We've covered an array of communities that have met the connectivity challenges brought about by the pandemic by setting up gap networks to help bring neighborhoods, students, seniors, and frontline workers online in places like Arizona, California, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. A recent NBC story highlights efforts in Dallas, Texas and Utah to do the same, suggesting that we'll see more of these networks stood up in the near future.
HiLight — Hillsboro, Oregon’s (pop. 105,000) citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network — has officially launched and begun connecting its first subscribers. After five years of consideration and planning, it’s an exciting moment, with hundreds of homes and businesses brought online over the last few months. Over the next seven years, at least $28 million will be put towards the rollout, bringing the municipal network to tens of thousands of locations across the city.
Hillsboro sits just outside of Portland, and has been looking for better connectivity options for years. A large proportion of its population is comprised of tech workers and residents with advanced degrees; the city, in fact, anchors the state’s Silicon Forest, so named for the group of technology firms employing tens of thousands of workers across three Intel campuses as well as operations by Oracle, Salesforce, Epson, and Synopsis. A citywide fiber network serves to provide competition and capacity to keep them in the area:
Hillsboro is the tallest tree in the Silicon Forest and the center of Oregon’s high-tech cluster. With an affordable high-speed network, Hillsboro’s homegrown talent — our students and entrepreneurs — will be better positioned to lead the world in innovating for the future. Hillsboro will continue to attract and retain talent and be a hub for innovation.
But Hillsboro also faces a stark digital divide fueled by economic inequality, and bridging it has been one of the city council’s (and now the network’s) main agenda items. This has driven the project’s second focus: bringing affordable, high-quality access to economically vulnerable residents stuck with no quality options today. It’s why the city has introduced one of the fastest low-cost access program we’ve seen established by any broadband network in the United States, with qualifying families getting access to symmetrical gigabit service for $10/month.
Putting Glass in the Ground
We’ve been following Hillsboro’s journey over the past few years. In 2014, the city council began studying...Read more
The Thompson School District (TSD), which serves Loveland, Colorado and the surrounding area, just received a $731,000 grant to bring Internet access to families in need in two surrounding communities.
Families living in areas near Big Thompson Canyon and the Lago Vista Mobile Home Park where wireline broadband has been “significantly limited or not available” will see the expansion of Pulse — the city’s municipal fiber network — into those communities, bringing the promise of fast and affordable service in the near future.
The funds to expand the network come from the Connecting Colorado Students Grant Program, passed in 2020 to address the broadband gap for k-12 students and their teachers. School districts, charter schools, and federally recognized Tribes that operate public schools in the state are all eligible for the $20 million pot of money. Priority is given to applications that promise to bring broadband access to high numbers of students enrolled in free and reduced lunch programs who do not have access to wireline broadband, based on American Community Survey data.
The first round of awards in 2020 distributed almost $1.3 million to 25 applicants, with a focus on hotspots and subsidized broadband service. Some of the awards, however, went to new infrastructure, including wireless and wireline projects that will ultimately benefit thousands of students and their families.
Bringing Students Online
Lago Vista Mobile Home Park, which is about halfway between the cities of Loveland and Fort Collins, was built in 1972 and encompasses 299 units that are home to about 1,000 residents. While most of the residents own their homes, they still pay the park — owned by a California-based investor — almost $500/month to rent the land and pay for utility services. Other mobile home parks in the area are serviced by the city’s public utility.
The other community that will be connected to the...Read more
When Collin Boyce, the City of Tucson’s Chief Information Officer, was a young boy, he left his native island country of Trinidad and Tobago with his mother and three brothers and moved to Brooklyn, New York.
“We were poor but what my mother did for us in the summertime is send us to computer camps. And because of those camps three of us are in the IT industry today and the one we call the black sheep of the family is a neurosurgeon,” Boyce said.
He was joking about his neurosurgeon brother of course. But was dead serious about how being introduced to computer technology as a young kid led him into IT work and why it means so much to him to help build Tucson’s new municipal wireless network to provide Internet connectivity for low-income school students and seniors.
“This effort is an opportunity to give back what my mother gave me,” he said.
Tucson has hundreds of miles of fiber connecting the city’s municipal buildings. But, unlike a city like Chattanooga, which operates one of the premier Fiber-to-the-Home networks in the nation allowing America’s first Gig City to provide free high-speed Internet access to 12,000 low-income students in Chattanooga throughout the ongoing pandemic, Tucson has not built a fully fiber-optic municipal broadband network.
As the COVID crisis swept across Arizona and forced students to attend school remotely last spring, Boyce began to look for a way to ensure that the thousands of students who didn’t have Internet access at home wouldn’t be left behind. In a city with a population of about 530,000, an estimated 30 percent of city residents, or about 150,000 Tucsonans, don’t subscribe to wireline broadband, Boyce said.
Standing Up a New Network
“We needed to stand up some wireless technology,” he told us this week.
The stop-gap solution the city decided on was a Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) network that was financed using $5.1 million in CARES Act funds to leverage the city’s existing fiber infrastructure. Partnering with the IT management company Insight to help build the network and provide customer service, the construction work started in January and is already nearly finished. It involves erecting towers on fiber-connected municipal buildings and city-owned property at strategic locations across the city and installing converter devices that look...Read more
For communities across the country considering whether to invest in building a municipal broadband network, a new study published last week on the economic value of the EPB fiber network in America’s first “gig city” is a must-read.
The independent study, conducted by Bento Lobo, Ph.D., head of the Department of Finance and Economics at the Rollins College of Business at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, found that the celebrated city-owned fiber network has delivered Chattanoogans a $2.69 billion return on investment in its first decade.
In 2010, EPB Fiber, a division of Chattanooga’s city-owned electric and telecommunications utility formerly known as the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, became the first city in the United States to build a Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) network offering up to 1 Gig upload and download speeds. In 2015, EPB began offering up to 10 Gig speeds.
It cost approximately $220 million to build the network, however, “the true economic value of the fiber optic infrastructure for EPB’s customers is much greater than the cost of installing and maintaining the infrastructure,” Lobo said. “Our latest research findings show that Chattanooga’s fiber optic network provides additional value because it provides high speeds, with symmetrical uploads and downloads, and a high degree of network responsiveness which are necessary for the smart grid and other cutting-edge business, educational and research applications.”
Among the study’s key findings:
- Job creation and retention: The fiber optic infrastructure directly supported the creation and retention of 9,516 jobs which is about 40% of all jobs created in Hamilton County during the study period.
- Lower unemployment rate: According to the study, since Chattanooga’s fiber optic network was deployed, it has helped keep the local unemployment rate lower. This effect...
We've written a good deal about gap networks over the last year, in the form of neighborhood-based projects by local officials in partnerships with nonprofits as well as school district initiatives to get students connected as distance learning continues.
The Murray School district, located a handful of miles south of Salt Lake City, has undergone a hurculean effort of its own to stand up a 44-tower wireless network using the 3.5-3.7 GHz spectrum to cover all 6,000 students in the district (13% of whom had no home connection previously. The network, free to students, went online in early January. Read more about how it unfolded here.
The population of Edgecombe County, North Carolina faces particular connectivity challenges. The town of Pinetops is there (featured in our recent case study), and the county sits adjacent to Wilson county, where the municipally owned Greenlight network operates but cannot expand past due to a 2011 state preemption law. Well, at least for Edgecombe Community College, things are about to get better, as it recently won an $850 thousand grant to improve fiber connectivity and icnrease capacity for the future. It's all part of the state's Rural College Broadband Access project.
Last week we began our broad overview of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, sweeping legislation that calls for a $100 billion investment in broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved parts of the country, as well as federal funding and coordinated support to meet the myriad of barriers that prevent tens of millions of Americans from having access to affordable and reliable Internet connectivity.
The bill (H.R. 7302) has already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives led by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and members of the House Rural Broadband Task Force. The Senate version of the bill (S. 4131), which was filed by Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, has stalled, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who has “has buried the legislation in his graveyard,” in the words of Rep. Clyburn.
In this second-installment of a series of posts exploring the major sections contained in the proposed legislation, we look at the “Title I – Digital Equity” portion of the bill.
New Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (OICG)
The first thing the legislation does is requires the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information to establish an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (OICG) within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The new office, which would be allocated a $26 million annual budget, would run point on federal outreach to communities who lack access, or need better broadband access, via regional workshops, trainings, and the drafting of reports that would provide guidance on best-practices.
The office would also be required to track federal spending on any broadband related expenditures, as well as coordinate with other federal agencies to conduct a study on how affordability factors into households’ lack of connectivity...Read more
A new project borne out out of the Michigan Moonshot Initiative promises to help thousands of families and students without home Internet access get online. Led by the Merit Network, a coalition of partners (including Toyota, Cisco, the Detroit Public Library, the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force, and county school districts) is installing Wi-Fi hardware at 50 sites around the southeastern part of the state to bring broadband access to thousands. Nine locations are up and running, with more soon to follow.
The effort is taking place in the cities of Detroit, Inkster, Flint, as well as Washtenaw County. Toyota and Cisco are providing funds and hardware, and the project takes advantage of the Merit Network’s extensive fiber backbone running throughout the state (4,000 miles in total). Wayne State University is also participating, and inviting students and faculty and staff to participate in a broadband survey. Funds are being dispersed in the form of grants which will go to community organizations to boost existing Wi-Fi networks at schools and other anchor institutions across participating areas.
At the moment, the Detroit Public Library’s nine sites are the only ones active, but there are an additional 24 ready to be activated, and ten more pending after that. These include a host of early childhood centers, elementary, middle, and high schools, private schools, and community centers; in addition to the nine Detroit Public Library sites, installation will take place at six community centers around the city of Detroit, seven township halls via the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force, and almost three dozen locations across the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. See the full list of active and upcoming sites, and a map of current sites below.
Atiim J. Funchess, assistant director of...Read more
Built in 2008 with an eye toward the future and operated with local priorities in mind, Greenlight has a long track record of putting people first. In a new case study, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance explores the wide-ranging community benefits of Greenlight, the city-owned Fiber-to-the-Home network in Wilson, North Carolina.
The case study details how it has been able to quickly adapt and expand service during the pandemic, as well as the host of advantages and overall value brought to the city over the last decade in education, equity, and economic development. For example:
Access for All
- In 2016, Greenlight began a partnership with the Wilson Housing Authority (WHA) to connect hundreds of public housing residents to $10/month low-cost fast Internet access.
- The network targets barriers to service adoption that go beyond cost, including a flexpay system which allows users to prepay for Internet access instead of requiring large deposits or a credit check. It also allows users to load funds into their account for individual days of network access.
- Greenlight has been named as a key factor in Wilson’s economic revitalization.
- Wilson’s fiber infrastructure has helped local businesses succeed and is a factor in the relocation of new companies to the area. In 2019, Wilson was ranked the 10th best small city in the country to start a business.
- In 2016, Greenlight began co-sponsoring the GigEast Exchange Conference. The GigEast Exchange serves as a technology hub, incubator, and networking space for everyone in the community.
- All schools in the county were connected to the network by 2012.
- In 2019, Greenlight partnered with Wilson Community College to develop a curriculum to train the...