Tag: "rural"

Posted November 3, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

This week on the podcast Christopher talks with the city of Sandwich, New Hampshire’s Broadband Advisory Committee Chair Julie Dolan and member Richard Knox. The join us to discuss the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative’s recent vote to add broadband to its charter.

Sandwich is particularly poorly served in NH and they have been seeking solutions for a long time. In organizing around the electric cooperative (which covers 115 towns and includes 85,000 members), in less than a year local stakeholders have organizing two votes around the importance of quality Internet access which, at the beginning of October, pushed the co-op into the business. Julie and Richard share with Chris how it all unfolded and what it means moving forward.

Don’t forget to check out our new show, Connect This!, where Chris brings together a collection broadband veterans and industry experts live on Youtube to talk about recent events and dig into the policy news of the day. 

This show is 38 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 for this episode.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or ...

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Posted October 30, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

News stories highlighting the breadth and depth of the digital divide and its impacts in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic have dominated the headlines in recent months, but a new report emphasizes the degree to which dozens of communities in one Canadian province have struggled with connectivity issues for years. The recently released Nunavut Infrastructure Gap Report [pdf] shows what broadband access looks like for the 35,000 or so mostly Inuit residents of the nation’s youngest province, and what solutions exist for closing the gap for tens of thousands who struggle to get online.

Nunavut is the northernmost of Canada’s provinces, made up of two interlocking geographies: the landmass immediately north of Manitoba and east of the Northwest Territories, and the large collection of islands curled around Baffin Bay to the west of Greenland. It has a population barely 1/20th the size of Wyoming (the U.S.’s smallest by population) despite being the second-largest political subdivision by area in North America, and a population density of just 0.05 persons/square mile.

A Host of Infrastructure Gaps

The new report was released by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), an “organization that represents the territory’s 33,000 Inuit and their rights.” It looks to quantify existing infrastructure and obstacles in support of the pledge made by the Canadian government in 2019 to close gaps where they exist around the country. The report covers wide range of projects, but broadband access plays a prominent role in the province’s telecommunications infrastructure gap, especially in light of the nation’s goal to achieve universal 50/10 Mbps (Megabits per second) access by 2030.

Its aim, according to NTI President Aluki Kotierk, is “not so much to draw attention on the deplorable state of infrastructure in our communities, as it is to set the premise for a renewed engagement with our partners on fulfilling the...

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Posted October 29, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Vermont Communications Union District ECFiber has been experiencing faster-than-expected growth and will hit eight additional towns in 2021 (including Bradford, Corinth, Fairlee, West Fairlee and Windsor). Vermont Digger also reports that it expects to take on an additional $11 million in debt to finance its expansion in the near future, bringing its total debt to $52 million.

Posted October 22, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Along the banks of the Columbia River, Multnomah County (pop. 813,000), Oregon is considering a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network after being handed a study more than a year in the making. The report estimates that a countywide network reaching every home, business, and farm in a five-city area would cost just shy of $970 million, and bring with it a wealth of savings and other benefits to the community it serves.

Origins

The study has its origins in a 2017 push initiated by an advocacy group called Municipal Broadband PDX which has sought more affordable and equitable Internet access in the region. In 2018, the County Board of Commissioners agreed that it should be explored and approved the funding of a study, with the city of Portland and Multnomah County each contributing $100,000 and the remaining towns of Fairview, Gresham, Troutdale, and Wood Village joining the effort to collectively contribute an additional $50,000 for funding. Over the next year, CTC Technology and Energy conducted a comprehensive survey, analysis, and evaluation, and the results were delivered at the end of September.

The report offers good news: the majority of residents in Multnomah County want a publicly built and operated FTTH network, and it would be economically viable to provide symmetrical gigabit service to as many of the more than 320,000 households as want it for $80/month. At a projected 36% take rate on a 4% bond over a 20-year period, the network would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $966 million, depending on a host of local and market factors, some of which are fixed and others subject to change. It would see net positive income by the end of its fourth year of operation, and see a total of more than $54 million in positive net income by the end of its 20-year depreciation period (a standard model for fiber infrastructure, though they often last longer). These numbers change when adjusting the take rate and interest rate, but in the vast majority of scenarios, building a community owned FTTH network in Multnomah County is feasible. 

Broadband in Multnomah County

...

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Posted October 8, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

US Ignite has announced a new initiative called Project Overcome which will fund five projects looking for novel solutions to broadband connectivity problems in communities around the United States.

Th endeavor, funded by a $2 million National Science Foundation grant, will “support the selection and buildout of five proof-of-concept network deployments designed to connect both rural and urban communities in novel ways.” More than three-quarters of the funding will go directly to project awards, with the aim to:

[C]ollect data to measure the technical and social impacts of different connectivity strategies [in order to] discover patterns of success that can be repeated on a larger scale across the country, and to catalog the distinctions that emerge based on variations in the communities served.

The Application Process

An RFP will come out in the next few weeks, with winners chosen by early spring. From the website, competitive applications will:

Be chosen based on the use of innovative technologies, such as mesh networks and new spectrum access solutions, as well as creative deployment models that leverage both public and private sector partners. Participating teams should draw from some combination of academic, nonprofit, industry, government, student, and volunteer partners. The five proposals ultimately selected will reflect a mix of population density characteristics, demographics, geographic regions, housing types, local and industry collaborations, and technical approaches.

US Ignite is an initiative of the National Science Foundation’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) which aims to advance connectivity efforts around the country. It leans heavily on creating partnerships between private, public, educational, and nonprofit entities to develop next-generation network technology, experiment with open access, and explore the potential of software-defined networks. As part of this effort it plays a role in advancing the...

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Posted October 5, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

One silver lining of the ongoing public health crisis is the chance to attend a wide array of virtual events which tackle aspects of community broadband expansion all across the country, in a variety of contexts. This week features three opportunities to hear about what’s going on in Minnesota, Michigan, and Virginia. Read on for details. 

Blandin Foundation Annual Conference

First up is Minnesota-based Blandin Foundation’s annual conference. It’s gone virtual for 2020, and the organization has taken it as an opportunity to shake things up. Instead of a three-day conference, Blandin is hosting four weeks’ worth of events starting Tuesday, October 6th, at 9am CST. 

The conference will feature a combination of panels with updates on everything from technology outreach to telehealth to efforts by community anchor institutions to stay connected, as well as mentoring sessions, regulatory and legislative updates, and feature presentations by leading voices:

  • Wednesday, October 7, 11:00am: From Digital Infrastructure to Transformation: Leveraging Broadband for Community Economic Development by Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D., Purdue Extension.
  • Thursday, October 8, 9:30am: Bringing Broadband to Rural America: Opportunities and Challenges Post-Pandemic by Shirley Bloomfield, NTCA.
  • Thursday, October 15, 3pm: Federal Broadband Regulatory and Legislative Updates by Molly O’Leary, Director of Government Affairs, NTCA.
  • Friday, October 23, 10:00am: Book Club: Thank You for Being Late and Thursday, October 29, 9:15am: How I Think About the Importance of Communities in the 21st Century by Thomas L. Friedman, Author, Reporter, Columnist, New York Times.
  • Thursday, October 27, 9:30am: Connecting Residents to Essential Services: Solutions for Local Communities by Deb Socia, The Enterprise Center.
  • Thursday, October 29, 10:30a: 2020 MN County Broadband Reports: Measured Progress, Accelerated Need by Ann Treacy, Treacy Information Services

It’s likely Deb Socia will be talking about Chattanooga’s landmark effort to connect 28,000 students to free 100/100 Megabit per second (Mbps) Internet. We covered Robert Gallardo’s...

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Posted September 30, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Last June's scaled-down Vermont’s Emergency Broadband Action Plan, intended as a fast-moving effort to connect residents in the Green Mountain State in the era of COVID, has seen its first two rounds disbursed since August. The Get Vermonters Connected Now Initiative has granted Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across the state a little under $8 million of its available $17 million budget to fund projects which will reach almost 7,500 locations by the end of the year. Of these, more than 3,000 did not have 4/1 Megabit per second (Mbps) service.

Round 1 Winners

The program is run by the Public Service Commission, which does not stipulate any match requirements and establishes 25/3 Mbps as the minimum speed for new services (though it does encourage grantees to aim for 100 Mbps symmetrical connections “where possible”). Community-owned networks are included in the list of winners.

The first round, announced at the end of August, totaled $3,926,650 to serve over 5,800 locations. Of them, the Commission notes, 2,200 lack a connection of 4/1 Megabits per second (Mbps), and 465 premises identified a specific telehealth, telework, or distance learning need related to the ongoing public health crisis. The full list of winners are:

  • $351,520 to Mansfield Community Fiber to extend fiber broadband to 676 locations and offset the customer costs for 10 locations
  • $171,770 to the NEW Alliance (Cloud Alliance and New England Wireless) to serve wireless broadband to 632 locations
  • $1,964,230 to VTel to serve wireless broadband to 3,992 location
  • $56,607 to Duncan Cable to extend fiber broadband to 35 locations
  • $152,500 to Comcast to extend cable broadband to 77 locations
  • $1,117,570 to ECFiber to extend fiber broadband to 394 locations
  • $112,453 to Waitsfield & Champlain Valley Telecom to extend fiber broadband to 26 locations

Round 2 Winners

The second round, just announced, totaled $3,991,847 in grant for 1,651 eligible...

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Posted September 29, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Almost 54,000 electric cooperative residents will see the benefits of a statewide law change in Maryland after a summer filled with changes. After a state vote to allow deregulation, Choptank Electric, which serves member owners across nine counties in Maryland’s Eastern Shore, voted in August to become member-regulated so that the cooperative can pursue broadband projects in a part of the state that has long suffered from poor or no connectivity options. 

A State Law and a Membership Vote

The process unfolded earlier this year, when representatives for the co-op spoke with the legislature in Annapolis about offering broadband to its members. State law at the time meant that electric utilities were regulated by the Public Service Commission, which prevented them from entering the broadband space. 

The Eastern Shore sits across Chesapeake Bay, with 450,000 people living across its nine counties. Driven by a lack of connectivity options and a desire for economic development, area legislators submitted HB 999, which drew support from dozens of businesses, 1,200 current Choptank customers, and a number of local governments. The “Rural Broadband for the Eastern Shore Act of 2020” [pdf] passed the state legislature on May 8th, 2020, and freed the co-op from regulation by the Public Service Commission. Talbot County resident Pamela Keeton testified to the Senate Finance Committee:

The bottom line is, no one wants to pay taxes and no one wants to spend money, so we’re left with no Internet service.

The move allowed Choptank to become member-regulated after two regular meetings and a membership vote, which took place from May to August both in person and electronically. Ultimately, it needed 7,000 members to vote yes. All told,...

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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 September 17, 2020 by Christopher Mitchell

NH Electric Cooperative President Steve Camerino is on the Down to Business podcast from NH Business Review and talks about the vote to amend the charter and efforts to add broadband Internet access to their services.

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