Tag: "building community capacity through broadband"

Posted September 24, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Another year of the Broadband Communities annual summit is behind us, and it’s worth revisiting the most salient moments from the panels that touched on the wealth and variety of issues related to community broadband regulation, financing, and expansion today and in the future. We weren’t able to make it to every panel, but read on for the highlights.

Last Mile Infrastructure and the Limits of CARES Funding

The first day of the program saw some heavyweight sessions from Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) on last mile digital infrastructure. For communities at all stages of broadband exploration and investment — whether exploring an initial feasibility study, putting together an RFP, or already planning for the future by laying conduit as part of other projects — partnerships dominated the discussion, with timing and debt also serving as common themes. 

ILSR’s Christopher Mitchel helped kick off the conference by moderating the first panel in the Rural/Editor's Choice track, and was joined by Peggy Schaffer from Maine's Broadband Office (ConnectME), Monica Webb from Internet Service Provider (ISP) Ting, and Roger Timmerman, CEO of Utah middle-mile network UTOPIA Fiber

The group discussed the open access models to start, and the benefits that could be realized from two- or three-layer systems. UTOPIA Fiber has seen some explosive growth and spearheaded significant innovation recently as it continues to provide wholesale service to ISPs that want to deliver retail service on the network. Ting, which recently signed on to be one of two providers on SiFi Network’s first FiberCity in Fullerton, California, also acts as an example of what can happen when we break away from thinking about infrastructure investment and Internet access as one-entity-doing-it-all.

The relative merits of wireless (both fixed and small cell) generated a lively discussion, with the panelists talking about advances to the...

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Posted September 3, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Marin County and the city of San Rafael, California, are demonstrating what happens when local government, a community nonprofit, and generous stakeholders come together to do something right. Over the summer they’ve built a Wi-Fi mesh network in the city’s Canal neighborhood to connect over 2,000 students and their families in anticipation of the upcoming school year. How the project unfolded shows what a thoughtful, committed group of people can do to respond to a public health crisis, close the digital divide, and make a long-term commitment to the vulnerable communities around them. 

A Neighborhood in Need

The Canal neighborhood (pop. 12,000) was founded in the 1950s and sits in the southeast corner of Marin County, bounded by the San Francisco Bay to the east, the city of San Quentin to the south, China Camp State Park to the north, and the Mount Tamalpais Watershed to the west. It’s split down the middle by Highway 101 and Interstate 580.

Canal is populated by predominantly low-income workers, and remains one of the most densely settled areas in Marin County — one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. Its residents serve, according to San Rafael Director of Digital Services and Open Government Rebecca Woodbury, as the backbone of the area’s service economy. Those who live there are mostly Latinx residents, with a small but significant segment who identify as Vietnamese. A 2015 study highlighted the challenges the community faces. Its population grew by half between 1990 and 2013, while available housing units grew by just 15%. During the same period, median household income shrunk by nearly a third, and unemployment remains twice as high in Canal than in the rest of Marin. It suffers from the largest education disparity in the entire state. It’s also among the hardest hit in the community by the coronavirus pandemic: the Latinx population in Canal accounts for just 16% of Marin County but 71% of cases so far.

Canal neighborhood residents are also among the least connected in the county. A recent survey by local nonprofit Canal Alliance showed that 57% of residents don’t own a computer, compared to just 10% of those...

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Posted September 1, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

This week on the podcast Christopher talks with Jill Levine, Chief of Innovation and Choice at Hamilton County Schools in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Evan Freeman, Director of Government Relations at the city’s municipal electric and fiber utility, EPB, and Deb Socia, President of the Enterprise Center.

Together, the group discusses the recent landmark announcement by Hamilton County Schools of HCS EdConnect, in which the schools, local government, EPB, and local stakeholders and philanthropic organizations have come together and made it possible to connect all school children on free or reduced lunch programs in the district to free 100 Mbps symmetrical Internet access for the next ten years. The initiative will include not only 32,000 students but their families as well, and is the first of its kind in the United States — a success story at using a city-wide network to bridge the digital divide for economically disadvantaged students, and a decisive move to respond to unequal Internet access during a worldwide public health crisis.

Jill, Evan, and Deb discuss the challenges of setting up the partnerships that made it happen, overcoming obstacles — including dealing with tens of thousands of new customers with unique skills and needs — and how they managed to pull it off.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show; please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Read the transcript for this episode.

This show is 31 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Listen to...

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Posted August 24, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Community anchor institutions like public libraries, schools, and government buildings have long served as backbones for initiatives to better connect communities and in doing so open up a world of possibilities that come with Internet access. Add to that list barbershops and salons, because one project is combining robust broadband and hypertension screenings to achieve better health outcomes for communities in urban areas around the country. 

The project was conceived last winter by Craig Settles, who’s been working with public and private groups to advance community broadband efforts for more than a decade. At (eventually) ten locations in places like Cleveland, Wilson County, North Carolina, Chicago, and Denver, Settles is leading an effort to bring hypertension screening to urban areas by partnering with barbershops and salons. The aim is to leverage all of the unique characteristics of these businesses — including their strong community ties, their place as a social hub, the trust they hold with their customers, and the regularity with which they see them — to pioneer early detection and eventually ongoing treatment of high blood pressure and the constellation of associated complications (like coronary artery disease, stroke, and heart failure) that go with it. It's a problem that disproportionately affects the African American population.

Settles told one news outlet

Many hair dressers and barbers see their customers every other week or so, and shops and salons are tight communities. It’s noticeable when someone disappears and you find out later that the person is disabled by a stroke, or has died from a heart attack.

Old Idea, New Twist

Pairing haircuts and blood pressure screening itself isn’t brand new; Al Edmonson’s barbershop, A Cut Above the Rest,...

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Posted July 30, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Yesterday in an announcement via livestream, the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Hamilton County Schools, and the fiber arm of municipal utility Electric Power Board (EPB) announced a partnership to provide free Internet access and hardware to the 17,700 homes with school children on free or reduced lunch programs in the county. Called HCS EdConnect, the initiative will be the first of its kind in the United States — a success story at using a city-wide network to bridge the digital divide for economically disadvantaged students, and a decisive move to respond to unequal Internet access during a worldwide public health crisis.

Creative Thinking and Public-Private Partnerships

This is a watershed moment for the city of Chattanooga and its residents. It’s the result of hard work by a coalition of public and private partners, including the city, the school district, EPB, area nonprofit The Enterprise Center, and a host of others. Once completed, the program will connect more than 32,000 students. Those households who already received EPB’s low-cost service (called NetBridge) will be eligible for the program as well, and the group is looking at ways to connect the hundred or so homes currently not in EPB’s service area. A goal of early January has been set.

In total, the connection effort will cost $8.2 million to complete, with $6 million already raised. $1 million each has been contributed by Hamilton County Schools, the Smart City Collaborative, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee. The county and the city of Chattanooga have likewise chipped in $1.5 million. 

"Thanks to support, all children in Hamilton County will have tools and the opportunity they need to engage in equitable learning," said Deb Socia, CEO, The Enterprise Center

“Families and students need high-speed broadband for schoolwork, exploration, and innovation,” said...

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Posted June 30, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher talks to Deb Socia, President and CEO, and Geoff Millener, Senior Program and Operations Officer of The Enterprise Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Deb and Geoff share the breadth and depth of the work they’ve been doing recently to advance digital inclusion efforts and respond to the Covid-19 pandemic in ways that help the local community.

They tell Christopher about The Enterprise Center’s three-prong approach: the Chattanooga Smart Community Collaborative, which works to ensure that smart-city infrastructure is responsive to the needs of citizens; their work in the innovation district to help entrepreneurs build networks and create opportunities for getting access to capital; and finally, their Tech Goes Home initiative, which offers digital literacy courses and discounted hardware in pursuit of lowering the barriers to Internet access and inclusion.

Restaurants and churches around the country have been hit particularly hard by stay home orders and the other public health responses put into place to combat the transmission of the coronavirus, and Deb and Geoff describe the approach they’ve taken in Chattanooga. By finding trusted partners in local communities and leveraging their expertise and relationships with entities like EPB Fiber (the city’s municipal fiber network) Deb, Geoff, and their colleagues have helped small restaurant owners and church leaders get online and get the word out so that the local economy better weathers the storm and people can continue their faith traditions.

Finally, in this episode Christopher, Deb, and Geoff discuss the strides being taken in telehealth and telemental health in order to ensure more equitable opportunities and outcomes. They talk about the advantages to vulnerable populations, the potential savings to Medicare and Medicaid, and the wealth of opportunities for medical care related to aging in place, addiction recovery, palliative care, and removing the stigma of seeking mental health services.

See earlier coverage on...

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Posted August 1, 2012 by lgonzalez

Over the past few years, we provided continuing coverage as Longmont, Colorado, considered, and eventually approved, a referendum (two actually) to authorize the municipality to offer broadband services to local businesses and residents. The City installed the fiber as part of its electricity utility infrastructure long ago but Qwest then pushed a law through the state legislature limiting how it could be used. After two referendums and an expensive Comcast astroturf campaign, the residents supported Ballot Measure 2A in November, 2011. The City can now use the fiber network to spur economic development.

Longmont Power and Communications (LPC) recently held two meetings to field responses from the residents and local businesses. Results of the meetings, and an online survey, keep the community informed and will help decide several key elements to the roll-out plan. Scott Rochat of the TimesCall.com, reported on the July 16th meeting, focused on resident reaction. Longmont has some distinct advantages, that Jordan shared:

"We are unique in what we already have in place and what we can do with what we have in place," [Vince] Jordan, [LPC Telecom Manager] told a crowd of 43 at the Longmont Civic Center on Monday.

What's in place is an 18-mile fiber-optic loop that the city can now offer services on, thanks to a 2011 ballot issue. About 1,280 businesses sit within 500 feet of the fiber network; at least 1,100 homes already have the conduit and junction box that would let them join.

The meeting and the survey indicate a strong desire have the network up and functioning ASAP. From the article:

 An online survey at ci.longmont.co.us/lpc/tc/index.htm (which so far has gotten about 152 responses) found that given the choice, 63 percent wanted citywide service "immediately," while 21 percent said they'd settle for whenever the city could get it done.

The proportions were similar at Monday's meeting: 57 percent for immediately, 17 percent for whenever it could be done, and another 17 percent for a two-year timespan.

"My feeling is, get it done, whatever it takes...

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Posted February 6, 2012 by christopher

A group of rural residents living east of Madison, Wisconsin, gathered near Portage of Columbia County to discuss their lack of affordable high speed access to the Internet. These are people for whom slow, overpriced DSL would be an improvement.

Lack of access to the Internet is a drain on rural economies -- their real estate market suffer and they are unable to telecommute, when they would benefit more from it than most who do have the option. They lack access to long-distance education opportunities in a time when the cost of gas makes driving to school prohibitively expensive.

Andy Lewis, who has been working with the Building Community Capacity through Broadband Project with U-W Extension, was on hand to discuss some of the lessons learned through their work, which is largely funded by a broadband stimulus award.

The incumbent providers encouraged residents without access to aggregate their demand and create petitions to demonstrate the available demand. Of course they did. And if CenturyLink decides it can get a sufficient return on its slow and unreliable DSL, they will build it out to some of those unserved areas. This is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario for rural residents. DSL was starting to be obsolete years ago.

The better solution is finding nearby cooperatives and munis that will extend next-generation networks that can provide fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet. Getting a DSL to a town will do very little to attract residents and nothing to attract businesses. It is a 20th century technology in a rapidly evolving 21st century world.

The Beaver Dam Daily Citizen covered the meeting, which eventually turned away from how to beg for broadband to how they can build it themselves:

But several attendees asked why the government can't play a role in making high-speed service available everywhere, in the same way that the government helped bring about rural electrification and telephone service.

This is a very good question. They may decide not to follow that path, but given the importance of access to the Internet, they should look at options for building a network that puts community...

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Posted December 10, 2011 by christopher

Another video from the University of Wisconsin Extension Service's broadband stimulus project, Building Community Capacity through Broadband, which we have been covering here.

This video looks at why these community networks are needed and how private partners look at the project.  These communities are often limited to much slower networks that are nonetheless priced higher than connections in larger cities.  Community networks benefit residents and local businesses by creating competition, offering higher capacity connections, and lowering prices, often by working with private sector partners.  

This video is no longer available.

Posted December 5, 2011 by christopher

More good news from the Building Community Capacity through Broadband stimulus-funded project in Wisconsin: it has earned an award from Wisconsin Rural Partners [pdf].

This award came shortly after the courts once again side with the network rather than AT&T in a frivolous lawsuit attempting to disrupt the network.

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