Tag: "illinois"

Posted January 8, 2021 by sean

In a part of the Prairie State referred to as “Little Egypt,” a small county in southeastern Illinois recently received a big infusion of federal funds to expand its broadband network into neighboring rural counties. 

In October of 2020, the USDA announced that the Hamilton County Telephone Cooperative was awarded a $20 million ReConnect grant and a $20 million ReConnect loan to bring broadband to over 19,000 residents, 462 businesses, 347 farms, 16 educational facilities, three post offices and four fire stations in Saline, Williamson, Franklin and White counties.

The $40 million in total Hamilton County received was a portion of the $600 million Congress appropriated to the USDA in 2018 to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. In April of 2020, the USDA announced it had received 172 applications worth $1.57 billion in Round Two ReConnect requests. 

The funds awarded to Hamilton County in the fall came on top of the $3.4 million from the state-wide Connect Illinois program and ReConnect funds the co-op received in February of 2020 to build out its Fiber-To-The-Premises (FTTP) network to connect more than 600 homes in the rural county with a population just over 8,000 residents.

Decades of Service

Hamilton County Telephone Cooperative was first created in 1953 to provide telephone service to county residents. In 1992, the co-op launched Hamilton County Communications, Inc. to provide Internet service and business telephone system sales and support. In 2011, the network rolled out its FTTP network within the county and, as demand for Internet services increased outside of Hamilton County, in 2014 the co-op created a subsidiary known as Futiva (The Future of Internet, Video and Access) to provide FTTP services outside the county.

“Really it’s...

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Posted October 8, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

All across the country, municipal networks, cooperatives, and cities have been putting in extra effort to make sure that Americans have the fast, affordable, reliable Internet access they need to conduct their lives in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

AT&T has decided to take another route. A USA Today report last week revealed that the company has stopped making connections to users subscribing to its ADSL Internet as of October 1st. Anyone calling the company to set up new service is being told that no new accounts are being accepted. 

The decision comes right as the National Digital Inclusion Alliance has released a report detailing that only 28% of AT&T’s territory can get fiber from the company. AT&T has deliberately focused investment in more urban areas of higher income. From the report:

The analysis of AT&T’s network reveals that the company is prioritizing network upgrades to wealthier areas, and leaving lower income communities with outdated technologies. Across the country, the median income for households with fiber available is 34 percent higher than in areas with DSL only — $60,969 compared to $45,500. 

The Deep South Hit Hardest

As of today, it looks like the most conservative number of those affected by the decision will be about 80,000 households that have no other option. Our analysis using the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Form 477 data shows that the Deep South will be hit the hardest (see table at the bottom of the page). 

Collectively it means more than 207,000 Americans who, if disconnected, will have no option for Internet aside from their mobile devices or satellite service. The number of Americans affected by the decision but which have additional wireline options is higher: roughly 2.2 million American households nationwide subscribe to the service (see map, below).  

At this point the decision seems only to affect those subscribing to the company’s ADSL service. Those subscribing to ADSL2 and asymmetric VDSL won’...

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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 August 27, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

A year ago we wrote about Illinois’ $420 million commitment to broadband expansion, and now the first round of grant winners has been released. Together they total $50 million in state funds matched by $65 million in additional money for 28 projects by 18 different Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that will, ultimately, connect 26,000 homes, farms, community institutions, and businesses in the state. It represents the first milestone in what is a significant commitment to closing Illinois' broadband gap.

Lots of Winners, Some Caveats

The Broadband Grant Program offers applicants up to $5 million in funding for projects with the stipulation that they match it with an equal or greater amount of other, nonstate funds. First-round winners consist of both middle- and last-mile builds touching at least 27 counties throughout the state. For example, Cook County received a little under $2 million to expand its Chicago Southland Fiber Network (CSFN). CSFN provides backhaul services to many, including the Illinois Century Network — which serves over 3,400 public K-12 schools, universities, and libraries. Their application committed to focusing “on fiber paths that will provide distribution and host last mile service platforms addressing those communities with the greatest need, municipalities with no fiber assets . . and key regional education campus facilities.” 

In total, providers representing local control and democratic decision-making did well. The Illinois Electric Cooperative got a little under $3.5 million to build out symmetrical 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) last-mile connections to 746 unserved households and 95 businesses, farms, and community anchor institutions in Calhoun County. Currently, its telecommunications division accounts for a relatively small but growing proportion of the services it provides to its more than 14,000 members across the state. JoCarrol Energy Cooperative, founded in 1939, also received $6 million to complete...

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Posted April 23, 2020 by christopher

Last week, Frontier Communications told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that there are 17,000 census blocks in which it is now offering 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. This means well over 400,000 Americans now live in areas no longer eligible for the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, a $20.4 billion program to expand rural broadband. The first phase will auction off up to $16 billion in subsidies later this year.

In the filing, the company also identified census blocks where it believes other providers will deploy broadband access through state-funded programs, making those locations ineligible for the federal funds as well.

Frontier is Flailing

Frontier recently declared bankruptcy, following a history of increasingly unsustainable acquisitions. It also just missed its milestone for the Connect America Fund, which required the company to deploy obsolete 10/1 Mbps service to 80 percent of the funded locations by the end of 2019 in return for more than $1.5 billion in subsidies. Some 774,000 locations should have at least 10/1 Mbps service by the end of 2020 from a company Consumer Reports repeatedly finds to be one of the worst Internet Service Providers in the nation.

Frontier is so bad that it went through repeated outages of 911 in Wisconsin, dealt with state investigation after state investigation (including but in no way limited to Minnesota, Ohio...

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Posted February 18, 2020 by lgonzalez

Minnesota's Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program provides funding for deployment of broadband networks in rural regions of the state. The program, which started in 2014, has helped extend necessary high-quality Internet access infrastructure to dozens of communities. Without this week's guest, Matt Schmit, the program would never have become a reality.

Matt and Christopher knew each other long before the program was even an idea — when they were in grad school together — and you can tell they’re friends with a lot to reminisce about. Matt, who is now working on broadband in Illinois, was one of the State Senators who drove the conversation that moved the needle on rural broadband and who led the development of the state program that has accomplished so much in Minnesota. He and Christopher talk about the process and what it was like to go from recognizing the need to creating a program that is making change.

Because of his ability to get results in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Matt is now working in Illinois, where billions of state dollars have been earmarked for infrastructure, which includes broadband deployment. Matt is now Deputy Director at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, where he will work to determine the best way forward in deploying broadband as critical infrastructure. He and Christopher talk about some of the challenges he expects to face, what it’s like working in Illinois as compared to his work in Minnesota, and his hopes for the new state broadband program.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please ...

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Posted August 26, 2019 by lgonzalez

In June, Governor JB Pritzker signed the Rebuild Illinois capital plan, a $45 billion effort that will repair and improve all manner of infrastructure in the state. Within the plan, state leaders intend to dedicate $420 million to upgrade and expand broadband infrastructure. Such a significant investment can make a real difference in the state, as long as decision makers adopt smart policies and allow local communities to receive funding for broadband projects.

Gas Tax for Gigabits

An increase in the state’s motor fuel tax will fund most of the broadband initiative. The increase in gas prices at the pump, which took effect on July 1, jumped from 19 to 38 cents. Similarly, a special fuels tax on diesel, liquefied natural gas, and propane increased from 2.5 cents to 5 cents. State analysts anticipate the increase will garner an additional $1.24 billion to state coffers in 2020.

The Rebuild Plan also grants state bonding authority for infrastructure projects and Cook County municipalities are permitted to raise their gas taxes by an additional three cents per gallon. There are also title and registration fees that will contribute to the fund.

As part of the plan, Illinois created the Connect Illinois initiative, which is part of the Illinois Department of Commerce. One of the goals of the initiative's Broadband Office is to provide all K-12 students with high-speed Internet access at no charge. As part of the Rebuild Illinois plan, $20 million will be used to update and expand the Illinois Century Network, which serves K-12 schools, colleges and universities, public libraries, and Internet access providers.

seal-illinois.png Connect Illinois and the initiative’s Broadband Office will administer the grants made possible by the fuel tax increase. The office will also work to determine federal grants that are available and how best to access them to advance the state's goals.

Connectivity Council

In mid-August, Pritzker...

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Posted July 19, 2019 by lgonzalez

When utilities, including broadband providers, need to cross railroad rights-of-way to serve customers, some railroad operators have been known to press their advantage. Several states have addressed utility complaints by establishing standardized rates and setting up processes to create a more reasonable and predictable system. Eliminating this obstacle to deployment is another step in bringing broadband to the communities that need it the most.

Party Concerns

Often railroads obtained title to real property during 19th century acquisitions as the infrastructure was being built. They want to preserve as much of their authority and title rights as possible and to ensure that they can receive the maximum value for their interest in the land.

For utilities, cost of deployment is a primary concern. When railroads demand unreasonable fees at crossings or drag out negotiations as a delay tactic, they also impinge on a utility’s ability to meet operational deadlines. Safety and engineering integrity can be negatively impacted by difficult negotiations, unreasonable demands, or exorbitant costs.

Different States, Different Stories

Few states have addressed the problem with statutes establishing standard utility fees for railroad right-of-way crossings. David L. Thomas, Managing Member of the strategic utility planning firm Eagle 1 Resources (E1R) has worked with telecommunications companies and other utilities to negotiate railroad crossing arrangements. He's seen that standard crossing fees set down in statute benefit deployment by ending delay and reducing costs and would like to see the trend pass to every state.

seal-wisconsin.png In South Dakota and Iowa, the fee had been established at $750. Wisconsin allows railroads to charge $500 [PDF see page 12] and state law in Illinois, where railroads have a strong presence in metro areas,...

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Posted April 30, 2019 by lgonzalez

 

As part of our series of interviews conducted during the 2019 Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas, earlier in April, we’re sharing Christopher’s interview with Angela Imming. Angela is the Director of Technology and Innovation for the city of Highland, Illinois, home to Highland Communication Services (HCS).

HCS has been serving the community for almost 10 years now, and the city has had the opportunity to experience both victory and challenge. In this interview, Angela describes both. She talks about how, after losing some of the community thrill that often accompanies a relatively young project, HCS has reached out to their subscribers. In gathering community input, Angela and her team have been able to enhance the network’s success and reinvigorate local pride in the fiber optic network. 

Angela and Christopher also discuss how HCS is using new tools, such as targeted social media campaigns, to increase take rates and attract people to the town of Highland. By combining business acumen and the community-centered approach, HCS is achieving the goals they’ve redefined for themselves and living up to the city’s tradition of innovation.

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

This show is 25 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 ...

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Posted December 28, 2018 by Hannah Bonestroo

After finishing its first phase of broadband build out covering businesses and industrial parks, Rock Falls, Illinois, will begin focusing on residential customers in early 2019. While residents living close to business areas will have early access to the gigabit fiber network, the city of 9,000 will use the fiberhood approach to reach its remaining residential areas.

Growing a Gigabit City

The plan to invest in citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) began taking shape when Rock Falls residents became increasingly frustrated with the incumbent cable provider Comcast. Mayor Bill Wescott called for support for the project during his 2017 State of the City address, saying “The time is now to advance Internet in Rock Falls.” Later in April, the City Council approved the use of a $5.3 million general obligation bond issuance to fund the first phase of the build out, and an overall cap of $13 million for the duration of the project. The estimated cost of the project ended up being significantly reduced because the Rock Falls Electric Department (RFED) had already installed extra fiber-optic cable to connect substations as early as 2004.

By using GO bonds to finance their infrastructure deployment, Rock Falls departs from the typical funding approach. Most municipalities issue revenue bonds or employ interdepartmental loans and money they've saved from avoided costs when ending expensive leased lines to telecommunications companies. In recent years, other methods of funding fiber optic build outs have become increasingly popular as broadband infrastructure has obtained utility status in local communities.

logo-rock-falls-FiberNet.png Nine local businesses are already using FiberNet, which offers gigabit connectivity, a huge upgrade from the 10 - 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) download previously...

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