Tag: "financing"

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 21, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

This year’s Broadband Community Summit has gone digital to adapt to the ongoing public health crisis, but will still offer a wealth of information on and seasoned experts speaking to all sorts of topics relevant to community broadband networks. It runs this week from Tuesday to Friday, and interested parties can register here.  

Something for Everyone

Note that the Coalition for Local Internet Choice program has two panel sessions on partnerships of all colors and one on federal and state incentives on the first day of the summit. Other topics include:

  • Financing
  • Public-Private and Public-Public Partnerships
  • Telehealth
  • Funding Opportunities
  • Broadband Mapping

Speakers

The program also features a wide-ranging list of industry folks, equipment manufacturers, consultants and legal advisors, and others experts. See the full list here, but some notable names include:

  • Deb Socia — President CEO, The Enterprise Center
  • Roger Timmerman — CEO, UTOPIA Fiber
  • Jim Baller — President, CLIC
  • Dorothy Baunach — CEO, DigitalC, Cleveland, Ohio
  • Matt Dunne — Founder and Executive Director, Center on Rural Innovation
  • Ben Fineman — President & Co-Founder, Michigan Broadband Cooperative
  • Nancy Werner — General Counsel, National Association of Telecommunications Officers Advisors
  • Dr. Christopher Ali, PhD — Assistant Professor, Department of Media Studies, University of Virginia

What is Chris Up To?

Our own Christopher Mitchell will be moderating two sessions — one on last-mile infrastructure, and another on municipal broadband success stories. The first, on Tuesday from 11:20a-12:15p:

Last Mile Digital Infrastructure: Ownership models are evolving. Who will play the lead role in constructing? What entities, including cities, will own digital assets? Who will manage the networks?

Roger Timmerman — CEO, UTOPIA Fiber

Monica Webb — Director of Market Development and Government Affairs, Ting Internet...

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Posted September 17, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

In the city of Fullerton, California (pop. 140,000), privately owned infrastructure builder and operator SiFi Networks has turned on the first section of what will be a city-wide, open access Fiber-to-the-Home network. The project makes Fullerton SiFi’s first FiberCity — a privately built, financed, and operated open access network it plans to duplicate in more cities across the country in the future. When complete next fall, the Fullerton FiberCity network will pass every home and business in the city, with the company's subsidiary, SiFi Networks Operations, selling wholesaling capacity to as many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as want to enter the market. 

A Different Approach

SiFi’s FiberCity model remains somewhat unique in the United States, and is much more common in Europe and Asia. CEO Ben Bawtree-Johnson attributes their success to cracking the economic code for private investment in open access information infrastructure, which has seen more attention in recent years as investors and fund managers have seen opportunities. “[O]ur vision really is to create as many last-mile fiber optic networks as we can across the USA in a long term sustainable fashion,” Bawtree-Jobson remarked on an episode of the podcast last fall. “[W]e're all about long term, dry, low yielding, risk mitigated investments, so everything we do is based around 30-year plus type investments.”

Fullerton, according to SiFi, was an ideal candidate for its first FiberCity because it applied to be one of the original candidates (though not chosen) for a Google’s fiber program, begun in 2010. The company sees it as sitting in the Goldilocks’ zone in terms of size and population. Construction started last November, and currently consists of around 600 miles of fiber all underground via microtrenching. Nokia serves as the main equipment partner on the project. 

Turning on the Lights

The first residential customers...

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Posted August 10, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

The United States Office of the Comptroller is hosting a webinar at the end of the month called “Banks Finance Broadband in Rural Areas & Indian Country” aimed at banks and local leaders looking to form partnerships to fund broadband projects for rural and tribal communities across the country. 

In addition to providing basic information on how community financial institutions can work with local governments, participants in a 2017 partnership which brought broadband to Fort Berthold Indian Reservation will be present to discuss their experience and answer questions.

Register for the event by clicking here.

New Rule, New Financing Options

Tribal communities face a host of ongoing connectivity obstacles, all of which have been exacerbated by the current public health crisis. Native student populations are much more likely to be affected by the homework gap, a problem that will remain as states and school districts struggle to put together a cohesive connectivity plan for the upcoming school year.

The program is one of the many that together come from the OCC's participation in the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), passed in 1977. The CRA directs federal financial regulators (including the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) to push FDIC-insured financial institutions to meet the credit needs of the communities they’re a part of, with emphasis on low- and moderate-income regions.

A new rule allows banks to consider broadband an essential infrastructure for financing projects, giving rural stakeholders wider access to capital for those kinds of ventures under consideration. It was adopted by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, of which the OCC is a member agency, in July of 2016 [pdf]. The Council now cites Internet...

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Posted July 15, 2020 by christopher

Iowa is home to many community networks, from co-ops to muni cable, fiber, and other technologies. Three communities in the state have just recently made important announcements about their plans, and several others are moving forward with networks. There is so much happening in Iowa right now that shows potential for other states that don't limit competition.

There is a long history of local broadband excellence in Iowa for new networks to draw on. Cedar Falls Utilities was just recognized as the fastest ISP in the nation by PCMag. It has well over 20 years of success, but recent years have seen it sharing its expertise and facilities to lower the cost for other communities to build networks without reinventing the wheel. Local private Internet service provider ImOn is also a partner for these networks, offering voice services.

Many of these networks being built will be able to share services and lower their costs by being on the same ring to get some scale benefits despite being smaller communities. I remember many years ago when Eric Lampland of Lookout Point started pushing for this ring, and I am dumbfounded why we don't see more of this cooperation among munis and small providers in other states. Thanks to Eric and Curtis Dean of SmartSource Consulting who helped me with background for this Iowa update.

We have a brief mention of West Des Moines's recently announced partnership with Google Fiber in here, but we're finishing a longer post that solely examines their approach. Between this, that, and our Coon Rapids podcast this week, it is officially Iowa week on MuniNetworks.org!

Vinton

Vinton's new municipal fiber network has just started connecting subscribers, leading to a memorable testimonial in the local paper, Vinton Today:

As a gal that uses the Internet every day, and as someone who had the chance to briefly use...

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Posted July 7, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast we flip the microphones around. Christopher gets interviewed by Isfandiyar Shaheen, also known as Asfi, an experienced thinker on all Internet-related issues around the world and longtime friend of the Community Broadband Networks initiative.  

Asfi and Christopher have a wide-ranging discussion, including how Christopher first got involved with Internet policy work and the changes he’s seen over the last decade in fiberization and rural broadband development. Christopher shares what three actions he’d take as (an unhappily and reluctantly appointed) FCC chair, from putting together real processes for publicizing actionable data about broadband access, speed, and price around the country, to supporting experiments in different network structures, to encouraging policies that foster the creation of many overlapping networks.

Asfi also asks Christopher about the Christopher Mitchell smell test in affordable connectivity initiatives and what he’ll do once everyone in the United States has more than one option for fast, affordable, reliable Internet. 

Asfi has been on the podcast before—he and Christopher talked on Episode 351 about the spillover effect of fiber networks in areas like public works and agriculture. They talked about how high-bandwidth connections can reduce municipal labor overhead, allow companies to do predictive maintenance on expensive machines, and give farmers way more information about how their crops are doing in the field. 

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 54 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...

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Posted June 29, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Funding can seem like an insurmountable barrier to expanding Internet access and adoption. But for states, local communities, nonprofits, or other organizations looking for some help, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has updated its federal funding search tool for 2020. 

Whether you’re looking to find money specific to your region, to pair a broadband project with transportation infrastructure, to expand access on tribal lands, or to connect your community’s anchor institutions, the NTIA can help. The funding search tool also lets users sort through options depending on what stage of the process they’re at, so whether you’re exploring your options via a feasibility study or looking to evaluate or expand adoption rates, the tool has you covered. It also, helpfully, provides funding sources for those looking to fund programs to expand digital literacy skills and training.

You can find, for instance, the USDA ReConnect program there, which helps fund projects in rural areas. We’ve written about how communities in Virginia, Maine, Iowa, and elsewhere have secured ReConnect funding to advance community broadband development in their states. Likewise, we recently wrote about how Cumberland County, Maine, used a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant to fund a broadband plan that brought together several communities seeking better Internet connectivity in the region. 

See the USDA's complete Broadband Funding Guide [pdf] or dive into the online search tool.

More Resources

For more, see our two fact sheets on funding: Fact Sheet on...

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Posted June 17, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

As part of its Lunch and Learn series, the Community Broadband Action Network (CBAN) is hosting a webinar next week on New Market Tax Credits. The webinar, scheduled for Tuesday, June 23 at 12 p.m. central, will explore how communities can use the tax credits to help fund and deploy broadband networks.

Registration is free and required. Sign up online.

Who’s Who

CBAN, based out of Iowa, advocates for community-based broadband solutions and assists communities in improving local connectivity. Members of CBAN include local governments, broadband providers, and community organizations.

Shawnna Silvius, director of the Montgomery County Development Corporation, will moderate the discussion. Speakers for the webinar are Myriam Simmons of tax services firm Ryan and Jonathan Klassen of Rural Development Partners.

Money, Money, Money

We’ve covered community broadband network financing options many times in the past.

While many local governments opt to issue bonds or search out state and federal grants to fund connectivity projects, some have taken different, innovative approaches. For example, Ammon, Idaho, is using Local Improvement Districts to build out its fiber network. And in Virginia, Nelson County took advantage of Community Development Block Grants to expand connectivity.

For more, check out our fact sheets on Financing Municipal Networks [pdf] and Creative Funding Sources For Fiber Infrastructure [pdf].

Posted April 17, 2020 by Matthew Marcus

In the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire, at least six towns have voted to issue bonds to construct fiber networks in partnership with regional incumbent telephone company Consolidated Communications. Chesterfield approved the measure in April 2019 and recently executed a public-private partnership contract with Consolidated.

Chesterfield was the first municipality in New Hampshire to take advantage of Senate Bill 170, signed into law in 2018, which allows municipal governments to bond in order to build broadband infrastructure in places not served by commercial broadband providers. Over the last year, the towns of Dublin, Harrisville, Rindge, Walpole, and Westmoreland have also voted to bond are also in the process of bonding, or have already bonded (Rindge), and are finalizing public-private partnership contracts with Consolidated to develop Fiber-to-the-Home networks. The towns plan to issue bonds in July and should have finalized contracts by that point.

New Hampshire’s rural areas have struggled to connect rural residents to adequate broadband, and these towns are undertaking these partnerships to improve currently insufficient connectivity. Part of the challenge has been the rotating series of incumbent telephone companies, from Verizon to FairPoint and now Consolidated. Large publicly-traded telephone firms have difficulty justifying investments in rural areas when the same amount of capital could offer a much greater return in higher-density cities. But Consolidated is developing a new model with these towns that may work to everyone’s benefit.

Chesterfield has already executed their contract with Consolidated. The forthcoming contracts between Consolidated and Dublin, Harrisville, Rindge, Walpole, and Westmoreland will very likely be reflective of Chesterfield’s contract with one important difference, shared Tim Wessels, a Rindge Teltech Committee Member. The Chesterfield contract with Consolidated calls for the town to transfer the town-funded network to Consolidated when the 20-year bond is retired. But according to Wessels, Consolidated does not want to own the town-funded last-mile networks in Dublin, Harrisville, Rindge, Walpole, and Westmoreland, and this...

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Posted December 24, 2019 by lgonzalez

It was about five years ago that we brought consultant Eric Lampland from Lookout Point Communications into the office for episode 80 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. We've completed more than 300 other episodes since then, but his insight still rings true on the many indirect cost savings of community broadband networks. As activity in our office slows down a little for the holiday season, we thought this would be a great time to revisit the conversation with Eric to remind listeners of some of the reasons why so many communities are interested in taking control of their connectivity options with public investment. Enjoy! 

Today, Lisa and I are joined by Eric Lampland for a discussion of how a community could justify building a community owned network from the indirect benefits that it would create, including the savings that each household realizes from competition driving down prices. Eric Lampland is the CEO and principal consultant of Lookout Point Communications, which helps local governments that are building a network or considering an investment.

Eric and I start by discussing how quickly the cost savings per household add up to equal more than the cost of building a network and we digress from there, covering other topics related to community owned networks. This includes how big cable companies would respond to this approach.

I have to note that most community networks have not been justified on this basis - the vast majority of community networks were designed to pay their full costs and they are doing so. Here, we discuss the general benefits of these networks that are often sidelined in the policy discussion and how they alone may justify a fiber network.

Toward the end, we begin discussing open access, something we will...

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