Tag: "pilot"

Posted March 8, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

This week, we bring you a special field report from Maryland-based radio and podcast producer Matt Purdy. Through interviews with citizens, digital equity advocates, and the city's new Director of Broadband and Digital Equity, Purdy documents the connectivity struggles that have persisted in Baltimore's historically marginalized neighborhoods for decades.

Those challenges have only become more pronounced with the pandemic, prompting local officials to begin making moves in the direction of something we've not yet seen in a community the size of Baltimore: building a city-owned, open access fiber network.

This is a great story, so we won't give anything else a way. Listen below, or here.

Posted January 24, 2022 by Karl Bode

Hoping to leverage both a major new California broadband expansion initiative and American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, Chico, California is moving forward with its plan to deliver affordable fiber broadband to historically-underserved city residents. 

The Chico city council last year began exploring using $4.8 million of the city’s $22 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to build a citywide fiber network. After spending $250,000 to research its options, the city council voted last week to move forward with the plan.

Dual Purposes

City leaders hope the network will provide more reliable connectivity for the first responders battling historic wildfires in the region. But like many communities, Chico was also spurred to action by telecom market failure, a lack of competition among regional monopolies, and the slow speeds, spotty coverage, and high prices that routinely result. 

“All of us have had experience with the existing incumbents and what we pay for versus what we get,” said Chico's Information Systems Manager Josh Marquis. “There's a lot of areas of our region that do not have access either through affordability gaps or through service gaps.”

Much like Fort Pierce, Florida, Chico will begin by running a pilot project first targeting lower income parts of the city like the Chapman Mulberry neighborhood. There, residents will be provided inexpensive access to symmetrical fiber either through the city or a partner, made cheaper still once the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) discounts are applied. 

Marquis says the city hopes to make the Chico EBB application process much smoother than incumbent offerings, which have been widely criticized for being intentionally cumbersome - and attempting to upsell struggling Americans to more expensive...

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Posted August 17, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A version of this story was originally published by the National League of Cities. Read the original here, with the full version below.

There’s an overwhelming tendency among regular Americans to conflate the basic infrastructure which surrounds us with permanence. Whether it’s the garbage truck predictably rumbling down the street at the same time every week, the water flowing from the tap, or our Internet connection, we assume that the physical ties which bind us together will always be there. And that’s because it mostly has, especially for community owned and operated infrastructure. When utility services are owned and operated by communities, they are by definition maintained by people who live locally for people who live locally. It’s hard to be taken by surprise and left without essential services.

But the odds tilt in the other direction when such services are delivered by outside firms. We’re seeing the consequences of this for electricity users in the wake of the Texas grid disaster last winter (as well as coming rumblings of heat-caused outages this June), but it’s a problem that’s been around longer than that for basic service providers of all types, where bankruptcies can leave whole communities high and dry.

The same consequences hold true when those firms are Internet Service Providers (ISPs), beholden to interests outside of the cities and towns they serve. Tens of thousands of American households learned this very lesson last fall when AT&T announced it was leaving the DSL business and no longer making new connections to its aging infrastructure, even though those wires will continue to sit in the ground for decades to come. Buy a new house in this area, and if AT&T DSL was the only provider in town, and you’ve got few or no options.

But it happens with small providers too. Tuttle, Oklahoma (pop. 7,300) faced this reality a decade ago when the local cable company, providing the only universal wireline Internet service in the area, went bankrupt. “For a...

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Posted August 5, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

If you're a community considering building or partnering to build publicly owned broadband infrastructure in the near future, we want to hear from you.

Connect Humanity - an organization focused on making sure everyone has fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access - may be able to help speed the financing of community networks, including with some capacity to offer non-traditional borrowing or below-market rates. What is their approach?

Over the past 25 years, traditional telecom operators have only managed to connect half the world — and that was the easy half. Universal access will require alternative infrastructure providers, new types of financing and business models, changes in policy, digital skill-building at scale, and an increase in locally relevant content. To meet the needs of this moment and prepare for the years to come, we will need to invest in a diverse set of actors dedicated to ending the digital divide. There are no silver bullets here.

Connect Humanity, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, is rallying philanthropic organizations, investors, industry, governments, civil society leaders, and international experts to build a community of practice around the shared goal of connecting the unconnected, supported by the capital to do so. With awareness about the plight of the unconnected at an all time high, this is the moment to substantially invest in bringing Internet access to all people.

This initiative is open to creative ideas, but the focus will come back to a key question: What are the long-term results in terms of improving Internet access for historically-marginalized groups?

Don't know if your project fits? Email us and ask!

Maybe you've got a coalition of communities in Maine but don't have experience in the capital markets, or your approach just doesn't quite pencil out for a conventional loan. Maybe you've got a particular project mapped out for a rural or urban area that will make a significant difference in people's lives. Consultants too - raise your hand and pitch us an idea. It doesn't have to be fully formed yet.

Email us at broadband@muninetworks.org.

Header image by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

Posted August 4, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Even before the central Florida city of Ocala in Marion County became officially known as “The Horse Capital of the World,” the city – home to 61,810 Floridians and over 1,200 county-wide horse farms – was already galloping toward high-speed Internet connectivity. In recent years, the Ocala Fiber Network (OFN) has expanded into offering residential service, trotting carefully towards a citywide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) finish.

It began in 1995 with the Ocala municipal electric department upgrading its substation monitoring (SCADA) system, which has been estimated to have saved the city $25 million in networking costs since. Over the past two years, OFN has extended the network to bring affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet service to city residents, neighborhood by neighborhood.

While the municipal network has been providing high-speed Internet service for the past decade to area businesses, healthcare facilities, community anchor institutions, and schools throughout the county, OFN launched residential service in 2019 and is now serving 2,500 residential subscribers in four city neighborhoods.

“We did four pilot neighborhoods. Our target goal was to have a 30 percent take rate in each neighborhood. In the largest neighborhood (the Highlands neighborhood) with a thousand homes, we have a 42 percent take rate. We still have a challenge in one neighborhood (Happiness Homes) with about a 10 percent take rate that we think is mostly an educational challenge,” Ocala Fiber Network Director Mel Poole told us in a recent interview.

After deploying 800 miles of fiber, overhead and underground, Poole said, OFN is seeing “steady, methodical growth” of its residential subscriber base “mostly by word-of-mouth” while they continue to sign up new business customers. And, he said, from a financial perspective “we are still in the black.”

OFN Powers Through Pandemic

The network really showcased its value with the onset of the pandemic. Besides having the capacity to handle...

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Posted March 24, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Franklin, Kentucky’s (pop. 8,400) electric utility is gearing up for an expansion of its partnership with Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation (WRECC) with the help of $2.3 million from the recent FCC Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). The new partnership will allow Franklin EPB to add new service to roughly 250 locations adjacent to a current project in the area.

The expansion project will add subscribers in the northeast region of Simpson County and nearby parts of the city of Franklin in the south-central part of the state, where the two entities are operating a two-area fiber pilot.

It represents the growth of a collaboration between Franklin EPB and the electric cooperative. In 2019, the two partnered up to deploy service with Franklin EPB leasing dark fiber from the cooperative and acting as service provider to “350 of its customers in northeast Simpson County and in an area on the southeast side of Franklin.” The project brought symmetrical 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) and 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) options for $60 and $80/month to those locations and has brought service to a lot of happy members

 “Providing high-speed Internet [access] in rural areas has been and continues to be an important issue nationwide. Fortunately, we have been able to develop a successful model with Franklin EPB. We’re delighted to be able to expand our service in Simpson County immediately thanks to the RDOF funding,” said Dewayne McDonald, President and CEO of Warren RECC, at the announcement. He continued to emphasize that "part of our mission is to improve the quality of life for our members. This expansion represents a giant leap in progress for them, and we’re excited about the momentum. For the areas we didn’t win, we hope the companies that did win them will live up to their commitment to serve our...

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Posted March 18, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Born in Orono, Maine, the poet Frances Laughton Mace’s most notable verses were published in 1854 as a hymn entitled “Only Waiting.” Over a century and a half later, residents in her native town – and in the neighboring community of Old Town just four miles up the road – might be inclined to hum a line or two. Not because they are getting religion, but because of the wait in getting Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet connectivity.

After a decade of hopeful planning, disappointing setbacks, design work, and putting out multiple RFPs to move the project forward, the nonprofit OTO Fiber Corporation is on the verge of lighting up a six-mile fiber network this summer. With three miles of fiber deployed in Orono, a town of 11,000 residents and home to the University of Maine’s flagship campus, and the other half covering a portion of Old Town, the budding network will provide FTTH service to a limited number of residences and businesses in both towns. It’s a pilot project that, if successful, will serve as a core network which can eventually be extended to cover the entirety of both communities.

“It’s taken us forever to get to this point it seems. We started this process ten years ago and we are still slogging our way through while we’ve seen other communities zip ahead,” Belle Ryder, Orono Assistant Town Manager and President of OTO Fiber, told us this week. “It is really, really, really hard for communities relying on volunteers to pull off the feat of building and operating these networks.”

Ryder wasn’t complaining or exasperated. She was just being candid about the process she and her colleagues at OTO Fiber are committed to see through to the finish. The slog she is referring to goes back a decade when Orono was in the process of putting together a comprehensive development plan.

Families and Fiber, Fits and Starts

With just about half of the town’s population made up of college students living in off-campus apartments and the other half made up of residents 60 and older, “we really needed to draw families back,” Ryder explained. 

Old Town and Orono are right next to each other on the Penobscot River, 10 miles north of Bangor. Both communities...

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Posted January 28, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

In a livestream just before Thanksgiving, Christopher was joined by Althea Networks CEO Deborah Simpier and NetEquity Networks Founder and CEO Isfandiyar Shaheen (Asfi) to discuss an innovative financing model for building Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) with the potential to bring quality broadband connections to the millions of homes around the country that are currently un- or underserved. Best described as a  “fiber condominium” approach, it pairs collectively owned network infrastructure with the equity boost that comes with bringing symmetrical gigabit access to residential housing.

In a new video, Shaheen explains how it works in both the short term and over time, with last-mile fiber connections made by leveraging Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOC) in modest amounts from local credit unions and a payment arrangement that covers everything from the construction to customer service calls. 

The meat of the discussion starts around 6:35, with Shaheen describing how a $60-70/month payment for fiber Internet access breaks down. It covers everything needed, including payments for the HELOC to the local credit union, transit rates for the middle-mile network operator, maintenance fees, and an organizing entity like NetEquity Networks to bring all these stakeholders together and manage the connection.

It’s a fascinating model, with some new relationships that need to be created but no revolutionary technology or fundamentally new financing structures. 

Watch the video below:

 

Posted January 7, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Less than two years after the network was approved as a pilot project in September 2018, Idaho Falls Fiber Network has connected its 1,000th subscriber. Residents can check the detailed build map to see when their area might come online, but the network is looking to complete a ubiquitous build by 2024. Check out our previous coverage to see how they did it.

Posted November 17, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

We’ve written a lot over the last half year about communities around the country that have built fixed wireless networks to bridge the digital divide. Most recently, we’ve seen approaches which look to tackle particular inequalities that fast, affordable Internet access can help to alleviate: in Providence, Rhode Island, for instance, nonprofit One Neighborhood Builders built a network to tackle health disparities among Olneyville residents.

Today we’re covering a project in Pittsburgh that confronts another aspect of the digital divide laid bare by the pandemic: communities where connectivity options exist and low-income programs like Comcast’s Internet Essentials are available, but the minimum speeds offered are insufficient for households where multiple users need to work and attend school simultaneously. In a world where upload speed remains just as important as download speed, asymmetrical 25/3Mbps (Megabits per second) connections don’t cut it anymore. 

This is the problem that Every1online — a joint project by nonprofit Meta Mesh, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, two school districts, another nonprofit, and an array of local stakeholders — is looking to solve to get more than 450 families with students connected. They’ve built a fixed wireless system offering free connectivity to families across the Homewood neighborhood in Pittsburgh as well as nearby New Kensington and Coraopolis via 50/25 Mbps connections in a pilot program that will run for the next year. It’s a move that acknowledges that providing low-cost Internet access pegged at the lowest possible bandwidth tier disproportionately impacts vulnerable communities already living under the weight of a host of structural disadvantages.

Much of the greater Pittsburgh area has access to one or more wireline providers. But the city also suffers from a wealth gap for a large chunk of the population, centered on families of color (the Homewood neighborhood in particular). While low-income options exist, they aren’t fast enough for entire households which have been forced to...

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