Tag: "montana"

Posted May 23, 2016 by lgonzalez

When communities decide to proceed with publicly owned infrastructure, they often aim for open access models. Open access allows more than one service provider to offer services via the same infrastructure. The desire is to increase competition, which will lower prices, improve services, and encourage innovation.

It seems straight forward, but open access can be more complex than one might expect. In addition to varying models, there are special challenges and financing considerations that communities need to consider.

In order to centralize our information on open access, we’ve created the new Open Access Networks resource page. We’ve gathered together some of our best reference material, including links to previous MuniNetworks.org stories, articles from other resources, relevant Community Broadband Bits podcast episodes, case studies, helpful illustrations, and more.

We cover: 

  • Open Access Arrangements
  • Financing Open Access Networks
  • Challenges for Open Access Networks
  • U.S. Open Access Networks
  • Planned Open Access Networks

Check it out and share the link. Bookmark it!

Posted January 20, 2016 by htrostle

Bozeman, Montana, continues to move forward toward a future of fiber optics connectivity. Last we checked in, the community had formed a nonprofit, Bozeman Fiber, to own and operate the community network, had started to secure private funding, and were well on their way to their end goal.

City leaders have now approved an update to the Downtown Bozeman Urban Renewal Plan to allow Tax Increment Financing (TIF) as a way to fund the project. This is an important step to ensure that the fiber infrastructure project maintains a sustainable funding source.

Amending the Plan

Ten years ago the city adopted an ordinance creating the Urban Renewal Plan and the TIF districts. The plan uses 9 principles to guide the development and growth of the community. City leaders approved amendments to the ordinance this past December to better prioritize the current needs of businesses and residents. The amendment in question would add the importance of fiber optics to the first principle, “Strengthen Downtown’s Economic Vitality.” Brit Fontenot, Director of Economic Development, described the necessity of the changes (from local news station KTVM):

"A lot of commerce happens downtown. It's not just art galleries and restaurants. We also have things like hardware stores and high-tech companies. In order to keep up with the demand downtown, we need infrastructure that can accommodate and, in this case, it's fiber optics." 

Tax Increment Financing

By amending the ordinance, the city can more easily use TIF funding for the construction costs of the fiber network. The idea behind TIF is that a community can borrow against the future increases in the property tax revenue of the area where the particular project will be developed. We’ve reported on this funding method before: it has been considered in Sanford, Maine, and Wabash County, Indiana.

The Proposed Network

Since early 2014, Bozeman city officials...

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Posted December 22, 2015 by htrostle

Iowa, known across the country for its agriculture, is known in other circles for its exciting community broadband projects. Earlier this year President Obama visited Cedar Falls to praise its municipal network and to support other efforts to improve rural high-speed Internet access. One of those efforts is Wiatel. This small telecommunications coop is beginning a $25 million project to upgrade its network from copper to fiber throughout its entire service area.

Fiber Connectivity

The cooper network that Wiatel uses now is sufficient for basic phone service, but upgrading to fiber will future-proof the network and provide better Internet speeds. The coop is based out of Lawton, a small town of about 1,000 people, but the coop serves an area of 700 miles. Wiatel hopes to start burying the fiber cables in the summer of 2016. Once the project gets started, officials from the cooperative estimate they will connect all residential and business customers to fiber within 24-30 months.

Wiatel is part of a long-growing movement as rural coops build fiber networks or upgrade to fiber to improve services for members. Just check out the Triangle Communications coop in Montana, the Paul Bunyan Communications coop in Minnesota, or Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative in Alabama. They’re providing next-generation connectivity at reasonable prices to rural communities often ignored by the large incumbent telephone and cable companies.

Coops: An Alternative

Without an immediate return on investment, large corporate providers have little incentive to build in sparsely populated areas. Traditional corporate providers must answer to shareholders seeking short term profits. Cooperatives are owned by the people they serve, giving their shareholders a practical, real, tangible interest in the success of the endeavor and the community it serves....

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Posted December 4, 2015 by htrostle

Montana may have high speed limits on roads, but this Montana coop’s network will let you surf the web even faster. Triangle Communications received an almost $30 million loan from the USDA to provide rural Central Montana with high-speed Internet access.

Triangle Communications will finish upgrading its aging copper network - a technology mostly used for telephone - to a fiber network that can support both telephone and high-speed Internet. The loan comes from the USDA’s initiative, announced in July, promising $85 million to improve connectivity in rural areas. The Triangle Communications coop is upgrading its entire system spanning 16 counties (that’s more than 23,000 square miles from the Canadian to the Wyoming border!). 

Since 1953, the coop has been at the forefront of changing technologies. It’s based in Havre but expanded in 1994 with the purchase of 13 exchanges from US West (now known as CenturyLink). The coop began upgrading to fiber in 2009 in order to provide its members with state-of-the-art service and technology.

For more information about the network and the award, check out local news coverage of the almost $30 million loan and Triangle Communications’ video.

 

Posted October 28, 2015 by ternste

In an April 2015 press release, the telecommunications cooperative Nemont Communications announced their plans to make the small, rural town of Scobey, Montana the first gigabit community in the state. The network will serve commercial, governmental, and residential customers in this Northeastern Montana town of just over 1,000 people. This speed increase to gig-level is a result of upgrades to the existing fiber network.

Scobey is inside of Nemont’s 14,000 square mile service territory where they began upgrades to fiber in 2007. The cooperative dates back to 1950 when farmers in the area organized to form their own telephone systems. The current service territory spans parts of Northeastern Montana, Northwestern North Dakota, South Central Montana, and Northern Wyoming. 

Bridging the Rural Digital Divide 

Nemont CEO Mike Kilgore sees the plan for Scobey as a first step for the largely rural state of Montana to push toward ultra high-speed Internet in every corner of the US:

“On January 18, 2013, former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski issued the Gigabit City Challenge to bring at least one ultra-fast Gigabit Internet community to every state in the U.S. by 2015. Today, thanks to the tireless efforts of our talented employees, Nemont is proud to report that Montana now has a Gigabit community.”

Posted October 19, 2015 by htrostle

Good news from Montana! Bozeman Fiber has secured funding to begin construction of a 23-mile open access community fiber network. Through an impressive partnership among eight local banks, Bozeman Fiber secured $3.85 million.  

First Interstate Bank, Rocky Mountain Bank, Big Sky Western Bank, Opportunity Bank, U.S. Bank, American Bank, First Montana Bank and Bank of Bozeman all came together to support the fledgling network. During a press conference, First Interstate Bank President Bruce Parker described how this level of collaboration was possible. He initially approached twelve banks in April about the project. Now, six months later, eight banks have committed to providing funds. Parker expressed a high level of confidence for the network’s impact:

The project really speaks for itself in terms of what this infrastructure will do for the Bozeman community. 

Bozeman Fiber is itself a remarkable collaboration between public and private sector interests. The city of Bozeman will not manage the network themselves. Instead, the City Commission voted to form a separate nonprofit entity to direct the project. In order to consider the many diverse needs of Bozeman from the economic to the educational, the board of this newly formed nonprofit features seven members from the public and private sector. The end result is this unique public-private partnership. 

A purpose for the fiber network is economic development, in part by providing affordable fiber access to small businesses and startups. The press conference took place at the headquarters of Elixiter, an online marketing company that has grown rapidly in the past four years. The founder, Andrew Hall explained how Bozeman Fiber will benefit companies like Elixiter:

“We are on the Internet all day long, all of our consultants. So literally our business exists because the Internet exists and so for us there isn't anything more important, short of our...

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Posted October 6, 2015 by htrostle

This past July the USDA announced over $85 million in funding for rural broadband projects across seven states. The projects, many awarded to rural cooperatives, aim to bridge the digital divide and expand economic opportunities. For those interested in federal funding opportunities, NTIA has just released this guide [pdf].

Rural areas are often passed over by big telcos because they are considered less profitable. Farming, however, is a high-tech industry, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack believes that Internet access is as necessary as electricity in rural areas:

"Broadband is fundamental to expanding economic opportunity and job creation in rural areas, and it is as vital to rural America's future today as electricity was when USDA began bringing power to rural America 80 years ago. ...  Improved connectivity means these communities can offer robust business services, expand access to health care and improve the quality of education in their schools, creating a sustainable and dynamic future those who live and work in rural America."

The USDA has awarded more than  $77 million in Community Connect Grants for rural broadband projects (since 2009). This July, the USDA loaned $74.8 million and awarded another $11 million in Community Connect Grants. Here is the current round-up of the USDA’s most recent loans and grants:

Alaska

Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative Inc. will connect Point Hope subscribers and prepare for an undersea fiber line with a $1.4 million grant.

Minnesota

Garden Valley Telephone, one of the largest coops in Minnesota, will continue to expand its FTTH service area with a $12.63 million loan. On average, the coop serves two households per square mile.

Consolidated Telephone, another coop, will perform upgrades and add a new fiber ring to allow for greater bandwidth with a $12.27 million...

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Posted May 18, 2015 by lgonzalez

When we last checked in on Bozeman, the City Commission had approved a Technology Master Plan. In order to implement that plan, the same body voted unanimously on May 4th to create the nonprofit Bozeman Fiber to manage the network, reports the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

The organization's board will consist of 7 members, including 1 from the city. Members from the public and private sectors will also be on the board, which will function independently from the City. The business community is especially excited about the project. From the article:

Several members of the public, many representing business groups like the Montana Photonics Industry Alliance and Bozeman Chamber of Commerce, urged commissioners to move forward with the project. No one voiced opposition.

“This is putting in critical infrastructure,” said Matt Johnson of First Interstate Bank. “It’s one of the best collaborative projects I’ve been a part of.”

Learn more about the project from our interview with several people working on the project in episode #142 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Posted April 1, 2015 by lgonzalez

Bozeman elected officials voted unanimously on January 26th to approve a recently completed master plan and take the next step to deploying publicly owned open access infrastructure. We discussed the Bozeman approach in a recent podcast with city staff and a local business.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that local business leaders attended the City Commission meeting to speak in favor of the initiative, including the local Chamber of Commerce president, representatives from local tech companies, and the director of the Downtown Bozeman business coalition.

Commissioners heard comments from supporters, CenturyLink, and local provider Montana Opticom. Even though Jim Dolan from Montana Optimcom expressed some concerns about some engineering issues, the local ISP rep still said, "It’s a great initiative and it really will help the valley.” The Chronicle reports commissioners questioned supporters for about an hour before voting to move forward.

The project plan will use tax increment funding (TIF) in the Downtown and North 7th Avenue designated TIF Districts to facilitate funding for the first phase of the project. Phases two and three will bring fiber to the public schools and close up the proposed fiber rings by expanding to more business districts. You can reivew the Bozeman Fiber Master Plan and Feasibility Study and a summary of the project in the Commission Memorandum online.

The vote echoed a recent editorial in the Chronicle promoting the project and describing the decision to move forward as a "no-brainer":

On Monday, the Bozeman City Commission will consider a proposal to direct money from the North Seventh Avenue and downtown tax increment finance districts into a project to install a broadband,...

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Posted March 17, 2015 by christopher

In Montana, local businesses and the city of Bozeman have been working on a public-private partnership approach to expanding Internet access that is likely to involve the city building an open access fiber network. We discuss their approach this week with Brit Fontenot, Economic Development Director for the city of Bozeman; David Fine, Bozeman Economic Development Specialist; and the President of Hoplite Industries, Anthony Cochenour.

Bozeman has long been known as a city with opportunities for outdoor activities but it also has a significant tech presence though like nearly every other community in the United States, many recognize the need for more investment in better options for connectivity.

A group of citizens, local businesses, and city staff have been examining their options, how they might finance it, and how to encourage the existing providers to work with them in improving Internet access.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

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Thanks to Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

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