Tag: "financing"

Posted June 5, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

On May 30th, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu signed SB 170, a bill local community leaders had watched for more than a year. The measure will allow municipalities to bond for publicly owned Internet network infrastructure. Advocates, local elected officials, and citizens have been seeking the authority for years. SB 170 may raise some questions as it's implemented, but the bill is significant because it symbolizes this state's decision to expand local authority for broadband investment, rather than limit the power of local communities.

Read the final version of SB 170 here.

A Better Measurement

As we reported more than a year ago, SB 170 sought to make changes in existing law by allowing local communities to bond for Internet infrastructure. The bill sat in committee until last November, when it was amended and picked up again. The final version of SB 170 allows communities to bond for projects that will connect premises that don’t have access to broadband as defined by the FCC — 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

Should the definition of broadband at the FCC increase to faster speeds, so will the definition as it applies in New Hampshire. This is a welcome approach as big ISPs around the country have in recent years tried to convince state legislators to reduce the speed definition of broadband in state legislation. Many is the time well-meaning or well-funded state lawmakers decided to use the incumbent-dictated 10 Mbps / 1 Mbps or even 4 Mbps / 1 Mbps in order to appease the likes of AT&T or CenturyLink. Some states, such as New Hampshire, are realizing that such slow thresholds translate into very little investment into the type of Internet access residents and businesses need. Other states can learn from New Hampshire...

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Posted June 1, 2018 by Hannah Trostle

It took an extra year for a community in Minnesota to finally see high-quality Internet service. Balaton spent an extra year in connectivity purgatory while Frontier delayed a much-needed project. To learn more, we connected with the Balaton and Marshall Economic Development Director Tara Onken and Woodstock Communications Vice President and General Manager Terry Nelson.

Balaton: An Underserved Community

Balaton, is a small town of 600 people in Lyon County, located in the southwest area of the state. Balaton’s Internet service is dismal; residents have access to satellite, fixed wireless, or DSL. Satellite is unreliable, and the fixed wireless services’ max speed is 5 - 10 Mbps. DSL service varies based on how far the home is from the central office. In some places in town, DSL should be able to reach broadband speed -- 25 Mbps (download) / 3 Mbps (upload), but in reality, DSL is slow and unreliable because it is based on old copper lines. 

In 2016, the small private company Woodstock Communications decided to improve connectivity in Balaton. Woodstock already had service to a few local businesses and other members of the community were asking for service. When the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Program grant applications opened, the company requested a grant of about $413,000

The goal was to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service of 1 Gigabit-per-second (Gbps), upload and download, to the underserved residents -- 40 times faster than broadband. FTTH is the fastest, most reliable technology available but also most capital-intensive. It’s available to only about 25 percent of the U.S. population.

Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Program offers matching grants to broadband projects in unserved and underserved areas. The program aims to meet certain speed goals set by state law: By 2022, all...

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Posted May 22, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

When municipalities and other local governments are planning for publicly owned Internet infrastructure, they must coordinate many moving pieces to get the project going and to keep it on a successful track. In this interview, Christopher and Tom Coverick, Managing Director at KeyBanc Capital Markets, discuss one of the most important components of community network planning: finance.

Christopher and Tom met up at the May 2018 Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas.

In addition to some of the types of bonding and other mechanisms communities use to fund their projects, Christopher and Tom discuss the politics and ancillary issues that affect local leaders’ decisions to take the step to finance for a project. Risk is a consideration and it affects the cost of financing. Tom advocates that financing should be part of the equation early in the planning process and he explains why his experience has led him to this conclusion. Christopher and Tom also talk about some creative funding techniques that local communities have used to make borrowing more palatable and suitable for their unique situations.

This show is 25 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. 

Posted May 1, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

There are often common characteristics among communities that have invested in fiber optic infrastructure. While many of them can't get the connectivity they need from the incumbents or lack reliable Internet access, many begin their ventures into better broadband by connecting utility facilities. A new nonprofit, the Post Road Foundation, sees a valuable link between intelligent infrastructure, high-quality connectivity, and sustainability. By bringing together members of the public and private sectors, the Post Road Foundation is implementing an innovative approach to funding. With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, they've selected five partners to begin implementing their new approach to funding, connectivity, and sustainability.

Bringing It All Together

Co-founders of the Post Road Foundation, Waide Warner and Seth Hoedl, have decades of experience between them in law, policy, and leadership. Their areas of expertise span cyberlaw, government and finance, environmental law and policy, electricity, telecommunications and energy law and policy, nuclear physics, and the list goes on. Through their years of research and in consulting with both public and private entities, Warner and Hoedl both saw that many rural communities needed better connectivity for economic development, better quality of life, and to keep populations strong. They've also found that if local communities or cooperatives are able to use fiber optics to synergize multiple utilities, the community is resilient and more self-reliant.

bluefiber_reverse.jpg Smart grid applications along with water and wastewater utility controls are already known to reduce waste and cut costs in places such as Chattanooga. Smart grids can quickly determine where any damage to a network occurs, allows energy to be diverted to prevent loss of service for customers, and if necessary alerts the control center where an outage has occurred. The system prevents or greatly reduce outages, reduces the number and time that trucks and technicians need to be dispatched, and prevents loss of...

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Posted April 27, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

Nestled along the south eastern border of Maine are Baileyville and Calais. As rural communities situated next to Canada in the state's "Downeast" region, neither town is on a list of infrastructure upgrades from incumbents. With an aging population, a need to consider their economic future, and no hope of help from big national ISPs, Baileyville and Calais are joining forces and developing their own publicly owned broadband utility.

Baileyville and Calais

There are about 3,000 residents in Calais (pronounced "Kal-iss") and 1,500 in Baileyville, but according to Julie Jordan, Director of Downeast Economic Development Corporation (DEDC), many of those residents are aging and younger people find little reason to stay or relocate in Washington County. The community recognizes that they need to draw in new industries and jobs that will attract young families to keep the towns from fading off the map.

Most of the residents in the region must rely on slow DSL from Consolidated Communications (formerly FairPoint), while a few have access to cable from Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable); expensive and unreliable satellite is also an option and there's some limited fixed wireless coverage in the area. A few larger businesses that require fiber optic connectivity can find a way to have it installed, but Julie tells us that it's incredibly expensive in the area and most can't afford the high rates for fiber.

Economic Development Driven

logo-baileyville-me.png Organized in 2015, the nonprofit DEDC came together with the focus on recruiting new businesses to the area and to support existing businesses. As DEDC quickly discovered, unless the region could offer high-speed, reliable Internet infrastructure, attracting new businesses and helping existing businesses expand would be extremely difficult. They also determined that new families would not be interested in Baileyville or Calais without high-quality connectivity. "It was a no-brainer," says Julie, "you have to go fiber."

One of the largest regional employers, Woodland Pulp, need fiber in order to operate and as Julie describes, "they pay up the nose" for connectivity. All their equipment is computerized and they...

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Posted April 18, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

When the announcement came out in 2015 that Sanford, Maine, would invest in the state’s largest municipal fiber optic network, media outlets were abuzz with the news. The situation has quieted down as the community has been working to plan for the project. Earlier this month, Sanford released its second Request for Proposals (RFP) for Fiber Optic Construction for the network; responses are due May 2nd.

Second Shot

Back when the city began the process of investing in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, they conducted an original RFP process and selected a construction firm. Before the project began, however, Sanford won a significant award from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and, according to the EDA, the city’s RFP process did not conform to EDA bid process requirements. In order to accept the award, the city needs to re-run to RFP process.

The project will cost approximately $1.5 million and, with the federal grant slated to pay for around half at $769,000, Sanford officials see the benefit of taking the time to release a second RFP. The city will use proceeds from the sale of a former school property to fund the remaining. They anticipate construction to begin in July and estimate the project will be completed and the network will be ready to operate by November.

As the RFP states, the project will connect approximately 85 community anchor institutions (CAIs) to a network of about 40 miles of fiber and to the state’s middle mile Three Ring Binder. In addition to City Hall, they intend to connect schools, healthcare facilities, libraries, and public works buildings. There are also a significant number of business locations on the list of addresses that Sanford officials want connected to the network. The community has already chosen Maine’s GWI to operate the open access network. 

You can listen to our conversation with CEO Fletcher Kittredge in episode 176 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. He and Christopher discuss Sanford and other projects in Maine.

Sanford And The Region

Until the 1950s, the community’s modern economy...

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Posted April 17, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

When Fort Collins voters chose to amend their charter last year, they were choosing a path to simplify their ability to improve local connectivity. When Comcast tried to derail the measure to protect their monopoly, community members established a vibrant grassroots effort to overcome the influx of cash and disinformation. Now, Fort Collins is moving ahead after establishing that they intend to issue revenue bonds to develop a municipal fiber optic network.

Big Spending Didn’t Stop The Need

After all the spending was totaled last December, Comcast and CenturyLink under the mask of Priorities First Fort Collins, spent $900,999 to try to defeat measure 2B. The proposal passed anyway and allowed the city to amend its charter. That change allows Fort Collins to issue bonds for telecommunications infrastructure and to take other steps necessary to offer Internet service without taking the issue to the voters a separate time.

Thanks to the efforts of Colin Garfield and Glen Akins and their citizen-led effort to educate and correct Comcast’s disinformation, voters in Fort Collins passed measure 2B. The city opted out of the state’s restrictive SB 152 back in 2015 and voices in the community have advocated for exploration of a publicly owned option for several years. Seems people and businesses in Fort Collins were not able to get the connectivity they needed and incumbents weren’t interested in providing better services.

When the FCC decided late in 2017 to abandon network neutrality policy, Fort Collins City Council decided the time was right to move forward. In January, they voted to establish a municipal telecommunications utility. Their first step was in approving $1.8 million for startup costs, including hiring personnel, equipment, and consulting; the measure passed unanimously. The city council approved the loan from the city’s general fund to the city’s electric...

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Posted April 13, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

Lawmakers in Ohio are slowly advancing a proposal to help fund rural broadband deployment. HB 378 has similarities to Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Program and will infuse $100 million in to broadband deployment ecosystem over the next two years. It’s a welcome lift for rural areas struggling to fend off economic dilemmas.

Companions

Last fall, State Senators Cliff Hite and Joe Schiavoni announced their intention to introduce a bill with the same effect. HB 378, however, appeared to pick up steam in March and, after strong bipartisan support in committee and on the floor of the House, the bill went on to the Senate on April 12th.

Back in October, Schiavoni said in a press release:

“This legislation is incredibly important to Ohio’s future. Without access to broadband internet service, businesses can’t reach their customers, students can’t do their homework and workers have difficulty searching for jobs.”

Democrat Ryan Smith and Republican Jack Cera introduced HB 378 with an eye toward economic development in their districts and other rural areas of the state facing the need to diversify their local economies. 

“With this bill, we have the opportunity to level the playing field for rural Ohioans when it comes to vital broadband infrastructure,” said Rep. Smith [in October]. “High speed broadband is the only way we can continue growing our economic base by attracting new commercial development and securing a strong labor force, our most valuable resource.”

Main Points

Like the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Program, which has helped expand high-quality rural connectivity, this proposal doesn’t limit eligibility to private sector entities. Political subdivisions, nonprofits, and cooperatives can also receive awards of up to $5 million or half the cost of the project, whichever is less. This element of the bill is welcome and...

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Posted April 10, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

In Colorado last week, communities held spring elections if they needed to choose elected officials or ask voters to make decisions on local matters. In six rural communities, voters decided to join the almost 120 municipalities and counties around the state that have already voted to opt out of Colorado’s restrictive state law SB 152. Meanwhile, the General Assembly tried to help bring broadband to the state's most rural areas.

A Resounding Yes

In all six towns, the decision to reclaim local telecommunications authority far outpaced the number of voters who voted “no.” In keeping with similar measures we’ve followed during previous elections on this same question, voters want the opportunity to use their own infrastructure to improve connectivity either directly to the public or with a private sector partner. Most communities that put this issue to the voters don’t have a solid plan in place at the time it’s on the ballot, but they understand that opting out of the 2005 law is a necessary step, should they decide in the future to move ahead with a muni or public-private partnership.

The measure always passes and voters usually approve the opt out provision by a wide margin, as was the case on April 3rd. Here’s the tally:

Firestone : Yes 1568 - No 347

Frisco : Yes 634 - No 69

Lake City : Yes 222 - No 18

Limon : Yes 347 - No 92

Lyons : Yes 526 - No 139

Severence : Yes 621 - No 118

Colorado has been abuzz with activity in recent years as local communities reclaim their right to decide how they handle connectivity improvements. The developments have run into resistance from Comcast and other big national ISPs that feel their monopoly threatened. Last fall, Comcast spent close to a million dollars in a failed attempt to defeat a measure in Fort Collins as the city amended its charter to allow it to invest in a municipal network. Before it could take that step, however, the city held a referendum in the fall of 2015 to opt out of SB 152.

In addition to Fort Collins, several other communities that have opted out in recent years are moving forward....

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Posted March 27, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

Electric cooperatives in Virginia are continuing to transform connectivity in the state’s rural communities. With funding assistance from state and local government, projects in Mecklenburg and Appomattox Counties will soon be moving forward.

Building Out Mecklenburg

The Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission (TRCC) was formed when the state, along with Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Texas, chose to break off from a Master Settlement Agreement between the largest tobacco companies and the remaining 46 states. The proceeds from their separate settlement have been used for broadband and other projects to diversify the economy. The TRCC administers grants and a loan fund.

Last fall, the Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) announced that they planned to upgrade their fiber optic network infrastructure to connect substations and district offices. The board of directors decided that the upgrade would give them the perfect opportunity to engage in a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot project. As part of the project, MEC entered into an agreement to use the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) fiber backbone.

The cooperative applied for a grant from TRRC and recently learned that they've been awarded $2.6 million for the $5.2 million project. They've dubbed the initiative the EmPower Broadband Cooperative.

EmPower will begin by offering 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical Internet service for approximately $65 - $75 per month; VoIP will also be available. Members within 1,000 feet of the backbone that MEC deploys will have the ability to sign up for the service. Like other pilot projects, MEC will use the opportunity to fine tune the service and gage interest before they decide whether or not to take EmPower to the rest of their electric service area and possibly beyond.

President of MEC John Lee:

Electric cooperatives are, far and away, the best positioned entities to bring ultra-high-speed broadband to the unserved or underserved rural areas of the Commonwealth, and MEC has...

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