Tag: "open access"

Posted December 1, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The USDA’s ReConnect program has disbursed more than $1.5 billion since its inception in December 2018. On the whole, the USDA seems to have done a better job than the FCC of leading to new broadband infrastructure which is fast, affordable, and locally controlled. Much of the money it has given out has gone to community-driven solutions, with Tribes, electric and telephone cooperatives, and local governments applying for and winning awards. The program has also seen partnerships between counties and other public as well as private entities. 

But there’s a lot to like about the newest round of funding, totalling $1.2 billion more (representing a full 80 percent of all money given out so far). The application process for Round 3 began at the end of November, with applications due by February 22, 2022.

Announced at the end of October, the new scoring metric represents a significant step in the right direction, increasing speed definitions on both sides of the application. But there are other things to like here as well. 

First, it gives explicit preference for projects that are community-driven, with CTC Technology and Energy writing of the “preference for local governments, non-profits, and cooperatives as applicants and additional points to those applications.” Second, it will likely result in at least a little more marketplace competition, by not only providing significantly more flexibility in defining proposed funded service areas, but in giving additional points to open access networks as well. Third, it lets applicants demonstrate eligibility completely separate from the FCC’s Form 477 data. Fourth, for the first time the program awards extra points to applications that will bring connectivity solutions to “socially vulnerable...

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Posted November 24, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A new report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that the general lack of fiber network coverage across the United States - with barely a third of homes able to choose a fiber option -  comes in large part from the domination of the broadband marketplace by incumbent providers who both own and operate the infrastructure that provides Internet access to the vast majority of Americans. It’s a classic market failure, authors Benoît Felten and Thomas Langer argue, where there’s a clear profitable business case for the existence of more fiber access that continues to go unaddressed. At its core, the failure is driven by the attitudes of monopoly Internet Service Providers (ISP) which prefer to reap the profits from existing legacy copper and cable infrastructure rather than invest in new build outs. As a result, a larger proportion of Americans than many other nations remain stuck on slower, more expensive connections.

The solution, the report shows, is relatively straightforward and economically viable for as many as 78 percent of all households across the country: the construction of a series of local or regional fiber networks operated on a wholesale basis, whereby any ISP that wants to can join an open, transparent marketplace, creating much more competition than exists in the current arena. 

“Wholesale Fiber is the Key to Broad US FTTP Coverage” offers an economic case for open access fiber in improving access, affordability, and driving competition. Comparing the potential of what it calls a Vertically Integrated Operators deployment (i.e. traditional incumbent broadband providers that build, own, and operate networks for end users) and Wholesale Network Operators deployment (an open access arrangement where the physical infrastructure is owned by one entity that invites providers to operate on the network and connect end users for a fee), the report finds that the Wholesale Network Operator model reduces the risk of capital investment, drives infrastructure expansion, and would lead to future-proof connectivity for hundreds of millions of Americans. 

  • Reducing the risk of fiber infrastructure deployment is one of the most effective ways to increase the...
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Posted November 23, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

From New York City to Newfield in Upstate New York, local officials in the Empire State have kicked off projects to connect the unconnected to high-speed Internet service.

The biggest of those projects is underway in New York City as Mayor Bill de Blasio recently delivered an early Christmas present for city dwellers who want to see a term-limit set on the digital divide in the Big Apple.

America’s most populous metropolis (est. pop. 8.6 million) is investing $157 million to build publicly owned, open access broadband infrastructure that will lay the groundwork local officials say will enable high-speed wireless Internet access for up to 1.6 million city residents over the next 36 months.

Even as the city is on track to bring free or low-cost Internet service to 40,000 residents living in 18 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments by the end of the year, this latest initiative aims to expand the city’s existing fiber infrastructure while drawing on minority and women-owned Internet Service Providers to help deliver “fast, reliable, and affordable connectivity options to an additional 70,000 NYCHA residents and 150,000 residents in the surrounding communities by early 2022,” the Mayor’s Office explained in a press release announcing the initiative.

“Broadband isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity,” de Blasio said. “We are closing the digital divide and bringing our city into the 21st century by reaching communities most in need.” 

New York City Chief Technology Officer John Paul Farmer characterized the effort as evidence that city officials are “transforming the broadband marketplace.” 

No matter your zip code, every New Yorker deserves an equal opportunity to participate in building our shared future. The New York City Internet Master Plan has enabled the Big Apple’s unprecedented progress in promoting digital equity and making that idealistic vision a practical reality. New York City’s bold new approach delivers cross-sector partnerships, incorporates cutting-edge technologies, upgrades performance, and ensures affordability for residents and businesses.

Mobilizing ‘NYC Internet Master Plan’

The roadmap the city is following is known as the...

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Posted November 22, 2021 by Maren Machles

Municipal broadband networks have struggled to get a foothold in Washington state given the historical restrictions that have been put on local governmental entities, barring them from offering retail broadband service. But, as state lawmakers lifted those restrictions earlier this year, several PUDs are well-positioned to seize the moment, building on the momentum generated by a collaborative effort led by a publicly owned corporation known as Petrichor

Created in 2018, Petrichor is committed to serving tribes, cities, counties, and ports and is now working with 30 of the 47 counties in the Evergreen State, as well as a number of communities in the neighboring state of Idaho. It’s primary purpose is to share its expertise and help communities apply for state and federal grant money to deploy broadband infrastructure.

Working in collaboration with Cowlitz County (pop.110,600), Petrichor and the county recently co-published a report identifying the region of the state north of Longview, south of Castle Rock and west of West Side Highway as areas in desperate need of expanded high-speed Internet access.  

Connecting Cowlitz County

Just north of Portland, nestled along the Columbia River, the economy of Cowlitz County has historically relied on logging and mining. But, after the Great Recession health care and the social assistance industry became the primary source of employment in the region. And with the change from industries requiring manual labor to technologically-driven industries, a need for fast, reliable Internet access has become paramount. 

Unfortunately, Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILEC) have not been able to meet the need of the moment. Cowlitz County alone has five unique ILECs, resulting in a patchwork of communities with DSL Internet access. Cable Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have also built infrastructure in the area, but there are entire swathes of the county with little to no options. ...

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Posted October 29, 2021 by Maren Machles

Across New England, local-controlled, publicly-owned Internet infrastructure is on the rise -- from Bar Harbor, Maine to the Berkshires of Massachusetts. In Connecticut, however, it’s a different story. The Constitution State is a municipal broadband desert.

That may be changing, however, as Bristol (pop. 60,000) inches closer to becoming the first city in Connecticut to transform itself into a fountain of community-owned connectivity as city officials consider whether to use its federal American Rescue Plans Act (ARPA) funds to build a citywide open access fiber network. With $28 million in ARPA funds at its disposal, city officials have been in a months-long process of deciding how much, if any, of that money should be spent building fiber optic infrastructure. 

The city’s chief technology staff has been working with a consultant to draft design recommendations for the network, which were anticipated to be presented to both City Council and the Financial Board in August or September. 

“That plan has been completed but has not been presented to City officials as of yet,” City Chief Information Officer Scott Smith told ILSR in an email. “The consultants would like to present their plan in person to City officials and so we thought it might be more prudent to have them present it at an upcoming meeting of the Mayor’s ARPA Task Force. We are hoping that we can use some of the ARPA funds to fund a portion of this broadband buildout, especially in the areas of the City where we have a significant digital divide.”

Building this infrastructure would increase competition and address local concerns about the lack of reliable, affordable, high-speed Internet access.

“With the covid pandemic, it catapulted it to the top (of concerns),” Smith told the Bristol Press. “We have a digital divide issue in Bristol that is quite large.”

Currently, there are no fiber options available in Bristol, with Comcast, Frontier, Viasat, and HughesNet offering only cable, DSL, and satellite. And while, BroadbandNow reports that Comcast’s highest service tier offers gig speed connectivity in the region, we know that privately-owned infrastructure does not mean universal access. It’s not...

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Posted October 22, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Earlier this month, a plan to bring fiber connectivity to four towns in Knox County, Maine (pop. 39,500) spearheaded by the MidCoast Internet Development Corporation (MIDC) was dealt a major blow when Knox County Commissioners denied MIDC’s request to use the county's American Rescue Plan funds to pay for network construction.

During a Knox County Commission meeting on Tuesday, October 12, after County Commissioners repeatedly barred local municipal leaders from commenting on broadband-related issues, they voted unanimously against awarding any of the county’s $7.7 million in American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds to municipal broadband projects or any project benefiting an individual municipality.

County Commissioners assembled to consider 58 ARPA project applications submitted by nonprofit and municipal entities, all vying for a portion of the county’s Rescue Plan funds. But, the meeting took an unexpected turn when one Knox County Commissioner accused representatives from the MIDC, a regional broadband utility formed by four Knox County towns, of “bullying” the Commissioners into spending the county’s Rescue Plan funds on regional and municipal broadband projects. 

After County Commissioner Dorothy Meriwether voiced her displeasure for how local community broadband advocates pursued the funding, three local Select Board members were not permitted to speak in support of MIDC. Adding insult to injury, the Commissioners then welcomed a representative from Charter Spectrum to talk for nearly 30 minutes.

Knox County Commissioners are now getting pushback from local municipal leaders and their constituents who are accusing the Commissioners of not adhering to the budget approval process mandated by the county charter and failing to represent constituents in the county’s ARPA funding priorities. They also say the County Commissioners are in violation of Maine state law for forgoing a public comment period.

At the meeting’s conclusion, Knox County Commissioners had informally awarded $4.1 million of the county’s ARPA funds to project proposals addressing affordable housing and food distribution. Yet, some municipal leaders refuse to go quietly into the night, skeptical...

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Posted October 5, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Following hundreds of requests from community members urging the local Public Utility District (PUD) to address the lack of Internet access in Lewis County, Washington, the Lewis County PUD is answering the call with a proposal to construct an open access countywide fiber-to-the-home network and a relentless pursuit of broadband construction grant opportunities on behalf of its 33,000 members.

The plan to construct the 110-mile-long fiber backbone – anticipated to cost between $110 and $130 million to build – is months in the making. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the PUD has applied for over $30 million of state and federal broadband grants. 

In August of 2020, the PUD applied for a $5.5 million grant through the Washington State Public Works Board to provide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) services to residents of four communities in the western region of the county – “from west Chehalis to Adna and Pe Ell along Highway 6, and down through the Boistfort Valley,” according to the PUD’s website

When that grant application was not awarded, the PUD turned to the USDA’s Community Connect program to propose a smaller project that would serve three of the four aforementioned communities. The USDA is expected to announce those grant recipients soon. 

Lewis County PUD’s most recent attempt to access funding for the project was in May of 2021, when the PUD’s Commissioners requested that Lewis County Commissioners reserve $1 million of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the countywide broadband project. The PUD, hopeful that county officials will honor the request, is...

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Posted September 23, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Just a year after city leaders of Superior, Wisconsin (pop. 26,000) passed a resolution declaring fiber optic cabling critical infrastructure, officials are beginning to put the city’s money behind an action plan. In August, a majority of City Council members voted to adopt a plan to develop a city-owned fiber network and Superior Mayor Jim Paine proposed to reserve the bulk of the city’s American Rescue Plan federal relief funds to back the project.

The recent 8-2 City Council vote gave the green light to move forward with Connect Superior – a plan to construct open access, fiber optic broadband infrastructure reaching every resident, community anchor institution and business in the city. 

As Mayor Paine plans to budget no less than $10 million of the city’s $17 million in Rescue Plan funds to finance the project, Superior’s legislative and executive officials are largely united behind the decision to pursue the path laid out in a Broadband Master Plan [pdf] developed for the city by EntryPoint Networks.

City Councilors’ adoption of the Master Plan is a significant step forward, even as there are still numerous motions the City Council will need to approve in order for municipal fiber to become a reality. 

The next phase of the project involves designing and planning the network and hiring the contractors who will build it. City Council members will have to approve every contract with every consultant, design, and engineer firm along the way; as well as the Mayor’s American Rescue Plan budget in order to award the funds necessary to get the project rolling.

In a recent interview with ILSR, the City Council President Tylor Elm, who first proposed the idea for municipal fiber to Mayor Jim Paine several years ago, said the overwhelming support of the City Council demonstrated during the Master Plan vote provides a good perspective on how the project will fare.

Community Savings

The main objective of the Connect Superior project is reducing the cost of...

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Posted September 9, 2021 by Jericho Casper

During fire season in Northern California - when the sky often turns dusky with smoke in the middle of the day and the air quality can get so bad that officials declare it unhealthy to be outdoors - access to high-speed Internet connectivity is all-important.

For local governments, fast, reliable, and resilient Internet service is crucial for public safety communications. When flames engulf the region, relaying critical emergency information with speed is paramount. Seconds matter. It’s equally important for citizens to get timely information on the course of wildfires, receive alert notifications or evacuation orders, and be able to connect with friends and family. 

Living in that reality is one of the driving reasons the Chico City Council recently voted to earmark $5 million of the city’s $22 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to research and implement a plan to improve citywide Internet access. 

City council members have already authorized spending $250,000 of the funds to develop a Broadband Master Plan in conjunction with EntryPoint Networks. The plan is projected to be completed by October, and once it is finished the City Council will decide where to go from there.

City officials are also in the process of surveying the city’s 115,000 residents to gauge community interest in building a municipally-owned open access fiber network. Responses to the survey so far have indicated residents are excited about the potential of a municipal broadband offering, the city’s Administrative Services Director, Scott Dowell, told ILSR in a recent interview. Dowell said he’s noticed three recurring themes in the survey responses to date: “They want it to be reliable, inexpensive, and fast.”

Although no plans have been finalized and the city is open to various approaches to improve Internet access, Dowell said the city’s lofty goal is to enable symmetrical gigabit Internet service to all premises in Chico for a monthly access fee of no more than $100. 

Improving Emergency Communications in the Face of Forest Fires

A citywide fiber optic network would bring new capabilities to Chico Fire Department’s six fire stations, which currently lease fiber Internet service offering slower-than-...

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Posted August 23, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The Michigan State University-based Comprehensive Economic Recovery Initiative's (CERI) Building Broadband Better project is hosting a webinar this Thursday, August 26th, at 12pm ET.

The undertaking, which works towards connectivity solutions in support of "identifying and prioritizing unserved and underserved areas; funding, designing, building and operating networks to serve these areas and; ensuring that network access is affordable and that the devices and skills needed to benefit from that access are accessible to all" works with "partners throughout and beyond the state to help develop and implement strategies that move Michigan closer to the goal of providing universal access to pandemic- and future-ready 21st Century Communications Infrastructure, and the benefits it can support."

The webinar will provide a project update in the context of the anticipated federal funding for initiatives all over the country, and include experts who will speak to the advantages of separating the infrastructure and service delivery layer on broadband networks. From the registration page:

 

This webinar will examine a promising approach to Building Broadband Better: Community Empowerment Networks that utilize Automated Open Access (AOA) technology. As you will learn, these networks provide unique benefits, including reduced cost of operation; increased competition and innovation among ISPs; lower prices, increased choice, security and ease of use for customers and; an open platform for innovation and value creation by community service providers (CSPs), including organizations operating in the healthcare, education, public safety, government, public utility and nonprofit sectors.

Bruce Patterson (who recently joined EntryPoint Networks as Solution Services Director after 15 years as the city of Ammon's Technology Director), Jeff Christensen (President), and Mitch Shapiro will be the featured speakers.

Register for the webinar here.

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