Tag: "planning"

Posted April 25, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

The city of Seattle is looking to beef up its Information Technology department as it seeks to hire a Digital Equity Program & Broadband Manager.

The position will be a part of the city’s Client and Community Engagement Division and, according to the job posting, will play a central role in managing “digital inclusion planning and grants, broadband planning and advocacy, low-cost Internet program support, cable franchise administration, wireless affairs, and legislative advocacy for digital equity and telecommunication policy issues.”  

Job responsibilities will also include “providing guidance to all levels of local government and public agencies, in partnership with community, on critical digital inclusion services for residents, and administration and enforcement of Seattle’s Cable Code

Other key job responsibilities include:

  • Serves as a working team manager for the Digital Equity Program to set goals and strategies, and to implement program delivery. 
  • Coordinates and advises on policy, program, and funding opportunities to create, promote, and increase access to equitable, affordable, high-speed broadband services. 
  • Builds relationships with public, community, and private leaders across the city and region to develop new opportunities for achieving greater digital equity and affordable broadband connectivity in Seattle and resolving issues that hinder progress toward Seattle’s Internet for All Initiative goals. 
  • Provides regulatory compliance oversight of Seattle cable operators and cable franchise agreements. 
  • Negotiates and administers franchise agreements, franchise renewals and transfers as necessary with incumbent providers and new entrants. 
  • Administers Seattle’s Cable Customer Bill of Rights and other customer advocacy matters. 
  • Prepares reports, recommendations, analyses, and legislation to inform elected officials, department leadership, the...
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Posted February 25, 2022 by Emma Gautier

With nearly 65,000 households unable to connect to the Internet at basic broadband speeds of 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps), municipalities across the Green Mountain State have risen to the fore in formulating creative models for addressing the tens of thousands of homes without broadband access. Iterating on the EC Fiber (with roots back to the early 2000s), joint, municipally led projects have led to the creation of a total of nine Communications Union Districts (CUDs) at present, which places community-owned broadband at the forefront in Vermont.

What’s equally exciting is that the state has likewise stepped up, calling the CUDs the primary avenue by which it will solve the state’s connectivity crisis, and funneling at least $116 million in their direction in the next handful of years, with much of this spending dedicated to CUDs. To date, nearly 85 percent of Vermont’s municipalities and 90 percent of its underserved locations fall within a CUD. 

Otter Creek Communications Union District (OCCUD) is one of the newest additions, located in the south-central part of the state. It was conceived in July 2020 when the Vermont Department of Public Service awarded the Rutland Regional Planning Commission with a grant for a feasibility study and business plan to bring fiber broadband to the community. The town of Brandon then voted to create ​​OCCUD, and the town of Goshen voted to join the CUD soon afterwards. Today, Otter Creek comprises 14 member communities in South Central Vermont, including Benson, Brandon, Castleton, Chittenden, Fair Haven, Goshen, Hubbardton, Pittsford, Rutland Town, Sudbury, West Rutland, Poultney, Mendon, and Pawlet. 

As a new CUD, Otter Creek is still navigating the planning stages of the project, motivated by the opportunity fiber will provide to allow residents to “compete in the global economy.” Otter Creek’s feasibility study for a fiber buildout was...

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Posted January 31, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Caroline Stratton, Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of Florida, has published a new article looking at the digital equity plans of four major U.S. cities with the aim of seeing how policy makers understand the genesis of digital inequity in their cities and how they frame solutions for addressing it. She does so with the hopes of offering recommendations for other cities that will undertake these types of efforts in the near future. To do so, “Planning to Maintain the Status Quo? A Comparative Study of Digital Equity Plans of Four Large US Cities” looks at recent-ish plans published in Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington, Kansas City, Missouri, and San Francisco, California.

The first third of the study includes a lot about meaning-making and the social construction of understandings of digital inequity that readers can skip without missing the bread and butter of the piece (which begins on page 51). After that, Stratton highlights a few important points that will be useful for cities embarking on digital equity work for the first time.

A Broken Marketplace Requires Community Solutions

First, she says, an understanding of digital inequity doesn’t offer much chance for change without being accompanied by a vision for solving it. Second, better city plans had larger and more inclusive coalitions from the outset, and were tapped into a variety of constituencies that represented a broader swath of lived experiences in these cities. Third, successful plans relied on the advice and participation of nonprofits, libraries, and other trusted community anchor institutions. 

Importantly, Stratton shows that even though “ISPs’ profit-seeking motive may dictate why particular communities lack Internet service entirely, or service that is high-quality and affordable . . . they are spared scrutiny in plans” in many cases. More than 80 million Americans live in areas with a functional broadband monopoly.

The study also points to the reality that digital equity advocates have been describing for decades - that there are a host of other inequities that perpetuate the digital divide. 

...

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Posted January 5, 2022 by Karl Bode

Since 1972, the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority (FPUA) has provided gas, electric, water, and natural gas services to Fort Pierce, Florida and surrounding areas. Now, inspired by efforts in cities like Chattanooga, the utility hopes to leverage that expertise to deliver affordable fiber Internet access to the city’s 45,000 residents as part of a significant expansion of its internal fiber network. 

Building on Its I-Net

Since the early 2000s, FPUA has deployed 110 miles of optical fiber via its FPUAnet Communications division. Initially, the project focused on bringing ultra-fast fiber broadband to large businesses, schools, hospitals, and other community anchor institutions. 

In 2018, the city decided to expand its footprint to boost the local economy and cement Fort Pierce’s future reputation as a smart city of the future. First by upgrading the company’s existing utility systems (connected to 30,000 existing customer energy meters), then by utilizing that access to drive expanded fiber connectivity to smaller business and residential customers alike. 

“We wanted to look at what we can do, and what are the needs in the community,” Jason Mittler, FPUAnet manager told me. “We have other local competition…Comcast, AT&T are competitors in the area. But in the realm of symmetrical speeds, no one really offers it.”

Fort Pierce certainly isn’t alone in that regard. Even the notoriously inflated FCC data indicates that most U.S. communities rarely have access to symmetrical speeds of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and faster, and competition at those speeds is largely nonexistent. Addressing this market failure created an obvious business expansion opportunity for FPUANet that would not only bring additional value to its existing utility customers in the form of improved reliability and cost savings, but improve regional connectivity while keeping those dollars local

“Upload speeds here in Fort Pierce are not good,” Mittler noted, pointing to the top-heavy speed tiers of both cable broadband and DSL offerings. In contrast, FPUAnet will utilize GPON fiber...

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Posted January 4, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

 

The new year is upon us, but don't let the mountain of emails in your inbox distract from a fantastic opportunity coming down the pipeline.

A philanthropic effort via Connect Humanity in partnership with EntryPoint Networks and Biarri Networks is giving out five Broadband Master Plans to communities to help bring the digital divide through an initiative they are calling Build Better Broadband. The comprehensive analyses will include everything from surveys of current access, to network design, to financial modeling and risk assessment. Applications are due January 14, 2022. 

Successful applicantions, the website points out, will focus on "speed, affordability, and overall access in diverse, low-income, and/or historically underserved communities through non-profit, community-owned, or public infrastructure." Communities of all sizes, from rural and urban areas, are invited to apply. Contenders will participate in an interview process in the first weeks of February, with winners announced at the end of the month.

Connect Humanity describes itself as a "fund advancing digital equity."

We support, catalyze, and scale holistic solutions providing people with the Internet access and means needed to participate fully in a digital society. We believe that one of the best ways to support communities to achieve digital equity is through comprehensive Broadband Master Plans.

EntryPoint Networks specializes in software-defined, open access networks. The firm worked with Ammon, Idaho, and continues to collaborate with communities around the country. Biarri Networks specializes in design and engineering services.

This looks like a unique opportunity to kickstart local efforts, get organized, and set up for success as lots of funding comes down the road. Read the FAQ here, and apply todayApplications are due January 14, 2022. 

Posted November 29, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The recently passed infrastructure package is going to drive an unprecented amount of money to broadband projects over the next few years, which means that communities that begin serious planning and preparation now will find themselves in the best place to succeed in the near and medium future. Dozens of cities have announced plans to use Rescue Plan funds to begin surveying, mapping, developing feasibility studies, and contracting high-level designs, signalling a commitment to improving local Internet access and backing that commitment from that flexible pot of funding.

But maybe local officials in your community have shown a reluctance to heed the call that poor Internet during the pandemic has negatively impacted students, small businesses, or efforts to work from home. Or the city council has already earmarked those funds for needed water or sewer upgrades. The good news is, a philanthropic partnership has launched an effort to help out a handful or communities.

Connect Humanity, in partnership with EntryPoint Networks and Biarri Networks, is giving out five Broadband Master Plans to communities to help bring the digital divide through an initiative they are calling Build Better Broadband. The comprehensive analyses will include everything from surveys of current access, to network design, to financial modeling and risk assessment. Applications are due January 14, 2022. 

Successful applicantions, the website points out, will focus on "speed, affordability, and overall access in diverse, low-income, and/or historically underserved communities through non-profit, community-owned, or public infrastructure." Communities of all sizes, from rural and urban areas, are invited to apply. Contenders will participate in an interview process in the first weeks of February, with winners announced at the end of the month.

Connect Humanity describes itself as a "fund advancing digital equity."

We support, catalyze, and scale holistic solutions providing people with the Internet access and means needed to participate fully in a digital society. We believe that one of the best ways...

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Posted October 4, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Need better Internet access in your community but don’t know where to start? Or maybe you’re in the middle of a community broadband project but have hit a roadblock?

Be one of 100 broadband champions attending the Michigan Moonshot Broadband Summit at the one-day event on Tuesday, November 9th in Traverse City, Michigan. 

The Michigan Moonshot Summit is a day-long conference focused on helping representatives of local governments, community anchor institutions, and economic development groups navigate the hurdles involved when pursuing a regional or community broadband project. The event will include workshopping opportunities where attendees can collaborate with industry thought leaders to address impending issues and identify solutions.

Merit, a statewide educational and research network run by Michigan’s public university system, is hosting the event. Michigan Moonshot is Merit’s effort to improve Internet access in the state by collecting accurate data, disseminating educational resources, influencing policy decisions, and connecting communities to funding.

“From determining ownership models and drafting network designs, to navigating the grant landscape, developing public-private partnerships, and deploying mapping initiatives, this year’s focus is singular — ACTION,” reads the Moonshot Summit website.

To attend this year’s event, “attendees must be a Merit Member and/or Broadband champions who are part of regional planning, building, and running efforts; economic development groups and local governments; or, institutions, community anchors and municipalities addressing the ‘digital divide.’”

Breakout Sessions and Speakers

The first breakout session of the Moonshot Summit will assist municipalities in “Navigating the METRO Act.” 

Aspen Wireless Founder and President, Jim Selby, and Municipal FTTP Program Manager, Mike Reen, will walk communities through METRO Act requirements to provide an understanding of the mandatory steps communities are required to complete before constructing their own broadband...

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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 17, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Springfield prides itself as a “City of Firsts.” Located in central Massachusetts, 90 miles west of Boston, Springfield is where the nation’s first armory was located and where the first U.S.-made automobile was built. It’s also the birthplace of basketball and Theodor Geisel, better known by his pen name “Dr. Seuss.”

Last month, the city took its first step to explore whether it will become the first of New England’s five biggest cities to build a municipal fiber-to-the-home network.

Channeling Dr. Seuss, who famously wrote “only you can control your future,” city officials are in the process of issuing a Request for Proposals to conduct a feasibility study to explore if Springfield (est. pop. 154,000) will control its digital future by meeting “the growing demand for reliable and affordable Internet service.”

According to a press release issued by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno’s office, “the study would review such items including but not limited to the current Internet equipment and infrastructure in place across the city, gauge public interest, provide a cost analysis on infrastructure investment, review and assess maintenance cost, possible revenue sources, and exploring potential public/private partnerships and collaborations for the benefit of consumers.”

Pandemic Exposed Digital Chasm

The city is currently served by Comcast Xfinity and Verizon DSL. But, according to City Councilor Jesse Lederman, a leading advocate for better broadband in Springfield, the pandemic exposed a growing digital divide in the city while surrounding communities are increasingly being served by fiber networks.

“The COVID-19 pandemic made a few things very clear,” Lederman told WAMC public radio. “The Internet has become an essential utility for residents and businesses. During COVID...

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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

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