A $1.5 million federal grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission will allow the city of Youngstown, Ohio to build ten miles of fiber in the downtown to connect 212 businesses. Proponent say it will also create 119 new jobs.
A new report out by North Carolina's Broadband and Infrastructure Office looks at the ways that broadband and telehealth can solve some of the disparities that disproportionately affect tens of thousands of its citizens living in the western fifth of the state. These “coal-impacted communities,” it argues, would benefit greatly across a host of interventions which would be facilitated by investment in wireline broadband infrastructure, technical assistance, and digital literacy programs. If implemented, they would increase access to medical doctors and mental health professionals for all North Carolinians, eliminate barriers related to transportation, reduce state healthcare costs, increase the speed of intervention and reduce the time to diagnosis, and eliminate unnecessary hospital and emergency room admissions.
Healthcare in the High Country
"Carolina Crosscut: Broadband and Telehealth in North Carolina's Appalchain Coal-Impacted Communities" [pdf] comes out of a $100,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant given to the Office of Broadband Infrastructure and the Office of Rural Development for two purposes: to figure out broadband availability and adoption as they relate to health disparities across the twenty-county region clustered along the state’s western border, and to map assets and come up with specific policy recommendations for state agencies and lawmakers.
These are North Carolina’s “coal-impacted” communities, which the report defines as those which exhibit a “generational dependence on coal extraction and related supply chains [which] has resulted in personal and community economic devastation.” To be clear and despite its title, the framing here is economic, and not based on the adverse health effects of working in coal extraction. It should also be noted that the economic impact described in the report surely extended beyond the twenty counties at the center of the study.
Carolina Crosscut collects and collates a plethora of data that should be useful to any number of groups moving forward. It maps broadband access, adoption, and speeds at the census tract level against a cluster of health...Read more
Almost six years ago, we told readers about Ottawa, Kansas, where the community of around 13,000 people had invested in publicly owned fiber optic connectivity for local businesses. We recently touched base with IT Director Paul Sommer, who updated us on the progress of their broadband utility and how it has impacted the community.
Steady as it Grows
When we first met Ottawa, they had worked with the local school district and Franklin County to capitalize on existing fiber infrastructure and expand to more locations. Local leaders had learned from Ottawa businesses that the best options available from incumbent AT&T were T1 lines for approximately $600. Higher capacity connections were scarce and financially out of reach for local establishments, and AT&T could not be convinced to upgrade their infrastructure. As Bigham put it, AT&T was "milking the cow."
Once the city, school district, and Franklin County established a partnership, Ottawa began to expand fiber to other municipal facilities and businesses as requested. Sommers, who has taken over as IT Director, says that now all 10 city buildings are on the network. In addition to an industrial park on the original infrastructure on the north end of town, the network now reaches an industrial park to the south.
The electric utility has trained their own staff rather than hiring external fiber deployment personnel. In addition to enriching skills, their employees are able to respond quickly if there are downed cables or other maintenance issues. Sommers recalls an instance when a car, which had caught fire, sent shrapnel flying into the air. By a twist of fate, one piece severed the fiber optic cable hanging some distance away. His team was able to rehang and splice the cable that same day and get the subscriber back online.
By using electric utility staff, Ottawa has reduced the cost of their incremental build over the years. They typically budget around $100,000 each year for expansion of the network, have never gone over, and often don’t spend the entire allotment. Sommers says that, since they own the utility poles in town, have necessary personnel on hand, and equipment at the ready, unnecessary bureaucracy doesn’t slow down maintenance, repairs, or expansion efforts.
Bursting at the Streams
When communities find that high-quality connectivity isn't up to par for everyone or they want better services that naturally flow from more options, local governments often take their first concrete steps with a plan. In December 2019, the gowing community of Moorpark, California, has selected Magellan Advisors as its partner in developing a Broadband Strategic Plan.
Businesses In Need of Fiber
The city began searching for a consultant to help develop the plan months ago. In mid-August of 2019, the city submitted a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the development of a Broadband Strategic Plan to the City’s Manager Office. In the RPF, the city recognizes the importance of providing reliable fiber optic infrastructure in both its economic development and deploying future “Smart City” initiatives.
In response to the RFP, the City Council created the Broadband Ad Hoc Committee to work with the city staff. The committee directed the City Council to focus its efforts on broadband deployment to the industrial and commercial districts and not on the residential district. Currently, fiber Internet access is available to residential customers through Spectrum but commercial and industrial districts don't have the same access.
From BBC Magazines:
Magellan will assist in inventorying existing infrastructure, identifying unserved and underserved areas, and developing municipal strategies that support expanding access to high-speed Internet, allowing Moorpark to maximize efficiency and cost effectiveness in preparing for future technologies.
Additionally, the Broadband strategic Plan will analyze Moorpark’s needs for Smart City innovations including intelligent transportation, public safety innovations, telemedicine, autonomous vehicles and other applications.
Suburban Los Angeles
Being one of the first cities in the entire world to run off...Read more
Oakland, Maine, has asked the community to complete a survey in order to obtain a better picture of local connectivity. The town of about 6,300 people is investigating ways to expand how they use their existing publicly owned fiber optic system.
With an area of 28.17 square miles, Oakland is similar to other rural communities. The town, however, has a small fiber optic system and community leaders are researching how they can get the most from that resource to improve Internet access. Back in 2007, Oakland received a federal grant, which allowed the town to deploy fiber to select governmental buildings at the edge of Oakland’s downtown; the fiber is not connected to businesses or residences.
Currently, Spectrum Communications and Consolidated Communications offer cable and DSL Internet access to residences, but businesses have only one option -- Spectrum. According to Oakland Town Manager Gary Bowman, improving competition for economic development and better rates is a motivating factor:
"By taking advantage of our assets and expanding our current fiber optic infrastructure into the downtown district, we intend to attract additional Internet service providers into Oakland, with the long-term goal of servicing business owners with faster Internet and reducing their Internet costs.”
The Game Plan
Back in December of 2018, the Maine Community Foundation awarded $15,000 specifically for strategic implementation of broadband. Shortly after receiving the grant, on February 27th, 2019, the Oakland City Council voted unanimously to form the Oakland Broadband & Technology Committee (OBTC).
The Town Council appointed seven individuals on the committee and entrusted them with five main objectives:
- Map[ping] existing broadband and telematics infrastructure
- [Analyze the] potential to create an online GIS system for future use
- Identify key gaps within the Town of Oakland’s downtown district
- Determine the appropriate financial model for expansion with specific focus along a 1,700-foot section of Main Street. (approx. 20 commercial entities located in this section.)
- Identify further funding opportunities for implementation
SanfordNet Fiber, considered the largest fiber optic community network in Maine to date, is under construction and expected to be completed late in 2019. The project recently attracted the attention of WGME, who profiled the community and the investment as part of their “Working Solutions” segment.
Check out the video at WGME's website.
Taking Control in Maine
Reporter David Singer visited Sanford and nearby Millinocket to talk with business owners and economic development experts in both communities. Sanford, centrally located in the geographic center of southern Maine, was not connected to the Three Ring Binder, the state fiber optic network developed with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) during the Obama administration. "11,000 miles of fiber were strung up and down Maine but not in Sanford -- 10 miles to our east, 10 miles to our south,” said Jim Nimon, Executive Director of the Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council.
Rather than be left behind, the community of approximately 21,000 people decided that they needed to act on their own and pursue what has become known in the area as the “fourth ring.” Sanford’s project will emulate other projects in the state, and use the “Maine model.” The city is deploying the infrastructure and will work with private ISP GWI to bring gigabit connectivity to local businesses. GWI is a tested partner and will operate the network, having established a similar arrangement with Rockport. You can learn more about the “Maine model” in this conversation with GWI’s Fletcher Kittredge from episode 176 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast in 2015.
Pineland Telephone Cooperative is known for providing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) services in southeast Georgia’s rural areas between Savannah, Augusta, and Macon. Now the co-op’s subsidiary Pineland Communications is expanding south and west into Americus, where they plan to provide fiber connectivity to local businesses.
Partnering for Pineland
In January, Pineland began deploying fiber to the delight of potential commercial subscribers. The project should start offering gigabit Internet access, voice, security, and computer services to local businesses this fall. Pineland is considering expanding to residential connections in Americus and Sumter County in the future. Pineland invested $2 million toward the project and local donors also contributed.
The project was spearheaded by the One Sumter Economic Development Foundation and began with a feasibility study three years ago. In August 2018, when the Foundation and Pineland announced the project, Rene Smith from the Foundation told WGXA:
"For our businesses, it means an opportunity to access high speed data -- which we see as vital for business success as well as education for our young people in this community. We feel like it's vital for our future."
In addition to the feasibility study from the Foundation, the local hospital authority also contributed by selling property for the central office to Pineland at market value. Sumter Electric Membership Corporation, Georgia Electric Membership Corporation, Georgia System Operations Corporation, and Georgia Transmission Corporation all assisted with the project. As a result of the efforts of all the entities involved, Americus can market itself to potential new employers as Gig-Certified.
Coming to Americus
The small city is home to businesses that need high-speed options and reliability that only fiber can provide. Americus is somewhat geographically removed, however, from larger cities where big corporate providers are more inclined to offer it. As Executive Director...Read more