US broadband projects sputter along, despite hurdles


The latest State of the Internet Report from network optimization company Akamai shows that the US has slipped in the global rankings of average connection speed, despite nearly 30 percent of yearly growth. This growth may be driven by state officials that are frustrated with the lack of support from incumbent providers. Oklahoma is moving forward on its own statewide, government backed broadband network. Cities too are getting in on the act, CivSource has recently reported on initiatives in the US leveraging TV White Space broadband to improve services. However, a few clouds funding clouds dot the horizon.

Conversations around broadband have been heating up in recent weeks as federal and state officials look at ways to better connect America. The conversation is welcome, as data increasingly shows that American’s by and large pay more and get less when it comes to broadband. Some organizations like ALEC seek to codify that into law, through bills that would curb municipal broadband networks and recent discussions that might curb TV white space broadband while it is still in development.

Some states, however, are moving forward anyway. Oklahoma recently announced the near completion of its the Oklahoma Community Anchor Network (OCAN). The network connects anchor institutions on both state and tribal lands and was completed with a $74 million grant from the NTIA. The network covers over 1,000 miles and is expected to go live on August 1.

Other providers are piggybacking on gigabit service, CivSource first reported on gigabit providers lining up in Omaha, Nebraska. Now, Millennium Communications Group has been chosen by Leverett, Massachusetts to bring the service there. The $2.27 million contract will provide affordable, upgraded services to local residents. Charter Communications has also announced an in-home wi-fi network option for as little as $3 per month.

Other states and municipalities, aren’t so lucky. If your state has connectivity, and that connectivity is dominated by big providers like Verizon or Comcast, your speeds rank behind Latvia, and you’re paying through the nose for it. A piece by Cyrus Farivar at Ars Technica shows that “Verizon announced Monday that it would be boosting its FiOS service to 500Mbps—for $310 per month. By comparison, in original Google Fiber locale Kansas City, 1Gbps of service starts at just $70 per month. (Comcast charges $320 for 305Mbps speeds on its network.)”

To boot, the company isn’t doing any new FiOS installs anywhere, so if you don’t have the service, you won’t even be able to pay more for less. In Wisconsin, where anchor institutions including the University of Wisconsin system already had a municipal network, that was non-profit and provided solid capacity, Republicans pulled the state contract with WiscNet. As CivSource previously reported, Republicans lost a previous attempt to cripple WiscNet, backed by providers like Verizon and Comcast arguing that the network posed unfair competition to companies with no intention to build. Anchor institutions are now left without a suitable network.

Mississippi’s first responder broadband network, that would’ve linked to FirstNet has been halted over a gap between federal and state priorities. Mississippi needs spectrum for the project and is also facing a budget shortfall this year, forcing state officials to halt work until a solution can be negotiated. Motorola Solutions has also been fingered in this fight as potentially lobbying with the intent to derail FirstNet overall, they are doing the work on the Mississippi network. The troubled federal FirstNet project has uncertain guidance and funding overall, as Congress heads toward another fiscal hostage crisis in the fall that solution may not be immediately forthcoming.