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What Does It Mean to Be A Gigabit City? Sharing Positive Outcomes Together (SPOT)

In North Carolina, Wilson’s Greenlight gigabit fiber network is doing everything it can to ensure everyone benefits from this important municipal investment. The city-owned network is a key partner in a digital inclusion program, Sharing Positive Outcomes Together (SPOT), which focuses on the children least likely to have high quality Internet access in their homes.

Though the digital divide remains a serious policy challenge, Wilson Greenlight and SPOT demonstrate s that solutions can be inspiring and fun. 

Training With a 4-Dimensional Approach

SPOT is an after-hours educational program focused on children ages 5 to 18 and attracts youth from all backgrounds, including those who are homeless or fostered to those with professional parents burdened by demanding work schedules. Among other components, its mission is to promote an atmosphere of accountability, confidence, and self-esteem. SPOT invites its children to dream, be “ambitious, inspired, high school graduates,” while “addressing and closing society's darker cracks that way too many young lives fall into.” “Leave it at the door and come grow” is part of its motto.

To reach such lofty goals, SPOT uses a four-dimensional approach called “project-based learning.” This New Tech School method requires that all elements of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, math and the arts) are part of the program and must utilize technology. According to SPOT’s Executive Director, Matt Edwards, “Learning is activity-based. Kids learn by seeing, touching, doing, and  incorporating technology into their program … and everything is interactive and Internet oriented with kids.”  Embodying this approach, SPOT recently won a $53,000 grant from the state of North Carolina to realize its 21st Century Learning Initiative. The initiative  will hinge on access to high capacity bandwidth and wireless access throughout its 30,000 square foot former Tabernacle church building. 

SPOT Kids at computers

The  Kids Are Teaching Us

“Let’s be honest,” explained Edwards, 
“When it comes to technology, the kids are teaching us.” Adults can now be a hurdle  to closing the technology side of the digital divide. “We put our kids in a box and think they can’t learn this because they are kindergarteners. I can tell you now. My kindergarteners and first graders probably know more about computers than my high schoolers.” A first grader or kindergartener will be stumped on a project, and “you’ll have another one go over there and show them how to look something up. You just sit back and watch. I mean, it is awesome.” This means in the computer lab, SPOT only needs an advisor or a volunteer, not a computer teacher. 

Putting the World in their Hands and Guiding Them

SPOT’s Executive Director described how his experience in closing the digital divide is on a whole new level. “The kindergartner today, they are going to be able to look at their computer and say ‘Find me (the game) Roadblocks’  and the computer will find it. You don’t need to teach the kids how to use the computers and the keyboards and the mouse, you just need to get them access and guide them on how to learn and utilize them in different ways...Get them the iPad. Put the protections on it and let them go. Our role is to guide.” With high capacity broadband, the world is in their hands. “We make sure they go to the best part of the world.” 

Overall, for SPOT, closing the digital divide is about teaching critical thinking, team work, and providing the bandwidth to keep up with the speed of their young minds. Wilson’s Greenlight community owned fiber network is part of that process by providing SPOT no-cost, 75 Mbps upstream and downstream broadband speeds. 

“Five years ago my grants would talk about the technology component needed to combat the technology divide. I don’t use that terminology anymore. It has changed to how do you use technology properly for advancement of our students and kids to enhance critical thinking … and teamwork. When you go out into the work place, very seldom are you an individual worker. You are going to have to get along with different people, work in groups, and solve difficult problems.”

SPOT’s activity-based, STEAM dimension locks into that teamwork. So the program’s focus is not as much on obtaining one to one computers, but having the children work in teams on whatever the project is. 

Greenlight Logo

And Then, of course, There’s Video

Closing the digital divide also means incorporating video, because “theirs is a world of daily Youtubes.” SPOT gives its children access to Kindle HDs where they can push a button, step back and do a video recording. “We teach them how to do it and work with the teenagers to control the uploading...They love watching themselves run in sports...dancing to music...discussing topics, like elections.”  

According to Jeff Fox, volunteer and IT Director, SPOT’s new 21st century classroom will allow students to beam images from their smart phones and tablets spontaneously to flat screens circling the room. The old divide between teachers and students dissolves. With the devices and the speed, everyone becomes a teacher. “It’s such an opportunity,” said Fox. “I’m hooked.” 

But video, especially uploading, requires much more bandwidth and, according to Edwards, “a third-grader’s mind goes very fast.”

“Greenlight’s symmetrical speeds keep up... most of the time,”  he laughs.  “I mean, [on the old system] there was a time when you could walk away, have lunch, and it would still be loading when you returned. Because Greenlight’s signal is strong, it makes the program stronger in all its facets.” 

This all makes sense to the General Manager of Greenlight, Will Aycock, who notes that enhancing the quality of life in Wilson is part of their mission. “Here is yet another example, where our community-owned network, is SPOT on. We give back to the community to benefit future generations, because we are the community.”

Time Warner Cable Successfully Blocks Funds for Community Network in Maine; Project to Continue

Time Warner Cable recently fought to prevent a collaborative project in Maine from receiving $125,000 in state broadband funding, reported the Bangor Daily News

We reported in December that Old Town, Orono, the University of Maine, and GWI had been awarded ConnectME funds. The collaborators earmarked the funding for a stretch of about 4 miles of fiber which could serve about 320 subscribers and would ultimately be integrated into a much larger network for businesses and residents. The network would connect to Maine's Three Ring Binder network.

Old Town and Orono want to establish gigabit connectivity to a nearby industrial area to transform it into a technology park for economic development purposes. Several businesses, including a health clinic that, have expressed interest in setting up shop in the planned development.

Old Town and Orono formed OTO Fiber, an independent entity to have authority to design, install, maintain, and manage an open access network. In typical fashion, TWC took action prevent local citizens and businesses from ever capitalizing on a gigabit, rather than work with the municipalities to deliver TWC services over the publicly owned infrastructure.

The ConnectME Authority voted in TWC's favor, based on the arguments as presented in an earlier Daily News article:

The company argues that the agency only has the ability to give grants in areas it deems “underserved” or “unserved,” and that projects getting grants should overlap with less than 20 percent of the customers of an existing provider.

The towns, which formed the company OTO Fiber to develop the project, argue that the service does not duplicate existing services and that other Internet service providers would be able to contract with the company to use the open network that would be built by Networkmaine, a unit of the University of Maine System.

TWC's behavior is by no means surprising. Nevertheless, the project will proceed:

Belle Ryder, assistant town manager for Orono, told the board Thursday that the project still would move ahead, but with municipal funds that, with the grant, would have gone toward other municipal uses.Ryder told the Bangor Daily News on Thursday that the town has money from a tax-increment financing district that could be used for the purpose.

OneCommunity Announces "Big Gig Challenge" Award Recipients

Last fall, nonprofit ISP OneCommunity  created the "Big Gig Challenge" to jump start expansion and promote gigabit applications in northeast Ohio. The organization recently announced the winners and provided some information about their projects.

The West 25th Corridor project, running through Ohio City, Tremont, Clark-Fulton, Brooklyn Centre, and Old Brooklyn is a four mile stretch that will affect small business, the Cleveland Clinic, two MetroHealth Systems campuses, and several other large employers. This project also reaches 14 sites that could be developed and over 900 properties. It is a collaborative project that includes four Cleveland Wards.

The Village of Greenwillow plans to expand its existing network and work with private sector business owners and land developers. Likewise, Lorain County Community College will build off its existing network connections to create a community fiber road map. From a press release on the award, as printed in BBC Mag:

In response to receiving the grant, Dr. Roy Church, president of Lorain County Community College said, “We are honored to be selected as a grant recipient. This award will enable our community to dramatically increase access to the existing fiber network, positioning us to become a more globally competitive region. The funds will be used to engage stakeholders from government, healthcare, higher education and local businesses to create an implementation plan to increase high-speed connections and foster greater efficiencies.”

South Euclid, currently utilizing the OneCommunity network, received a grant to expand to to the city's municipal facilities and build out to its industrial area.

The Big Gig Challenge offered funds to cover up to 25% of the projects costs up to $2 million.

In addition to the Challenge launched last fall, OneCommunity launched a new collaborative effort with the City of Cleveland in November. A new fiber pipe, capable of 100 Gbps speeds, will be deployed along Cleveland's Health-Tech Corridor (HTC) connecting downtown to University Circle.

The $1.02 million project is funded by a $700,000 Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant, funding from the City, and a contribution from OneCommunity. Construction is expected to start early this year. It will be available for local businesses, many of which have already expressed an interest. From a Cleveland City Hall Press Release:

“We are extremely enthusiastic about our partnership with the City of Cleveland and excited to be at the forefront of a project that is destined to become the new “Gold Standard” for broadband connectivity. Consistent with our mission, we embrace 100 gigabit as a job creation engine for the City. Offering the first 100 gigabit capability, specifically in the Health-Tech Corridor, incentivizes local and national fast-growing companies to locate and remain here,” says OneCommunity CEO Lev Gonick.

We just spoke with Lev Gonick from OneCommunity on Community Broadband Bits.

Metronet Dark Fiber Network Expanding Education in South Bend, Indiana

In South Bend, the Trinity School at Green Lawn recently connected to the Metronet Zing dark fiber network thanks to a grant from Metronet and nCloud. According to Broadband Communities Magazine, the new connection has brought new opportunities to teachers and students at the high performing school.

The Metrolink Fiber Grant program, new this year, awards grants to schools to encourage innovative approaches focused on outcomes improving broadband capacity to implement innovation. To receive the grants, schools must have a specific plan, an implementation strategy, a way to measure success, and an accountability plan. Schools must also demonstrate that there will be adequate training and that staff will remain supportive and committed to the plan.

Like many other schools, Trinity at Greenlawn had to limit technology in teaching because its capacity was so poor. In classes where students exchanged information for projects, they often emailed from home where connections were better or exchanged flash drives.

Bandwidth is no longer an issue. From the BBPMag article:

Danielle Svonavec’s seventh-grade students study music composition using online software. A year ago, just half the class could be connected at a time. Even with that limited number, slow connections meant wasted time as students waited for the software to store and process their work. This year, all students are online. Response is seamless. Instead of being frustrated by computer issues, students work without distraction. The class is able to take full advantage of the software and learning is enhanced as students hear their compositions played back instantly as they work.

Trinity also has campuses in Minnesota and Virginia and are making plans to use the network for distance learning opportunities with students at all three campuses.

We introduced you to Metronet Zing in 2013. The dark fiber open access network provides connections through South Bend, Mishawaka, and St. Joseph County. The non-profit serves government and education while its for-profit sister entity, St. Joe Valley Metronet, serves commercial clients.

Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Video and Materials Now Available from Blandin

Our friends at the Blandin Foundation recently sponsored another Minnesota Border to Border Broadband conference. Video and materials are now available

In addition to the archived video of the November 19th event in Brainerd, Minnesota, Blandin on Broadband's Ann Treacy provides links to summaries of each session, some of which also have PowerPoint presentations or video available for viewing:

Interest in rural broadband projects has risen sharply in the past two years. In 2013, the state legislature set aside $20 million in grant funding for rural broadband projects; applications have recently come due.

A Star Tribune article reports that entities seek approximately $44.2 million in total for Minnesota projects. Sen. Matt Schmit, the lead author on the grant funding bill also spoke at the conference and told attendees:

“Above all, I think what we wanted to do was prove there was interest out there — that there’s a need."

Longmont Schools Save, Increase Bandwidth With Help from LPC

Schools in Longmont recently began working with Longmont Power and Communications (LPC) to increase bandwidth, save money, and begin implementing a new technology plan. As part of the plan, every middle school student in Longmont was assigned an iPad mini this school year.

Jon Rice from the Longmont Compass alerted us to the program that takes advantage of the new 10 Gig wide area network. LPC installed the WAN this summer for the St. Vrain Valley School District. The network has a 20 Gbps ring and each school has an active 10 Gbps link with a second 10 Gbps ring for redundancy. The district's Chief Information Officer, Joe McBreen summed up the situation:

“We really needed to give ourselves some breathing room,” he said. The new LPC  “pipe,” he said, gave St. Vrain 10 times the bandwidth while saving $100,000 a year and allowing teaching and learning to be exponentially improved.

According to McBreen, bandwidth demands used to take up 80 - 90 percent of the district's bandwidth, but now only requires 5 percent on a typical day, even with the new devices.

Not long ago, LPC announced a new $49.95 per month gigabit service for residents and businesses. If customers sign up early, LPC guarantees the price for an extended period. The price remains the same at that residence, regardless of who owns the home. LPC expects to finish its current expansion work in 2017. 

In the short video below, School Board Member Paula Peairs notes that the district's savings on connectivity costs allows them to direct more funds to devices, staff training, and classes for students.

"The fact that the City has established that and built us the infrastructure to apply it is enormous. We have a community that supports that and really puts us in a unique position."

Matt Scheppers, Electrical Operations Manager at LPC, said of the utility's new service to the school:

"We are really excited to see what they do with it and we are going to accommodate them in the future; if they need more speed we will be able to provide that too. We're real excited about that opportunity." 

Video: 
See video

Rural Cooperative Launches Educational Network in Northern Georgia

There was some good news at the end of August in Georgia, just in time for the new school year: a fiber optic network spanning 3,600 miles and potentially tying together up to 330 schools with 10 gigabit connections was announced. Dubbed the “Education Exchange,” the network is the product of an agreement between the rural cooperative North Georgia Network (NGN), private cable provider ETC Communications, and a private fiber optic ISP and infrastructure company called Parker Fibernet. Each of these three carriers’ existing fiber optic assets will provide a piece of the network, and all are connected to each other and to the broader internet in Atlanta.

While formed through a partnership of cooperative and private providers, the network will be governed by the schools themselves, which are spread throughout 30 different counties and reach across the northern third of the state, from the western border with Alabama to the eastern border with South Carolina. Both public and private schools will be able to connect. 

The new network should allow schools to realize some significant cost savings from replacing phone lines with VOIP and dropping slower leased data connections. More interesting, however, are the educational and administrative applications of such fast direct connections: video conferencing for teachers and administrators between and within school districts; accessing bandwidth-intensive online educational materials; expanding access to wi-fi devices throughout schools; and pooling purchasing power of many districts to get discounts and expanded digital course content.

How each district and each school use the network will be up to them, but the possibilities are considerable. Some of the early schools that beta tested the network have already experimented by hosting real time virtual music collaborations between schools. Paul Belk, NGN’s CEO, described the motivations driving his cooperative to establish the network: 

“The strength of our communities, our economy, and workforce all starts in our schools...as a community-owned company, it’s our job to give back and use our resources to better the next generation.”

NGN has been connecting business parks, hospitals, government buildings and other anchor institutions in northern Georgia since it’s inception in 2007. It received a large boost in 2009 when it was chosen for a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant as part of the federal stimulus effort. With $33.5 million in federal funding, supplemented by nearly $10 million in additional state and local funding, NGN built out an 1,100 mile network in the hilly country north of Atlanta, bringing high speed connections to areas previously only reached by slow and unreliable DSL

Business, Education Call on Culver City to Invest in Muni Fiber in L.A. County

Last fall, Culver City hired a consultant to develop a design and business plan for a possible fiber network project. Recently, prominent business leaders and parents of local school children have publicly expressed their support for a municipal network.

Culver City, also known as "The Heart of Screenland" is situated in west L.A. County, surrounded primarily by the City of Los Angeles. Approximately 39,000 people live in this community that is beginning to draw in the tech industry. In addition to Disney's Maker Studios, Apple owns Culver City's Beats Electronic, known for high-tech headphones. Culver City wants to stay current to compete with Santa Monica, home to a number of tech businesses that connect to its publicly owned City Net.

The L.A. Weekly reports billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, owner of NantWorks, has encouraged city leaders to move forward with the project. His specific request is that five business districts be included in the network deployment. NantWorks, located in one of those districts, provides cloud-based operating systems to support telehealth. According to the article, Soon-Shiong is rallying other business leaders:

Soon-Shiong has been encouraging other business owners in the area to support the plan, which is expected to come before the City Council sometime in October.

"He feels this is key," said Mike Sitrick, a spokesman for Soon-Shiong. "He’s talked to various city officials and told them how important he thinks it is, not only to his business, but to attracting additional businesses to Culver City."

Local elected officials report positive feedback as the city reaches out to determine interest in the project:

"We're still attempting to gauge the degree of interest," said Councilman Andy Weissman, though he added, "I'm confident it's going to happen."

The business community is not the only sector in Culver City seeking better connectivity. The Front Page Online recently published an op-ed from the group United Parents of Culver City. Regarding Soon-Shiong's statement about the importance of the project, the President of the parents' organization writes:

We agree.

We will take it a step further: This is key to the future of our schools, too.

...

Parents interested in technology issues are well aware that bandwidth limitations have created problems in our district. Those problems only will grow worse as technology becomes more integrated in the classroom environment and as online testing becomes more prevalent.

Education SuperHighway Wants Better Broadband for Schools - Community Broadband Bits Episode #71

This week's podcast features an interview with Education SuperHighway CEO Evan Marwell to discuss how we can make sure all schools have the Internet access they need to succeed. Education SuperHighway has a plan for connecting all schools with a fiber connection while also decreasing the need for long term federal funding of school connectivity.

We talk about how this can be achieved, as well as the role local ownership can play in ensuring schools get the connectivity they need today and tomorrow without exploding their telecommunications budgets.

This is an important discussion as the FCC is taking comments on how the E-Rate program should be reformed. This is a handy PDF explaining how to submit comments to the FCC on this matter. Education SuperHighway has made a convincing case for its approach and we would encourage any comments that reinforce a preference for local, publicly owned networks as a smart solution.

Read the transcript for our discussion here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 17 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 previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Mudhoney for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Broadband for Schools and Libraries on the Agenda at Oct. 1 SHLB Event

The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) will present a webcast via BroadbandUS.TV tomorrow, October 1. The event focuses on broadband in schools and libraries. The webcast, titled The Importance of High-Capacity Bandwidth for Schools and Libraries runs from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. ET. 

Presenters from schools, libraries, vendors, and broadband coalitions will address some of the issues most pressing for schools and libraries. The discussions provide a special emphasis on E-rate as the FCC reviews the program during the current Notice of Proposed Rule Making [PDF]:

Panel #1: How Can the E-rate Program Support High Capacity Broadband?

Panel #2: Wireless and Internal Connections; What Options Are Available to Bring Broadband into the Classroom and Out to the Community?

Panel #3: How can the E-rate Program be Strengthened for the Long-Term?

In addition to panel discussion, Tom Power, Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Telecommunications, Office of Science and Technology, Executive Office of the President, will speak.

Register here for the event. (There is a charge to attend whether in person or by stream.)