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On the border of Tennessee and Kentucky, an electric cooperative looks to a more connected future. The Tri-County Electric Cooperative that operates across state lines is preparing to build a state-of-the-art network for high-speed Internet service throughout Trousdale County, Tennessee. This will be the first year of construction for the cooperative after several years of planning.
Tri-County Electric plans to soon begin services to Trousdale County, the smallest county in Tennessee. Many of the county's 8,000 residents' choice is limited to Comcast and AT&T, and Tri-County Electric's Vice-President and General Manager Paul Thompson noted that people in the county often only subscribe to about 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. With a steady membership base of 50,000 spread across two states and a close relationship with the county, the electric co-op is in a good position to move forward with the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project. The cooperative intends to offer an affordable base package that provides faster, more reliable connectivity than what the incumbents are willing to offer the rural communities.
Funding From The Feds
Since 2014, Tri-County Electric Cooperative has actively pursued financing for a FTTH network in the county. The co-op applied for a grant through the Rural Broadband Experiments program managed by the Federal Communications Commission. They did not receive any funding, but the process resulted in a tangible plan.
The process of applying for the grant built up community support for the project and enabled the co-op to identify key assets. As part of the grant application, they noted which census blocks they expected to connect and what community anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries, and government buildings, could be included. The Trousdale County government even passed a resolution giving explicit permission for Tri-County Electric to build and operate a FTTH network.
Although Tri-County Electric Cooperative did not receive that grant, the co-op continued to pursue different avenues for funding. This year, the co-op received a... Read more
People in Otis, Massachusetts, are now seeing utility crews make space for fiber optic cable on poles as they prepare for the community’s publicly owned Internet network. The schedule calls for cable installation in August; the network should start serving residents and businesses this fall.
Working With A Neighbor
Like several other hill towns in western Massachusetts, Otis is working with Westfield Gas + Electric’s WhipCity Fiber, which will handle construction of the network. WhipCity will construct the network in phases, connecting premises as neighborhoods are completed. The project will connect 1,687 premises and will cost approximately $5 million.
Construction is finally able to commence because in May, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) released funding for last mile broadband networks to several towns that advocated for their own solutions. Otis received $1.7 million. Communities like Otis that chose to invest in publicly owned infrastructure are required to contribute to the cost of their network.
MBI chose to release the funds after a drawn out situation in which unserved and underserved communities in the western part of the state first planned to unite as a broadband cooperative, WiredWest. MBI was the administrator of approximately $50 million in federal stimulus and state grant funding but withheld the funds. They felt there were problems with the WiredWest business model, but local towns and municipal network experts did not share those concerns. Instead, MBI planned to dole out the funding to large incumbent providers, which angered many of the local communities that have expressed dissatisfaction with treatment by those very companies over the years. Comcast will still obtain large amounts of the grant money to build out in several of the smaller communities. Those small towns will not be required to contribute, but 100 precent of their premises are not always served and they will not own the infrastructure.
At least a dozen local communities did not want to work with Comcast or any other big incumbent, however, and instead wanted to... Read more
Hey, Minnesota communities, are you looking for funding sources for your broadband project? If yes, and you plan on applying for a Minnesota Border-to-Border Development Grant Program, you should be getting your ducks in a row. The application period is fast approaching - July 3 through September 11.
For the 2017 grant period, the state legislature allocated $20 million to the program to expand broadband service in unserved or underserved areas of Minnesota. As a way to help you sort through the application process, the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development will be hosting several webinars early in the application period.
Dates and times for the webinars are:
Monday, June 26, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Central Time)
Friday, July 7, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Monday, July 10, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Wednesday, July 12, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Sign up for the webinars and get the details on eligibility, the process, and resources at the Office of Broadband Development website.
In an exciting milestone, this is podcast 100000000. Or 256 in decimal - you know, for the squares. While at the always-amazing Mountain Connect event in Colorado, I snagged an interview with Doug Seacat of Deeply Digital and Clearnetworx. They sought a grant from the Colorado Broadband Fund to deploy fiber and wireless to underserved Ridgway in western Colorado.
What happened next is shocking but hardly an anomaly. Using what is often called the "Right of First Refusal," where incumbents get to prevent competition in state broadband programs, CenturyLink not only blocked Clearnetworx from getting the grant but got itself a hefty subsidy for a very modest improvement in services.
Ridgway residents went from almost certainly having a choice in providers and gigabit access to seeing their taxpayer dollars used to not only make competition less likely but also effectively blocking the gig from coming to everyone in town. In this interview, we discuss the details.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
West Virginia rural communities struggle with access to broadband but a bill in the state legislature is taking some first steps to encourage better connectivity. HB 3093 passed the House with wide support (97 - 2) and has been sent on to the Senate for review. The bill doesn’t appropriate any funding for Internet infrastructure projects around the state, but adopts some policies that may help local communities obtain better connectivity.
Revenue Neutral And Popular
The state is facing a $500 million budget deficit and lawmakers don't have the appetite to appropriate finds for Internet infrastructure projects. As in most states, policy bills do well during times of financial strife. Elected officials still want to do what they can to encourage better broadband so, according to at least one lawmaker, the revenue neutral nature of the bill has contributed to its success in the legislature. Delegate Roger Henshaw, one of the bill's co-sponsors, told Metro News:
“Notice this is a revenue-neutral bill,” Hanshaw said. “That’s in fact one of the reasons we’re rolling it out now. We have other bills here in both the House and Senate that are not revenue-neutral bills that were on the table for consideration.
“But with the clock ticking on us, it became clear that we probably ought to be looking at options to advance service that didn’t even have the possibility of a financial impact. This bill does not.”
Check out the 3-minute interview with Hanshaw on Soundcloud.
The Broadband Enhancement Council
West Virginia’s Broadband Enhancement Council was created in a previous session and receives more authority and responsibility under HB 3093. They are tasked with the authority to, among other things, gather comparative data between actual and advertised speeds around the state, to advise and provide consultation services to project sponsors, and make the public know about facilities that offer community broadband access.
HB 3093 briefly addresses the creation of the “Broadband Enhancement Fund," and addresses how the funds should be spent. For now, the fund remains dry... Read more
Even though they don't have to chip in any local funds, the town of Shutesbury, Massachusetts, rejected Charter’s proposal to build a hybrid fiber coaxial network in their community. They don’t consider the proposal a “good long-term solution to bring broadband to our town" and prefer to build a publicly owned fiber-optic network for future-proof technology, provider accountability, and local control.
You Get What You Pay For
Unlike Charter’s proposal to serve only 96 percent of the homes in the community, the town made a commitment to include all members of the community some time ago. Charter would not extend its proposal to include about three dozen properties that are further out unless the town committed to providing funds above and beyond what the state offered to provide as part of the proposal. Board of Selectmen Chair Michael Vinskey went on to tell MassLive that Charter would not commit to a specific cost for extending a network to those additional homes.
In the words of Vinskey, committing to such an ambiguous arrangement, “would not be fiscally responsible.” No kidding.
Shutesbury authorized spending for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network once already. In 2015, folks at the annual Town Meeting voted to approve $1.7 million in bonding to pay for the infrastructure. They’ll take another vote this May for the debt exclusion authorization, as required by state law.
Community leaders estimate deployment to every property at approximately $2.57 million. Their share of the state grants that are to be distributed by MBI come to $870,000 for construction and professional services. Like the community of Leverett, Shutesbury intends to use a modest property tax increase to fund the infrastructure investment.
A basic subscription for Internet access at speeds higher than those proposed by Charter would cost approximately $75 per month and would not include video services but would include Voice over IP (VoIP) services. A number of the local communities in the western Massachusetts region have dealt with sub-par telephone services due to aging infrastructure.
Shutesbury wants... Read more
Erwin Fiber is growing in stages and now that the utility in Erwin, Tennessee, has completed phase three of its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployment, about half of its electricity customers have access to high-quality Internet access. That’s not all - phase four this spring will bring gigabit connectivity to more rural customers in two nearby mountain communities.
Reaching Out In Steps
All told, Erwin Fiber more than tripled its service area in 2016. A December grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) will allow the utility to complete the spring build out, which will serve an additional 680 homes and 30 businesses. The Temple Hill and Bumpass Cove areas located in the mountains outside of downtown Erwin will have access to Erwin Fiber's symmetrical Internet access. Due to the remote character of these neighborhoods, people here had little prospect of obtaining high-quality Internet access from other providers. The 35-mile expansion will cost approximately $400,000.
November’s expansion added 2,200 homes and businesses, while a similar effort last March included 1,300 homes and businesses. Both expansions came after the community successfully experimented with a 2015 pilot project in which the city’s electric utility connected an initial 1,200 customers. The utility needed the infrastructure for the electric system other utilities; it was the right to to invest in the equipment for high-speed connectivity and phone service
Not An Impluse
The municipality of about 6,000 people had considered the investment some 15 years prior but couldn’t afford the investment until recent years when the cost of deployment decreased. In January, Christopher interviewed Lee Brown and John Williams from Erwin Utilities who discussed the community’s project and explained how the fiber infrastructure is benefitting all the utility customers, even those who don’t subscribe to FTTH services.
In January, Governor Bill Haslam announced that he and Senator Mark Norris would introduce legislation to provide grant funding and tax credits to private companies in order to expand rural connectivity in Tennessee. In a recent Knoxville News Sentinel, Christopher took another look at more subsidies to large private providers and how that strategy has worked out so far.
We've reprinted the op-ed here:
Christopher Mitchell: State needs better broadband, not subsidies
If you were tasked with improving the internet access across Tennessee, a good first start would be to examine what is working and what’s not. But when the General Assembly debates broadband, it frequently focuses on what AT&T and Comcast want rather than what is working.
Broadband expansion has turned into a perennial fight between Tennessee’s municipal broadband networks and advocates of better connectivity on one side and AT&T and Comcast on the other. On one side is a taxpayer-subsidized model, while the other depends solely on the revenues of those who choose to subscribe. But which is which?
AT&T has received billions of taxpayer dollars to build its networks, whereas Chattanooga, Tullahoma and Morristown, for example, financed their fiber-optic networks by selling revenue bonds to private investors and repaying them with revenues from their services. The big telephone companies are massively subsidized, whereas municipal networks have generally not used taxpayer dollars.
It is true that after it began building, Chattanooga received a Department of Energy one-time stimulus grant for $111 million, but that was actually less than AT&T is getting from just one federal program in Tennessee alone – over $125 million from the Connect America Fund. And most of the money to Chattanooga went into devices for its smart grid that have since led to massive job gains.
These community networks offer modern connectivity. Chattanooga offers 10,000 Mbps to anyone in its territory. AT&T is getting enormous checks from Uncle Sam to deliver 10 Mbps. Comcast will soon offer 1,000 Mbps, but only for downloads. If you are a small business trying to upload lots of data, Comcast won’t get you there.
According to a 2016 Consumer Reports study, Comcast and AT&T were among the most hated companies across the board. Chattanooga’s Electric... Read more
San Jose State University’s School of Information (iSchool) and the Gigabit Libraries Network are accepting proposals for projects under a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to expand the Libraries WhiteSpace Project. According to the announcement, five projects will be funded.
The “Beyond the Walls” Awards will provide $15,000 grants “to libraries for the most innovative proposals to use TV WhiteSpace (TVWS) technologies to enable new library hotspots in the service of their communities.”
Co-director Kristen Reman of SJSU said:
"This initiative will further explore the role of libraries as leading community anchors promoting access and inclusion through strategic technology integration. There's a nice intersection between what we're implementing and the concept of community anchors, which has been used by IMLS to describe the role of libraries in providing civic engagement, cultural opportunities, and economic vitality to communities,"
The first round of applications will be accepted until March 6th winners will be announced near the end of April. Libraries interested in applying for an award can watch a quick 2-minute video to help them determine if they meet qualification criteria. You can also contact info(at)giglibraries.net with questions; they will even help you put together a project plan.
White Space Technology
"White spaces" or "TVWS" are the unlicensed low-frequency spectrum that was reserved for television signals prior to digitization of television. Now that the spectrum is not being used for TV, it's been freed up for fixed wireless Internet accesss.
We’ve covered how libraries are using white space technology to expand free Internet access in local communities. Garrett County, Maryland, plans to use TVWS to complement its fiber network and bring connectivity to some areas of the county were traditional fixed wireless can't serve.... Read more