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Open Cape Works With Communities for Last Mile - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 215

Cape Cod's Open Cape is the latest of the stimulus-funded middle mile broadband projects to focus on expanding to connect businesses and residents. We talk to Open Cape Executive Director Steve Johnston about the new focus and challenge of expansion in episode 215 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Steve has spent much of his first year as executive director in meetings with people all across the Cape. We talk about how important those meetings are and why Steve made them a priority in the effort to expand Open Cape.

We also talk about the how Open Cape is using Crowd Fiber to allow residents to show their interest in an Open Cape connection. They hope that expanding the network will encourage people to spend more time on the Cape, whether living or vacationing.

The Cape is not just a vacation spot, it has a large number of full time residents that are looking for more economic opportunities and the higher quality of life that comes with full access to modern technology.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

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

This show is 26 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.

Thanks to Roller Genoa for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Safe and Warm in Hunter's Arms."

Middle Mile vs Last Mile - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 214

As the next President considers how to improve rural Internet access, the administration will have to decide where to focus policy. Some at NTIA - the National Telecommunications Information Administration, a part of the federal Department of Commerce - have argued for more middle mile investment. NTIA oversaw major investments in middle mile networks after the stimulus package passed in 2009.

To discuss the relevance of middle mile investment against last mile investment, we brought Fletcher Kittredge back, the CEO of GWI in Maine. Fletcher has extensive experience with both middle mile and last mile investments.

We talk about whether more middle mile will actual incent last mile investment and, more importantly, how to build middle mile correctly to get the best bang for the buck. Along those lines, we talk about avoiding cherry-picking problems and one of my favorites, how to ensure that rural investment does not inadvertently promote sprawl.

Read the transcript of this episode 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.

Thanks to Roller Genoa for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Safe and Warm in Hunter's Arms."

Minnesota's Arrowhead Region Points to High-Speed Internet

Welcome to high-speed Internet on the Iron Range! This past fall, the Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC) completed a multi-year project, a fiber optic network spanning nearly 1,000 miles, on Minnesota’s north shore.

The project, the Northeast Fiber Network, connects public buildings, such as health care facilities, community libraries, colleges and universities, tribal facilities, and government offices. The fiber provides the opportunity for next-generation connectivity in many unserved and underserved areas of eight counties: St. Louis, Cook, Lake, Pine, Itasca, Koochiching, Carlton, and Aitkin. It’s exciting to see this rural project finally come to fruition.

Institutional Network: Now to Go the Last Mile

It’s an institutional network, which means it brings high-speed Internet to community anchor institutions throughout the region. So far, about 320 public entities, including 31 school districts, have connected to the network. The network is designed to provide middle mile connectivity for community anchor institutions, not to bring connectivity to residents and businesses of the region. As with most federally funded projects, the plan is to provide middle mile infrastructure with the hope that the private sector will be more able or willing to invest in last mile connectivity.

That last mile, to homes and businesses, presents a challenge. NESC is leasing fiber to public and private providers and working to ensure that the network can serve as a backbone to greater connectivity. Actively working with private providers, NESC offers a bright future for unserved and underserved communities on the Iron Range.

Collaboration & Funding

Through a combination of grants and loans from federal programs, the project began about four years ago. The total cost came to about $43.5 million: 50 percent loans and 50 percent grants. The federal programs supporting the project were the USDA (Department of Agriculture) Rural Utility Service broadband loan program and the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  

Paul Brinkman, executive director of  NESC, described how the scope of this project would not have been possible without the collaboration of federal and local officials: 

“Although we have many people to thank for the success of this federal project, we are especially grateful for the spirit, dedication, and effort of USDA, elected officials, our board, our members, and our staff.” 

What’s Next for the Iron Range?

The completion of the network offers new opportunities for rural residents of Northeastern Minnesota to gain access to high-speed Internet. With the economy of the Iron Range in jeopardy, the network is a chance to improve economic development through next-generation technology.

Fifteen Fun Facts about NoaNet - Fifteen Years of Accomplishments

Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) was just a dream back in 2000, but, fifteen years later, it’s one of the largest networks in the state of Washington. NoaNet is celebrating fifteen years of accomplishments, so we compiled fifteen fun facts everyone should know about this community network.

1. One of the first Open Access networks in the U.S.
Back in 2000, people in rural Washington watched as the dot-com and telecom boom passed them by. Frustrated that large ISPs refused to build infrastructure near them, the people created NoaNet and allowed anyone to use it through Open Access. This type of design encourages multiple service providers to share the infrastructure and local communities own the network.

2. Almost 2,000 miles of fiber
You know that amazing, next-generation technology that Google is rolling out in select cities across the U.S.? Yeah, people in Washington started using fiber optic cables fifteen years ago to bring high-speed Internet to their communities. Now, NoaNet extends almost 2,000 miles through both rural and metro areas.

3. It’s a giant Institutional Network
With all that fiber, NoaNet connects 170 communities and around 2,000 schools, libraries, hospitals, and government buildings. It serves as a middle mile network, connecting the public institutions of small towns to the greater Internet. 

4. 40% of Washington government traffic, by 2007
And that’s just within the first seven years!

5. 61 last mile providers
From NoaNet’s infrastructure, private providers bring connectivity the last mile to homes and businesses. Having publicly-owned middle mile reduces the capital costs of building last mile infrastructure - that means more providers can compete with one another and better prices for everyone. Currently, there are over 260,000 customers!

6. More than $130 million
BTOP stands for the federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. In 2009, NoaNet received more than $80 million to provide connectivity for unserved and underserved people throughout Washington state. In 2011, NoaNet received a second grant of more than $50 million to increase connectivity to educational, healthcare, and tribal facilities.  

7. NoaNet was featured on our podcast… Twice!
In Episode 159, Chris interviewed Dave Spencer, Chief Operating Officer of NoaNet. And then, Spencer returned in Episode 164 to answer more details about how the network operates.

8. First in the Northwest to have 100 Gigabit per second (Gbps or Gigs) backbone
Between 2013 and 2015, NoaNet upgraded from 1 Gig to 100 Gigs. It’s the high-capacity fiber backbone for the Pacific Northwest - so think big.

9. NoaNet live-streaming NFL
Nothing is better than football, except for maybe high-speed Internet. So imagine football and high-speed Internet together. In 2015, NoaNet live-streamed coverage of the NFL. 

10. 10 current members
The members of NoaNet are several Public Utility Districts (PUDs) - locally controlled and rate-payer owned nonprofits: Benton County PUD#1, Clallam County PUD #1, Energy Northwest, Franklin County #1, Jefferson County PUD #1, Kitsap County PUD #1, Mason County PUD #3, Okanogan County PUD #1, Pacific County PUD #2, Pend Oreille PUD #1

11. It’s technically a municipality...
These 10 Public Utility Districts came together through a very particular Washington law - the InterLocal Agreement - to create NoaNet. Basically, it’s a nonprofit mutual corporation and subject to the same opportunities and restrictions as the Public Utility Districts.

12. Statewide, but locally-owned
NoaNet reaches across the state but is attuned to local needs. Being controlled by local Public Utility Districts, the network doesn’t lose sight of its primary goal: rural connectivity.

13. Next-Generation Jobs
It’s reinventing what it means to live and work in rural areas:

“NoaNet's roots included creation of a virtual corporation, a new rural employment opportunity where we retain the most talented staff and let them live where they want.  NoaNet leadership and staff embraced remote telecommuting and use of the technology advances to execute NoaNet's vision-mission and purpose of building a regional non-profit telecommunications carrier.”
Rob Kopp, Chief Technology Officer

14. New Technologies
Unlike large corporate companies that often refuse to innovate in rural areas, NoaNet is investing in new technologies like data centers to ensure that rural communities don’t get left behind. 

15. Future-Focus
And NoaNet is not going to stop any time soon:

"In the early days, the NoaNet mission to bring affordable broadband to rural communities throughout WA was dismissed by many as dreamy-eyed with a short life expectancy. The success of NoaNet has been the fulfillment of hopes by its supporters for a better opportunity to achieve broadband parity with metro areas in formerly remote areas of the state. Rather than looking back on the many small communities literally connected to economic hubs, the NoaNetteam continues to focus on those still to be served. The mission is not yet complete."
Tom Villani, Special Accounts Manager

Sources: NOANet Timeline, Community Broadband Bits Podcasts, NOAnet BTOP funding

Video: Next Century Cities' Digital New England Conference

On September 28th, Christopher participated in the Digital New England regional broadband summit in Portland, Maine sponsored by Next Century Cities and the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration). In the morning, he moderated a panel focusing on regional approaches to improve Internet access, and in the afternoon he moderated a panel that included incumbent providers on their preferences for partnerships.

If you were unable to attend the event or did not see the live stream, Next Century Cities has released a video playlist of the two day long event. Christopher can be found moderating the morning panel in the main room during part three. The full agenda is available online.

Digital New England Community Broadband Summit Webcast Live

If you are not able to attend the Digital New England Community Broadband Summit in Portland, Maine, you are in luck. The conference is being webcast live from NTIA's Digital New England Community Broadband Summit website.

The conference will run until 4 p.m. Eastern today and is a collaboration between NTIA and Next Century Cities. NTIA describes the gathering:

The summit will present best practices and lessons learned from broadband network infrastructure buildouts and digital inclusion programs from Maine and surrounding states, including projects funded by NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and State Broadband Initiative (SBI) grant programs funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The summit will also explore effective business and partnership models.

You can view the full agenda online [PDF], complete with a list of guest speakers and moderators.

Decorah, Iowa, Considers the Future of MetroNet

Decorah, named an "All-Star Community" in part due to benefits from their internal fiber network, is now exploring new ways to utilize MetroNet. According to a recent Decorah Newspapers article, the six community anchor institutions (CAIs) that collaborated to deploy the network recently met with the city council to discuss the future.

The 11-mile network began serving CAIs and an additional 18 facilities in 2013. After a 2008 flood that knocked out communications, the city, county, and school district began planning for the network. Eventually, the project grew to include Luther College, the Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, and the Winneshiek Medical Center. BTOP funds paid for much of the approximate $1 million deployment but contributions from participants supplied an additional $450,000.

According to the article, MetroNet supplies each institution with its own fiber, leaving plenty to spare. Decorah City Manager and Chair of the MetroNet Board Craig Bird says that the network has a "vast amount" of dark fiber available that is not being used. Members of the community have approached the Board about using the fiber for better connectivity beyond current uses:

Bird said the MetroNet Board has to decide how to respond to a grassroots petition committee of citizens “demanding access to the MetroNet and faster broadband speeds and fiber capacities” for Internet access to private homes and businesses.

“The MetroNet Board is now starting to look at the future and what the MetroNet holds for the six anchor members, but also for the community,” he told the Councils.

At the city council meeting, Bird discussed the possibility of creating a municipal Internet utility, creating a cooperative, forming a nonprofit, or leaving MetroNet as a service for the existing members and facilities. They also considered the option of leasing dark fiber to private providers.

Bird also told the council that the MetroNet Board has agreed to participate in a regional feasibility study to include northeast Iowa. The Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities has commission the study that will include a number of towns:

“The feasibility study is going to look at a lot of things. Basically, what our current capacities are and what assets we already have. We know what the MetroNet has, we know what (the other communities have), what impact does that have for Northeast Iowa and what would it take to connect these existing infrastructures together so that we can take advantage of the traditional economies of scale for purchasing. Some of these communities are already purchasing video. They’re competing directly with Mediacom,” Bird told Decorah Newspapers.

“Part of the feasibility study is how can we collectively come together and do that same thing with larger volume and more efficiency. There is power in numbers – not just for video, but for the triple play as it’s called in the industry – video, voice and data (television, phone and Internet),” Bird said. 

Waverly will also be included in the study. The town of 10,000 is commencing deployment of its municipal gigabit fiber network and expects to be serving the community in 2016. Whether Decorah follows the same path remains to be seen:

Bird said the process of determining the MetroNet’s future is just starting.

“It needs more discussion – there’s no question on that,” Mayor Don Arendt said.

“We can make a better decision once we know if forming a utility is what is best for us and what the other entities want to do,” Niess said.

UC2B and Partner Bringing Fiber to More Urbana-Champaign Communities in Illinois

The UC2B Network and its partner, iTV-3, will soon bring gigabit capabilities to more people in the Champaign-Urbana community in Illinois. According to the UC2B press release [PDF], iTV-3 will expand existing fiber to areas of the community to serve residents and businesses. iTV-3 will take subscriptions for commercial and residential access online at

In a statement from the FCC, Chairman Tom Wheeler commented:

"Congratulations to Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband (UC2B) and iTV-3 on making gigabit services over fiber available throughout the community. This public-private partnership provides a valuable model for communities and companies throughout the country and a demonstration of the creativity that is stimulated when localities are free to work with the private sector to improve broadband offerings.”

UC2B and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign received American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to deploy an urban FTTH network in Illinois. The not-for-profit corporation offered economical Internet service to residential subscribers in economically disadvantaged areas, some as low as $19.99 per month. The network also connected a number of community anchor institutions including schools, hospitals, and municipal facilities throughout the Urbana-Champaign metropolitan area.

According to a fact sheet on the project [PDF], the company is a subsidiary of a family-owned business that started in Springfield, Illinois. iTV-3 has been an ISP since the mid 1990s but also owns and operates over 775 Family Video stores in 19 states and Canada. UC2B chose iTV-3 because the company operates in a manner consistent with the Community Broadband Principles, core values guiding UC2B since inception. iTV-3 will also contribute to UC2B's Community Benefit Fund, established to improve digital literacy and digital inclusion. 

iTV-3 will offer wholesale access via the existing structure and, if neighborhoods do not connect after five years, other companies will have the opportunity to offer services via the infrastructure. iTV-3 will lease the existing infrastructure and equipment from UC2B and will own any infrastructure it builds as part of the network. If the two part ways in the future, UC2B will have the option to purchase the infrastructure deployed by iTV-3.

iTV-3 has offered services in other Illinois communities since 2009. According to the iTV-3 press release [PDF], the ISP will be bringing services into neighborhoods of 150 - 350 homes once 50% of homes sign-up. iTV-3 will begin by offering Internet and voice and plans to add video in the future.

Service rates will be:

  • 50/10 Mbps Internet - $49.95
  • 50/10 Mbps Internet + Unlimited US and Canada Voice - $64.90
  • 100/20 Mbps Internet - $59.95
  • 100/20 Mbps Internet + Unlimited US and Canada Voice - $74.90
  • 1000/200 Mbps Internet - $79.95
  • 1000/200 Mbps Internet + Unlimited US and Canada Voice - $94.90

For more on the UC2B project, listen to Chris' interview with Brandon Bowersox-Johnson from the network's policy committee and Carol Ammons of the U-C Independent Media Center. He spoke to them in episode 42 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

GAO Report: Government Telecom Investments Help Local Businesses

The Government Accountability Office released a report today examining economic development and government-spurred broadband deployment. The report, titled Telecommunications: Federal Broadband Deployment Programs and Small Business looks at the effects of stimulus projects on opportunities for small business. 

According to the press release:

“GAO’s investigation confirms the success of the Recovery Act’s broadband programs," said Rep. Waxman.  “In rural and urban areas across the country, small businesses are benefitting from higher speeds and lower prices thanks to federal investment in this essential infrastructure.  Expanding broadband access and quality is critical for American competiveness in the 21st century global economy. These were public dollars well spent.”

The report reviews communities around the country where either federal dollars have been invested in networks or local governments have made such investments. The results were consistent with our findings over the years - municipal networks create a business-friendly environment and contribute to economic development. 

According to the report summary:

According to small businesses GAO met with, the speed and reliability of their broadband service improved after they began using federally funded or municipal networks.

Regarding competition, the GAO find that municipal networks spur competitor investments:

For example, following the construction of a fiber-to-the-home municipal network in Monticello, Minnesota, the two other broadband providers in the area made investments in their infrastructure to improve their broadband speeds. One of these providers stated that all of its networks undergo periodic upgrades to improve service, but upgrade schedules can change in order to stay competitive when there is a new service provider in a particular market.

OpenCape: Local Ideas to Maximize Fiber Infrastructure

The OpenCape Network launched about eight months ago to bring better middle mile connectivity to Cape Cod. Reporter Sean Gonsalves explored other possibilities for the 350-mile infrastructure in a recent Cape Cod Online article.

Gonsalves spoke with OpenCape CEO Dan Vorthems. The network was funded with $32 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants and approximately $8 million in funds from the state, county, and private-sector partner CapeNet. It brings connectivity to 91 community anchor institutions from Provincetown as far west as Providence and Brockton. The idea for the network began with Cape Cod Community College and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Today, OpenCape is a non-profit with Board members from healthcare, higher education, public education, government, and the private sector.

Gonsalves and Vorthems touched on the high hopes for economic development that accompanied the network deployment. When the project began, the dream was to turn Cape Cod into a "Silicon Sandbar." The network is still in its infancy, but new jobs in the area are retail, service, and tourist related rather than high-tech. Residents of Cape Cod were hoping the network would bring better paying positions to meet the high cost of living in the area.

Gonsalves takes it one step further and proposes using the network for last mile connections:

Getting the Cape's big data users online opens up all sorts of possibilities. But [what] I wanted to know is when the Cape would get to the point where residential users could access this Internet autobahn capable of reaching speeds of a gigabit per second.

Once that happens, the Cape suddenly becomes a really attractive place for tech-savvy entrepreneurs, small business start-ups, and potential work-from-home employees who now spend hours commuting off-Cape. In the super high-speed tech world, they call that "the last mile."

Governor Patrick expressed his intention to bring better connectivity to underserved communities in his State of the Commonwealth address in January. There are a good number of underserved communities in Massachusetts, especially on the western side of the state, so Vorthems does not anticipate large amounts of state funding to find its way to Cape Cod.

There is a group working to optimize the asset that is already in place. From the article:

In the last few years, an ad hod group called Smarter Cape Partnership — comprising Open Cape, the Cape Cod Commission, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, the Cape Cod Technology Council and the Cape Cod Young Professionals — have been working to establish plans to develop shared work spaces for technology oriented start-ups.

"We've been approached by a number of organizations who are interested in doing fiber-to-the-home projects here," he said. "It's a very exciting time."