Tag: "municipal broadband"

Posted January 12, 2023 by Karl Bode

More than 121 Colorado cities and towns have now opted out of SB152, a 17-year old state law backed by telecom monopolies greatly restricting the construction and funding of community broadband alternatives. And the trend shows no sign of slowing down. 

Colorado’s SB152, passed in 2005 after lobbying pressure by Comcast and Centurylink, prohibits the use of municipal or county money for broadband infrastructure without first holding a public vote. Deep pocketed monopolies know they can usually outspend municipalities, bombarding voters with misleading marketing to try and shift the vote in their favor.

But SB152 is different from most of the other 17 state preemption laws ghost written by monopolies in a bid to stifle consumer choice: it includes a clause allowing voters to opt out of the restrictions entirely. Angry at decades of market failure, Colorado towns and cities are increasingly shaking off these unnecessary shackles in a bid to improve service. 

During the recent midterm elections, four additional communities (Castle Pines, Lone Tree, Pueblo and Trinidad) voted to opt out of the onerous state restrictions. With those votes, more than 121 Colorado communities have chosen to opt out of SB152, according to the latest tally by the Denver Post.

Across the country, the pandemic highlighted the essential nature of affordable fiber broadband networks. That in turn accelerated public annoyance at regional monopolies intent on maintaining a very broken, but very profitable status quo, Tim Scott, a project manager overseeing the buildout of Boulder’s broadband backbone, told the Denver Post

“Why do we accept this duopoly of service? That’s what we’re trying to do in Boulder is to make it more competitive,” Scott said. “What the pandemic did is it brought the delivery of broadband services to the attention of every mayor.”

Opting out of the state’s...

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Posted December 13, 2022 by Karl Bode

A bipartisan coalition of Pennsylvania lawmakers have introduced legislation that attempts to reverse some of the state’s most-stringent provisions hamstringing municipal broadband builds.

But experts suggest that while the bill may be well-intentioned, a cleaner approach would be to eliminate the state’s harmful and dated restrictions on municipal broadband entirely. 

As it currently stands, Pennsylvania law prohibits municipalities from providing broadband to state residents for money, unless existing telecom providers don’t currently provide broadband access at the address, and those providers claim they’re willing to do so sometime within 14 months of being asked. 

Under the state law, the only metric used to determine whether an ISP is adequately “serving” an “underserved” area is advertised speed. No additional metrics, including price or quality of service, are used to make such a determination. 

Such restrictions not only hamstring creative, local municipal broadband solutions, it gives telecom industry giants the ability to effectively veto or delay any new promising builds simply by promising that they might someday extend advertised speeds to under-served territories.

New Bill Takes Aim at State Preemption Law

Enter SB1363, a new bill introduced in November to the Pennsylvania legislature that attempts to scale back at least some aspects of the state’s problematic restrictions on municipal broadband. 

The bill, sponsored by Pennsylvania State Senator John I. Kane (D), starts by adopting a more modern standard definition of broadband of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) in both directions, a dramatic boost from the FCC’s current definition of broadband: a paltry 25 Mbps downstream, 3 Mbps upstream. 

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Posted October 26, 2022 by Karl Bode

Lehi City, Utah has broken ground on its new citywide fiber optic broadband network. The network, which city leaders say should take somewhere around three years to complete, will be built on the back of Lehi’s Utilities Department, part of a growing trend of U.S. utilities using an historic infusion of federal funding to expand affordable broadband connectivity.

The Lehi Fiber Network will operate as an open access network, meaning that multiple ISPs will be able to utilize the city’s new infrastructure, providing a much-needed dose of broadband competition to local residents and businesses alike. 

Five ISPs have already committed to providing service over the city-owned fiber, with the first customers expected to see service sometime in early 2023. Lehi’s partner ISPs have yet to specify tier pricing, but data consistently shows that such open access competition routinely drives down costs and improves service quality in regions where it’s adopted. 

After hiring Magellan to conduct a feasibility study, the city in 2020 approved financing the network with a bond it hopes will be fully paid off by broadband subscriber revenues. In 2021, the city announced it had chosen Strata Networks — the largest independent cooperative in Utah — to build and operate the network.

“We hope you’re as impressed with us as we are with you,” Bruce Todd, CEO of Strata Networks, said at the recent groundbreaking ceremony. “We’ve been involved in the broadband Internet industry for over 20 years. Covid changed how we looked at things, it became very important to get Internet to everyone and especially school children.”

With a population of 80,000 residents, city officials told ILSR that the total cost of the network is...

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Posted October 4, 2022 by Karl Bode

Tennessee cooperatives and utilities came out at the top of the heap in the latest round of awards from the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund, netting nearly half of all money awarded for the expansion of more affordable broadband statewide.

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) awarded $446.8 million to 36 applicants, who are now tasked with deploying improved broadband service to 150,000 unserved homes and businesses across 58 Tennessee counties. All told, TNECD said that 218 applicants applied for a total of $1.2 billion in broadband funding.

Of the $446.8 million in awards, utilities and cooperatives walked away with $204.4 million.

Major awards to utilities included Lexington Electric System ($27.5 million), Bledsoe Telephone Cooperative ($17.7 million), Greeneville Energy Authority ($8.2 million), Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) ($15.2 million), Board of Public Utilities of the City of Fayetteville ($23.9 million), and Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation ($17.5 million). 

“This is great news for our community,” Gabriel J. Bolas, President & CEO of KUB, said in a statement provided to ILSR. “We have known for some time that there is a need for reliable internet in Union, Grainger, Sevier, and Jefferson Counties, and this announcement proves there is a broad and concerted commitment to address their needs soon.”

Grants for Regional Telecom Giants Part of the Mix

Regional telecom giants and local monopolies were also well represented by the state’s latest broadband funding round. 

Though it had applied for more than $35 million in funding, Charter Communications was awarded $20.4 million to reach parts of six counties. Comcast received $2.2 million to improve connectivity in Anderson, Hamilton and Knox counties.

TDS Telecom, which goes by the brand name Tellico Telephone Company in Tennessee,...

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Posted September 30, 2022 by Ann Treacy

Harnessing its American Rescue Plan funds, the city of Syracuse is seeking a partner to launch a pilot project as a precursor to creating a citywide municipal broadband network and to support the city’s broader digital inclusion efforts.

In his 2022 State of the City address, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh laid out the vision, recognizing that now is a time of opportunity.

"At no time in the past half century have conditions aligned so favorably for the City of Syracuse," Walsh said. "Population is growing. Graduation rates are rising. Private investment and job creation are again on the upswing. Our city fund balance has grown. The American Rescue Plan provides an unprecedented injection of federal aid — $123 million – to address challenges created and made worse by the pandemic. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework will pour tens of millions into the infrastructure challenges that always seemed just out of reach – roads, water, and broadband."

Syracuse wants to seize the opportunity by investing in both improved telecommunication infrastructure and digital literacy programs.

It has led the mayor’s office to issue a Request-for-Proposals (RFP) for the design, implementation and maintenance of a municipal network that would target households in Syracuse not currently served by the city’s incumbent providers (AT&T, Spectrum, and T-Mobile Home Internet). 

The deadline for submitting proposals is 2:30 pm ET October 11.

Seeking Open Ended Innovative Proposals

Similar to a recent request for proposals from Onondaga County (where Syracuse is the county seat), the city is seeking open-ended and innovative proposals. City officials have adopted a technology neutral approach and are not specifically asking for proposals to build a fiber network as most new municipal broadband proposals involve. Still, the city does have some parameters in mind. 

The...

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Posted September 29, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Last week, our own Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative, was the featured guest on the Broadband.Money “Ask Me Anything” series.

The one-hour live program, which invites leading minds in the broadband industry to talk candidly about their knowledge and perspective on broadband-related matters, was moderated by Drew Clark, editor and publisher of the online news outlet Broadband Breakfast.

Evolution of Community Broadband Networks Initiative

The discussion began with Christopher sharing why he joined ILSR over 15 years ago and how the Community Broadband Networks Initiative has evolved over the years.

The core mission of the initiative, he said, “has to do with research and telling stories; seeing what is working for communities … to solve these problems around making sure everyone has high quality Internet access, and they can use it. Every few years, I feel like we change our focus a little bit just based on what is needed. And the way that we do that is, we are constantly talking with people that are out doing the hard work,” Christopher explained.

And while the focus of the CBN team has been on research and publishing stories about the birth and development of publicly-owned, locally-controlled broadband networks across the nation, Christopher noted that ILSR “is not pro municipal network, necessarily.”

We are pro-strong communities. We want communities that are economically and politically able to chart their own course in life. And if we have failing municipal broadband networks – that’s not going to help the community. We are seen as being pro-municipal (broadband), but we are very cautious in wanting to make sure that communities are making this decision in an informed way and taking it seriously.

Meeting the Moment

After discussing the origins and philosophy behind the initiative, Drew and Christopher delve into the “Astroturf” campaigns funded by Big Telecom that are designed to...

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Posted September 14, 2022 by Ann Treacy

On the southern border of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, Pharr Texas is the home of the largest commercial bridge from Mexico into the U.S. Now, the city is working on building an equally impressive virtual bridge to every home in Pharr with the construction of a municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network.

The progression has been steady despite pandemic induced setbacks, as city leaders are determined to solve the connectivity challenges in Pharr by leveraging the assets the city already owns while taking advantage of the unprecedented amount of federal funds now available to help communities expand access to broadband. To that end, the city has created regional partnerships, completed a feasibility study, and launched a pilot project. Now, Pharr officials are moving ahead with the construction of a city-wide municipal network. 

Wake Up Call in Rio Grande Valley

Pharr has a population of almost 80,000 people of which 94 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino with over 30 percent of families living below the poverty line. Their public meetings are often bilingual. But, it was in 2015 that the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reported that the Rio Grande Valley was on the wrong end of the digital divide. The report also highlighted the impact that had on the communities in the region:

The study involved focus groups with colonia residents. One theme that arose from the conversations with residents was the lack of access to the internet. The report found that the digital divide was a factor preventing residents from accessing regional labor market opportunities. Additionally, the report described the challenges colonia students face in school because of their inability to complete homework assignments due to lack of internet service and computers at home.

When earlier this week ILSR caught up with Jordana Barton Garcia, author of the report, she explained that “colonias” are informal neighborhoods where people live with no (or limited) infrastructure. Residents are sold lots without existing infrastructure, from water to broadband. 

When it comes to broadband, the city is served by AT&T, Spectrum, and T-...

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Posted June 23, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

While known for its annual "Tulip Time" celebration, Pella is now celebrating the flowering of a municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network in this small central Iowa city.

Network planners say construction, deploying 100 percent of the fiber underground, is on track to be finished this week. And, although the city has not launched a formal marketing campaign, they have already reached a take-rate of over 40 percent with one subscriber now getting 10 gig service.

The new network is known as Pella Fiber – a subsidiary of the city’s municipal electric utility, which, in the words of the Pella Chronicle, has been bringing “rays of light … (to) dispel the darkness” for residents and businesses in this community since 1911. Over a hundred years later, and with 92 percent approval at the ballot box, Pella voters in May of 2018 authorized the creation of a new municipal telecommunications utility that would transmit rays of light through fiber optic cables. The vote would lay the groundwork for future-proof connectivity in this city of about 10,000 residents, just 44 miles east of Des Moines.

It took two years to develop the business plan and design the network before the city hired Excel Utility Contractors to begin construction in June 2020. First having deployed nearly 34 miles of fiber, network builders connected Pella’s backbone to the Grinnell Hospital facilities nearby, a collaboration that linked the two cities, a critical part of the core network that allowed Pella to provide the needed bandwidth to build out to Pella residents and businesses.

In the fall of 2021, Pella Fiber began lighting up its first subscribers. Today, in the city that Wyatt Earp and his family once called home, residents no longer need to get out of Dodge to get triple play services as the fledgling municipal network is a one-stop shop for high-speed Internet access, cable, and phone service.

When we checked in with Pella Fiber this week, Telecommunications Director Doy Ousley told us they were “moving at a perfect pace.”

This week network construction will be complete and today we...

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Posted June 1, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

After years of discussing the possibility of building a city-wide municipal broadband network in the face of resistance from the city manager, the city of Cambridge, Boston’s next-door neighbor, is now getting serious about moving forward.

Followed by a budget stand-off in the spring of 2020 with City Councilors that brought the issue to a head, City Manager Louis DePasquale finally relented to the possibility being pushed by Upgrade Cambridge, a citizen-led group organized in 2018 to advocate for municipal broadband.

In October, the city that is home to MIT and Harvard University hired the consulting firm CTC Technology & Energy to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the digital landscape and present various business models Cambridge could pursue to bring its residents ubiquitous, reliable, and affordable high-speed Internet service as an alternative to the monopoly offerings of Comcast and Verizon DSL.

While Upgrade Cambridge founding member Roy Russell acknowledged DePasquale’s initial reluctance, he credits the soon-to-be-retiring city manager for coming around to the idea.

“With the pandemic and the money the federal government has supplied (for expanding access to broadband), he (DePasquale) has really stepped up,” Russell said when we spoke with him last week.

Comprehensive Assessment Underway

As it stands now, CTC is on track to complete its assessment by the fall of 2022. In early May, representatives of the consulting firm gave Upgrade Cambridge an update on where they are in the process. CTC reported a range of activities they are working on:

• Conducting site surveys and putting together a design and cost estimate

• Exploring business models

• Market analysis that includes a residential survey

• Planning engagement with business community

• Coordinating with Cambridge...

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Posted May 27, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

As communities across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are at various planning stages in laying the groundwork to build their own municipal broadband networks, a rural Bay State town about 50 miles west of Boston has moved past the planning phase and is now offering municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) service.

In Sterling (est. pop. 8,000) – the town that lays claim to Mary Sawyer Tyler, said to have inspired the “Mary Had a Little Lamb” poem – the town’s municipal utility is building out its aptly named Local Area Municipal Broadband (LAMB) network.

The project was initiated more than five years ago as a new division within the century-old Sterling Municipal Light Department (SMLD). As one of about 40 of the state’s 351 towns and cities with its own municipal electric utility, SMLD was awarded a $150,000 state grant to help finance the construction of a 23-mile regional I-Net ring in 2020. A year later, LAMB lit up its first residential customer in April of 2021.

Following an incremental approach, earlier this year, the LAMB added its 50th subscriber as construction crews are on track to build out a town-wide fiber network by the end of 2024.

Connecting with Nearby Towns

Like other communities across the nation with an established municipal utility, from a design and engineering standpoint, it was a relatively easy leap into broadband for SMLD, which currently supplies electricity to more than 3,700 residential, commercial and municipal customers.

Hanging fiber along SMLD’s utility poles to first build the network backbone, it allowed the town to connect 26 municipal buildings, which included the police and fire stations, library, town hall, the department of public works, water and radio towers, as well as SMLD’s substations.

It was a...

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