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Collaboration Alive and Well In Wisconsin Broadband Expansion

Wise people say that collaboration often leads to a better result than individual efforts. Recently, I was reminded of the benefits of different levels of collaboration, as they relate to community networks, in two separate articles about fiber-optic expansion in Wisconsin.

First, is a recent Randy Happel article in Trenchless Technology, about how UW-Extension is working with a private telecommunications network design, engineering, and construction firm to expand the fiber-optic landscape in their state.  Over thirty-seven million dollars in stimulus funding for UW-Extension through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is allocted as part of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). The result will be a 630-mile fiber-optic network to help improve connectivity in Wisconsin.

CCI Systems, the private partner, has been around since 1955 and has a history in CATV networks. From the Happel article:

“Public-private partnerships are our expertise,” says Dave Mattia, director of operations for CCI Systems. “We are also quite adept at working within the parameters for the federal funding programs. Our experience and expertise in designing and building broadband, fiber-optic communications networks are great assets to our partners.”

“Our approach is extremely disciplined and methodical,” says Cory Heigl, director of business development for CCI Systems. “Collaboration, listening and cooperation are critical to maximize project efficiencies. Other firms may start by choosing a technology. We begin by listening and identifying the desired end result. Our approach streamlines the process and has proven most effective in securing funding, especially grants and stimulus money.”

After fiber installation is complete, scheduled for June 2013, CCI Systems will shift from installation and design to maintenance and support. After the long battle with AT&T, working with a cooperative partner like CCI Systems must be a welcome relief for UW-Extension.

UW-Extension and CCI Systems are partnering to create Community Area Networks (CAN) across Wisconsin, using the cooperative approach of a local group to building networks as an inspiration -- the Chippewa Valley Internetworking Consortium.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) blog, highlights CINC in another article on collaboration in Wisconsin's Chippewa Valley.

A dozen years ago, a group of technology officials in the neighboring Wisconsin cities of Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls began meeting to share ideas on how to prepare their computer systems for Y2K. The group included officials from the city and county governments, local school districts, community libraries and medical institutions. And while Y2K came and went without incident, it soon became clear that the collaboration had the potential to turn into something much bigger.

That group became known as CINC.

And now, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program is expanding that original “community area network” and replicating its success in three other Wisconsin communities that see CINC as a model for establishing a 21st Century communications infrastructure.

Building Community Capacity through Broadband, or BCCB, is using $30 million in Recovery Act funding to lay down more than 600 miles of fiber that will extend the network in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls and create new community area networks in Platteville, Wausau and Superior. The public-private project is being spearheaded by the University of Wisconsin-Extension program, but has many partners, including dozens of local governments and school districts.

These projects show the power of collaboration and the true spirit of a public-private partnership. Regardless of which ownership structure a community chooses for its own network, it should have a good working relationship with community anchor institutions and local businesses.

Publicly Owned Network in Wisconsin Creates Taxpayer Savings

Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls worked together to build a high-capacity broadband network connecting community anchor institutions, including schools, clinics, traffic lights, and more. Called the CINC for Chippewa Valley Inter-Networking Consortium, they now have higher capacity connections, more control over their future telecom needs and budgets, and can run applications that make their operations more efficient (lessening the pressure on the tax base).

The Building Community Capacity through Broadband, a stimulus funded project, has put together a video describing what they did and how they did it. Learn more about these BCCB projects here.

As you watch the video, remember that AT&T and its industry allies want to make projects like this illegal. They want to force the schools, libraries, etc. to pay much more for slower, less reliable networks. While the WiscNet attack in June failed, telcos are still trying to create a monopoly for themselves providing these services.

The lawsuit against the project has a hearing on November 11th where the Judge may decide to dismiss the case. If the case proceeds, the bench trial will be in early January. We frequently see lawsuits like these from big carriers that do not expect to win the case but rather are just harassing any potential competition to raise the cost of challenging the incumbent. So even though BCCB will almost certainly win the case, the telco goal is mostly to threaten any community that follows the good example of these communities.

Video: 
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