Tag: "nonprofit"

Posted September 15, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

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.

Fiber Just a Few Feet Away

The mobile home park sits on the north side of the town of 90,000, and is largely populated by Hispanic residents. Roughly 250 students who attend the Unit 4 school district live there, and according to Toalson not a single one had Internet access beyond personal mobile phones before they began last spring. In late May Mayor Deborah Feinen asked the city manager what could be done, and Toalson was asked to take on the project. 

Local circumstances make the Shadowwood Mobile Home Park a perfect case study in how efforts to bridge the digital divide need to tackle every facet of broadband gap to be successful. A $29 million grant in 2010 to bring Fiber-to-the-Home to the Urbana-Champaign-Savoy area meant that neighborhood had the infrastructure, but almost no one could afford the last-mile connection because of the high upfront costs. “We have fiber up and down every street in this trailer park, but they simply can’t afford to hook up to it,” city of Champaign Director of Information Technology Mark Toalson remarked in an interview. i3 Broadband, which owns and operates the infrastructure, normally costs $56/month (both in Shadowwood and without) and has been offering a $30 discount during the pandemic. It's a generous move, but moot for families who can’t pay to connect to the infrastructure sitting just below the street, a handful of steps away. So most of Shadowwood’s...

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Posted September 15, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

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.

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Read the transcript for this episode.

This show is 46...

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Posted September 3, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

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...

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Posted September 30, 2019 by lgonzalez

The history of the Internet Society (ISOC) reaches back to the early 1990s when a group of early Internet pioneers, realizing the power of connectivity, developed an organization aimed at  bringing safe and secure Internet access to everyone. Since then, ISOC has worked in policy, deployment, and the difficult task of creating collaborations. This week, we have ISOC's Director of the North American Bureau Mark Buell and Senior Policy Advisor Katie Watson Jordan to talk about the organization, its history, and the work they do.

In addition to learning about the growth of the organization, which now has chapters all over the globe, Mark and Katie describe their current community network project in remote Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories, Canada. They discuss their role in this and other community network projects, including the next location in Hilo, Hawaii. Read more about Ulukhaktok and the challenges they faced in developing their network in Katie's recent article on the project

Mark and Katie discuss ISOC's policy and access work. In addition to helping leaders establish better guidelines that encourage infrastructure deployment, they have led in matters of security and privacy. They also note that, one of the greatest strengths of ISOC has evolved into the organization's ability to bring people and entities together to achieve common goals. A prime example is their annual Indigenous Connectivity Summit, this year held November 12th and 13th in Hilo, Hawaii. Katie and Mark explain the success of past Summits and talk about...

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Posted February 20, 2019 by lgonzalez

The neighboring towns of Orono and Old Town in Maine are working with the University of Maine System in an effort to bring better connectivity to their region. The three launched the nonprofit OTO Fiber several years ago in an effort to join forces for better broadband. After battling for funds with the incumbent cable Internet access company, they’re finally in a position to release a Request for Proposals (RFP) for fiber optic construction. Responses are due March 8th, 2019.

Read the full RFP.

Open Access for A University Community

OTO Fiber aims to deploy an open access network in order to spur economic development, to encourage innovation and local entrepreneurship, and to improve access to University resources. The project described in the RFP is considered a pilot and will cover a limited area in each of the three communities. OTO Fiber’s intention for the pilot is to determine take rate and the benefits in order to establish whether or not to expand the symmetrical gigabit network to businesses and residents in both towns. Network designers have strategically developed a plan for the six-mile backbone to facilitate later expansion.

Orono is the location of the University of Maine’s flagship campus, where symmetrical gigabit connectivity is a necessity. According to the RFP:

The University of Maine System provides networking to schools and libraries across the State of Maine and provides multiple paths into and out of the State for research and education. Furthermore, the University is the largest concentration of computational resources and data storage in the State. These connections and resources, both computational and human, are expected to help make the proposed project successful. 

Past Problems

In 2015, the OTO Fiber partners had been awarded ConnectME funds for the project, but cable ISP incumbent Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum) successfully blocked the $125,000 grant. The partners had planned to work with Maine ISP GWI for a stretch of about four miles in which 320 potential subscribers would have access to a larger network.

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Posted May 1, 2018 by lgonzalez

There are often common characteristics among communities that have invested in fiber optic infrastructure. While many of them can't get the connectivity they need from the incumbents or lack reliable Internet access, many begin their ventures into better broadband by connecting utility facilities. A new nonprofit, the Post Road Foundation, sees a valuable link between intelligent infrastructure, high-quality connectivity, and sustainability. By bringing together members of the public and private sectors, the Post Road Foundation is implementing an innovative approach to funding. With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, they've selected five partners to begin implementing their new approach to funding, connectivity, and sustainability.

Bringing It All Together

Co-founders of the Post Road Foundation, Waide Warner and Seth Hoedl, have decades of experience between them in law, policy, and leadership. Their areas of expertise span cyberlaw, government and finance, environmental law and policy, electricity, telecommunications and energy law and policy, nuclear physics, and the list goes on. Through their years of research and in consulting with both public and private entities, Warner and Hoedl both saw that many rural communities needed better connectivity for economic development, better quality of life, and to keep populations strong. They've also found that if local communities or cooperatives are able to use fiber optics to synergize multiple utilities, the community is resilient and more self-reliant.

bluefiber_reverse.jpg Smart grid applications along with water and wastewater utility controls are already known to reduce waste and cut costs in places such as Chattanooga. Smart grids can quickly determine where any damage to a network occurs, allows energy to be diverted to prevent loss of service for customers, and if necessary alerts the control center where an outage has occurred. The system prevents or greatly reduce outages, reduces the number and time that trucks and technicians need to be dispatched, and prevents loss of...

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Posted December 4, 2017 by Staff

This is the transcript for Episode 280 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christa Wagner Vinson, Deborah Watts, and Alan Fitzpatrick join Christopher Mitchell at the Atlanta airport to discuss the work of NC Hearts Gigabit and how they're organizing for local choice and better connectivity. Listen to this episode here.

Deborah Watts: And you know we need we need to get regulations in legislation that prevents local choice out of the way these people on the tractors the ones in the production rooms the ones in the businesses that can go to their representatives and say You all need to do something about this because I'm having difficulty running my business. I can't be competitive.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 280 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Christopher recently attended the broadband community's economic development conference where he was able to connect with this week's guests from North Carolina Christa Wagner Vinson, Deborah Watts, and Alan Fitzpatrick from the group and NC Hearts Gigabit joined Chris to talk about local choice and better connectivity in North Carolina and how they're using technology to bring people together. Catharine Rice from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice was also there in this conversation. You'll learn how and see how it's gigabit began. Who's involved. What they've accomplished their goals and you'll also hear some tips on the best way to get the word out and get organized. You can learn more about the group. Check out the collection of resources and even join up at their website and see hearts gigabit dot com. Here's Christopher with Christa Wagner Vinson, Deborah Watts, Alan Fitzpatrick, and Catharine Rice.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcasts. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Atlanta sitting on the runway of the Atlanta airport at the Broadband Communities Conference talking to you now with three folks from an organization called NC Hearts Gigabit I'm going to start by introducing Christa Wagner Vinson, the economic development consultant of the group. Welcome to the show.

Christa Wagner Vinson: Good...

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Posted November 27, 2017 by Matthew Marcus

The Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority (ESVBA) board of directors has decided to expand Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to 14 more areas in the region.

Speedy Expansion On The Shore

In the next six months, residents of Accomack and Northampton counties should have access to high-speed Internet. The ESVBA regional open access middle mile network already provides FTTH to three areas, but decided to expand, concluding the current budget would support additional deployment.

Areas specifically identified for expansion include Sanford, Accomac, Greenbackville, Atlantic, Wattsville/Horntown, Hallwood/Nelsonia, Oak Hall/New Church and Quinby. In a meeting planned for Dec 13th, the board will discuss which areas to prioritize, with the idea of moving into two new areas each month.

A Continuing Success

ESVBA was created in 2008 through the efforts of Accomack and Northampton counties. NASA helped fund the build-out of the regional network’s backbone. They have a flight facility on Wallops Island that employs over a thousand Virginians. Government agencies, local schools, and healthcare institutions on the shore needed reliable connectivity for daily operations. Apart from NASA, the Navy and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration connect to the network, along with schools and medical facilities, making it an indispensable community resource.

Several different telecommunications companies on the Eastern shore utilize the open access network in a variety of ways, including the ISPs Windstream Communications and the local Eastern Shore Communications LLC.

Residential FTTH service is currently underway in Harborton, the Bobtown/Pungoteague/Painter area, and Church Neck where customer sign-on is gradually increasing.

Next Steps

The Eastern Shore region is currently assessing whether surveys should be conducted before deciding which areas to begin deploying FTTH service. The board is also discussing marketing tactics for advertising the new service. In regards to their advertising efforts...

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Posted November 21, 2017 by christopher

NC Hearts Gigabit is a grassroots group recently launched in North Carolina that aims to dramatically improve Internet access and utilization across the state. We caught up with Economic Development Consultant Christa Wagner Vinson, CEO of Open Broadband Alan Fitzpatrick, and Partner of Broadband Catalysts Deborah Watts to discuss what they are doing. 

We discuss their goals and vision for a more connected North Carolina as well as their organizing methods. Given my experiences dining in that state, I'm not surprised that they have often organized around meals - good stuff!

NC Hearts Gigabit offers an important model for people who feel left out of the modern political system. It is an opportunity to get out from behind the desk, engage others, and build a coalition to seize control of the future for a community or even larger region. And have a tasty lunch.

Learn more on their website or follow them on Twitter.

Read the transcript for this show here.

This show is 27 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted November 14, 2017 by ChristopherBarich

On October 24, the Aurora, Illinois, City Council Finance Committee approved a $40,000 grant to OnLight Aurora to extend the city’s fiber optic network to River Street Plaza area commercial properties.

The City of Light And Dark Fiber

OnLight Aurora is the nonprofit ISP that leases publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure to serve the city’s municipal government, community anchor institutions (CAIs), two data centers (Bytegrid and CyrusOne) and local businesses.

Prior to OnLight Aurora’s network, the city’s previous network was a patchwork of varying speeds and capabilities. The network was old, unreliable for government employees, and expensive. In 2005-2006, city leaders estimated that Aurora was paying nearly $500,000 a year for leased line expenses to telecommunications providers. Now, the city of Aurora saves approximately $485,000 each year by utilizing their municipal fiber optic infrastructure.

The community spent approximately $7 million to construct the network between 2008 and 2011. Aurora initially financed the project with general obligation bonds and estimated payback at 10 years. In 2011, Aurora received a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) administered through the Illinois Department of Transportation. The approximately $12 million FHWA grant financed the upgrades to 60 traffic signals, the...

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