Tag: "funding"

Posted February 16, 2017 by htrostle

In 2008, the counties of Accomack and Northampton created the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority (ESVBA) to serve local needs and boost economic development. NASA provided key funding to build the backbone of the regional network. Today, the ESVBA has already improved wireless services in several communities and is at work on a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) test project.

The space agency played a key role in bringing high-speed connectivity to rural communities on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, employs 1,100 people, launches rockets, and features a visitor center. Government agencies, local schools, and healthcare institutions on the shore all needed reliable connectivity for their programs.

Internet Service Like Lightspeed

The FTTH test project started last September in Harborton, Virginia, as part of the Town Broadband Initiative Project. The landscape is typical of rural Virginia with little density as houses and businesses spread out into the woods. They have recently signed up the first few customers; this small town on the eastern shore has about 100 homes.

Community Effort: Local Seed Funding

In 2008, the counties of Accomack and Northampton created the public, not for profit entity through the Virginia Wireless Service Authorities Act to solve a growing problem on the shore. The lack of connectivity was having a negative impact on local rural communities. The counties provided an initial sum of about $270,00 to ESVBA to plan the network. 

logo-ESVBA.png

Then the ESVBA went in search of further funding. They received about $8 million in federal and state support - nearly half of which came from NASA - to build the middle mile backbone. Funding for the last mile to residential properties and small businesses came from the communities themselves, with about $...

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Posted February 6, 2017 by KateSvitavsky

Publicly owned Internet infrastructure is typically funded with revenue grants, interdepartmental loans, or through avoided costs at the local level. Part of the planning and infrastructure costs, however, can sometimes be covered by state and federal grants known as Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). Nelson County, Virginia, leveraged CDBG to expand their fiber network and maximize benefits to the community. 

CDBG funds, are distributed to 1,200 units of state and local government by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and can go toward a variety of infrastructure and development purposes. When communities consider ways to use CDBG funding, they can get long-term valuable benefits by directing those funds toward Internet infrastructure.

Nelson County Broadband 

Currently, the network has 39 miles of middle mile fiber and laterals. Nelson County began preparing for the network in 2007, when it received an initial planning grant of CDBG funds. The grant allowed the county to develop a project which improved their eligibility for federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

They applied and in 2010 for stimulus funding and received a $1.8 million grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to build out a middle mile network. In the first phase of their construction, the county used the BTOP funding and approximately $456,000 in required local matching funds to deploy 31 miles of fiber backbone. The second phase added another eight miles to the network in 2015, funded in part by $200,000 of CDBG funding; the community has also contributed about $690,000 in other local funds. 

“It becomes a win-win for residents and businesses and for service providers,” said Alan Patrick, Chair of the Nelson County Broadband Authority. “Residents and businesses have an opportunity to receive broadband access, which may have not been available prior to the county building infrastructure in the area, and it is also a benefit to the service providers.”

As of November 2016, 240...

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Posted December 22, 2016 by Anonymous

This is the transcript for episode 233 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.  rit Fontenot and Anthony Cochenour of Bozeman, Montana, explain how Bozeman Fiber is a nonprofit, open access, community network. They go into detail about the funding behind the project. Listen to this episode here.

 

Anthony Cochenour: There were a number of trusting moments along the way and I'm happy to say that since then we've been able to meet and exceed all the expectations that have been set, and so I think that definitely gives us a good leg up for the future.

Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 233 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. We followed Bozeman, Montana's fiber-optic network initiative for the past few years, now, as it developed from vision to reality. The open access network is already serving local government facilities, and public schools, and businesses are also being connected. In this interview, Christopher talks with the city's economic development director, Brit Fontenot, and Anthony Cochenour, president of Bozeman Fiber, the nonprofit entity created to manage and operate the network. Christopher, Brit and Anthony share an update on what has been happening with the network since our last interview, that was during episode 142, back in March of 2015. The guys talk about the nonprofit open access model, and the city's current role. They also discuss how the community obtained funding for the project and what it was like rallying local banks to contribute to the project. Now, here's Chris with Brit Fontenot, the city's economic development director and Anthony Cochenour, president of Bozeman Fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today, I'm speaking with two folks from Bozeman, Montana, catching up on a network that we previously discussed. First of all, we have Brit Fontenot, who is the city of Bozeman's economic development director. Welcome back to the show.

Brit Fontenot: Thanks, Chris. It's a pleasure. Thanks, a lot.

Christopher Mitchell: We are also welcoming back Anthony Cochenour, the president of Hoplite Industries, and now the president...

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Posted December 22, 2016 by htrostle

About 15 years ago, two small cities in western Oregon faced an all too common predicament for rural areas. The Internet Service Provider (ISP) told they would not see high-speed Internet access until 2020. Taking matters into their own hands, the cities of Independence and Monmouth decided to collaborate on a project to bring the latest technology to their communities. 

Together they built a jointly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, known as MINET (Monmouth Independence Network). Today, the network supports economic development and agricultural innovations. This piece focuses on only one of the cities, Independence, in order to provide an in-depth look at the community impact of the network.

Affordable & Reliable Internet Service

At the time, FTTH was almost unheard of. Even today, the technology is available to only a quarter of the entire U.S. population. MINET offers affordable, reliable connectivity for the 18,000 residents of both communities. The network has a low-cost option available to everyone of 2 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $10 per month. Other Internet access speeds available are:

Download speed / upload speed
50 Mbps / 25 Mbps for $50
75 Mbps / 40 Mbps for $65
100 Mbps/ 50 Mbps for $80

Residents can also subscribe to triple-play bundles of Internet, voice, and video services.

Took Time to Develop

MINET has faced a difficult financial situation even though the network has brought many benefits and opportunities to the community. 

The League of Oregon cities provided a quick case study of the network in 2011. In the late 1990’s, the two cities developed a feasibility study only looking to connect the governmental buildings and the businesses. After studying the potential for offering services to residents, the cities decided to divide the project into two phases. Phase I: build fiber loops. Phase II: build the last-mile to homes and business and offer retail services. 

By 2004, they had officially formed MINET as an ORS 190 entity (an official Oregon intergovernmental agreement). They also completed Phase I at...

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Posted December 19, 2016 by lgonzalez

About a year ago, we reported that Rock Falls, Illinois, had decided to develop a fiber network to offer connectivity to local businesses. Now, the town of less than 10,000 is closer to expanding that network to offer Gigabit Internet access and voice to residents.

Considering Expanding Services

In September, community leaders began considering the expansion after consultants suggested investing in Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) as the best way to make use of the city’s resources. They offered a “fiberhood” option so Rock Falls Electric Department could connect new subscribers incrementally; they suggest starting with business corridors where many commerical entities are already taking service. The fiberhood approach requires people in specific areas of the city to sign up first, then after a certain percentage of the households committ, construction begins.

Rock Falls began planting fiber and conduit in the 1990s and have connected the municipal electric utility substations, schools, and other municipal facilities. They have also leased out excess capacity to private providers who want to offer connectivity to commercial customers in prior years.

Funding - It's Complicated

The fiber backbone is already in place but a complete citywide FTTH system will cost approximately $13 million, estimate consultants. After consulting bonding professionals, city leaders discovered that they needed to consider a few issues before deciding how to proceed. SaukValley.com reported on the financing discussion:

“We need either a feasibility study or our most recent audit that includes revenues from the broadband business to show we can make our bond payments,” [City Administrator Robin] Blackert said. “But a new feasibility study would cost us between $60,000 and $80,000, and we have no past revenue history with the new utility.”

Blackert said it was previously thought that the new fiber utility could be the primary alternate revenue source, and the electric department, which has been handling the broadband operations to this point, could be...

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Posted December 17, 2016 by htrostle

A northern Minnesota county has been approved for federal funding to bring high-quality Internet access to some of the community's most rural residents. Lake County (population: about 11,000) has been building Lake Connections, a county-owned community network, for the past few years. People living in the densely wooded region have always lacked adequate Internet service, but with this funding, they will have better connectivity than many city dwellers.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently authorized $3.5 million for Lake Connections through the Rural Broadband Experiment program. Lake Connections previously faced numerous delays, but this next stage of the project is ready to move forward.

Despite Best Efforts, Delays

Lake County has long been working towards a more connected future by building a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The massive project covers almost 3,000 square miles, connect almost 100 community anchor institutions, and will provide connectivity to over 1,000 businesses. Grants, loans, and matching local funds to complete the project add up to approximately $70 million.

The county obtained federal stimulus funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in 2010 (see our 2014 report, All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access). Incumbent providers, Mediacom and Frontier, delayed the project by alleging rule violations and fighting for ownership of utility poles. By July 2014, however, the fiber network started serving its first 100 customers.

This new $3.5 million from the Rural Broadband Experiment program will connect more far-flung residents. The funding was tentatively approved last March, but Lake County ran across a confusion in regulation on whether Lake Connections was an “eligible telecommunications carrier” (a...

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Posted December 9, 2016 by htrostle

Forty-three percent of residents in Erie County, New York, do not have access to high-speed Internet access. That’s a drag on the local economy, but the situation could soon change. Erie County residents and businesses have the opportunity to comment on their needs by taking a survey on local Internet connectivity. Residents and businesses in Erie County, New York, can fill out the survey at eriecounty.crowdfiber.com.

An Ongoing Effort, State Support

The survey features a speed test and a few quick questions, which will be used to map where folks lack connectivity. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s half a billion dollar New NY Broadband Program funds the survey. In August 2016, the governor stopped at the University of Buffalo in Erie County to speak about the plan, saying, “Erie County is our first priority.” 

This survey is the next step in an ongoing effort to bring 21st century connectivity to the county. In late 2015, Erie County started looking for an organization to study the feasibility of a countywide high-speed network. With the survey results, officials will be able to choose the best path forward. On December 5, county officials hosted a public meeting to discuss the survey and how they will use the results.

There are about 1 million people living in the far western county; approximately 260,000 of them live in the county seat of Buffalo. The community has considered the potential benefits of a municipal fiber network for some time and has been doing their research. Back in early 2015, they released a report that indicated a potential 1.1 percent increase in the county's GDP (approximately $450 million annually) with better connectivity.

"I Can Barely Do Anything" 

For some folks in Erie County, high-speed connectivity can't come fast enough. In WBFO, Buffalo’s NPR news, local resident Charles Weber explained just how terrible the Internet service is:...

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Posted November 29, 2016 by KateSvitavsky

The Federal Reserve is responsible for setting interest rates and executing monetary policy in the United States, but many people don’t realize that the agency also has a hand in community development. This summer, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas released a report, Closing the Digital Divide: A Framework for Meeting CRA Obligations, which includes information for banks about funding digital inclusion programs and community networks.

The report, published in July, states:

“Access to broadband has become essential to make progress in all areas of community development—education and workforce development, health, housing, small-business development and access to financial services.”

Closing the Digital Divide is important not only because it provides substantial information for banks, but also because it indicates federal support exists for community-based infrastructure improvements. The report discusses improving Internet access for low and moderate-income individuals and neighborhoods.

Using The Community Reinvestment Act To Improve Infrastructure

From the 1930 until the late 1970s, many banks denied lending to individuals and organizations based on their location. The practice is called “redlining” after the red ink that outlined low-income neighborhoods on a map, and was made illegal when Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) in 1977. Under the CRA, banks must to use the same evaluation criteria for all loan applicants regardless of the neighborhood they live in, which expands lending to include low and moderate-income (LMI) individuals. The Federal Reserve assesses banks’ performance under CRA guidelines, which bring about $100 million in capital to low and moderate income areas per year through various projects. Improving Internet access is an increasingly large portion of these initiatives.

In The Weeds

As part of the act, banks must “identify and invest in low and moderate-income communities.” Eligible activities include affordable housing, services geared toward LMI individuals, financing for certain small businesses and farms, and other revitalization efforts. Bringing broadband infrastructure to underserved communities qualifies as...

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Posted November 23, 2016 by Anonymous

This is episode 225 of the Community Broadband Bits. Representatives of Midwest Energy Cooperative discuss their project to bring high-speed connectivity to rural southwest Michigan. Listen to this episode here.

Dave Allen: I really see this as a re-lighting of rural America.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 225 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. There's a project taking shape in rural southwest Michigan and the nearby regions of Indiana and Ohio. It's headed up by the Midwest Energy Cooperative. At the recent Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Minneapolis, Chris ran into Bob Hance, President and CEO of the cooperative, and Dave Allen, the cooperative's Vice President of Regulatory Compliance. Naturally, we wanted to hear more about their project and share the details with you. They provide some history and how access to high quality connectivity has positively impacted a number of their rural members. Chris, Bob, and Dave also have some interesting thoughts on federal funding programs, project standards, and the different rules for cooperatives and big corporate providers. Learn more about the project at teamfiber.com, where you can also discover more about the cooperative. Now you may notice some background noise. We apologize in advance. While we advocate for local choice and access to technology, sometimes technology is just not on our side. We had a little trouble with the mic that day. Also, Chris is suffering from allergies, and until winter sets in, he may sound a little like the late Howard Cosell, but never fear, it is our Christopher. Now, here with Chris are Bob Hance, President and CEO, and Dave Allen, Vice President of Regulatory Compliance for Midwest Energy Cooperative.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today, I'm speaking with two folks from Michigan. Bob Hance, the President and CEO of Midwest Energy Cooperative. Welcome to the show.

Bob Hance: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: And Dave Allen, the Vice President of Regulatory Compliance for the Cooperative. Welcome to the show.

Dave...

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Posted November 16, 2016 by lgonzalez

Downtown Bozeman businesses can expect fast, affordable, reliable connectivity via the Bozeman Fiber network within the coming weeks, reports the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Phase one is now complete.

Businesses Up Next

Bozeman City offices, Gallatin County offices, and local public schools are already connected to the open access network, which is owned and operated by the nonprofit entity Bozeman Fiber. There are already three Internet Service Providers (ISPs) operating on the community network but local officials do not expect residents to have Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) Internet access just yet:

“Within a few hundred feet of where the fiber currently is will be available day one of commercial operations,” said Anthony Cochenour, president of the board of Bozeman Fiber. “As far as expanding the network and running under our own steam, (we want to) get business first, fill the coffers, then in years two and three make a bigger push into residential areas.”

Connecting to businesses first allows a community to test the waters, locate potential problems, and create interest in a community-based initiative. With the revenue generated by commercial customers and infrastructure deployed strategically throughout the community, it’s easier to expand to residential areas.

Standing On Its Own

In Bozeman, the $3.85 million in funding for the project came from local banks, so local officials feel especially compelled to create a self-sustaining and stable project. “While setting up Bozeman Fiber was important for economic development, we wanted it to be an agency that stands on its own. Bozeman Fiber is running its own show,” said [Bozeman economic development specialist David] Fine.

The Bozeman Fiber nonprofit plans to connect a local hospital in the near future and add another line west of town. They also hope to eventually host up to ten ISPs by the end of the year, increasing choice for consumers in the future.

Listen to Christopher visit with Brit Fontenot, Andy...

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