Tag: "grant"

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 August 14, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Tribal residents and others living along near Six Rivers National Forest in Humboldt County, California are about to get a broadband boost. The Yurok and Karuk Tribes announced at the end of July that the Klamath River Rural Broadband Initiative received more than $10 million from the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC's) California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to add over a 100 miles of additional fiber to the project’s community network, connecting hundreds of additional homes, businesses, and anchor institutions. The award marks the second injection of funding from the CPUC’s grant program to the initiative. 

Over the River and Through the Woods

Humboldt County covers more than 4,000 square miles along the coast in the northwest part of the state, about 60 miles west of Redding. It’s one of the least-densely populated areas in the state, marked by rural, mountainous, rugged terrain for the roughly 150,000 people who live there. Those in the northern fifth of the county have it particularly hard; the region is bounded by national forests on either side, with the Klamath River running down the middle. As recently as 2009, telephone service in the region was unreliable, and Internet access was restricted to dial-up or satellite. The Klamath River Rural Broadband Initiative (KRRBI) has been working since 2013 to address this digital divide.

The new CPUC award totals a little more than $10.8 million to add 104 miles of new fiber to their middle-mile network. Last-mile connections come via fixed wireless, a cost-effective way to bring broadband to rural areas. The new route will connect the communities of Orleans to Orick and Weitchpec to Wautec and Johnsons, bringing new service to 616 households, 8 first responder agencies, and 14 additional anchor institutions like schools, tribal offices, and health care clinics. The project will also add three redundant links to the existing network across the 80-square mile area.

“For the residents of far Northern California, this initiative will...

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Posted June 25, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Update (6/25/20):

The board of the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative voted unanimously at yesterday's meeting to create a separate entity to pursue broadband funding and development in the state for its 84,000 member-owners, committing $1 million in funding to the effort.  

In the press release, President and CEO Steve Camareno remarked: “meeting our members’ needs is NHEC’s only focus, and the ability to access fast, reliable internet service is a critical need, now more than ever. In pursuing this initiative, we remain mindful that we must balance that need with our members’ reliance on NHEC as their electric service provider.”

The response by the board shows the success of local organizing efforts around the issue; voting was up 33% at the annual board meeting last week, where adding broadband to cooperative's charter was a primary concern. The move positions NEHC well to pursue money from the state's available CARES funds as well as bid in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction this fall. 

Original story:

Efforts to add broadband to the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative’s (NEHC) charter fell just 2% short of the 2/3 supermajority it needed to pass last week, but supporters remain hopeful. Over seven thousand voters turned out for the annual Board of Directors election, which included the broadband line item on the ballot. The measure fell short by 183 votes. A successful vote would have allowed the co-op to build a broadband network and offer Internet access to its members.

Advocates are still optimistic, and efforts by groups like NH Broadband are ongoing. It was the first attempt to add broadband Internet to the NEHC’s charter. Further, two new members of the 10-person board are on the record in support, with one of them taking the place of an outgoing board member who opposed it. BRoadband remained a central topic at this past Monday’s meeting where the board discussed different options, and another meeting is scheduled for today to discuss potential sources from...

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Posted May 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In response to the increased reliance on connectivity precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Minnesota Legislature is working on legislation to improve access to broadband, online education, and telehealth services throughout the state.

The Senate passed their version of the bipartisan funding bill, SF 4494, earlier this week, and the House has two similar pieces of legislation, HF 1507 and HF 3029, currently under consideration. If the bills are passed and signed into law, there would be a total of $20 million to $27 million (depending on how the different versions are reconciled) available in grants to support distance learning, telemedicine programs, and broadband deployment. Bill authors designed the legislation to prioritize the use of federal money for the grant programs before pulling from the state’s general fund.

Broadband Bills in House and Senate

The Minnesota Senate passed its version of the legislation, SF 4494, on May 4 in a unanimous vote. Representatives in the House have rolled the grant programs into a larger coronavirus relief package that is under consideration, HF 1507. This is in addition to keeping a separate House bill with the broadband funding provisions, HF 3029, alive in case HF 1507 fails to pass.

The bills direct grant funding to three connectivity issues: connecting students for distance education, expanding access to telemedicine services, and deploying broadband networks in unserved areas. To facilitate online education during the pandemic, the bills would make $8 million (SF 4494 and HF 3029) or $15 million (HF 1507) available in grants to schools through the state Department of Education to fund the distribution of devices like hotspots and to reimburse the cost of...

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Posted April 8, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Last fall, we reported on the large number of community-owned broadband networks among the applicants for the first round of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ReConnect broadband program, which awards grants and loans to expand rural connectivity.

Since then, the USDA has distributed more than $620 million to 70 providers in 31 states as part of ReConnect round one. Just over half of the awardees are community networks, including rural cooperatives, local governments, community agencies, and a tribal provider. The other ReConnect awardees are locally owned providers. Almost all grant and loan recipients plan to build high-quality fiber networks with the funds.

While the impact will be limited by the relatively modest size of the program and restrictive eligibility requirements, the ReConnect awards will nevertheless lead to improved economic opportunity and quality of life in rural areas. These investments will enable more rural Americans to take advantage of precision agriculture, online education, and telehealth visits — services that are now more important than ever as the nation finds itself in the grips of a pandemic.

Co-ops, Munis Win Big

Approximately 30 rural telephone and electric cooperatives in 16 different states are taking home ReConnect grants and loans from the first round of funding. Co-op awards include a nearly $19 million grant for Alaska-based Cordova Telecom Cooperative, a $28 million grant and loan for Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, and a $2.73 million grant for Emery Telecom for projects in Colorado and Montana.

USDA logo

Several municipal networks are also recipients of ReConnect funding. One of the awardees, Osage Municipal Utilities in Iowa,...

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Posted March 6, 2020 by lgonzalez

For the first time, an electric cooperative in Arizona plans to develop fiber optic infrastructure in its service area in order to expand broadband availability. Mohave Electric Cooperative (MEC) recently received a state grant to develop fiber optic infrastructure and expects to spend the next two years connecting residents and businesses for high-quality Internet access.

State Funding Efforts

Arizona's Rural Broadband Development Grant Program, which awards up to $1 million for shovel-ready projects, will provide funding to MEC for infrastructure deployment. Two other grants went to private sector providers for a middle mile project and for a Fiber-to-the-Business project. The co-op's network will enable symmetrical connections of up to 10 gigabits.

The region is in the far west-central area of the state where Arizona meets the tip of Nevada and California, not far from the Mojave National Preserve and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. MEC will build out their network to around 35,000 premises in Bullhead City, Fort Mohave, and Mohave Valley. 

In addition to the development grants, Arizona awarded four planning grants to local governments of fewer than 150,000 (municipalities) or 750,000 (counties). One of the grants went to Gila County, which has been working on their Broadband Master Plan. Native American Tribes and nonprofits were also eligible.

Read more about the state's program here

Local Support

Back in October 2019, the Bullhead City Council passed a resolution to support the cooperative's plan to develop the project. Community leaders responded to the results of the MEC survey in which 95 percent of respondents indicated that they wanted broadband from the co-op.

Mayor Tom Brady noted that his office often received complaints about incumbents Suddenlink and Frontier. At the time, MEC said that the cooperative plan includes service to 100 percent of its service area, but officials from MEC stated that...

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Posted January 22, 2020 by lgonzalez

Iowa has multiple rural communities where large national Internet access companies have not invested in high-quality Internet infrastructure. Iowans have adopted a self-reliant approach, however, and one look at the community networks map shows that publicly owned networks pepper the state. Osage, in the north-central part of Iowa, has offered Internet access to the community since 2001. In a recent announcement from the U.S.D.A, we learned that Osage Municipal Utilities (OMU) will receive almost $400,000 to continue their efforts to connect more premises in rural Mitchell County and connect people with fiber Internet access.

According to the announcement:

Osage Municipal Utilities (OMU) in northern Iowa will use a $397,749 ReConnect Program grant to provide broadband service to underserved households, farms and businesses in Mitchell County. This will be accomplished by directly accessing a fiber trunk line that runs through the heart of Mitchell, Iowa, and up to the border of Minnesota, allowing OMU to increase its service area bandwidth. The funded service area includes 151 households spread over 20 square miles.

We wrote about Osage's broadband and solar projects and interviewed OSU General Manager Josh Byrnes back in 2016. Listen to the interview here:

Posted January 8, 2020 by Sayidali Moalim

Grays Harbor Public Utility District (PUD) recently received a $50,000 Washington state grant to conduct a feasibility study in order to determine the best route for expansion of their open access broadband infrastructure into Oakville and the Chehalis Indian Reservation. Both areas are considered underserved and some areas in the region have no Internet service available to residents or businesses.

The Reasons Are There

The Commerce Department’s Public Works Board awarded the $50,000 grant and eight other grants for eight other feasibility studies around the state. The funds will likely pay for the entire study and, according to director of PUD Core Service Rod Hanny, will determine the best route for a fiber line and identify "right-of-way issues, permitting requirements, construction costs, and whether the project would fit the needs of the communities and the utility itself."

Officials at the PUD say that they've received many requests from residents and businesses in the area to establish fiber infrastructure for Internet access. The PUD also wants to put fiber in place in order to improve other utility operations. Currently a substation in the area is monitored via satellite and a fiber connection would be create a more reliable method of communication. If the feasibility study reveals that a project would be a beneficial investment for the region, the project would take roughly a year to complete.

Washington ports are now allowed to develop and use fiber optic infrastructure both within and beyond their geographic borders. Prior to 2018 ports were prohibited from offering wholesale services outside their borders. After HB 2662 unanimously passed, places such as the Port of Ridgefield...

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Posted December 13, 2019 by lgonzalez

The Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) program from the Blandin Foundation has been helping local cities, counties, tribes, and other self-identified communities of interest or place take steps to meet technology goals since 2013. The foundation is once again seeking participant communities and is accepting applications to be part of the 2020-2021 program cohort.

Download the BBC Application Instructions here for more information on how to apply to the program. The application deadline is January 24th.

Helping Communities Meet Their Goals

Bernadine Joselyn, Director of Public Policy and Engagement at the Blandin Foundation alerted us to the search for participating communities. In an email, Bernadine stated:

This program emphasizes broadband adoption and use in rural communities through the provision of leadership and project development facilitation services as well as project funding of up to $75,000. Project examples include public Wi-Fi access, business technology assessment and training, workforce training, online community and business marketing, online government services and other community generated projects. Communities are required to create a steering team to oversee the effort over the 18-24 month program period 

For communities that have quality broadband services in place, this program can showcase the value of broadband network deployment. For communities working to improve their broadband networks, Blandin Broadband Communities can provide a platform for building community consensus that enhanced broadband networks are critical to a community’s future.

Working for Other Communities Across Minnesota

The last cohort focused on Iron Range communities in northern Minnesota; the Blandin Foundation was able to make use of funding from the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation (IRRR) and St. Louis County. Past entities working with the Blandin Foundation include the Cannon Falls School District, Bois Fort Reservation, Renville and Sibley Counties, the Mille Lacs Band of...

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