Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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Chattanooga Coalition Tackling Internet Access, Devices, and Healthcare in Neighborhood Project
A recently announced $610,000 grant award from the Tennessee Valley Authority to a partnership in Chattanooga, Tennessee will fund a pilot project to fund a set of holistic interventions in the Orchard Knob neighborhood to create healthier, more cost-efficient, better-connected homes for 1,000 residents.
The initiative, driven by a coalition made up of the Enterprise Center, EPB Fiber, Parkridge Health System, Habitat for Humanity, Tech Goes Home, and the Orchard Knob Neighborhood Association, aims to tackling an array of social determinants of health all at once. From The Chattanoogan:
Together, the partners plan to simultaneously invest in infrastructure and test new strategies for improving social determinants of health and quality of life of residents within a historically underserved neighborhood. Ultimately, the program in Orchard Knob will serve as a model for other communities across the Tennessee Valley.
It's happening as a result of funds contributed by the TVA's Connected Communities initiative, which aims to help "communities within the Valley leverage tech- and data-driven solutions to improve residents’ lives, deliver environmental benefits and scale economic opportunities." So far, these include projects like outfitting the Cheatham County School District with a solar array and battery backup, technology upgrades at more than a dozen Knoxville Recreation Centers, and improved connectivity at public housing sites in Murfreesboro.
Fort Pierce, Florida Utility Aims To Deliver Affordable Fiber To All
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
Ponca City, Oklahoma's Fiber-to-the-Home Network Reaches Construction Milestone
Ponca City, Oklahoma (pop. 24,100) sits in the north-central part of the Sooner State 100 miles north of Oklahoma City. Its history as a community built and shaped by the oil town looms large, from the E.W. Marland Mansion which still stands as a testament to the efforts of the oil baron who helped build the city in the first decades of the 1900s, to the Conoco Museum which offers residents and tourists a look at the history of the corporate giant which emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century.
But today, instead of pumping petroleum in the name of keeping the local economy strong, officials are broadcasting bytes to residents, business, government facilities, and community anchor institutions via their new municipal fiber utility: Ponca City Broadband. The project, which left its pilot phase two years ago in July, has passed the halfway point of a full greenfield overbuild which will see more than 400 miles of new fiber pulled to build the citywide network as it aims for completion in late 2022.
A Wired Upgrade
South Hampton Roads Issues RFP for Regional Open Access Fiber Ring
Hampton Roads, a metropolitan region bordering the Chesapeake Bay in southeastern Virginia, is known for its 17th century historical sites, shipyards crowded with naval aircraft carriers, and mile-long bridge tunnels. Home to 1.7 million Virginians, Hampton Roads is now looking to broaden avenues for economic development by leveraging existing transatlantic subsea broadband cables to transform the region into a technology-forward digital port. That’s why regional officials recently issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) seeking one or more private partner(s) to construct a regionally-owned 100-mile, open access fiber ring.
Private partners interested in responding to the RFP [pdf] must do so by August 24, 2021. Potential partners can decide to offer some or all of the project functions, choosing to: design, build, finance, operate, and/or maintain the regional fiber ring. (See instructions on how to respond to the RFP, as well as details on the selection process, under Section IV on Page 7.)
Five of the nine cities that make up the region colloquially referred to as “the 757” - Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach - banded together to improve local fiber connectivity in 2018, forming the Southside Network Authority (the Authority).
According to the Authority's RFP, the project was undertaken to resolve the broadband issues faced by the cities, including:
a need for more and more affordable internal connectivity for governmental operations
equity and affordability concerns in general as compared to similar metropolitan areas
a perceived lack of responsiveness by incumbent providers to the needs of the business community and economic development prospects
a relative lack of broadband infrastructure by comparison to comparable metropolitan areas
and concerns about the security and scalability of existing, privately-owned regional networks
Waterloo, Iowa Moves Closer to Municipal Broadband
Last summer we wrote about the slow but steady progress the city of Waterloo, Iowa (pop. 68,000) has been making towards improving local connectivity options for residents and businesses needing it. The city hired Magellan Advisors to perform a feasibility study for a possible Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in the fall of 2019, but things have been mostly quiet since, with news outlets reporting on a reluctance to release the results of the study for fear of what incumbent cable provider Mediacom would might do to hinder its efforts.
These fears are not without reason, given the company’s previous efforts in the region to slow the specter of municipal competition with lawsuits, complaints, and propaganda efforts in its service territory.
When last we heard the feasibility study would be released this spring, and while we still have not seen a copy, Waterloo must be encouraged. The city’s Telecommunications Board of Trustees established a resident-led municipal broadband utility committee on January 27th, giving the group the charge of tackling “risk mitigation, community marketing, digital infrastructure and finance and business strategy” for a future network.
When the announcement was made, Board Chair Andy Van Fleet said the work would serve as "critical pillars to move this project forward successfully when the time is right to turn the plan into actionable items."