Tag: "maryland"

Posted August 27, 2016 by lgonzalez

Time to check in at Harford County, Maryland. When we last reported on the Harford Metro Area Network (HMAN) in July 2014, it had only been lit for a few months. Now, more than 100 public facilities are connected to the network and more are expected; the latest will be Bel Air, Maryland.

Saving With County Connections For VoIP

A recent GovTech article reported that the Board of Town Commissioners voted 4-0 to invest approximately $25,000 in a new VoIP system that will use HMAN for telephone service. The new system will serve 65 new phones and will include the software for the new system. Apparently, Bel Air sought cost estimates to replace their old traditional system with VoIP with a private provider and the estimates were more than $65,000 beyond what the city had budgeted for the project.

We often point to significant public savings when local government uses publicly owned infrastructure for Internet access, but switching from traditional phone service to VoIP via a muni can reduce communications costs even more. In places such as schools, government offices, and other administrative facilities where there are multiple lines, the budget for telephone service can be astronomical. VoIP eliminates leased lines and, because a fiber-optic network like HMAN is designed with redundancy in mind, users can expect reliable connections.

In addition to saving substantially, Bel Air’s new system will be compatible with the systems used by Harford County Government and the Department of Emergency Services.

HMAN connects schools, public safety facilities, libraries, government offices, and other public facilities in the northeast Maryland county. The network is 160 miles and four main rings with laterals off those rings. The network cost approximately $13.8 million, funded with general obligation bonds...

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Posted August 22, 2016 by lgonzalez

Garrett County is the westernmost county in Maryland. High in the Allegheny Mountains of the Appalachian Mountain Range; winters are harsh and forest covers 90 percent of the county. Before the county deployed a fiber-optic network, high-quality connectivity was hard to come by for schools, libraries, and other community anchor institutions. By making the most of every opportunity, Garrett County has improved efficiencies for the many small communities in the region and set the stage to improve connectivity for businesses and residents.

Rural, Remote, Ready For Better Connectivity

The county is more than 650 square miles but there are no large urban centers and over time a number of sparsely populated areas have developed as home to the county's 30,000 people; since 2000, population growth has stagnated. Many of the tiny communities where businesses and residents have clustered are remote and do not have public sewer or water. These places tend to have a high number of low-income people. 

Unemployment rates are volatile in Garrett County, fluctuating with natural resources extraction industries. As the coal and lumber industries have waned, many jobs in Garrett County have disappeared. Garrett County Memorial Hospital and Beitzel industrial construction employ over 300 people and are the county’s largest employers. 

All of these characteristics make Garrett County unattractive to the large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that want to maximize investment and focus only on densely populated urban areas. Verizon offers DSL and Comcast offers cable in limited areas but many people rely on mobile Internet access and expensive satellite Internet access.

It Started With BTOP Fiber

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In 2010, the State of Maryland received over $115 million in grant funding through the Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program (BTOP). With a matching $43 million from state and in-kind contributions, Maryland deployed the One Maryland Broadband Network (OMBN). In August 2013, the middle mile fiber-optic network was complete, stretching 1,324 miles across the state connecting 1,068 CAIs.

OMBN runs directly into Garrett County for...

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Posted July 15, 2016 by Scott

Marking another big step forward, the mayor and Common Council of Westminster, Maryland (pop. 18,000) have hired a telecommunications, utility and government contracting firm to continue building the first two phases of the Westminster Fiber Network (WFN).

City Hires SMC

Westminster expects to complete this construction in 2017, providing Gigabit per second (Gbps) connectivity to an additional 2,700 homes and businesses in the western part of the community, according to a city news release. Cost of this phase is undetermined $21 million, Westminster marketing consultant Jason Stambaugh told us; the city will issue general obligation bonds to fund the entire cost of the network the expansion.

One year after Westminster celebrated lighting its municipal fiber network, the city hired SMC, Inc. to construct the expansion. Westminster is partnering with Toronto-based Ting to provide retail services via the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. 

“This expansion of the WFN is an important milestone and demonstrates the City’s continued commitment to revolutionize Internet access, bring local jobs, and drive innovation that will enable the community to thrive.”

Westminster began building its municipal fiber network in October, 2014, and entered into a public-private partnership with Ting in February, 2015. The city owns the infrastructure and Ting leases fiber to bring Internet service to businesses and residents. Westminster began its municipal fiber network, spending about $1.8 million to get the project started in a residential retirement community and an industrial park. 

Bonds Back Fiber Network  

Because of high demand, the City Council voted to expand the municipal fiber project, approving a $21 million general obligation bond agreement with SunTrust Bank.  

As MuniNetworks.org reported...

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Posted July 14, 2016 by rebecca

More and more cities are turning to public-private partnerships (PPP's) in building Internet networks that meet the needs of 21st century homes and businesses. If a city builds its own fiber and leases it to a trusted partner, they can negotiate for activities that benefit the public good, like universal access. 

In this video Christopher Mitchell interviews Dr. Robert Wack with Westminster, Maryland and Elliot Noss, CEO of Tucows, the parent of Ting. The two talk about their revolutionary public-private fiber partnership.

The video outlines a basic economic principle: "Ownership equals control, and control means leverage." If you don't have that leverage (such as ownership of infrastructure) you won't get a good deal from your private ISP.

Noss has long been active in preserving and expanding the open Internet. Dr. Wack is a city council member and driving force behind the open access fiber network partnership. 

For a much more detailed look at public-private partnerships, check out our guide: "Successful Strategies for Broadband Public-Private Partnerships". The term "public-private partnership" has been muddied in the past. The report clears up the confusion: public entities and private companies must both have "skin in the game" to balance the risks and amplify the rewards.

 

Posted July 11, 2016 by rebecca

Residents and businesses in Baltimore have been dealing with poor access for years. In 2015 the city's mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake named a 27-member task force to address the problem and has spoken out about the need for more investment.

In this episode of Community Connections, Christopher Mitchell caught up with Broadband Coordinator Jason Hardebeck to talk about about his city's challenges and opportunities.

Hardebeck is tasked with developing a strategy that puts his city's residents and businesses first. These challenges are familiar to many cities across the United States and this interview serves as a good illustration of why owning some conduit and dark fiber can be a big benefit to cities as they try to solve the problem of the digital divide. 

 

Posted June 15, 2016 by Scott

The high-speed, municipal fiber network in Westminster, Maryland, (pop. 18,000) is making possible another intriguing resource service for the community’s businesses and residents.

In May, Westminster officials and the city’s fiber network partner, Ting, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the coming this fall of the first Ting Makerspace, a service featuring 3-D scanning technology, including “an electronic router that can carve digital designs into physical objects and laser engraving," reports the Carroll County Times. 

Ting Makerspace And 3D Printing

The Times story notes:

The 3-D scanner “takes any object smaller than a sofa and records the shapes and contours using light patterns, digitizing it,” according to the news story. Then, the digital rendition can be printed on a mini 3-D printer, “which can scale down the scanned object or print original computer designs. The 3-D printer ejects layers of heated, rapidly cooling plastic to create plastic models of these designs.” The newspaper reported that the subscription fee for using the 3-D scanner will be $5 a day, $30 a month or $300 a year. 

The Makerspace will encourage development from local entrepreneurs who would not otherwise have access to affordable 3-D scanning technology.

Westminster Municipal Fiber Network 

Such an innovative community resource goes hand in hand with Westminster getting a high-speed Internet network. Westminster began building its municipal fiber network in October, 2014, and entered into a public-private partnership in February, 2015, with Ting. The city owns the fiber network and Ting leases fiber to bring Internet service of up to 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) to businesses and residents. Last September, we noted that Westminster’s partnership with Ting earned it honors from the National Association of...

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Posted May 23, 2016 by lgonzalez

When communities decide to proceed with publicly owned infrastructure, they often aim for open access models. Open access allows more than one service provider to offer services via the same infrastructure. The desire is to increase competition, which will lower prices, improve services, and encourage innovation.

It seems straight forward, but open access can be more complex than one might expect. In addition to varying models, there are special challenges and financing considerations that communities need to consider.

In order to centralize our information on open access, we’ve created the new Open Access Networks resource page. We’ve gathered together some of our best reference material, including links to previous MuniNetworks.org stories, articles from other resources, relevant Community Broadband Bits podcast episodes, case studies, helpful illustrations, and more.

We cover: 

  • Open Access Arrangements
  • Financing Open Access Networks
  • Challenges for Open Access Networks
  • U.S. Open Access Networks
  • Planned Open Access Networks

Check it out and share the link. Bookmark it!

Posted May 13, 2016 by ternste

In April we wrote about the Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory (MAGIC), an innovative new educational program in Westminster, Maryland, that gives local high school students opportunities to learn new technology skills through hands-on, real world projects. After the success of the program’s first project, the MAGIC program created a temporary wireless network for a second project -- this time for the city’s annual Westminster Flower and Jazz Festival held during Mother's Day weekend.

The MAGIC program is a collaborative effort between Ting Internet and Freedom Broadband, with Ting offering networking equipment and Freedom supervising the project. Ting is the private partner and operator of the City of Westminster’s open access municipal fiber network. Freedom Broadband is the leading provider of wireless Internet in the surrounding Carroll County region.

Festivals and Fiber

The temporary network gave festivalgoers access to extremely fast, high bandwidth wireless connections that connected to Westminster's fiber network. While strolling through the festival to see local jazz musicians and sampling from hundreds of vendors offering food, flowers, and crafts, attendees were be able to wirelessly connect their phones, tablets, and other devices to the city's fiber network during the one day event.

For the program’s first “Tech Incubation” project in April, the MAGIC program’s 15 students also created and operated a temporary wireless network that the City of Westminster used at its annual Celtic Canter and Downtown Irish Celebration. These first two projects are part of a continuous series in which the students have opportunities to further expand and refine their technology knowledge.

Leveraging Municipal Fiber for Economic and Cultural Benefits

Beyond the program’s educational merits, MAGIC is also a technology incubator which challenges talented local students to explore new types of innovation to benefit Westminster's economic development objectives. The program also helps local leaders find new...

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Posted April 4, 2016 by ternste

It was just last year when the City Council in Westminster, Maryland voted to begin a partnership with private ISP company Ting Internet. Ting now delivers high quality Internet access via the citywide, publicly owned fiber network.

A new collaborative initiative, facilitated in part by the still expanding Westminster Fiber Network, is bringing new cultural opportunities and economic benefits to city residents. “Tech Incubation” aims to give local students hands-on experience exploring their interests in technology.

Incubating Talent, Innovation

For the first project within the Tech Incubation initiative, 15 students from local high schools spent several weeks learning to create and operate an actual temporary wireless network. The city then used the network for its annual Celtic Canter and Downtown Irish Celebration in March, providing attendees of the celebration with unprecedented levels of bandwidth and broadband speeds.

The Tech Incubation Initiative is the product of a collaboration between the City of Westminster, the Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory (MAGIC), Ting Internet, and the Westminster-based company Freedom Broadband. Freedom Broadband supervised the project and provided the wireless equipment necessary to build the network; Ting and the City of Westminster provided the necessary Gigabit backhaul over the Westminster Fiber Network.

More Opportunities Ahead

This project is the first in a series of planned, ongoing projects to teach students technology skills and encourage a culture of innovation. MAGIC is developing the Tech Incubation program in response to requests by students in Westminster for more opportunities to learn about technology.

Westminster’s City Council President Dr. Robert Wack described the value of the Tech Incubation initiative to community:

“For the students, it’s mostly fun, but I’m sure some of them have specific goals for education and certainly the more...

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Posted January 18, 2016 by htrostle

A recent series of in-depth articles from Education Week brings to light a persistent aspect of the digital divide: the lack of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity in rural schools. Throughout the country, schools struggle to pay exorbitant fees for aging copper networks. Teachers and students are cut off from digital learning opportunities as whole regions fall farther behind. Education Week brings these issues to the forefront - and community-owned institutional networks could be the answer.

The Education Week articles describes the harsh impact of these grim statistics. The nonprofit EducationSuperHighway found that for rural schools, the median price for connectivity is more than double that of urban or even suburban schools. Although the number of students without access to sufficient bandwidth has been cut in half since 2013, at least 21 million students do not have access to adequate connections. 

In extremely rural communities, large service providers do not have an incentive to build high-speed networks, and small private providers often cannot take on those high upfront costs. This leaves communities with no choice, but to pay skyrocketing rates for slow, unreliable Internet access over aging infrastructure.

East and West: Students Face Similar Challenges

The articles present two compelling case studies of Calhoun County, Mississippi, and Catron County, New Mexico, to tell the story of how high-speed connectivity is so often out-of-reach for rural schools.

Two schools in sparsely-populated western New Mexico split 22 Megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth for $3,700 per month. An increase to 50 Mbps wouldn’t require  new fiber, but the upgrade would cost an extra $1,003.47 each month. The local provider has a de facto monopoly in the region so the schools have no choice but to pay the going rate; with no competition they have no leverage for negotiating. According to the New Mexico Public School Facilities Authority, monthly rates range from $1.35 to $3,780 for each Mbps of speed across the state.

In Calhoun County, the...

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