Tag: "pilot project"

Posted April 22, 2021 by Maren Machles

Schools offer not only education, but nourishment, a place to form friendships and bonds, and a way to make sure youth are safe. When the pandemic hit, schools had to transition to distance learning and, as a result, many students disappeared because their family didn’t have access to or couldn’t afford a home Internet connection. It became immediately clear, all over the country, that a lack of broadband access and broadband affordability were no longer issues that could be ignored. 

Many cities throughout the U.S. have been working over the last year to address this issue, but one city in particular - Columbus, Ohio - has been taking a holistic approach to broadband access. 

The Franklin County Digital Equity Coalition was borne out of the emergency needs presented by the pandemic, but has shaped up to be a good model for how to address the broadband issues facing urban communities across the country. 

After 11 months of meeting and planning, the coalition released a framework in March outlining its five pillars of focus: broadband affordability, device access, digital life skills and technical support, community response and collaboration, and advocacy for broadband funding and policy. 

The coalition also developed two pilot programs to increase broadband access. 

The first, which was a quickly deployed and desperately needed response to the lack of broadband access, was the Central Ohio Broadband Access Pilot Program. Launched in September 2020 in anticipation of the upcoming school year, it offered hotspot devices with unlimited data plans to central Ohio households with k-12 students. The program, while still growing, has been deployed with about 2,300 hotspots distributed so far with the help of PCs for People. 

The second (the City of Columbus and Smart Columbus Pilot Projects) uses the city’s existing fiber backbone to bring affordable Internet service to the Near East and South Side neighborhoods in Columbus.

Both pilot programs are the result of nearly 30 organizations coming together to get affordable access to some of the city and county’s most vulnerable populations.

There’s Power in Numbers

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Posted March 30, 2021 by Maren Machles

This week on the podcast, Christopher talks with Belle Ryder, Orono, Maine Assistant Manager and President of the nonprofit OTO Fiber Corporation. The towns of Orono and nearby Old Town began their search for better broadband more than 10 years ago, and have overcome an array of challenges in bringing a pilot project to justify future-proof connectivity to the surrounding area.

Belle shares the origins of local efforts, and how the two communities kept finding themselves stuck with almost every solution too far out of reach. They were too small to entice private ISPs to commit to upgrading local infrastructure or invest in new construction that would bring fast connectivity to the region, but too small to finance a citywide network themselves. In looking for funding help, they found that existing options were considered too fast to qualify them for many opportunities to improve the technology in the ground. But residents were acutely aware that their broadband options were too slow to do more than the bare minimum to get online. 

Christopher and Belle talk about the process of issuing multiple RFPs, working through a challenge by local cable providers, and how allies and local officials worked together to come up with a plan for financial stability and success. OTO Fiber's story is a testament to local resilience and resourcefulness in the face of obstacles and the value of never giving up. 

This show is 47 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment...

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Posted March 24, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Franklin, Kentucky’s (pop. 8,400) electric utility is gearing up for an expansion of its partnership with Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation (WRECC) with the help of $2.3 million from the recent FCC Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). The new partnership will allow Franklin EPB to add new service to roughly 250 locations adjacent to a current project in the area.

The expansion project will add subscribers in the northeast region of Simpson County and nearby parts of the city of Franklin in the south-central part of the state, where the two entities are operating a two-area fiber pilot.

It represents the growth of a collaboration between Franklin EPB and the electric cooperative. In 2019, the two partnered up to deploy service with Franklin EPB leasing dark fiber from the cooperative and acting as service provider to “350 of its customers in northeast Simpson County and in an area on the southeast side of Franklin.” The project brought symmetrical 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) and 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) options for $60 and $80/month to those locations and has brought service to a lot of happy members

 “Providing high-speed Internet [access] in rural areas has been and continues to be an important issue nationwide. Fortunately, we have been able to develop a successful model with Franklin EPB. We’re delighted to be able to expand our service in Simpson County immediately thanks to the RDOF funding,” said Dewayne McDonald, President and CEO of Warren RECC, at the announcement. He continued to emphasize that "part of our mission is to improve the quality of life for our members. This expansion represents a giant leap in progress for them, and we’re excited about the momentum. For the areas we didn’t win, we hope the companies that did win them will live up to their commitment to serve our...

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Posted March 18, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Born in Orono, Maine, the poet Frances Laughton Mace’s most notable verses were published in 1854 as a hymn entitled “Only Waiting.” Over a century and a half later, residents in her native town – and in the neighboring community of Old Town just four miles up the road – might be inclined to hum a line or two. Not because they are getting religion, but because of the wait in getting Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet connectivity.

After a decade of hopeful planning, disappointing setbacks, design work, and putting out multiple RFPs to move the project forward, the nonprofit OTO Fiber Corporation is on the verge of lighting up a six-mile fiber network this summer. With three miles of fiber deployed in Orono, a town of 11,000 residents and home to the University of Maine’s flagship campus, and the other half covering a portion of Old Town, the budding network will provide FTTH service to a limited number of residences and businesses in both towns. It’s a pilot project that, if successful, will serve as a core network which can eventually be extended to cover the entirety of both communities.

“It’s taken us forever to get to this point it seems. We started this process ten years ago and we are still slogging our way through while we’ve seen other communities zip ahead,” Belle Ryder, Orono Assistant Town Manager and President of OTO Fiber, told us this week. “It is really, really, really hard for communities relying on volunteers to pull off the feat of building and operating these networks.”

Ryder wasn’t complaining or exasperated. She was just being candid about the process she and her colleagues at OTO Fiber are committed to see through to the finish. The slog she is referring to goes back a decade when Orono was in the process of putting together a comprehensive development plan.

Families and Fiber, Fits and Starts

With just about half of the town’s population made up of college students living in off-campus apartments and the other half made up of residents 60 and older, “we really needed to draw families back,” Ryder explained. 

Old Town and Orono are right next to each other on the Penobscot River, 10 miles north of Bangor. Both communities...

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Posted November 17, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

We’ve written a lot over the last half year about communities around the country that have built fixed wireless networks to bridge the digital divide. Most recently, we’ve seen approaches which look to tackle particular inequalities that fast, affordable Internet access can help to alleviate: in Providence, Rhode Island, for instance, nonprofit One Neighborhood Builders built a network to tackle health disparities among Olneyville residents.

Today we’re covering a project in Pittsburgh that confronts another aspect of the digital divide laid bare by the pandemic: communities where connectivity options exist and low-income programs like Comcast’s Internet Essentials are available, but the minimum speeds offered are insufficient for households where multiple users need to work and attend school simultaneously. In a world where upload speed remains just as important as download speed, asymmetrical 25/3Mbps (Megabits per second) connections don’t cut it anymore. 

This is the problem that Every1online — a joint project by nonprofit Meta Mesh, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, two school districts, another nonprofit, and an array of local stakeholders — is looking to solve to get more than 450 families with students connected. They’ve built a fixed wireless system offering free connectivity to families across the Homewood neighborhood in Pittsburgh as well as nearby New Kensington and Coraopolis via 50/25 Mbps connections in a pilot program that will run for the next year. It’s a move that acknowledges that providing low-cost Internet access pegged at the lowest possible bandwidth tier disproportionately impacts vulnerable communities already living under the weight of a host of structural disadvantages.

Much of the greater Pittsburgh area has access to one or more wireline providers. But the city also suffers from a wealth gap for a large chunk of the population, centered on families of color (the Homewood neighborhood in particular). While low-income options exist, they aren’t fast enough for entire households which have been forced to...

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Posted November 11, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The city council of Redding, California approved a revised Broadband Master Plan in June that identified a four-phase process to build a 26-mile fiber ring to connect city infrastructure, initiative a pilot project, and eventually connect all homes and businesses to municipally owned broadband Fiber-to-the-Home infrastructure. 

Posted September 18, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Over the summer, Oregon took a second swing at revising its state Universal Service Fund program by passing SB 1603, a bill which will create a larger rural broadband development fund by including retail wireless and VoIP service (in addition to traditional telephone service) in the fees it collects to bring basic connectivity services to unconnected parts of the state. The new law lowers the current tax rate on telecommunications service provider's gross revenue (from 8.5% to 6%) but dramatically broadens the collection base, which will bring in needed dollars to expand broadband access to state residents without it in coming years. The move comes on the heels of the state’s move to establish a Broadband Office in 2018 to “to promote access to broadband services for all Oregonians in order to improve the economy and quality of life.”

Nuts and Bolts

SB 1603, which passed the state legislature on June 26 and was signed into law on July 7, directs the Oregon Business Development Department  (OBDD) to transfer up to $5 million of the funds collected each year to a broadband fund for rural development projects, administered by the OBDD. While the amount that will be collected remains unknown at the moment, it will no doubt represent a significant boost: the current mechanism for funding rural information infrastructure projects — the Rural Broadband Capacity Pilot Program — received 25 applications for almost $5 million in requested funding, but was only able to grant $500,000, or 10%. SB 1603 caps the money to be collected by the Oregon Universal Service Fund at $28 million annually.

As a result of SB1603, Oregonians can expect the average cell phone bill would go up by about $4 a year, and those with landline telephone service will see an annual decrease of $12 a year. Some VoIP providers had contributed willingly prior to the bill — that voluntary opt-in is removed.

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Posted August 24, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Community anchor institutions like public libraries, schools, and government buildings have long served as backbones for initiatives to better connect communities and in doing so open up a world of possibilities that come with Internet access. Add to that list barbershops and salons, because one project is combining robust broadband and hypertension screenings to achieve better health outcomes for communities in urban areas around the country. 

The project was conceived last winter by Craig Settles, who’s been working with public and private groups to advance community broadband efforts for more than a decade. At (eventually) ten locations in places like Cleveland, Wilson County, North Carolina, Chicago, and Denver, Settles is leading an effort to bring hypertension screening to urban areas by partnering with barbershops and salons. The aim is to leverage all of the unique characteristics of these businesses — including their strong community ties, their place as a social hub, the trust they hold with their customers, and the regularity with which they see them — to pioneer early detection and eventually ongoing treatment of high blood pressure and the constellation of associated complications (like coronary artery disease, stroke, and heart failure) that go with it. It's a problem that disproportionately affects the African American population.

Settles told one news outlet

Many hair dressers and barbers see their customers every other week or so, and shops and salons are tight communities. It’s noticeable when someone disappears and you find out later that the person is disabled by a stroke, or has died from a heart attack.

Old Idea, New Twist

Pairing haircuts and blood pressure screening itself isn’t brand new; Al Edmonson’s barbershop, A Cut Above the Rest,...

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Posted April 9, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Earlier this month, OpenCape Corporation, a nonprofit fiber provider in southeastern Massachusetts, announced that it will pilot Fiber-to-the-Premises residential service at a new mixed-use development in Hyannis on Cape Cod. For the project, CapeBuilt Development is renovating a historic building to house apartments and businesses. Thanks to OpenCape’s connectivity, they will be first fully fiberized residential units on the Cape.

OpenCape hopes that the pilot project in Hyannis will serve as a model for towns in the region that are looking to invest in municipal broadband networks.

The Covid-19 pandemic emphasizes the importance of investing in quality connectivity for Cape Cod families to enable working and learning from home. “The only way that becomes truly possible is to ensure that they have access to robust, reliable and affordable Internet connectivity in their homes,” said OpenCape CEO Steven Johnston in the press release.

In response to the current public health crisis, OpenCape has also upgraded customers’ bandwidth and taken the Federal Communication Commission’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge to not disconnect customers affected by the pandemic or charge late fees. “It is something we feel fits within our mission, that we are supposed to be serving the communities in southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod,” Johnston told the Falmouth Enterprise.

Hyannis harbor

“Hip and Historic”

The location of OpenCape’s new pilot, 255 Main, is a restoration of the town’s historic Furman building, which once housed the Hyannis Board of Trade during the previous century. “It is incredibly fitting that 255 Main will be the very first fiber enabled residential units on Cape Cod,”...

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Posted March 24, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Not even a pandemic can stop this week's guest, US Internet CEO Travis Carter, from finding ways to bring better connectivity to his company's subscribers and the community.

For the 400th episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher interviewed Travis (from six feet away) at the US Internet office outside Minneapolis, Minnesota. The pair discuss how the ISP is responding to the crisis, including by limiting home installs and opening up access to its public Wi-Fi network. As people transition to remote work, online education, and digital entertainment, Travis explains how the network is experiencing increased interest from new customers and greater demand from current subscribers.

Christopher and Travis also talk about US Internet's pilot project in low-income housing and how the ISP is trying to determine what barriers prevent households from signing up for the service. Travis describes some of the funding challenges he faces as he expands the network throughout the city and how US Internet differentiates itself in terms of reliability. Before closing the interview, he shares his disappointing experience with mobile connectivity during a big roadtrip he took last summer, arguing that wireless networks can never replace fiber.

Travis was previously a guest on Community Broadband Bits episdoes 359 - An Insider's Perspective on Urban Fiber Deployment, 301 - Wireless and Wired; US Internet Knows Both, and...

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