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Steamboat Springs Gets a Grant for Fiber for the Future

Last we checked in with Steamboat Springs they had just finished a connectivity project. Now the community is taking another step to improve local connectivity in this northwest Colorado ski resort town.

The goal is to connect large community anchor institutions throughout town with a fiber backbone which could become the basis for a larger network. Several community anchor institutions have pooled their resources and pledged $748,000 while also securing a matching grant to install 9 miles of fiber across the small town of 12,000. Funding is in place, but the agreement between the institutions must be finalized before sending out an official request for proposals to find a company to install the fiber.

Matching Grants & Community Connectivity

The Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) intends to match the community’s contributions towards the project. DOLA will provide $748,000 in grant money for the fiber backbone. According to Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan in Steamboat Today, the fiber design will have splice points to allow a private providers to provide last-mile connectivity to residents’ homes and businesses from the fiber backbone.

So far, the large institutions pitching in for the 9 miles of fiber are: Routt County’s public safety complex, Yampa Valley Electric Association, the city of Steamboat Springs Mountain Fire Station, Yampa Valley Medical Center, Colorado Mountain College, and the Steamboat Springs School District. Several of these institutions had previously collaborated with the Northwest Colorado Broadband group and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association on the community's first connectivity project.

The Carrier Neutral Location

The first publicly owned project in Steamboat Springs was a Carrier Neutral Location (CNL). It's a space owned and maintained by a neutral party where providers can connect to each other to provide redundancy. It's especially useful for middle- and last-mile providers to connect to one another. The facility drives down the cost of bandwidth for community anchor institutions and service providers because they no longer require a separate facility for connections. Put another way, it aggregates the demand for bandwidth and leads to cost-savings.

In Steamboat Springs, the CNL is a room in a school district building. The CNL has allowed local anchor institutions to negotiate tenfold savings. For more information on CNLs, check out our podcast with Tim Miles, the Technology Director at Steamboat Springs and South Routt School Districts.

Voting Matters

In November 2015, citizens opted out of SB152, a state law prohibiting local governments from developing municipal network to improve Internet connectivity. Without that vote, the latest project would not have become a reality due to the state barrier. Now Steamboat Springs has the option to continue developing its infrastructure for high-speed Internet for the whole community, including residents’ homes.

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.

Reedsburg Utility Commission Receives State Grant for Expansion

In April 2015, Wisconsin's Brett Schuppner from the Reedsburg Utility Commission (RUC) had a conversation with Chris about the utility's plan to expand the municipal fiber network. Funding is one of the biggest challenges but in December, the RUC learned that it a state grant will help move those plans forward.

WisNews recently reported that the RUC applied for $110,000 to bring the triple-play fiber network to Buckhorn Lake in Sauk County. The Wisconsin Public Service Commission announced on December 11th that the RUC will instead receive $69,300 which will allow the network to extend to an additional 105 homes and 40 properties. From the article:

Schuppner said an informal survey of members of the Buckhorn Property Owners’ Association suggests the utility commission will likely recover its out-of-pocket costs for the project not covered by the grant of about $40,000 from new users in the first year.

RUC began serving the community in 2003, expanding in 2011, and offering gigabit service in 2014. The community is located about 55 miles northwest of Madison and home to approximately 10,000 people.

Ten other entities across the state also received grants. RUC anticipates construction to begin on this expansion early this year.

Maine House Representative Pushes for Better Internet Access - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 180

Eleven months ago, we noted the incredible energy in the Maine Legislature around improving Internet access. Maine State Representative Norm Higgins joins us this week for Community Broadband Bits Podcast episode 180.

Rep. Norm Higgins, a newcomer to the Legislature, pushed hard for legislation to encourage municipal open access networks as well as removing barriers to increased investment including a tax on the Three-Ring Binder project. He was part of a large majority that moved some key bills forward despite fierce opposition from Time Warner Cable and others.

We talk with Rep. Higgins about the various bills, including LD 1185, which would have created planning grants for community owned open access networks but passed without any funding.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

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

This show is 18 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 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, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Warm Duck Shuffle."

Self-Financed EC Fiber Continues to Grow - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 177

Carole Monroe is back on Community Broadband Bits for Episode 177 this week, to discuss the East Central Vermont Fiber network and its unique financing model. Carole is now the General Manager for EC Fiber. She previously joined us for episode 36 to discuss Fast Roads in New Hampshire. And we previously discussed EC Fiber with Leslie Nulty in episode 9.

Years later, EC Fiber is approaching 1,200 subscribers in rural Vermont and is growing much more rapidly with some open access dark fiber connections created by the state in a specific effort to enable last mile connectivity.

We discuss the impact on the community, how much people in rural regions desire high quality Internet access rather than slow DSL, and also a brief mention of some progress in New Hampshire to expand the Fast Roads network.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

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

This show is 21 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 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, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Warm Duck Shuffle."

More Colorado Communities Will Ask Voters To Reclaim Local Authority

This November 3rd, more than ten communities in Colorado will attempt to escape the local-authority-revoking effects of SB 152 by overriding its restrictions at the polls: Archuleta County, Bayfield, Boulder Valley School District, Durango, Fort Collins, Ignacio, La Plata County, Loveland, Moffat County, Pitkin County, San Juan County, and Silverton.

Many of these communities participated in a $4.1 million fiber infrastructure project which currently provides public entities (municipal buildings, libraries, and schools) with cheap, plentiful Internet access. To determine how to better utilize that existing fiber infrastructure, the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments received a $75,000 regional planning grant. The 10 year old law in question, SB 152, prevents local governments from taking full advantage of local fiber assets by removing local authority to offer any services that compete with incumbents; voters must reclaim that authority through a referendum.

Under the restrictions, localities cannot partner with local ISPs to provide high-speed Internet to community members via publicly owned infrastructure or create municipal FTTH networks. Local government entities must also be careful to not lease too much fiber or risk running afoul of the law. Statewide organizations have worked to amend the law, but without success:

“It’s an obnoxious law that was passed by the industry to protect their monopoly,” said Geoff Wilson, general counsel for the Colorado Municipal League.

The league tried to get the law amended during the 2015 legislative session after hearing from communities across the state about how it was blocking them from improving Internet access for residents.

“The law is designed to protect the provider of inferior service from the local government doing anything about it,” he said.

This past year, a number of Colorado communities (including Boulder, Cherry Hills Village, Estes Park, Grand Junction, Red Cliff, Rio Blanco County, San Miguel County, Yuma, and Wray) held similar referendums to reclaim local authority; most passed with huge majorities. Not all have expressed the desire to establish municipal fiber networks but they have sent a clear message that they want the ability to determine their own broadband destiny. Many are inspired by the success of Longmont, which offers 1 Gbps connectivity for $50. (Check out this video on Longmont’s fast, reliable, affordable network, NextLight.)

Here are a few details from communities scheduled to vote on local authority this fall:

Boulder Valley School Board owns about 100 miles of fiber which currently cannot be used to improve the connectivity of the surrounding community. Polling over the summer showed that 60% would approve of opting out of SB 152

Moffat County, the City of Moffat, local businesses, the school district, and Colorado Northwestern Community College are discussing how to increase economic development through better Internet access. Exempting themselves from the restrictions of SB 152 would create the opportunity to explore public-private partnerships and allow the communities to pursue the options that best meet their needs with high-speed, affordable connections. 

logo-durango-co.PNG

The City of Durango also already owns about 19 miles of fiber, leasing out 14 miles to private providers. Even the leased lines, however, have extra capacity that the city would like to be able to use. Loveland similarly has underutilized fiber, and the school district is especially interested in increasing Internet access among all students. 

Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards spoke on the possibility of creating a Carrier Neutral Location (CNL) or middle-mile infrastructure and how SB 152 prevented the county from pursuing such projects. La Plata County is primarily interested in the opportunities for public-private partnerships. Other communities, such as Silverton, San Juan County, Bayfield, and Ignacio, are also preparing to vote

The ballot language from these communities often highlights how these communities do not want to raise taxes or commit to broadband project, but simply explore all their options. Archuleta County just released its ballot language as did Fort Collins:

Without increasing taxes, shall Archuleta County, Colorado have the legal ability to provide any or all services currently restricted by Title 29, Article 27, Part 1, of the Colorado Revised Statutes, specifically described as ‘advanced services,’ ‘telecommunications services,’ and ‘cable television services,’ as defined by the statute, including, but not limited to, any new and improved high bandwidth services based on future technologies, utilizing community owned infrastructure including but not limited to any existing fiber network, either directly, or indirectly with public or private sector service providers, to potential subscribers that may include telecommunications service providers, and residential or commercial users within Archuleta County?

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Without increasing taxes by this measure, shall the City of Fort Collins, in the exercise of its home-rule authority, have the right to provide, either directly, and/or indirectly with public and/or private sector partners, high-speed internet services, including but not limited to any new or improved high bandwidth services based on future technologies (advanced services), telecommunications services, and/or cable television services to residents, businesses, schools, libraries, nonprofit entities and other other users of such services located within the boundaries of the City of Fort Collins Growth management area, as expressly permitted by SB 05-152 (codified at Sections 29-27-101 to 304 of the Colorado“ Revised Statutes)?

Rather than wait for incumbents that are in no hurry to serve them, these communities are seeking local authority to take full advantage of their own infrastructure. Miriam Gillow-Wiles, executive director of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments described the situation to the Durango Herald:

“We’re sort of the end of the Internet world.” 

Orono and Old Town Receive Funding for Fiber in Maine

The Old Town-Orono Fiber Corporation (OTO Fiber), the entity created by the cities of Old Town and Orono in Maine to design, install, maintain and manage a planned fiber network, recently received a grant for $250,000.

The funds, awarded by the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC), will help the communities commence their open access network project. According to a statement released by Maine Senators Angus King and Susan Collins, this was one of six awards to Maine communities. The other grants included road, sewer, and other municipally-owned facilities needed to maintain or grow jobs in the northern counties of Maine.

Congress created NBRC in 2008 as a state-federal partnership to encourage job growth in several northern counties of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York that experience economic distress. 

In 2014, Old Town and Orono, working with the University of Maine, had been awarded ConnectME funds for the project but the funding was blocked by Time Warner Cable. Those funds were meant to string approximately 4 miles of cable intended for integration into a much larger network to eventually connect to the state's Three Ring Binder network. The ConnectME Authority chose to withhold the funds, based on TWC's argument that this open access network would overbuild potentially 320 subscribers but OTO Fiber vowed to continue and seek funds elsewhere. The funding blocked by TWC amounted to $125,000.

Approximately 7,800 people live in Old Town; Orono is home to a little over 10,000 people and the Unversity of Maine where over 11,000 students attend classes.

New Reference From U-W Extension A Library Must-Have

The University of Wisconsin-Extension recently released Broadband Policies and Regulations for Wisconsin Stakeholders, a good addition to your digital library, especially if you have in interest in Wisconsin and midwestern broadband issues.

The document provides case studies and an in-depth list of references addressing:

  • Public-private partnerships
  • Local ordinances
  • Technology councils
  • Community engagement
  • Local government telecommunications services
  • Unique efforts to increase adoption

While many examples hail from Wisconsin communities, the authors also provide information from other states and offers links to information such as local government broadband resolutions, tower agreements between municipalities and private internet service providers, successful applications for state and federal grant funds. 

The Broadband Policies and Regulations for Wisconsin Stakeholders is well organized and indexed. You can download the PDF, or access the online flip book for quick reference.

Rural Rio Blanco County Builds Open Access Fiber, Wireless - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 158

Rio Blanco County is a large, rural county in northwestern Colorado that has two population centers. The county has a sharp plan for building FTTH to the population centers and wireless across most of the county to improve Internet access in a region the national carriers have little interest in.

In this week's episode, we interview county IT Director Blake Mobley, who has long been involved in improving Internet access for community anchor institutions in the area. We talk about their plan and how they are financing it (enabled in part by the Department of Local Affairs in Colorado - which has helped many community networks).

We also discuss many other aspects of what it takes to create a project like this -- including building trust among local stakeholders -- and their particular open access approach and terminology for the different layers in the stack of entities involved.

Finally, Blake tells us what they believe has to happen for the project to be successful. Read their vision statement here. Read our full coverage of Rio Blanco County stories here.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

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

This show is 23 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."

LD 1185 Advances in Maine With Overwhelming Support

On June 5th, the Main House of Representatives voted 143 - 0 in favor of LD 1185, the Maine bill to provide state planning and implementation grants for local municipal networks. Representative Norm Higgins, the sponsor of the bill, contacted us to let us know about the incredible support for the bill.

LD 1185 proposes to provide $6 million this year for local communities seeking to establish networks that want to take advantage of the state's middle-mile network, the Three Ring Binder. The House amended the bill to include general goals for the fund and its purpose in bringing better connectivity to Maine. 

The amendment also creates specifications between planning and implementation grants and establishes caps on awards. Planning grants cannot exceed $25,000 and implementation grants cannot exceed $200,000. Implementation grants require a 25 percent match from the requesting municipality; planning grants require a one-to-one match. The amendment is available online.

Now that the House has put their stamp of approval on the bill, it is up to the Maine Senate to  approve the measure and send it on to the Governor. According to Higgins, it appears to have strong bipartisan support; funding is the only area of uncertainty. He anticipates it will be before the Appropriations Committee within the next two weeks.