Tag: "virginia"

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... Read more

Posted September 15, 2017 by lgonzalez

For years we’ve encouraged voters to make improving connectivity a campaign issue in local, state, and federal elections by pursuing answers from candidates. In this year's Virginia Gubernatorial race, it has now become a topic that both candidates are addressing as a key issue. The Roanoke Times Editors, no strangers to the state's struggles with rural Internet access, recently published an editorial to inform voters that broadband is finally getting some long overdue attention.

Surprised And Pleased

The Times has spent significant resources on broadband reporting in recent years, so it’s no surprise that the editors are savvy to the fact that broadband as a campaign issue is a novel development.

The most important news here is that both candidates say they see a state role in extending broadband to rural Virginia. The times really are a-changing: This is the first governor’s race where broadband has been a big enough issue for candidates to issue policy papers on the subject.

During the last legislative session, the Times covered Delegate Kathy Byron’s bad broadband bill closely. Over the past few years, they’ve pointed out the many disadvantages local communities face when folks suffer from poor connectivity. They've also shined a light on why the state’s economy will deteriorate if Virginia does nothing to improve Internet access in rural areas.

Comparisons

In this editorial, the Times briefly lays out a few differences that the candidates have expressed in their proposals. Both candidates want to expand the state’s fledging Virginia Telecommunications Initiative, modeled on Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Program, which has also recently inspired Ohio legislators.

Virginia's election is November 7th, which gives voters time to review both plans, contact the candidates with questions, and decide which candidate's... Read more

Posted September 12, 2017 by lgonzalez

Folks living in the Boxley Building in downtown Roanoke will soon have the choice of the community’s first Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access delivered by publicly owned infrastructure. The Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) recently announced that one of the ISPs using the fiber has decided to expand its services to residential premises in the building.

Fulfilling The Purpose

“This goes back to the core, as far as why this was formed,” broadband authority President and CEO Frank Smith said. “To create a network that other players can come in and use. We’re doing what we set out to do.”

ABS Technology is based in Virginia Beach and has an office in Roanoke. The company is starting with the single apartment building but told the Roanoke Times they may offer last mile services to more Roanoke residential subscribers in future. ABS regional sales manager Greg Henderson said that the RVBA infrastructure enabled ABS to develop the project. Without it, he said “there is no way” the company would have been able to pursue a residential build out.

Better Connectivity, Better Community

RVBA provides several options for local businesses, including dark fiber, data transport, and Internet access. ISPs such as ABS lease fiber to serve local businesses and large institutions with the expertise to manage their own networks. The resource is helping to reinvigorate Roanoke and the surrounding community.

Earlier this year, RVBA connected a business accelerator downtown aimed at attracting and keeping talent at home. The project is a collaboration between the city, the Virginia Western Community College, and the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. The city renovated an old historic building, the college will be offering business courses there, and the council will develop mentoring and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs who fill spaces at the incubator.

The Roanoke Valley has faced some tough times and the RVBA network is helping to stimulate economic development. The area had a reputation as a funding and... Read more

Posted August 8, 2017 by lgonzalez

With a growing need for fast, affordable, reliable connectivity, an increasing number of schools are constructing fiber optic infrastructure to serve their facilities. In some cases, they partner with local government and a collaboration eventually leads to better options for an entire community. Schools in Orange County, Virginia, will be working with county government to build a $1.3 million network.

Quickly Growing Community

Orange County’s population of approximately 34,000 people is growing rapidly, having increased by 29 percent between 2000 and 2010. Nevertheless, it’s primarily rural with no large cities. Gordonsville (pop. 1,500) and Orange (pop. 4,800 and the county seat) are the only towns. Another community called Lake of the Woods is a census-designated place where about 7,200 people live. The rest of the county is filled with unincorporated communities. There are 343 square miles in Orange County of rolling hills with the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west.

Manufacturing and retail are large segments of the economy with 65 percent of all business having four or less employees as of 2013. Agriculture is also an important part of the community, including the growing local wine industry.

Working Together To Connect The County

The county and schools have teamed up to commence a multi-step project that begins by connecting the Orange County Public Schools’ facilities. A 33-mile wide area network (WAN) will connect all eight buildings. Federal E-rate funds will pay for approximately 80 percent of the deployment costs and Orange County and the school district will share the remaining costs from other funding. The partners plan to deploy extra capacity for future uses.

Once the first phase of the network is complete, the county hopes to use the excess capacity to improve public safety operations. Sheriff, Fire, and EMS services need better communications so the county intends to invest in additional towers, which will also create an opportunity for fixed wireless and cellular telephone providers.

The OCBbA wants to eventually use the new infrastructure to improve access for residents and businesses. The network will be made available to ISPs interested in offering services in... Read more

Posted July 24, 2017 by lgonzalez

People who live in rural America have known for a long time that urban areas have better access to Internet services. Recently, however, the issue has become a hot topic of conversation and analysis by policy experts, lawmakers, and the telecommunications industry. In a recent editorial by Virginia’s Roanoke Times, the outlet's leadership explained why “Third World standards” for Internet access won’t do for people who, by choice or circumstance, live in rural areas.

"Third World Connectivity"

The editors at the Times point to reporting done by the Wall Street Journal (reprinted here by MSN Money) that describes how rural America’s lack of high-quality Internet access puts it on the same economic footing as “the new inner city.” The Times quotes the WSJ:

Keep in mind the Journal is not some liberal organ typically associated with calling for more government intervention; editorially, this is the conservative voice of the nation’s business community. Its view (like ours) is purely an economic one: “Counties without modern Internet connections can’t attract new firms, and their isolation discourages the enterprises they have . . . Reliance on broadband includes any business that uses high-speed data transmission, spanning banks to insurance firms to factories.”

While the urban areas of the state average connectivity higher than the national average, much of the state - the rural areas - must contend with speeds that compare with countries like Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Nigeria.

countryside.jpg The editors at the Times point out that, much like in the 1930s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt vowed to electrify every rural community, private firms don’t venture where lack of profit doesn’t justify an investment. "This points the way to one possible fix that even the Journal highlights: Government intervention," writes the Times editors.

But they understand the hurdles that exist today that weren't so high when Roosevelt was working his plan to light up the farms. Public... Read more

Posted June 16, 2017 by lgonzalez

Prince George County, Virginia, and its electric cooperative recently entered into an agreement that will allow Prince George Electric Cooperative (PGEC) to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to certain areas in the county. The arrangement came after a successful pilot project that proved residents and businesses in the rural community were interested in better connectivity. The agreement will inject funding into the cooperative's plans to bring high-quality connectivity to all its members.

From Rural Pilot To Proven

In February, officials from PGEC reported to the County Board of Supervisors that the pilot project was under way. The Virginia State Corporation Commission approved the cooperative's formation of its PGEC Enterprises subsidiary, which will offer connectivity to members. The co-op has connected premises along one stretch of Quaker Road in Prince George County, and received applications for installation from more than 40 property owners.

By the time PGEC had finished deploying in the pilot area in early May, a total of 49 premises were connected to the network. According to the co-op’s VP, Casey Logan, that figure represents approximately two-thirds of potential subscribers. 

Jumpstarting Co-op Broadband

The performance agreement between Prince George County, PGEC, and the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) will provide $1 million to the cooperative in IDA bond funding to expand the pilot project to a wider network. The funds are part of spring bonding that covers a number of county projects. The County Board voted unanimously to dedicate the funds to the broadband expansion project.

In addition to connecting all its substations, PGEC will connect any residence, business, community anchor institution, or public facility within 1,000 feet of a state road along the fiber route. Approximately 500 premises are located within the planned fiber route. The project should take about four years to complete.

PGEC plans to dedicate an additional $5 million to the project over the next five years... Read more

Posted May 25, 2017 by lgonzalez

The Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporations (MBC), a broadband cooperative with member communities in Virginia, recently announced that a new project will bring Internet access to students at home to help close the “homework gap” in Charlotte and Halifax counties.

Homework At Home

Approximately half of the K-12 students in the two southern counties don’t have Internet access at home, interfering with their ability to hone the skills they need for future success. To address the issue, MBC and its partner Microsoft obtained funding from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission and will implement the project which reach 1,000 households and approximately 3,000 students. Students will be able to tap into their schools’ networks to access online assignments and resources from home. The service will be free.

The project is an expansion of a pilot program based on white space technology, which we’ve written about before. White space technology has been used in similar projects by libraries in New York, North Carolina, Colorado, and Mississippi to extend Internet access to communities where people have limited access. White space technology isn’t interrupted by dense forests or hills, so works in the Halifax and Charlotte county terrain.

Better Connectivity, Better Economy

MBC formed in 2004 as an open access network, funded by the Virginia Tobacco Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. The network also received American Recovery and Reinvestment Award (ARRA) funding in order to connect schools and community anchor institutions in southern Virginia and to extend the reach of the network even further. The network now consists of more than 1,800 miles in 31 counties.

The presence of better connectivity has helped spur economic development to the tune of at least 1,100 jobs and $2.1 billion in private investment. In addition to attracting a new Microsoft data center, the network has helped... Read more

Posted May 4, 2017 by lgonzalez

Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority (ESVBA) has expanded its fixed wireless coverage area to include the community of Bloxom. The organization has also approved plans to expand its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployment beyond the test project town of Harborton.

Towering Above The Shore

ESVBA opened its Bloxom Tower last fall so residents and businesses in the rural community of about 380 people. The tower enables better connectivity in the underserved town and provides better cellular coverage. ESVBA is also providing a free wireless hotspot near the tower.

In order to stimulate competition and provide choice to potential subscribers, ESVBA’s Broadband Initiative Program will provide free Internet access and transport for up to 12 months for wireless ISPs.

In a press release, Chris Kreisl, of the Bloxom Town Council said:

“We knew how important it was for us to have this kind of infrastructure. Without it, we were being left behind as the information economy continued to push citizens around the globe online. Now, Bloxom businesses have the opportunity to compete on equal footing.”

 

The ESVBA

We introduced readers to the not for profit ESVBA in February. The open access middle mile network began in 2008 with funding from Accomack and Northampton Counties. The organization has obtained about $8 million dollars for deployment and expansions, some from NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which use the infrastructure. ESVBA returned Accomack and Northampton counties’ investments when the network became sustainable.

More Fiber

In March, the ESVBA decided to move forward and expand the FTTH project that we wrote about in February. The expansion will bring high-quality connectivity to houses along residences situated on the ESVBA network’s existing fiber route in five rural areas. Check out expansion areas one and ... Read more

Posted May 2, 2017 by lgonzalez

The Roanoke Broadband Valley Authority (RVBA) was busy early this legislative session helping to fight off a bill in the Virginia Legislature aimed at limiting local authority. Now that the bill has been all but neutralized by grassroots efforts, RVBA can dedicate 100 percent of its time to improving connectivity and economic development in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley.

Accelerating, Mentoring, Connecting

The RVBA just announced that its network is providing fast, affordable, reliable dark fiber services to a regional business accelerator in downtown Roanoke. The Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program (RAMP) is a collaboration between the city of Roanoke, Virginia Western Community College (VWCC), and the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. In a press release, Shivaji Samanta, Director of Information and Educational Technologies at Virginia Western said:

“Virginia Western has collaborated with the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority to provision fiber connectivity between its main campus and the two downtown Roanoke sites at the Claude Moore Education Center and the new entrepreneur training facilities inside the RAMP building. The project, delivered on time and within budget, provides VWCC with dedicated connectivity to its off-campus locations at speeds limited only by the equipment at the end-points for a fixed monthly cost.”

RAMP is located in an historic building that was once the Gill Memorial Hospital; the city used a $600,000 state grant to renovate the building and transform it into an incubator. VWCC will be offering business education courses at the facility and will offer faculty support, and the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council will develop mentorship and networking opportunities. Members of the Council also lead the RAMP Advisory Board.

Connecting the Business Community

This is the latest in what is sure to be more connections offered by the RVBA. Last fall, finance company, Meridium, signed up with the publicly owned network. The company needed dark fiber for Internet access and data transport for its downtown headquarters.

According to RVBA President and CEO Frank Smith:

“Dark Fiber is advantageous to growing businesses that wish to secure and invest up-front in... Read more

Posted April 24, 2017 by lgonzalez

A little over a year ago, we first shared the news about Bristol’s decision to privatize its FTTH network, OptiNet. Virginia based Sunset Digital Communications offered to purchase the network for $50 million. The network has saved Bristol millions of dollars, stimulated economic development, and cut telecommunications costs for local residents and businesses. Nevertheless, after several corrupt officials drove the network into a dark period of scandal, all those advancements paled and Bristol was ready to sell the network.

After months of negotiations with BVU’s partner in the Cumberland Plateau area service area, the details for the sale are coming together.

When There's A Partner

One of the last steps to completing the sale required approval from the Cumberland Plateau Company (CPC), which operates as a partner with BVU to bring connectivity to four additional counties in Virginia. As a partner with OptiNet in those areas, CPC owns approximately 50 percent of the assets.

When Sunset Digital offered $50 million for the BVU assets, CPC obtained the right of first refusal for the assets in the four counties where BVU and CPC work together as partners according to their contract.

Back in the fall of 2016, CPC was concerned about the legality and the details of the proposed transaction; they decided to wait for federal and state review before granting approval. Because the NTIA, the Economic Development Administration (EDA), and the Virginia Tobacco Commission provided grant funding to the CPC region for the deployment, the agencies needed to review and approve the proposal. The agencies approved the sale, but required that a large amount of BVU debt be paid. One of the claims that they required be paid was a claim for $8 million from CPC.

Approving The Offer

As part of the offer, Sunset promises to invest $6.5 million to connect more homes and businesses in the CPC region. They estimate CPC will gain about $21 million in revenue over 13 years while Sunset operates the network. CPC will retain ownership of its assets in the CPC service area and Sunset will transfer ownership of equipment in the CPC area to CPC.

After several rounds of... Read more

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