Tag: "regional"

Posted October 8, 2018 by lgonzalez

Local governments in Maine have been going all out in the past few years to address the problem of lack of high-quality Internet access in rural areas. Now, Cumberland County is using Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to help develop a resource they hope will assist local communities interested in publicly owned Internet access infrastructure. They’ve released a Request for Proposals (RFP) to Develop Regional Broadband Planning and Management; proposals are due October 31, 2018.

Read the full RFP here.

The Playbook

Elected officials in Cumberland County report that local community leaders from different towns throughout the county have expressed an interest in a regional initiative for better connectivity. At least four towns and the Greater Portland area have been working to develop broadband plans with an eye toward regional possibilities. This RFP is an effort to bring all those separate plans together and examine the possibility of a regional utility.

The county has determined that the playbook should provide information in three main areas: resource mapping, financing, and utility development. 

Information to be included in the document will provide estimated costs and challenges of building fiber networks to each municipality in Cumberland County. This mapping portion of the playbook should compare last mile connectivity costs to middle mile network costs, consider specific plans for some of the county’s hard-to-reach areas, and examine working with privately owned fiber that is currently in place.

County officials want respondents to investigate and propose ways to finance a regional utility. They also want to know more about models that include both publicly owned and privately owned infrastructure. As part of the playbook, county officials expect a survey of residents in Cumberland County.

logo-DBU.jpg Lastly, the county wants a resource that will help local communities band together to form a broadband utility that can serve the region. According to the RFP, county officials...

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Posted October 2, 2018 by lgonzalez

While major media outlets cover news about California Governor Jerry Brown’s decision to sign the state’s network neutrality bill, we’re high-fiving his signature on AB 1999. On September 30th, Gov. Brown approved the bill that removes state restrictions limiting publicly owned options for rural Internet access. The change signifies what we hope to see more of - state action empowering local communities set on improving local connectivity.

We’ve been following the development of the bill, introduced by Assembly Member Ed Chau, since early this year when it began to make its way through committee. Christopher went to California in May to testify in support of the bill at a hearing of the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee.

Easing the Way for Rural Communities

AB 1999 focuses on the responsibilities and authority of community service districts (CSDs), created to provide necessary services. CSDs are independent local governments usually formed by residents in unincorporated areas for the purpose of providing the kinds of services city-dwellers often take for granted: water and wastewater management, trash collection, fire protection, etc. In keeping with the ability to raise funds for these services, CSDs have the authority to create enhanced infrastructure financing districts (EIFDs). CSDs are allowed to use EIFDs to fund development of Internet access infrastructure in the same way they would sewer infrastructure, or convert overhead utilities to underground, or other projects that deal with infrastructure and are in the public interest.

Prior to the adoption of AB 1999, however, a CSD would first have to engage in a process to determine that no person or entity was willing to provide Internet access before the CSD could offer it to premises. Additionally, if a private sector entity came along after the infrastructure was deployed and expressed a willingness to do so, the CSD had no choice by law but to sell or lease the infrastructure they had developed rather than operate it themselves.

With the passage of AB 1999, CSDs no longer need to adhere to those strict requirements.

When the California State Legislature chose to pass the...

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Posted September 4, 2018 by lgonzalez

In a state as large as Texas, it makes sense to divide the eastern half into defined regions. Likewise, when counties, towns, and other entities in one of those areas realize they need better connectivity, it makes sense to work together on a regional project. The Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) and Economic Development District recently issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a Fiber Optic Broadband Market Analysis and Cost Study. Proposals are due September 25th, 2018.

Read the RFP.

Deep East Texas

The region is also known as the Texas Forest County, with four national forests, lakes, and primarily a rural landscape. Twelve counties constitute the Deep East region that borders Oklahoma on the north and the Gulf of Mexico on the south. About 385,000 people live in the region, which covers more than 10,380 square miles.

DETCOG is an organization that has been around since the mid-1960s and includes counties, cities, school districts, and other entities in the region interested in participating in local economic development efforts. According to the RFP, the DETCOG Board of Directors has decided to re-allocate some of the remaining relief funds from Hurricane Ike to boost the region’s options for high-quality Internet access. Estimated funds remain at  around $513,000.

Within the region, 50 public school districts serve residents in 43 communities. There are two colleges, eleven hospitals, and more than 30 additional healthcare facilities. Ten cooperatives, including telephone, gas, and electric, operate in the region.

Much of the region obtains Internet access via DSL, with cable connections available in a few of the more densely populated areas, such as the county seats. There are also a few fixed wireless providers and at least one area where fiber is available on a limited basis. Some of the most rural areas depend on satellite. There’s very little consistency in the Deep East Texas Region and rates appear to run high for the level of service.

What They Want

To commence their journey toward better regional connectivity, the DETCOG seeks a consultant to study what is now available, what businesses and residents want and need, offer recommendations on what would work well for the region, and provide cost estimates. The...

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Posted August 22, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

Just outside of Detroit, Michigan, Grosse Pointe communities and institutions are considering whether to work with local Internet service provider Rocket Fiber to build an institutional network (I-Net).

The Grosse Pointe suburbs, or “the Pointes”, are composed of five independent municipalities situated along a strip of land northeast of the city, jutting slightly into Lake St. Clair. Their network, tentatively called the Grosse Pointe Area Educational Telecommunications Network (GP EdNet), would connect schools, libraries, and municipal buildings with 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps) speeds.

If the cities and institutions all approve the arrangement, they would form a consortium, consisting of the City of Grosse Pointe, Grosse Pointe Park, Grosse Pointe Farms, Grosse Pointe Woods, Harper Woods, the Grosse Pointe Public Library, and the Grosse Pointe Public School System.

Under the current plan, Rocket Fiber would build the institutional fiber network for the public partners and provide maintenance for 20 years. The consortium would own and provide voice and Internet services. During construction, the ISP would also lay down its own fiber in order to offer Internet services to nearby residents and businesses at some point in the future.

Rocket Fiber has estimated total cost for the 14-mile long GP EdNet at under $3 million. Participating communities and institutions would split the core expenses but each would be individually responsible for financing the connections from their own buildings to the main fiber ring.

Schools Leading the Way

Under the leadership of Superintendent Gary Niehaus, the Grosse Pointe Public School System has propelled the project forward by rallying support in the various communities and issuing the initial RFP. Niehaus has wanted to build a community...

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Posted May 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

Portsmouth, Virginia, recently announced that they intend to invest in fiber optic infrastructure to reduce telecommunications costs, encourage economic development, and keep the city competitive in the region. The project is also part of a regional effort to foster economic development in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area.

In the April press release, the city announced that the project will include a 55-mile fiber optic ring around the city that will connect municipal facilities and anchor institutions. The plan will use a five-year multiphase approach for the estimated $9 million capital project and construction is likely to begin this summer.

According to city CIO Daniel Jones, costs for the first year will come in at around $2.7 million. Portsmouth is currently reviewing bids for the project.

Significant Savings

Portsmouth CIO Dan Jones noted, “Right now, Portsmouth is internet carrier dependent. The broadband network will improve municipal operations at a substantial cost savings.” 

Last year, the city adopted a Fiber Master Plan, which analyzed potential cost savings, should Portsmouth choose to invest in its own Internet network infrastructure. Consultants estimated that the city and public schools spend more than $1 million on connectivity costs per year for municipal facilities, schools, and public libraries. The community’s schools’ telecom expenditures are almost $638,000 per year; libraries spend around $29,000 per year. Portsmouth schools receive an 80 percent reimbursement from the federal E-rate program, which allows the school system to receive a subsidy of more than $510,000 annually. Portsmouth plans to use E-rate dollars to help fund network construction in areas where it serves school facilities.

When Portsmouth invests in its own infrastructure, rather than leasing lines from the incumbent providers, consultants...

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Posted April 27, 2018 by lgonzalez

Nestled along the south eastern border of Maine are Baileyville and Calais. As rural communities situated next to Canada in the state's "Downeast" region, neither town is on a list of infrastructure upgrades from incumbents. With an aging population, a need to consider their economic future, and no hope of help from big national ISPs, Baileyville and Calais are joining forces and developing their own publicly owned broadband utility.

Baileyville and Calais

There are about 3,000 residents in Calais (pronounced "Kal-iss") and 1,500 in Baileyville, but according to Julie Jordan, Director of Downeast Economic Development Corporation (DEDC), many of those residents are aging and younger people find little reason to stay or relocate in Washington County. The community recognizes that they need to draw in new industries and jobs that will attract young families to keep the towns from fading off the map.

Most of the residents in the region must rely on slow DSL from Consolidated Communications (formerly FairPoint), while a few have access to cable from Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable); expensive and unreliable satellite is also an option and there's some limited fixed wireless coverage in the area. A few larger businesses that require fiber optic connectivity can find a way to have it installed, but Julie tells us that it's incredibly expensive in the area and most can't afford the high rates for fiber.

Economic Development Driven

logo-baileyville-me.png Organized in 2015, the nonprofit DEDC came together with the focus on recruiting new businesses to the area and to support existing businesses. As DEDC quickly discovered, unless the region could offer high-speed, reliable Internet infrastructure, attracting new businesses and helping existing businesses expand would be extremely difficult. They also determined that new families would not be interested in Baileyville or Calais without high-quality connectivity. "It was a no-brainer," says Julie, "you have to go fiber."

One of the largest regional employers, Woodland Pulp, need fiber in order to operate and as Julie describes, "they pay up the nose" for connectivity. All their equipment is computerized and they...

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Posted March 20, 2018 by lgonzalez

Earlier this month, twelve towns in central Vermont chose Town Meeting Day to ask local voters whether or not they want to band together to improve connectivity. Each community chose to participate in forming a regional Communications Union District, which will allow them to plan, bond for, and develop regional Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure. For episode 298 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher interviews Jeremy Hansen, local Select Board Member and the person who spearheaded the effort to bring the issue to voters in his region.

As Jeremy tells it, he didn’t need to do much convincing when local Vermonters learned about the Communications Union District structure. Most of the people in central Vermont rely on DSL and they overwhelmingly find it inadequate for their needs. The Communications Union District allows several communities to combine their strengths to work toward a single goal. Like water of sewer districts, the entity can issue revenue bonds so the infrastructure is publicly owned, but user funded. ECFiber is organized as a Communications Union District and serves 24 member towns in the eastern part of the state.

Christopher and Jeremy talk about how Jeremy researched, heightened awareness, and how when voters understood the pros and cons, their own common sense led them to approve this first step. He describes what’s next and what he’d like to see happen with the Central Vermont Internet initiative.

This show is 24 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is ...

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Posted March 16, 2018 by lgonzalez

In the early 2000s, Carroll County, Maryland, invested in publicly owned fiber infrastructure to reduce costs and improve services for public schools, county government, and Community Anchor Institutions (CAIs). In addition to meeting that goal, the county’s asset connected to the Westminster Fiber Network, a municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) partnership that’s brought gigabit connectivity to a community that once struggled with poor Internet access. In order to build off that success in other parts of the county, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners recently voted to allocate $400,000 to provide grants for more Carroll County Fiber Network expansion.

Second Year In A Row

The funding for 2018 follows last year’s decision to provide $1 million to expand the network. Department of Economic Development executive director Denise Beaver told that Carroll County Times that the county’s broadband committee recommended the grants because ISPs’ reasons for not investing in the rural parts of the county were primarily connected to the cost of deploying fiber.

Carroll County's elected officials decided last year to focus on connecting industrial parks and directed staff to communicate with municipal leaders to learn more about opportunities for fiber in downtown areas to spur economic development.

The Carroll County Broadband Grant Program will provide grants of up to $25,000 per project to ISPs or other entities that ensure a 50 percent matching reimbursement. Each entity can receive no more than $100,000 per fiscal year. Eligibility includes a range of types of projects, including those that involve “…the construction, acquisition, or leasing of facilities or spectrum, land, towers or buildings used to deploy broadband service for business and residentially-based businesses.” 

Entities that want to apply for the grants need to be searching for funding that will bring connectivity to “unserved or underserved” areas. The county has decided to define those types of areas for purpose of the grants:

…Beaver said unserved would be defined as someone with no access to fixed Internet connection with speeds of 10 megabits per second downloads and one megabit per second...

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Posted March 7, 2018 by lgonzalez

We recently learned that a group of communities in central Vermont had decided to ask voters if they should form a communications union district to develop a regional fiber optic network. On March 6th, twelve of thirteen communities who took up the proposal at Town Meeting passed it, and the thirteenth will address the subject in May.

Clearly A Demand

We reached out to Jeremy Hansen, a Board Member in Berlin and the person who’s spearheading the effort to improve connectivity in the region. He told us:

I'm humbled and encouraged by the outpouring of support for this effort here in Central Vermont. There is clearly a demand for an Internet Service Provider that we, as a community, are about to start building. Two more towns outside of those that had it on their Town Meeting agenda (Elmore and Moretown) discussed CVI today, too, and they both look poised to apply to join us once we have our first board meeting.

Communities that passed the measure are Barre City, Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Marshfield, Middlesex, Montpelier, Northfield, Plainfield, Roxbury, Williamstown, and Worcester. In Berlin, East Montpelier, Middlesex, and Worcester the community took up the question with a floor vote and it passed unanimously. The town of Barre will bring up the question at its Town Meeting in May.

Looking East For Inspiration

As an elected official, Hansen has heard many complaints from constituents about poor Internet access and inadequate customer service from ISPs in his town of Berlin. As he's researched the problem, he's found that other communities in the region have faced the same problems. 

logo-cvi.jpg When looking for solutions, Hansen learned about ECFiber, which serves 24 member towns to the east. The publicly owned fiber optic network is organized as a communications union district, a relatively new designation in Vermont that is similar to water or sewer districts. ECFiber is publicly owned infrastructure developed by multiple communities, which allows them to issue revenue bonds to fund a telecommunications project.

Learn more about ECFiber and communications...

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Posted February 27, 2018 by lgonzalez

Thirteen communities in central Vermont will ask residents if they want to authorize a communications union district, the first step toward a regional publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Which Towns Will Participate?

On March 6th, towns in Vermont will participate in Town Meeting Day 2018 when they’ll gather and decide a range of issues such as how to spend town funds, which policies to implement, and other choices that effect the entire community. For the past year, Berlin board member and computer science professor Jeremy Hansen has approached town officials from nearby communities to discuss the possibility of developing a regional network.

As an elected official, his constituents have made him aware of poor Internet access in central Vermont. Currently, much of the area relies on DSL from Fairpoint with maximum speeds of 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload, a far cry from the 25/3 FCC standard that defines broadband. There are also residents in the area that still use dial-up Internet access.

Local Jerry Diamantides, who works remotely for a company located in Virginia told Vermont Public Radio:

"It is DSL," Diamantides explains. "The ‘S’ certainly stands for slow. The ‘L’ must stand for low. And we’ll let the ‘D’ stand on its own, I guess. But, it’s barely sufficient for what I need."

Inspired By ECFiber

Hansen wants to improve connectivity in the region by establishing a communications union district, which is the model EC Fiber uses. The designation is much like a sewer or water utility, but focuses on delivering Internet access. EC Fiber began with a different model that relied on private investment, but when the state established the communications utility district designation, it was then able to seek financing from a range of other sources. That funding was critical to allow the network to expand, serve more subscribers, and continue to grow.

As he’s presented his proposal to elected...

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