Tag: "financing"

Posted June 17, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Last Tuesday, residents of three coastal Maine communities - Camden, Rockport, and Thomaston - voted to support Town Meeting articles authorizing each town's Select Boards to enter an interlocal agreement establishing the MidCoast Internet Development Corporation (MIDC), a nonprofit regional broadband utility in the Penobscot Bay Region of MidCoast Maine.

The type of regional utility the communities are seeking to establish is a broadband network utilizing an open-access model, in which the fiber infrastructure is municipally-owned, the maintenance of the network is managed by an outside firm, and private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide retail service to end-users. The ultimate goal of MIDC is to build an open-access, Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to provide universal Internet access across any towns which vote to sign onto MIDC’s interlocal agreement.

More than nine communities located in Knox and Waldo County formed the MidCoast Internet Coalition earlier this year, to indicate their support of establishing the MIDC regional utility district. Now, the towns which form the MidCoast Internet Coalition (Northport, Lincolnville, Hope, Camden, Rockport, Rockland, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Union, and Owls Head) are voting in phases to sign onto an interlocal agreement, legally recognizing the public utility under Maine law.

Faced with aging populations, a need to consider their economic futures, and no hope of investment from the monopoly ISPs, many cities across Maine have joined forces to develop their own publicly-owned broadband utilities. MIDC is one of three regional broadband utilities in Maine, alongside the Katahdin Region Broadband Utility and the Downeast Broadband Utility (DBU). MIDC will follow the same regional approach as DBU, a utility which found deploying a fiber network and allowing local ISPs to offer services over the infrastructure was the most feasible approach to ensure high-speed, reliable Internet was accessible to residents. Since being established in 2018, DBU now...

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Posted June 13, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Merit Network, owner and operator of Michigan's research and education network and source of many wonderful resources for communities looking to improve local Internet access through its Moonshot initiative, is running a webinar on June 16th from 12-1pm CT on the benefits of the open access model:

Digital networks are long past the point where it’s sufficient to merely provide internet access. Having a sustainable network provides the freedom of information exchange, fosters a competitive ecosystem, and enables digital innovation essential for growth and long-term affordability, making it the best option for residents, institutions and businesses.

Experts from Merit Network, ETI Software Solutions and EntryPoint discuss the benefits of implementing an open-access network-a strong alternative to the pervasive single-service provider model used today.

Panelists include Jeff Christensen (President, EntryPoint Networks), Jeffrey Denham (Broadband Specialist, ETI Software Solutions), Bob Stovall (VP of Infrastructure Strategy and Research, Merit Network), Peter Pizzutillo (Vice President, ETI Software Solutions), Devin Cox (EVP of Business Development, Entrypoint Networks), Pierrette Dagg, Director of Marketing and Communications, Merit Network). 

Read more about open access at our Learn page, or listen to Jeff Christensen talk more about the open-access model on Episode 424 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast below.

Posted June 7, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Michigan broadband package repeals law prohibiting state grants from going to government entities

Montana Legislature duplicates federal limitations against schools and library self-constructing networks

U.S. House Republicans bill would give USDA authority over rural broadband, in place of FCC 

The State Scene 

Michigan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive directive on Wednesday establishing the Michigan High-Speed Internet (MIHI) Office, a new state office tasked with developing a strategy to make high-speed Internet more accessible to Michiganders. 

Gov. Whitmer has argued that more than $2.5 billion in potential economic benefit is left unrealized each year due to a lack of Internet access across the state. MIHI will be housed inside the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). Speaking of the new office, LEO Acting Director Susan Corbin said, “We need to make major investments to support digital inclusion and this office will be focused on leveraging every dollar available through the American Recovery Plan and other federal programs,” reports WILX.

Michigan lawmakers are moving to answer Corbin’s call and recently proposed a $400 million one-time allocation of incoming federal relief funds to the newly created MIHI to work toward expanding access to broadband. With the funds, LEO would be tasked with maintaining a statewide broadband grant program, the Connecting Michigan Communities Broadband Grant. 

The legislative package [pdf] would allow the state to “award grant money to a governmental entity or educational institution or an affiliate or a public/private partnership, to own, purchase, construct, operate, or maintain a communications network.” The legislation calls for prioritizing projects that will provide discounted Internet service to low-income households and projects that “demonstrate collaboration to achieve community investment and...

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Posted May 27, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Less than six months after its creation and a year after the city of Waukegan, Illinois (pop. 89,000) began exploring options to improve connectivity in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Request for Proposals (RFP) has been issued by the Waukegan Broadband Task Force in search of qualified applicants to assist in the creation of a broadband master plan. Applications are due June 30th, 2021.

Waukegan is situated about halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee, along the west coast of Lake Michigan. A 2020 initial broadband assessment showed challenges related to price, devices, digital skills for remote learning, and a lack of coordination to get income-qualified residents onto incumbent ISP's low-income plans. The city is served by a patchwork of ISPs, including cable from Comcast, DSL from AT&T and TDS, and fixed wireless from Rise Broadband with starting prices on plans ranging from $30/month to $60/month.

The Task Force website outlines the group's goals and stakes for the community:

There are few cities with the opportunities that exist within Waukegan. However, to truly become a ‘City of Progress’ , Waukegan must take the critical steps necessary to achieve its great potential. While 2020 brought challenges to communities around the globe, it also presented opportunities for innovation, collaboration, change and growth. The Waukegan Community Broadband Taskforce is an open, collective impact inititative of committed community stakeholders for all residents, businesses, institutions interested in working together to create a path to the future.

The RFP calls for solutions addressing access, adoption and utilization, sustainable funding, and communication and community engagement with a particular focus on remote learning, telehealth, and economic development.

The steering committee for the task force is made up of a collection of local nonprofits, the public library, the community center, city officials, and the school district. Funding for the master plan will come from private contributions.

Applicants can direct questions to wbctaskforce@gmail.com by 5pm on June 6th, with full RFPs due by June 30th.

Posted May 25, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

North Carolina Governor budgets $1.2 billion of Rescue Plan funds towards closing the digital divide

Vermont Senate includes private ISPs in what was a community-based solution to universal access

Alabama Governor approves $17 million in broadband grants, some to Comcast and Charter Spectrum

The State Scene

North Carolina 

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper released a budget proposal last Wednesday that anticipates using $1.2 billion of incoming federal COVID-19 relief funds towards broadband infrastructure, affordability initiatives, and expanding digital literacy. With North Carolina set to receive a total of $5.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds, Gov. Cooper is dedicating nearly one-fifth of the incoming relief to closing the digital divide. 

Next, the State House, Senate, and the North Carolina General Assembly will create their proposals for how to spend the relief funding. Then, they'll have to rectify any differences. Each chamber's plans could look similar to the governor's or vastly different. 

Gov. Cooper’s proposal specifically allocates [pdf]:

  • $600 million towards expanding broadband infrastructure, including: $350 million for the state’s existing last-mile grant program (GREAT grants), $150 million for competitive bidding which will allow county governments to leverage the funds for public-private partnerships, and $100 million towards stop gap solutions “to address local infrastructure needs and connect underserved households not likely to get fiber for three to four years.”

  • $420 million towards affordability initiatives which will subsidize low-income service plans.

  • $165 million for digital literacy, including: $40 million towards device support to provide computers to 96,000 households which currently lack them; $30 million towards break/fix services to replace devices for over 275,000 North Carolinians; and $95 million towards community-based digital literacy campaigns.

The plan aims to connect 100 percent of North Carolina households with children to high-speed Internet access by 2025, and anticipates the affordability initiatives in the proposed budget will provide 380,000 individuals with a $50/month subsidy for four years. 

Although some of North Carolina’s...

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Posted May 24, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Join us on Thursday, May 27 at 5pm ET/4pm CT with a special Financing Edition of the Connect This! show, with co-hosts Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) joined by Doug Dawson (President, CCG Consulting) and Kim McKinley (CMO, UTOPIA Fiber). The group will dive into the numbers and talk about the economics that make networks succeed. They'll talk about the different models to broadband buildouts, types of financing available to municipalities and small private ISPs, grant programs, the factors that drive healthy take rates, and economies of scale.

The show will begin on Thursday, May 27 at 5pm ET/4pm CT.

Subscribe to the show using this feed, or visit ConnectThisShow.com

Email us broadband@muninetworks.org with feedback and ideas for the show.

Watch here, or below.

Posted May 24, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

With $3.9 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act on its way to Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan and state legislative leaders have agreed to seize the moment, allocating $300 million of federal COVID-19 relief funds to expand broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion initiatives across the state.

The biggest bulk of the money – $97 million – will go towards funding the building of physical infrastructure with $45 million earmarked specifically for municipal broadband grants.

“The question isn’t how much it’ll cost to bridge the digital divide, the question is how much will it cost if we don’t act right now,” State Senate President Bill Ferguson said at a press conference when the funding was announced.

The bipartisan budget agreement was hailed by Gov. Hogan, a Republican, as an example for the nation demonstrating how “people from different parties can still come together, that we can put the people’s priorities first, and that we can deliver real, bipartisan, common sense solutions to the serious problems that face us.”

One “serious problem” in Maryland, according to a recent Abell Foundation report, is that 23 percent of Maryland households (520,000) do not have a wireline home Internet connection, 40 percent (or 206,000) of which are Black households.

Much of that comes from a lack of affordability and other barriers to adoption. To deal with those challenges, the budget agreement also includes $45 million to subsidize monthly Internet service costs for qualifying families and $30 million to pay for Internet-connected devices for financially eligible households. It also includes an additional $4 million for a new University System of Maryland program to support training and developing curriculum to bridge the digital divide as well as $2 million for digital navigator programs.

Here is an itemized breakdown of...

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Posted May 14, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

As reported in the New Hampshire Union Leaderthe same grassroots effort which helped to spur the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative (NEHC) to add broadband to its charter last fall is now calling for the addition of two new broadband-minded board members to the cooperative's governance structure. From organizing leader Richard Knox:

The current board deserves high praise for its responsiveness to co-op members’ call last spring to branch out into broadband. But these fast-changing times call for NHEC to step up its game and be more proactive to meet members’ expectations.

Part of the impetus, according to advocates, is to better position NEHC to take advantage of upcoming state and federal grants to build out infrastructure to its more than 80,000 members as quickly as possible. Read the full story here.

 

Posted May 14, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Baratunde Thurston hosted Bruce Patterson on the most recent episode of his podcast How To Citizen. The episode is a deep dive into the consequences of a lack of competition in Internet access, and how the city of Ammon on stepped up to meet the challenge. Baratunde talks with Technology Director Bruce Patterson about how he got into this space, how the project got started, and the wealth of positive outcomes it has help drive for the community.

Listen here, then watch the video below on how the network is saving money, creating competition for broadband services, and creating powerful new public safety applications.

Posted May 13, 2021 by Maren Machles

Last week we wrote about the partnership between Long Prairie, Minnesota and the  forward-thinking and locally minded local telephone cooperative CTC to build a citywide fiber network and bring affordable, high-speed Internet to everyone in town.

Long Prairie isn’t alone, however, among north-central Minnesota communities needing better options, and for at least two others CTC has become a natural partner. This is both because of its location - offering service across the region in Sullivan Lake, Randall, Pillager, Outing, Nokay Lake, Nisswa, Motley, Mission, Lincoln, Leader, Freedhem, Ely, Brainerd, Baxter, and Crosby -  and because it has become one of the most aggressive fiber builders in the state.

Two other cities, specifically, Ely and Little Falls, have also partnered with CTC to bring fiber loops to their business districts. Both communities have faced challenges when it came to building and connecting their residents and businesses to a fiber network.

Dealt a Poor Hand, Ely Forged Ahead

The City of Ely sits on the Southern side of Shagawa Lake with a population of 3,500. While iron used to be what drove the economy, today Ely is a tourist destination and is known as the entry point for the Boundary Waters

Back in 2010, the City of Ely was in a difficult position. There were plans to bring FTTH to the city as part of the Lake County’s county-wide FTTH broadband project. But unfortunately, the project faced a number of obstacles (including pole attachment agreements, weather, and financing issues), and ultimately construction ended before it could reach Ely. 

Likewise, the nearby region has seen improved middle-mile connectivity in the recent past. The Telecommunications and Technology division of the Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC), which owns...

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