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In November 2015, the voters in Vinton, Iowa, gave the approval for a telecommunications utility. The city and the municipal electric utility are taking the next step with a feasibility study to determine potential deployment costs and in the spring will present their findings to the community.

Vinton is home to about 5,200 people in Benton County, Iowa; it’s the county seat. The town’s area is 4.74 square miles, and there are approximately 2,000 homes and 250 businesses in Vinton. It’s located about 32 miles northwest of Cedar Rapids.

Like many rural towns, Vinton struggles with slow, outdated DSL connections; cable is available in some areas of town. According to one local business owner, slow connectivity is negatively impacting economic development:

Kurt Karr, owner of Monkeytown an online business supplies store, is one of the community business leaders lobbying hard for an increase in high-speed broadband service.

Karr says slow Internet speeds available now can be frustrating. One part of his business is video design work for companies. He says a video file that takes workers an hour to upload now to clients from their computers might take only a couple of minutes in a larger urban area with much faster internet connections.

Mayor John Watson told local channel KCRG-TV9, that incumbents “simply aren’t interested” in making investment in Vinton to provide better connectivity for businesses or residents, so the city is exploring doing it for themselves.

When Vinton Municipal Electric Utility has completed the feasibility study and have estimates for deployment costs they can present to the community, they’ll determine the next step:

Tom Richtsmeier, manager at Vinton Municipal Electric Utility, says some estimates are it would cost $3,000 to $4,000 per home to install fiber optic cable.

“Once we get the pricing back we’ll see if they’re still interested in having that brought into their home,” Richtsmeier said.

Local coverage from KCRG-TV9:

... Read more

Internet access for low-income households is becoming more affordable, thanks to an FCC modernization order that brings the Lifeline program into the 21st Century. 

Next Century Cities recently offered a webinar for people who want to learn more about changes to the Lifeline program; our own Christopher Mitchell moderated the event. Jaymie Gustafson, Director of Stakeholder Engagement for the Lifeline, and attorney Olivia Wein from the National Consumer Law Center shared their knowledge about the order, discussed how local governments can utilize the program in public housing, and suggested ways local governments can help make the program a success.

The program, which initially provided a $9.25 subsidy to eliminate or lower the cost of telephone services to low-income households, now allows recipients to use the funds to purchase broadband services. Gustafson noted one of the driving factors behind the modernization order:

“We know it’s so important in terms of helping children do their homework, in terms of people being able to search for and keep their jobs, in terms of accessing services, just in terms of interacting with society around you. Right now, broadband is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.”

About The Program

The Universal Services Administrative Company (USAC) governs the Lifeline program, which originated in 1985 and receives funding from the Universal Services Fund. The fund, established in 1935, supports other programs that invest in telecommunications infrastructure in addition to low-income access. Instead of receiving a voucher to purchase services from a carrier or an Internet Service Provider (ISP), the provider receives the subsidy directly from USAC; after the discount is applied to Lifeline participants' bill, the participant pays the remainder to the provider.

logo-USAC.png

Participants are eligible for the Lifeline program if they earn less than 135 percent of the federal poverty line, receive SNAP benefits,... Read more

If you weren’t able to attend the Transforming Communities: Broadband Goals for 2017 and Beyond event in DC on Nov. 29 - 30, or were not able to watch the live stream, you can still be there in spirit. The November 30th panel discussions are now available to view on YouTube.

The entire video runs for 4:53 and includes discussion and comments from:

  • Senator John Boozman (R-AR)
  • Mayor Berke, Chattanooga, TN
  • Susan Crawford, John A. Reilly Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and co-director of the Berkman Center
  • Blair Levin, Senior Fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings
  • Gigi Sohn, Counselor to the Chairman at the Federal Communications Commission

A number of other leaders in the field of telecommunications participated in the panels and discussions, including our own Christopher Mitchell who led the panel discussion on "Leveraging High-Speed Internet for Success." The event was sponsored by Next Century Cities; the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB), and US Ignite.

The city of Ammon, Idaho, continues to garner more recognition and opportunities from its unfolding municipal fiber network.

In a recent news release, Ammon officials announced the city received approximately $600,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to partner with the University of Utah. They will research and develop a series of next-generation networking technologies supporting public safety. 

Pursuing SafeEdge

Called SafeEdge, the nearly initiative will give Ammon residents connected to the city's network the opportunity to participate in the initiative to develop applications such as broadband public emergency alerts. 

Ammon officials said a major focus of the research will be to evaluate the “feasibility of mixing public safety applications with other applications and services,” such as consumer streaming and data sharing, remote classroom access, and dynamic access to judicial functions, including remote arraignments and access to legal representation.

The city added “It is expected that this open access/multiservice approach will improve the economic feasibility of deploying broadband services in small and rural communities by allowing a variety of services to be deployed across the same infrastructure, while at the same time ensuring that public safety applications can function in this environment.”

Three-year Project

The National Science Foundation and US Ignite, an initiative promoting U.S. leadership in developing and implementing next-generation gigabit applications that can be used for social good, are providing nearly $600,000 in funding over a three-year period for the Ammon project. About $235,000 of that funding will go to Ammon as sub awardee, the city said. The project period runs from Oct. 1, 2016 to September 30, 2019.

Other Honors 

The NSF grant to Ammon is the latest honor for the city’s municipal fiber network activities.  In mid-2015, the city won first place in the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) Ultra-High Speed Apps competition, which encouraged software developers and public safety professionals to use public data and ultra-... Read more

Missouri law has severely restricted municipal networks, but local entrepreneurs decided to create their own fast, affordable, reliable community connectivity. The City of Cape Girardeau has made new plans in its Marquette Tech District: free public Wi-Fi and a tech-hub for startups. Although the city is already home to more than 100 large employers, city officials want to also encourage small businesses and entrepreneurship. Underneath all the possibilities is publicly owned dark fiber.

The Marquette Tech District will utilize the City of Cape Girardeau’s dark fiber to connect the new tech-hub and provide free public Wi-Fi. The project hopes to bring new vitality to the Marquette Tower building, a center of the city's old economy, transforming it into a space for new technology-based companies. Local entrepreneurs have created a nonprofit to develop the project and the local Internet Service Provider (ISP) Big River Communications is on board. The city, meanwhile, owns the essential infrastructure - the fiber.

A Nonprofit Drives Development

The Southeast Missourian has followed the development of the project since its inception. From the planning process to obtaining grants, the newspaper has unraveled the complex collaborations across several institutions and levels of government.

The City of Cape Girardeau, population 40,000, has always been a regional commercial hub on the Mississippi River in southern Missouri. In the late 1920s, travelers could stay downtown at the upscale Marquette Tower hotel. More than 100 employers in the city each provide jobs to more than 100 people, including Southeast Missouri State University and several healthcare systems. Community leaders hope the new tech district will attract and retain young professionals; the university next door is an excellent resource for educating and keeping a talented tech workforce.

Local entrepreneurs realized that they could unlock the potential of the city's dark fiber. They created a nonprofit, the Marquette Tech District Foundation, to improve quality of... Read more

People rave about next-generation connectivity’s possibilities in rural economies, but what does that mean for locals? A recent survey quantified the actual impact of a reliable high-speed Internet connection in an underserved area.

Central Minnesota telephone cooperative, Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC), released the results of an impact survey on their newest fiber Internet service customers. CTC had extended their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to an underserved area south of Brainerd, with funding from a 2015 state broadband grant.

A Positive for Small Businesses and Farms

The survey of the CTC customers in the grant footprint highlighted the importance of connectivity for the community. Forty percent reported that they could not live in a home without a reliable high-speed connection. At the same time, fifty-six percent of the CTC customers currently use their home Internet connection for work purposes.

The new connectivity had a positive impact on small businesses and farms. More than twenty percent of the CTC customers maintain a home-based business or farm, and thirty-six percent of them reported that Internet service reduced their overall operating costs. Meanwhile, nine percent of all the CTC customers surveyed stated that they plan to start a home-based business in the next few years.

Reaching Goals

These results are especially refreshing for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program. CTC received more than $750,000 from the program in 2015 to improve connectivity for telecommuting and home-based businesses in the area. 

The previously underserved area sits south of Brainerd and extends to Fort Ripley. To encourage survey responses, CTC offered the chance to win an iPad and sent reminder postcards and emails to their customers. Twenty-eight percent of CTC’s customer base in that area took the survey either online or over the phone

The Co-op Perspective

Blandin on Broadband recently published... Read more

Voters in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, will get the chance in December to decide if they wish to invest in a fiber-optic network, reports the Advocate.

Louisiana Looks At Idaho

This past summer, Parish President Kevin Couhig presented the plan to create a new parish fiber optic utility. His plan includes an open access network to draw competition that will be based on the Software-Defined Network (SDN) of the Ammon model:

Couhig’s plan would get away from single Internet service providers, which control speed, innovation, bandwidth, data limits and price. Instead, the ISPs would compete through the parishwide network. Each consumer could control what they would have available through the open access such as internet, phone, video and interactive gaming.

Parish staff worked with a consulting firm for several months to develop a feasibility study, define costs, and draft a network design. They estimate the network would cost a little over $5.7 million and would require about 107 fiber miles. In December voters will decide whether or not to accept a plan to fund the network with a 4-mill property tax levy for five years, beginning in 2017. On September 14th, the Parish Council voted to allow the question to be placed on the December ballot.

Redefining Infrastructure In The Bayou

The city will still need to determine how the state's barriers will affect their plans. West Feliciana Parish is 30 miles north of Baton Rouge and home to approximately 16,500 people. There are about 426 square miles in the parish, which is located along the Mississippi River. In July, when Couhig presented the detailed study to the Parish Council, he expressed his motivation for the project:

“As important, we will bring to our residents economical, modern services in entertainment, data, community and health service capabilities that will be on par with any place in the world…To be successful, we need to grow and maintain all of our types of... Read more

On July 4th, Sandy, Oregon’s municipal fiber-optic network, SandyNet, permanently increased the speed of its entry-level Internet package from 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 300 Mbps at no additional cost to subscribers.

The city announced the speed boost for its $39.95 per month tier in a recent press release, calling it “one of the best deals in the nation.” SandyNet customers witness blazing fast download speeds at affordable prices and benefit from symmetrical upload speeds, allowing them to seamlessly interact with the cloud and work from home. 

Sandy is still home the “$60 Gig” (see price chart), one of the premier gigabit Internet offers in the nation. Without an electric utility, SandyNet’s unique model can be applied to “Anytown, USA.”

Read our report on Sandy, SandyNet Goes Gig: A Model for Anytown, USA, for details on the community's Fiber-to-the Home (FTTH) and fixed wireless networks and listen to Chris interview Sandy officials in Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 167.

Check out our video on Sandy:

On August 1st, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) recognized Ammon, Idaho’s promise at the 2016 Community Broadband Awards. NATOA named Ammon’s open access network the 2016 Community Broadband Project of the Year

Innovative Ideas in Idaho

It's a great recognition for the innovative little city in Idaho. They have been incrementally building an open access Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for years. In 2015, they won an award for designing an ultra high-speed application to use the network to coordinate responses to school shootings. And earlier this year, they approved an ingenious funding method: a Local Improvement District (LID). Residents will have the choice of opting into the costs and benefits of the fiber project or opting out completely. 

A New Model

It's all about people's choice; Ammon’s open access model itself empowers community members. Instead of making frustrating phone calls with large corporations, residents can change their Internet Service Provider (ISP) simply and quickly from a sign-up portal. The infrastructure remains the same, and the providers focus on offering the best customer service. Ammon’s open access model is the virtual end of cable monopolies.

For more details, listen to Ammon’s Technology Director Bruce Patterson explain the project in Community Broadband Bits Podcast episodes 86, 173, and 207. For even more information, see our in-depth coverage on Ammon.

In this week's Community Connections, Christopher chats with Anne Schweiger, Broadband and Digital Equity Advocate for the city of Boston. Schweiger talks about the challenges that Boston faces, including a lack of competition and adoption of broadband in the home. She talks about the importance of "baking good broadband practice" into building codes for cities.

In February, 2016 the Boston Globe editorial board came out in support of a municipal network. 

Boston has its own conduit network and significant fiber assets, but residents and businesses must seek service from large private providers. 

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