Tag: "school district"

Posted September 17, 2021 by Maren Machles

The San Marcos City Council held a working session in August to review a presentation on the state of broadband in the Texas city and decide whether it should pursue a municipal broadband option. While some members wanted to pursue a fiber-to-the-home municipal network after the presentation, others pushed back despite the fact that the city has its own fiber I-Net (Institutional Network). City council ultimately voted to look for partnerships and alternative options, as opposed to funding and operating its own network. 

Existing I-Net

Sitting just south of Austin, Texas’ state capitol, San Marcos (pop. 63,000) has been developing an I-Net since 2000, when it entered a franchise agreement with Grande Communication and got access to 12 strands of dark fiber to connect city facilities. In 2018, the city developed a “Master Fiber Plan” that would expand the I-Net, further connecting critical infrastructure. The project was funded by general, water and electric capital improvement project funds and construction began in 2020.

Currently, that fiber network has enabled all city facilities to provide public wireless access, and American Rescue Funds have been approved by council to expand public access at the library and city parks.

The presentation to council noted that there are currently eight Internet Service Providers in the San Marcos area, with average download speeds in the city of around 127 Megabits per second (Mbps). There are DSL, cable, wireless, satellite, and fiber options, with fiber covering 43 percent of households inside city limits.

Lack of Competition

While 100 percent of San Marcos has a 25/3 Mbps service option from three different providers, only two percent has three 100/10 Mbps options. The lack of competition is partially why the city council wanted this presentation: to weigh the costs and benefits of getting into the market and offering more affordable and reliable options to residents. 

“What I’m thinking is, just like we were able to do with our electric utility, is to be able to provide for people in their time of need, and the city is best positioned to [provide broadband], whereas private industries can take advantage of people or the situation,” Council member Maxifield Baker...

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Posted August 30, 2021 by Maren Machles

Decatur, Illinois (pop. 71,000) is moving forward with an Institutional Network (I-Net) expansion that will connect 11 school districts and 3 firehouses to its growing fiber-optic backbone, connecting potential commercial and industry customers along the way. 

The city of Decatur has been expanding its fiber network since 2014, when it decided to deploy a backbone network connecting several of its facilities. This most recent expansion will extend the access to Franklin and Parsons schools, Stephen Decatur Middle School, Eisenhower and MacArthur high schools, American Dreamer STEM Academy, Dennis Lab School, Hope Academy, Johns Hill Magnet School and William Harris Learning Academy.

The expansion is the result of a 5-0 city council vote in April approving a $915,000 contract with Bodine Electric to purchase and hang 144 strand fiber-optic cable. 

A portion of the funding for the contract will come from a $800,000 grant from the Connect Illinois grant program, an initiative aimed at expanding broadband access. The program launched in 2019 with $420-million investment in broadband infrastructure. The first round of grants totaled $50 million with a combined $9.25 million going to monopoly ISPs CenturyLink, MediaCom, Spectrum, and Comcast and the rest going to local ISPs and city and county governments. 

The remaining $115,000 allocated in the contract will come from the state’s portion of the American Rescue Plan fund. 

While the city will fund the expansion of the backbone to pass by the schools and connect the firehouses, Decatur Public Schools (DPS) will also contribute $600,000 to connect the schools to the street fiber. The contribution is also from the Connect Illinois Grant Program.  

When the state grants came through, the city and DPS saw an opportunity to collaborate. 

“We very quickly started talking to each other, and [we already have a] network out in the streets, and so we decided we would do this...

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Posted March 17, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

We've covered an array of communities that have met the connectivity challenges brought about by the pandemic by setting up gap networks to help bring neighborhoods, students, seniors, and frontline workers online in places like Arizona, California, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. A recent NBC story highlights efforts in Dallas, Texas and Utah to do the same, suggesting that we'll see more of these networks stood up in the near future.

Posted March 10, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

HiLight — Hillsboro, Oregon’s (pop. 105,000) citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network — has officially launched and begun connecting its first subscribers. After five years of consideration and planning, it’s an exciting moment, with hundreds of homes and businesses brought online over the last few months. Over the next seven years, at least $28 million will be put towards the rollout, bringing the municipal network to tens of thousands of locations across the city.

Hillsboro sits just outside of Portland, and has been looking for better connectivity options for years. A large proportion of its population is comprised of tech workers and residents with advanced degrees; the city, in fact, anchors the state’s Silicon Forest, so named for the group of technology firms employing tens of thousands of workers across three Intel campuses as well as operations by Oracle, Salesforce, Epson, and Synopsis. A citywide fiber network serves to provide competition and capacity to keep them in the area:

Hillsboro is the tallest tree in the Silicon Forest and the center of Oregon’s high-tech cluster. With an affordable high-speed network, Hillsboro’s homegrown talent — our students and entrepreneurs — will be better positioned to lead the world in innovating for the future. Hillsboro will continue to attract and retain talent and be a hub for innovation.

But Hillsboro also faces a stark digital divide fueled by economic inequality, and bridging it has been one of the city council’s (and now the network’s) main agenda items. This has driven the project’s second focus: bringing affordable, high-quality access to economically vulnerable residents stuck with no quality options today. It’s why the city has introduced one of the fastest low-cost access program we’ve seen established by any broadband network in the United States, with qualifying families getting access to symmetrical gigabit service for $10/month.

Putting Glass in the Ground

We’ve been following Hillsboro’s journey over the past few years. In 2014, the city council began studying...

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Posted January 28, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

We've written a good deal about gap networks over the last year, in the form of neighborhood-based projects by local officials in partnerships with nonprofits as well as school district initiatives to get students connected as distance learning continues. 

The Murray School district, located a handful of miles south of Salt Lake City, has undergone a hurculean effort of its own to stand up a 44-tower wireless network using the 3.5-3.7 GHz spectrum to cover all 6,000 students in the district (13% of whom had no home connection previously. The network, free to students, went online in early January. Read more about how it unfolded here.

Posted December 4, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

States have gotten creative over the last half year in making use of CARES Act funding to improve connectivity for families and students, but one project in Mississippi shows that oftentimes a good old Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) build is best.  The West Jasper School District (enrollment 1,700), sixty miles southeast of Jackson, partnered with telephone and network operator TEC to do just that with a project aimed at bringing Internet access to 125 families that do not have it in the area. 

Reaching the Unconnected

The effort is funded by $390,000 in CARES funding via the Mississippi Pandemic Response Broadband Availability Act managed by the Mississippi Department of Education. The initiative was established by HB 1788, which aimed at “providing payments to eligible Mississippi public school districts, independent schools and Native American tribal school districts . . . as equitably and efficiently as possible after determining the unserved areas of the state . . . to increase or gain broadband access.” It passed both chambers unanimously in July, allocating $50 million for the effort. 

Ten miles of new fiber were installed along County Road 12 to bring 135 previous unconnected homes online to TEC’s (a regional telephone and broadband company which offers services in Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi) network at the end of November. Current users connected to its fiber infrastructure can choose between symmetrical 250 Mbps, 500 Mbps, and gigabit tiers for $55/month, $65/month, and $80/month respectively. 

School District Superintendent Warren Woodrow said of the project:

We felt like the best use of it would be to put fiber in the ground and to serve our students and our community.

The...

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Posted October 13, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Seattle, Washington sits at the technology epicenter of the Pacific Northwest, and its residents have historically enjoyed better wireline Internet access options than many Americans across the country. A new report, Seattle Internet for All [pdf], provides a wealth of analysis which identifies those remaining in the city who struggle to get online. And while it outlines a detailed set of steps the city can do to reach the 5% or so of residents who report not having any subscription, most of them remain small, with no bold strategies offered to solve the connectivity gap once and for all.

The report comes as a result of the Internet for All Resolution passed by the city council in July in order to address digital divide amplified by the ongoing pandemic. While the city has been successful in increasing Internet access over the last five years, there are important income- and race-based gaps that still need to be fixed. Currently, the report says, 17,575 households with 37,365 residents sit on the other side of the adoption gap, and it concludes that the majority of the disparity is driven by affordability and a lack of digital skills.

Summary of Findings

The report argues that Seattle remains one of the most connected cities in the country, with 93% of the city having access to gigabit broadband from one or more Internet Service Providers (ISPs); according to the FCC Form 477 data (which itself overstates competition) that number sits at 75%, but in either case it's worth noting that for Comcast and Wave subscribers this will be asymmetric gigabit with far slower upload speeds. 

The report finds that 88% of households currently pay for wireline subscriptions, while 4-7% use cellular or free options to get online. But 5% report not having any Internet access at all, and these residents are concentrated around particular areas: South Central Seattle (Pioneer Square, Yesler Terrace, and International District), South Seattle (New Holly, Rainier Valley, and Beacon Hill), West Seattle (High Point...

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Posted October 2, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

State officials in Tennessee have allocated an additional $3 million from CARES Act funding to the project to go towards the 10-year maintenance endowment to keep 28,000 students connected, as well as provide devices for students in need.

Posted October 1, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Over the last few months, a number of cities across the country have recognized the pressing need to find a way to get those in their community without Internet access connected. In San Rafael, California, San Antonio, Texas, and Champaign, Illinois, local governments along with a variety of philanthropic, technical, and private partners have developed a host of innovative ways to bring fixed wireless solutions to neighborhoods in need.

The city of McAllen (pop. 140,000) — near the mouth of the Rio Grande, at the southern tip of Texas — offers some additional lessons to be learned and a blueprint for success for other local governments thinking of doing the same. Quietly over the summer, it collected broadband data, designed, and deployed a fixed wireless network which to date covers more than three dozen neighborhoods and provides free connectivity for the city’s students and residents. 

Fiber From the Water Tower

Citywide Wi-Fi has been a long time coming in McAllen. Mayor Jim Dalson and the IT Department have wanted to do it for years, IT Director Robert Acosta said in an interview, but finding a way to pay for it has been the major barrier. In the meantime, his department has been adding wireless coverage to public spaces for the past half decade, at city parks, outside of government facilities, at the Museum of Art and Science, and at the Boys and Girls club. He also extended the network to traffic cameras, water towers, and other government facilities, and when the pandemic hit his department had more than 60 miles of fiber to call upon.

The current effort started in the middle of June, when the city commission and mayor allocated $2.9 million from county-distributed CARES money to the IT Department in order to get students connected for the upcoming school year (see map, right)....

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Posted September 15, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

When school shut down past spring, Unit 4 schools in Champaign, Illinois scrambled to get students connected like everyone else. The district handed out Chromebooks and teachers went to work transitioning to online instruction so the school year could continue. But the district noticed that a large percentage of its students weren't logging on and the bulk of them came from Shadowwood mobile home park, where although fiber ran up and down every street in the neighborhood only one family subscribed to wireline Internet access. So Mark Toalson, the city’s IT Director, began making calls, and by the end of the summer a coalition came together to build Shadowwood’s students a free fixed wireless network which went online in August.

Fiber Just a Few Feet Away

The mobile home park sits on the north side of the town of 90,000, and is largely populated by Hispanic residents. Roughly 250 students who attend the Unit 4 school district live there, and according to Toalson not a single one had Internet access beyond personal mobile phones before they began last spring. In late May Mayor Deborah Feinen asked the city manager what could be done, and Toalson was asked to take on the project. 

Local circumstances make the Shadowwood Mobile Home Park a perfect case study in how efforts to bridge the digital divide need to tackle every facet of broadband gap to be successful. A $29 million grant in 2010 to bring Fiber-to-the-Home to the Urbana-Champaign-Savoy area meant that neighborhood had the infrastructure, but almost no one could afford the last-mile connection because of the high upfront costs. “We have fiber up and down every street in this trailer park, but they simply can’t afford to hook up to it,” city of Champaign Director of Information Technology Mark Toalson remarked in an interview. i3 Broadband, which owns and operates the infrastructure, normally costs $56/month (both in Shadowwood and without) and has been offering a $30 discount during the pandemic. It's a generous move, but moot for families who can’t pay to connect to the infrastructure sitting just below the street, a handful of steps away. So most of Shadowwood’s...

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