Tag: "unserved"

Posted August 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

Lobbyists from the cable and telecom industry succeeded in using the legislature to firm up their rural Massachusetts monopolies this session. Communities that rely on state funds for local publicly owned broadband infrastructure projects now face restrictions on the reach of their high-speed networks.

A Long Trip Through the Legislature

Governor Charlie Baker’s economic development bill includes a provision designating funding for the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) and the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development for broadband deployment. The agencies distribute the funds to various communities where residents and businesses plan to improve their local connectivity. Approximately 20 towns have decided to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, including Alford, Otis, and Mount Washington, to name a few. Others are taking offers from Comcast and Charter, which will build out networks to more premises with state funding. 

Many of the rural communities who are going with the publicly owned option want to connect households and establishments within the town proper, but also what they describe as “edge” properties — those beyond town limits but have no other choice for broadband. Edge properties in western Massachusetts typically don’t have access to anything better than expensive and unreliable satellite or dial-up. Often, there are only a few “edge” properties in each community, but neighbors don’t want to leave anyone behind. 

Baker’s bill began its trip through the state legislature in March and, as is the case with typical large bills, went through numerous hearings along the way. Over the course of the legislative process, a question arose as to whether or not those rural towns wanting to serve edge properties would be able to use state funding to reach edge properties. In the original version of the bill, language specifically allowed municipalities the right to cross municipal borders to serve edge properties, but when the telecom industry opposed the language, it was removed in the House. The action left an ambiguous gap that Gail...

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Posted June 5, 2018 by lgonzalez

On May 30th, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu signed SB 170, a bill local community leaders had watched for more than a year. The measure will allow municipalities to bond for publicly owned Internet network infrastructure. Advocates, local elected officials, and citizens have been seeking the authority for years. SB 170 may raise some questions as it's implemented, but the bill is significant because it symbolizes this state's decision to expand local authority for broadband investment, rather than limit the power of local communities.

Read the final version of SB 170 here.

A Better Measurement

As we reported more than a year ago, SB 170 sought to make changes in existing law by allowing local communities to bond for Internet infrastructure. The bill sat in committee until last November, when it was amended and picked up again. The final version of SB 170 allows communities to bond for projects that will connect premises that don’t have access to broadband as defined by the FCC — 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

Should the definition of broadband at the FCC increase to faster speeds, so will the definition as it applies in New Hampshire. This is a welcome approach as big ISPs around the country have in recent years tried to convince state legislators to reduce the speed definition of broadband in state legislation. Many is the time well-meaning or well-funded state lawmakers decided to use the incumbent-dictated 10 Mbps / 1 Mbps or even 4 Mbps / 1 Mbps in order to appease the likes of AT&T or CenturyLink. Some states, such as New Hampshire, are realizing that such slow thresholds translate into very little investment into the type of Internet access residents and businesses need. Other states can learn from New Hampshire...

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Posted January 2, 2018 by lgonzalez

Most residents and businesses in Oconee County, South Carolina, used dial-up connections when county officials applied for stimulus funding in 2010; there were still people in the county with no Internet access at all. A few had DSL connections, but even county facilities struggled with antiquated infrastructure. After an AT&T attack upended their plan to offer retail services, they pressed on and improved connectivity in the rural community. Powerful incumbent forces and a bad state law, however, eventually led this community to choose privatization.

Ripe For Stimulus

We spoke with Kim Wilbanks, who served as Project Manager for Oconee FOCUS, the 240-mile fiber optic publicly owned network. She worked with a small team of people that applied for funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to obtain funds for the project. Wilbanks and former FOCUS Director Mike Powell were instrumental in establishing the infrastructure. The Wilbanks family used dial-up Internet access until 2010 when AT&T finally installed DSL on her street on the edge of town in the mostly rural county.

The mountains and hills across the county’s 674 square miles create a terrain that is speckled with man-made lakes. Fishing, water skiing, and sailing are popular and the lakes and waterfalls contribute to the region’s hydroelectric energy. Approximately 75,000 people live in Oconee County scattered within many of the small rural communities. The largest city’s population is only about 8,000.

Oconee County’s rural environment with a sparse population, sluggish economic growth, and high number of unserved and underserved premises, was the type of region where stimulus funds helped jump start projects. When the county received a grant in the second round of awards in the summer of 2010 for $9.6 million, officials at the county planned to connect community anchor institutions and municipal and county facilities first. They planned to later expand and bring businesses and residents better Internet access. The county matched the federal grant with $4.7 million to deploy the $14.3 million fiber optic infrastructure. After the RFP process, they were able to start construction in early 2011. By the end of 2013, they had finished construction; by 2014...

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Posted November 1, 2017 by ChristopherBarich

On September 22nd, Fillmore County and local telecommunications cooperative representatives participated in a groundbreaking event to mark the start of building a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in the rural town of Lanesboro, Minnesota.

Fiber To The Unserved

Lanesboro is located in Fillmore County about 50 minutes southeast of Rochester. The small rural town covers 1.3 square miles with a population of 755. Forty-one percent of households in Fillmore County are “unserved” as defined by both the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development and the FCC, which defines “broadband” as 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Fillmore County residents and businesses are one small group of a large segment of rural America without access to high-quality connectivity. The FCC reported in 2016 that 39 percent of rural residents don’t have access to broadband, but actual numbers are much higher because incumbent reported mapping tends to overstate the reality. 

Fortunately, rural cooperatives are picking up the slack where national incumbent ISPs are failing to deploy high-quality Internet infrastructure. Local telecommunications cooperative, AcenTek, will build the FTTH infrastructure. The network will connect 431 unserved households, 42 unserved businesses, and one community anchor institution (CAI) in the rural Lanesboro area, including Whalan, Carrolton Township, and Holt Township. The FTTH project is expected to reach speeds of 1 gigabit upload and download.

Funding FTTH

In January 2017, AcenTek received a $1.78 million grant from the Minnesota Border-to-Border Development Program administered by the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). The grant program is intended to provide state resources that help reduce the financial burden for new and existing providers to invest in building broadband...

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Posted June 27, 2017 by lgonzalez

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...

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Posted June 20, 2017 by lgonzalez

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.

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 April 8, 2016 by lgonzalez

As Minnesota's Legislature decides on funding for the state's Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, local media is calling on state leaders to prioritize local connectivity in the Capitol Chambers. This year, Governor Dayton's office is recommending allocating $100 million to the program.

Blended Is Better

In the past, the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program has granted funding to areas of only the greatest need, which has resulted in Internet infrastructure deployment in very rural areas. That's great for municipalities, businesses, and residents in those areas who certainly need and deserve better connectivity. Towns where there is some coverage, such as old DSL networks, have typically not qualified. As a result, rural areas of the state are developing "donut holes" of inadequate connectivity. In the long term, this could spell disaster for these towns because businesses have no reason to locate in places where they can't get the Internet access they need for operations. A blended approach will allow investment in both unserved areas and areas where some networks already exist so centers of economic activity can still compete with their neighbors.

Chris provides more information on the blended approach, and on one possible solution for rural communities, in this nicely produced video created by Capitol Almanac:

Minnesota Broadband, 2016

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are saying broadband expansion, especially to greater Minnesota, is a priority this session, but there are competing perspectives on how to use any funding the legislature sets aside. In this segment from "Almanac at the Capitol," we hear two takes on how...

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Posted April 2, 2014 by lgonzalez

In a revealing video about the Internet access problem in rural Minnesota, Annandale City Administrator Kelly Hinnenkamp below describes her town's struggle with connectivity. The video is the latest in a series on the Minnesota Senate DFL YouTube page intended to shed light on the critical situation in the state.

Hinnenkamp describes broadband in the areas outside of Annadale as "horrific." She goes on to discuss how the community's poor connectivity negatively impacts its economic health. She shares a story about entrepreneurs from an artisan spice business once located in Annandale. The company started with online sales but the owners anticipated opening a storefront in the downtown area of the lake community. After contending with eight outages in three weeks, the new business pulled up stakes and moved to Buffalo. 

Buffalo, located only 15 minutes away from Annandale, offers fast, reliable, affordable fiber service to local businesses.

In a February Minnesta Public Radio News article, Hinnenkamp told Dave Peters:

“Broadband is probably the single most important issue in our community right now,” she said. “Our big issue is not that we don’t have service but that we have one provider that has shown little interest in improving it. Broadband is our future."

In a Star Tribune article, Pete Kormanik, the owner of a local McDonald's, expressed his concern as a business owner:

Downloading data for a digital menu board — a task that would have taken 30 minutes at his other restaurants — dragged on for more than four hours.

After delays in processing credit cards, watching training videos and transmitting orders, Kormanik switched to an AT & T antenna. But a cloudy day can slow that service.

“If you can’t stay current with [connectivity], you’re just going to fall behind,” Kormanik said. “And businesses won’t go into those locations.”

Watch the brief interview with Hinnenkamp below or visit the series website to see more interviews. In the words of...

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Posted March 3, 2014 by christopher

A recent in-depth article from the Keene Sentinel updates us on the status of New Hampshire's HB 286, which would expand bonding authority for local governments. New Hampshire law currently restricts bonding authority for Internet infrastructure to towns with no access to the Internet, but nearly all communities have at least some slow broadband access in a few pockets of town. We have been tracking this bill, most recently four months ago just before it overwhelmingly passed the house. Unfortunately, the bill does not give many options to local governments. It settles to only allow bonding when the local government is not providing retail services, a business model that has only worked well when local governments have expanded very slowly. That said, New Hampshire already has a promising open access network called FastRoads that would allow nearby towns to connect and access the four service providers already using it. Connecting to an already-operating open access network is a much better prospect than having to start one from scratch, particularly in areas with low population density. Nonetheless, we continue to find it counter-productive for state legislatures to limit how local governments can invest in essential infrastructure. We know of no good policy reason for doing so - these limitations are a result of the lobbying power of a few cable and telephone companies that want to preserve scarcity to ensure high profit margins. Kaitlin Mulhere's article, "Broadband access could be improved in NH through new bill," demonstrates the need for better networks in the granite state and notes that Fast Roads is starting to meet those needs in the areas it operates.

People often hear, for example, that 95 percent of the state has access to broadband, she said. But that’s only by including all New Hampshire Internet speeds, some of which fall below the speed considered fast enough to be broadband, which is 4 megabits per second (Mbps). Most of the state, more than half, doesn’t...

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