Tag: "cares act"

Posted July 13, 2022 by Emma Gautier

For the past two years, York County, Pennsylvania (est. pop. 459,000) has been working hard on a multi-part plan to connect both rural and urban areas.  

York began laying out plans for a county-owned middle-mile network in 2020. The idea was to make last-mile hookups viable for private providers in more areas of the county, and to close its major connectivity gaps.

Along with these plans, York launched a middle-mile pilot project along a 16-mile stretch of the York Heritage Rail Trail, which runs from the York metropolitan area in the center of the county down to Pennsylvania’s southern border. The project leveraged $1.5 million in CARES Act funding and a length of conduit that had been lying underneath the rail trail for two decades. The fiber that was deployed currently provides middle-mile capacity throughout the south central part of the county, as well as some wireless coverage from a tower at the stretch’s midpoint in Hanover Junction.

Building Beyond the Pilot

In early 2021, it was left to the YoCo Fiber Broadband Task Force, “led by the York County Economic Alliance and composed of representatives from business, government, health care, education, and other sectors,” to recommend to the county a way to “develop and implement a countywide broadband strategy.”

In July of that year, the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to spend as much as $25 million of its American Rescue Plan money, under the guidance of the task force. The first $20 million was dedicated to building out the first half of an underground middle-mile network throughout southern York County, which was designed to “connect anchor institutions and build redundancy.”

The design lays out seven fiber rings and includes the stretch already laid along the rail trail. The last $5 million will support the construction of wireless infrastructure to bring connectivity to York and Hanover, as high-speed Internet access in these urban areas is far from ubiquitous.

York has since engaged...

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Posted May 11, 2022 by Emma Gautier

Summit County has put together a multi-part, $75 million broadband plan to improve connectivity in the area: a middle-mile institutional fiber ring to connect the county’s public safety facilities and expand its broadband capacity, a new datacenter, and a fiber investment to specifically target residents and businesses in the county’s underserved areas and economic activity hubs. When completed, the whole project will go down as one of the county’s largest capital projects to date

Summit will dedicate $35 million of the $105 million it received from the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) for the fiber ring, another $20 million in ARPA dollars to serve job hubs and areas of need, and $20 million of its own county funding for the datacenter. But the locally driven solution almost didn’t materialize, with recent movement in the state legislature threatening community-owned solutions that remain out of step with both residents and local officials. 

Defending Community Broadband Against State Challenges

The county’s potential for better connectivity was threatened last year, when the state of Ohio introduced some last-minute legislation that threatened to outlaw public broadband. In June of 2021, an amendment banning municipally-owned broadband was anonymously tacked onto the State Senate budget bill. The amendment barred the creation of new municipal networks and the ongoing operation of existing municipal networks in areas where a private provider offered service. It prevented city governments from accepting federal money for broadband projects, and allowed city-owned networks to provide service only in areas where no private provider was present (less than two percent of Ohio).

Up until this amendment was proposed, Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro had been advocating for countywide expansion of FairlawnGig, a veteran network based in the city of Fairlawn. The network had been connecting residents for a...

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Posted April 21, 2022 by Emma Gautier

Over the past eighteen months, southeastern-Mississippi based Dixie Electric Power Association (Dixie EPA) has gone from presenting its initial buildout plans for a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network, all the way to connecting its 5,000th subscriber. Because of electric cooperatives like Dixie that are getting organized and prioritizing connectivity for their members, Mississippi is likely to become one of the states with the best rural connectivity within the next five years.

Founded in 1938 in Laurel, Mississippi, Dixie EPA’s present-day coverage area stretches across southeastern Mississippi in parts of Covington, Jasper, Jones, Clarke, Wayne, Perry, and Forrest counties. The cooperative provides electric service to 30,000 premises. 

In September 2020, about six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Dixie began pre-registering subscribers for Internet service under the cooperative’s newly-created subsidiary, DE Fastlink. Dixie was part of a collective of electric cooperatives that had just received a recent state appropriation of $65 million in CARES Act funding for rural broadband deployment. The funding was administered under the Mississippi Electric Coop Broadband Covid Grant Program by Mississippi Public Utilities. Dixie planned to match in full its own $3.3 million award, which, according to the terms of the grant, had to be spent by the end of that year. 

The cooperative was one of fifteen in Mississippi to receive funding for a buildout. The state was a new leader in supporting cooperatively-run rural broadband; only a select few states decided to spend CARES funding on rural broadband, and Mississippi spent among the most. Of the $75 million in CARES funding it had designated for expanding connectivity, $65 million was awarded to electric cooperatives, while only $10 million was set aside for other types of providers. Of this $10 million, only $1.5 was actually used, because the state received very few grant applications...

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Posted October 26, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Calloway County (pop. 39,000) in western Kentucky is known for the picturesque shorelines circling Kentucky Lake, the wildlife at Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area, and as the home of Murray State University where Ja Morant dazzled basketball fans before becoming an NBA phenom.

Now there's a different team coming to town that will delight local residents: a new partnership between Calloway County and West Kentucky and Tennessee (WK&T) Telecommunications Cooperative will soon make this rural corner of the state known as a home for high-speed Internet connectivity, as the county and WK&T recently announced they were joining forces to expand the cooperative’s existing fiber network to reach every unserved and underserved location in the county.

Calloway County and WK&T are each committing a $6.2 million matching contribution for the first phase of the expansion project, which will see the co-op’s fiber-to-the-home network in the region extended 236 miles to serve an additional 4,274 homes and businesses. 

WK&T currently serves over 15,000 subscribers in Kentucky and Tennessee with broadband, voice, video and security services, some of whom are in Calloway County. There are also a number of households in the city of Murray, the county seat, with access to fiber service through the city-owned utility Murray Electric System (MES). Yet, thousands of premises on the outskirts of the county remain unserved by Internet Service Providers. The fiber expansion project, which the Calloway County Fiscal Court unanimously voted to pursue in early August, will ensure all county residents can benefit from access to high-speed Internet service. 

To supply their respective portions of the local match, the county has indicated it will contribute a portion of its $7.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds, while WK&T has applied for a $5.54 million Economic Development Administration grant made available through the...

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Posted October 18, 2021 by Maren Machles

More than $34.6 million in COVID relief funds were awarded in August to 15 Minnesota cities and counties across the state as part of the Small Cities Coronavirus Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG-CV). The grant program was created to support Minnesota’s COVID-19 response efforts with the help of a special allocation of Community Development Block Grant funds from the CARES Act fund. 

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) administered the grants which can be used for projects like housing assistance and commercial rehabilitation, but the majority of the funding - approximately $32 million - will be used for broadband projects. 

“The pandemic has made clear how vital broadband is to the lives of Minnesotans and to the economic vitality of our state,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove in a DEED press release. “These grants will help communities fund broadband and other important projects as we write the next chapter of our economy.”

Aitkin County, receiving the largest grant of $4.8 million, submitted an application to work with the Mille Lac Energy Cooperative on a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project that would pass approximately 565 homes across seven communities, six of which don’t even have access to 10/1 Megabit per second (Mbps). The application projected it would take approximately 93 miles of fiber and $9,000 per passing location. In its application, the county shared that while the median household income across Minnesota is $71,300, the median across these communities is $45,990, demonstrating that there is a clear issue of infrastructure and access, but also affordability. As part of its application, Aitkin County and MLEC announced the latter would include a low-cost plan to help address the digital divide: 

MLEC will offer a discounted plan at $39.95 with speeds of 50Mbps/50 Mbps to qualifying residents.If the Emergency Broadband Benefit is continued after the initial funding period" MLEC hopes to participate in this program and will discontinue the discounted...

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Posted April 22, 2021 by Maren Machles

Schools offer not only education, but nourishment, a place to form friendships and bonds, and a way to make sure youth are safe. When the pandemic hit, schools had to transition to distance learning and, as a result, many students disappeared because their family didn’t have access to or couldn’t afford a home Internet connection. It became immediately clear, all over the country, that a lack of broadband access and broadband affordability were no longer issues that could be ignored. 

Many cities throughout the U.S. have been working over the last year to address this issue, but one city in particular - Columbus, Ohio - has been taking a holistic approach to broadband access. 

The Franklin County Digital Equity Coalition was borne out of the emergency needs presented by the pandemic, but has shaped up to be a good model for how to address the broadband issues facing urban communities across the country. 

After 11 months of meeting and planning, the coalition released a framework in March outlining its five pillars of focus: broadband affordability, device access, digital life skills and technical support, community response and collaboration, and advocacy for broadband funding and policy. 

The coalition also developed two pilot programs to increase broadband access. 

The first, which was a quickly deployed and desperately needed response to the lack of broadband access, was the Central Ohio Broadband Access Pilot Program. Launched in September 2020 in anticipation of the upcoming school year, it offered hotspot devices with unlimited data plans to central Ohio households with k-12 students. The program, while still growing, has been deployed with about 2,300 hotspots distributed so far with the help of PCs for People. 

The second (the City of Columbus and Smart Columbus Pilot Projects) uses the city’s existing fiber backbone to bring affordable Internet service to the Near East and South Side neighborhoods in Columbus.

Both pilot programs are the result of nearly 30 organizations coming together to get affordable access to some of the city and county’s most vulnerable populations.

There’s Power in Numbers

...

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Posted April 20, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

When he was a colonel in the Virginia Militia, George Washington is said to have visited “Craig’s Camp,” a mountainous frontier outpost in southwest Virginia near the border of what would later become West Virginia. After the Seven Years' War, farmers and tradesmen were drawn to the area, establishing a settlement known then as “Newfincastle.” Over the years, the “fin” was dropped and the town became New Castle, the seat of Craig County.

Today – with the Jefferson National Forest comprising half of the county, its scenic byways, access to the Appalachian Trail, old churches, and family cemeteries – Craig County and the surrounding region remains steeped in early American history. And now, thanks to the Craig-Botetourt Rural Electric Cooperative (CBEC), this corner of rural Virginia has established a forward-looking outpost of Internet connectivity, and a new fiber frontier that planners hope to expand across the seven counties that make up CBEC’s 650 square-mile service area.

The Bee Online Advantage

It was in 2018 when CBEC began to seriously consider building a broadband network to serve its 6,800 members because, as the co-op’s website puts it: “Our members are experiencing what originally created the electric cooperative in 1936 – a lack of service. They lacked electricity [85] years ago; now they lack high-speed Internet [access].”

That lack of high-speed Internet connectivity is becoming a thing of the past, at least for co-op members in Botetourt County who now have access to an emerging Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service through a CBEC subsidiary known as the Bee Online Advantage.

“We have about 10 percent of our membership covered right now. To build-out the rest of the network (into the adjacent counties) will probably cost somewhere in the $60 million range,” CBEC CEO Jeff Ahearn told us in an interview.

One of the main drivers of the network’s construction costs, Ahearn said, is the “very low (population) density” of CBEC’s...

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Posted January 25, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio

Mason, Enfield, and Springfield projects in the Granite State are bringing more connectivity to the region via Fiber-to-the-Home networks. Two of these projects are CARES Act-funded, and the other via a small startup. In all cases, work by local officials and citizens have been key in getting things off the ground. 

Posted December 22, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio

In the short span of weeks since a membership vote to give the co-op the tools needed to pursue broadband projects for its 84,000 members, the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative has connected its first 900 households. The ceremoney took place in Lempster, where the first electric user was connected 81 years ago.

Posted December 15, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio

We've written a lot about RS Fiber, a broadband cooperative operating in two rural counties in south-central Minnesota. This week on the podcast Christopher talks with two representatives from the cooperative which serves almost three thousand members in Renville and Sibley counties. Our first guest is Jake Reiki, a corn and soybean farmer and Board Chair for RS Fiber. We’re also joined by Jenny Palmer, City Administrator for Winthrop and Treasurer for the cooperative.

Christopher, Jake, and Jenny talk about the trials that shaped a network which fostered some division but which the community now takes for granted, its hybrid fiber and wireless approach to connectivity, what having fast, affordable broadband has done for families and business in the area, and where the network sits financially moving ahead as it continues to expand and see robust, steady growth. 

For more on the history of the network, read our 2016 case study Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative, or listen to Episode 198 and Episode 99 of the podcast.

This show is 41 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed

Don’t forget to check out our new show, Connect This!, where Chris brings together a collection broadband veterans and industry experts live on YouTube to talk about recent events and dig into the policy news of the day. 

Read the transcript here.

Listen to other episodes here ...

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