Tag: "pennsylvania"

Posted June 28, 2019 by Jess Del Fiacco

Maps produced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) show that the vast majority of Pennsylvanians have broadband access, but anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. In order to get a clearer picture of on-the-ground broadband access and availability, a team from Pennsylvania State University proposed a research project for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania (CRPA) that would analyze millions of speed tests from around the state. A few staff members from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance were recruited to help with the research: Hannah Trostle and Hannah Bonestroo created the maps for the report and Christopher Mitchell contributed policy recommendations. 

Read the full report here.

A Growing Problem in Rural Counties 

The team collected more than 11 million speed tests in 2018 using the Measurement Lab (M-Lab) platform, which allows users to conduct tests on their actual broadband connections. When the M-Lab’s data was compared to the FCC’s Form 477 speed data, certain discrepancies became apparent. Researchers found that there are actually zero counties in Pennsylvania where at least 50% of residents have access to broadband. 

The findings also showed that not only are median speeds slower in rural counties compared to urban ones, but the discrepancy between FCC data and the measured speeds collected by M-Lab has grown significantly in rural counties over the last few years. This signifies a growing problem for policymakers hoping to bridge rural Pennsylvania’s digital divide. Without a clear and accurate analysis of connectivity, determining where and how funding should be used is difficult. 

Next Steps for Pennsylvania 

Rural communities can face serious economic impacts due to a lack of affordable, reliable, broadband access, so local leaders are motivated to improve access for residents and businesses. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is one of a number of states with laws on the books that restrict municipal broadband, so governments that are willing to invest in broadband infrastructure are often discouraged or flat out prevented from doing so. Some have nonetheless come up with creative solutions to improve local connectivity, but...

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Posted June 18, 2018 by lgonzalez

The Next Century Cities’ Regional Broadband Summit is quickly approaching. Summer tends to slip by without notice, but we don’t want this summer opportunity to also slip by. You can still register for the July 23 - 24 event in Pittsburgh, “Making Connections,” and touch base with elected officials from cities, towns, and counties from across the U.S. Municipal, nonprofit, and academic staff can register for free.

Monday’s Summit

On Monday, Next Centuries Cities will bring together experts in policy, broadband champions, and community leaders from all levels of government to tackle issues surrounding broadband deployment. Some of the topics they will discuss include digital equity, financing, rural connectivity, 5G, and they’ll offer success stories.

In addition to Christopher, you can expect to see presentations by:

Blair Levin, Senior Fellow from the Brookings Institution will provide the Keynote Address. Check out the agenda to see more about panel discussions and breakout sessions.

On Monday evening, attendees are invited to a welcome reception in Pittsburgh City Hall where vendors and public officials can connect in a casual setting.

Tuesday’s Speed Networking

On Tuesday, the event will focus on the Second Annual City-Vendor Connect, a “speed networking” event in which participants can speak to each other individually:

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Posted May 24, 2018 by lgonzalez

Is it summer already? If you aren’t already booked for July, Pittsburgh awaits. Next Century Cities is hosting Making Connections: A Regional Broadband Summit that will bring together experts, leaders, and champions from federal, state, and local government. Register here to sign up for the two-day event.

All-Star Lineup

In addition to our Christopher Mitchell, you will hear speakers such as:

Blair Levin, Senior Fellow from the Brookings Institution and one of people who have helped establish a vision for universal broadband in the U.S., will deliver the Keynote Address.

On July 23rd, listen to several panel presentations on successful models for deployment, digital equity, and financing. You’ll also have the chance to network with colleagues and participate in breakout sessions. There will be a Welcome Reception that evening at City Hall.

Tuesday, July 24th, will be dedicated to networking to bring communities and vendors together:

City-Vendor Connect will be set up in a “speed networking” format, to provide cities and vendors the opportunity to speak one-on-one to build relationships, discuss assets and needs, and create potential partnerships. The pairings of cities and vendors will be curated based on mutual interest, needs, and priorities between cities and vendors. Possible discussion topics range from fiber builds to 5G deployments to smart city analytics platforms. Cities and vendors will have the...

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Posted October 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

Over the past several decades, the population of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, has incrementally jumped up and down, but today's population is the same as it was in 1960. In order to boost economic development and encourage growth with more jobs, community leaders are deploying fiber for better connectivity in several industrial areas.

Financial Help For Fiber Connectivity

In May, U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced that they would provide a $569,000 grant to the county to help fund the project. The EDA consider the project worth while because they expect the project to retain 20 existing jobs, generate 42 new jobs, and stimulate $25 million in private investment.

County officials intend to combine the EDA grant with an additional grant they received in January from the Appalachian Regional Commission. The ARC grant of almost $949,000 will allow Somerset County to dedicate approximately $1.5 million to run fiber four industrial parks. The County will match the grant award in order to fully fund the 22-mile network, which will expand existing Somerset County fiber infrastructure. View a map of the proposed expansion here.

Lack Of Meaningful Connectivity In Rural Pennsylvania

Recently, the County Board of Commissioners approved a contract with a firm to oversee the project. Long-term goals are to improve connectivity for approximately 1,100 businesses and 3,900 households along with local community anchor institutions (CAIs) and other entities. Approximately 18 percent of the people in Somerset don’t have broadband as defined by the FCC (25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload) according to Form 477 data. The number is likely much higher, however, because Form 477 data tends to overstate coverage, especially in rural areas. Shortly after the county received the EDA award, two local Internet service providers expressed interest in delivering services via the new infrastructure.

The largest community is the county seat of Somerset with...

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Posted April 14, 2017 by Staff

This is the transcript for Community Broadband Bits Episode 248. Brian Kelly of MAW Communications and Patrick Hopkins of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, join the show to discuss how the city and MAW are collaborating in a public-private partnership. Listen to this episode here.

Brian Kelly: Each of the communities that invests in Community Broadband Solutions is going to be slightly different. It's going to be about negotiating those very specific local conditions that will make the project successful.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 248 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. In March, we shared the news about Lancaster, Pennsylvania's, public private partnership with MAW Communications on MuniNetworks.org. This week, Christopher interviews Patrick Hopkins, Business Administrator for the city, and Brian Kelly, Operations Director at MAW Communications. In the interview, you'll hear about the long and detailed planning for the Fiber to the Home project. You'll also hear about how both the city and this local provider found some ways to overcome specific challenges relating to the project. They each explain what drew them to this approach and some of the added benefits of Fiber to the Home in Lancaster. Check out the project website at LanCity Connect and learn about MAW Communications at MAWcom.com. Now here's Patrick Hopkins and Brian Kelly talking with Christopher about the LanCity city Connect project.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell, and today I'm speaking with Patrick Hopkins, the Business Administrator for the City of Lancaster. Welcome to the show.

Patrick Hopkins: Thank you for having us.

Christopher Mitchell: And we also have Brian Kelly, the Operations Director at MAW Communications, a small private company that serves the region. Welcome to the show.

Brian Kelly: Thanks so much for having us.

Christopher Mitchell: So, Patrick, I thought I'd ask you first to just give us a short version of what's happening in Lancaster with...

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Posted April 11, 2017 by christopher

Located in southeast Pennsylvania, Lancaster will soon have some of the fastest Internet access in the entire state due to its partnership with a local telecommunications firm, MAW Communications. We reported on many details about this approach here, but Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 248 offers an in-depth look.

Lancaster Business Administrator Patrick Hopkins and MAW Communications Operations Director Brian Kelly joined me to talk about the history of their partnership and the next big step: a citywide gigabit fiber-optic network. 

We also talk about the risks to the public sector from trusting a private company with essential infrastructure and the potential challenges for a private sector company to work with a local government. Both sides are going into this arrangement with their eyes wide open and offer tips for what others should consider before they try to replicate the model. 

If you missed it, last year we released a major paper about considerations in public-private partnerships. We did not discuss LanCity Connect, but many of themes apply.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 29 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or via 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 Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted April 2, 2017 by Nick

LancasterOnline - April 2, 2017

LanCity Connect: Lancaster's municipal broadband is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania

Written by Tim Stuhldreher

In mid-January, The Candy Factory in Lancaster joined the early adopter program for LanCity Connect, the fiber-optic broadband network being built for the city by MAW Communications.

Previously, the co-working venue on North Queen Street got its internet service from Comcast, but “we were having nothing but problems,” co-founder Anne Kirby said.

“The minute we switched over to fiber, literally every internet issue we had went away,” Kirby said.

Lancaster officials have worked for more than a decade to bring high-speed municipal broadband to the Red Rose city.

It required creation of a unique public-private partnership with MAW, the first of its kind in Pennsylvania. Starting this spring, LanCity Connect is being made available to the public. ...

With speeds of up to a gigabit per second — that’s 1,000 megabits-per-second, or Mbps — LanCity Connect is a game-changer, local officials say, both for city services and for local residents and businesses.

An advocate for community broadband concurs.

“This is a good deal” for Lancaster, said Christopher Mitchell, the director of the nonprofit Community Broadband Networks Initiative, based in Washington, D.C. “It’s far better than the status quo.”

...

In Pennsylvania, a 2004 law requires cities to give their dominant local telecommunications carrier first dibs on building broadband. Only if it refuses can the city go ahead.

Fortunately for Lancaster, the carrier in question is Verizon. Unlike most of its peers, it’s been honest about its lack of interest in small markets, Mitchell said, and it granted the needed waiver.

The PPP

Not only are fiber-optic networks expensive, they’re technologically challenging and have to comply with complex regulations.

To overcome those obstacles, Lancaster and MAW developed a public-private partnership, or PPP.

PPPs can be minefields: Unscrupulous companies have used them to loot public coffers and create captive markets.

But Mitchell, who has been...

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Posted March 28, 2017 by htrostle

Pennsylvania’s state barriers won’t stop this community from improving Internet service for its municipal facilities, residents, and businesses. The City of Lancaster is collaborating with private provider MAW Communications to ensure the community has next-generation technology. Their public-private partnership, LanCity Connect, will offer affordable 1 gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) service over a new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Shared Risk, Public Financing

The Lancaster Online has closely followed the development of the partnership from a 2015 Wi-Fi project between the partners to the current citywide fiber plan. Here's a quick summary of the basic framework of the partnership: 

MAW Communications originally built a $1.7 million fiber backbone starting in 2015 with financing from the city's water fund bond. The city had refinanced its water utility debt, saving some $7.8 million and they worked out an agreement with MAW where the private partner would deploy and own a backbone fiber network. Over the 20 year term of the deal, the city has the right to half the network for city services, including automatic meter reading (AMR) and a traffic control system, with the city being able to renew the deal for four additional terms. Officials have said this arrangement will not impact water rates.

MAW Communications will extend the network to premises, aided by a $1.5 million loan with a 7 percent interest rate from the city's general fund reserves. The provider will repay the loan over a 13 year period. As long as MAW Communications has an outstanding loan to the city, the provider cannot sell the network without the city's written approval. Though the loan will help MAW to begin building the network, the costs of connecting homes and businesses would still be prohibitive at $1,000 each if not for another element of the plan.

The city developed a creative way to spread that $1,000...

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Posted January 11, 2017 by lgonzalez

It’s no small feat to plan, deploy, and operate a municipal citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, but communities are doing it. We’ve put together a Citywide Municipal FTTH Networks list and a map, with quick facts at your fingertips. If your community is considering such an investment, this list can offer a starting point on discovering similarly situated locations to study.

The list is divided by state and each state heading offers a description of any barriers that exist and a link to the statute in question. Under each community, we also included relevant links such as to the provider’s website, coverage on MuniNetworks.org, and reports or resources about the network.

We used four basic criteria to put a community on our list and map:

  • The network must cover at least 80% of a city.
  • A local government (city, town, or county) owns the infrastructure.
  • It is a Fiber-to-the-Home network.
  • It is in the United States. 

Share the list far and wide and if you know of a community network that meets our criteria that we missed, please let us know. Contact H. Trostle at htrostle@ilsr.org to suggest additions.

Posted April 21, 2016 by htrostle

In Pennsylvania, many of Allegheny County’s schools are about to experience new and improved high-speed Internet access. This summer, school districts throughout Allegheny County will get better connectivity and save public dollars with a new Regional Wide Area Network. 

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the Allegheny Intermediate Unit struck a deal with a new contractor to deliver better connectivity for less. The Allegheny Intermediate Unit, a branch of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, provides services to 42 schools and five career and technical centers in the county surrounding Pittsburgh.

Paying Less and Getting More

The new network will generate major cost savings for the school districts. Jon Amelio, the Chief Technology Officer for Allegheny Intermediate Unit, estimates that they will pay 40 percent - 70 percent less than they do now. Currently, the school districts are paying $1,500 per month; with the new contract, the same speed and connectivity will only cost $550 per month. Many of the school districts are opting to increase their speeds, some by as much as 10-fold for only $895 per month.

Students and teachers will appreciate the faster speeds next school year. The connectivity affects nearly every level of education in the county from preschool teachers working with smartboards to high school students learning about 3-D printers. The new network will also better facilitate the Chinese language classes where Chinese graduate students teach 178 middle- and high-school students in 15 schools via video-conferencing. (For more information on schools and connectivity, check out the Institutional Networks page.)

How Is This Possible?

The structure of the new network enables these major cost savings. The school districts will buy connectivity in bulk under the new contract. This process consolidates the demand, driving down the price. That means better connectivity for less with the new Regional Wide Area Network; the old Regional Wide Area Network did not have this process.

Since 2008, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit has used an older Regional...

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