The Beckville Network — DIY Fiber Innovation

By Russ Steele

Access to the VAST fiber optic network in Western Nevada County is . . . “what we need”

“I’m self-employed from a home office. Access to this broadband has improved my productivity immensely and reduced downtime. I often have to watch videos for research or shuttle large files to clients, and now I never have to worry about somebody else in the household (like my teenage son) using streaming services at the same time. We all get what we need.

Beckville Network Board Member

I learned about the innovative Beckville Network and it’s connection to the VAST fiber network in Nevada County from Peter Brown and Chelsea Walterscheid at the Sierra Business Council when Peter interviewed me for his Nevada County Broadband Strategic Plan Project. During the interview, he told me about a recent meeting he had with Mike McLaughlin, Beckville Network CEO. Mike is the lead innovator for the non-profit corporation that operates the network. 

Why a non-profit corporation? VAST will not provide service to an individual, only business or corporation. To gain access to the VAST fiber network required the formation of a formal business entity, in this case, a non-profit corporation.

I contacted Mike by email and he graciously agrees to an internet interview, which I have edited for length and clarity 

The Beckville Network is a fixed wireless network with a point of presence (POP) on the VAST Fiber network that follows Newtown Road west of Nevada City. The POP provides dedicated 200Mbps symmetrical access. From the POP the Corporation provides Wireless bi-directional services to 13 neighborhood households at speeds between 50 – 120 Mbps, with a latency of 12-15 ms, according to Mike.

Russ: How is the broadband distributed . . .?

Mike: “Our distribution is entirely fixed wireless. My house is the “main hub” and we have 2 other repeater sites, one is another member house, the other is on a members hilltop and is an entirely off-grid, solar powered, relay tower.”

Russ: Estimated start-up development costs and how was the development finances?

Mike: “We started up with 10 members for under $10,000. Joining members cover a share of the startup costs. We were able to bootstrap the network from the membership. “

Russ: The fee to join the network:

Mike: “The current fee is $500. This helps us buy all the necessary equipment and helps recoup some of the initial investment for the original members (who get paid back in lower cost service).” 

Russ: The average monthly user fees?

“$50-70. It is tiered based on when you joined and how many members we have. Our goal is $40-50/month once we have about 20 members.”

Russ: What is the growth potential?

Mike: “It’s limited by volunteer input.  Our goal right now is to get to 20 member households and then revisit our desire to continue growing. I believe this is a number where the monthly fees are low and the maintenance time and costs also stay low. One thing we have always had in mind was trying to inspire more local micro-ISPs and lend a hand where we can.”

Russ: What were the challenges in creating your non-profit corporation?  

Mike: “. . .There are definitely positives and negatives to the business entity. Doing it over again, I would at least consider a co-op model, especially if I wanted to try to grow it further. The non-profit was chosen primarily for the goodwill aspect, . .”

This project should inspire others to follow the Beckville Network model and learn from Mike’ experience. As he indicated above Mike is willing to help others form a micro-ISP. VAST has been very clear from the beginning they are not interested in working with individual users while providing access to businesses and corporations.

More of Nevada County can have access to a fiber optic network if they are willing to invest in the time and effort required to organize a neighborhood and create a corporate entity.  Mike and the Beckville Board of Directors have proven it can be done.  Let’s have less complaining about the lack of broadband access in Nevada County and more action!

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Least Connected

This link is to an award-winning article examining the lack of connectivity on an Idaho Indian Reservation. The article reminded me of the struggle people who live in North San Juan have with connectivity. There was a ridge top with some connectivity. Each morning cars gathered on a temporary parking area and with coffee cup in hand passengers downloaded their mail and crafted some replies, collected product orders, and work assignments and then went home. Later in the evening, the same groups of vehicles assembled to repeat the processes, with an additional movie download for the evening entertainment.

While this article is about connective on a Reservation, many other communities across America struggle for some connectivity.

Full Article is HERE.

 

Buy Local (Including Broadband)

 

An article in Broadband Communities Magazine by Eric Ogle

Ogle’s conclusion:

As corporate service providers continue to shortchange many rural communities on the services they should provie, they also remove tremendous amounts of money from communities. Given the public outcry for buy-local campaigns, why isn’t there a similar outcry for buy-local campaigns focused on local broadband service?

In the example provided, through a sustainable partnership with the local utility, what long-term local economic impact would result if a utility-anchored broadband initiative were able to capture 50 percent – or even a third or a quarter – of the market?

As with many public infrastructure projects, utility-provided broadband is deployed for the common good, and many benefits occur “off the balance sheet” in terms of enhanced economic opportunities and quality-of-life improvements. So instead of wondering how it can afford to offer broadband services, given the money that is lost each year to corporate providers with inferior services, a community should wonder instead how long it can afford not to offer broadband services.

It has been my experience, that AT&T moves much faster to improve broadband services when threatened by competition.

Today: Senate Commerce Committee Focus on 5G

— Senate Commerce Committee members will question wireless industry executives about the state of next-generation wireless. Here are some things to keep in mind as the hearing gets underway:

— Will Congress legislate? Last year, Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tussled with city governments over their STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act, S. 3157 (115) , aimed at easing local restrictions on 5G equipment. Thune said Tuesday he would welcome “a chance to drop that bill again” and said he’s talking with Schatz about options for a reintroduction. “Obviously some of the steps that are being taken by the FCC are helping clear the path for buildout and for investment and we’d hope to see that continue,” he said. Schatz, however, said he’s undecided on bringing back the measure.

— National security looms large: Expect the hearing to delve into U.S. concerns about Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE and whether they pose a threat to 5G networks. Lawmakers want to ensure “we’re winning the race to 5G and that we’re not aiding and abetting the Chinese in winning that race,” said Thune, adding, “They’ve obviously been attempting for some time now to steal our technology.” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) agreed. “A lot of focus will be on network security,” Gardner predicted. “How we build it into the system from ground up. In many cases, that’s the advantage of 5G, is how we can do this from ground up.”

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

A Neighborhood Broadband Initiative

by Russ Steele

Vast Networks, a middle-mile and last mile fiber infrastructure provider based in Fresno, CA, provides commercial fiber network services through the heart of the western Sierra Nevada foothills from Jamestown in Tuolumne County to Grass Valley and Nevada City in Nevada County. The Vast fiber network was funded through federal ARRA and state CASF grants in 2010. It is now complete and is supply high-speed Internet services on its route. However, this post is about a connection in Nevada County.

Nevada County High Speed Internet

It is hard to see on the map, but the fiber network goes down Newtown Road. I just learned that a neighborhood of seven families recently bought a connection to this commercial network. They formed a non-profit corporation and contracted with Vast for a point of presence on the Vast Network. Now all seven home have high-speed internet for personal and business use. When the fiber came down their road, they took the initiative to get connected. They did not wait for the Government to force the phone or cable company to bring them high-speed internet. We need more if this kind of initiative!

Organized in 1995 CVIN LLC (dba Vast Networks) is comprised of affiliates of independent telephone companies located in Central and Northern California. They offer a full line of network services to telecommunications companies in the area. More detail on the Vast website HERE.

Note, Vast does not provide services to individual homeowners, they service business. Thus, the needed to form a non-profit corporation. More details when they come available. Watch for updates.

High-Speed Internet Project for Nevada County Gets Green Light (Docs)

The California Public Utilities Commission has signaled approval of the sale of Bright Fiber Inc. to Race Communications with some changes, a move that after months of inaction advances a high-speed internet project in Nevada County.

The CPUC on Monday released a resolution detailing the changes, which include having 75 percent of the project on existing utility poles instead of “primarily underground.” Additionally, the utilities commission grant — which comprises 60 percent of the total project cost — will be reduced by almost $70,000, for a total of $16,086,789.

The utility commission must approve the sale — a vote scheduled for Jan. 10.

Read the Rest of the Story in The Union

 

CA Economic Summit: Resilient rural communities built on upgraded infrastructure, faster broadband for all

The ability to purchase a home is vital to the foundation of a thriving community. As Chair of the Golden State Finance Authority (GSFA), I have seen firsthand the benefits that homeownership affords California’s local communities. GSFA has supported affordable homeownership in California for over two decades, providing homeownership programs featuring competitive interest rates and down payment assistance.

Over the past 25 years, GSFA has helped more than 74,800 individuals and families purchase homes and provided over $537 million in down payment assistance, as well as provided financing for over 30,000 residential or commercial energy efficiency projects.

While GSFA is doing its part to expand access to affordable homeownership in the state, homeownership alone does not constitute a thriving community. Every community needs jobs for its residents and a solid infrastructure platform on which to build its local economy. In 2018, it is vital that such an infrastructure platform include not only high-functioning traditional infrastructure such as water, sewer, and transportation systems, but also a robust broadband network that is accessible to all.

Working through its affiliate organization, the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), GSFA has identified a number of industry-specific areas of focus for their economic development strategy in California’s rural counties, including broadband and infrastructure. RCRC’s economic development team is working with a network of economic development professionals in RCRC’s 36 member counties to support and catalyze programs and projects that result in job and investment generation.

Rural Broadband Deployment

High-speed broadband deployment in rural California is one of the most critical missing infrastructure components. Its absence often precludes unserved and underserved communities from participating in the 21st century economy. High-speed broadband provides essential benefits by allowing increased economic and trade opportunities for small to medium-sized businesses, access to medical care (telehealth/telemedicine) and educational opportunities, and enhanced public safety – improving overall quality of life. Speed of commerce service is a critical step in the development of strong rural communities.

Infrastructure

Many communities in rural California are in desperate need of infrastructure upgrades to better serve their residents and businesses, but don’t have the resources, financial or otherwise, to research, apply, and implement these upgrades. These projects include improvements to water, transportation, and community facilities infrastructure. Innovative funding options and other programs that allow for project pooling and access to multiple funding sources that may reduce existing barriers to entry for rural communities must be identified.

The source is HERE. [Emphasis added]