Tag: "municipal utility"

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 18, 2022 by Karl Bode

Lexington, Tennessee is the latest U.S. city that will soon see the expansion of more affordable fiber thanks to the city-owned utility, Lexington Electric System (LES). LES’ recent $27.49 million state grant award will be the backbone of a new initiative that will both improve the utility’s electrical services, and deliver a long overdue dose of broadband competition to the area. 

Cooperatives and utilities were huge winners in the latest round of awards from the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund, itself made possible by the American Rescue Plan. Of the $446.8 million in awards doled out by the state, utilities and cooperatives walked away with $204.4 million — or nearly half of all funds.

LES Lands Major Grant Funding

The second biggest grant recipient was LES, whose $27.49 million award will be used to deliver future-proof fiber to the 22,000 residents across Henderson, Decatur, Benton, Carroll and Hardin counties that already receive electricity service from the utility. 

The utility’s original business plan estimated that it will take five years and roughly $42 million to deploy 2,101 miles of new fiber to about 88 percent (18,183) of its current electric customer base. It then proposed taking another five years — and an additional $1.2 million — to reach the remainder of the utility’s harder to reach service users.

More recent estimates proposed by the utility peg the full cost of the fiber deployment at somewhere between $50 million and $55 million.  

“The $43 million dollars was an estimate on the front end of the project before we had a formal design done, updated material, labor, and all construction cost,” Lexington Electric System General Manager Jeff Graves told ILSR. “Part of this was based on the cost per customer of systems with a footprint similar to ours.”

Graves told ILSR that while...

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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 July 11, 2022 by Karl Bode

Driven by Covid frustration and a boom in available grant money, Santa Clara County, California officials say they’re moving forward with their plans to explore a municipal broadband network, with the formal next steps expected to be announced at the tail end of this year. 

Last December, the board of supervisors in Santa Clara unanimously approved the creation of a publicly-owned fiber municipal broadband network. Spearheaded by County Supervisors Cindy Chavez and Susan Ellenberg, the project aims to provide “affordable, reliable high speed broadband service” to communities across Santa Clara County.

Santa Clara county contracted CTC Technology and Energy to examine various construction and funding proposals and develop a project master plan. County officials tell ILSR that the next report on that effort isn’t expected until November or December of this year, but the county is working on building a bridge toward a publicly-owned option in the interim. 

Hidden In Plain Sight

According to the California State Association of Counties (CSAC), 70,000 Santa Clara residents have no access to broadband whatsoever. Another 73,000 currently qualify as underserved, meaning they remain stuck on dial up or antiquated DSL incapable of meeting the FCC’s minimum threshold of 25 Megabit per second (Mbps) downstream/3 Mbps upstream to even be considered “broadband.” 

“The pandemic has exposed the digital inequity that has been hidden in plain sight in the heart of Silicon Valley for two decades now,” Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez told ILSR. 

“Our region has generated an unimaginable amount of wealth off of the Internet,” Chavez said. “We have transformed every facet of humanity in the last 25 years, but we also left more than 70,000 of our neighbors behind. Now is the time to fix that by bringing high speed broadband access to our entire community.”

State data indicates that another 689,000 of Santa Clara County’s residents currently live under a monopoly, resulting in high prices, slower speeds, and substandard customer service—all usually worse in already marginalized neighborhoods. All of CSAC’s data is pulled from...

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Posted April 14, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Although we were initially concerned that certain language in New York’s proposed state budget would lock out municipal broadband projects from being able to capitalize on the federal funding bonanza contained in the American Rescue Plan Act and forthcoming money in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the bill that was ultimately signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul was amended and has some golden nuggets for municipal broadband.

The recently enacted $220 billion budget bill includes $1 billion for the state’s ConnectALL initiative, which Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office calls “the largest ever investment in New York's 21st century infrastructure (that) will leverage public and private investments to connect New Yorkers in rural and urban areas statewide to broadband and establish the first municipal broadband program of its kind in the nation.”

Cultivating a Municipal Broadband Ecosystem

In part MMM of the budget bill, it establishes a “municipal assistance program … to provide grant funding to municipalities, state and local authorities ... to plan and construct infrastructure necessary to provide broadband services.”

Municipal grant recipients, the bill says, will be required to build broadband infrastructure to “facilitate projects that, at a minimum, provide reliable Internet service with consistent speeds of at least 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for download and at least 20 (Mbps) for upload.” That shouldn’t be a problem as most municipal broadband projects use fiber optics that can deliver far more than that. 

How much of the ConnectALL money will be allocated for the municipal grant fund has not yet been determined. But, community broadband advocates should not lose sight of the significance of the broadband ecosystem that is being cultivated in conjunction with other parts of the budget bill.

The budget bill also includes two provisions that will reduce the cost of building last mile networks. One repeals the fees associated with laying high-speed fiber cables along state highways, which...

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