Tag: "FTTH"

Posted January 13, 2022 by Maren Machles

Once a booming center of manufacturing, Allentown, PA (pop. 120,900) is looking to reinvigorate its economy by reinventing itself as a modern 21st century “smart city,” bringing fiber-to-the-home Internet connectivity to every resident in the city.

In October, the city proposed using $7 million of its $57 million in American Rescue Act Funds to aid in the deployment of a citywide FTTH network. City leaders hope the investment will help them reach the goal outlined in its strategic economic development plan to become a smart city by 2030.

The city will work with Iota Communications to conduct a feasibility study they hope will be complete in the coming months. While the possibility of a FTTH network is in the early stages for the city, the proposal signals a serious ambition to bridge the digital divide in the region.

Feeling The Way Forward

Allentown is one of three cities that make up a larger geographic area known as Lehigh Valley, with the other cities being Easton (pop. 27,000) and Bethlehem (pop. 75,500). For a while now, leaders in the valley have been talking about the digital divide and it’s been made clear with the pandemic that it can no longer be put on the backburner.

Pennsylvania lawmakers passed a law 2019 clearing the way for municipalities to have more of a say in how 5G is deployed in their communities. And while many local officials say the new law will help pave the way for Allentown to stay ahead of the curve, some have cautioned that a focus on 5G is a major distraction.

“My caution (at a recent roundtable) was that putting our focus on 5G and not focusing on the digital divide that still exists would be leapfrogging over the problem,” Lehigh University Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Officer Donald Outing told LehighValleyLive.com. “5G will not resolve that digital divide. If we are not intentional about our efforts...

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Posted January 7, 2022 by Emma Gautier

Five small towns in rural Maine are connecting with one another in a steady grassroots effort to expand broadband access in the Midcoast. After conducting a survey which affirmed the towns’ acute need for better connectivity, a local coalition is navigating state funding and weighing network options. 

In Waldo County, a collection of local officials and community volunteers have formed the Southwestern Waldo County Broadband Coalition (SWCBC) to organize efforts to bring broadband to five towns in rural Maine, clustered about 30 miles east of Augusta. Freedom, Liberty, Montville, Palermo and Searsmont combined have only 3,300 houses along 340 miles of road. The need for better Internet access became particularly visible during the pandemic, as local officials tried to convene online for Selectmen’s meetings. Two selectpersons from neighboring towns connected over this shared need for access, and the coalition grew from there. 

Phase I of the project included distributing a survey to assess connectivity needs across the towns, as well as taking inventory of existing infrastructure. This phase was funded by ConnectMaine, with support from the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments and the Island Institute. The initial connectivity need survey found that out of respondents who did not have Internet access, 55 percent had no provider offering wireline access, and for 32 percent access was too expensive. 76 percent of respondents with Internet access reported a deteriorated connection with more than one user online, and 56 percent experienced an Internet connection problem at least once a day. The data also showed that “96 percent of the 70 miles of road in Searsmont [the largest of the five towns], are either underserved or not served at all by current Internet service providers.”

The coalition has identified four possible models to solve the connectivity gap and...

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Posted January 5, 2022 by Karl Bode

Since 1972, the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority (FPUA) has provided gas, electric, water, and natural gas services to Fort Pierce, Florida and surrounding areas. Now, inspired by efforts in cities like Chattanooga, the utility hopes to leverage that expertise to deliver affordable fiber Internet access to the city’s 45,000 residents as part of a significant expansion of its internal fiber network. 

Building on Its I-Net

Since the early 2000s, FPUA has deployed 110 miles of optical fiber via its FPUAnet Communications division. Initially, the project focused on bringing ultra-fast fiber broadband to large businesses, schools, hospitals, and other community anchor institutions. 

In 2018, the city decided to expand its footprint to boost the local economy and cement Fort Pierce’s future reputation as a smart city of the future. First by upgrading the company’s existing utility systems (connected to 30,000 existing customer energy meters), then by utilizing that access to drive expanded fiber connectivity to smaller business and residential customers alike. 

“We wanted to look at what we can do, and what are the needs in the community,” Jason Mittler, FPUAnet manager told me. “We have other local competition…Comcast, AT&T are competitors in the area. But in the realm of symmetrical speeds, no one really offers it.”

Fort Pierce certainly isn’t alone in that regard. Even the notoriously inflated FCC data indicates that most U.S. communities rarely have access to symmetrical speeds of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and faster, and competition at those speeds is largely nonexistent. Addressing this market failure created an obvious business expansion opportunity for FPUANet that would not only bring additional value to its existing utility customers in the form of improved reliability and cost savings, but improve regional connectivity while keeping those dollars local

“Upload speeds here in Fort Pierce are not good,” Mittler noted, pointing to the top-heavy speed tiers of both cable broadband and DSL offerings. In contrast, FPUAnet will utilize GPON fiber...

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Posted January 4, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Pageland, South Carolina, a small rural town in Chesterfield County, is known for its watermelon. The town once billed itself as the “Watermelon Capital of the World” and still hosts an annual Watermelon Festival every summer that draws thousands of visitors each year. But these days something different is growing off the vine out of Pageland that is rejuvenating the region.

Spanning three rural counties in the north-central part of the state, the Lynches River Electric Cooperative (LREC) – a member-owned cooperative headquartered in Pageland – announced a partnership with North Carolina-based Fiber Optic Solutions in January of 2020 on the start of construction for a fiber-to-the-home network. Through its wholly-owned subsidiary RiverNet Connect, the “goal is to provide world-class Internet [access] to every house, on every dirt road that wants it and we won’t stop until we’ve done just that.”

High Speed Construction and Service

Having already deployed fiber to connect its electric substations, in June of 2019 LREC surveyed its members to gauge whether they wanted the co-op to extend the network and begin offering high-speed Internet service. Over 5,000 members responded to the survey indicating they were overwhelmingly in favor of the idea.

Two months later, the LREC Board of Trustees voted unanimously to bring fiber Internet service in phases to its members living in Chesterfield, Kershaw, and Lancaster counties. That was followed by an announcement in October of 2019 at LREC’s annual membership meeting that the co-op had created RiverNet Connect.

The 82-year-old cooperative, which currently serves 21,000 members, began building the fiber-to-the-home network in February of 2020. But, despite the challenges of working in the middle of a pandemic, by May of 2020 construction crews were deploying between 12 to 20 miles of fiber per week,...

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Posted December 20, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

FairlawnGig has released a new, short, six-minute video that captures why broadband infrastructure is essential for improving quality of life and boosting economic development in communities across Ohio, highlighting a lesson more cities and towns across the nation are learning first-hand: if the goal is to build a bridge over the digital divide, local communities will likely have to build it themselves.

The video (which you can watch in its entirety by clicking on the video embedded below) also serves as a subtle but fitting admonition of an anonymous state Senator who submitted an amendment into the state budget earlier this year. If passed, it would have threatened to put the award-winning fiber network out of business and prevented other communities in the Buckeye State from following in Fairlawn’s footsteps.

Thankfully, the amendment – a gift to incumbent monopoly ISPs intent on crushing any competition – was rejected after state lawmakers were inundated with constituent complaints about the “in the dark of night” proposal.

Compelled to Take It on Themselves

Fairlawn, a small city of approximately 7,500 Ohioans about 10 miles northeast of Akron, created a telecommunications utility in 2015 to bring city-wide access to high-speed Internet service after years of dealing with subpar broadband offerings. Today, the network enjoys a take-rate of 60 percent while subscribers enjoy a choice of three residential services tiers: a 300 Megabits per second symmetrical connection for $55/month; symmetrical gig speed service for $75/month; or 2.5 Gigabits per second service for $149/month.

In the video, the narrator begins with an observation that is fast becoming obvious to just about everyone:

Many communities in the U.S. are being left behind due to a lack of adequate Internet service and access to state of the art technology.

...
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Posted December 17, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

In August we reported on the effort to bring municipal fiber-to-the-home service to Gainesville. At the time, city commissioners were wrestling with whether to spend a portion of its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to start construction on the first phase of a citywide fiber network.

After postponing a previously scheduled vote on how to spend the money at a meeting in October, city commissioners earlier this month voted to set aside $9.6 million of the city’s $32 million in Rescue Plan funds to extend its existing fiber network to connect over 2,000 businesses and nearly 10,000 homes in areas of the north central Florida city identified by planners as neighborhoods where service is most needed. Those neighborhoods include Springhill, Grove Street, Oakview Duckpond, Stephen Foster, Lincoln Estates, Duval, and Highland Court Manor.

“This is a huge step forward for our community,” said Bryan Eastman, founder of Connected Gainesville, a citizen-led advocacy group that launched in 2017 pushing for the city’s utility company to build out its existing fiber network to serve all of Alachua County.

Our city residents are tired of the status quo and are ready for a more connected future with better Internet [access] options. Thank you to our city commission for investing in this future. This is not the final vote on this, but it's the biggest step we've taken yet.

‘Powerful forces’ Lurk Behind-the-Scenes

While city commissioners voted to “set aside” the ARPA funds for broadband expansion, it was not a final vote to fund the project. The final vote is slated for January 6, 2022 after commissioners hear from city staff on how they intend to roll out the initiative.

Eastman said that while the final vote seems likely to pass, now is the time to keep pushing.

“There are still powerful forces that don’t want this to come to fruition, so we’re doing everything we can to get citizens to reach out and tell their commissioners they want municipal broadband in Gainesville,” he told us earlier this week.

Majority Believe Expanding Broadband Access is ‘Essential’

Gainesville Regional Utility (GRU) has...

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Posted December 13, 2021 by Maren Machles

In an effort to connect rural communities in eastern Mississippi where the big monopoly Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have failed to deliver– Mississippi Power has agreed to lease its dark fiber to East Mississippi Connect (EMC), the telecommunications subsidiary of the East Mississippi Electric Power Association (EMEPA). The immediate goal is to bring high-speed Internet connectivity to underserved areas in Lauderdale (pop. 74,000) and Kemper (pop. 9,700) counties. 

In February, EMC received $38.6 million in Rural Digital Opportunity Funds (RDOF) grants to deploy fiber-to-the-home broadband to rural residents in the eastern part of the state. EMC, approved by EMEPA members and established in October 2020, has been building out the network in phases, with the majority of Phase One – which covers parts of Lauderdale, Kemper and Clark counties – complete, or near completion. There are a total of five phases that will eventually reach into 11 counties and connect 37,000 homes and businesses. 

The deal marks the first time Mississippi Power has agreed to lease its dark fiber – a move that was buoyed by a recently passed state law that allows electric utilities to “permit broadband providers use of the electric delivery system.” 

EMC has two pricing and speed tiers: 100 Megabit per second symmetrical for $70/month and 1 Gigabit per second for $100/month. 

​​“We are excited to be partnering with Mississippi Power to expand our opportunity of reaching an even greater number of rural communities with access to high-speed fiber Internet,” East Mississippi Electric Power Association Chief Executive Officer Randy Carroll said in a joint press release.

A number of rural communities were left in...

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Posted December 8, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Earlier this month, Waterloo City Councilors unanimously approved a $2.5 million contract using its American Rescue Plan funds to hire Magellan Advisors to design and engineer a fiber-to-the-home network for the ninth-largest city in Iowa (est. population 68,000).

The plan, as we previously reported, is to deploy 309 miles of underground fiber across the city, which according to Magellan’s proposed contract, will pass “nearly every household and business throughout the community.”

Although the design and engineering work will provide city officials with an official estimate on how much it will cost to build the network, a study commissioned by the Waterloo Industrial Development Association (WIDA) in 2019 estimated it would cost between $39 million and $65 million to construct a city-wide network, according to the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier.

The city’s Chief Financial Officer, Michelle Weidner, told Government Technology magazine the city is likewise eyeing American Rescue Plan funds to help pay for construction costs, although City Councilor Pat Morrissey noted that a bond issue will likely be necessary – something that Morrissey said is well worth it “in the long run.”

"You don't grow a community by cutting, you grow a community by investing," Morrissey said. "And what we as taxpayers will be doing is investing in something that is so long overdue, and I believe will be so appreciated."

Long Time Coming

While Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart touted his 2030 Vision Plan, which included bringing better broadband to the city in his recent...

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Posted November 22, 2021 by Maren Machles

Municipal broadband networks have struggled to get a foothold in Washington state given the historical restrictions that have been put on local governmental entities, barring them from offering retail broadband service. But, as state lawmakers lifted those restrictions earlier this year, several PUDs are well-positioned to seize the moment, building on the momentum generated by a collaborative effort led by a publicly owned corporation known as Petrichor

Created in 2018, Petrichor is committed to serving tribes, cities, counties, and ports and is now working with 30 of the 47 counties in the Evergreen State, as well as a number of communities in the neighboring state of Idaho. It’s primary purpose is to share its expertise and help communities apply for state and federal grant money to deploy broadband infrastructure.

Working in collaboration with Cowlitz County (pop.110,600), Petrichor and the county recently co-published a report identifying the region of the state north of Longview, south of Castle Rock and west of West Side Highway as areas in desperate need of expanded high-speed Internet access.  

Connecting Cowlitz County

Just north of Portland, nestled along the Columbia River, the economy of Cowlitz County has historically relied on logging and mining. But, after the Great Recession health care and the social assistance industry became the primary source of employment in the region. And with the change from industries requiring manual labor to technologically-driven industries, a need for fast, reliable Internet access has become paramount. 

Unfortunately, Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILEC) have not been able to meet the need of the moment. Cowlitz County alone has five unique ILECs, resulting in a patchwork of communities with DSL Internet access. Cable Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have also built infrastructure in the area, but there are entire swathes of the county with little to no options. ...

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Posted November 17, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio

When the FCC announced the winners of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) last December, many industry veterans were surprised by the appearance of LTD Broadband as the largest recipient of funds. The company managed to snag more than $1.3 billion to serve 528,000 locations across 15 states, but its capability to do so immediately drew skepticism from many (including us).

Now, a little less than a year later, the company's chickens are coming home to roost. In a recent ruling denying the company the expanded Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) status it needs to offer service in RDOF-awarded areas, the Iowa Utilities Board took LTD to task for a history of noncompliance and late payments:

Specifically, LTD had not complied with the Board’s February 22, 2019 order, as LTD had not yet filed a registration as a telecommunications service provider, was past due on its DPRS assessment, and had not yet filed an annual report with the Board for reporting years 2019 and 2020. 

[B]eyond the procedural flaws in LTD’s Application, the company’s responses to Board . . . illustrate that LTD has routinely submitted regulatory filings with obvious errors, if filings were submitted at all . . . It is for this reason that the Board takes seriously LTD’s history of inconsistent compliance with this provision, as the regulatory burden is minimal and the consequence of failing to uphold the obligation ETCs pledge to carry out impacts the rest of the industry, the Board, and most importantly, the Iowans served by the program.

But the regulatory board took its comments a step further, basing its ruling also on the fact that the company's behavior in the state betrays what looks like a lack of ability to meet its bidding commitments during the auction:

The record in this docket does not merit the expansion of a credential that signals to the public that LTD has evidenced the technical and financial capabilities required to carry out the public interest obligations of those entrusted with federal funds. LTD’s responses and actions lack the candor that the Board would expect from a carrier seeking to evidence the expertise to take on this degree of expansion.

...
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