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Sean Gonsalves: New York’s First Bite of the Municipal Broadband Apple

Governor Kathy Hochul announced a $10-million grant award for the state’s first foray into municipal broadband.

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Photo of New York Governor Kathy Hochul, via New York National Guard

Breaking new ground in New York, state leaders are launching the first municipal fiber-to-the-home projects in the Empire State with funds from its new ConnectALL initiative.

Four small rural communities in four different counties will be the beneficiaries of New York’s initial foray into municipal broadband, targeting “areas where existing state-owned fiber can create a fiber bridge between large data centers (first mile) and individual homes (last mile), primarily in rural areas that are not serviced by private broadband providers.”

At the end of May, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office announced the $10 million grant award, which will fund fiber deployments to the Village of Sherburne in Chenango County, the Town of Nichols in Tioga County, the Town of Diana in Lewis County, and the Town of Pitcairn in St. Lawrence County.

A ‘banner day’ for municipal broadband

A collaborative project that includes the Empire State Development office, the Development Authority of the North Country and the Southern Tier Network, the initial deployment will be managed by the New York Power Authority and begin in Sherburne.

In Sherburne (est. pop. 1,300), NYPA will be joining forces with the village’s municipal utility, Sherburne Electric, a NYPA municipal electricity customer, to extend NYPA’s existing middle mile fiber network and bring last-mile FTTH connectivity to the village’s 1,800 homes and businesses. The work is expected to be completed by the end of the year with residential and business service to be offered by yet-to-be-named private Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

When the grant was announced, Sherburne Mayor William Acee lauded the effort as “a banner day for Sherburne Electric customers.”

“The prospect of having broadband Internet access available to all of Sherburne’s residents and businesses is the modern-day equivalent of the arrival of the railroad. New, affordable broadband Internet access will symbolically expand the boundaries of our community, and help forge deeper connections between Sherburne, and the world beyond,” Acee said.

When we spoke to Mayor Acee this week, he said, the plan is to build an open-access network and lease the infrastructure to private ISPs interested in providing the retail service.

Not only will the network ultimately offer Sherburne residents and businesses more choice in addition to the incumbent providers who already serve the area (Charter Spectrum, Frontier and FirstLight), Acee said, it will also enhance the municipal utility’s operations.

“As a municipally-owned electric system, one thing I’ve been pushing for is the ability to have a communication network that can handle load management and distributed energy resources and you need a robust communication system for that,” he said.

With the infusion of state grant funds, Acee said, it allows the previously planned network construction to be finished by the end of 2022 instead of the initial four-year timeline local planners originally thought.

Outside of Sherburne, the other three communities (Nichols in Tioga County, Diana in Lewis County, and Pitcairn in St. Lawrence County) will be next in line for what state leaders are calling a “ConnectALL Pilot Initiative.”

Incubating publicly-owned networks in new ecosystem

These new municipal broadband projects were made possible by a $220 billion state budget bill that was passed in April of this year and includes $1 billion for the state’s ConnectALL initiative, which Gov. Hochul’s office described as “the largest ever investment in New York’s 21st century infrastructure.”

The bill established an ecosystem for the cultivation of municipal broadband, a departure from New York state lawmaker’s previous approaches which relied on the existing telecom companies to solve the state’s connectivity challenges.

The bill created a municipal assistance program to provide grant funding to municipalities, state and local authorities to plan and build local, publicly-owned broadband infrastructure. It also repealed the fees associated with laying fiber cables along state highways and empowered the NYPA “to enter into lease agreements with other state instrumentalities and municipal entities for the use of excess capacity in the authority’s fiber optic communications infrastructure to provide affordable, high-speed broadband in unserved and underserved communities in the state.”

As Municipal Networks reported in April, that particular provision was important because NYPA has over 1,400 miles of transmission lines running across the state, much of which has fiber running in the same path. And the big telecom companies worked hard to block that provision from becoming law.

Looking even beyond the four communities that will first be targeted, NYPA’s middle mile infrastructure can now be used as backhaul by the dozens of communities in New York with municipal electric utilities currently served by NYPA, which would dramatically lower operation expenses for last mile fiber networks in those communities.

All of those towns and cities with municipal electric utilities have access to capital and an existing electric grid. They also own the poles, drops, and bucket trucks as well as have a trusted relationship with their ratepayers. With the addition of the NYPA provision, it will significantly lower barriers to community networks throughout the state.

This article originally appeared on the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Municipal Broadband project on June 9, 2022, and is reprinted with permission.

Digital Inclusion

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel Emphasizes 100 Percent Broadband Adoption

‘It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,’ said the chairwoman.

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Photo of Kelley Dunne, CEO of AmeriCrew, leading panel on workforce issues at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is making progress towards bringing “affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to 100 percent of the country,” Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here on Tuesday.

Rosenworcel pointed to the $65 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act now being deployed across the country, with a particular focus on unconnected rural and tribal areas.

Although the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will take the lead with these funds, the FCC’s new broadband coverage maps will be important in implementing state digital equity plans.

In her remarks, Rosenworcel also discussed how the upcoming 2.5 GigaHertz spectrum auction will involve licensing spectrum primarily to rural areas.

At the July FCC open meeting, said Rosenworcel, the agency is scheduled to establish a new program to help enhance wireless competition. It is called the Enhanced Competition Incentive Program.

The program aims to build incentives for existing carriers to build opportunities for smaller carriers and tribal nations through leasing or partitioning spectrum. Existing carriers will be rewarded with longer license terms, extensions on build-out obligations, and more flexibility in construction requirements.

“It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,” she said.

She also indicated her commitment to work with Congress to fund the FCC’s “rip and replace” program to reimburse many rural operators’ transitions from Chinese-manufactured telecommunications equipment. She also touted the role that open radio access networks can plan in more secure telecommunications infrastructure.

In other news at the conference, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr addressed the role of funding broadband operations in rural America, the challenges of workforce training, and ensuring that rural carriers have access to high-cost universal service support.

In a session moderated by AmeriCrew CEO Kelley Dunne, panelists from the U.S. Labor Department, the Wireless Infrastructure Association and Texas A&M Extension Education Services addressed the need to offer a vocational career path for individuals for whom a four-year degree may not be the right choice. AmeriCrew helps U.S. military veterans obtain careers in building fiber, wireless and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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5G

5G Will Help Enhance Environment Protection and Sustainability, Conference Hears

The technology has already been used by companies to monitor and make more efficient systems to reduce emissions.

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Photo of Bourhan Yassin, CEO of Rainforest Connection

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2022 – Because of its facilitation of real-time monitoring and more efficient use of systems, 5G technology will help tackle climate change and beef up environmental sustainability, an Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event heard Tuesday.

5G technology’s ubiquitous connectivity and lower latency enables climate technology that decarbonizes manufacturing plants, enables rainforest monitoring, and limits greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

5G also enables real-time traffic control and monitoring that can help minimize carbon footprint, said John Hunter from T-Mobile, which has a large 5G network thanks in part to its merger with Sprint.

Finnish 5G equipment supplier Nokia has invested in smart manufacturing relying on the speed of 5G in its plants, which it said has resulted in a 10 to 20 percent carbon dioxide reduction and a 30 percent productivity improvement with 50 percent reduction in product defects.

Non-profit tech startup Rainforest Connection has used 5G technology to implant sensitive microphones into endangered rainforests in over 22 countries around the world. These microphones pick up on sounds in the forest and transmit them in real time to personnel on the ground.

These highly sensitive machines are camouflaged in trees and can pick up sounds of gunfire from poaching and chainsaws from illegal logging activity from miles away. The technology has proven to be significant in rainforest conservation and will enable researchers and scientists to find innovative solutions to help endangered species as they study the audio.

“By being able to integrate technologies such as 5G, we can accelerate that process… to achieve the mission [of mitigating climate change effects] sooner than we expected,” said Rainforest Connection CEO Bourhan Yassin.

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Spectrum

Make More Unlicensed Spectrum Available for Increasing Demand for Wi-Fi Use: Panelists

Conference hears the FCC should seek spectrum bands to open up for unlicensed use.

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Photo of Maura Corbett, Alan Inouye, Kathleen Burke, Deb Collier (left to right)

WASHINGTON, June 27, 2022 – Experts said at a WiFiForward event last week that there should be more carve-outs for unlicensed spectrum to tackle growing demand for connections and relieve congestion on existing frequencies.

Unlicensed spectrum is a set of frequencies that are not restricted to specific entities and may be used by nearly any device. Wi-Fi devices are most commonly found on unlicensed spectrum frequencies.

“We need a lot more [spectrum],” said Alan Inouye from the American Library Association at the event on June 21. New Wi-Fi devices and a growing number of consumers is driving up the demand for unlicensed spectrum, she said.

Kathleen Burke from internet advocacy group Public Knowledge added that, “[Unlicensed Spectrum] plays a critical role in allowing us to have innovative technology that advances our telecommunications opportunities while at the same time providing affordable opportunities to connect.”

Because spectrum is a finite resource, Burke suggested exploring using the 7 Ghz band to expand the spectrum frequencies.

“Do inventory,” said Burke, “and find out what the next bands are based on actual data about what is occupying the current bands and what is available out there today.”

Deb Collier from Citizens Against Government Waste suggested that the Federal Communication Commission lengthen its auction authority to auction out specific spectrum frequencies and provide more space in bands for unlicensed use.

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