Tag: "nonprofit"

Posted December 9, 2011 by christopher

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet some of the folks from the Personal Telco Project in Portland, Oregon. They have been around for a long time and do excellent work.

This is how they describe themselves:

The Personal Telco Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in Portland, Oregon dedicated to the idea that people have a central role in how their networks are operated. We do that by building our own networks that we share with our communities, and by helping to educate others in how they can too. To date, we have done this using Wi-Fi technology. We began in 2000 by turning our own houses and apartments into wireless hotspots (or "nodes"), and then set about building networks in public locations such as parks and coffee shops. There are currently about 100 active nodes participating in our project. We would like to see people and businesses in every corner and on every block of the city participating.

They have been involved in the discussion in Portland over how the City can ensure all residents and businesses have access to affordable, reliable, and fast connections to the Internet.

I was just reminded of them by a video that discusses their work and some of the reasons communities need to build their own networks (below). They also have a YouTube channel with more videos about community broadband.

Posted December 1, 2011 by christopher

Wally Bowen, of North Carolina's Mountain Area Information Network, recently gave an excellent presentation that explained the importance of broadband and media infrastructure that puts community needs before the profit motive.

In 1889, Statesville, N.C., opted for self-reliance by building its own municipal power system after failing to attract an investor-owned utility. Half a century later, said Bowen, most American farms still lacked electricity, so Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 to help finance nonprofit rural electric cooperatives.

In the 1980s, Morganton, N.C. opted for self-reliance by expanding its municipal power system to offer cable TV, after years of complaints – including the 1982 blackout of the UNC-Georgetown national championship game – about its commercial cable provider.

Bowen cautioned that corporate interests often oppose local communities which “self provision” critical infrastructure. Morganton’s commercial cable-TV provider sued the city to block its cable venture. Only in 1993, after a decade-long legal battle, did Morganton win the right to self-provision cable TV. Today, Morganton’s municipal cable system offers broadband Internet access at competitive rates and with no contract.

Unfortunately, the North Carolina Legislature has made it much harder for local governments to build the necessary networks (as a favor to Time Warner Cable, which just happened to have given massively to many of the candidates). But Wally has an answer -- nonprofit approaches that have been inspired by rural electric cooperatives.

MAIN is making important investments in western North Carolina and should be recognized as making a difference in a region the private sector has largely abandoned.

Posted November 24, 2011 by christopher

A story from Washington, DC, seems appropriate for Thanksgiving. DC's Community of Hope provides healthcare and housing to people in difficult situations. It needs Internet access for its medical work but also for computer labs where people can search for jobs and students can do homework. DC-Net is now providing their access:

“Internet service has been a critical requirement for our programs for some time,” said Victoria Roberts, Community of Hope’s Deputy Director. “Through DC-CAN we are now able to get seven times more bandwidth for the same cost we previously paid, and the fiber network ensures that connection is truly reliable, which has been challenging in the neighborhoods we work in.”

DC-Net is going beyond just providing access to their locations by setting up Wi-Fi access points for the neighborhood to use as well.

DC-Net was created as a muni-owned fiber-optic network connecting schools, muni buildings, and libraries but has gone on to connect some federal agencies. The network has proved incredibly reliable -- far beyond what was provided by the incumbent or other national carriers. And now it is finding ways of delivering services to the people who may need them the most but have the least ability to pay.

Posted August 29, 2011 by christopher

The Salisbury Post discusses MCNC's new middle-mile networks that are being built with stimulus funds. MCNC, an independent nonprofit so old that few remember what it stands for (Microelectronics Center of North Carolina), already runs the North Carolina Research and Education Network connecting libraries and schools across the state.

MCNC is a private, nonprofit organization that runs the North Carolina Research and Education Network. The organization secured two grants through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to fund the infrastructure. Broadband Technology Opportunities Program funds make up $75.75 million of the funding for this phase; MCNC raised $28.25 million privately, including $24 million from Golden LEAF Foundation.

The total project includes more than 2,000 miles of broadband infrastructure to be outfitted through 69 counties in North Carolina.

“The great work being done here … is going to be able to be shared over the world,” said Freddoso [CEO of MCNC].

Freddoso said MCNC has had conversations with the city of Salisbury, distributor of Fibrant cable and Internet service. While the new fiber optic infrastructure will not provide service directly to customers, MCNC will offer wholesale broadband to companies like Time Warner Cable and municipalities that run their own services, like Salisbury.

While we are always happy to see libraries and schools getting access to the connections they need at affordable prices, we believe some of these state-wide educational networks can be counter-productive. Schools and libraries should be anchor tenants on networks owned by the local community (ownership options include coop, nonprofit, or muni ownership). When schools and libraries are served instead by statewide "silo" networks that do not connect residents and businesses, it becomes harder for local communities to finance the networks that will actually connect everyone.

However, as this middle mile is open to others on fair terms (as required by the stimulus broadband programs), we hope it will help communities to build the networks they need once North Carolina comes to its senses and removes...

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Posted July 6, 2011 by christopher

The East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network has announced it will connect an entire town as its second phase. Barnard, Vermont, will be the first town to have universal access to ECFiber's next-generation network.

An update on Phase 1 of this network:

Phase 1, with construction under way (see photo) and scheduled to go live in early August, brings an ultra-high-speed fiber loop from the ECFiber central office near I89 Exit 3, along VT Routes 107 and 12,  to the center of Barnard. ECFiber expects to begin connecting businesses and residents who live on this route in early August and will provide detailed subscriber information closer to that date.

ECFiber has 23 member towns, but Barnard could be the most enthusiastic. This is as grassroots as it gets:

At its June meeting, the ECFiber Governing Board authorized an initiative to extend service to the rest of Barnard town. This requires a second round of capital-raising through a similar "friends and families" offering directed specifically to residents, businesses, and others who wish to support the deployment of universal broadband in Barnard.

Loredo Sola, ECF Governing Board Chair commented, "When we first took our plan to Barnard, we were inundated with residents offering to pay the entire cost of extending the Phase 1 trunk to their homes. This enthusiastic response inspired us to authorize a Barnard-only fund drive."  ECFiber will be organizing informational meetings for Barnard residents and businesses to explain the details of the plan.
When sufficient funds have been committed to build out the entire town, the Barnard Local Fund will close, and construction of Phase 2 can begin.

Barnard had 94% of the community presubscribe!

The success of ECFiber comes without any support of the state, which has continued to pretend wireless connections and out-of-state corporations will provide the networks necessary for the economic development needed by communities.

EC Fiber Truck

Valley News took note of the story and expanded on it:

Without other funding streams, it could take seven to 10 years to build out to all 23 towns...

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Posted May 12, 2011 by christopher

Wally Bowen, the Founder and Executive Director for the Mountain Area Information Network in Asheville, North Carolina, wrote the following op-ed with Tim Karr of Free Press. Wally gave us permission to reprint it here.

North Carolina has a long tradition of self-help and self-reliance, from founding the nation's first public university to building Research Triangle Park. Befitting the state's rural heritage, North Carolinians routinely take self-help measures to foster economic growth and provide essential local services such as drinking water and electric power.

Statesville built the state's first municipal power system in 1889, and over the years 50 North Carolina cities and towns followed suit. In 1936, the state's first rural electric cooperative was launched in Tarboro to serve Edgecombe and Martin counties. Today, 26 nonprofit electric networks serve more than 2.5 million North Carolinians in 93 counties.

Strangely, this self-help tradition is under attack. The General Assembly just passed a bill to restrict municipalities from building and operating broadband Internet systems to attract industry and create local jobs. Although pushed by the cable and telephone lobby, similar bills were defeated in previous legislative sessions. But the influx of freshmen legislators and new leadership in both houses created an opening for the dubiously titled "Level Playing Field" bill (HB 129).

No one disputes the importance of broadband access for economic growth and job creation. That's why five cities - Wilson, Salisbury, Morganton, Davidson and Mooresville - invoked their self-help traditions to build and operate broadband systems after years of neglect from for-profit providers, which focus their investments in more affluent and densely populated areas. Not coincidentally, all five cities own and operate their own power systems or have ties to nonprofit electric cooperatives.

(While the bill does not outlaw these five municipal networks, it restricts their expansion and requires them to make annual tax payments to the state as if they were for-profit companies.)

How does a state that values independence, self-reliance and economic prosperity allow...

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Posted April 12, 2011 by christopher

Steuben, Chemung, and Schuyler counties have joined with fiber-optic cable manufacturer Corning to announce a middle-mile network connecting community anchor institutions, wireless towers, etc. Corning picked up the lion's share of the network, $10 million of the $12.2 million price tag.

Local governments, educational institutions, health care organizations and other commercial/industrial businesses also stand to benefit greatly, said Marcia Weber, Southern Tier Central executive director.

Possible applications include “distance learning” between college campus branches and “telemedicine” between rural clinics and major hospitals, Weber said.

The project has been a top priority for Southern Tier Central in recent years. Weber, who called it “her passion,” was very disappointed when a major federal stimulus grant was narrowly missed last year.

The counties’ share (Steuben, $1.23 million; Chemung, $790,000; Schuyler, $188,000) will fund a non-profit, to be called Southern Tier Network, that has been created to oversee and maintain the network.

The project starts this year and expects to be finished by 2013. In 2014, the project is expected to become self-sustainable -- being funded by the fees it charges for access to the infrastructure.

A fact sheet on the project [pdf] explains the governing structure:

Southern Tier Network is a new not-for-profit, local development corporation (LDC) established to own, build and manage a $12.2 million regional fiber optic backbone that will enable access to the highest speed broadband connectivity available in Chemung, Schuyler and Steuben Counties. Articles of Incorporation for Southern Tier Network have been filed with New York State, and a board of directors is in place, comprised of representatives from the three counties and other community stakeholders.

The fact sheet also explains the idea of Middle Mile and Open Access (referencing Axcess Ontario, a similar project funded by Ontario County):

Southern Tier Network will...

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Posted January 28, 2011 by christopher

Wally Bowen, the Founder and Executive Director for the Mountain Area Information Network in Asheville, North Carolina, wrote the following piece after President Obama's State of the Union Address.  He gave us permission to reprint it below.

Last night in the State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to help “win the future” by, among other things, rebuilding America's infrastructure.

On broadband Internet access, the president was unequivocal: wireless broadband is the way forward (item #1 below).

However, he did not mention the FCC's recent approval of “open Internet” protections that are widely believed to be unenforceable. Indeed, just a few days ago Verizon filed suit to invalidate these rules via a preemptive, knockout blow.

Congress is not likely to pass any meaningful net neutrality/open Internet rules. This means that the Internet is completely exposed to “corporate enclosure” by a handful of cable and telephone companies and their business partners (Apple, Google, FaceBook, et al).

Our only alternative for preserving an open Internet -- and the freedom to innovate and use applications of our own choosing -- is the creation of non-commercial, community-based broadband networks (item #2 below).

MAIN logo

Fortunately, Asheville and WNC are ahead of the game with our nonprofit fiber networks (ERC Broadband, Balsam West, French Broad EMC, et al.) and nonprofit wireless networks like the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN).

The way forward will be difficult. While the commercial carriers have been somewhat tolerant of nonprofit “middle-mile” fiber networks, they view nonprofit “last-mile” providers of broadband service to homes and businesses as “unfair competition.”

Indeed, 15 states have already passed laws – pushed by cable and telco lobbyists – to prohibit “last-mile” municipal broadband networks. A similar law was attempted, but tabled, in the last two sessions of the N.C. General Assembly. This law will no doubt re-appear in the upcoming session.

Fortunately, MAIN is an independent nonprofit and card-carrying member of the private sector. While the big carriers cannot...

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Posted January 7, 2011 by christopher

The Port Authority of Medina County, Ohio, has successfully bonded $14.4 million to take advantage of a broadband stimulus award to build a fiber-optic network connecting community anchor institutions and businesses with better broadband.

Bethany Dentler, executive director of the Medina County Economic Development Corporation, said Dec. 17 that a bond consultant had just completed sale of the bonds at an average interest rate of 5.96 percent. Cash from the bond sale was expected to be in the hands of the Medina County Port Authority by the end of the year and a fiber lighting ceremony to kickoff the construction phase of the project is planned for March or April. Dentler said the port authority, which will own the network, plans to pay off the bonds over the next 20 years with fees charged to customers of the fiber network.

The nonprofit organization OneCommunity will build and presumably operate the network, which will be owned by the County. Being located in close enough proximity to work with OneCommunity appears to be a terrific advantage for communities who make investments in broadband infrastructure. The $1.4 million in stimulus funds aiding this project were a part of the larger award given to OneCommunity as part of their efforts to better wire 20 counties in Ohio.

Posted December 20, 2010 by christopher

On TelecomTV, Sean McLaughlin discusses their local efforts to improve broadband access and the impediments they face from big national carriers.

Sean has a great understanding (and capacity to communicate that understanding) of how media access has changed from a focus on television to a broader focus centered on the Internet.

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