Tag: "collaboration"

Posted February 13, 2020 by lgonzalez

Local officials in eight mostly-rural counties in southwest Pennsylvania are combining efforts to determine first, what connectivity is available and, second, what can be done to improve it.

Seeking Updated Information

Westmoreland, Fayette, Cambria, Somerset, Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon, and Fulton counties have been working with consulting firm Design Nine to develop a survey to share with residents in the region. The Regional Broadband Task Force, established by the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission (SAP&DC), gathered limited data in the past. They estimate that six percent of folks in the region live in places without wired broadband Internet access.

An earlier study determined that:

...2.3 percentage of the 354,751 residents fall below that level of service [25 Mbps upload and 3 Mbps download]. About 1.6 percentage of Blair County’s 123,842 population and 2.2 percentage of Cambria County’s 134,550 population are lacking that basic level of connectivity. At the other end of the spectrum, 55.2 percentage of Fulton County’s 14,506 residents are without the service.

ARC Funds

Funding for the study comes from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). The Task Force received $50,000 from ARC and the member counties contributed a matching $50,000 for the study. They began looking for a firm to help develop the study last fall and chose Design Nine hoping to determine:

  • Level of service being provided; the needs of local businesses and the reliability of the current services being provided;
  • An inventory of broadband assets already in place;
  • An assessment community broadband requirements for bandwidth needs;
  • Determine best technologies to meet the coal impacted community needs; and
  • Cost estimates for different deployment strategies

Businesses Want More in Westmoreland

While the Regional Broadband Task Force is seeking data about connections consistent with the FCC's definition of "...

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Posted January 29, 2020 by lgonzalez

As the USDA continues to award federal ReConnect funds for rural connectivity, we're glad to see that communities in West Virginia are not being ignored. Most recently, the Harrison Rural Electrification Association (HREA) announced that they will dedicate ReConnect grant funding of approximately $18.75 million to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in rural sections of their service area.

Combining Funding and Collaboration

The project will bring more than 6,300 households high-quality connectivity along with five educational facilities and another community facility. The deployment will cover approximately 354 square miles within Harrison, Lewis, Upshur, Barbour, and Doddridge counties. Once completed, the project will provide better connectivity to around 16,000 residents.

In total, the project will cost an estimated $25 million and HREA will use a $6.2 million loan from CoBank to cover the difference. They plan to complete the project within 3 1/2 years and cooperative leadership intend to have the project ready for bids by the end of February.

Rather than offering Internet access directly to members, the cooperative will work with Prodigi Fiber, a private sector ISP that works exclusively in West Virginia and only with FTTH connectivity. The co-op will lease the infrastructure to Prodigi and dedicate the proceeds from the lease toward the CoBank loan payments.

Early Excitement

On the HREA Facebook page, locals have expressed their excitement at the prospect of better connectivity. Some note the need for better reliability while others are looking for better speeds or alternatives to current options. 

Lenny W.: Was excited to get the email. This is great for the rural areas of this county. Are there any maps or projections on what areas are going to start and when? I’ll sign up for whatever is $75-$100 per month.

Ken C.: Whoooohoooo

Sharon L.: Please,...

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Posted January 22, 2020 by lgonzalez

MuniNetworks.org offers a cache of resources for people who have a particular interest in publicly owned broadband networks. As interest in municipal networks has increased in recent years, connections between people can help those researching and organizing. We know that there aren't many places where our audience can have discussions with like-minded individuals, so the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has now established two mailing lists for folks who share our common interests related to municipal fiber networks.

Talkers, Organizers, a Meeting of the Minds

For folks who want to share thoughts on municipal networks with others, including new developments, news on projects, or trends and topics, they can sign up on our Muni Fiber Discussion mailing list.

The list will be lightly moderated and is not a place to dump links to stories; we expect people to share thoughts and ideas and to debate new issues and important developments.

Learn more about the Muni Fiber Discussion mailing list and subscribe here.

For people who are interested in taking steps to organize a community toward developing their own municipal network, we've established the Muni Organizing mailing list. We expect people interested in this conversation to include some of the same people as on the discussion list and others that may be interested related topics, including economic development, connectivity and education or telehealth, and people interested in other community benefits. This discussion will also be lightly moderated.

We imagine the Muni Organizing mailing list to be:

Discussions about efforts to create community networks. This is meant to help share strategies, solve common problems, and otherwise work through the many challenges that accompany this organizing effort. We expect this may include local activists, business leaders, elected officials, city staff, consultants working in this space, and others. However, our goal is to keep it limited to those actually working in this area - not just anyone.

You can get details about the Muni Organizing mailing list and subscribe here.

For folks with experience in organizing, we encourage you to share strategies that work (and those...

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Posted December 23, 2019 by lgonzalez

People living in the service areas of Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation now have the opportunity to express their interest in broadband Internet access from RiverStreet Networks. In one of a series of pilot projects that we covered earlier this year, the two entities are getting started with planning on how to bring better connections to rural folks. People in the community — both members of Piedmont Electric and non-members — are encouraged to go to join.buildpiedmont.com and show their interest.

When enough people in specific areas have expressed their interest in receiving service from RiverStreet, the subsidiary of Wilkes Communications Co-op, will examine deployment.

The first phase, according to Piedmont Electric, will be a wireless solution for rural premises with Piedmont’s infrastructure as a backbone. Fixed wireless will deliver 25 Megabits per scond (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload and Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) could follow for some areas, depending on various factors:

By registering your address at the website, you are expressing your interest in having RiverStreet services. It’s really that simple! Once enough interest has been expressed in a specific area, RiverStreet will consider expanding their service network there. Bringing fiber optic service to a neighborhood is expensive and requires a large amount of resources and labor. The more supporters in your zone, the more likely RiverStreet is to bring high-speed internet service to your door.

Check out this short promotional video on the partnership to encourage people to express their interest:


“We are excited to work with RiverStreet in order to provide this critical need,” [Piedmont President and CEO Steve] Hamlin said. “While we know it will take years to mature and RiverStreet may not be able to serve everyone with wireless technology, we are happy to announce this first step in helping bridge the digital divide.”

...
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Posted September 27, 2019 by lgonzalez

In central Washington, the Methow Valley, Okanogan County, and the Colville Confederated Tribes Broadband Action Teams (BAT) are teaming up to improve connectivity and shrink the digital divide across the Methow Valley. As part of the process the BAT has released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for technical assessment and technical implementation planning to help them meet their goals. Deadline for proposals is September 30th, but the BAT has indicated that they will grant an extension upon request.

Review the RFP here.

Making Improvements

Methow Valley boasts its scenic treasures, including the North Cascades National Park and the Columbia River. Tourists visit the region for hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and vibrant arts scene. Like other similarly situated communities where natural beauty is an important feature, high-quality Internet access is difficult to come by.

According to the RFP:

Many residents of the Methow Valley live below the poverty line and have limited access to affordable, high-speed Internet services. This lack of access has impacts on education, economic growth and viability, emergency services, and quality of life. Simply put, this area lacks reliable wide-spread broadband access necessary to overcome these challenges. 

In September, the Washington State Department of Commerce's Community Revitalization Board awarded a $50,000 grant to the BAT and the Twisp Public Development Authority (PDA) to dig deeper into the need for broadband service in the Methow Valley. Okanogan County provided a match of $16,667 to secure the state grant. The funding has allowed the BAT to move forward on this project.

Read more in the TwispPDA Methow Valley Position Paper [PDF] here.

In 2018, the BAT began working toward better connectivity by creating a work plan, seeking out stakeholders, and obtaining community input. This year, they wish to expand on their planning process and conduct a technical assessment. In order to complete this phase of the plan, the BAT wants a consultant who will:

  • Facilitate Joint Planning with the BAT Team and its Stakeholders
  • Identify...
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Posted March 25, 2019 by lgonzalez

Volunteer Energy Cooperative (VEC) and Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative began collaborating in the fall of 2017 to bring high-quality connectivity to folks in Bradley County, Tennessee. Based on the results of a successful pilot project, the cooperatives have expanded gigabit connectivity to more areas. With a recent grant award, the partners will continue to offer the service to more rural Tennessee residents and businesses.

Catching Up on the News

When we last reported on VEC and Twin Lakes, they had announced that they would be launching the pilot in Bradley County. Residents and businesses in Bradley County have long felt slighted by the state’s restrictive laws that prevent Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber from expanding into their county. Over the years, Bradley County and Chattanooga officials have searched for ways to serve Bradley County, but the state’s insistence on protecting large incumbent monopolies by preventing expansion have left Bradley County folks without fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.

VEC and Twin Lakes commenced the pilot in the Camelot subdivision of the Bigsby Creek Road area of Bradley County. In a February 2018 blog post describing the first customer’s experience, subscriber Mrs. Charles Hollifield said, “We had no problem with the installers. They were on time and friendly. We chose the 25 Mbps because we do not download much but it works well. We haven’t had it quit once since we got it.” 

Since then, the initial pilot area passed 120 homes in the first pilot area. Later in the summer of 2018, VEC passed 545 more residences in two additional communities. Last fall, VEC received $1 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to apply toward expanding fiber to approximately 730 premises in in Meigs and Hamilton Counties.

State Assists With Deployment

As part of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act (TBAA) grants awarded in March, VEC received another $1.3 million which they’ll use to connect 867 premises in McMinn County. VEC expects to begin construction on the expansion of the network in the fall of 2019...

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Posted March 13, 2019 by lgonzalez

In an effort to find ways to connect some of the state’s most disconnected communities, RiverStreet Networks and North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives recently announced that they will work together for a series of pilot projects across the state. The initiative has the potential to discover new options for high-quality Internet access for residents and businesses in areas that have been left behind by national Internet service providers.

Going All Out 

North Carolina’s RiverStreet Networks is bent on bringing high-quality connectivity to people living and working in rural North Carolina. After expanding their physical infrastructure through deployment, the communications cooperative started to acquire other fiber networks in various areas across the state. Most recently, RiverStreet merged with TriCounty Telephone Membership Corporation

For RiverStreet, branching out among areas of the state were there is no high-speed Internet access is an opportunity to tap into an underserved market, not only an underserved population. It’s become obvious in recent years that rural communities want high-quality Internet access at least as fervently as in densely populated areas where big corporate ISP already have a monopoly. After upgrading their own members, RiverStreet was looking for growth; partnering with electric cooperatives is the next step to reaching more subscribers.

Listen to RiverStreet’s Greg Coltrain and Christopher discuss the merger and RiverStreet's plans to bring broadband to rural North Carolina:

...

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Posted October 11, 2018 by lgonzalez

City Officials in Fort Scott, Kansas, located about 95 miles south of Kansas City, say that they haven’t been able to entice national providers to bring high-quality Internet access to their town of about 8,000 people. That may be a good thing — Craw-Kan Telephone Cooperative is building out fiber in Fort Scott as early as 2019.

Working With the City

Planning for the network has involved collaboration between Fort Scott and the cooperative. Before bringing connectivity to residents, the cooperative has been deploying to a local industrial part, the airport, and the golf course. 

The plan has included an Exchange Agreement between the city and Craw-Kan which allows the co-op to use vacant conduit to connect Fort Scott’s Water Treatment Plant to the golf course and the airport. Fort Scott will also provide an easement for a fiber node at the golf course. Craw-Kan will provide six fibers for the city to use along this part of the route, and will also install vacant conduit for the city during construction at another location. The additional conduit will be earmarked exclusively for the city’s use.

City officials and representatives from Craw-Kan have been working on the deal and the project since the fall of 2017. At a recent City Commission meeting, City Manager Dave Martin said that Fort Scott was excited that the cooperative was bringing gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to town, noting that they’d tried to attract ISPs that would offer better services. Suddenlink offers services in parts of town and AT&T’s DSL is also available. 

Craw-Kan will provide $70 per month symmetrical gigabit connections  with no data caps in addition to 10/10 and 50/50 for $50 per month and $60 per month respectively. Installation is free and a Wi-Fi router is included in the monthly rate.

Working With Other Communities

logo-craw-kan-coop.png

The Fort Scott project is the latest in the Craw-Kan portfolio as they work with local communities in the region. Further south in Pittsburg, Craw-Kan has been building their...

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Posted October 1, 2018 by lgonzalez

Skies have been brightening for the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency Network (UTOPIA). The trend is continuing for the network that has seen rough times in the past, testament to their fortitude, creativity, and ability to turn lemons into lemonade.

Finishing Layton

Most recently, UTOPIA announced that they had reached an agreement with the town of Layton, Utah, to finish deploying fiber infrastructure to residents and businesses. UTOPIA plans to have deployment in Layton, where approximately half of the city currently has access to the infrastructure, completed within 24 months.

According to Jesse Harris at Free UTOPIA!, expert at all things UTOPIA, this build out varies from deployment in the earlier days of construction in a few ways:

For starters, UIA [Utah Infrastructure Authority] can now issue bonds on its own authority. This means cities no longer have to use their bonding capacity to back them. The Layton plan also has the city backing the bonds using city franchise fees. If the subscriber numbers fall below what is required to pay the bond (which, to date, has not happened in a single UIA expansion area), the city pledges to cover the difference. On the flip side, if revenues exceed the bond payments (which has happened in most UIA expansion areas), the city gets to keep a cut of that for whatever they want. This could include paying off the original UTOPIA bonds, funding other city services, or anything else, really. It’s important to note that this revenue split option is only available to cities who assumed the original debt service.

Harris speculates that, due to the housing boom in the region, UTOPIA may face a difficult time recruiting the people they need to build the network. There are also almost two dozen potential UTOPIA communities engaged in feasibility studies. All these factors, in addition to the possibility of access to materials, may impact the ability for the network to expand at the rate they’d consider ideal.

10 Gigs for Residents

In January, we reported that UTOPIA announced a financial milestone — for the first time, revenue covered bond payments and also allowed a 2 percent dividend for most member communities. 

That same month,...

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Posted July 4, 2018 by lgonzalez

On Independence Day, Americans celebrate the ingenuity, grit, and fortitude that led us to now. We’ve chosen this day to remember the decision to establish the United States as an independent country. Like other civilizations that have come and gone, America will always have times of honor and unbecoming moments in history, but its citizens have learned self-reliance — it’s in our DNA.

In this video from Motherboard and CNet, we have the chance to see a group of citizens from several Detroit neighborhoods take charge of their own digital future through local self-reliance. The people of the Equitable Internet Initiative (EII) are taking advantage of  dark fiber in the city to provide connectivity to residents in areas of the city sorely needing Internet access and better services. The group is composed of several organizations and, in addition to deploying high-speed wireless technology to serve residents and businesses, they’re heading up programs for young people to increase adoption and provide training.

When the framers of the U.S. Constitution declared their independence, they did so based on economics, social justice, and the desire for autonomy. Diana Nucera and her group, the Detroit Community Technology Project, express a similar motivation as they declare their independence through local self-reliance.

“We risk our human rights if we don’t take ownership and control over the Internet in a way that is decentralized.” - Diana Nucera, Director, Detroit Community Technology Project

If you're inspried by this story, you can donate to the project.

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