Tag: "economic development"

Posted April 4, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

This year's Mountain Connect conference begins Monday, May 23rd and runs through Wednesday, May 25 in Keystone, Colorado. The conference's self-stated goal is to "move our western US communities forward by providing relevant and targeted content to help them make the most effective decisions as they build new or expand existing telecommunications infrastructure that enable the long-term vision of a community."

It will feature panels on navigating state and federal funding, telehealth, disaster resilience, digital inclusion, tribal connectivity, construction challenges, and communications and technology standards. 

We'll also get to hear an array of conversations with local leaders, talking about everything from revitalizing downtowns with new municipal broadband infrastructure, to partnerships, to open access, to marketing, to managing subscriber expectations. See the full agenda here.

Anchoring the panels will be communities like Boulder, Colorado, Loveland, Colorado, and Detroit, Michigan, with familiar faces and industry veterans helping to break things down in clear ways, including Peggy Schaffer (ConnectME), Joshua Edmonds (Director of Digital Inclusion, Detroit), Brian Snider (Lit Communities), Bruce Patterson (EntryPoint Networks), and Gary Bolton (Fiber Broadband Association).

ILSR's DeAnne Cuellar will be participating on a digital inclusion panel moderated by NDIA's Paolo Balboa with Colorado Department of Labor's Katherine Keegan. Likewise, Christopher Mitchell will moderate a panel with Peggy Schaffer, Eric Forsch (Idaho Commerce) and Veneeth Iyengar (ConnectLA) to talk about how states will use the BEAD money. See the full slate of speakers here.

Register for Mountain Connect 2022 here.

Posted February 10, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Dickson, Tennessee (pop. 15,500) was the third municipal electric system to take power from the Tennessee Valley Authority after its creation in 1933, but the utility actually predates the regional electric generation system by almost 30 years. Today, it’s entering a new phase of life, parlaying its 117-year history of bringing affordable electric service into an $80 million fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) build that will see every household in its footprint (37,000 meters) get future-proof Internet access within the next four years.

A Cooperative in Municipal Clothing

Established in 1905, the very first Dickson Electric System (DES) customers received their power from a single 150-horsepower external combustion steam engine. DES upgraded its capacity in 1923, switching to two 150-horsepower oil-burning engines. A little more than a decade later, the TVA was established and DES took service, joining the maturing regional electric system and bringing its 650 customers and 50 miles of line into what would eventually be a group of more than 150 local power utilities almost a century later.

Today, Dickson Electric territory covers almost 800 square miles across Dickson, Hickman, Cheatham, Williamson, Humphreys, Houston, and Montgomery Counties (with the bulk of its customers in the first three), across about 2,600 miles of distribution line to 37,000 locations.

Because of this and some other factors, in many ways Dickson, Tennessee’s municipal electric system looks more like an electric cooperative than typical city-centered infrastructure, General Manager Darrell Gillespie shared in an interview. Just the fourth general manager to serve in the position since DES’ founding, Gillespie said that only 22 percent of its meters are located in the city of Dickson. The rest are spread across the seven-county footprint - many in rural areas, and including in parts or all of four other cities. In fact, DES averages just 13 customers per mile across its service area.

With a long history of providing affordable, reliable, locally accountable electric service, leadership at the utility have been talking about expanding into the fiber business for years. The onset of the pandemic in the spring of 2020...

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Posted February 8, 2022 by

In this episode of the Connect This! Show, co-hosts Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) are joined by regular guests Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber) and Doug Dawson (CCG Consulting) to talk about current events in broadband.

The panel will reflect on RDOF: one year later, how demands for remote work are fueling the broadband boom, and the latest news in broadband.

Subscribe to the show using this feed on YouTube Live or here on Facebook Live, or visit ConnectThisShow.com

Email us broadband@muninetworks.org with feedback and ideas for the show.

Watch here on YouTube Live, here on Facebook live, or below.

Posted December 20, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

FairlawnGig has released a new, short, six-minute video that captures why broadband infrastructure is essential for improving quality of life and boosting economic development in communities across Ohio, highlighting a lesson more cities and towns across the nation are learning first-hand: if the goal is to build a bridge over the digital divide, local communities will likely have to build it themselves.

The video (which you can watch in its entirety by clicking on the video embedded below) also serves as a subtle but fitting admonition of an anonymous state Senator who submitted an amendment into the state budget earlier this year. If passed, it would have threatened to put the award-winning fiber network out of business and prevented other communities in the Buckeye State from following in Fairlawn’s footsteps.

Thankfully, the amendment – a gift to incumbent monopoly ISPs intent on crushing any competition – was rejected after state lawmakers were inundated with constituent complaints about the “in the dark of night” proposal.

Compelled to Take It on Themselves

Fairlawn, a small city of approximately 7,500 Ohioans about 10 miles northeast of Akron, created a telecommunications utility in 2015 to bring city-wide access to high-speed Internet service after years of dealing with subpar broadband offerings. Today, the network enjoys a take-rate of 60 percent while subscribers enjoy a choice of three residential services tiers: a 300 Megabits per second symmetrical connection for $55/month; symmetrical gig speed service for $75/month; or 2.5 Gigabits per second service for $149/month.

In the video, the narrator begins with an observation that is fast becoming obvious to just about everyone:

Many communities in the U.S. are being left behind due to a lack of adequate Internet service and access to state of the art technology.

...
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Posted November 12, 2021 by Maren Machles

Over the next few years, we will see an upward trend of fiber infrastructure being built (RDOF, privately announced investment from monopoly providers, NTIA $10 billion broadband infrastructure program, and now, the passing of the infrastructure bill).  We will need, as a country, more fiber technicians to do this work, but there is a lack of fiber training programs.

To meet this need and in response to dual dilemma of an ever present need for affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband, and the number of citizens that have been dislocated or laid off due to the pandemic, the Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology has partnered with Cherokee Nation Career Services (CNCS) and Muscogee (Creek) Nation Reintegration Program to create a fiber technician training program. 

As part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Reintegration Program, the first nine participants graduated from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Fiber Optic Technician program on Sept. 10.

The fiber optic technician training program takes place in person over the course of eight weeks followed by a four-week internship. According to the RIP website the course covers pole climbing and fiber splicing. OSHA 10 and CPR certification are also included.

“This is a significant program for OSUIT to be involved with,” Na-komas Blackford, Workforce Training Coordinator at OSUIT, said in a press release on OSUIT’s website. “The broadband industry is growing and expected to continue growing in Oklahoma. OSUIT specializes in high-demand training, and this is one area we did not want to miss out on.”

Training for Success

The Muscogee program came after leaders heard about the success CNCS had when it started in the fall of 2020 and already has several participants working in the field. 

“[CNCS’ training program] currently has an employment placement rate of 100%,” Blackford said in OSUIT’s June press release. “The average Fiber Technician salary in the United States typically falls between $46,400 and $59,380, although it does change with each employer. We have seen several of our students that complete the program on track and make a significantly higher first-year salary than what is reflected in the top of...

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Posted November 2, 2021 by Maren Machles

On this week’s episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, host Christopher Mitchell is joined by Danny Peralta, the Executive Managing Director of The Point in the Bronx, New York which has. The Point has been at the forefront of revitalizing the South Bronx’s Hunts Point neighborhood working to address  environmental issues, increase access to the arts, and even expand Internet connectivity.

The two discuss The Point’s journey to tackle broadband infrastructure resiliency issues in the face of Hurricane Maria back in 2015. While the project was initially focused on small businesses, The Point has built a network that is beginning to connect residents and making efforts  to address the digital divide in the community. 

Peralta explains how The Point is part of a larger movement in the community to take back ownership of its resources and improve conditions for residents, making it better for generations to come. 

This show is 32 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript.

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

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher ...

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Posted November 1, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

UTOPIA Fiber continues to grow and is now exporting its expertise into Bozeman, Montana – one of the fastest-growing cities of its size and often listed among the best places to live in the country.

Referred to by some as “Boz Angeles” because of the influx of Californians to the area, this Rocky Mountain city of 53,000, nestled in Gallatin Valley, is about to become even more attractive as a rising tech hub for millennials. At the Broadband Communities 2021 Summit last month, it was announced that Bozeman Fiber, a non-profit organization created by the city to expand high-speed Internet connectivity across the region, has partnered with Utah-based UTOPIA Fiber to build an open access fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network.

Bozeman Fiber has already built an open access fiber ring, serving city, county, and school facilities. It has also connected 200 commercial customers. The partnership with UTOPIA will allow Bozeman Fiber to extend the network across the city, passing 22,000 homes and businesses, with plans to extend further out into the more rural parts of Gallatin County down the road.

Network construction, which is estimated to cost $65 million, is slated to begin in the spring of 2022 and is expected to take three years to be completed.

“This is the first phase of a project that will cover the city and some areas of the county, and the intention is we’ll have future phases that reach further out into the county to hit more rural areas,” UTOPIA Fiber executive director Roger Timmerman said during the press conference announcing the partnership.

Bozeman Fiber CEO Greg Metzger added: “with this project, we’ll be able to attract and retain more businesses, and create jobs.”

County Provides Access to Bond Market

To finance the network construction, Bozeman Fiber has partnered with the Gallatin...

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Posted October 22, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Earlier this month, a plan to bring fiber connectivity to four towns in Knox County, Maine (pop. 39,500) spearheaded by the MidCoast Internet Development Corporation (MIDC) was dealt a major blow when Knox County Commissioners denied MIDC’s request to use the county's American Rescue Plan funds to pay for network construction.

During a Knox County Commission meeting on Tuesday, October 12, after County Commissioners repeatedly barred local municipal leaders from commenting on broadband-related issues, they voted unanimously against awarding any of the county’s $7.7 million in American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds to municipal broadband projects or any project benefiting an individual municipality.

County Commissioners assembled to consider 58 ARPA project applications submitted by nonprofit and municipal entities, all vying for a portion of the county’s Rescue Plan funds. But, the meeting took an unexpected turn when one Knox County Commissioner accused representatives from the MIDC, a regional broadband utility formed by four Knox County towns, of “bullying” the Commissioners into spending the county’s Rescue Plan funds on regional and municipal broadband projects. 

After County Commissioner Dorothy Meriwether voiced her displeasure for how local community broadband advocates pursued the funding, three local Select Board members were not permitted to speak in support of MIDC. Adding insult to injury, the Commissioners then welcomed a representative from Charter Spectrum to talk for nearly 30 minutes.

Knox County Commissioners are now getting pushback from local municipal leaders and their constituents who are accusing the Commissioners of not adhering to the budget approval process mandated by the county charter and failing to represent constituents in the county’s ARPA funding priorities. They also say the County Commissioners are in violation of Maine state law for forgoing a public comment period.

At the meeting’s conclusion, Knox County Commissioners had informally awarded $4.1 million of the county’s ARPA funds to project proposals addressing affordable housing and food distribution. Yet, some municipal leaders refuse to go quietly into the night, skeptical...

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Posted October 18, 2021 by Maren Machles

More than $34.6 million in COVID relief funds were awarded in August to 15 Minnesota cities and counties across the state as part of the Small Cities Coronavirus Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG-CV). The grant program was created to support Minnesota’s COVID-19 response efforts with the help of a special allocation of Community Development Block Grant funds from the CARES Act fund. 

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) administered the grants which can be used for projects like housing assistance and commercial rehabilitation, but the majority of the funding - approximately $32 million - will be used for broadband projects. 

“The pandemic has made clear how vital broadband is to the lives of Minnesotans and to the economic vitality of our state,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove in a DEED press release. “These grants will help communities fund broadband and other important projects as we write the next chapter of our economy.”

Aitkin County, receiving the largest grant of $4.8 million, submitted an application to work with the Mille Lac Energy Cooperative on a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project that would pass approximately 565 homes across seven communities, six of which don’t even have access to 10/1 Megabit per second (Mbps). The application projected it would take approximately 93 miles of fiber and $9,000 per passing location. In its application, the county shared that while the median household income across Minnesota is $71,300, the median across these communities is $45,990, demonstrating that there is a clear issue of infrastructure and access, but also affordability. As part of its application, Aitkin County and MLEC announced the latter would include a low-cost plan to help address the digital divide: 

MLEC will offer a discounted plan at $39.95 with speeds of 50Mbps/50 Mbps to qualifying residents.If the Emergency Broadband Benefit is continued after the initial funding period" MLEC hopes to participate in this program and will discontinue the discounted...

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Posted October 14, 2021 by Jericho Casper

North Louisiana has more premises unserved with high-speed Internet access than any other region of the state. In an effort to bring reliable Internet access to its members who have gone without service, directors of the Northeast Louisiana Power Cooperative (NELPCO) recently agreed to pursue a $54 million fiber buildout. 

During a special meeting called on June 29th, NELPCO’s Board of Directors voted 5-2 to begin providing high-speed Internet access across the seven rural parishes the cooperative serves through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Volt Broadband LLC.

The exact details of the project and how it will be funded are still being worked out. But, the cooperative is preparing to bond for $50 million to deploy fiber infrastructure across its 2,180-square-mile service territory, which runs from “south of Turkey Creek Lake in Franklin Parish north to the Arkansas line, and extends into Morehouse Parish,” according to the cooperative’s website.

Construction of the fiber network will be completed in segments, beginning in the most populated regions and extending to the most rural, to eventually serve all 11,000 co-op members.

The cooperative will put up the majority of its capital credit – $30 million – as collateral to secure the bond. “Capital credits are retained margins left over at the end of the year at nonprofit electric cooperatives such as NELPCO,” Board of Director member Thad Waters told The Franklin Sun. “This is the most significant source of equity for most cooperatives, and capital credits reflect each member's ownership in the cooperative.”

Aiming to Reinvigorate Industry

Positioned in the delta of rich soils between the Ouachita and Mississippi rivers, agriculture has dominated the economy of Louisiana’s northeast region for centuries. Where once cotton was king, driving through the region...

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