Broadband Census Indiana
This is the 17th of a series of articles surveying the state of broadband, and broadband data, within each of the United States and its territories.
(Update, 10/22: Also see “Indiana’s Larry Landis: Mapping Provides a Guide for Broadband Policy,” BroadbandCensus.com, October 22, 2008.)
October 21 – Universities in Indiana are seeking to stay ahead of a potential traffic jam in broadband demand through investments in broadband infrastructure, cutting-edge research and rural connectivity in the Hoosier state.
According to a recent study by EDUCAUSE, U.S. universities are at the leading edge of an explosion in broadband supply and demand: availability at research institutions increased by 60% in 2007.
A network of universities in Indiana has set out to build one of the world’s premier fiber networks known as I-Light. It would support enhanced internet access in Indiana beyond university campuses, too.
In part, campus bandwidth demand is driven by music and movie downloaders seeking the next Bit Torrent tool. But that is only part of the story. The EDUCAUSE report cited faculty research as the key demand driver for the highest bandwidth-usage activity, particularly large data sets, data visualizations and other applications.
In fact, it was long before the original peer-to-peer file-sharing service Napster that Dave Jent was first facing bandwidth limits at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, in 1998.
Seeking faster connections for researchers who needed to transfer large data sets between Indianapolis and the Indiana University Bloomington (IUB) campus – and dissatisfied with the cost estimates offered by private vendors – Jent and a team from IUB’s information technology office decided to build a network themselves.
The state assembly, led by then-Gov. Frank O’Bannon (he served from 1997 to 2003), supported the fiber connection between Indianapolis, Bloomington and Purdue.
The resulting I-Light network would also connect the universities to the global Internet2 network, which continues to be managed by the Global Research Network Operations Center at Indiana University.
The late Sen. David Ford and Indiana University President Michael McRobbie were instrumental in assuring that “coupled with the robust private provider networks in Indiana, the state has developed one of the most extensive robust backbone presences [I-Light] in the nation,” says Indiana Utility Commissioner Larry Landis.
Jent, now associate vice president for networks at Indiana University, hasn’t stopped building: the I-Light network now connects 32 higher education campuses and the network operations center will be the centerpiece of another network, Omnipop, designed to connect regional institutions beyond the state.
I-Light and other fiber broadband networks are proving critical for the research needs of Indiana’s education system.
Marianne Chitwood, I-Light’s Operations Manager, says that the value of the I-Light network is now clear within the higher education network and she uses Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, as an example: “Earlham was depending on a few T1 connections before I-Light reached the college, and now we see them utilizing bandwidth levels that could not have been possible with those old connections.”
While Indiana’s University fiber networks have been key to facilitating premier research and vast amounts of data transfer on campus, they are also important to the delivery of fast and affordable broadband to “off-campus” Indiana households.
According to Jent, “you don’t have to go too far out of town for broadband services to run out, especially in the southern parts of Indiana where the state is behind in deploying broadband…. But the existence of our network can make business plans for commercial operators reaching rural residents in Indiana more realistic.”
Jent describes a unique collaboration in Indiana between the universities, the state government, and private sector broadband providers that is spearheaded by the Indiana Higher Education Telecommunication System (IHETS), a membership consortium that provides technology services to educational institutions in the state. IHETS is able to leverage the expertise and infrastructure of its member institutions to help lower the cost for commercial providers to extend broadband beyond the educational networks.
When it comes to extending these networks, there is a great amount of potential for wireless solutions that rely on high-bandwidth fiber backhaul to deliver needed connectivity to rural Indiana, said Jent. “The further we can push the fiber infrastructure, the easier it will be for wireless providers to reach remote consumers and businesses,” He said.
Meanwhile, when it comes to cutting-edge research and development of the wireless technologies needed to reach rural Indiana, the Hoosier state’s universities are also on the front lines.
Since 2005, Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, has been known as one of the nation’s top wireless campuses, a concept that extends to the university’s research focus, which has BSU researchers experimenting with forward-looking wireless applications and cutting edge WiMAX technologies.
Robert Yadon, a Ball State professor of information and communication sciences and the director of the Applied Research Institute at the university, describes how the school became a model for on-campus wireless research and applications: “Strategically, it makes sense if you’re going to extend your campus beyond the bricks and mortar and into the university community and beyond. When WiMAX became available, initially in Europe, that’s when we made the early move to utilize a new frequency [802.16e] and began testing and mapping the coverage area.”
With WiMAX broadband systems in place and in use, BSU researchers were then challenged to measure and map the footprint of the experimental technology, so members of the university’s geographical information system team traveled to Europe for certification in WiMAX mapping, the first in the United States.
Today, researchers at BSU are busy gathering data to determine the success of their foray into WiMAX technology and its viability as larger-scale connectivity solution.
Jent believes such wireless solutions could be key to universal broadband access in Indiana, an objective that he sees the state being able to achieve in the near future through the cooperation of the universities, the state government and the private sector.
“There are people who are building big data networks in Indiana today,” Jent reports. “They are building in areas that have not been traditionally served and I believe we can cover the whole state in about four or five years.”
Broadband Census in the States:
- 1. In Massachusetts, Governor to Sign $40 Million Broadband Bill Aimed at Spurring Investment
- 2. Task Force to Debate Whether A Gigabit Per Second is Too Fast for Minnesota
- 3. Relaunched Oklahoma City Wi-Fi Network Showcases City-Services Model
- 4. New York City and State Each Craft Broadband Policies; City Nixes Muni Wi-Fi
- 5. With Large Underserved Areas, Idaho Seeks to Establish Statewide Educational Network
- 6. Hawaii Broadband Task Force Aims to Tackle Problems of Speed, Competition
- 7. Modern-Day Alaskan Broadband Benefits from Satellite Earth Station Competition
- 8. First in Broadband Mapping, North Carolina’s e-NC Now Wants Faster Speeds
- 9. Colorado Innovation Council Seeks to Make Good on State’s Promise of Better Broadband
- 10. New Mexico Infrastructure Report Fails to Incorporate Broadband Access
- 11. Illinois Plants ‘Johnny Appleseed’ Projects Promoting Broadband in State
- 12. Maryland Continues on Long Haul Towards Universal Broadband
- 13. Verizon as a Cable Guy To Shape Broadband Battle in Washington, D.C.
- 14. ‘Connect ME’ is Maine’s Mantra For 90 Percent Broadband by 2010
- 15. South Carolina Weighs State-Wide Wireless Access in Broadband Plans
- 16. Beset by Large Rural Areas, Arizona Aims to Blend Broadband Data Sources
- 17. Indiana Universities Leading Broadband Investments On- and Off-Campus
Broadband Census Resources:
- The Educause Core Data Service 2007 Summary Report
- Video Summary of I-Light Network and its valuable contributions to research in Indiana [MOV].
- The Indiana University Global Research Network Operations Center (NOC) homepage.
- Further information on the NOC and some of the networks it manages.
- The Indiana Higher Education Telecommunication System (IHETS) homepage.
- More on Dave Jent’s work from the IUPUI Alumni News Magazine (see page 6) [PDF].
- Ball State University’s Office of Wireless Research and Mapping (OWRM).
- OWRM’s 2007 WiMAX Evaluation [PDF].
- “Indiana’s Larry Landis: Mapping Provides a Guide for Broadband Policy” (BroadbandCensus.com, October 22, 2008)
Congress Should Give States More Authority Over Broadband Priorities, Experts Say
Experts suggest states and municipalities should have more leeway with federal broadband funds.
June 30, 2021–Congress should allow the states authority over where and how to invest broadband dollars, experts said on a panel Tuesday.
The panel discussed the problem with federal agencies restricting states to only use funds for a distinct purpose, as opposed to allowing them to decide where the money can best be spent.
Federal agencies tend to focus on accessibility, affordability, and future-proofing broadband, but states all have different immediate needs, according to the panelists hosted by America’s Communications Association (ACA) on Tuesday. The panelists were discussing the $65-billion allocated to broadband as part of the infrastructure package announced by President Joe Biden last week.
The panelists said they hope that the $65 billion will be directed in a similar way to funds from the American Rescue Plan, which grants states flexibility in spending.
ACA projects $400 million needed for broadband
The panel also discussed recent proposals and statistics gathered by the ACA, which show that roughly 12 million households in America remain underserved, having less than the federal minimum standard of 25 Mbps download speed and 3 Mbps download. An additional 30 million are underserved for other reasons, including affordability.
The results, they say, show that closing the digital gap rests in addressing availability and adoption, and that these issues can be resolved best by deferring to localities.
The ACA report found that these issues can be address if spending was increased to $399 billion, a significantly greater amount of money than Congress is currently mulling. The lack of funds, experts said, means that there will have to be prioritization of funds to either availability or adoption.
Derek Turner, research director at media advocacy group Free Press, said this would amplify the need to let the states handle the money their given because they’ll know how to prioritize the funds.
The state of broadband…in the states
States are already being encouraged to take matters into their own hands and form partnerships with private firms to expand broadband access. Experts suggest that, to offset the expenses of building broadband in more rural areas, the government will have to step in and subsidize some of the costs.
In a recent Pew article examining the details of the American Rescue Plan Act, Kathryn de Wit of the research center pointed to the flexibility given to states to assist the federal government in bridging the digital divide. She drew attention to the fact that states have a large role to play in addressing that gap.
Meanwhile, the Texas legislature has already begun to take measures in creating an office dedicated to oversee improvements in broadband in the province. The legislature recently passed House Bill 5, which seeks to expand broadband service to certain areas and requires a state broadband plan be created. The bill is awaiting a signature from Governor Greg Abbott.
Aside from Texas, most states already have a statewide broadband plan.
Vermont House Backs $150 Million Broadband Plan Creating New State Office
A bill dedicating $150 million of anticipated federal funding to create a new state broadband office to coordinate and accelerate the expansion of high-speed Internet access throughout Vermont passed the State House of Representatives last week with overwhelming bipartisan support.
On March 24th, the Vermont House approved H.B. 360 by a vote of 145-1, backing the creation of the Vermont Community Broadband Authority. If the bill becomes law it would help fund and organize the deployment of broadband infrastructure between Vermont’s nine Communications Union Districts (CUDs) and their potential partners, which include electric distribution utilities, nonprofit organizations, the federal government, and private Internet Service Providers.
The bill was introduced in the state Senate last Friday, and discussed for the first time in the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.
Enabled by a 2015 law, CUDs are local governmental bodies consisting of two or more towns joined together to build communications infrastructure. They were established to create innovative solutions to build broadband networks and provide a combination of Fiber-to-the-Home and fixed wireless Internet connectivity in their respective territories across Vermont, especially in areas where incumbent ISPs fail to provide adequate service.
Vermont’s CUDs, which have called for federal funding assistance since the onset of the pandemic, are ideally positioned to distribute funds in a way that will provide reliable and high-performance Internet access to every nook-and-cranny of the state. Vermont’s active CUDs have already constructed deep pockets of fiber.
Whether or not the CUDs will be able to reach the state’s goal of delivering universal 100/100 Megabits per second (Mbps) Internet service by 2024 now rests in the hands of Vermont’s Senate, Congress, and the Biden Administration as state and federal lawmakers wrestle with how to best expand access to broadband.
CUDs Desire State Block Grants
The U.S. government has not yet provided guidance on how states will be able to distribute the federal dollars headed their way. In this sense, amendments added to H.B. 360 before it passed Vermont’s House, increasing the bill’s appropriation from an initial $30 million to $150 million, reflect the CUDs call for federal funding and state lawmakers’ desire for the federal government to establish rules that give states flexibility to utilize the funding how they see fit.
As of yet, it appears one of the main sources of broadband infrastructure funding allocated under the American Rescue Plan Act, the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, will be awarded in the form of state block grants. States will be awarded between $100 million and $500 million in block grants for capital projects, which include building improved telecommunications networks at a time when remote work, education, and telehealth are more prevalent than ever.
Vermont’s CUDs are hoping little to no constraints are placed on how states can spend incoming federal grant money. In conversation with ILSR, Carole Monroe, CEO of ValleyNet (the operations company of Vermont’s first fully-operating CUD, ECFiber) expressed deep frustrations about the strings that were attached to CARES Act funding. Recipients of CARES Act money were required to spend the funds within months of it being distributed. Monroe lamented the fact that it forced recipients to pursue short-term solutions.
“By the time it reached the state, it was too late to do anything except a few wireless access points here or there,” said Monroe.
“We’ve all been hoping for an infrastructure bill, but I think there will be many strings attached,” she said, cognizant of her past experiences with bureaucratic contingencies on funding. If the funding comes in the form of “block grants to the state it will make it much easier to move forward” because Vermont has a strategic and well-developed plan.
CUDs Need Startup Capital, and to Consolidate
Based on a Magellan Advisors’ report commissioned by Vermont’s Department of Public Services, it is estimated that it will cost $1 billion to deploy broadband infrastructure to the estimated 254,000 locations (82 percent of Vermont) that currently lack 100/100 Mbps symmetrical service (see inline map below, or high-resolution version at the bottom of this story).
CUDs have historically had limited access to the financial capital necessary for expansion into unserved and underserved areas of the state, as previous broadband grant programs have not offered the scale to solve the problem, and traditional funding sources tend to shy away from investing in entities with limited revenue history and little collateral.
Though private investors are beginning to show interest in funding CUDs initiatives, Vermont’s CUDs see the incoming federal funding as a rare opportunity for the infusion of start-up capital initially necessary for CUDs to be financially self-sufficient.
Monroe said that in order for CUDs to be self-supporting they need enough capital for three years of audited financials, three years of positive cash flow, and three years of positive EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization). After getting CUDs to that point, they would then be able to access the municipal bond market, in which interest on money borrowed is not taxable.
While H.B. 360 will help by developing favorable taxing, financing, and regulatory mechanisms to support CUDs, Monroe suggested that it may also make sense for some of Vermont’s smaller CUDs to work together, consolidating Vermont’s nine CUDs into perhaps five or six. Some of the CUDs are very small (serving only about 10 rural towns), which may make it more difficult to gain return on investment.
At the heart of H.B. 360 is a call for increased partnerships to deliver resilient last-mile broadband infrastructure. It will be interesting to follow Vermont’s CUDs to see what entities they end up partnering with, as each partnership is likely to be unique.
Last Friday, Consolidated Communications, a major provider of Internet service in the region, responded to a CUDs request for proposal, demonstrating that the private ISP is willing to partner with the CUDs to deliver high-speed Internet service.
According to Monroe, a large portion of ECFiber’s 6,000 current subscribers switched from Consolidated Communications, so the company quickly learned they needed to improve its service and/or partner with the CUDs to remain viable in the state.
Consolidated Communications could be a desirable partner for Vermont’s CUDs given that they already have access to many pole attachments throughout the state. This will save CUDs from spending already-limited funds on utility pole attachments and make-ready work that often leads to increased costs in the buildout of broadband networks.
Another potential partner for CUDs is Green Mountain Power (GMP), the major electric utility in Vermont, which recently reached an agreement with the Department of Public Service to cover the costs of up to $2,000 for make-ready work in each of the utility’s unserved locations. With 7,500 unserved locations in the utility’s service area, the agreement would reduce the cost of building broadband networks within their footprint by as much as $15 million. Many CUDs are working to calculate how the cost-savings agreement could significantly advance their efforts to expand broadband into unserved regions.
The electric utility’s contributions would also help bring equity to Vermont’s energy sector. Currently all Vermont electric ratepayers are contributing to the rollout of clean energy technologies, yet not all ratepayers are able to access those technologies because they do not have access to adequate broadband.
One thing is clear: Vermont state lawmakers see federal funding, guided by new state legislation, as key to creating a more equitable future and delivering universal broadband access for its citizens.
See a high-resolution map of locations served by 100/100 Mbps in Vermont here.
Editor’s Note: This piece was authored by Jericho Casper with the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. Originally published on MuniNetworks.org, the piece is part of a collaborative reporting effort between Broadband Breakfast and the Community Broadband Networks program at ILSR.
Stamping out Election Falsehoods Like Playing Whack-a-Mole, Says Georgia’s Brad Raffensperger
February 5, 2021 – With election misinformation and conspiracy theories rampant in Election 2020, secretaries of state representing pivotal states swapped stories on Thursday about the howlers they faced – and what they did to try to maintain public trust in upholding election integrity.
Perhaps no one faced more pressure to act to overturn the results of his state’s presidential vote tally than Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Among the many false accusations he faced was that a Ron Raffensperger, allegedly a brother of his, works for a Chinese technology firm. While there is such a person, and that person does in fact work for the Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei, that Ron Raffensperger is not Brad Raffensperger’s brother.
At Thursday’s meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State, Raffensperger said again that he does not have a brother named Ron. He also expressed condolences for the real Ron Raffensperger out there.
Stamping out falsehoods is like playing a game of ‘rumor-whack-a-mole,’ said Brad Raffensperger. Once you eradicate one rumor, another just pops up. It’s as if the truth has 30,000 Twitter followers while falsehood has 80 million followers, he added.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addressed the “Sharpiegate” scandal, another fake claim concocted by Republicans. Sharpiegate was the wrong notion pushed by some that Sharpie pens distributed at polling places were handed out for voting.
But the felt-tip pen’s ink bled through the ballot, making it unreadable by a machine and thus keeping the Sharpie victim’s vote from being counted. The twist in this particular story is that only the Sharpie-marked ballots cast by Republican candidates were thrown out, somehow.
While recognizing the seriousness of this misinformation campaign, exacerbated by Eric Trump’s tweets about it, souvenir Sharpies were ordered bearing “Sharpiegate 2020” printed on them – just as a joke, said Hobbs.
Michigan had a plan in place for months on how to collect, process, and release voting results, said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. However, because its processes were so efficient, Michigan caught its critics off guard. This exposed Michigan to accusations of allegedly counting its ballots too fast in an effort to try to “fix” the election. Robocalls targeted minority majority communities, including in Detroit.
Ohio also anticipated a barrage of misinformation. As a preemptive measure, the state rolled out numerous tools and resources to inform citizens of voting processes.
Secretaries of state need to help voters build confidence knowing their voice will be heard in a fair and honest contest, and not to tear it down, said Frank LaRose, Ohio Secretary of State. He praised Ohio’s election integrity and said it had a record low in ballot rejection, and a record high in ballot workers.
The state also tried to stop spreaders of misinformation by warning of felony charges for spreading lies.
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