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Community Broadband Media Roundup - July 19

California

Refund program to help expand broadband Internet service by Rachelle Chong and Lloyd Levine, Sacramento Bee

 

Colorado

Big choices ahead as Boulder pursues faster, cheaper broadband by Alex Burness, Boulder Daily Camera

Erie, Superior weigh municipal broadband ballot question by Anthony Hahn, Colorado Hometown Weekly

 

Massachusetts

Mount Washington gets $230K grant to deliver broadband access by Derek Gentile, Berkshire Eagle

The town has won a $230,000 grant from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute to support the construction of a fiber-to-home network that will deliver broadband access to the residents of this town. At this point, according to town officials, more than 60 percent of the residents of the smallest town in Massachusetts have committed to subscribing to the service.

 

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North Carolina

Waynesville enters agreement to expand broadband by Smoky Mountain News

Getting the Internet to everyone in WNC by Tom Vinyard, Citizen-Times

 

General

Why we need affordable broadband for anchor institutions and communities by John Windhausen Jr., Bloomberg Government & StateScoop

Bipartisan Senate group forms broadband caucus by Ben Munson, FierceTelecom

A bipartisan group of senators are joining together to launch the Senate Broadband Caucus, which will focus on broadband infrastructure and deployment and will address broadband issues affecting Americans, specifically increasing connectivity and closing the digital divide that particularly impacts rural America.

In these troubling times, senators unite to end America's big divide - rural v. urban broadband by Shaun Nichols, The Register

Fibrant Gets The "OK": Will Expand To Local Government, Manufacturers in NC

Salisbury’s fiber network, Fibrant, is about to connect to three more large customers in North Carolina.

The Salisbury Post writes that Rowan County government and two local manufacturing facilities will be connecting to Salisbury’s municipal fiber network. After considering the needs of several local manufacturers and the Rowan County Government, Rowan County Commissioners gave the necessary approval to expand Fibrant to serve their facilities.

Local Manufacturing Wants Fibrant

The manufacturing facilities, Gildan and Agility Fuel Systems, are both located outside of Salisbury’s city limits, but within Fibrant’s service area. State law requires they obtain permission from the Rowan Board of the Rowan County Commissioners to allow Fibrant to extend service to their location.

Rowan County government also wants to connect to Fibrant and the same law applies to them. The County will use Fibrant as a back-up to their regular Internet connection for a while before deciding if Fibrant should become their primary service service provider.

Meanwhile, Gildan and Agility Fuel Systems just want the high-speed and reliability of the Fibrant network. Gildan is a Canadian manufacturer that makes activewear clothing. Since 2013, the company has worked to expand its existing yarn spinning facility, bringing skilled manufacturing jobs to the region. Agility Fuel Systems makes alternative fuel systems for large trucks. Currently, Agility Fuel Systems uses a connection speed of 20 Megabits per second (Mbps). Fibrant can offer capacity connections up to 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps).

The Agility Fuel System’s North Carolina Director of Operations, Shawn Adelsberger, actively pushed for a Fibrant connection. According to the Salisbury Post, Adelsberger wrote to Rowan County in May:

“Such connectivity will help us to maintain our networked manufacturing equipment, to maintain operation for our global customers and to not have product deliver risk due to network slowdowns and interruptions.”

A Bit Of A Process

Connecting to Fibrant is not easy outside of Salisbury’s city limits. A 2011 North Carolina state law prevents the creation of new municipal networks and imposes restrictions on existing ones. Fibrant cannot extend outside of its service area, and any extension has to go through several layers of approval.

Although the two manufacturing facilities and most of Rowan County are technically within Fibrant’s service area, Rowan County still needs to approve any new extension of the fiber network. After that, each Rowan County municipality must also authorize any Fibrant extensions into their city limits.

After the County Commission approved the expansion, Fibrant Director Kent Winrich told local media, "In my opinion, this is a big deal for economic development for Rowan County.”

Haywood County, NC, Releases Feasibility Study RFP

Last month, the Haywood Advancement Foundation (HAF) sowed the seeds for a long-term broadband strategy in Haywood County, North Carolina. The nonprofit foundation posted a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study as part of their strategy to develop a master plan and improve local connectivity. A $10,000 grant from the Southwest Commission and a matching $10,000 grant from HAF will fund the early stages of Haywood’s broadband initiative. The due date for proposals is July 15th.

Living In The Present, Planning For The Future

Located about 30 minutes west of Asheville, Haywood County is home to approximately 60,000 residents. Asheville’s status as a cultural hub might be driving up Haywood County property values, but it has failed to bring high quality Internet access to its rural neighbors. 

State law complicates local municipalities' ability to provide fast, affordable, reliable connectivity via municipal networks. North Carolina’s HB 129, passed in 2011, and is currently under review in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) overruled the state law in early 2015, citing the bill’s burden on the national goal of advancing ubiquitous Internet access. North Carolina and Tennessee challenged the FCC’s decision, oral arguments were heard in March, and all participants are now waiting for a ruling. A master plan can help the community establish different courses of action, depending on the ultimate outcome of the court case.

Mark Clasby, executive director of the Haywood County Economic Development Council, reiterated just how important universal access and higher speeds would be for the community:

“We are committed in making our county have high speed access to the Internet for our citizens, it’s a must for our future. Schools will also be going more digital and kids will need broadband service for their homework. Then there are people who want to move to Haywood to work and have our quality of life. They want to live in Crabtree or Newfound but they have to have Internet access.”

A 2015 countywide survey shed light on the current state of connectivity. More than 20 percent of county households remain unconnected to the Internet, 31 percent connect exclusively through mobile, and 83 percent of those who are connected report insufficient speeds. Local officials are determined to seek educational opportunities, drive up property values, and bring jobs to the region with a fast, affordable, reliable network. 

Fixed Wireless Helping Out In The Hills

Wireless technology may play a factor in serving rural residential pockets. The Smoky Mountain News reported:

“After talking to cable providers like AT&T and Charter and wireless providers like Skyrunner, Clasby said it’s clear that Haywood County needs some kind of hybrid service to offer better speeds and rural access.”

There are isolated Haywood neighborhoods that obtain Internet access from local fixed wireless providers using mountaintop towers. Homeowner Jake Robinson, who uses Skyrunner, told Smoky Mountain News, “We were not prepared for [such difficulties connecting our home to broadband] — had we known, our decision on buying that house may have been different.” 

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We recently spotlighted Highlands, North Carolina, a community located in the Appalachians. Highlands uses its municipal fixed wireless service to provide Internet access to homes where Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) is not practical. Fiber is serving businesses in Highlands downtown area and plan to extend it to residents. Their long term goal is to bring FTTH to as many properties as possible, but they are using fixed wireless to serve the immediate need.

RS Fiber Cooperative, a rural Minnesota broadband cooperative, is using fixed wireless to temporarily extend to cooperative members in hard to reach areas. Eventually, they will connect all members with fiber.

RFP Deets

So far there are no estimates for what it may cost to build a broadband network in Haywood. The upcoming broadband assessment and feasibility study will provide more information about estimated costs and network structure in the coming months. Clasby hopes to compose a final broadband master plan by year’s end. 

Final proposals are to be submitted to HAF by July 15th at 5:00 pm.

You can get more information by checking out the RFP online or by emailing Mark B. Clasby: mclasby(at)haywoodchamber.com.

Highlands, North Carolina, Learns To Fish With Altitude Community Broadband

Highlands is a small community of less than 1,000 residents located in the Nantahala National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains. Along the western tip of the state, Highlands faces the same problem as many other rural communities - poor connectivity. In order to bring high-quality Internet access to residents and businesses, Highlands has implemented a plan to deploy city-owned Internet network infrastructure.

A Connected Escape Up In The Mountains

Highland entertains a large number of summer tourists who flock to its high altitude to escape summer heat and humidity. Summer visitors can fill the city’s six square miles and surrounding area with up to 20,000 people. The city operates a municipal electric utility along with water, sewer, and garbage pick up. 

To round off the list of offered services and bring better connectivity to the community, Highlands created the Altitude Community Broadband. In January, the Town Board authorized to borrow $40,000 from its General Fund and $210,000 from its Electric Enterprise Fund to deploy and launch the new service. The loan will be repaid with revenue from the new service.

The town has long-term plans to offer both Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) and fixed wireless service to residents and businesses in the downtown area. Fiber is already available in limited areas within Highlands proper; pricing is available on a case-by-case basis. The landscape is rugged, so residents outside of the city may not be able to transition to FTTH, reported a December HighlandsInfo Newspaper, but the fixed wireless access is still an affordable and workable option in a place considered a poor investment by large providers.

Residential options for Altitude Wireless Internet Access are:

  • Basic (Just give me Internet): 4 Megabit per second (Mbps) [download] ... $34.99
  • Better (Supports some streaming video): 10 Mbps [download] ... $39.99
  • Video Streaming (Comes with free Roku): 25 Mbps [download]... $59.99
  • Extreme (Everyone in my home is connected. Comes with free Roku): 50 Mbps [download]... $119.98

Subscribers can also sign up for the $9.99 per month “carefree in home Wi-Fi”, which is a service in which the utility installs and maintains the customers wireless router, insuring all devices connect and function properly.
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There is also the option to pay an additional $9.99 per month for additional static IP addresses. Installation is free.

Altitude Community Broadband's website also promises something you NEVER get from Comcast, CenturyLink, or any of the other big boys:

Customer speed is determined at time of installation. Customer will not pay for unattainable speeds.

Recently, the Highlander ran an update from Mayor Patrick Taylor who reported that demand for the Wi-Fi service throughout Highlands was so intense, installations had fallen behind. The Town Board decided to hire two more technicians to tackle the long list of people requesting installation.

Locals Can Fix It, If We Let Them

Highlands’s elected officials reflect the self-reliant attitude of this small town who have decided to solve their problem themselves. In a March article to the Highlands News, Mayor Taylor wrote to report that the Appellate Court was considering the case between the FCC and the cities of Wilson and Chattanooga. Taylor wrote:

Overturning the FCC broadband ruling would be a setback for small towns languishing in the digital desert. It is not just a matter of economic development. Upon further study and discussion with our consultants, I now view it more as as a matter of economic and community survival. Either a community will have unlimited broadband capacity or it will wither and dry upon the economic vine.

Nationally some 200 small-town governments are doing exactly what Highlands is doing. State legislators this past session changed the sales tax distribution formula so poor communities could receive more sales tax revenue for economic growth. I have a suggestion: Don’t create laws that obstruct the development of broadband networks in these underserved communities. It is counterproductive to their economic development. Instead, why not allocate funds to bring broadband to these isolated areas? What’s that proverb about ‘give a man a fish’?

Dark Fiber For The Future In Caswell County Schools, NC

Caswell County School Board members recently voted to take a long-term approach to student connectivity in North Carolina.

Ten Years Was A Lifetime Ago

Earlier this month, the issue of Internet access for the schools came before the Board because a lease with the telecommunications company connecting school buildings is about to end. Since the inception of the 10-year agreement, computer and Internet use in schools has skyrocketed; Caswell County Schools now aim to have every child on a computer at school. The district is now served by satellite Internet access to school facilities and in order to supply the speed and reliability they need, the Chief Technology Officer David Useche recommended a fiber-optic network to the Board.

Lease vs. Own

Useche offered two possibilities: 1. lease a lit network, which costs less in the first years of the contract but will not belong to the school district; or 2. pay more for the first five years to have a dark fiber-optic network constructed. The dark fiber network infrastructure will belong to the school district. Caswell County will use E-Rate to help fund the construction of the network, which will result in an overall long-term savings of $35,000. Useche told the Board:

“If we look at the projections for the Lit network, in ten years after E-Rate our cost is going to be $214,255. With the Dark network the cost is $178,729. The difference is a savings of $35,000,” said Useche, who added that the district will use $751,000 in E-rate funds to help build the network. Useche said that the State of North Carolina is using E-rate funds to build networks in some of its rural areas. “If we didn’t have E-Rate funds we could not afford either of these options. We are lucky to have them to provide the services the schools need.”

The Board agreed with Useche’s recommendation to approve the dark fiber option. The agreement will include 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps) connectivity for less than $100 per month more than 1 Gbps connectivity. “It’s not like we need ten gigabits right away but pretty soon we will need that much bandwidth,” said Useche.

Mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina: Local Leadership a Must!

High-speed Internet access can bring new industries, reinvigorate rural communities, and provide educational opportunities. We know the importance of high-speed Internet, and no one should be left behind because of the cost of service. In December, 44 city leaders joined together through Next Century Cities to push for reform of a national connectivity program called “Lifeline”- among them was Mayor Jennifer Roberts.

In February on NextCity.org, Mayor Roberts of Charlotte, North Carolina, wrote that it’s the duty of local leaders to advocate for an end to the digital divide. 

Whose eCity?

Charlotte is known for its banking industry and the growing financial technology sector, but Charlotte’s small businesses are pushing innovation in the local economy. Google recognized the community's small business culture when it bestowed an “eCity” award on Charlotte based on the strong online presence of local small enterprise.

While some sectors of the economy prosper, others flounder trying to compete. Without affordable, high-speed Internet access, there’s a major impact on every aspect of a small business. In a previous story, Catharine Rice of CLIC-NC explained how small businesses need high-speed uploads in order to do business and stay competitive. Mayor Roberts described the stark reality of the digital divide:

“The lack of Internet access can also stymie potential small businesses by cutting off the resources needed for research and development as well as hamstringing sales and marketing efforts that are often conducted after hours and on weekends. With customer connectivity being king in the Internet age, far too many small businesses, particularly ones owned by women and minorities, struggle to make the connections necessary for success.”

Access, But No Service

Mayor Roberts highlighted how community leaders must not only empower business leaders of today, but also those of tomorrow. She detailed some of her plan to address the homework gap - students without adequate Internet access trying to get by in increasingly digital learning environments. 

According to WBTV, about 70,000 students in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District do not have a computer with Internet service at home. Many families explained that the cost was too expensive. The FCC 2016 Broadband Report noted that everyone in Mecklenburg County (of which Charlotte is the seat) should have access to high-speed Internet options. The report suggests it’s not the lack of Internet access, but lack of affordability, that is holding these children and communities back. 

Local Leaders Must Take the Lead

Mayor Roberts joined the letter to the FCC on modernizing its Lifeline connectivity program for low-income folks, yet she still recognized that national programs can only do so much. City leaders must empower their communities in seeking local solutions to the digital divide.

She touched on Google Fiber coming to Charlotte, but only to emphasize the importance of local leadership:

“We also have to continue pursuing public-private partnerships with companies like Google, which plans to build out fiber connections in Charlotte, and make sure that new offerings don’t just reinforce existing inequities.”

Municipal networks, such as in Salisbury and Wilson, North Carolina, are inherently accountable to their communities, but public-private partnerships can also benefit local communities (for example, see Westminster). As Mayor Roberts noted, however, these partnerships must include local leadership to ensure that these projects serve the whole community.

Mayor Roberts ended her piece on NextCity.org with this charge to other mayors and city councils:

“As municipal leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure that the promise of technology reaches all corners of our cities.”

FCC Modernizes Lifeline Program

The FCC seemed to agree, acknowledging the problems of the digital divide that kept low-income folks from reliable Internet access. In a 3-2 vote at the end of March, the FCC approved measures to modernize the Lifeline program to subsidize Internet access for low-income households. In doing so, the FCC recognized the concerns that the many city leaders, including Mayor Roberts, had highlighted in their Next Century Cities letter.

Affordable, high-speed Internet access is crucial for 21st century communities, and, as Mayor Roberts carefully laid out in her NextCity.org piece, local leadership is necessary to advance solutions.

Gigabit Cities Live Conference, Next Tuesday, April 5th

Light Reading is hosting “Gigabit Cities Live” next week.

The conference will take place on Tuesday, April 5th at the Ritz Carlton in Charlotte, North Carolina

It’s an all-day event bringing together city and industry leaders to explore the opportunities of Gigabit networks. The conference will cover topics such as Gigabit technologies, business models, and smart-city applications. 

The Keynote Speakers are: 

  • Gigi Sohn, Counselor to the Chairman, the Federal Communications Commission
  • Jeff Stoval, the Chief Information Officer, the City of Charlotte
  • Robert Howald, VP of Network Architecture, Comcast
  • Michael Slinger, Director of Fiber Cities Team, Google Fiber

For more information or to register, go to the conference’s website

(Note: “Only individuals using qualified work email addresses will be considered for admission”)

Listen to the Lawyers: Audio of Oral Arguments Now Available in TN/NC vs FCC

Attorneys argued before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on March 17th in the case of Tennessee and North Carolina vs the FCC. The attorneys presented their arguments before the court as it considered the FCC's decision to peel back state barriers that prevent local authority to expand munis.

A little over a year ago, the FCC struck down state barriers in Tennessee and North Carolina limiting expansion of publicly own networks. Soon after, both states filed appeals and the cases were combined.

You can listen to the entire oral argument below - a little less than 43 minutes - which includes presentations from both sides and vigorous questions from the Judges.

To review other resources from the case, be sure to check out the other resources, available here, including party and amicus briefs.

TN and NC vs. FCC: Oral Arguments Scheduled for Thursday, March 17th

This Thursday, March 17th, attorneys for the FCC and the states of Tennessee and North Carolina will present arguments to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on a case that could define parameters for publicly owned Internet networks. The proceedings begin at 9 a.m. eastern. Each side has 15 minutes to present.

As we reported a year ago, the FCC ruled that state barriers in Tennessee and North Carolina limiting expansion of publicly own networks are too restrictive and threaten the U.S. goal of expanding ubiquitous access. The FCC overruled the harmful state laws but soon after, both states filed appeals.

The cases were consolidated in the Sixth Circuit and a number of organizations, including ILSR, offered Amicus briefs. We have collected all the briefs and made them available for you here. As most of our readers will recall, the case focused on Chattanooga and Wilson, two communities that know the many benefits of publicly owned networks.

So, when you raise your glass of green beer on Thursday to celebrate St. Paddy's, send some luck to our friends in Wilson, Chattanooga, and the FCC!

Fact Sheet On Rural Connectivity In North Carolina

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice North Carolina chapter (CLIC-NC) and the Community Broadband Networks Team here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) have teamed up to create a new fact sheet: Fast, Affordable, Modern Broadband: Critical for Rural North Carolina.

This fact sheet emphasizes the deepening divide between urban and rural connectivity. The fact sheet can help explain why people who live in the country need services better than DSL or dial-up. This tool helps visualize the bleak situation in rural North Carolina and offers links to resources.

Rural North Carolina is one of the most beautiful places in the country but also one of the most poorly served by big Internet access providers. The gap between urban and rural connectivity is growing wider as large corporate providers choose to concentrate their investments on a small number of urban areas, even though 80 percent of North Carolina's counties are rural.

To add insult to injury, North Carolina is one of the remaining states with barriers on the books that effectively prohibit local communities from making decisioins about fiber infrastructure investment. CLIC-NC and ILSR encourage you to use the fact sheet to help others understand the critical need for local authority.

Download it here, share it, pass it on.

Learn more about the situation in rural North Carolina from Catharine Rice, who spoke with Chris in episode 184 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.