terrain of rural Pennsylvania, the first leg propelled by $52.6 million in federal and state grants. Tri-Co Connections, the subsidiary building the network and serving as provider, has begun connecting residents in an aggressive plan to serve 10,000 users in the next three years.
Scott Vanderlip can see Google’s headquarters from his house in the town of Los Altos Hills, California. Still, some of his neighbors struggle to access the online world that the tech company has helped shape. So they created Los Altos Hills Community Fiber, a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation that’s bringing a local, high-quality connectivity option to the area.