Tag: "middle mile"

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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Posted November 27, 2017 by Matthew Marcus

The Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority (ESVBA) board of directors has decided to expand Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to 14 more areas in the region.

Speedy Expansion On The Shore

In the next six months, residents of Accomack and Northampton counties should have access to high-speed Internet. The ESVBA regional open access middle mile network already provides FTTH to three areas, but decided to expand, concluding the current budget would support additional deployment.

Areas specifically identified for expansion include Sanford, Accomac, Greenbackville, Atlantic, Wattsville/Horntown, Hallwood/Nelsonia, Oak Hall/New Church and Quinby. In a meeting planned for Dec 13th, the board will discuss which areas to prioritize, with the idea of moving into two new areas each month.

A Continuing Success

ESVBA was created in 2008 through the efforts of Accomack and Northampton counties. NASA helped fund the build-out of the regional network’s backbone. They have a flight facility on Wallops Island that employs over a thousand Virginians. Government agencies, local schools, and healthcare institutions on the shore needed reliable connectivity for daily operations. Apart from NASA, the Navy and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration connect to the network, along with schools and medical facilities, making it an indispensable community resource.

Several different telecommunications companies on the Eastern shore utilize the open access network in a variety of ways, including the ISPs Windstream Communications and the local Eastern Shore Communications LLC.

Residential FTTH service is currently underway in Harborton, the Bobtown/Pungoteague/Painter area, and Church Neck where customer sign-on is gradually increasing.

Next Steps

The Eastern Shore region is currently assessing whether surveys should be conducted before deciding which areas to begin deploying FTTH service. The board is also discussing marketing tactics for advertising the new service. In regards to their advertising efforts...

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Posted October 24, 2017 by lgonzalez

With the best intentions, Kentucky announced in late 2014 that it would build out a statewide open access fiber optic network to at least one location in each county to encourage high-quality connectivity in both urban and rural communities. Hopes were high as rural residents and businesses that depended on DSL and dial-up envisioned connectivity to finally bring them into the 21st century. After almost three years and multiple issues that have negatively impacted the project, legislators and everyday folks are starting to wonder what's in store for the KentuckyWired project. 

Local Communities Are Best Suited To Deploy Community Networks

There is no one-size-fits-all method of deploying across a state filled with communities and landscapes as diverse as Kentucky. From the urban centers like Louisville and Lexington to the rocky, mountainous terrain in the southeastern Appalachian communities, demographics and geography vary widely. But most lack modern Internet access and local ISPs have found it hard to get affordable backhaul to connect to the rest of the Internet.

There are several municipal networks in Kentucky, some of which have operated for decades. In addition to Glasgow, Paducah, Bowling Green, Frankfort, and others, Owensboro is currently expanding a pilot project that proved popular. As our own Christopher Mitchell discussed at the Appalachia Connectivity Summit, several cooperatives have made major fiber-optic investments in the state.

When it comes to connecting residents and local businesses, we strongly believe local entities are the best choice. Local officials have a better sense of rights-of-way, the challenges of pole attachments, and the many other moving pieces that go into network investment. Projects with local support see fewer barriers - people are more willing to grant easements, for instance. 

As a state, building an open access fiber network into each county makes sense. States also need to connect their offices, from public safety to managing natural resources and social services. Rather than overpay a massive monopoly like AT&T...

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Posted June 5, 2017 by lgonzalez

Celina, Texas, recently started its journey toward publicly owned Internet infrastructure by adopting a smart, forward-thinking conduit ordinance. The decision to adopt the new Easement Ordinance is part of the city’s long-term vision to bring gigabit connectivity to businesses and residents.

Developers' Contribution

The new policy requires developers to install conduit and fiber-optic cable in underground excavation within the city limits. Developers pay for the installation and then convey the assets to the city. In order to reduce the need for excavations and cut costs, Mount Vernon, Washington, passed a similar ordinance years ago as they developed their network. Up to 90 percent of costs associated with underground deployment are often due to the excavation rather than materials; smart dig once policies like Celina's saves public dollars.

Internet service providers who wish to offer connectivity in the areas where city fiber and conduit exist will be required to use available dark fiber from the city, rather than deploying their own infrastructure. The ordinance does allow the city provide exceptions in order to promote competition and reduce any barriers to entry for new ISPs.

Before the city council unanimously voted to support the new ordinance in May, they took feedback from the community. According to the Celina Record, several local developers expressed excitement over the Gigabit City Initiative, but weren’t as enthusiastic about the ordinance. Their main concern was how the new rule would be implemented.

They have reason to be excited about the potential to add Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to their new properties. In 2015, the Fiber To The Home Council’s study determined that FTTH access can add up to $5,437 to the value of a $175,000 home.

Residents Require Something Better

Scott Stawski of the Celina Economic...

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Posted April 13, 2017 by lgonzalez

When a community is plagued with poor connectivity, it impacts residents, businesses, schools, and government. Several entities within a community sometimes band together to explore solutions. In Grand Island, New York, the Town Board and the School District are pooling resources in search of possibilities.

Chronically Slow

The town entered into a contract for Internet access with Time Warner Cable, which was purchased by Charter Communications; the company now serves the town under the name “Spectrum.” According to Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray, he’s measured speeds in Town Hall, which dip as slow as 5 to 10 Megabits per second (Mbps). The cable provider claims that its speeds are 50 Mbps. "I can't find anyone who has had 50 Mbps, the fastest I've seen is 25," said McMurray. "Every week I receive screenshots from people complaining."

Grand Island (population approximately 21,000) is in the Niagara River and considered part of Erie County. The county is at the western border of the state with Canada; Buffalo is the nearest American urban center.

A Middle Mile Partnership?

The town and the school district have commissioned a feasibility study to examine the idea of investing in a publicly owned fiber-optic line through the middle of the island. The city hopes the investment will encourage more providers to move into the area and build out last mile infrastructure to serve the community.

School district representatives mentioned that they are satisfied with the service the schools now receive from the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, but are in interested in the benefits of owning the infrastructure:

"By building their own infrastructure (the school district) will have at least as good as service as they do now, but they will own the lines," said McMurray of the potential for a partnership. "And by leveraging the power of the schools the municipal infrastructure will benefit as well. By involving the school this puts this into the realm of possibility."

Schools are able to use federal E-rate funding to build fiber-optic infrastructure. Partnerships like this - between school districts and local government - have facilitated municipal network projects in other communities. Schools in ...

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Posted December 29, 2016 by lgonzalez

A new year promises a fresh slate for many people. For the folks at Washington’s NoaNet, it means starting out 2017 bond-free.

In his year-end message, Chief Executive Officer Greg L. Marney announced that the organization has paid off its start up debt. At the November Board of Directors meeting, Controller Paul Harding reported that revenues are positive and that, “Budget to actual figures are favorable, with revenues above Budget and expenses a little below Budget.” Things are looking good at NoaNet.

A Washington Staple

NoaNet has become a solid presence in the state of Washington. In 2000, Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) began connecting 170 communities across the state with approximately 2,000 fiber miles. The middle mile network provides connectivity in both urban and rural areas to schools, libraries, hospitals, and other government facilities. Sixty-one Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer retail services vis the open access infrastructure. Recently, Anacortes and NoaNet decided to work together as the small community addresses its local connectivity problems.

Last year, we put together a list of 15 NoaNet accomplishments, but you can also listen to Chief Operating Officer Dave Spencer visit with Christopher for episodes #164 and #159. Congrats to NoaNet!

noanoet-bond-free-party.jpg

Linda Gott, President of the NoaNet Board of Directors, cuts a cake to celebrate the payoff of NoaNet's startup bonds this year.

(Photo courtesy of NoaNet)

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