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Broadband Expansion Gains Momentum Across U.S.

Christine Book, August 01, 2018
Published by: Smart & Resilient Cities

A host of states and municipalities have recently made progress on the broadband scene, moving toward increased access to high-speed internet. Surveying the country, Smart & Resilient Citiescompiled a round-up of related news stories, featuring public private partnerships from state capitals to rural counties.

News from the State Capital

In early July, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced the creation of two new state-level positions to address the issue of broadband internet access.

A Chief Broadband Advisor and a Deputy Advisor will be in charge of creating and helping implement a plan to increase broadband internet access in rural areas. The plan will support Southwest Virginia and other rural parts of the commonwealth that don’t have broadband access.

Governor Northam said the effort will take collaboration, including support from the private sector, to achieve his goal for the entire commonwealth to have access to broadband internet within ten years, according to local news updates from an event announcing the new positions. One such report included Dean Sigman, an operations manager with SCS Broadband, which is helping establish broadband access in the county, who agreed that the creation of the broadband and deputy broadband advisors is important. Sigman said the company currently serves around 100 customers, and that this announcement will help expedite their ability to bring broader access to businesses and residents in these areas.
Virginia counties move to expand access

A recent article in the Progress-Index reported on a contract between Thought Logic Consulting LLC and two Virginia counties aimed at expanding broadband to un-served and under-served residents. According to the July 23 article, the Dinwiddie County Board of Supervisors is moving forward with their broadband project, which involves expanding high-speed internet services to unserved or underserved areas of the county. The article noted that the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted, in its July meeting, to award a contract which had been drafted between the counties of Amelia and Dinwiddie and Thought Logic Consulting LLC. For its part, Thought Logic Consulting is a firm that will assist both localities with the planning, implementation, and appointment of the regional broadband project.

Earlier this year, in March, the counties of Dinwiddie and Amelia were awarded a $1.7 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission (VTRRC) to fund a joint venture to expand broadband to unserved or underserved areas in both counties.

News from the State Capital

In early June, Governor Jeff Colyer, M.D., announced the appointment of Stanley Adams as Director of Broadband Initiatives at the Kansas Department of Commerce. Adams will work on continuing to identify broadband needs across Kansas – focusing heavily on broadband access problems facing many rural areas across the state.

“Closing the digital divide between rural and urban Kansas is vital, not just for the residents of those rural communities but for businesses considering locating there,” said Governor Colyer. adding, “Stanley Adams is an expert in the issues surrounding broadband access throughout Kansas and having him onboard to spearhead broadband initiatives will improve the lives of Kansans while helping revitalize our rural communities.” Adams previously served as Director of Statewide Broadband Initiatives with the Department of Commerce from 2010 to 2015, according to the news release announcing the appointment.

Over 930,000 Kansans live in rural communities, which is equivalent to over thirty-two percent of the state population. Providing high-speed internet service to the residents of these areas is both critical for improving their lifestyles as well as enhancing economic development efforts to attract new industry to start and grow in rural Kansas.

“It’s difficult to run a successful business of any size – from a local doctor to a large manufacturing plant – without access to high-speed broadband,” said Adams. “To reverse the population decline in many rural areas, we must be proactive in increasing broadband access across the state.”

This past legislative session, Governor Colyer signed legislation creating a broadband task force focused on mapping locations across the state with problematic broadband access and developing plans to address those needs. Mr. Adams will collaborate with this task force to update those maps which display the level of broadband speed that is available in areas across the state.
Local Progress across Kansas

The process of acquiring high-speed broadband access for communities across the Topeka, Kansas area was made easier last month, after local officials voted unanimously on plans to move the initiative forward. The board of directors of the Joint Economic Development Organization (JEDO) voted 7-0 to conduct outreach to broadband service providers, including doing interviews and putting out a “request for information” from companies interested in helping meet the needs of residents of Shawnee County, including Topeka, Kansas. For its part, JEDO is a body of elected officials who oversee the use of $5 million in annual revenue from a countywide half-cent sales tax.

This summer’s decision comes after the board for JEDO voted last July to contract with Greenwood Village, Colo.-based Tilson Technology Management to explore opportunities to deliver high-speed broadband service. According to local news updates, JEDO board members voiced concern May 9 after receiving Tilson’s report and seeing it estimated the cost at around $128 million. Chris Campbell, Tilson’s principal consultant, said the company’s next phase would be to talk to providers.

During its June 18 meeting, according to an article in the Topeka Capital-Journal, the JEDO board also voted to appoint Topeka City Councilman and Deputy Mayor Brendan Jensen and Shawnee County Commissioner Shelly Buhler to review a draft of the request for information and provide feedback to the project team JEDO put together.  Jensen, who works in technology, and serves as CEO of his own firm, Jensen Communications, LLC, reported that he worked with Tilson’s principal consultant, Chris Campbell, and staff, to craft a strategy that involves meeting with broadband providers; learning about providers’ needs, what services they can provide and roughly how much those might cost; identifying what incentives might be appropriate; and using those facts to craft and put out a “request for information” from providers.

In news out of Akron, Ohio, a June 21 article in the Akron Beacon Journal reports that one local community, Fairlawn, is expanding its broadband utility beyond city limits. The report confirms that the community is leasing space on the Medina County Fiber Network and has started offering its FairlawnGig service to businesses and households along the government-owned network, which stretches for 151 miles throughout Medina County and into Parma and downtown Akron.

Residential and business customers in Medina County and downtown Akron now are able to sign up for the municipal-run internet and phone services. According to the reporting, forty-seven percent of households and businesses in Fairlawn — or about 1,850 customers — have signed up for the service so far.

“We’re now more of a regional provider than just a city of Fairlawn provider,” said Ernie Staten, the city deputy director of public service who oversees FairlawnGig.

Fairlawn invested about $10 million to install fiber on every street in the community and the Joint Economic Development District, bringing internet service and phone service to the front doors of homeowners and businesses last year. FairlawnGig now offers up to 100 gigabit connections for business customers and a 10 gigabit connection for residential customers. The city also offers a direct connection to the Amazon Cloud, Staten said. The high-speed internet service costs $75 a month for households and $500 a month for businesses. FairlawnGig is one of 13 carriers, and the only municipal operation using the network.

“It’s great that we are partnering with a municipal network,” Fiber Network CEO David Corrado said in the article. Medina County created the open network six years ago through a bond issue. Staten noted that there is an installation fee to connect new customers to the network, with the cost depending on the distance from the fiber and other factors.

Hoping to give a boost to economic development in the region, approximately 1,200 buildings in Indiana’s Howard and Tipton counties now have the chance to access lightning-fast broadband internet. This, after an Indiana service provider installed 50 miles of fiber line in the area, according to an June 24 article in the Kokomo Tribune.

Indiana Fiber Network (IFN) recently completed the project installing the line at three main areas, including Lincoln Business Park, located near the former GM Delco Plant, and in Tipton near the Fiat Chrysler plant.

The sites were chosen for the fiber-optic expansion project, which provides some of the fastest internet speeds available, because of their close proximity to the company’s existing network, according to a company spokeswoman. Local economic-development groups also gave input on what areas would best be served by the new lines, according to IFN CEO Jim Turner. He added that the company has 4,500 route miles of fiber and counting, and is “proud to connect Hoosiers as they grow their businesses.”

“We look forward to seeing the new and existing tenants in Howard and Tipton Counties that will utilize broadband to further develop the state economy,” said Turner in a release.

“This not only strengthens our service to existing businesses, it also positions us better to attract new business opportunities,” said Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance CEO Sparks in the Kokomo Times article. He added, “We’re excited to be able to provide this service to our current and future employers with the help of IFN.”

The new fiber-ready sites in Kokomo and Tipton come after the company announced a multi-year, multi-million-dollar network upgrade across the state. IFN officials say the upgrades will increase capacity, improve stability and add efficiency to internet services. The hardware upgrades are set to take place in phases over the next two years, according to local reporting on the project. Three of the four 2018 phases are now complete, with the remaining 2018 phase to be completed in June. Additional phases of the project will begin in the first quarter of 2019. IFN formed in 2002 and is comprised of 20 local exchange telephone companies throughout the state. They offer data center, internet backbone and data transport services.

A report released recently by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), as reported in a Smart & Resilient Cities article, identified the worst connected and best connected cities across the country. In issuing the research, the organization encouraged city leaders and private service providers to continue making progress.

“Many cities are figuring out that digital inclusion needs to be part of the smart cities equation, so that’s really exciting,” said Angela Siefer, NDIA Executive Director. “Smart city planners are coming to realize the value of gathering input from a wide representation of residents, not just those with access to smart devices,” she added, saying that increased awareness by city planners about broadband availability is encouraging. Notes Siefer, “It’s fascinating that those within the smart city movement are acknowledging that access to broadband is essential to the work of creating smart cities.”

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