As OIT prepares for the new broadband data collection process, we delivered the last data set to the NTIA for the State Broadband Initiative. Overall we received very good participation in this effort. Out of the 121 broadband providers that we are aware of, 109 supplied us with data (90%). The lists of the providers that we are aware of and the ones that provided us data are included at the end of this article.
OIT is now processing the data to make it available in our web map of broadband service, and we are starting to analyze the results of the data. According to this most recent data set, broadband availability statewide has increased by 0.09% and in rural areas by 0.29%. This availability threshold is set at 3 Mbps download speed because that is the closest boundary of the NTIA-prescribed tiers to the definition of broadband that the FCC has been using until very recently (4 Mbps). Figure 1 shows the new areas that have broadband service available to them. These areas appear to be primarily in the south central part of the state.
We recognize that this definition of broadband is not as relevant now. Remember that the new broadband data collection process will not be requesting data according to the NTIA tiers, so we will be able define and map broadband service according a speed that is most appropriate for Colorado’s needs.
Perhaps more informative, given the nature of the data that we receive, is the percentage of households in the state that may receive increased speed in October relative to previous data deliveries. This delivery, we saw 7.75% of the households across the state have higher broadband speeds available, and 8.22% of rural households have higher speeds available relative to April of this year. The reason why this metric is useful is because, while there may be issues related to over-reporting or other aspects that impact the overall accuracy of the map, this become less critical when comparing data from one time period to data from an earlier period. That is, the assumptions and other issues that may impact the representation of service are generally consistent from one delivery to another, so comparing two time slices shows how service has changed based on those assumptions. Figure 2 shows the areas that have experienced increases in the maximum speed available from April to October. It is important to note that these increases are more widespread in the state.
These differences in speed are based on speed tiers. That is, areas are shown as having increased speed available if the maximum available speed in those areas jumped one or more tiers. In areas where the maximum available speed is one of the higher tiers, the speed increase would have to be much larger than lower tier areas to register in this calculation of speed increase, because the higher tiers cover a broad range of speeds. As we move forward with the new data collection process, which won’t be limited to the NTIA-defined tiers, we will be able to identify areas that have significant increases in available speeds using more consistent difference ranges.
Program Participants October 2014
Click here for a full list of Broadband Providers in Colorado
A cherished frontier tradition from the Old West—friends and neighbors pulling together for a common cause—has helped bring 21st-century telecommunications technology to a remote school and the community it serves in central Colorado’s high country.
Through a classic display of pioneer spirit, a can-do mind-set—and the timely intervention of a rural Colorado telephone company—the Guffey Community Charter School’s 39 students as well as surrounding homes and businesses for the first time have a viable link to the Internet and all that it brings. Particularly for the kids, it has opened up a whole new world of learning.
Tiny Guffey, about an hour and a half west of Colorado Springs, had been all but cut off from the Net. No high-speed access was available through regulated land-line provider CenturyLink, and no other provider seemed willing or able to step in. All that tethered Guffey residents, businesses and public facilities to the digital world was a rudimentary satellite link, which meant endless buffering and loading for even the simplest procedures.
“They were an unserved area,” says David Shipley, business manager at South Park Telephone Co., based in nearby Hartsel.
Then about a year ago, Park County officials began hosting community meetings to gauge the demand for high-speed Net access around the county, particularly for schools and libraries, and to figure out how to provide it.
Spearheaded by County Commissioner Mike Brazell, the effort zeroed in on the Guffey Community Charter School as a prime candidate for an upgraded Net link. The K-8 public school was the only educational institution of any kind for miles around and served all of Guffey’s children, so its need was especially great.
That’s when Brazell and the county reached out to Shipley and South Park Telephone, which serves some 600 square miles of Park County and provides broadband net access over a fixed wireless platform supported by a middle-mile fiber-optic network. While the company could not offer land-line phone service to the Guffey area under Public Utilities Commission regulations, it could beam in broadband if it had the right access point.
The phone company, the county, the school and its many supporters went to work on a plan of action. Right next to the school was a workable location for an access point that could receive a microwave transmission from a South Park Telephone transmitter atop Dick’s Peak.
However, the school needed to acquire the 20-acre parcel to accommodate the receiver. So, it set out to raise the funds. The school was able to tap into philanthropy from the Colorado Springs-based El Pomar Foundation as well as the Cripple Creek-Victor Mine. An area ranch chipped in, and a grant from the Park County Conservation Trust helped, as well. So did a whole lot of small donations from the school’s loyal parents and neighbors, says Guffey Community Charter Principal Pam Moore. South Park Telephone donated the 50-foot telephone pole needed to pick up the microwave signal and the receiver, and the school bought the solar-powered equipment to power the system.
It all translates to no less than a telecommunications breakthrough for Guffey, and on Sept. 30, the school and the entire community celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Moore says the students themselves were given a chance to weigh in at the gathering, attesting to what it all means.
“They were delighted. Every single kid had a moment to tell the story. It was a very emotional time,” says Moore.
“Some of our families just have a cell phone. Many have no computers at home.”
Shipley notes that before the big leap forward, the school’s students had to be bused some 30 miles to Fairplay just to take statewide assessment tests. And Moore says yet other scholastic tools are available to students now that they can access them via computer. Indeed, Guffey’s schoolchildren at last can catch up with the strides being made through online learning by their peers across much of the rest of Colorado.
Students can access an online interactive reading program for example. And an online interactive math program enables the school to move students forward through the curriculum at their own pace, addressing each child’s specific needs and abilities.
“It meets the children where they are at,” Moore says.
“This is huge,” she says. “It really opens up a portal to the world.”
Shipley, meanwhile, reflects on how the whole effort brought the community together—a case of civic pride meets basic need, a public-private partnership if ever there was one. Residents, many of modest means, pitched in alongside local government, charitable foundations and private enterprise.
Says Shipley, “At the end of the day, all of us made it happen.”
Here’s an often overlooked fact: The same grant that funded the broadband mapping efforts and our Local Technology Planning Team project had a third component; to help Colorado’s rural schools provide the necessary classroom content for their students through video based Distance Learning (DL).
For the past three years, OIT’s DL team has been traveling the same roads (literally and figuratively) as our broadband team attempting to ensure that all students in Colorado have access to the education content they need to succeed.
Originally tasked with installing the traditional “carts” of equipment needed to enable video-based distance learning (usually costing around $10,000) at 12 schools accross the state, the team installed 14 installations and helped dozens more schools take advantage of their existing equipment. In addition, the team worked with education content providers from across the state, county and world to increase the amount of education content available for schools using distance learning.
While both of these accomplishments are significant, the greatest achievement was completely unexpected. As the program progressed a breakthrough in technology changed the entire landscape of distance learning. The rapid advancement of cloud-based video conferencing systems we have finally broken down the largest barrier to ubiquitous distance learning, cost. What once cost a school $10,000 per classroom can now be done with a laptop, USB camera and a broadband connection.
While we have achieved incredible success with the program, the funding will expire at the end of this year and it’s future is unknown. We are beginning the process of engaging key education stakeholders to help us identify a business owner for the project as well as the necessary funding to continue and even expand the program. We have developed a white paper titled Distance Learning in Colorado: Access Anywhere to Education Everywhere that summarizes our efforts and outlines our vision of the future. Please take a few moments to read the document and pass it along to the education stakeholders in your community as we believe this program is critical to the overall success of our broadband efforts.
Quick, what’s the one thing you can’t do without? Your Smartphone right? Now think how frustrating it is when you don’t have coverage or it takes forever to upload your newest Facebook pictures.
Now imagine you’re a police officer pulling up to an explosive situation and you’re trying to get information on the suspects, layouts of the building and communicate with other officers but you can’t because your phone won’t work because everyone around you is uploading pictures to Facebook! This is the problem that our first responders currently face and what the FirstNet effort intends to solve.
The First Responder Network Authority or FirstNet is a national effort to design, build and operate a nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to first responders. Just as first responders have their own voice network that is hardened and dedicated to their needs, FirstNet will provide that same level of performance and reliability for their increasingly complex communication needs.
Created through a federal law in 2012, FirstNet is working with every state to understand their unique public safety needs and define the requirements for the national network. Every state has a State Point of Contact (SPOC), which for Colorado is OIT (Brian Shepherd) and is tasked with coordinating the statewide effort and both a local and state level and across all public safety disciplines. Working with the public safety stakeholders within Colorado and local governments, OIT helped establishe the FirstNet Colorado Governing Body that oversees the program and ensures the the ultimate users of the network, first responders are involved in its development.
The FirstNet Colorado team within OIT is currently traveling the state to engage and work with first responders and key stakeholders to begin this process. The team has created a comprehensive website that will provide you with the background, current efforts and information on how to engage the process. Please visit www.firstnetcolorado.org to find out everything you need to know about the program. We will continue to keep everyone up-to-date on key developments and encourage you to engage with your local first responder community to become involved in the creation this first-of-its-kind communications network!
As we continue to move forward towards our goal of statewide broadband access, we (OIT) are continually analyzing our approach and modifying our efforts to fit the needs of the state. With the increase in LTPTs coupled with the regional planning efforts under way we have been evaluating the overall needs of all stakeholders and what it is that OIT can do to contribute. With the great success of Mountain Connect this year, we have also been looking at how we can keep the statewide conversation going and continue to build on the relationships that events such as Mountain Connect foster. We received tremendous feedback on the LTPT and regional stakeholder meeting we had on the Sunday afternoon before Mountain Connect and want to continue that momentum.
One of the initial efforts OIT put forward was the creation of the “Broadband Knights of the Roundtable”. We began with a handful of key stakeholders meeting monthly to discuss broadband opportunities and issues throughout the state. While we believe this effort helped initiate much of our current momentum, we have shifted from talking about possibilities to working on solutions and therefore our needs have changed.
With all of this in mind we have transitioned away from the idea of a separate “Broadband Knights of the Roundtable” group and towards a more collective, structured forum for sharing ideas and learning what is going on throughout the state.
We recently launched a series of quarterly meetings for all stakeholders (public and private) to have the opportunity to come together and share perspectives and experiences on local and regional broadband efforts. These will be half-day meetings with the first two hours dedicated to an open “roundtable” discussion and the remaining two hours used for presentation on specific topics and focused discussion on key issues. Our goal is that these “Conversations for a Connected Colorado” will maintain the statewide efforts and foster new ideas.
With the Mountain Connect conference continuing to be the catalyst, these quarterly meetings will be held in different regions of the state and will always have a virtual attendance option. We will announce specific dates, times, and locations as they are planned, but the general upcoming schedule is as follows:
Fall Meeting Recap
The initial meeting was held on September 18th in Walsenburg. With over 80 participants in person and online throughout the meeting, we began the meeting with a discussion about what the stakeholders want from these quarterly meetings and what are the current statewide needs. We received great input from the meeting attendees and this information will help us shape the purpose and goals of future meetings. This discussion was followed by updates from the various regional and local broadband planning efforts throughout the state. Lastly, we presented updates on current OIT efforts including Distance Learning and FirstNet, and updates on other current issues including the Broadband Fund & Board and the FCC Rural Broadband Experiments.
If you were not able to attend, or would like to revisit the meeting please visit the following resources:
Summary of Planning Updates
OIT is continuing to define the new broadband data development process. The broadband service database will proceed as a means for Coloradans to identify where broadband service is inadequate or nonexistent. It will allow policy makers to discern where policies or, potentially funding, should be focused within the state to improve broadband service. Accordingly, the database should be as accurate as possible, but also indicate the reliability of the data and where the data should be improved to assist with decision making.
The Colorado broadband data is not a static map. It is a dynamic database with multiple layers. These layers include:
As in the past, the data will still be displayed on a public facing map to give an overall perspective on broadband in the state, but more detailed information from the database may be shared with Local Technology Planning Teams and other broadband stakeholders, particularly in consultation with OIT.
Community Anchor Institutions (CAIs)
OIT will continue to refine its database of CAIs to produce an accurate comprehensive database of the locations of these facilities as well as information about the broadband service available to them. We will improve the database locationally through feedback from county GIS departments, where present and LTPTs.
OIT will compare county GIS data regarding CAI locations to OIT’s data. Locations missing from OIT’s database will be entered into the database. Differences between OIT’s and the County’s data will be reported back to the County and reconciled with them. LTPTs will be asked to review OIT’s CAI data and report errors or omissions in the locations of the CAIs. In addition, the LTPTs can assist in reaching out to the CAIs to collect broadband information. In addition, wherever possible organizational networks that can connect OIT with multiple CAIs will be leveraged (e.g., Colorado Telehealth Network for health care facilities) to collect this information or assist with outreach to individual institutions.
Broadband Service Data
Broadband providers will continue to be the first source of information about this service. The primary information will be speed of service that they provide. The information requested of broadband service providers will allow for the maximum fidelity in the data with minimum interpretation by OIT personnel. If data of lower precision or fidelity is given to OIT, OIT staff will have to make judgements about the service available based on the knowledge available to the personnel. The preferred information requested from wireline broadband providers in order of preference will be:
The preferred information from fixed wireless broadband providers will be:
OIT has received comments that the NTIA’s requirement that service be available within five days of providing data on service coverage is too restrictive. We are considering alternative definitions for available broadband. For example, if a broadband service provider has started construction on the infrastructure or has acquired land or rights to property for such infrastructure, the area corresponding to the location of this infrastructure may be represented with broadband service.
Broadband service data will be referenced to geographic areas defined by the Public Land Survey System. That is, geographic units will be attributed with the speed available within that unit, based on the information provided. The units will be divided (e.g., sections into quarter sections, quarter sections into quarter quarter sections) based whether the presence of broadband service cover a portion of the unit or if there is variation in the development of the unit based on OIT’s address point data. For example, if a section appears developed only in one part of the section, it will be further divided into quarter sections to provide more spatial specificity in the representation of broadband service.
OIT will work closely with LTPTs, regional planning efforts or other local stakeholders to verify the broadband coverage. OIT will conduct intensive workshops to review the service representation in these areas. OIT is requesting feedback from local stakeholders that identifies where the OIT data is incorrect. Specifically, the feedback should take the form of the address where attempts have been made to obtain service and the response from each of the providers that should be servicing that address based on OIT’s data. With this specific feedback, the coverage representation will be adjusted according to the local experience.
OIT will assign a confidence level to each geographic unit represented in the broadband service data. This will allow OIT and other users of the data to identify where the data is less accurate or reliable and therefore needs refinement.
The initial confidence in the data will be based on the source data from each broadband provider. The most accurate or precise data will receive the highest confidence level. Confidence may be reduced with:
Conversely, confidence may be incrementally increased with:
OIT will provide detailed speed test locations and results to LTPTs, but our public facing web map will aggregate the speed tests and their results providing high level information about where test exist and their general results. We will work with LTPTs and other stakeholders to increase speed tests in areas where the broadband service data is lower in confidence and where there are gaps in speed tests.
In an effort to identify the state owned and managed assets that could potentially help expand broadband access and capacity in Colorado, OIT has been working to create a GIS based statewide broadband asset inventory. While we are still in the middle of this process we are excited to communicate the progress that has been made.
Our initial focus has been to identify and inventory tower assets managed by OIT and fiber assets managed by CDOT. Within OIT, we have been working with our statewide Digital Trunked Radio System (DTRS) team that managed the public safety network to identify the state owned tower assets. At the same time, we have been working with the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) group within CDOT to integrate their existing data as well as partnering to identify additional assets.
While we are making progress towards creating a usable database, we have not yet formed the necessary use policy that will accompany the inventory. Many of the assets that are managed by the state are used for public safety and other critical infrastructure purposes, and we must ensure these functions are protected in any type of policy that is developed. We have started to review other state policies related to these issues and will begin working towards a formal policy soon.
It is also important to note that in regards to towers, the state does not necessarily own all towers that are currently used for state purposes. Many are owned by counties, municipalities or the federal government. While OIT cannot influence the potential use of these assets we can help facilitate discussions with the entities who do own then. For example, OIT has been working to coordinate efforts in Lake County with the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), who owns some of the towers used by the state in that area.
We often are asked “What about private assets?”. We have had conversations with the private carriers on this topic and the response is varied. We have some carriers who are willing to contribute their data to this effort while others believe such information is proprietary and critical to their competitive advantage. We intend to respect all perspectives regarding these assets and will be working with those carriers who wish to participate.
Though we have made progress towards our ultimate goal, we realized there is still a lot of work to be done. We understand the significance of this effort and are committed to developing the best possible end-product that will help reach our broadband goals. Our next major goals are:
This introductory report from the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG) Regional Broadband planning team explains how and why this initiative started, where we are today, and plans for the future. Subsequent reports released by NWCCOG will focus on current progress and milestones.
In 2013 the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments undertook the development of a regional broadband strategic plan with the intent of improving broadband throughout the region for three primary reasons:
The regional participants include all of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments members (Eagle, Grand, Jackson, Pitkin and Summit Counties; most municipalities in those counties; Steamboat Springs; Glenwood Springs; and Carbondale). Additionally, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt Counties chose to participate.
Each county appointed a representative to serve on a Broadband Steering Committee to help guide the efforts of the NWCCOG Broadband program. This committee still meets on an as- needed basis to share successes, work items, and Broadband initiatives and challenges in their communities.
With assistance from a Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) grant, NWCCOG issued an RFP and selected Mid States Consultants, with Paul Reconzone from OHIvey as the project lead, to create a strategic plan for the region. The final Regional Broadband Strategic Plan was completed in December 2013.
In early 2014, NWCCOG transitioned its Broadband program from strategic planning to initiative driven implementation. Nate Walowitz was hired as the NWCCOG Regional Broadband Coordinator in April to lead this effort. A Regional Project Plan was quickly developed using recommendations from the overall strategic plan, as well as meetings and site visits with all of the region’s governmental stakeholders.
Funding for the development of the Strategic Plan and the Regional Broadband Coordinator position is provided, in part, through a grant from DOLA.
In June 2014, the NWCCOG Broadband Steering Committee approved a project plan that included 23 initiatives to be implemented in 2014 and 2015. Progress on these initiatives is being accomplished through close teamwork with our governmental and Economic Development District partners. To date, the NWCCOG team has made significant progress on the following projects:
The team continues to forge close relationships with multiple levels of government officials and existing or potential service providers. This has allowed NWCCOG to develop synergistic conversations and relationships which benefit broadband initiatives within each of our jurisdictions and the region as a whole.
NWCCOG is working to address some common challenges across the region. The lack of population density, distance between population centers, and our mountainous terrain clearly affects the business case for service providers planning to create or extend their Broadband infrastructure in our region. To help off-set these economic factors, we are working closely with our stakeholders, service providers and the State Office of Information Technology to coordinate and prepare responses for FCC Rural Broadband Expansion Experiments funding.
In an effort to create a common operating picture for the NW Region, NWCCOG hosted a Broadband Workshop on August 18th. The workshop brought together county commissioners, planners, IT and economic development officials to share their approaches to telecommunications with the intent to develop a common understanding of the impacts that planning and zoning requirements can have on the economics of deploying broadband wireless communications systems. The governmental representatives also had an opportunity to share their broadband needs with service providers and to learn from them how local governments can ease deployment challenges for expanded rural broadband installation.
Finally, NWCCOG is actively engaging with regional and local economic development councils to understand the population, visitor, and business metrics for each area and how Broadband availability and performance affects each community.
As you can see, the undertaking is enormous but essential in order to create a sustainable business model for our communities. We look forward to making significant progress throughout the coming months.
On July 14th The FCC issued a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 14-98) formally implementing the Rural Broadband Experiment Program proposed in January and the source of the “Letters of Interest” that many of you submitted. The complete order is available at: http://www.fcc.gov/document/rural-broadband-experiments-order
Here are some of the program highlights:
Overall we believe there are several eligible areas within the state that have great potential based on what we know is happening in those regions. As always, there are some areas within the state that do not appear as eligible that we believe should be. We will be contacting the FCC to inquire about a mechanism to challenge their data but based on the fact that this program is part of the larger Connect America Fund we believe the odds are against such challenges. We will provide a detailed map of eligible areas in the coming weeks and we will work closely with entities interested in applying in order to map the specific eligible census tracts and blocks in greater detail.
OIT held a conference call on July 22nd to review the order with those that are interested in the program and will continue to offer to assist those who wish to pursue this opportunity through the grant process. The entities that will ultimately apply for funds must lead the way and drive the application process but OIT will be available to coordinate, facilitate, review documents, etc. If you have specific questions on the program or wish to have OIT provide additional explanation please contact Brian Shepherd or Megan Chadwick
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