Tag: "virginia"

Posted May 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

Portsmouth, Virginia, recently announced that they intend to invest in fiber optic infrastructure to reduce telecommunications costs, encourage economic development, and keep the city competitive in the region. The project is also part of a regional effort to foster economic development in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area.

In the April press release, the city announced that the project will include a 55-mile fiber optic ring around the city that will connect municipal facilities and anchor institutions. The plan will use a five-year multiphase approach for the estimated $9 million capital project and construction is likely to begin this summer.

According to city CIO Daniel Jones, costs for the first year will come in at around $2.7 million. Portsmouth is currently reviewing bids for the project.

Significant Savings

Portsmouth CIO Dan Jones noted, “Right now, Portsmouth is internet carrier dependent. The broadband network will improve municipal operations at a substantial cost savings.” 

Last year, the city adopted a Fiber Master Plan, which analyzed potential cost savings, should Portsmouth choose to invest in its own Internet network infrastructure. Consultants estimated that the city and public schools spend more than $1 million on connectivity costs per year for municipal facilities, schools, and public libraries. The community’s schools’ telecom expenditures are almost $638,000 per year; libraries spend around $29,000 per year. Portsmouth schools receive an 80 percent reimbursement from the federal E-rate program, which allows the school system to receive a subsidy of more than $510,000 annually. Portsmouth plans to use E-rate dollars to help fund network construction in areas where it serves school facilities.

When Portsmouth invests in its own infrastructure, rather than leasing lines from the incumbent providers, consultants...

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Posted April 23, 2018 by lgonzalez

When local community leaders choose to make improving connectivity a priority, they first need to reach out to residents and businesses to discover the extent of the problem. In Fredericksburg, Virginia, the City Council has launched a survey and asks that businesses and residents take a few minutes to complete it.

The city is about 45 miles south of Washington, D.C., and known for its historic quality, which extends to architecture in the downtown area. Large employers in the area include GEICO, the University of Mary Washington, and Mary Washington Healthcare — all industries that need access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. About 28,000 people living in Fredericksburg, and unemployment is less than 4 percent. The Rappahannock River runs along the city’s northern border.

In their announcement about the survey, the City Council wrote:

City Council has established a priority to create more focus on broadband and to strive to be the fastest City in Virginia for broadband. To further that goal, we’d like to find out more about your broadband access and needs. Our focus is on residents and businesses within the City limits.

There are two separate surveys for residents and businesses; the survey will remain open until May 18th, 2018

It Starts By Asking Questions

A survey may or may not lead to public investment in Internet infrastructure, but it helps community leaders move past anecdotal information about local connectivity. By asking people in the community to share their experiences and opinions, city leaders are better able to determine if there is a problem, discover options that may help solve the problem, and get a sense for how the citizenry feel about potential investment.

Sometimes a survey leads a community to consider taking up a feasibility study for deeper examination of the potential solutions. Other times, news of a survey inspires local private sector ISPs to improve services. In places like western North Carolina, regional officials launched a survey hoping to correct inaccurate FCC data. West Virginia has ...

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Posted March 27, 2018 by lgonzalez

Electric cooperatives in Virginia are continuing to transform connectivity in the state’s rural communities. With funding assistance from state and local government, projects in Mecklenburg and Appomattox Counties will soon be moving forward.

Building Out Mecklenburg

The Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission (TRCC) was formed when the state, along with Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Texas, chose to break off from a Master Settlement Agreement between the largest tobacco companies and the remaining 46 states. The proceeds from their separate settlement have been used for broadband and other projects to diversify the economy. The TRCC administers grants and a loan fund.

Last fall, the Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) announced that they planned to upgrade their fiber optic network infrastructure to connect substations and district offices. The board of directors decided that the upgrade would give them the perfect opportunity to engage in a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot project. As part of the project, MEC entered into an agreement to use the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) fiber backbone.

The cooperative applied for a grant from TRRC and recently learned that they've been awarded $2.6 million for the $5.2 million project. They've dubbed the initiative the EmPower Broadband Cooperative.

EmPower will begin by offering 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical Internet service for approximately $65 - $75 per month; VoIP will also be available. Members within 1,000 feet of the backbone that MEC deploys will have the ability to sign up for the service. Like other pilot projects, MEC will use the opportunity to fine tune the service and gage interest before they decide whether or not to take EmPower to the rest of their electric service area and possibly beyond.

President of MEC John Lee:

Electric cooperatives are, far and away, the best positioned entities to bring ultra-high-speed broadband to the unserved or underserved rural areas of the Commonwealth, and MEC has...

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Posted February 20, 2018 by christopher

When the Eastern Shore of Virginia needed better Internet access, in part to ensure NASA could achieve its mission, Accomack and Northampton counties created the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority. Its Executive Director, Robert Bridgham joins us for episode 294 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We talk about why they used an Authority and how it was initially funded with grants that were later repayed because the network was so successful. They also used some community development block grants though the network has since expanded with its own revenues. 

The network both leases lines to independent ISPs and provides services directly. And it is expanding its Fiber-to-the-Home network to more neighborhoods each year in an incremental fashion. Read more about Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority here.

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted February 13, 2018 by christopher

In Virginia, Arlington has found new ways to use its municipal network to reduce the digital divide. Katie Cristol, Chair of the Arlington County Board, and Jack Belcher, County Chief Information Officer, join us for episode 293 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to explain what they are doing.

We discuss how a new residential development, Arlington Mill, will feature affordable Internet access delivered via Wi-Fi for low-income families. It was financed in part with Tax Increment Financing and required a collaboration between multiple departments to create.

We discuss the challenge of creating such collaborations as well as some of the other benefits the ConnectArlington project has delivered.

Remember to check out our interveiw with Belcher from 2014 for episode 97 of the podcast, when we discussed the decision to begin offering connectivity to local businesses.

Read the transcript for this show here.

This show is 27 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted January 25, 2018 by lgonzalez

Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) has created a five-year plan to deploy a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to premises within its distribution area. CVEC will begin with a one-year pilot program within a limited region in order to test and prepare for the wider initiative.

More Than Internet Access

CVEC’s plan for the new fiber infrastructure will include more efficient electrical operations across its entire distribution system. CVEC plans to install approximately 4,600 miles of distribution lines and offer services to all of its 36,000 members through a subsidiary. Because so many of its members live in rural areas, they don’t have access to high-quality Internet services. CVEC serves Albermarle County and portions of 13 other surrounding counties.

"CVEC believes that access to reliable, high-speed Internet today is becoming as important as access to electricity in 1937," said CEO Gary Wood. "Give the great need for connectivity, CVEC will leverage its fiber network to provide a broadband Internet solution that will serve the community now and for the future."

One look at the comments on the CVEC Facebook page reinforces the claim that CVEC’s members lack access to high-quality Internet service: 

“You’re lucky to have DSL.” 

“No Internet or cell service just two miles from the interstate has gotten old old old fast fast fast.” 

“With an Internet bill over several hundred dollars a month for relatively crappy service, I will happily spend my money with someone who actually cares!”

“Shut up and take my money.”

Another Go At Access

Other plans to bring Internet access to members have fallen through. At a recent meeting that included the Albermarle County Broadband Authority and the Village of Rivanna Community Advisory Committee, Wood described two other failed attempts by CVEC that depended on partnerships with other entities. One involved delivering broadband over power lines and the other ended in an inability for the cooperative and its partner ISP to reach an agreement.

A 2017 feasibility study...

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Posted January 5, 2018 by lgonzalez

People living at the Arlington Mill Residences in Arlington, Virginia, are on track to obtain no-cost high-quality connectivity this fall, likely through the ConnectArlington network. The initiative is an example of how one local community plans to use its publicly owned Internet infrastructure to reduce the digital divide on its home turf.

The Homework Gap

Within Arlington Mill’s 122 affordable units, live 159 children; approximately half of the residences do not subscribe to an Internet access service. Because homework is increasingly dependent on a child’s ability to work online, kids at Arlington Mills must contend with the problem of finding access to computers and the Internet. For households that do subscribe, no-cost Internet access would free up monthly resources from $50 - $75 per month.

The Department of Technology Services (DTS) and Department of Community Planning, Housing, and Development (CPHD) are collaborating to support the Arlington Digital Inclusion initiative. The initiative will start in Arlington Mills by providing free Wi-Fi to each unit and will eventually move to other properties owned by the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH). As the program moves forward, the city plans to seek out private donations and other grants to reduce the digital divide. The program will also be exploring ways to help residents obtain reduced cost or free devices or computers to take advantage of the high-quality connectivity. APAH has already applied for a 2019 Community Development Fund grant to cover the cost of training and notebook computers for residents.

APAH expects to choose an ISP that will use ConnectArlington, the county's dark fiber network infrastructure.

The network began offering dark fiber services to business customers in 2015, but the infrastructure has been in place since 2012. Arlington took advantage of several infrastructure projects, including traffic control upgrades and other public safety improvements, to expand its fiber footprint. In 2014, Christopher spoke with Jack Belcher, who shared ConnectArlington's backstory, for episode 97 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast....

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Posted November 29, 2017 by ChristopherBarich

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) plans to partner with Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) to extend Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to member residences and businesses in southern Virginia. MEC’s project is yet another effort from rural cooperatives to bring high-quality connectivity to regions that don’t have the same options as urban communities.

Another Electric Cooperative Expanding To Broadband Services

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) is a not-for-profit energy provider headquartered in Chase City, Virginia. MEC is a member of a regional electric cooperative Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC), which provides wholesale electric services to 11 member cooperatives in Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. MEC is currently providing electric distribution service to residents, businesses, and other institutions in nine Virginia counties and five North Carolina counties. 

In September, MEC board of directors approved a plan to upgrade fiber optic network infrastructure to connect 27 substations and the three district offices. The upgrade will afford MEC the opportunity to implement a FTTH pilot project to connect member residences and businesses.

MEC plans to initially connect 47 miles of fiber to offices in Gretna and Chase City and seven substations. In the future, MEC would connect offices in Chase City, Ebony and Emporia. In total, the intended fiber optic network would pass within 1,000 feet of 3,000 member residences and businesses in 6 counties.

President & CEO of MEC John C. Lee, Jr.

“It would be inconceivable for us to deploy fiber that will pass right by the homes of many of our members and not make every effort to share that service with them, especially given that our members have waited patiently for access to the same high-quality internet service enjoyed by those in urban areas…they have waited long enough and they should never have to settle for less”

Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) will improve the chances of the pilot project moving forward while also reducing the cost...

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Posted November 10, 2017 by lgonzalez

In October, the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA), celebrated the completion of a 25-mile expansion of its open access fiber network. The completion of phase II of the network comes soon after the RVBA established office space in September and after the RVBA announced that it will be connecting new apartments in downtown Roanoke.

Growth Is Good

The $3.4 million expansion extends the network to a local library and toward the Tanglewood Mall. To celebrate, RVBA held a lighting event at the library. Last year, the Roanoke Board of Supervisors included the funding for the expansion in the budget, despite an intense astroturf campaign by local incumbents to turn constituents against the network. Supervisor Joe McNamara supported the expansion early on and spoke at the lighting ceremony.

With the new addition, the RVBA network totals approximately 80 fiber miles in the cities of Roanoke and Salem. This new expansion marks the beginning of more connectivity in areas of Roanoke County that are outside town limits.

Setting An Example

The project has piqued interest among neighboring counties. According to the Roanoke Times, Botetourt County is working with the RVBA on ways to improve connectivity and the Franklin County Board of Supervisors has announced a public hearing on forming its own broadband authority

As RVBA CEO Frank Smith said in his speech at the lighting ceremony, communities like Roanoke County need high-quality Internet access to compete with other places that also focus on quality of life as an economic development tool. He referred to the fact that Roanoke is not only competing with large cities, but must consider their standing against small and mid-sized communities such as Bozeman, Montana. He noted that a high percentage of high-tech companies are locating in places other than the largest cities because their talent want access to a quality of life that isn’t available in the large metros. The RVBA network is one tool in the community’s toolkit.

Check out the rest of the lighting...

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Posted September 26, 2017 by htrostle

Community networks are hyper-local movements. As we have researched these networks, we have often uncovered the work of grassroots activists trying to make a difference in their cities. Today, we've gathered together a collection to show how small groups of local people can make a big difference.

Virginia Friends of Municipal Broadband -- This statewide organization of citizens and activists quickly formed in opposition to the proposed Broadband Deployment Act of 2017 in Virginia. They collected statements  on why the proposed law would be sour for community networks and published a press kit to help people talk about the issue.

Yellow Springs Community Fiber -- This group formed in Yellow Springs, Ohio, to have the city consider building a community network. They hosted a public forum and created a survey to gauge residents' interest in such a project. They even published a white paper about their proposal, and the city issued an RFP to explore the option.

Upgrade Seattle -- This campaign for equitable Internet access encourages folks to support a municipal network in Washington state's largest city. The Upgrade Seattle group hosts neighborhood study sessions and encourages residents to learn more and attend city council meetings.

Holland Fiber -- Holland, Michigan, has been incrementally building a fiber network, and much of the impetus came from the Holland Fiber group. Local entrepreneurs, business owners, and residents realized that high-speed connectivity would be an asset to this lakeside tourist town. 

West Canal Community Network -- This  group of dedicated people focused their attention on bringing high-speed Internet access to the small community of West Canal in Washington. They held a series of public forums on the issue. As the final pieces of their plan to bring DIY wireless service came together, a private provider...

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