Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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Minnesota's Arrowhead Region Points to High-Speed Internet
Welcome to high-speed Internet on the Iron Range! This past fall, the Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC) completed a multi-year project, a fiber optic network spanning nearly 1,000 miles, on Minnesota’s north shore.
The project, the Northeast Fiber Network, connects public buildings, such as health care facilities, community libraries, colleges and universities, tribal facilities, and government offices. The fiber provides the opportunity for next-generation connectivity in many unserved and underserved areas of eight counties: St. Louis, Cook, Lake, Pine, Itasca, Koochiching, Carlton, and Aitkin. It’s exciting to see this rural project finally come to fruition.
[no-glossary]Institutional Network: Now to Go the Last Mile[/no-glossary]
It’s an institutional network, which means it brings high-speed Internet to community anchor institutions throughout the region. So far, about 320 public entities, including 31 school districts, have connected to the network. The network is designed to provide middle mile connectivity for community anchor institutions, not to bring connectivity to residents and businesses of the region. As with most federally funded projects, the plan is to provide middle mile infrastructure with the hope that the private sector will be more able or willing to invest in last mile connectivity.
That last mile, to homes and businesses, presents a challenge. NESC is leasing fiber to public and private providers and working to ensure that the network can serve as a backbone to greater connectivity. Actively working with private providers, NESC offers a bright future for unserved and underserved communities on the Iron Range.
Collaboration & Funding
Education Week Shines Light on Rural Schools' Plight
A recent series of in-depth articles from Education Week brings to light a persistent aspect of the digital divide: the lack of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity in rural schools. Throughout the country, schools struggle to pay exorbitant fees for aging copper networks. Teachers and students are cut off from digital learning opportunities as whole regions fall farther behind. Education Week brings these issues to the forefront - and community-owned institutional networks could be the answer.
The Education Week articles describes the harsh impact of these grim statistics. The nonprofit EducationSuperHighway found that for rural schools, the median price for connectivity is more than double that of urban or even suburban schools. Although the number of students without access to sufficient bandwidth has been cut in half since 2013, at least 21 million students do not have access to adequate connections.
In extremely rural communities, large service providers do not have an incentive to build high-speed networks, and small private providers often cannot take on those high upfront costs. This leaves communities with no choice, but to pay skyrocketing rates for slow, unreliable Internet access over aging infrastructure.
East and West: Students Face Similar Challenges
The articles present two compelling case studies of Calhoun County, Mississippi, and Catron County, New Mexico, to tell the story of how high-speed connectivity is so often out-of-reach for rural schools.
Two schools in sparsely-populated western New Mexico split 22 Megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth for $3,700 per month. An increase to 50 Mbps wouldn’t require new fiber, but the upgrade would cost an extra $1,003.47 each month. The local provider has a de facto monopoly in the region so the schools have no choice but to pay the going rate; with no competition they have no leverage for negotiating. According to the New Mexico Public School Facilities Authority, monthly rates range from $1.35 to $3,780 for each Mbps of speed across the state.
"Fusion Splicing" to Light Up Village Network
Mahomet, Illinois, population 7,200, wanted to do something special to mark the official launch of its community fiber network. The network connects local public facilities as well as some area businesses. Instead of the old-fashioned ribbon-cutting ceremony, the Village held a very 21st century event in November to commemorate the occasion: a "fusion splicing" ceremony.
The local Mahomet Citizen described the proceedings:
With the press of a button, Acting Village President Sean Widener fused two strands of fiber about the width of a human hair. A computer screen showed the progress of the splice for the crowd, which included members of the Chamber of Commerce, elected officials and Mahomet-Seymour administrators.
It was an occasion that might otherwise call for a ribbon-cutting, “but in our industry, cutting is bad,” quipped Mark DeKeersgieter, executive director of the CIRBN.
A Collaborative Initiative
According to a press release, the network is a collaborative effort between the Village of Mahomet, the Mahomet-Seymour School District #3, and the Central Illinois Regional Network (CIRBN), a non-profit organization that operates a statewide fiber optic network in cooperation with the Illinois Century Network (ICN). The CIRBN connects more than 20 communities in Central Illinois with high-speed connectivity.
The Mahomet-Seymour school district initiated the first phase of the new network in 2013 when they connected area schools to the nearby CIRBN. In the next phase of the project, the Village extended the fiber network to reach other areas of the Village and provide gigabit service to businesses and other Community Anchor Institutions (CAIs). By the end of 2014, local hospitals, museums, and city government facilities also had gigabit connectivity. Village officials hope the network can eventually provide service to residents as well.
Collaborating to Light Up Opportunities in New York
"We have fiber in the ground that is currently dark...It's a resource we have that other communities want," said Rochester, New York, Mayor Lovely Warren at a November press conference. The city is now working with Monroe County to take advantage of that dark fiber.
There are more than 360 miles of fiber under the ground serving public safety entities, suburban police and fire departments, libraries, schools, and public works facilities. In downtown Rochester, there is enough fiber to provide the redundancy that high tech companies need to establish operations. Over the past two decades, there have been several public works projects involving excavation. During those projects, crews installed fiber.
There are approximately 211,000 people living in Rochester, the county seat of Monroe County. The county is situated along the northwest border of the state, along Lake Ontario; about 750,000 people live there.
City and county officials estimate that more than 70 percent of the fiber network capacity is not being used. Local leaders are taking steps to change that. In November, the two entities released a joint request for proposals (RFP) seeking an expert to assess the current network and make recommendations on how to make the most of their investment.
At the press conference to announce the collaboration, Warren said:
The Rochester community is fortunate to have a substantial fiber optic network already in place. Very few cities have the advantage of this infrastructure in their city center. We need to be sure that its capacity is being used wisely and, ultimately, that this capacity is being used to help employers create more jobs. This fiber network gives Rochester a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting companies with high bandwidth needs and the jobs they bring with them.
According to Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks and Warren, the city and county are hoping to work with private partners. At the press conference, they suggested leasing out capacity but they acknowledged that this is only the first step in a long process.
Falmouth Saves With Cape Cod I-Net
Out on Cape Cod, municipal networks are taking hold. Public buildings throughout the town of Falmouth, Massachusetts, experience great connectivity and the town saves $160,000 each year with its own Institutional network (I-Net).
The Falmouth Area Network, maintained by CapeNet, connects 17 buildings throughout the town for a total of $3,000 each month ($2,500 from the school; $500 from the town). Were the town to go through a private provider, it would cost $1,000 for each building every month or $17,000 per month. By saving $14,000 each month, Falmouth's annual savings add up to approximately $160,000 a year. That’s a lot of money to be reinvested in the community of 31,000.
Falmouth Area Network intends to reach even more institutional buildings in the next few years. The 17 that are connected now are the libraries, the schools, the town hall, the police stations, the fire stations, the harbormaster’s office, and a senior center. Soon the Gus Canty Community Center will also gain a connection. At the Annual Town Meeting last week, the town approved the Capital Improvement Plan which included $80,000 to upgrade the network, including hooking up the community center. There are also plans to add a new wastewater treatment plan to the network in 2017.
The Role of OpenCape
Voters Quiet the Drums At the Polls in Colorado
The "constant drumbeat" of complaints about poor connectivity pounding from Colorado communities ended with a climactic crash at the polls on Tuesday. Referenda in 47 communities* - 27 cities and towns; 20 counties - all [no-glossary]passed [/no-glossary]overwhelmingly to reclaim local telecommunications authority.
The landslide victory was no surprise. Last year, nine communities asked voters the same issue of whether or not they wanted the ability to make local telecommunications decisions. That right was taken away 10 years ago by SB 152. Two other communities took up the question earlier this year with 75 percent and 92 percent of voters supporting local telecommunications authority.
A few larger communities, such as Boulder, Montrose, and Centennial, presented the issue to the voters and reclaimed local authority in prior years. This year, most of the voting took place in smaller, rural communities where incumbents have little incentive to invest in network upgrades.
This year, results were similar as the majority of voters supported local measures with over 70 percent of ballots cast. In Durango, over 90 percent of voters chose to opt out of restrictive SB 152; Telluride voters affirmed their commitment to local authority when over 93 percent of votes supported measure 2B. Many communities showed support in the mid- and upper- 80th percentile.
Schools Win, Too
Muni Fiber in Idaho Helps 911 Dispatch and First Responders - Community Broadband Bits Episode 173
School District Will Cut Connectivity Costs 85% With Public Fiber in Iowa
Plans for a fiber network collaboration between the city, school district, and county will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in Stormlake, Iowa. The school district recently voted to take advantage of significant savings for connectivity by switching to the publicly owned infrastrucutre as soon as the network is ready.
The Storm Lake Pilot recently reported that under the current contract with Vast Broadband, the district pays $7,500 per month to lease two strands of fiber. The new arrangement will allow the district to lease 12 fibers from the city-owned network for $14,000 per year or $1,167 per month - a reduction of approximately 85 percent. The city and the school district will enter into a 10-year agreement to ultimately save the district a total of $760,000 or approximately $6,333 per month during the term of the lease.
The school will still need to pay for Internet access and as part of the agreement will be responsible for purchasing its own equipment. The School Board voted unanimously to approve the agreement.
As we reported in July, the Stormlake project began as a way to better communication between water and wastewater utility facilities but then evolved into a public safety and cost saving initiative. All three entities - Storm Lake Community School District, the City of Storm Lake, and Buena Vista County - anticipate considerable savings and heightened reliability. We expect to report on more public savings as the community uses this valuable fiber asset.
Project costs for the system of conduit and fiber, which does not include hardware, are estimated at approximately $1,374,000 to be shared by all three entities. This first phase of the project is scheduled to be completed by December.
More Colorado Communities Will Ask Voters To Reclaim Local Authority
This November 3rd, more than ten communities in Colorado will attempt to escape the local-authority-revoking effects of SB 152 by overriding its restrictions at the polls: Archuleta County, Bayfield, Boulder Valley School District, Durango, Fort Collins, Ignacio, La Plata County, Loveland, Moffat County, Pitkin County, San Juan County, and Silverton.
Many of these communities participated in a $4.1 million fiber infrastructure project which currently provides public entities (municipal buildings, libraries, and schools) with cheap, plentiful Internet access. To determine how to better utilize that existing fiber infrastructure, the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments received a $75,000 regional planning grant. The 10 year old law in question, SB 152, prevents local governments from taking full advantage of local fiber assets by removing local authority to offer any services that compete with incumbents; voters must reclaim that authority through a referendum.
Under the restrictions, localities cannot partner with local ISPs to provide high-speed Internet to community members via publicly owned infrastructure or create municipal FTTH networks. Local government entities must also be careful to not lease too much fiber or risk running afoul of the law. Statewide organizations have worked to amend the law, but without success:
“It’s an obnoxious law that was [no-glossary]passed[/no-glossary] by the industry to protect their monopoly,” said Geoff Wilson, general counsel for the Colorado Municipal League.
The league tried to get the law amended during the 2015 legislative session after hearing from communities across the state about how it was blocking them from improving Internet access for residents.
“The law is designed to protect the provider of inferior service from the local government doing anything about it,” he said.
AnchorNETS Conference Nov. 16th - 17th in Mountainview, CA
The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) will present the first AnchorNETS Broadband Summit this November 16th & 17th in Mountainview, California. The event is designed to help leaders from anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals, and libraries connect and learn about solutions to help them achieve gigabit connectivity. The conference will be held at the Computer History Museum. Our own Christopher Mitchell will be there as well.
Keynote Speakers include:
- Evan Marwell, CEO & Founder, EductionSuperhighway
- Catherine Sandoval, Commissioner, California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)
- Sunne Wright McPeak, CEO, California Emerging Technology Fund
Attend AnchorNETS to:
- Gain information and practical guidelines to access funding from Federal, State and Local government
- Learn about the economics of middle-mile fiber deployment and the role of next generation wireless technology
- Develop new community engagement practices and programs
More information is available on the web: www.anchornets.com, where you can check out the agenda, information on the speakers, and register online.
Download the flyer below for more information.