Broadband Communities

NOV-DEC 2018

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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N O V E M B E R / D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 8 | w w w. b r o a d b a n d c o m m u n i t i e s . c o m | B R O A D B A N D C O M M U N I T I E S | 1 9 and to keep the DBU message strong. e project caught the attention of the Post Road Foundation, a nonprofit, research-driven organization that provides grants and partners with rural communities to help document the benefits of intelligent infrastructure, high-quality connectivity and sustainability. e DBU project broke ground in summer 2018 and will provide a petri dish for observing the impacts of rural connectivity. EASTERN SHORE OF VIRGINIA BROADBAND AUTHORITY Farther south, a group of coastal, rural Virginia communities are enjoying better connectivity. Two counties, along with a nearby NASA facility, launched an effort to fund a fixed wireless and FTTH network that is incrementally expanding to more premises. e landscape on the Eastern Shore is typical of rural Virginia – houses and businesses spread out into the woods in the low-density configuration that large, corporate ISPs don't consider profitable enough to serve. In 2008, Accomack and Northampton counties created the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority (ESVBA) through the Virginia Wireless Service Authorities Act to serve local needs and boost economic development. NASA needed high-speed connectivity on the Eastern Shore of Virginia to serve its Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. e federal facility employs 1,100 people, launches rockets, and administers a visitors center. Government agencies, local schools, and health care institutions also needed reliable connectivity for their programs. e counties provided an initial sum of about $270,00 to ESVBA to plan the network and obtained about $8 million for the middle-mile backbone from NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Funding for the last mile to residential properties and small businesses came from the communities themselves, with about $1 million of support from a community development block grant. When the network became financially sustainable, ESVBA repaid the seed money, returning the initial investment to the counties. ESVBA's middle-mile network is open-access, and wireless ISPs, cellular providers and others use it to deliver residential and businesses services throughout the Eastern Shore. Several ISPs use the infrastructure, including national provider Windstream Communications and the local Eastern Shore Communications. By 2016, ESVBA launched the Town Broadband Initiative Project and began with an FTTH test project in Harborton, Virginia. Early on, it signed up the first few customers in the small town of only about 100 homes. Since then, the ESVBA has steadily expanded, adding more premises to the FTTH network. Sixteen rural communities along the shore now have access to FTTH, and the authority continues to add towers to expand the reach of the fixed wireless component. Residents and businesses in the rural community of Bloxum (population about 380) recently received improved access via a new ESVBA tower. In addition, ESVBA provides a free wireless hotspot near the tower, and cellular coverage has improved. Over the past few years, the ESVBA has been able to lower prices for wireless ISPs while using revenues to expand the network and upgrade equipment. e network stretches down the coast and provides free Wi-Fi hotspots for visitors. SKAGITNET, A PUBLIC- PUBLIC PARTNERSHIP IN WASHINGTON In Skagit County, Washington, north of Seattle, the cities of Mount Vernon and Burlington own and operate fiber optic networks, and Anacortes is building out infrastructure. Public entities in Skagit County are now collaborating to develop a countywide infrastructure and provide a boost to economic development. e Port of Skagit and the Skagit Public Utility District (PUD) formed SkagitNet to develop an open-access network, which will connect the communities across the county, including the larger municipalities that already have their own networks. e first segment, which connects Anacortes to Burlington, is complete. e next two segments, connecting Anacortes to Mount Vernon and the town of La Conner, are in construction and expected to be completed in early 2019. Another segment, constructed several years ago, will be connected later in the construction phase. e entire network will include six segments connecting seven municipalities. Residents and businesses on the routes between cities will also be able to connect to the network. In May 2018, Robbie Robertson, president of the PUD Commission, told the Skagit Valley Herald that both the port and the PUD searched for several years for opportunities to improve their infrastructures. "e port recognized they needed to improve their overall system, as did we," Robertson said. "It was decided the two primary entities that were best qualified to go through this process of laying out the backbone [were] the port and PUD." State law doesn't allow PUDs to offer telecommunications services directly to customers, but a law passed in 2018 expands the ability for ports to use their infrastructure to partner with private sector ISPs. With the SkagitNet infrastructure in place and the restrictions lifted, there will be new opportunities for private ISPs to deliver services via public fiber. v Lisa Gonzalez is a senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. She can be reached at lgonzalez@ilsr.org. is article was based in part on reporting by Hannah Trostle. NASA helped fund the Eastern Shore network so it could connect its flight facility there.

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