Tag: "covid-19"

Posted September 22, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A week from today, the Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) is hosting a fireside chat on Tuesday, September 29th at 12-12:30p ET with SHLB Executive Director John Windhausen and Christopher Ali.

Ali is an Associate Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia, and recently released a new book through MIT press called Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity.

From the description:

Before the pandemic-driven surge of public investment in broadband networks, the federal government had subsidized rural broadband by approximately $6 billion a year. So why does the rural-urban digital divide persist? Why are we looking to the new infrastructure bill to solve a problem that should have been solved a decade ago? Author of "Farm Fresh Broadband" Dr. Christopher Ali argues that rural broadband policy is both broken and incomplete, proposing a new national broadband plan. Join SHLB Coalition Executive Director John Windhausen for a virtual fireside chat with Dr. Ali, to pick his brain on where the U.S. is going wrong and how to course correct rural broadband policy moving forward. And of course, they’ll discuss where community anchor institutions fit into it all.

ILSR spoke with Ali on Episode 134 of the Building Local Power podcast, which you can listen to here.

Register for the event here.

Posted July 19, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The winners of the Truist EPIC grant program, which we wrote about earlier this year, have been announced.

47 projects applied for the funds. Innovative, community-centered projects in Florida and Alabama will be taking home money. So too is Wilson, North Carolina for an expansion of its municipal network, Greenlight. The awards will be distributed by the Internet Society:

Five recipients will share $1 million in grant funding to expand broadband access in their communities as part of the Truist Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant. The grant program supports broadband initiatives to help alleviate disparities in education, employment and social welfare in the Southeastern United States.

The grants are "directed toward supporting community networks built, owned and operated by local governments and organizations." 

The full list includes:

  • The Duval County Public Schools will receive $180,000 for Project OVERCOME21, a plan to turn schools in the Florida district into local broadband hubs for the surrounding community. The hubs boost signals to a three-mile radius and connect to the school district’s existing network.
  • The Tuskegee Housing Authority will receive nearly $180,000 for its Jesup “Cyber Wagon” Project in Tuskegee, Ala. The project will provide broadband access to low-income, Black communities where a lack of Internet has hindered access to health, education and other services.
  • The City of Wilson, N.C., has been granted nearly $180,000 to expand North Carolina’s Community Broadband fiber-to-the-home into a rural, majority Black community in Wilson County.
  • The City of Williston, Fla., will receive $108,000 for its broadband program, COWLink, to support efforts to improve access and speed of broadband for local businesses, schools and homes.
  • Wave 7 Communications will receive more than $150,000 to connect residents of Enfield, N.C. and outlying rural areas, train digital stewards and provide online learning to residents.

In a press release, Internet Society Regional Vice President for...

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Posted May 11, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The mayors of nine cities in eastern North Carolina have had enough of Suddenlink's poor service. WRAL reports that they've called on the state legislature to overturn HB 129 and let them build their own networks after years of unreliable connectivity:

“[HB 129] forbade any kind of municipality from establishing broadband as one of their utilities,” Rocky Mount mayor Sandy Roberson said.

Roberson said Internet service in Nash and Edgecombe counties had been a problem for years.

There have been so many complaints against the area’s major provider, Suddenlink, since the COVID-19 pandemic began that the mayor of Tarboro called for the state Attorney General to investigate the company in January.

Months later, area leaders have started to take matters into their own hands, with the mayors of nine cities across Eastern North Carolina petitioning the state legislature to allow them to set up their own fiber networks.

The call to action comes on the heels of the mayors of Tarboro, Rocky Mount, New Bern and Washington calling on the state Attorney General to investigate the company.

Head over to WRAL to read the whole story.

Posted May 4, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

As the oldest son of the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie — the Town of Washington, Massachusetts’ most famous resident — built a name for himself as a singer-songwriter by letting folks know, “You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant.”

But if you ask the town’s Broadband Manager Kent Lew, there was one thing that was not on the menu in Washington before last year: high-speed Internet connectivity.

That’s no longer the case as the small town of Washington (pop. 549) has been on the vanguard of rural communities in the hill towns of the Berkshires that have built out (or are in the process of building out) Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks to bring gigabit speeds and affordable connectivity for residents for decades into the future.

The Pandemic: Curse & Blessing

“On the eve the Governor announced the (pandemic) shut down in March of 2020, our first Fiber Service Area was ready,” Lew recalled in a recent interview with us. “It was tremendous that we were able to do this just as people really needed it.”

As one of dozens of Western Massachusetts towns working in partnership with municipal utility provider Westfield Gas + Electric (which operates Whip City Fiber) to build broadband infrastructure, it was in 2015 that Town Meeting voters authorized a $770,000 bond issuance to finance half the construction costs of the $1.47 million network. The other half came from state grant funding.

The network design work wrapped up in 2018 with construction beginning in earnest the following year. The First Service Area was set to be lit up in March of 2020 and the entire rest of the network, which passes all 280 premises in town, was completed two months later in May of 2020 with construction crews having deployed 26.5 miles of fiber.

Still, the initial months of the pandemic lock-down, Lew said, was a “very frustrating period. Just...

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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 March 31, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Hop in a time machine and go back to 2008. It was a banner year for NASA as the space agency celebrated its 50th birthday. Phoenix touched down on Mars, far-off planets were photographed, four space shuttles flew to the International Space Station, and the agency helped send scientific instruments to the moon aboard India’s first lunar explorer.

Meanwhile on Earth, it was the under-the-radar launch of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority (ESVBA) fiber network in 2008 that carried the most practical payload for the people of Accomack and Northampton counties along coastal Virginia. A popular tourist destination “for lovers,” the Eastern Shore is a 70-mile stretch of barrier islands between Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. And thanks in large part to funding from NASA, which operates the Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, the future-proof broadband frontier had finally found its way to the region.  

The two counties of Eastern Shore, Accomack and Northampton, provided an initial sum of about $270,000 to ESVBA to plan the network. It was one small step for high-speed connectivity in the Commonwealth, followed by one giant leap when ESVBA received $8 million in federal and state funds – nearly half of which came from NASA – to build the region’s open access middle mile backbone. When that part of the network was completed, the Wallops Flight Facility and its 1,100 employees were connected to it, as was the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay office and an array of area healthcare institutions and schools. 

The Final Fiber Frontier

Funding for the last mile Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) expansion came from the nearly two dozen towns in the two counties. In the fall of 2016, Harborton, a small town with a little over 200 residents, was the first community to...

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Posted March 30, 2021 by Maren Machles

With vaccines rolling out tier by tier, state by state, and restaurants, bars and public spaces starting to reopen one by one, there seems to be a desire to say, “Wow, things are going back to normal!” Unfortunately, the public health crisis exacerbated healthcare, education, and economic inequities that have long existed in low-income and communities of color across the country and have no chance of going away any time soon. But some community leaders have stepped up and come to the table with one piece of the puzzle in bridging these inequities — better Internet access to these communities. 

Over the summer, we covered several communities that jumped to action and came up with quick ways to implement long-term solutions. 

The city of San Rafael, which sits on the coast of northern California in Marin County, continues to strengthen, expand, and research the use of the network it built over the summer and fall for one unserved area hit hard by the economic, education, and health impact of Covid-19. And on the other side of the country, Meta Mesh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania continues construction on a pilot project that is hoping to connect unserved families by the end of this summer.

Focusing on the Future

In San Rafael, California, the city, Marin County and a nonprofit organization — the Canal Alliance — all joined forces to bring free Wi-Fi to the Canal neighborhood

Marin County’s Chief Assistant Director of Information Services and Technology Javier Trujillo said that the network is continuing to grow, but it has been largely deployed. The network — called Canal Wi-Fi  — encircles the neighborhood (see map, right), making it possible for residents to connect wherever they are when outdoors. In its current state, the network does not reach into every home because the access points mounted on street poles in the neighborhood cannot penetrate the walls of the apartment buildings. The coalition continues to seek ways to improve penetration as the project continues.

While a long-term solution would be to deploy fiber to each premises or bring wireline infrastructure to an access point inside...

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Posted March 17, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

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.

Posted November 17, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

This week on the podcast, Christopher talks with Maureen Neighbors, Energy Division Chief of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, about the state’s one-of-a-kind, $100 million voucher program designed and deployed for the current school year to help get and keep economically vulnerable students connected. 

She tells Christopher how, with the help of CTC Energy and Technology, the state brought together more than three dozen Internet Service Providers (ISPs) — many of which are local companies — connected with school districts around the state, designed an online portal, and mailed out tens of thousands of brochures to households with students on the free or reduced lunch program to help those families to start new service or pay their existing broadband bill.  

Maureen shares the challenges they met (data and mapping are hard, and wrangling 37 ISPs equally so) and the satisfaction in helping more than 120,000 students (and counting!) stay connected to school during the ongoing pandemic.

This show is 32 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.

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 for this episode.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index...

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