Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bob Bocher's "School and Library Broadband and Internet Access in Wisconsin" Background Paper, With Links and Screenshots (Part 2: Broadband Affordability)

The deep dive continues.

Broadband Affordability
The holy grail of broadband is to have sufficient bandwidth at affordable costs. What is sufficient can be accurately determined by bandwidth usage data. What is affordable is more subjective and it is often an issue of bandwidth costs competing with costs for other essential services in an environment of diminished budgets. In seeking affordable broadband outside of BadgerNet there are several alternatives and options that schools and libraries use. For example:
  • The Neenah school district gets its broadband from FoxNet, a community area network (CAN).  [From a history of Menasha Utilities:  "The FoxNet Fiber Optic System was completed in 1999. Menasha participants include Menasha Utilities, Menasha Joint School District, and the City of Menasha, along with Winnebago County. The Utility was granted a CLEC in 2000 by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, which permits the Utility to provide telecommunication services."]
  • The Milwaukee school district and the Milwaukee public library get their broadband from Time Warner Cable and do not use BadgerNet. [17]
  • Over 120 school districts currently get some or all of their broadband from Charter Communications.
The cable companies have been particularly aggressive in marketing their broadband services. Like the telecommunication carriers, most cable companies provide both broadband and Internet access. And some schools use Charter (or Time Warner, etc.) for both services, while others use it just for their broadband circuit and then use WiscNet as their Internet provider. This latter example is analogous to BadgerNet where a carrier provides the broadband circuit and then WiscNet often provides the Internet service. Cost and quality of service are the key determining factors in why schools and libraries often ―mix-and-match‖ different providers for their broadband and Internet access. Cost is especially important because schools and libraries that apply for E-rate discounts on their broadband and Internet service must use cost as the most important factor when selecting a provider. And from a broader perspective, cost factors are also important as public institutions of all types confront severe budget constraints and increasing pressures to be more efficient.

From an academic perspective, the UW system has worked with other providers to obtain broadband for some of its campuses outside of BadgerNet. This is done primarily to save money and to have more control over network deployment and management. If all UW campuses used BadgerNet they would pay approximately $13 million more each year for bandwidth than they are currently paying.
[Footnote #18;  From Access Wisconsin BCCB Counterpoints]

The need for affordable access to significant broadband capacity—and the inability of BadgerNet or the carriers to always meet this need—has resulted in an interest among community anchor institutions [footnote #19, e.g., schools, higher education, libraries, municipal government, other public sector entities and not-for-profit organizations that have a community service mission] to be more proactive in addressing their broadband needs. This, in turn, has sparked interest in the development of community area networks (CANs). [20] 

One of the first CANs developed was in the Eau Claire area. Started in 1999, the Chippewa Valley Internetworking Consortium (CINC) [21] has over 70 miles of fiber connecting over 150 community anchor institutions. (CINC does not serve for-profit businesses or residential households.) While CINC UA (an Unincorporated Association) owns all of its own optical fiber facilities, it connects to all major telecommunication carriers in the Chippewa Valley area including AT&T, QUEST/CenturyLink, and Charter. CINC members purchase a number of services from these carriers too. Furthermore, both initial and ongoing fiber construction projects are often shared between CINC and the carriers to the mutual benefit of both. As its FAQ states:

CINC is a role model community area network that utilizes inter-governmental agreements and memorandums of understanding.
As a community area network with minimal fees (for fiber locates, support and network maintenance), the broadband speed and connectivity greatly exceeds that of any private provider. Unlike other models, CINC members own and direct their future.

For the past several years the development of CANs has been of particular interest to UW-Extension (UWEX). As part of its public service mission, [22] UWEX has a long history of promoting local community and economic development. And as access to sufficient and affordable broadband has become essential to such development, the UWEX has an obvious interest in helping ensure that our community anchor institutions have such access. [23] This interest took on greater importance with passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, the federal stimulus act) in February 2009. This act included $4.7 billion in competitive grants to provide broadband to unserved areas of the country and to improve broadband in underserved areas. In Wisconsin several grants were submitted and subsequently awarded to address broadband access by community anchor institutions in underserved areas. Here are brief summaries of these grants.
[Footnote #26:  DPI webpage on "Economic Recovery and Reinvestment"]

BadgerNet Fiber Grant: Submitted by DOA, this $23 million grant was to bring fiber to 467 schools and libraries on BadgerNet that still had old, limiting copper circuits. [25] 

FAQ prepared by Bob Bocher in happier days.  (Page 1 of 4)

The grant would have provided school districts and library systems with 100Mbps for $250/month, and each library 20Mbps for $100/month (subsidized by TEACH). And it would have provided significant reductions in BadgerNet circuit costs for non-TEACH customers too. The grant was awarded in February 2010, but citing irreconcilable federal regulatory hurdles DOA—in agreement with the carriers—declined the grant in February 2011. [Footnote #26: Page 1 of  Huebsch letter to TEACH customers.]

Metropolitan Unified Fiber Network (MUFN). Submitted by the UW System, this $5 million grant
will deploy more than 100 miles of fiber in the greater Madison area. It will provide high-capacity broadband for 100 anchor institutions at speeds up to 10Gbps. The grant was awarded in March 2010.

Building Community Capacity Through Broadband. Submitted by UWEX, this $30 million grant will focus on building CANs in three communities (Platteville, Superior, Wausau) and enhancing the existing Eau Claire area (CINC) CAN. These CANs will connect 182 anchor institutions with highspeed broadband at very affordable costs. For example, the 1Gbps that most sites can receive will cost less than $10,000/annually. (The current BadgerNet not to exceed cost for 1Gbps is $594,000/annually.) The UW is partnering with CCI Systems, a commercial telecommunications carrier. [27] WiscNet will use its engineering expertise to assist in building these CANs. The grant was awarded in August 2010.

Building Community Capacity Through Broadband – Sustainable Broadband Adoption (SBA).
Submitted by UWEX, this $2.4 million dollar grant will focus on education and marketing efforts to help communities understand the benefits of broadband and to increase broadband subscribership levels with private providers. The grant was awarded in August 2010.

The three UW grants will provide broadband and Internet service to community anchor institutions, not private businesses or residential households. However, the fiber being installed will be made available to telecommunication carriers interested in offering services to the private sector.   Sharing the fiber was a federal grant requirement and was the same requirement that DOA cited as ―irreconcilable federal regulatory hurdles when it declined the BadgerNet fiber grant.

The federal Recovery Act also directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop the nation’s first National Broadband Plan (referenced on page 2). One of the plan’s major goals is to ensure that community anchor institutions—including schools and libraries—have affordable access to 1Gbps broadband service. Furthermore, chapter 8 in the plan recognizes the expertise of state research and education networks, like WiscNet, and it recommends that they expand their services to connect other community anchors. [28] Thus the UW and WiscNet’s interest in developing CANs dovetails with the recommendations in the National Broadband Plan. Until the availability of ARRA’s broadband grants and completion of the plan, the federal government relied primarily on the telecommunication carriers to meet the nation’s broadband needs. If the carriers successfully addressed this need there would be no need to look for other options

End of part 2.

Part 1

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