Tag: "middle mile"

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 28, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

There’s a new Thor in town, but instead of lighting up the night sky like the Norse god of thunder, it’ll be lighting up communities in rural Colorado with fiber optic connectivity.

A group of local governments and private partners, led by Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG), recently completed the first phase of Project THOR, a middle mile fiber network that will enable better connectivity in the participating towns, cities, and counties. The network, owned by NWCCOG, provides backhaul to local governments looking to connect public facilities, schools, hospitals, and other community anchor institutions. It’s also available to Internet service providers (ISPs) to serve residents and businesses.

Project THOR brings much needed redundancy to the region’s broadband infrastructure, where previously a single fiber cut could take entire communities’ health and public safety services offline. It also promises great cost savings for localities and ISPs. Perhaps most importantly, the new network gives communities the necessary leverage to improve local connectivity beyond begging the incumbent providers for better broadband. Jon Stavney, executive director of NWCCOG explained on Community Broadband Bits episode 406:

This project allows these local governments to actually have a lever to pull to hopefully affect local service, however they can do that, with whatever partners come to the table . . . They’re able to actually act.

Building Toward a Network

NWCCOG, which is composed of member governments in and around Eagle, Grand, Jackson, Pitkin, and Summit Counties, coordinated broadband efforts in the region even before Project THOR began. A number of years ago, the council invested in a regional plan and hired a broadband coordinator, Nate Walowitz, to offer technical assistance to the member governments.

At the time, communities were taking a variety of approaches to bolster connectivity. Some wanted to provide broadband access directly to residents, like Rio Blanco County which owns an open access Fiber-to-the-Home network....

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Posted April 28, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

The breathtaking mountains of northwest Colorado have long attracted skiers and hikers, but broadband providers haven't found the region's rugged landscape and sparse population as appealing. Enter Project THOR, a middle mile fiber network developed out of a collaboration among local governments and private companies led by the Northwest Colorado Council of Goverments (NWCCOG). Over the last few years, the partners strung together more than 400 miles of fiber to provide reliable and affordable backhaul to municipal facilities, public schools, healthcare systems, and Internet access providers.

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher talks with Jon Stavney, executive director of NWCCOG, and Evan Biagi, executive vice president of business development for network operator Mammoth Networks, to learn more about the recently completed project. Jon describes past broadband efforts in the region that led into Project THOR. The pair explain how the new middle mile network will allow localities to connect municipal facilities and anchor instutions and how broadband providers or the communities themselves can build off the network to serve residents and businesses. This will improve broadband reliability and affordability in the region, which had previously been plagued by network outages that cut access for hospitals and 911 calls.

Jon and Evan also discuss how the partners lowered project costs by leveraging existing infrastructure. They share some of the challenges involved in designing a network with so many partners. At the end, Jon explains how Project THOR will give communities more opportunities to take action...

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Posted March 3, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In 1999, Yakutat became home to one of Alaska’s first surf shops. Now, two decades later, the coastal community of 600 people is looking at another first for the community — high-speed Internet access.

Cordova Telecom Cooperative (CTC) will be expanding its broadband network to Yakutat from the co-op’s headquarters 220 miles away in Cordova, Alaska. Already, CTC offers wireline and mobile connectivity in and around Cordova. The new project, codenamed NICEY or New Internet Communications for Everyone in Yakutat, will bring high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to the village, which has a large Native Alaskan population.

NICEY will be financed in large part by a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ReConnect grant of nearly $19 million awarded to CTC in December. This money will help fund not only the deployment of the fiber network in Yakutat but also the construction of several remote wireless towers to connect the village to the broader Internet. “I don’t know how many grants of this size local groups have gotten,” CTC general manager and CEO Jeremiah Beckett told the Cordova Times. “It’s pretty big for Cordova.”

Neighbors Partner for Grant

Locals and visitors alike can only reach Yakutat by air or sea — there are no roads to the southeastern Alaskan community. The Internet is similarly hard to access for village residents.

Yakutat’s poor connectivity forces the school to limit student access to online materials and courses; businesses sometimes struggle to run card transactions. Households’ only available option for Internet access is satellite, typically hampered by low speeds, frequent service interruptions, and restrictive data caps.

CTC was a natural partner to tackle Yakutat’s limited connectivity. The telephone cooperative has already invested in fiber and wireless networks in the region and was on the lookout for ways to improve backbone connectivity. Cordova and Yakutat also share a long history and are...

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Posted January 9, 2020 by lgonzalez

In recent years, co-ops and municipalities in Colorado have been making fiber optic network investments to provide connectivity so citizens can compete in the digital economy. With all this fiber deployment in Colorado, there are still extremely rural areas that lack access to broadband. With a little help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), people living in Dove Creek, near the Utah border, will soon have access to fiber connectivity.

Another Cooperative Receives ReConnect Funding

This fall and winter, we've reported on several electric and telephone rural cooperatives that have won funding through the USDA's ReConnect Program. In Dove Creek, Emery Telecommunications & Video, Inc., a subsidiary of cooperative Emery Telecom will extend service to the small community in Dolores County, Colorado. The co-op will use the $2.73 million grant to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to more than 500 residences, eight school district facilities, and public safety facilities in Dove Creek and in the nearby community of Monticello, Utah. Among the premises that will receive better connectivity will be farms, ranches, and small businesses.

Emery Telecom will add $1 million to the grant funding and anticipates completing the project within five years, although Emery CEO Brock Johansen believes they can finish deployment sooner. The demand is high, adding extra motivation to finish the project sooner. “We get a lot of requests for service out near the state line,” he said.

"Best Thing Since Pockets on a Shirt"

Neither residents nor businesses have options for Internet access in Dove Creek and and the only type of Internet access available are DSL and satellite. CenturyLink and EarthLink provide DSL service; neither cover the entire town. Dolores County Commissioner Floyd Cook told the Durango Herald in November that the county courthouse and the local high school, middle school, and elementary school have higher capacity connections, but no ISP provdies the same caliber of Internet access businesses or households. The Emery Telecom project is a welcome...

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Posted July 23, 2019 by htrostle

Grays Harbor County Public Utility District (PUD) in Washington state has just finished a fiber optic network to local schools and a local industrial park. The county has been strapped for Internet access, and this network is the first step in developing better connectivity to many of the homes and businesses along the route. Elected officials are also exploring new ways to encourage last mile connectivity.

The Need for Internet Access

The options for high-speed Internet access are limited in Grays Harbor County, Washington. About 74,000 people live in there, and about 78 percent of the population reports having some form of Internet access at home, but it's likely those that live in the rural areas don't have access to "broadband" as defined as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The FCC defines broadband as 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload) that meets certain other technical standards. While satellite Internet access continues to improve, satellite connectivity is still expensive, unreliable, and describing it as "broadband" is a stretch.

The FCC's data paints the situation in Grays Harbor County as similar to other areas where those living in rural areas have poor or no Internet access and many within small- or medium-sized towns have little or no choice. About 13 percent of the population have no access to broadband, and another 53 percent live under broadband monopoly. This means there is only a single provider for those people. Approximately 27 percent have a choice, but it is limited to two providers and typically between competing technologies, such as cable and DSL.

logo-grays-harbor-PUD.jpg The numbers are even starker for rural areas and tribal lands: 29 percent of premises have no access...

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Posted May 24, 2019 by lgonzalez

The fifth anniversary of the announcement of the KentuckyWired project is approaching later this year. As voters start to assess their candidates’ job performance, the unfinished and over budget middle mile public-private partnership (P3) has become an albatross that incumbents aren’t able to easily cast off. When we last discussed the project in 2017, we shared our observations and misgivings. Not much has changed, except some of our concerns have played out and the project has become troubled by new problems.

In Case You’re Just Arriving to the Party… 

The statewide, massive middle mile project officially began when Kentucky announced in late 2014 that they would build a fiber optic network in order to bring better connectivity to rural areas. They planned to find a private sector partner and sought bids. In the fall of 2015, Australian firm Macquarie won the contract for what soon became an even larger endeavor — a fiber optic network that would enter every county in the state at a minimum of one location. The network would consist of approximately 3,200 miles of fiber and connect about 1,000 public facilities. At the time the project was developed, the state estimated that deployment would cost approximately $300 million.

With early bipartisan support, the state allocated $30 million from their budget, which they expected to combine with $23.5 million in federal grants. When the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority issued $232 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds and $58 million in taxable revenue bonds to complete financing, Bond Buyer named the issue the “Deal of the Year” for 2015. Macquarie’s timeline estimated an optimistic one-year completion for the entire statewide project.

logo-Macquarie.jpgMacquarie Capital, as the entity managing the project, included in the agreement with the state a requirement that they and their partners, including Black & Veatch from Kansas and Ledcor of Canada, would build, operate, and maintain the network for 30 years. During the course of those three decades, the state would pay them approximately $1.2 billion and when the term was over, Kentucky would own the infrastructure free and clear. During the contract period, Kentucky would make “...

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Posted April 4, 2019 by lgonzalez

Erie County, New York, and its county seat of Buffalo have had high-quality Internet access on their minds for several years. Now, County Executive Mark Poloncarz proposes a project to deploy middle mile infrastructure to attract local ISPs and generate competition. We're pleased to see county leadership taking another shot at better connectivity for the people in Erie County, but we hope community leaders will approach the project realistically; in order to bring high-quality Internet access to everyone, the county may need to play a more significant role in the future.

A Lingering Problem, A Possible Solution

Even though it's the county seat, a 2015 report from Erie County's Municipal Broadband Committee noted that the Buffalo Metropolitan Area's peak speeds ranked 294th in the state and that areas existed where there was no option for Internet access of ANY kind. The results horrified elected officials at the time; they issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to study the feasibility of a county-wide publicly owned broadband network. 

After a survey of residents and businesses, and an assessment of the current situation in Erie County, the final feasibility study recommended several actions, including a middle mile open access network investment. You can review the entire 2017 feasibility study here.

Problems with lackluster and even nonexistent Internet access have lingered in Buffalo and Erie County throughout the past two years. Community leaders have considered the feasibility study and given providers Verizon, Spectrum, AT&T, CenturyLink, and others operating in the region the chance to improve services to the entire county.

Now, County Executive Mark Poloncarz has announced that enough is enough and the digital divide won't narrow unless the public takes control. Taking the recommendation of the 2017 feasibility study to heart, Poloncarz has announced that he'd like Erie County...

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Posted August 6, 2018 by Hannah Rank

Dorchester County, Maryland, shored up better connectivity for local businesses this past June, utilizing a cooperative network to further fiber infrastructure and to light a business on an island chain in need of some fast Internet connectivity.

The county’s monicker, “Water Moves Us,” describes its region in southeast Chesapeake Bay, home to a number of aquaculture sites. One such business, the Hoopers Island Oyster Company servicing clientele as far away as Asia, felt itself slipping behind in international commerce without access to broadband Internet. But now that fiber optic broadband has come to Hoopers Island, which is actually a chain of three islands on the southwest coast of the county, the business has access to the latest Internet technology to mirror it’s innovative approach to oyster farming. 

Bay Country Communications (BCCTV) is the Maryland-based telecom provider that laid the fiber out to the island. According to the Dorchester Banner, this link is part of a larger fiber path:

“BCCTV is the company that established the link with Hoopers Island, running a line through central Dorchester. This line goes past Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, the Harriet Tubman Museum, South Dorchester School and other facilities.”

With BCCTV providing the last-mile connection to the middle mile One Maryland Broadband Network (OMBN) infrastructure, the Hoopers Island Oyster Company and other local businesses can take advantage of the high-quality connectivity they need to compete globally.

Getting some backbone 

To tackle the broadband access divide, in 2010 the state of Maryland received $115 million in federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant funding, and paired that with around $40 million in matching investments to deploy an approximately 1,300-mile fiber network. To learn more about One Maryland Broadband Network (OMBN), and how it helped another rural community in Maryland, you can check out our story on Garrett County. ...

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Posted January 2, 2018 by lgonzalez

Most residents and businesses in Oconee County, South Carolina, used dial-up connections when county officials applied for stimulus funding in 2010; there were still people in the county with no Internet access at all. A few had DSL connections, but even county facilities struggled with antiquated infrastructure. After an AT&T attack upended their plan to offer retail services, they pressed on and improved connectivity in the rural community. Powerful incumbent forces and a bad state law, however, eventually led this community to choose privatization.

Ripe For Stimulus

We spoke with Kim Wilbanks, who served as Project Manager for Oconee FOCUS, the 240-mile fiber optic publicly owned network. She worked with a small team of people that applied for funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to obtain funds for the project. Wilbanks and former FOCUS Director Mike Powell were instrumental in establishing the infrastructure. The Wilbanks family used dial-up Internet access until 2010 when AT&T finally installed DSL on her street on the edge of town in the mostly rural county.

The mountains and hills across the county’s 674 square miles create a terrain that is speckled with man-made lakes. Fishing, water skiing, and sailing are popular and the lakes and waterfalls contribute to the region’s hydroelectric energy. Approximately 75,000 people live in Oconee County scattered within many of the small rural communities. The largest city’s population is only about 8,000.

Oconee County’s rural environment with a sparse population, sluggish economic growth, and high number of unserved and underserved premises, was the type of region where stimulus funds helped jump start projects. When the county received a grant in the second round of awards in the summer of 2010 for $9.6 million, officials at the county planned to connect community anchor institutions and municipal and county facilities first. They planned to later expand and bring businesses and residents better Internet access. The county matched the federal grant with $4.7 million to deploy the $14.3 million fiber optic infrastructure. After the RFP process, they were able to start construction in early 2011. By the end of 2013, they had finished construction; by 2014...

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