Pennsylvania's Rural Broadband Cooperative, which we first wrote about in July, has received a $514,000 grant from the Huntingdon County Commissioners to set up a new tower and expand their user base in Jackson Township and support repeater antennas in the area, bringing service to additional households in rural areas.
Tag: "community broadband"
Scott Vanderlip can see Google’s headquarters from his house in the town of Los Altos Hills, California (pop. 9,000). But still, some of his neighbors struggle to access the online world that the tech company has helped shape.
“There are people in my town who actually have really no Internet options,” Vanderlip shared in a Zoom interview. This includes some households stuck with satellite connections that have low speeds, high latency, and restrictive data caps. “We are in Silicon Valley, and we have really bad pockets of [limited] broadband,” he continued.
Even the residents who could connect to AT&T or Comcast’s networks, such as Vanderlip, were dissatisfied with the monopoly companies’ poor service quality. So they created Los Altos Hills Community Fiber, a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation that’s bringing a local, high-quality connectivity option to the area.
Los Altos Hills Community Fiber, or LAHCF, owns and finances the local Fiber-to-the-Home network and recruits interested community members, while its technical partner Next Level Networks manages network operations and construction and provides residents with tools to help organize their neighbors. The arrangement gives LAHCF subscribers more say over how the network operates and what speeds they have access to, a stark difference from the antagonistic relationship that many national Internet service providers (ISPs) have with their customers.
“Anyone can do this,” said Next Level Networks COO David Barron in a phone interview. “You just need a few motivated people to organize, and you can be completely free of the telcos and cable operators.”
Money Can’t Buy Cable Upgrades
Comcast and AT&T are the major broadband providers in Los Altos Hills, but the lack of competition means there’s little incentive for providers to improve service quality, despite interest from subscribers. “Los Altos Hills sometimes is listed as the most affluent community in America, and we still have crap Internet service,” as a result of the ISPs’ reluctance to invest in network upgrades, explained Vanderlip.
Limited broadband options also impact service costs. “The price depends very much on where you live and if there’s any competition or not,...Read more
That community networks act as a positive force in the broadband market is something we’ve covered for the better part of a decade, but a new study out in the journal Telecommunications Policy adds additional weight (along with lots of graphs and tables) which shows that states which enact barriers to entry for municipalities and cooperatives do their residents a serious disservice.
“State Broadband Policy: Impacts on Availability” by Brian Whitacre (Oklahoma State University) and Robert Gallardo (Purdue University), out in the most recent issue of the journal, demonstrates that enacting effective state policies have a significant and undeniable impact on the pace of basic broadband expansion in both rural and urban areas, as well as speed investment in fiber across the United States.
Digging into the Data
The research relies on the State Broadband Policy Explorer, released in July of 2019 by Pew Charitable Trusts, and focuses on broadband availability across the country from 2012-2018. Whitacre and Gallardo control for the other common factors which can affect whether an area has broadband or not (like household income, education, and the age of the development), and combine the FCC’s Form 477 census block-level data along with county-level data to explore expansion activities over the seven-year period. By making use of an analytical model called the Generalized Method of Moments, Whitacre and Gallardo are able to track all of these variables over a period of time to show that there is a statistically robust connection between specific state policies and their influence on the expansion of broadband Internet access all over the United States.
The authors zero in on three particular policies that they say have among the most significant impact on whether a community has broadband or not: whether or not the state has passed laws restricting municipalities and cooperatives from building and operating broadband networks; whether or not the state has a broadband office devoted to expansion and staffed by full-time employees; and whether or not the state has a funding program...Read more
"Broadband Models for Unserved and Underserved Communities," [pdf] a white paper from US Ignite and Altman Solon, explores the various models that cities can employ to connect their residents and businesses.
The paper covers five approaches that communities can take to improve Internet access, from full private broadband to full municipal broadband with varying types of public-private partnerships in between. Of all the well-connected American cities (where 50% of residents have access to 250 Megabits per second broadband speeds), the paper finds that 8% are served a form of municipal network.
To help local government officials figure out which model is right for their community, US Ignite and Altman Solon include a number of helpful charts, decision trees, and other considerations.
Regardless of the exact broadband model, cities can play an important role in connecting underserved communities. The paper ends:
Although the digital divide that remains in our country is unlikely to be fully closed soon, municipalities can still be powerful agents of change. We hope this study will pass along the hard-won lessons of prior programs and aid municipalities considering broadband expansion to better serve their residents. The faster we work together to bridge the digital divide, the sooner we all benefit from the technologies of the future.
Download "Broadband Models for Unserved and Underserved Communities" at the link or below.
Tucked away in Kishacoquillas Valley (also known as Big Valley) between Stone and Jacks Mountains lies a 120-foot repurposed HAM radio tower, now the base of operations for the Rural Broadband Cooperative (RBC), a group bringing fixed wireless to a rural Pennsylvania community. RBC remains one of the many groups around the country making use of community ties to address connectivity issues in places where monopoly Internet service providers have for decades refused to invest.
RBC’s effort began in 2017. When asked about bringing high-speed broadband to the area, Comcast replied that it would need $80,000 to lay a line half a dozen miles long, according to one founding member of RBC. So the group — among them a retired professor, a former telecommunications manager, and a musician — formed the non-profit cooperative and moved forward with a different plan.
They leased a patch of land 1,900 feet up on the side of Stone Mountain with a view over the crest and a repurposed former HAM radio tower to bring low-latency fixed wireless Internet to the area. In total, the effort cost $60,000, with the money raised by the cooperative’s initial members. The tower itself is run by solar and wind, with a battery backup. The group’s backhaul connection comes from a 100 gigabit fiber line from Keystone Initiative for Network-Based Education and Research.
Most of those living within a 15-mile radius of the tower can receive service, with those lacking direct line-of-sight still eligible so long as they can establish a connection to neighbors with two or fewer degrees of separation.
Currently, RBC offers two tiers of service: a basic connection clocking in at 5 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload for $40/mo, or a 25/3 Mbps connection for $75/mo. New customers also pay a one-time $300 setup fee. It’s a far cry from the $100/mo for 3 Mbps connection some area residents are stuck with.
Broadband Access in Rural PA
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), approximately 600,000 Pennsylvanians don’t have...Read more
July has seen the release of two complementary reports which shed light on two of the topics we care about a great deal around these parts: availability and affordability of Internet access, and municipally-enabled networks.
The Open Technology Institute at New America recently released “The Cost of Connectivity 2020” [pdf], which digs into the factors (some of which are explicit and others hidden) dictating how much Americans can expect to spend for Internet access in comparison to Europe, Asia, Canada, and Mexico. They conclude that, compared to the rest of the world, a lack of competition, regulation, and accurate data collection by the FCC has led to higher prices, slower speeds, exorbitant data cap fees, and deep digital divides running between those with high-speed access and those in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities and low-income parts of American cities. And among its most compelling policy recommendations — based on data points from 296 standalone Internet plans in the United States — is that municipal networks offer a solution.
If OTI’s report outlines the deep and persistent problem of connectivity in the United States, US Ignite and Altman Solon’s “Broadband Models for Unserved and Underserved Communities” [pdf] provides a clear and thoughtful roadmap for local communities who ask “What can we do?” Above all else, the guide shows that high-speed broadband is a solvable proposition, and sketches out five models for local governments to follow according to their unique conditions. Like the OTI report, US Ignite and Altman Solon highlight the many inherent benefits of community-enabled networks.
Download the full reports at the bottom of this post.
Digging into the Data
The OTI report is based on data from 760 standalone Internet plans across 28 cities in North America, Europe, and Asia collected between June 2019 and March 2020 (though it also incorporates lessons learned from the current public health crisis). Across every type of connection (DSL, cable, and fiber) it found the U.S. to lag behind in at least one metric...Read more
This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast Christopher speaks with Deborah Simpier, CEO of Althea. Althea offers software and tools for communities looking to build and maintain sustainable networks in their own communities.
Althea works by installing custom firmware on the routers of its member-operators, connecting them all together in a fixed wireless, ad hoc network that dynamically responds to the supply and demand of individual users. That network is then linked to a commercial-grade backhaul, and users pay each other for bandwidth while configuring their own connection preferences and needs. Althea’s innovative software and staff help manage the network in real-time. The result is a decentralized, flexible, privacy-focused community of devices. Althea exists in more that three dozen communities around the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and Africa.
Deborah reflects on how she came to the broadband space, and the origins of the first Althea network. Christopher and Deborah discuss what it means to play a central role in empowering communities to help create their own sustainable networks, and watching people put in Internet infrastructure themselves and take ownership. One example is Enfield, North Carolina, a state with some of the most onerous broadband restrictions which have resulted in poor connectivity options for that community.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show; please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Read the transcript for the episode.Read more
After many years working to promote community networks, we here at Community Broadband Networks (CBN) want to lay out our broader vision of a better connected country. As an initiative of the national research and advocacy nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we work with a diverse group of allies, partners, and local communities on policies to improve local Internet access. We also research and document what communities around the country are doing to improve access to high-quality broadband networks.
We hope this vision pulls together all we've done and continue to do, and provides a framework for understanding our worldview. See our full vision. Here are some excerpts:
We believe community-led broadband is the best option for promoting economic prosperity, improving quality of life, and ensuring access for everyone across income and background.
We have concerns about the long-term local control of huge companies due to strong pressure from Wall Street and large financial institutions to consolidate, resulting in less local accountability. Municipal and cooperative networks have proven resilient against concentration pressures, remaining locally-rooted in many contexts.
We support competition and choice wherever possible. The optimal solution is not one great network but rather a series of overlapping networks, much like the Internet itself.
We do not want to run private Internet service providers out of business. We believe an ideal solution is to have a municipal or cooperative open access network that is competing with at least one other physical network in which all premises can choose between at least those two.
We believe communities should embrace solutions that fit with local culture rather than simply trying to import a model that worked well elsewhere.
If you're interested in more, listen to the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, or sign up for our newsletter. Don't forget to check out the wonderful work being done at the other initiatives of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance: Energy, Waste to Wealth,...Read more
Yesterday, the Transnational Institute (TNI) released The Future Is Public, a book that explores international municipalization efforts and the benefits of public ownership. In addition to tracking the successful transition of water, waste, energy, and other essential services to public ownership in hundreds of communities, the book describes how local governments in the United States have increasingly invested in municipal broadband networks.
Chapter 9, “United States: Communities providing affordable, fast broadband Internet” [pdf], analyzes the significant growth of publicly owned broadband networks across the country. The co-authors Thomas M. Hanna, Research Director at the Democracy Collective, and Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Network initiative, explain in the chapter:
In the United States, one of the fastest growing areas of municipalisation and local public ownership is high-speed broadband Internet networks. This is due, in part, to the failure of the highly concentrated, corporate-dominated telecommunications sector to provide fast and affordable service in many parts of the country – especially rural areas, smaller towns and cities, and communities with low levels of income and economic development.
Download The Future is Public and the chapter on municipal broadband on TNI’s website.
Municipal Broadband’s “Proven Track Record”
Tens of millions of Americans still don’t have access to broadband, and Hanna and Mitchell point to telecom monopolies as the reason for the disparity. “A corporate oligopoly in the telecommunications sector is a major reason why wide swathes of the country (both geographically and socioeconomically) are left with inferior or unaffordable service,” they argue.
As case studies, the chapter features several local governments that have responded to inadequate connectivity by building their own fiber optic networks to connect residents and businesses, including Wilson, North Carolina; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and...Read more
Last week, community leaders, local ISPs, residents, and policy experts gathered in three North Carolina communities — Albemarle, Fuquay-Varina, and Jacksonville — for a conversation about improving local connectivity. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), the North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM), and NC Hearts Gigabit organized this series of broadband meetings, called Let’s Connect, which aimed to spark conversations about the need for better broadband access and potential solutions for the region.
Each meeting opened with a welcome from local municipal leaders, followed by a presentation from Chris Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, and a panel discussion between local leaders and innovative ISPs. Panelists talked about the need for better broadband to support everything from economic development to agriculture to health care, and why it’s necessary to bring all voices to the table in order to solve this issue. Mitchell noted:
“We electrified the country with private investment, municipal investment, and cooperative investment. That's what we'll need to bring Internet access to everyone."
One of the biggest takeaways was the need for the North Carolina state government to more explicitly authorize public-private partnerships, which would allow municipalities to invest in broadband infrastructure and then lease it to private companies that provide service.
At the end of each night, attendees were invited to ask questions and share their stories about the need for better connectivity. One local resident shared his frustration that his family’s only option for Internet access is satellite while his neighbor has broadband, illustrating the inconsistency of broadband access in the state. All North Carolinians deserve affordable, reliable, high-quality Internet access, and it’s our hope that the conversations that began at these...Read more