Tag: "task force"

Posted March 2, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio

We don’t often get to spend a whole episode diving into the earliest work that communities do to set the foundation for progress in expanding high-quality broadband access down the road, but that’s what we’re talking about today.

This week on the podcast Christopher is joined by Pierrette Renée Dagg, Director of Marketing and Communications for the MERIT Network, and John Egelhaaf, Executive Director of the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission

The two share the history of efforts in Berrien County, Michigan, and how a group of residents and local officials began pursuing better Internet connectivity a few years ago. Pierrette and John share the work that’s gone into the formation of a broadband task force, the identification of avenues and goals, and collaboration with hundreds of community partners along the way.

The story they tell is one of the power of partnerships and outreach groups (like anchor institutions andlibraries, senior centers, HOAs, fraternal orgs, and PTA groups) in contributing to a growing momentum.

This show is 36 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript here.

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

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes ...

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Posted October 5, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

For all their attempts to tout their accomplishments, the current FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai is failing miserably at the their promise to shrink the digital divide in America. In a recent commentary in The Hill, policy and program manager for Next Century Cities Cat Blake explains how, rather than reducing the gap between Internet haves and have-nots, policy changes under the new administration is making the problem worse. Cat offers a few specific examples of policies and actions taken by the current FCC that have not only aggravated the problem of digital inclusion, but masked the realities of its severity.

Lifeline Under Attack

The federal Lifeline Program offers subsidies for phone and Internet access connections for low-income folks. Blake writes that this tool, one of the most effective in allowing people to obtain access to the Internet, is one of Pai’s targets — a big target:

Pai’s proposed changes would cut off approximately 70 percent of the 10 million program participants — including approximately 44,000 individuals in DC alone — widening the digital divide among the country’s most vulnerable populations. Lifeline is the only federal program that provides subsidies to disadvantaged Americans for 21st century communications services and it is relied upon by victims of domestic violence, military veterans, homeless youth and others to stay connected.

Broadband Deployment

Pai has continuously claimed that the current FCC has “taken significant steps to expand broadband deployment in previously unserved parts of our country.” While the 2018 Broadband Deployment Report offered a six percent increase in the number of people with access to broadband — increasing to 95 percent — Blake notes that the increase wasn’t purely due to deployment:

That 95 percent, however, includes 10.5 million people who have access only to satellite service, which was not considered an adequate broadband connection under former FCC leadership….The agency’s documented expansion of broadband is actually the result of an explicit decision to lower federal standards of acceptable service, as opposed to a change in the amount of Americans actually served by high-speed internet….In...

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Posted February 8, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

In a series of decisions, Loveland, Colorado’s City Council voted earlier this week to take the next step toward developing a municipal broadband network. In addition to allocating funds to develop a business plan, city leadership established an advisory board, accepted task force recommendations, and voted to amended current code to allow the electric utility to handle communications activities.

No Public Vote

The council addressed whether or not to ask voters to approve efforts to establish a municipal broadband network, even though the issue was not part of the agenda. City staff drafted an amendment during the meeting to require a vote, but after prolonged discussion City Council members voted 5-4 against including it.

Last fall, the city of Fort Collins needed to bring the issue before voters in order to amend their charter so community leaders could move forward with a municipal network. After spending more than $900,000 through a bogus citizens group to try to stop the measure, Comcast was unable to persuade Fort Collins to defeat it. Nevertheless, most of Loveland’s council members don’t want a repeat of the expensive hassle in Fort Collins.

Councilman John Fogle said that, prior to the Fort Collins election, he supported the idea of a vote on the issue, but he feels different now. "It's not an even playing field when incumbent industries will spend $900,000 at the drop of the hat to perpetuate ... a monopoly," he said at the February 6th Council meeting.

Other council members who voiced opposition to a vote said that they’ve heard from constituents since 2015, when the city voted to opt out of the state’s restrictive SB 152. Since then, residents have contacted them to express their support to move the project forward. "I'm tired of being beaten," said Councilor Rich Ball, "...

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Posted May 11, 2017 by Kate Svitavsky

Winter Park is considering creating an institutional network (I-Net) to provide gigabit connectivity to municipal facilities. Community leaders are examining the pros and cons of deploying a fiber backbone to 17 city-owned buildings that could save significant dollars and be used for other applications in the future. Some of the uses they've discussed include connecting traffic signals and street lights to address traffic congestion, a common complaint in Winter Park.

“When you talked about ... fiber 10 years ago, it was hard for people to see the future; now the future is here, and we’ve got to do it,” said Winter Park’s Information Technology director Parsram Rajaram, who is working with the task force. “Fiber is essential in my view.”

Not A New Idea

The Orlando suburb, home to 30,000 people, has been considering creating a network for years and last summer released the results of a broadband feasibility study to the City Commission.

“This is something that has been discussed at the city and the City Commission for a decade. If you’re like me, you hear from people multiple times about a dissatisfaction with the (Internet) service that they are offered, a fairly singular service… We’ve been talking about it long enough, and if we started this a decade ago, we would probably already have a backbone for the city that could be utilized,” said Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary

In March, Leary created a Fiber Optic Task Force, charged with making and presenting recommendations to the City Council. The Task Force is leaning toward suggesting the community invest in an I-Net rather than a larger project to serve businesses or residents at this time. An I-Net is estimated to take two years and cost $4 million. In contrast, connecting municipal facilities, businesses, and residents would cost up to $28 million.

Serving The City Saves Public Dollars

I-Nets provide cost savings and fast speeds to local governments across the United States because municipalities no longer need to lease expensive lines from large corporate providers. Cities and towns can also...

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Posted October 18, 2016 by Lisa Gonzalez

The results of a study are in and its authors recommend Stark County invest in a regional middle mile fiber-optic network, establish a broadband authority, and take other significant steps to keep the county from falling behind in today’s economy.

The Fourth Utility

The county has relied heavily on manufacturing and retail in the past but as those opportunities dry up, young people are moving away and the future is in jeopardy. Healthcare is another strong industry in the region, but access to high-quality connections is now a must-have for hospitals and clinics. Elected officials also recognize that diversifying the local economy to lure companies that offer higher paying positions will bring new blood to Stark County.

In order to attract new commerce to Stark County, Ohio, they formed a Broadband Task Team (SCBBTT) in the fall of 2014. They have adhered to the philosophy that connectivity is a “fourth utility” and should be treated like electricity, water, gas, or sewer systems. In May, the SCBBTT hired a consultant to perform a feasibility study; the firm presented its findings and recommendations on October 12th.

Consultants Offer Results, Recommendations

Consultants analyzed the amount of fiber in the county and reviewed the state of connectivity for businesses and residents and found both lacking.

Incumbents include local provider MCTV, which offers cable TV, Internet access, and phone services over its coaxial fiber network. Charter Communications, which recently acquired Time Warner Cable assets in the area, and AT&T offer cable and DSL but the feasibility revealed that there is very little fiber connectivity for residents or businesses.

They recommend that the county employ a six-pronged approach:

  • Formalized Broadband-Friendly Policies and Standards
  • Develop a Carrier-Neutral Middle-Mile Fiber-Optic Backbone
  • Expand Connections to Regional Data Centers
  • Equip Economic Development Areas with Fiber Connectivity
  • Target Businesses in Close Proximity to Fiber...
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Posted August 18, 2016 by Alexander Dangel

Fauquier County, located less than an hour west of Washington, D.C., recently formalized a contract with a Virginia-based consultant to develop a broadband Internet strategy for the county. The county is home to nearly 70,000 residents, many commute to work in D.C.

What’s the problem?

Fauquier County had the eighth-highest median income in the United States in 2011, yet its rural residents lack high-speed Internet access options. Large corporate Internet service providers (ISPs), Comcast and Verizon, deliver high-speed Internet to profitable markets in Fauquier’s largest towns, Bealeton, Warrenton, and Marshall. However, due to low population densities and low projected returns, incumbent ISPs did not invest in broadband infrastructure upgrades that rural communities need. 

Earlier this spring, the county government created the Fauquier Broadband Advisory Committee (FBAC), a ten-member committee tasked with exploring Internet accessibility solutions for the county. The recently approved feasibility study is the first step to bringing rural residents the services they require. 

Tackling the Urban/Rural Divide

The $60,000 assessment and feasibility study will prioritize economic development opportunities and quality of life improvements for Fauquier residents. The study also aims to map county demand and assess how to best deliver last-mile coverage to the entire county, including the 57 percent of residents who live in rural areas. The consultant released two countywide broadband surveys to pinpoint local interest, one for residents and another for businesses

The county plans to designate infrastructure projects as capital expenses and potentially create an independent broadband entity to run the network. For local officials, there are important returns to a better network....

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Posted June 30, 2016 by Scott Carlson

Saratoga Springs, New York (pop. 5,600 28,000), has launched a Smart City Commission, whose mission is to enhance telecommunications and help the city become a leader in high-speed Internet service.

The startup of the Smart City Commission, which held its first meeting in March, comes as Saratoga Springs pursues becoming a model Intelligent Community. City leaders have determined that the best way to acheive Intelligent Community status, is to join Next Century Cities (NCC), and to adopt the organization's six guiding principles:

  1. High-speed Internet is necessary infrastructure.
  2. The Internet is nonpartisan.
  3. Communities must enjoy self-determination.
  4. Broadband is a community-wide endeavor.
  5. Meaningful competition drives progress.
  6. Collaboration benefits all.

The Commission’s members include chief information officers from the city, library, hospital, school district, as well members of the city’s convention and tourism bureau, the Chamber of Commerce and local business community.  

Learning From Other Communities

“It’s something I had been thinking about for about two years,” City Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan told us, speaking about the Smart City Commission. A key task of the Commission will be to “fill out the questionnaire to ICF [Intelligent Community Forum] and develop a road map to becoming a Smart City,” she told us. “It seemed the best way to move forward on this project was to get a core group of stakeholders involved from the city.”

Membership in NCC will allow Saratoga Springs access to a network of knowledge from other cities that have the same desire to bring ubiquitous high-quality Internet access to their communities. The Intelligent Community Forum is a worldwide association of cities and regions dedicated to helping communities use information and communications technology to, among other things, address social problems and enhance the economic quality of local life. 

Goal: Gig Speed, Wi-Fi For Now

Currently, Saratoga Springs has a franchise agreement with Charter Communications (formerly Time Warner Cable) with the ISP providing maximum Internet access speeds of 30 Megabits per...

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Posted May 28, 2016 by Tom Ernste

Longtime efforts by community leaders in Stark County, Ohio, to create a new countywide Internet network have recently taken important steps forward.

Local Support Is Strong

In the past few months, three local government agencies approved informal resolutions to explore building the proposed network, including the City Council in Canton, the Stark County commissioners, and the trustees in Jackson Township. County population is about 375,000 within the 575 square miles located in the northeast section of the state.

In May, an all-volunteer organization comprised of local leaders called the Stark County Broadband Task Team (SCBBTT) announced that they had raised $100,000 needed to fund a feasibility study to explore the construction of the network. The SCBBTT also recently announced they hired a consultant to conduct the study.

We Have a Need for “Transformational” Internet Speed

The SCBBTT is comprised of a large group of volunteers from the county including major figures from government, the business community, and the nonprofit sector. Several years ago the group began working on a plan to construct the network, labeling it a “fourth utility” and saying that Stark County was “falling behind its peers in Ohio and elsewhere in the United States in terms of educational attainment, household income, retention of high-school graduates and overall prosperity.”

Stagnant countywide population growth has been a problem for Stark County in recent years. This is partly explained by the dramatic decline in the county’s manufacturing economy as the county has lost approximately 34 percent of its goods-producing jobs since the new millennium began. Meanwhile, Stark County leaders know that emerging industries are demanding fast, reliable, affordable connectivity - not what’s currently available in...

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Posted May 12, 2016 by Lisa Gonzalez

In its first two years of implementation, the Minnesota Border-to-Border program distributed $30 million to 31 rural Minnesota communities. But the state has not put enough money into the program and needs to put more focus on getting investment in Greater Minnesota cities to spur economic development.

“This funding is essential to greater Minnesota communities that are being left behind,” says Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “The current disbursement is only meeting a fraction of the state’s high-speed Internet needs as it is. The program’s rules must be reconsidered to meet economic development goals for the state.”

"Getting the Rules Right" is a policy brief on the Border-to-Border Broadband program. It covers what the program is, how it works, and why funding must be expanded in order to serve more greater Minnesota communities.

Download the Report here [pdf]

Executive Summary

Since 2014, Minnesota has been promoting the expansion of high-speed Internet access across the state through its Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program. The program is intended to help bring high-quality Internet access to unserved and underserved areas in Greater Minnesota; without public support, these communities would continue to be left behind. In its first two years, the state awarded about $30 million to 31 Border-to-Border projects. The program has been well administered but should be modified in two significant ways.

  • The grant program needs to be funded properly. The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband estimates Minnesota’s unmet broadband need is $900 million to $3.2 billion. That level of investment is simply beyond the capacity of existing telecommunications providers to meet without public investment. There is a dire need to dramatically increase funding for the program.
  • Even with adequate funding, the program’s rules and criteria need to be reconsidered to meet its economic development goals. Under current rules, the Border-to-Border grants could inadvertently harm the very cities that conceived the program.

The Broadband Development Grant program is at a...

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Posted March 22, 2016 by Christopher Mitchell

In Minneapolis, a small and privately owned ISP has been steadily building fiber across the city and developing a stunning reputation for great customer service, low and predictable pricing, and generally being a great company to do business with. Co-founder Travis Carter of US Internet joins us for episode 194 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We discuss their approach to building networks, especially their philosophy around customer service and just how poorly some of US Internet's competitors treat their customers. As a small firm that is carving out its own path in a world of giants, its experiences are important lessons and points of consideration for community networks.

We also discuss how US Internet interacts with local governments. Though the company has high praise for Minneapolis, it discusses where some of the challenges have been in navigating local government zoning and permitting. Travis also offers some advice based on how smart investments and a well-organized approach to leasing fiber have helped US Internet to begin expanding in suburb Saint Louis Park.

USI coverage map is available here. For more information on USI's pricing, see their website for Fiber-to-the-Home and telephone service.

We plan to have Travis back on in the future again, so if you have questions you would like us to ask, please tell us!

Read the transcript from this show here.

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

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this Mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

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