Tag: "funding"

Posted September 11, 2017 by lgonzalez

Two Ohio State Senators are taking a page from Minnesota’s playbook to expand rural broadband connectivity. Democratic Sen. Joe Schiavoni and Republican Sen. Cliff Hite recently announced that they would be introducing legislation to create a grant program modeled after the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program.

Putting Money Into It

The program is expected to expand broadband Internet access to approximately 14,000 rural Ohio households per year. State officials estimate that 300,000 homes and 88,500 businesses in rural areas of the state do not have access to broadband connectivity.

In Minnesota, the Department of Employment and Economic Development hosts the Office of Broadband Development, which administrates grant awards and management. The Ohio bill will place the responsibility for the program in the hands of their Development Services Agency (DSA).

Grants will be awarded of up to $5 million for infrastructure projects in unserved and underserved areas; the grants cannot fund more than half the total cost of each project. Recipients can be businesses, non-profits, co-ops or political subdivisions. The bill allocates $50 million per year for broadband development from the state’s Ohio Third Frontier bond revenues.

The Ohio Third Frontier is a state economic development initiative aimed at boosting tech companies that are in early stages and helping diverse startups. The Ohio General Assembly appropriates funds to the program, much like the Office of Broadband Development in Minnesota.

Minnesota Setting The Trend

seal-minnesota.jpg This isn’t the first time politicians have looked longingly at Minnesota’s plan to build more network infrastructure in rural areas. Ralph Northam, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, released an economic plan for his state this summer and addressed the need to improve connectivity in rural areas. In his plan, he suggested that the state adopt clear goals “[s]imilar to the legislation Minnesota has passed.”

His report... Read more

Posted September 6, 2017 by htrostle

Get your applications ready! The United States Department of Agriculture  Rural Utilities Service (USDA RUS) is accepting applications for another round of loans for the Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program. This program provides loans of up to $20 million for rural connectivity. The window to apply opened September 1st, and the deadline is September 30, 2017.

Thousands To Millions Of Dollars For Rural Areas

The USDA RUS has at least $60 million available this funding cycle for this program. All loans will be between $100,000 and $20 million. The program will only consider funding projects that offer speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

For this program, the USDA RUS focuses on completely rural communities where at least 15 percent of households do not have high-speed Internet access. To be eligible, these rural areas cannot have more than two incumbent providers or have previously received USDA RUS funding. 

Although the program is specific to rural communities, most organizations are eligible to apply, including tribal governments, local governments, cooperatives, and corporations. No partnerships and no individuals may apply for funding, however, as the loans must go only to organizations.

This is only one of the Broadband programs that the USDA RUS manages. The agency also handles the Community Connect Grants and the Distance Learning & Telemedicine Program. The report “Broadband Loan and Grant Programs in USDA’s Rural Utilities Service” from the Congressional Research Services describes these programs in more detail.

Online Submission Only

The USDA RUS officially began accepting submissions September 1st and organizations have until September 30, 2017, to apply. If you are working in an area with poor Internet service, it’s important to note that this program only accepts applications through an online system. 

Through the online system, RUS staff can review applications and answer questions as they are developed. Once an application is complete and submitted, the staff cannot provide feedback and the organizations cannot edit their applications. 

Learn more... Read more

Posted September 5, 2017 by lgonzalez

When it comes to rural areas, it’s no secret that national providers have little interest in serving the sparsely populated communities. Cooperatives and small local providers typically pick up the slack but it isn’t easy. In a recent survey indicated that small rural telephone companies are overcoming hurdles to deploy fiber and making long-term plans to continue the trend. Furthermore, rural subscribers are proving that they are hungry for high capacity connectivity.

Local ISPs Are Doing It

Approximately 89 percent of “NTCA 2016 Broadband/Internet Availability Survey Report” revealed that the expense of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployment was the most difficult barrier to break through. Even though they faced the difficult problem of financing, 52 percent of survey respondents in the midst of fiber deployments in the spring of 2017 were serving at least half of their customers with FTTH.

Planning For The Future

Fiber is the future for most of the survey respondents. Eighty-two percent reported long-term fiber strategies with 66 percent of those with strategies planning on offering FTTH to at least half of their customers. Another 39 percent of those with long-term fiber strategies will offer fiber to the node to more than 75 percent of their customers by the end of 2019. Thirty-one percent of local telcos with long-term fiber plans who responded to the survey report said that they have already completed their fiber deployment plans.

Subscribers Want More

According to survey respondents, rural subscribers are choosing faster speeds tiers. Relative to the same survey one year ago, the demand for download speeds in excess of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) more than doubled from eight percent of subscribers to 17 percent of subscribers. As the percentage of subscribers choosing a faster speed tier is increasing, the number of subscribers signing up for slower speeds is decreasing. The report describes rural subscriber behavior as, “moving up the broadband speed chain” and says that “…providers need to be prepared to offer them the level of service they demand.”

What Does The Survey Tell Us?

The survey reveals that rural residents and businesses are increasingly interested in high-quality... Read more

Posted August 22, 2017 by htrostle

Cell phones as a substitute for home Internet service? That’s what the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) suggested in an August 2017 document. Buried within the Notice of Inquiry for the Section 706 Report, the FCC quietly proposed that mobile service could be considered broadband deployment.

In a recent article, Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica dove into why that suggestion is laughable. Mobile Internet service, especially at speeds less than 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, is not equivalent to high-speed home Internet service. 

This proposal also raises concerns for rural communities exploring funding options.

Overstating Rural Connectivity Has Consequences

If the FCC treats mobile Internet access as broadband deployment, rural areas will suddenly look better connected. On paper, the FCC statistics will show that rural America has sufficient Internet access, but the reality in the trenches will remain as it is today - poor connectivity in many rural communities.

A similar situation has already happened in Iowa, where the inclusion of satellite Internet service is now considered broadband access. The interactive FCC 2016 Broadband Deployment Map clearly shows that almost all of Iowa has high-speed Internet access via satellite. One can use satellite service to browse the web, but it has significant limitations, especially when uploading data.

screenshot of Iowa

[Screenshot from August 2017 of FCC June 2016 Deployment Data of Iowa: Yellow = 25 Mbps/3 Mbps Internet access. Full map here.]

Despite the near-universal coverage shown by the FCC, rural communities in Iowa are still building fiber networks because they consider themselves lacking the connectivity they need to compete. In Iowa, it’s important to make sure that the agriculture community gets the high-speed... Read more

Posted August 17, 2017 by lgonzalez

With funding from the state to jumpstart their initiative, the city of John Day in Grant County, Oregon, is working with local communities to deploy fiber to nearby Burns. The infrastructure will bring better connectivity to local residents in the mostly rural community.

Beginning Of A Plan

City Manager of John Day Nick Green told the Blue Mountain Eagle that the plan is still in the works, but representatives from the county and local towns will be part of the Grant County Digital Coalition. The group, which is still being organized, will own and manage the infrastructure. They anticipate the network will likely be some sort of hybrid design, rather than Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) throughout the entire 4,529 square mile county. “Our goal is to address the entire county’s needs, but we will start with the urban corridor,” said Green.

Green told the Eagle that average download capacity in the county is 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) and local officials want the new infrastructure to boost averages to at least 30 Mbps. There is some fiber in the region for businesses but residential access is poor.

County To County

The city of John Day received $1.82 million from the state, which will fund the project. The county will deploy a 75-mile fiber optic line from Burns in Harney County to the Grant County seat, where about 1,800 people live. John Day is the most populous community in the county, where only about 7,500 people reside. Phase 1 will deploy an additional 85 miles of fiber to connect Grant County facilities, such as city halls, schools, and the county court. For Phase 2, local communities will construct municipal networks to offer residential service in the south and east of the county seat. Phase 3 will follow with a similar effort in the northern and western communities.

Once the Coalition is formed, they will decide whether to offer services directly as a utility company or to lease the infrastructure to a private sector provider. In addition to improving residential Internet access, local officials hope improved connectivity will spur economic development. The early timeline for the Grant County Digital Network estimates local... Read more

Posted August 16, 2017 by lgonzalez

In a record high turnout for a non-general election, voters in Lyndon Township, Michigan, decided to approve a bond proposal to fund a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The measure passed with 66 percent of voters (622 votes) choosing yes and 34 percent (321 votes) voting no.

Geographically Close, Technologically Distant

The community is located only 20 minutes away from Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan and the sixth largest city in the state, but many of the Township’s residents must rely on satellite for Internet access. Residents and business owners complain about slow service, data caps, and the fact that they must pay high rates for inadequate Internet service. Residents avoid software updates from home and typically travel to the library in nearby Chelsea to work in the evening or to complete school homework assignments.

Lyndon Township Supervisor Marc Keezer has reached out to ISPs and asked them to invest in the community, but none consider it a worthwhile investment. Approximately 80 percent of the community has no access to FCC-defined broadband speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

“We don’t particularly want to build a network in our township. We would rather it be privatized and be like everybody else,” Keezer said. “But that’s not a reality for us here.”

When local officials unanimously approved feasibility study funding about a year ago, citizens attending the meeting responded to their vote with applause

A Little From Locals Goes A Long Way

The community will finance their $7 million project with a 2.9 millage over the next 20-years, which amounts to a $2.91 property tax increase per $1,000 of taxable value of real property. Average cost per property owner will come to $21.92 per month for the infrastructure. Basic Internet access will cost $35 - 45 per month for 100 Mbps; speeds will likely be symmetrical. They estimate the combined cost of infrastructure millage and monthly fee for basic service will be $57 - 67... Read more

Posted July 28, 2017 by htrostle

Just south of Mount San Jacinto in southern California, several small communities hope for better Internet access. The local cooperative has submitted a plan to build a next generation network fiber network further into Riverside County.

Anza Electric Cooperative wants to expand its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network through another 200 square miles of its service territory. This $3.7 million project should connect another 1,200 residents to the growing network.

New Project Proposed by Anza Electric

Currently, Anza Electric is drumming up funding for the proposed project. The co-op already has about $1.5 million to put toward the venture and is now requesting a $2.2 million grant from the state.

This network, called Connect Anza, will bring high-speed Internet service to several small, rural communities in Riverside County: Pinyon Pines, Garner Valley, and Mountain Center. High-speed Internet service of 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) will be $49 per month; service is symmetrical so upload and download speeds are the same. Residents will also be able to get phone service from the co-op for another $20 per month. Local fire stations and the Ronald McDonald camp for children with cancer will receive free Internet access through this project. 

connect anza second phase map

Anza Electric Built a Network

The deployment continues Anza Electric’s previous project to connect more than 3,000 underserved households around Anza, California. The previous project was pushed forward by the overwhelming support of the electric cooperative’s member-owners, residents who receive electric service from the co-op.

Anza Electric first started adding fiber optic lines for electricity management in July 2015. Later that year, at the annual cooperative meeting, more than 90% of members present voted to include fiber optics and high-speed Internet service in the cooperative’s bylaws. The vote encouraged the cooperative to continue to build fiber optic lines.

In December 2015, the state of California approved... Read more

Posted July 19, 2017 by lgonzalez

Two more western Massachusetts towns are ready to move forward with their municipal networks. Ashfield and Shutesbury both plan on working with Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to their communities.

Funding Release Allows Projects To Move

Earlier this year, state officials at the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) decided to release state funds to local communities so they could finally begin their last-mile projects. Ashfield, population approximately 1,750, received $1.4 million and Shutesbury, population about 1,800, received $870,000; each town’s award should cover about one-third of the cost to deploy their planned municipal FTTH networks.

Shutesbury hopes to connect every premise for an estimate of $2.5 million and expects the project to be complete by 2019. Ashfield also intends to include every property; its Municipal Light Plant (MLP) will operate the infrastructure and partner with a private form for network operations and ISPs for service to the community. WG+E will provide support to Ashfield for design, engineering, and construction. Shutesbury plans to work with WG+E during planning and construction.

Westfield Showing The Way

The two communities join nearby Otis, a town of 1,687 premises, which also hired WG+E to help them deploy their fiber optic network. In June, WG+E trucks started to roll into Otis and begin work on the new project. Towns in western Massachusetts that qualify for the funding have looked to Westfield for guidance ever since the community deployed its WhipCity FTTH network. Westfield has expanded within its own borders and is now embracing its role as a mentor and agent.

Learn more about WG+E’s WhipCity Fiber from Christopher’s conversation with Operations Manager Aaron Bean and Key Accounts & Customer Service Manager Sean Fitzgerald for... Read more

Posted June 27, 2017 by lgonzalez

People in Otis, Massachusetts, are now seeing utility crews make space for fiber optic cable on poles as they prepare for the community’s publicly owned Internet network. The schedule calls for cable installation in August; the network should start serving residents and businesses this fall.

Working With A Neighbor

Like several other hill towns in western Massachusetts, Otis is working with Westfield Gas + Electric’s WhipCity Fiber, which will handle construction of the network. WhipCity will construct the network in phases, connecting premises as neighborhoods are completed. The project will connect 1,687 premises and will cost approximately $5 million. 

Construction is finally able to commence because in May, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) released funding for last mile broadband networks to several towns that advocated for their own solutions. Otis received $1.7 million. Communities like Otis that chose to invest in publicly owned infrastructure are required to contribute to the cost of their network.

MBI chose to release the funds after a drawn out situation in which unserved and underserved communities in the western part of the state first planned to unite as a broadband cooperative, WiredWest. MBI was the administrator of approximately $50 million in federal stimulus and state grant funding but withheld the funds. They felt there were problems with the WiredWest business model, but local towns and municipal network experts did not share those concerns. Instead, MBI planned to dole out the funding to large incumbent providers, which angered many of the local communities that have expressed dissatisfaction with treatment by those very companies over the years. Comcast will still obtain large amounts of the grant money to build out in several of the smaller communities. Those small towns will not be required to contribute, but 100 precent of their premises are not always served and they will not own the infrastructure.

At least a dozen local communities did not want to work with Comcast or any other big incumbent, however, and instead wanted to... Read more

Posted June 26, 2017 by lgonzalez

In August, voters in Lyndon Township, Michigan, will decide whether or not they want to approve a plan to invest in publicly owned fiber optic Internet infrastructure.

It’s All In The Mills

Voters are being asked to approve a millage increase of 2.9 over a 20-year period. In other words, property taxes will increase approximately $2.91 per $1,000 of taxable value of a property. Those funds will be used to fund a bond to finance the project; city leaders have already determined that the principal amount of the project will not exceed $7 million.

Once the infrastructure has been completed, the community plans to partner with one or more Internet Service Provider (ISP). Estimates for monthly millage bond costs and monthly cost for Internet access at 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) are approximately $57 for Lyndon Township’s average homeowner. Gigabit access will be available and will cost about $25 more each month.

If funding is approved, the community expects to finish the project and be using their new Internet infrastructure by the end of 2018.

Supported By Citizens

The issue of better connectivity in Lyndon Township isn’t a new one. At a meeting in March 2016, Township Board members voted 5-0 to fund a feasibility study. The Board had approached providers about improving connectivity in the area, but none considered an investment in Lyndon Township a good investment. 

At the meeting, members of a broadband initiative started by local residents shared their stories. As is often the case, local residents described driving to the library or Township Hall to access the Internet because their own homes were unserved or connectivity is so poor. According to a Chelsea Update article, when the Board approved the feasibility funding, “[t]here was a vigorous round of applause from the crowd.”

seal-michigan.png About 80 percent of the community does not have access to FCC defined broadband at 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. In the summer of 2016 when property owners received a survey about Internet access with their property tax bills, 83 percent of those who replied and were registered voters described... Read more

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