Delaware Department of Technology and Information Releases Broadband RFP

The Delaware Department of Technology and Information (DTI) has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to identify private sector firms that will deliver affordable broadband access to unserved and underserved parts of the state.

Acting on its commitment to achieving the state’s policy goals for rural broadband, DTI will provide a capital grant to one or more qualified respondents as startup funding for the construction and operation of wireless broadband networks. The RFP identifies several target areas that comprise approximately 127,700 homes and businesses in the rural portions of Kent and Sussex counties.

DTI’s innovative funding approach aims to lower some of the common barriers to broadband market entry in rural areas, particularly the capital investment required to begin offering service in areas with low population densities. DTI aims to bolster service availability by building a public-private partnership in which the private sector has the opportunity to enter markets that are not otherwise attractive for investment. In return, the private partner will make pricing and service commitments that further the state’s broadband goals.

DTI seeks bids from potential partners that will commit to developing and maintaining wireless broadband networks for at least seven years, with an option for three one-year extensions. Following the grant period, ownership of the assets will transfer to the private partner(s).

Responses are due to DTI by 2:00 P.M. local time on Thursday, October 8, 2018.

The RFP is available here.

Published: Friday, September 7, 2018 by CTC Technology & Energy



A New Broadband Imperative for Libraries: Serving the Community During Times of Emergency

Jacob Levin, Analyst

Libraries’ primary mission—as centers of knowledge in communities large and small—is well understood. But libraries are also community hubs, and in that role they often serve as a refuge, a source of trusted information, and a link to the outside world during and after crises. That second role magnifies libraries’ need for robust and resilient broadband connections.

Major natural disasters like wildfires, mudslides, and earthquakes can temporarily place entire communities on the wrong side of the digital divide at a time when access to connectivity may be a matter of life and death. Damage to cell towers and utility poles can sever individuals from the networks that allow them to communicate and access information and resources.

As residential internet connections and mobile devices fail, people flock to their local library branches in search of power and a Wi-Fi connection. In the wake of California’s wildfires in Napa and Mendocino counties in 2017, for example, libraries saw a huge spike in demand for broadband services. During that crisis—and following other disasters elsewhere in the country—libraries’ public technology services allowed affected individuals to report themselves safe, locate loved ones, apply for FEMA relief, and plan their next steps.

Libraries rise to the needs of their community during crisis. After observing the critical role that libraries played in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, for example, the New Jersey State Library decided to help libraries lean into their role as “information First Responders,” publishing a “Librarian’s Disaster Planning and Community Resiliency Guidebook,” as well as a workbook library staff can use to prepare to support their communities during and after a crisis.

In practice, preparing a library to provide connectivity during and after a catastrophic event will also better equip the library to address gaps in connectivity at all other times. The technology requirements are largely the same for both tasks.

With good planning and hardened communication infrastructure, libraries can serve as beacons of connectivity when their communities need it the most. To make their broadband connections more resilient, libraries can seek to add path diversity to their networks, keep redundant network components on hand for emergency deployment, and install a backup power supply.

For more insight, see the two white papers we recently prepared for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation: “Technical Guidance Regarding Broadband Infrastructure for Libraries” and “Connecting Libraries to the Future.” CTC also recently developed an estimate of the cost to build fiber to connect all unserved libraries and other anchor institutions nationwide; that report, prepared for the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB), was part of SHLB’s effort to develop a concrete strategy for addressing the rural digital divide.

Published: Thursday, August 16, 2018 by CTC Technology & Energy



Don’t Relax Too Much — the Next E-rate Cycle Is Just Around the Corner!

Heather Mills, Senior Analyst & Director of Operations, CTC Technology & Energy

If your organization is receiving broadband funding under the federal E-rate program (formally known as the Schools and Libraries Program), you finished certifying your funding request paperwork (Form 471) in May and are breathing easy. You might already have received your Funding Commitment Decision Letter (FCDL) for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2018. If so, you probably are quite relaxed about E-rate right now.

Before you check out for the rest of the summer, though, it’s time to start strategizing through the next two (if not three) E-rate funding cycles. Why? The further in advance you examine your organization’s future needs, evaluate your options, and set your broadband strategies, the better prepared you will be to potentially maximize your E-rate funding requests. This will help you make sure your students, teachers, and library patrons are getting the connectivity they need to teach and learn.

When the FCC “modernized” E-rate in late 2014—the first change in 18 years—it prioritized funding to allow schools and libraries additional flexibility and options for purchasing services or even building their own networks to meet connectivity goals (including obtaining gigabit service options for their organizations).

More than ever, maximizing E-rate funding means:

  • Carefully quantifying how changing curricula (or patron needs) will increase bandwidth needs in the coming years
  • Evaluating which options for connectivity will be best and most cost-effective for you: purchasing services, leasing dark fiber, or even building your own fiber network
  • Allowing time to compare those options, negotiate contracts, and make the case in your E-rate request

School districts that are thinking about building their own fiber networks will need to do a lot more than sign a contract with a service provider. They will need to issue procurement requests, compare their options, make a viable business case, and have conversations with the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC, the FCC’s E-rate administrator) about their choices. In fact, if the selected option involves self-construction, negotiating a contract might take much longer than you think.

But even in the case of procuring conventional lit services from commercial providers, those procurement requests (filed using Form 470) need to be issued and in the field for at least 28 days before the close of the funding application window, which typically comes in late March each year. That means not only filing Form 470s by late January or early February, but also conducting proper studies and planning well before that. Waiting until January to file your Form 470 for a complicated procurement is simply inadvisable.

What other barriers might your organization have internally that will need to be addressed before you can make commitments? It’s important to take those into consideration as part of your overall strategy for utilizing E-rate.

CTC has deep experience in helping school districts and libraries chart effective E-rate strategies. We suggest you consider doing the following as you embark on your next round of strategic planning for use of E-rate:

  • Create a detailed timeline that considers all potential barriers.
  • Understand what contracts you already have in place (for service types and terms) before putting out an RFP. Does the current contract allow your services options to grow without penalty to your organization’s budget? Was it forward-thinking regarding your future needs?
  • Get help writing your RFPs. Filing the Form 470 is relatively straightforward, but creating a comprehensive RFP that gets you quality bids on the services you are looking for can be extremely challenging.
  • Don’t accept poor proposals. If you were clear in your RFP about the services that you wanted and the bidders didn’t respond with proposals that address your requests, they aren’t making your job easier. You need to be able to compare ‘apples-to-apples.’
  • Understand the difference between ‘lowest cost’ and ‘most cost-effective.’ It will make all the difference in how you procure your services!
  • Think about including requirements in your RFPs that benefit local business participation. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but it matters to how the bidders create their proposals.
  • Utilize your standard contract form and terms whenever possible. If the service provider dictates all the terms to you, are you really getting a good deal?
Published: Monday, July 16, 2018 by CTC Technology & Energy



CTC President Joanne Hovis Testifies Before U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee About NTIA Reauthorization Act

CTC President Joanne Hovis testified today before a House subcommittee about the important role that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) plays in broadband policy, in expanding broadband service and device availability, and in expanding digital literacy.

Joanne’s full testimony—delivered to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Communications and Technology as it considers the NTIA Reauthorization Act of 2018—can be downloaded here.

Published: Tuesday, June 26, 2018 by CTC Technology & Energy



Broadband Infrastructure for the Libraries of Today and Tomorrow

CTC Technology & Energy is proud to have prepared two white papers for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation—both aimed at helping libraries with technical and financial guidance as they navigate their needs for broadband today and in the future.

Our first report, “Connecting Libraries to the Future,” is intended to help library professionals strategically plan for their broadband needs. Because libraries serve entire communities, their bandwidth should, ideally, be far greater than the connections residents can access or afford in a coffee shop, at home, or anywhere else. One key recommendation in this report is to quantify the capacity a library needs—creating a bandwidth target that will enable the library not just to meet the public’s information needs, but to support such mission-advancing services as business incubators and telepresence. Read the full report here.

Our second report, “Technical Guidance Regarding Broadband Infrastructure for Libraries,” recognizes that despite the critical importance of broadband connections at public libraries, many community libraries simply do not have sufficient staff resources or technical expertise to secure adequate and competitively priced high-speed connections and network services for their institutions. This paper is designed to aid library staff in making knowledgeable decisions about how to improve their broadband connectivity and create robust networks. Read the full report here.

Published: Monday, June 25, 2018 by CTC Technology & Energy



An FTTP Public–Private Partnership in Salisbury, North Carolina

Tom Asp, Principal Engineer and Analyst
Michael O’Halloran, Staff Analyst
CTC Technology & Energy

CTC congratulates the city of Salisbury, North Carolina, and Hotwire Communications on their successful negotiation of a lease of Salisbury’s fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network, known as Fibrant. This agreement is yet another example of a public–private partnership offering a “win-win” approach to broadband in America. The final agreement enables the City to maintain ownership of the fiber assets, while Hotwire will assume operations and maintenance of the network.

Like many municipal governments that have deployed FTTP, Salisbury “invested in building Fibrant as a municipal utility to encourage economic development, increase competitive opportunities for … existing businesses and provide citizens globally competitive access” to state-of-the-art broadband, according to the City.

However, faced with significant competition from ever-larger national players (the result of merger and acquisition activity in the industry), Fibrant found itself struggling. In January 2017, the City released and heavily promoted a formal request for proposals (RFP) to convey its interest in entering into a contractual arrangement with a third-party provider. Its goal was to enhance the operations, sales, marketing, and delivery of Gigabit-class broadband service to the community.

The RFP asked respondents to articulate their proposed business models; describe their technical, transitional, and operational capabilities; affirm Fibrant’s goals; and present details on their proposed financing, funding, and payments.

After extensive consultation with the City’s advisory committee and CTC, the City Council selected Hotwire’s proposal as the most promising option. Negotiations began in September 2017 and were finalized in March 2018. This week, voters approved the deal.

The Hotwire lease will generate a positive revenue stream for the City that will reduce its required draw from the general fund. The agreement also:

  • Brings Hotwire’s scale and expertise to the City
  • Offers enhanced services to Salisbury residents and businesses
  • Maintains Fibrant’s network performance and customer service standards
  • Upgrades Fibrant’s existing electronics and delivery platform
  • Lets the City avoid an estimated $5 million equipment refresh that will be required in the next five to seven years

Read more about Salisbury, Fibrant, and the lease negotiation process here.

Published: Friday, May 11, 2018 by CTC Technology & Energy



Sublette County, WY, Releases Broadband RFI

Sublette County, Wyoming, has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to solicit ideas and informal proposals from private sector entities that may have an interest in working with the County to address gaps in middle-mile connectivity and enable high-quality broadband service to businesses throughout the County.

The County hopes this initiative will support and accelerate private providers’ efforts to improve broadband service options in the County, potentially by utilizing County-owned fiber or conduit assets—or by building their own infrastructure with County financial support.

Response are due to the County by June 8, 2018.

Read the RFI here.

Published: Thursday, May 3, 2018 by CTC Technology & Energy



An FTTP Milestone in Alford, Massachusetts

Matthew DeHaven, Principal Engineer, CTC Technology & Energy

Congratulations to the rural town of Alford, Massachusetts, on this week’s ribbon cutting for a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network. The event—held at a new telecommunications hut next to the town’s fire station—is a key milestone, and a remarkable achievement for a town of only about 500 residents.

CTC is proud to have designed Alford’s FTTP network, called AlfordLink. The network, which is still under construction, will provide 1 Gigabit service for $110 per month and telephone service for $12.95. So far, AlfordLink has 102 subscribers.

The town borrowed $1.6 million to build the network and will also receive $480,000 in state grant funds through the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, a state agency, toward construction costs.

It is also noteworthy that Alford’s public broadband entity (a municipal lighting plant, or MLP) forged a strong partnership with another municipal utility to enable this project. Through an intergovernmental agreement, Whip City Fiber—the broadband arm of Westfield Gas & Electric, in Westfield, Massachusetts—will be AlfordLink’s operator and service provider.

Tuesday’s event was attended by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito; Peter Puciloski, chair of the Alford MLP board; and other local officials.

Published: Thursday, April 26, 2018 by CTC Technology & Energy



CTC Guide Details Best Practices for Government Network Resiliency and Security

Andrew Afflerbach, PhD, P.E.
CEO & Director of Engineering

A high-profile “ransomware” cyberattack on Atlanta’s city network last month brought attention to the need for municipalities and other public agencies to understand and take steps to mitigate risks to public networks caused by malicious attacks or natural disasters. Our new “Network Resiliency and Security Playbook” details strategies and best practices for doing just that.

While it is not possible to mitigate all risks—and high levels of protection generally come with higher costs—local governments and agencies can cost-effectively protect their networks by first taking key steps to ensure proper system design and resiliency, and then following best practices to maintain physical and data security.

The National Institute for Hometown Security (NIHS), under a contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Infrastructure Protection (DHS/IP), commissioned CTC to write the playbook. The report draws on both independent research and our experience designing and engineering resilient and secure communications infrastructure for public sector clients nationwide.

As our report details, protecting a network against threats requires:

  • Ensuring that strategic planning processes take resiliency and security into account, and that decisions are made based on lifetime costs.
  • Working regionally by developing formal or informal consortia for information sharing, joint procurement, best practices, and joint exercises.
  • Building segmentation and resiliency into infrastructure, such as through virtual separation of different kinds of communications according to sensitivity, departments, or users.
  • Making use of widely available security education resources, such as those available from DHS.
  • Training for emergencies—both internally (by department or government) and with regional counterparts.
  • Developing procedures to back up and restore compromised systems, and having redundant systems and plans in place should the primary system fail.
  • Hiring and training appropriate staff (especially individuals who have significant experience with similar infrastructure) and keeping information security functions separate from IT functions.

Some best practices are relatively straightforward and perennial. They include ensuring that software undergoes routine security updates, that data are regularly backed up, that redundant power supplies are in place, and that public agencies have the capacity to manage these processes. But the report is meant also to address larger strategic and organizational issues, and to provide practical, actionable, and cost-effective strategies.

In all cases—and as our report explains—it is incumbent on the government agencies operating or overseeing the networks to understand the benefits and limitations of available solutions, and to properly specify hardware, software, and services.

Read the full report here.

Published: Thursday, April 5, 2018 by CTC Technology & Energy



NCLM Publishes Paper Co-Written by CTC President Joanne Hovis

The North Carolina League of Municipalities today released a report jointly written by CTC’s president, Joanne Hovis, and NCLM’s legislative counsel, Erin Wynia, describing how closing gaps in North Carolinians’ access to reliable broadband will require state policy changes that enable and encourage local governments, non-profits and private-sector providers to enter into innovative partnerships.

The policy recommendations in the report, “Leaping the Digital Divide: Encouraging Policies and Partnerships to Improve Broadband Access Across North Carolina,”  include:

1. Mandating installation of underground conduit to house fiber optic cables each time state entities, such as the Department of Transportation and the North Carolina Railroad, undertake projects that require digging along public rights-of-way, allowing that conduit to be used in the future by internet service providers.

2. Instituting “dig once” policies that require utility providers, when undertaking a project in a right-of-way, to coordinate with local governments so that conduit and fiber can be installed as other infrastructure is built or updated.

3. Creating digital literacy programs and providing incentives to low-income customers to improve adoption rates and help drive more investment by internet service providers of all types.

The report calls for policy to clarify and enhance local governments’ authority to raise and spend money for broadband infrastructure and lease that infrastructure to private and non-profit entities to provide retail service. It also recommends that the state create a competitive grant fund, similar to those in other states, within the N.C. Broadband Infrastructure Office that would appropriate dollars to public and private entities for broadband projects.

CTC has extensive experience nationwide on forging public-private partnerships; more background on the firm’s work in this area is available here.  Notably, CTC last year co-authored The Emerging World of Broadband Public–Private Partnerships: A Business Strategy and Legal Guide, published by the Benton Foundation.

Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 by CTC Technology & Energy