Tag: "grant"

Posted May 7, 2013 by christopher

This is a show I have been wanting to do for years - discussing some of the common mistakes that have been make by community owned networks. Offering broadband and other telecommunications services is a difficult business for any entity, public or private and all network owners make mistakes. The vast majority of these errors can be and are fixed so the network may carry on.

While in Dallas for the Broadband Communities Summit, I asked Design Nine founder Andrew Cohill about common problems faced by community owned networks and how to prepare for them or avoid them entirely.

We discuss how having a strong business plan is essential, with some of the requirements that should be included. We agree that a reliance on grant funding is a giant warning flag. We also discuss a number of other things new networks should watch out for, especially overstaffing.

Read the transcript from our discussion here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 18 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Mount Carmel for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted February 14, 2013 by lgonzalez

A collaboration between local Idaho and Wyoming counties, the town of Rexburg, Idaho, and Brigham Young University will be exploring the possibility of a community owned fiber optic network. Significant business interest in the project has contributed to the decision to move forward with a feasibility study.

According to a Standard Journal article, Design Nine has been hired to conduct the study which will look at what networks are currently in place and provide a detailed plan for future development. The $78,000 study, to be completed in May, is funded in half by a federal grant with the remaining paid for by public and private donations. 

Fremont County, Idaho; Madison County, Idaho; Teton County, Idaho; and Teton County, Wyoming are all participating and together obtained the federal grant. According to the City of Rexburg Department of Economic Development website on the fiber initiative:

Rexburg's City Council recently (June, 2011) passed an initiative to facilitate the availability of broadband internet in Rexburg. High-speed broadband internet, as referred to in this initiative, is a fiber-optic connection with download speeds exceeding 1,000 bytes per second (1 Gbps). Private businesses have requested for upgraded services, but these requests have not yet been met. Accordingly, citizens and city officials have established the Rexburg Community Access Network Initiative. High-speed broadband means smart growth for Rexburg.

From the Standard Journal Article:

Two companies have already expressed interest in adding data centers in Rexburg, but current lack of bandwidth makes that a challenge, [Economic Development Director for Rexburg Scott] Johnson told members of the Kiwanis Club earlier this week.

Brigham Young University-Idaho is the main component behind the study, he said during the meeting.

“They are the ones who asked us to do this and take this forward,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the university has minimum...

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Posted February 4, 2013 by lgonzalez

Franklin, Kentucky expects to see more positive economic growth when it launches its new fiber optic network. According to an article in the Bowling Green Daily News, the south central community is ready for the upgrade:

“We are super excited about it,” said James McCaslin, associate vice president of academic affairs and director of Franklin-Simpson Center. “It will be like going from 1970 to 2013 with the flip of a switch.”

We contacted Tammie Carey, Fiber Services Manager for Franklin Municipal FiberNET, and she was good enough to answer some questions. She told us that 32 miles of aerial fiber are strung in three loops around the city to ensure redundancy. She expects the network to launch near the end of January for local businesses, though the utility has already been serving one business as detailed below.

The decision was based solely on a desire to boost economic development, a sentiment echoed in the Daily News article:

It’s hard to recruit industry now if you don’t have (fiber optics),” said Dennis Griffin, industrial recruiter for Simpson County. “A lot of industries, particularly in this area, are satellite plants connected to their corporate offices, somewhere else in the United States. They all need to be connected by fiber.

“So if you don’t have that, it’s hard to compete with communities that do,” Griffin said. “Ten years ago, you could get by with T-1 lines – now most industries are just expecting that you have fiber."

Apparently, City officials contacted AT&T and Comcast several years ago and asked them to install fiber to the Franklin industrial parks. When they refused, City Leaders began pondering the possibility of a municipal fiber network. Tammie tells us about the decision in an email:

It was economic based.  Our Industrial Authority was working with several industries regarding possibly locating in our community.  A need they had was large amounts of reliable bandwidth.  The existing companies would not build fiber to the industrial park locations.  The city saw this as a major hindrance with our economic development recruitment and made the decision to invest in a system....

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Posted January 17, 2013 by lgonzalez

In 2007, the City of Amherst, Massachusetts received a $150,000 grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build a wireless mesh network. DARPA and NSF have long been interested in developing mesh networks that are more resilient than traditional hub and spoke type networks.

The City IT Department, UMass Amherst Office of Information Technology Department, DARPA and NSF collaborated to deploy the network that now covers much of the city.

According to GazetteNet.com, the city is now investing another $50,000 to upgrade the system which now extends a mile through downtown. From the article:

“We definitely have the fastest and largest outdoor Wi-Fi network in the state,” said Information Technology Director Kristopher Pacunas.

The new system, which replaces aging equipment that was part of a smaller municipal Wi-Fi system, will be a boon to those who live, work and shop in downtown Amherst, said Pacunas, who anticipates as many as 2,000 different people will use the system daily.

“We’ve seen data in the short time we’ve had this (that) people will come to downtown areas with free Wi-Fi,” Pacunas said.

While the new upgrades were not officially launched until the start of 2013, Pacunas said that over 10,400 people used the system in the weeks leading up to the new year. Pacunas also notes that the network has limited functionality indoors, being designed mostly for public outdoor spaces downtown.

 The Town of Amherst Public WiFi website describes how the design was meant to blend in with the look of the city and the light and utility poles that house the access points. There are 30 wireless mesh access points and burst speeds up to 80 Mbps. This is another example of how a municipal network can create direct benefits AND indirect benefits simply through its implementation. Also from the article:

Alex Krogh-Grabbe, director of the Amherst Business Improvement District, said he sees the benefits of the system.

“The new downtown Wi-Fi put downtown Amherst and its business district way ahead of most communities in...

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Posted January 11, 2013 by lgonzalez

Cottage Grove, Oregon, is on the cusp of adding up to 250 new jobs with the aid of its fiber optic network.  A recent Register-Guard.com article by Serena Markstrom details the potential project between the City and First Call Resolution. The company is interested in expanding to a Cottage Grove shopping strip. While the space is the right size and location, it does not have the needed telecommunications connections for a high-capacity call center.

The City is looking into expanding its fiber optic network to accommodate First Call. City leaders will seek a state economic development grant and recently approved funding for an engineer's construction plan to lay the cable to get an accurate cost estimate. Initial estimates are $450,000 for an entire underground installation. Council members have already suggested that the expansion makes sense, regardless of whether or not First Call becomes a tenant. The 7 miles of fiber are primarily located in the southern part of the city while the shopping strip is in the north.

The City Manager Richard Meyers hopes the added infrastructure will bring more than just First Call Resolution to the shopping strip. From the article:

The commercial strip being considered for the call center has much empty space. “The whole plaza needs help,” Meyers said. “We need to do something to see if we can get other things in there.”

If more businesses moved in and started leasing the cable, the city could collect money — just like any utility — from those who tapped into the network and use those funds to continue to expand fiber optic cable around town, Meyers said.

“With our fiber and what we’ve developed, we’re within 4,000 feet of connecting” to the Village Center, he said. “That’s how close we are,” he said. “It’s not a huge distance. We can do it. (It would be a) piece of cake to connect our system to his network and so all of [First Call Resolution's] call centers would be on the same network.”

The city network also offers a Wi-Fi network throughout 80% of the city. Rates vary, ranging from 10 free hours each month at 128 Kbps to 7 Mbps unlimited with tech support for $50 per month. According to the CGWiFi website:

...

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Posted January 4, 2013 by lgonzalez

Kudos to Richard Downey, Village Administrator for the Village of Kronenwetter in Wisconsin. Mr. Downey reminded us that we have yet to write about the fiber network in Princeton, Illinois. While we have noted Princeton in our list of economic development successes, we haven't delved into the network that serves the city, the schools, and the business community.

Princeton is home to about 7,500 people and is located in the north central region of the state in Bureau County. They have their own electric, water, and wastewater utilities and began offering broadband connectivity in late 2003. We spoke with Jason Bird, Superintendent of Princeton Electric Department, who shared the network's story with us.

In 2003, the city’s largest electric and water consumer was also the largest employer. At the time, incumbents served the community with T1 connections. The manufacturing company moved to Mexico, taking 450 jobs with it. The community was stunned.

Approximately 6 months later, Ingersoll Rand, the community's second largest employer with about 300 jobs, also considered moving away from Princeton. While lack of needed broadband was not the only reason, the Ingersoll Rand CEO let community leaders know that it was one of the influential factors. The company liked being in Princeton, and the city would have been on the top of the location list if not for the sad state of connectivity. At the time, the only commercial option was unreliable T1 connections for $1,500 - $2,000 per month. If Ingersoll Rand moved, the community would experience job losses equal to 10% of the population. Community leaders needed to act and do it quickly.

To retain Ingersoll Rand, the City Council decided unanimously to go into the telecommunications industry. They issued an RFP and encouraged incumbents AT&T and Comcast to bid; neither were interested. (Interestingly, once Princeton let it be known that they were going to build the network without them, there were some local upgrades from both companies.)

IVNet, located in Peru, Illinois, won the bid to manage and provide retail...

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Posted August 15, 2011 by christopher

Chattanooga, with the nation's most impressive broadband network (stretching into rural areas even outside the metro), is spending $30 million to put a Wi-Fi wireless network on top of it. At present, it is primarily for municipal uses:

For now, city government plans to retain exclusive use of the network for municipal agencies as it tests it with applications including Navy SEAL-esque head-mounted cameras that feed live video to police headquarters, traffic lights that can be automatically adjusted at rush hour, and even water contamination sensors that call home if there’s a problem beneath the surface of the Tennessee River.

Much of the wireless network is being funded by state and federal grants -- Chattanooga is turning itself into a test bed for the future city, at least for communities that recognize the benefits of owning their own infrastructure. Chattanooga can do what it wants to, it does not have to ask permission from Comcast or AT&T.

The goal for the city’s wireless network is to make the entire city more efficient and sustainable, said David Crockett, director of Chattanooga’s Office of Sustainability.

As Bernie Arnason notes at Telecompetitor, Wi-Fi is increasingly needed by smartphones because the big cellular networks cannot handle the load. The future has wireless components, but without Wi-Fi backhauled by fiber-optics, the future will be extremely slow and unreliable -- traffic jams for smartphones.

A more recent story from the Times Free Press notes that Chattanooga is wrestling with how to handle opening the network to residential and business use.

Wireless symbol

“I want to be innovative,” he said. “I want to do more than just turn it on in the parks.”

It’s a popular idea with technologists, tourism officials and the general public, who would gain the ability to surf around the city at speeds greater than typical cellular speeds.

Bob Doak, president and CEO of...

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Posted August 10, 2011 by christopher

Craig Settles has been pumping out some in-depth interviews with community networks on his new Gigabit Nation audio show. This show discusses a wireless network built using a public-private partnership in Franklin County, Virginia.

The approach is outlined in this case study [pdf] and excerpted here:

Franklin County formed a partnership with a local wireless Internet service provider (WISP) to expand the County's local government wide-area network and provide broadband options for the citizens. The project leveraged County structures such as towers and water tanks for WISP transmitters and receivers. We were in the process of upgrading the public safety radio system at the same time, so the two efforts worked together to identify possible new tower locations that would improve radio coverage and meet broadband demand.

The partnership provided the WISP with a fast-path to business growth through additional funding and access to existing infrastructure. The County provided space on towers, tanks and poles in exchange for Internet service at County offices. This arrangement lowered deployment costs for the WISP, expediting business growth.

The partnership expanded the WISP customer base in Franklin County from 98 customers in early 2005 to approximately 1000 in early 2008. In addition, 15 fire and rescue stations were added to the County’s wide-area-network (WAN) in addition to five other County offices. There are many advantages to moving remote offices onto the WAN, including reduced costs and improved communications and data sharing across County Administration. The wireless mesh network supports data and voice and the WISP is currently segmenting the County's voice traffic on their network to ensure quality of service (QoS).

A case study from Motorola [pdf] notes that Franklin County has received awards for its approach:

At the 10th annual Commonwealth of Virginia Innovative Technology Symposium in 2008, Governor Timothy M. Kaine awarded Franklin County with one of the Technology Awards for Excellence for the County’s innovative approach to the use of...

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Posted January 28, 2011 by christopher

We are noted critics of federal policies that prioritize subsidies and support for private companies over the public sector (broadly defined to include local government, nonprofits, and cooperatives).  When we analyzed the stimulus rules, we were horrified at the reversal of Congressional Intent, which was clearly to prioritize publicly accountable entities over private entities.

Telecompetitor brings our attention to an RUS report summarizing awards from the BIP stimulus program.  Download the report here [pdf].

As we feared (and previously wrote here), the private sector was heavily prioritized by the Rural Utility Service.  For-profit companies won more awards and received more funds than entities that are structurally accountable to the community.  While we are not opposed to profits per se (we are strong allies with local businesses in the many aspects of our work), the history of private companies owning infrastructure (thereby making the rules) has taught us that communities do best when they have a strong voice over essential infrastructure.

Further, in the rural areas that RUS oversees, networks that are focused on profit have refused to upgrade to modern networks and often offer poor customer service.  Throwing more public money at the private sector is a terrible long-term solution that will require ever larger subsidies over time when policy should encourage self-reliance and a lessening need for subsidies over time.

These charts are snipped from the RUS Report linked to above.

RUS awards by awardee

Though we are quite critical of the RUS's prioritizing the for-profit applicants, we are relieved to see that RUS correctly prioritized wireline technologies (mostly fiber-optic) over wireless.  Wireless remains a complement to wireline, not a substitute.  Tax dollars should be invested for the long term - into fiber-optics that can also support wireless (wireless starts at a tower often fed by...

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Posted November 29, 2010 by christopher

Vermonters are asking some hard questions about the federal broadband stimulus decision to throw money at a wireless network for Vermont rather than loaning money to an organization dedicated to delivering real broadband.

Senator Bernie Sanders convened a meeting to discuss the awards toward the end of October.

Senator Bernie Sanders led off his “broadband town meeting” Saturday morning at Vermont Technical College with a ringing affirmation of the need for better broadband coverage in Vermont and the nation.

However, nobody in the crowd of nearly 300 people needed to be convinced of that. What they wanted to know was whether a huge new federal grant to a private company was the right way to do it.

VTel, a small private telephone company, received a $116 million grant to build a FTTH network to serve their existing 18,000 footprint as well as a wireless network that is intended to serve the entire state.

In contrast, the East Central Vermont Fiber Network (which we have covered previously), applied for a loan to build a FTTH network to everyone in the 24 communities that have joined together to form the network. The ECFiber network would be run by a nonprofit and would repay the loan from revenue generated by selling triple-play services on the network.

Vermonters have a strong fiscal conservatism streak, which has shown up strongly in the discussions around this situation, something noted in a story leading up to the Sanders meeting:

He will get plenty of both from representatives of ECFiber, the consortium of 23 towns that has been planning a network of fiber-optic broadband to virtually every home in the White River Valley and beyond.

The organization was stung recently when its own request for a loan was not funded by RUS, which instead awarded a much larger outright grant to VTel, which is located in Springfield.

Our position at MuniNetworks, is quite similar to that of the these Vermonters: loans would be better policy than grants for broadband infrastructure.

Supporters of the wireless network, including VTel's CEO, Michel Guite, have suggested the $116 million...

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