Tag: "economic development"

Posted September 9, 2021 by Jericho Casper

During fire season in Northern California - when the sky often turns dusky with smoke in the middle of the day and the air quality can get so bad that officials declare it unhealthy to be outdoors - access to high-speed Internet connectivity is all-important.

For local governments, fast, reliable, and resilient Internet service is crucial for public safety communications. When flames engulf the region, relaying critical emergency information with speed is paramount. Seconds matter. It’s equally important for citizens to get timely information on the course of wildfires, receive alert notifications or evacuation orders, and be able to connect with friends and family. 

Living in that reality is one of the driving reasons the Chico City Council recently voted to earmark $5 million of the city’s $22 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to research and implement a plan to improve citywide Internet access. 

City council members have already authorized spending $250,000 of the funds to develop a Broadband Master Plan in conjunction with EntryPoint Networks. The plan is projected to be completed by October, and once it is finished the City Council will decide where to go from there.

City officials are also in the process of surveying the city’s 115,000 residents to gauge community interest in building a municipally-owned open access fiber network. Responses to the survey so far have indicated residents are excited about the potential of a municipal broadband offering, the city’s Administrative Services Director, Scott Dowell, told ILSR in a recent interview. Dowell said he’s noticed three recurring themes in the survey responses to date: “They want it to be reliable, inexpensive, and fast.”

Although no plans have been finalized and the city is open to various approaches to improve Internet access, Dowell said the city’s lofty goal is to enable symmetrical gigabit Internet service to all premises in Chico for a monthly access fee of no more than $100. 

Improving Emergency Communications in the Face of Forest Fires

A citywide fiber optic network would bring new capabilities to Chico Fire Department’s six fire stations, which currently lease fiber Internet service offering slower-than-...

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Posted August 26, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Vinton, Iowa’s municipal communications utility, iVinton, connected its 1,000th subscriber with high-speed fiber optic Internet service this week.

Demand for fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) connectivity across the 4.74-square-mile Iowa community (est. pop. 5,100) is so substantial that iVinton, governed by the Vinton Municipal Electric Utility (VMEU), is having to schedule installations a month out as requests for residential service have surpassed the manpower available to complete them as quickly as they had hoped. 

As the telecommunications utility transitions out of its start-up phase – from working with external consultants to bringing all operations in house and limiting outside vendors – the biggest challenge iVinton has had to overcome is not having enough employees to take on the necessary roles, Matt Storm, iVinton’s Municipal Communications Manager, told ILSR in a recent interview. 

Still, the utility is plugging away to keep up with requests for residential installations as iVinton is eager to meet the surge in demand. “We’re supplying a service that’s needed for the community, and the community has responded,” Storm told ILSR.

Just over a year into the municipal fiber network being operational, 1,000 of 2,450 residential and business premises, or 41 percent of the available premises in Vinton have made the switch. They've been lured by increased bandwidth, a higher quality of service, and the benefit of iVinton being a local provider with service technicians in town. Today, iVinton offers three symmetrical speed tiers to residents: 100 Megabit per second (Mbps), 250 Mbps, and 1000 Mbps connections for $70, $90, and $120 per month respectively. 

The utility fiber service has been transformational for residents, businesses, and government operations alike since portions of iVinton’s network first went live in March 2020. The fiber utility recently lit up the Benton County Courthouse, as well as its off-site locations and local schools. These critical community institutions had to rely on DSL and subpar cable service from MediaCom before iVinton came along.

A Long-Anticipated Endeavor 

Construction of iVinton’s citywide fiber network...

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Posted August 17, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A version of this story was originally published by the National League of Cities. Read the original here, with the full version below.

There’s an overwhelming tendency among regular Americans to conflate the basic infrastructure which surrounds us with permanence. Whether it’s the garbage truck predictably rumbling down the street at the same time every week, the water flowing from the tap, or our Internet connection, we assume that the physical ties which bind us together will always be there. And that’s because it mostly has, especially for community owned and operated infrastructure. When utility services are owned and operated by communities, they are by definition maintained by people who live locally for people who live locally. It’s hard to be taken by surprise and left without essential services.

But the odds tilt in the other direction when such services are delivered by outside firms. We’re seeing the consequences of this for electricity users in the wake of the Texas grid disaster last winter (as well as coming rumblings of heat-caused outages this June), but it’s a problem that’s been around longer than that for basic service providers of all types, where bankruptcies can leave whole communities high and dry.

The same consequences hold true when those firms are Internet Service Providers (ISPs), beholden to interests outside of the cities and towns they serve. Tens of thousands of American households learned this very lesson last fall when AT&T announced it was leaving the DSL business and no longer making new connections to its aging infrastructure, even though those wires will continue to sit in the ground for decades to come. Buy a new house in this area, and if AT&T DSL was the only provider in town, and you’ve got few or no options.

But it happens with small providers too. Tuttle, Oklahoma (pop. 7,300) faced this reality a decade ago when the local cable company, providing the only universal wireline Internet service in the area, went bankrupt. “For a...

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Posted August 10, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Two utility cooperatives in South Carolina – one electric, the other a telephone co-op – have teamed up and are now cooperating to bring fiber-to-the-home Internet service to members living in Anderson, Greenville, Oconee, Pickens and Spartanburg counties.

In September 2020, the Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative (BREC) announced the partnership with WCFIBER, a subsidiary of the West Carolina Telephone Cooperative (WCTEL). WCFIBER has a well-established reputation as a rural broadband provider – serving Abbeville, McCormick, and Greenwood counties, as well as parts of Columbia County, GA – while BREC has a long and proud history delivering electricity to residents and businesses who call this part rural/part suburban corner of South Carolina home.

It’s a partnership that has given birth to Upcountry Fiber, a new subsidiary owned by Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative. The plan is to build out the network incrementally with construction expected to take five years to complete. BREC is not only focused on serving its 25,000 members, when the network is fully built-out, all 64,890 households and businesses in Blue Ridge’s 1,800 square mile service area will have access to gigabit speed fiber connectivity.

BREC has approximately 9,100 members in Anderson County, 4,500 in Greenville County, 31 in Spartanburg County, with the rest split between Oconee and Pickens counties.

Using a combination of BREC and WCTEL capital and loans, the $150 million cost and labor required to build the network will be shared by both cooperatives. BREC is building the core network by deploying fiber along its...

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Posted August 5, 2021 by Maren Machles

Washtenaw County (pop. 367,600), home of B-24 bomber, a once booming automotive industry and the University of Michigan, is making strides toward bringing the region back into an economic powerhouse, running 20 miles of fiber from downtown Ann Arbor through Ypsilanti Township, connecting the business and commercial corridors of four different townships ultimately ending at the American Center for Mobility.  

Ann Arbor SPARK, a non-profit economic development organization, received $2.4 million in federal funding from the CARES Act in July to start the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Corridor Fiber Optic Backbone project. Ann Arbor Spark contributed $200,000 to the $600,000 local match requirement needed to obtain the funds, while Washtenaw County contributed $112,000, the City of Ann Arbor contributed $138,000, and  Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Local Development Finance Authority contributed $150,000. 

Shaking off the Rust

Ypsilanti, Michigan (pop. 20,800) led the country in cutting edge automotive manufacturing for decades. Just 5 miles east of Ypsilanti, lay the Willow Run manufacturing complex and airport where Henry Ford produced B-24 heavy bombers for World War II, spurring a flood of workers in the region and ultimately leading to a housing shortage. The influx overwhelmed the market, forcing the Federal Public Housing Administration to step in and build dormitories for the workers. When the war ended, automotive manufacturers shuffled in and out of the complex, continuing to create jobs.

The area's economic boom started to peak in the 1970s with many manufacturing jobs moving overseas. While there are still manufacturing, service, and academic jobs available, like many other communities located in the controversially named “rust belt,” the economic vitality of the region has struggled to see a comeback. 

In an effort toward revitalization, Ann Arbor SPARK is working with local partners to invest in economic opportunities in Washtenaw County. In collaboration with the University of Michigan, Michigan...

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Posted July 29, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

In a new report, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance showcases the diverse range of approaches communities and local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have taken to expand affordable, high-quality Internet access in Minnesota. It includes a series of case studies that detail how communities are meeting the connectivity challenges of a broken marketplace shaped by large monopoly service providers. 

Download Minnesota Broadband: Land of 10,000 Connectivity Solutions [pdf] here.

The profiled projects include municipal networks, public-private partnerships, cooperatives, and private investment. They run from the most rural areas of the state to Minneapolis. Some examples include:

  • RS Fiber Cooperative, in south central Minnesota, which has brought fiber to local businesses and town residents. Rural residents benefit from RS Air, a fast wireless service available at affordable prices.
  • Arrowhead Electric Cooperative’s fiber network in Cook County, which succeeded beyond original projections. It provides fast and affordable Internet access to one of the most far-flung parts of the state.
  • St. Louis Park’s partnerships with both ISPs and the builders of large condominium complexes. One of the providers working with St. Louis Park is better known as the fastest ISP in Minneapolis, USI Fiber.
  • Christensen Communications, a 100+ year-old telephone company in south central Minnesota. The company demonstrated a strong commitment to its communities when the pandemic hit, and is now going above and beyond to build fiber with federal subsidies.
  • The Fond du Lac Band, in northern Minnesota, which built a fiber-to-the-home network that is rare in Indian Country.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken, co-author of the report and Senior Researcher with ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, said of the report’s findings: 

Minnesota communities and local ISPs have found creative and sustainable ways to build future-proof networks across the state, despite a broken marketplace and state barriers that favor slow-moving, out-of-state monopoly providers clinging to outdated technology. Lawmakers must stand up for the cities and towns that sent them to the legislature, and remove the obstacles that prevent a more competitive market and local broadband solutions.

...

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Posted July 29, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Our new report, Minnesota Broadband: Land of 10,000 Connectivity Solutions [pdf], showcases the diverse range of approaches communities and local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have taken to expand affordable, high-quality Internet access in Minnesota. It includes a series of case studies that detail how communities are meeting the connectivity challenges of a broken marketplace shaped by large monopoly service providers. 

The profiled projects include municipal networks, public-private partnerships, cooperatives, and private investment. They run from the most rural areas of the state to Minneapolis. Some examples include:

  • RS Fiber Cooperative, in south central Minnesota, which has brought fiber to local businesses and town residents. Rural residents benefit from RS Air, a fast wireless service available at affordable prices.
  • Arrowhead Electric Cooperative’s fiber network in Cook County, which succeeded beyond original projections. It provides fast and affordable Internet access to one of the most far-flung parts of the state.
  • St. Louis Park’s partnerships with both ISPs and the builders of large condominium complexes. One of the providers working with St. Louis Park is better known as the fastest ISP in Minneapolis, USI Fiber.
  • Christensen Communications, a 100+ year-old telephone company in south central Minnesota. The company demonstrated a strong commitment to its communities when the pandemic hit, and is now going above and beyond to build fiber with federal subsidies.
  • The Fond du Lac Band, in northern Minnesota, which built a fiber-to-the-home network that is rare in Indian Country.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken, co-author of the report and Senior Researcher with ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, said of the report’s findings: 

Minnesota communities and local ISPs have found creative and sustainable ways to build future-proof networks across the state, despite a broken marketplace and state barriers that favor slow-moving, out-of-state monopoly providers clinging to outdated technology. Lawmakers must stand up for the cities and towns that sent them to the legislature, and remove the obstacles that prevent a more competitive market and local broadband solutions.

...

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Posted July 12, 2021 by Maren Machles

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has partnered with Southeast Nebraska Development District (SENDD) and the Nebraska Economic Developers Association (NEDA) to present a broadband seminar series to provide education to local elected officials, economic developers and other stakeholders. The series covers everything from the basics of broadband infrastructure and technology to financial models to the longterm benefits of investing in fast, reliable Internet access.

The series was developed by Christopher Mitchell, in collaboration with SENDD and NEDA, and produced and edited by ILSR Senior Researcher and Multimedia Producer Maren Machles.

Episode 1

In the first episode, Christopher introduces broadband technology and terminology, including network basics, infrastructure development, and business models. 

 Episode 2

In the second episode, Christopher is joined by Brent Comstock (CEO and Founder, BCom Solutions), Thomas Magnuson (Geriatric Psychiatrist at University of Nebraska Medical Center), Kyle Arganbright (Mayor of Valentine, NE and Executive Vice President and co-founder of Sandhills State Bank), and Brook Aken (Economic Development Manager, Omaha Public Power District) to discuss the longterm benefits of fast, reliable broadband on everything from economic development to telehealth. 

Episode 3

Christopher is joined by David Young, Chief Information Officer for the City of Lincoln and Lancaster County in the third episode of the series. The two give guidance on state and federal broadband programs as well as barriers, challenges, and solutions for broadband infrastructure deployment.

Episode 4

In the final episode of the series, Christopher interviews Brad...

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Posted July 8, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

For the past several years the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) has been considering whether to add high-speed Internet service to its portfolio of offerings after nearly a decade of the region’s residents and businesses being plagued with the poor connectivity served up by incumbent providers.

Now, with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the state Comptroller’s office having earlier this spring approved the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) business plan [pdf] to build a fiber network, the city-owned utility recently cleared the final hurdle needed to move forward with the massive project.

Unanimous Approval from Knoxville City Council

Two weeks ago, the Knoxville City Council unanimously approved the KUB Board of Commissioners proposal to build a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network in one of the Volunteer State’s largest metro areas. Network construction is expected to cost $702 million and take seven to 10 years to build out, reaching 210,000 households across KUB’s 688-square-mile service area spanning Knox, Grainger, Union, and Sevier counties.

Once the network is complete, it will not only be the largest community-owned network in Tennessee – surpassing the size of EPB Fiber in Chattanooga, which served as inspiration for KUB officials – it will also be the largest municipal network in the nation.

“Now that the approval process is complete, our focus has shifted to deploying the infrastructure and implementing the processes and systems that allow us to deliver quality services to our customers. We will be providing regular updates to our customers as we make progress,” KUB officials wrote in a prepared statement to Knox News.

...

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Posted June 29, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Municipal broadband advocates in Ohio realized a major victory today when a bipartisan House and Senate conference committee released the final version of their state budget plan that added $250 million to expand broadband access in the Buckeye State and removed the anonymous budget amendment that would have effectively banned municipal broadband networks if passed into law.

According to The Columbus Dispatch, the two chambers are expected to approve the final budget tonight before sending it to Gov. Mike DeWine to be signed into law ahead of the July 1 deadline. 

The vote comes after local officials, community broadband advocates, and angry residents and businesses from across the state spoke out against the last minute municipal network-killing amendment attached to the state budget proposal. State lawmakers were deluged with a flurry of calls, emails, and letters after the budget amendment was revealed two weeks ago without public discussion or debate. 

“We had a real grassroots movement here in Fairlawn. We are thrilled our residents, subscribers and businesses came together and helped us defeat this amendment,” Fairlawn Service Director Ernie Staten told us immediately following the news. “We appreciate that the State of Ohio recognizes that municipal broadband has a place in this state and we hope to continue this great endeavor.”

Staten said when FairlawnGig sent out word to the community about the budget amendment, the response from Fairlawn subscribers was fast and furious. “Over 700 emails were sent by our subscribers saying, ‘Don’t take this (municipal broadband) away!’ I think that’s amazing,” he said.

Will Municipal Networks Be Able To Access New State Grant Money?

While Staten celebrated the removal of the budget amendment, he called the victory “bittersweet,” as municipalities and electric cooperatives in the state do not have access to the proposed $250 million broadband expansion grant program that will be...

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