Tag: "affordability"

Posted October 10, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Which would you choose — a broadband subscription with download speeds of 15 Megabits per second (Mbps) or a much faster gigabit plan for the same price?

The choice is clear, and it’s one that low-income households in Hillsboro, Oregon, may soon make, thanks to the city’s planned municipal fiber network. Earlier this year, Hillsboro announced that its new broadband utility, HiLight, will offer gigabit connectivity for only $10 per month to qualified low-income residents. In comparison, Comcast’s Internet Essentials program provides low-income families in the city speeds of just 15 Mbps for roughly the same monthly cost.

Hillsboro isn’t the first community to leverage its publicly owned fiber network for digital inclusion efforts. Municipal networks across the country are providing low-cost connectivity, affordable devices, and digital skills trainings to their communities, bringing the educational, economic, and healthcare benefits of broadband access to more people.

Defining Digital Inclusion

Digital inclusion is the practice of ensuring digital equity, which the National Digital Inclusion Alliance defines as “a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy.”

Broadband availability is only one of many “digital divides” that explain who is and isn’t connected. For instance, income and affordability also play a role. According to the Pew Research Center, adults with annual incomes of $75,000 or more are almost twice as likely to have broadband access at home than adults with annual incomes of less than $30,000. Among those without home broadband access, the high cost of a subscription is most commonly cited as the top reason why, Pew reports.

logo-NDIA.jpg To succeed, digital...

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Posted October 1, 2019 by lgonzalez

School districts in both urban and rural communities are taking steps to help students stay competitive as technology becomes an integral part of learning. As they develop laptop programs, school districts must also contend with the problem of unaffordable, unreliable, and slow Internet access at students’ homes. In Columbus, Mississippi, the local municipal electric utility is collaborating with the school district to bring Internet access to students after school hours.

One Missing Ingredient

Schools in Columbus, Mississippi, have been implementing technology as a standard learning component for the past several years, and have established a program to provide tablets and laptops for each high school student. As they continue to expand the program, they face a problem that other communities face when high-quality connectivity isn't widespread or affordable: many school kids in Columbus still don't have Internet access at home. In Columbus, affordability is the chief barrier. Without connectivity, one-to-one device programs can never achieve maximum success.

In October 2018, the Columbus Municipal School District (CMSD) approached Columbus Light and Water (CLW) and asked if the municipal utility could find a way to use its fiber infrastructure to extend the school’s Internet access beyond school facilities. CMSD wanted to allow students to connect past school hours. CLW general manager Todd Gale and CLW examined the possibilities and determined the project to be feasible.

logo-CLW-MS.png CLW will use its existing fiber optic infrastructure and add about two more miles of fiber to reach specific areas of the school district. When examining the addresses of students on a map, they discovered that many students live within close proximity to housing authority and public park locations. The utility has been able to identify five specific locations that will have the most impact as hotspots. Each hotspot should provide up to a one and one-half mile radius of fixed wireless access.

"We chose five locations, and those five in particular, because that's the number it would take to give students adequate coverage given...

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Posted August 29, 2019 by lgonzalez

Hillsboro, Oregon, has decided that fast, reliable, and affordable Internet access is a top priority. As they continue to fine-tune their fiber optic network plans, community leaders recently announced pricing and speed tiers for HiLight, expected to launch in 2020.

$55 Gig!

This summer, the Hillsboro City Council confirmed proposed pricing to reflect the community's commitment to bringing high-quality Internet access to each premise; HiLight will offer symmetrical gigabit Internet access for $55 per month to residents. According to the Oregonian, the rate is about half what Comcast charges. HiLight will also provide a 4 gigabit option for $300 per month, which is comparable to Comcast’s price for 2 gigabit service.

Subscribers will also have the option to sign-up for VoIP services for $20 per month, but the utility will not offer video.

Low-income households will be able to subscribe to gigabit service for $10 per month, but the community is still working out details for eligibility. Comcast’s plan for similarly situated folks allows Internet access at 15 Megabits per second (Mbps) download while providing slower upload speeds.

Like many other publicly owned networks, Hillsboro plans to offer symmetrical service to allow subscribers to take full advantage of fiber optic connections. With the ability to send as well as receive data-intensive files, subscribers are more likely to work from home, complete distance learning educational programs, engage in telehealth apps, and partake in innovative technologies.

The Timeline

The city plans to take an incremental approach and dedicate about 10 years toward completion of citywide deployment while avoiding debt. Hillsboro has decided to allocate around $4 million each year for the next 7 years toward the build. City financial experts estimate the network will begin generating revenue in 11 years and will pay for itself in 17 years.

Construction is already in progress in the Sourh Hillsboro neighborhood, a new area of town where approximately 8,000 new homes are being built, allowing crews to install conduit and fiber simlutaneously. Next they plan to...

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Posted June 13, 2019 by lgonzalez

Ammon, Idaho’s open access software defined network has earned accolades from industry experts and been hailed as a model approach for other communities. It has been praised for serving the community, providing reliability, and offering affordable options. Amid news of expansion, the positive effects of competition via the publicly owned network have recently flashed across news and social media. People who don’t live in the Idaho city are shocked to learn how affordable high-quality Internet access can be. 

Growing a Good Thing

In March, City of Ammon Fiber Optics began to deploy in the city’s Bridgewater neighborhood, where they expected to connect around 300 of the potential 500 subscriber households with this particular expansion. Three more neighborhoods are lined up for expansion this summer and into the fall.

The city provides several options for residents in Ammon, including the Local Improvement District (LID) approach, to finance expansions of the infrastructure. Their method allows the community to continue to build the network without borrowing or bonding. Community members within the boundaries of the project area can sign up at the beginning of the process to pay for connecting over a 20-year period. If they decide to pass initially and connect later, they must pay the connection fee out of pocket. In 2018, the city of Ammon developed this explainer video:

If people want to pay the full connection fee all at once, they have the option to do so, but many people choose to pay through the LID. Connecting to the networks usually costs between $3,000 - $3,500. Groups of neighbors come together to create the LIDs because deploying in an area where there are multiple homes interested in connecting to the network is less expensive than a single home connection. The more property owners who opt in to connect to City of Ammon Fiber Optics, the lower the cost is to every one who wants to connect.

Keeping it Clear

To most people, connecting to the Internet means a bill from an Internet access company such as Comcast or AT&T. Subscribers who obtain Internet access from large...

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Posted March 21, 2019 by lgonzalez

Last year, city leaders in Hillsboro, Oregon, decided to pursue a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for all premises after studying the possibilities since 2014. Crews have started construction and the city has now introduced the name of its newest utility, HiLight.

Equity Matters

Throughout the process of exploring municipal network possibilities, community leaders in Hillsboro have kept digital equity high on their list of priorities. In order to meet one of their goals — to bring high-quality connectivity to lower income neighborhoods — one of the first areas of the city where HiLight will deploy is in Southwest Hillsboro and the premises around Shute Park. Connectivity rates in these areas are the lowest in Hillsboro, where many residents qualify as lower income.

In order to expedite deployment, the city has decided to start construction in the South Hillsboro area, a section of town where new roads and homes are being built. By taking advantage of the current excavation, the city’s dig once policy will ensure conduit goes in the neighborhood now, which will greatly reduce the cost of deployment. Hillsboro will also install conduit whenever roads are excavated in other areas of town to prepare for future deployment.

logo-hilight-hillsboro.jpeg By late 2019, HiLight should be connecting residents and businesses to the network. They plan to take an incremental approach to connecting all areas of the city and will strategically consider locations of businesses, busy travel corridors, and schools as they decide where to expand. Hillsboro will invest approximately $4 million toward deployment per year for the next seven years and anticipate subscriber revenue will cover operating costs.

Schools as A Building Block

Earlier this year, Hillsboro and the Hillsboro School District (HSD)...

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Posted August 1, 2018 by Hannah Rank

The city of Santa Monica’s efforts to shrink the digital divide ranks as one of the Top 25 Programs in American Government of 2017. That’s according to Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, who names the top programs in governance based on innovation in government policy. 

Santa Monica’s award-winning Digital Inclusion pilot program targeted broadband access efforts by connecting ten affordable housing units with high-speed Internet, along with tech training and education. According to the Santa Monica Daily Press, the city received nearly $2 million in seed money from a U.S. Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant to start to fund the efforts. So far the program has given 10 buildings access to free gigabit-speed Internet access in the communal areas, with in-unit gigabit capability for $48 a month; the program has since started expanding to 29 other affordable housing complexes.

Here’s what the city’s community broadband manager had to say about the program in the Daily Press article:

“Our community’s experience is shattering the antiquated notion of broadband, technology and tech education as a luxury,” said Gary Carter, the City’s Community Broadband Manager. “Residents are providing indisputable evidence of an ability and willingness to participate in civic innovation. Taking care of our most vulnerable first, sets a higher bar and we accept the challenge.”

This isn’t the first time the city has gotten recognition for its approach to getting Internet to its residents. Its municipal broadband, Santa Monica City Net, has won numerous awards, including the same Harvard Ash Center Top 25 Programs prize back in 2011.

We’ve written about City Net, the deployment, and the many benefits. We've also...

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Posted November 29, 2016 by KateSvitavsky

The Federal Reserve is responsible for setting interest rates and executing monetary policy in the United States, but many people don’t realize that the agency also has a hand in community development. This summer, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas released a report, Closing the Digital Divide: A Framework for Meeting CRA Obligations, which includes information for banks about funding digital inclusion programs and community networks.

The report, published in July, states:

“Access to broadband has become essential to make progress in all areas of community development—education and workforce development, health, housing, small-business development and access to financial services.”

Closing the Digital Divide is important not only because it provides substantial information for banks, but also because it indicates federal support exists for community-based infrastructure improvements. The report discusses improving Internet access for low and moderate-income individuals and neighborhoods.

Using The Community Reinvestment Act To Improve Infrastructure

From the 1930 until the late 1970s, many banks denied lending to individuals and organizations based on their location. The practice is called “redlining” after the red ink that outlined low-income neighborhoods on a map, and was made illegal when Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) in 1977. Under the CRA, banks must to use the same evaluation criteria for all loan applicants regardless of the neighborhood they live in, which expands lending to include low and moderate-income (LMI) individuals. The Federal Reserve assesses banks’ performance under CRA guidelines, which bring about $100 million in capital to low and moderate income areas per year through various projects. Improving Internet access is an increasingly large portion of these initiatives.

In The Weeds

As part of the act, banks must “identify and invest in low and moderate-income communities.” Eligible activities include affordable housing, services geared toward LMI individuals, financing for certain small businesses and farms, and other revitalization efforts. Bringing broadband infrastructure to underserved communities qualifies as...

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Posted November 1, 2016 by htrostle

Rural electric cooperatives are providing next-generation connectivity. In Oregon a consortium of electric cooperatives called LS Networks built a middle mile network a few years ago and now are taking the next step with last mile connectivity.

LS Networks’ Connected Communities program hopes to bring last mile fiber connectivity to 25 communities in rural Oregon and Washington. Internet access will officially be available in early 2017 in some communities. Depending on the needs of each community, the solution could be Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), or fixed wireless using the fiber-optic network for backhaul.

Connected Communities

The project started in July, but LS Networks only now made the official announcement. The Connected Communities program asks folks to nominate their community to be connected by filling out a short form. LS Networks will offer two types of monthly plans [pdf]: 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $40 and a Gigabit (1,000 Megabits) for $70. Customers will also be able to purchase voice service for an additional $15 per line and 50 cents per phone number.

Currently, the small, northern Oregon town of Maupin is the only official Connected Community. LS Networks is already at work building out a fiber connection to nearly all of the 400+ homes and businesses in the community. On November 9th, Maupin residents can take part in a town hall meeting at the South Wasco County High School to learn more about LS Networks’ plans and the Connected Communities program.

Consortium of Cooperatives

LS Networks should be well prepared to handle such a large-scale fiber network project. The consortium of electric cooperatives and the Coquille Tribe came together around 2005 to provide middle mile connectivity. At first, the consortium focused on their region of northern Oregon, but LS Networks’ footprint quickly grew to 7,500 route miles of fiber. The network spread throughout the Pacific Northwest, covering rural regions of Washington...

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Posted October 27, 2016 by lgonzalez

Fresno, California, is looking for one or more partners to bring Gigabit connectivity to the entire community. City leaders recently released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to send out the call for interested entities. Letters of interest are due on November 14th and statements of qualifications are due by November 30th.

Leaving No One Behind

According to the RFQ, the community is experiencing growth in the tech sector and want to support the tide by improving Internet infrastructure throughout the community. In addition to serving new businesses for economic development, the network will connect community anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals, and libraries. 

As part of their goals, Fresno states explicitly that they want to ensure low-income families and individuals will be able to afford high-quality Internet access. In an article in the Fresno Bee, city leaders sate that they envision rates for some residents at around $10 per month for either a wired or fixed wireless connection.

Using Existing Assets

Chief Information Officer Bryon Horn says that the city has approximately 90 miles of fiber in place in the northeast, northwest, and southeast regions of town for traffic control. The southwest area of town, however, is plagued by gaps in service. In the RFQ, the city suggests that any solution could use and expand on the existing publicly owned fiber. An increasing number of communities are taking advantage of the extra capacity available in fiber installed for traffic light synchronization. Aurora, Illinois, used its traffic fiber as a starting point to build out OnLight Aurora. More recently, Centennial, Colorado, is encompassing its traffic-related fiber-optic network into a project that will allow the city to partner with Ting for Gigabit connectivity to...

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Posted August 10, 2015 by lgonzalez

As Westminster begins serving customers with its new FTTH network and partner Ting, we were curious how many communities are there where a residential subscriber can obtain affordable gigabit access? We estimate the number of networks, large or small, where a majority of residents in a community can obtain gigabit service for $100 or less to be 12. Westminster will be there in a few years.

Update: Russellville, Kentucky; Salisbury, North Carolina; and Wilson, North Carolina, also offer a gigabit, bringing the total number of citywide gigabit networks to 16. On September 1, we added another network that we previously overlooked - CSpire in Quitman and Flora, Mississippi (and soon others).

Municipal citywide, sub $100 gigabit providers:

  • Leverett, Massachusetts
  • North Kansas City, Missouri
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Tullahoma, Tennessee
  • Sandy, Oregon
  • UTOPIA Cities, Utah
  • Russellville, Kentucky
  • Salisbury, North Carolina (Fibrant)
  • Wilson, North Carolina (Greenlight)

Cooperatives:

  • Paul Bunyan Communications, Minnesota
  • Farmer's Telecom, Alabama
  • Co-Mo Connect, Missouri

Private Companies:

  • Google - Kansas City, Provo
  • CSpire - Quitman and Flora, Mississippi
  • MetroNet - Crawfordsville, Indiana (formerly a muni)
  • Burlington, Vermont - (currently privately owned, formerly a muni with future in limbo)

We included municipal networks, cooperatives, and privately owned companies. When considering networks that cover multiple jurisdictions in a single area, we counted it as one (thus Google counts as 1 in KC, Chattanooga is 1 in TN). And we were looking for gigabit networks - not just gigabit download. While we prefer to see symmetrical connections, we accepted 500 Mbps up for our threshold.

We could not identify any cities served by AT&T, CenturyLink, Verizon, Comcast, Cox, or any other similar company where the majority of the community has access to a gig. Those providers tend to cherry pick and even then, their prices are over $100 typically. For example, CenturyLink advertises a gig at $80 but then requires other services and hidden fees that make the monthly bill closer to $150.

We...

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