Due diligence continues for sale of fiber-optic system

CHAMPAIGN, IL — The Champaign City Council expressed cautious optimism about the potential buyers of iTV3 on Tuesday night.

The council directed staff and the UC2B board to continue doing their due diligence before approving a deal for iTV3 Inc. to sell Champaign-Urbana’s fiber-optic internet system to a newly formed company, iTV3 LLC, which is owned by wholly-owned company of St.-Louis-based CountryWide Broadband and Seaport Capital of New York.

The buyer will retain the current employees but inject new leadership and money into the current system, which hasn’t experienced the level of expansion desired by local leaders.

Champaign and Urbana, whose council considered the same item Monday, have the right to first refusal to buy the rights to the system, though the cities would then be responsible for running it. Neither council expressed interest in doing that, and neither raised severe concerns about the deal.

Still, the 60- to 90-day process won’t be fast-tracked without proper vetting, despite a promise by Countrywide CEO Grier Raclin that expansion will start immediately after the purchase is made, meaning every day of vetting is a day of construction wasted.

“From a company that is saying all the right things, we owe it to the community to do due diligence,” said Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen. “This is ultimately a community asset. We may lose part of a season here or we may lose a couple weeks, but frankly the big picture is too important.”

by Johnathan Hettinger, The News-Gazette

###

March Board Meeting

The UC2B not-for-profit board will conduct a regular board meeting from 8:30 a.m.-10 a.m. on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 at:

713 Edgebrook Drive
Champaign, IL 61820

Meetings are held monthly on the last Tuesday and are open to the public.

To download a PDF of the board meeting packet, click the link below.

03.29.2016 – UC2B NFP – Meeting Packet

 

Deal could speed up UC2B installation

John Dixon/The News-Gazette Wade story - A fiberoptic crew works to string a cable under the sidewalk along Cunningham Ave., north of Crystal Lake Dr., in Urbana on Wednesday Dec. 12, 2012.

Photo by John Dixon/The News-Gazette.
A  crew works to string fiber-optic cable under the sidewalk along Cunningham Ave. in Urbana.

CHAMPAIGN, IL — If you’re still waiting on Big Broadband to come to your neighborhood, a pending deal could speed things up in the near future if Champaign and Urbana officials approve.

In a confusing-sounding deal that is tentatively set to close in the second quarter of this year, iTV-3 Inc. — the Illinois fiber optic Internet and television provider that took over Champaign-Urbana’s UC2B’s Internet assets — would be acquired by a company with a nearly identical name, iTV-3 LLC, which is a wholly-owned company of St.-Louis-based CountryWide Broadband and Seaport Capital of New York.

That’s pending regulatory approval and the city councils of Champaign and Urbana signing off on the sale. Both cities have the right of first refusal to buy the rights to use the system from its current owner, according to Champaign City Attorney Fred Stavins.

If they chose to do so, “they’d be responsible to run it,” he said.

The management team of CountryWide Broadband, which would run the new iTV-3, was in Champaign-Urbana Tuesday talking to local officials about their plans to build out service faster in this area.

“They certainly looked good,” Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said.

But she and Stavins said the sale is far from a done deal, and a lot of checking into this company, its finances and its ability to do what it says it plans to do remain.

“We’ll see what’s in the best interest of this community,” Prussing said.

Jon Gant, chairman of the UC2B board, expressed some optimism.

“I think it’s a potentially great deal for the community, actually,” he said.

One reason, he said, is this company has a different business model for expanding in neighborhoods.

One of the issues stalling expansion has been iTV-3’s requirement for 50 percent of a neighborhood to sign up for service before it will begin construction, and, Gant said, “what we’re seeing is getting that 50 percent sign-up is tough. People want to see the product first.”

The prospective new owner has a model it feels would work, he said.

The new owners would also be bringing in a triple-play package with phone, TV and Internet service that would “without a doubt” provide viable competition for what’s available now, Gant said.

There’s still 60 to 90 days of vetting this proposal, and there will be plenty of time for public participation before the city councils, Gant said.

“We’ve got to move very, very quickly,” he warned.

Grier Raclin, president and CEO of CountryWide, said the acquisition would be transparent to local consumers, other than that a dramatic expansion would be taking place after the deal is closed.

“We’re going to start the day after closing,” he said. “We’re working with the current iTV-3. We’re ready to start that build out literally the day after closing.”

How they plan to do that is by investing more money and putting a larger sales force to work, he said.

The iTV-3 fiber system is able to serve 26,000 homes and thousands of businesses, and CountryWide has aggressive plans to expand through more customers and through the construction of more fiber infrastructure in Champaign-Urbana and Peoria, the company said.

by , The News-Gazette

###

February Board Meeting

The UC2B not-for-profit board will conduct a regular board meeting from 8:30 a.m.-10 a.m. on Tuesday, February 23, 2016 at:

Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS)
501 E. Daniel St,
Champaign, IL 61820
Room 242 (Second floor, east wing)

* Please note the meeting is moved to GSLIS at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This location does not have a dedicated parking lot. The parking will be metered street parking, so please plan ahead.

Meetings are held monthly on the last Tuesday and are open to the public.

To download a PDF of the board meeting packet, click the link below.

02.23.2016 – UC2B NFP – Meeting Packet

FCC releases 2016 Broadband Progress Report

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released its 2016 Broadband Progress Report, including the Commission’s conclusion that while progress has been made, “advanced telecommunications capability is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

The FCC reports that 1 in 10 Americans—approximately 34 million people—still lack access to broadband, and that broadband is significantly less accessible to rural and Tribal populations than urban populations. While just 4% of urban Americans lack fixed access, 39% of residents in rural areas and Tribal lands lack access.

The report also notes that short-term goals for broadband access in schools were not met, with 41% per cent of schools failing to provide 100 Mbps access per 1,000 students/staff. However, the Commission did report increased funding made available in the past year to improve broadband and wifi connections in schools.

“In light of our findings, we conclude that much work remains to be done to ensure that all Americans have the access to advanced telecommunications capability,” said the Commission.

The report pointed to progress in eliminating barriers to fixed access, such as public-private partnerships. Progress is also being made in expanding mobile voice and broadband service, with recipients of Mobility Fund support reporting expansion of 3G and 4G coverage.

An FCC press release announcing the report outlined several key findings:

  • – 10% of all Americans (34 million people) lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps service.
  • – 39% of rural Americans (23 million people) lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps. By contrast, only 4% of urban Americans lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps broadband. The availability of fixed terrestrial services in rural America continues to lag behind urban America at all speeds: 20% lack access even to service at 4 Mbps/1 Mbps, down only 1% from 2011, and 31% lack access to 10 Mbps/1 Mbps, down only 4% from 2011.
  • – 41% of Americans living on Tribal lands (1.6 million people) lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps broadband. 68% living in rural areas of Tribal lands (1.3 million people) lack access.
  • – 66% of Americans living in US territories (2.6 million people) lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps broadband. 98% of those living in rural territorial areas (1.1 million people) lack access.
  • – Americans living in rural and urban areas adopt broadband at similar rates where 25 Mbps/3 Mbps service is available, 28% in rural areas and 30% in urban areas.
  • – While an increasing number of schools have high-speed connections, approximately 41% of schools, representing 47% of the nation’s students, lack the connectivity to meet the Commission’s short-term goal of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students/staff.

###

 

Summer tech camps promote innovation, digital literacy

Students at Meridian Elementary School in Mounds, Illinois learn to read data off of a sensor controller as part of a small electronics unit in their 4-H Fab Lab camp.

Students at Meridian Elementary School in Mounds, Illinois learn to read data off of a sensor controller as part of a small electronics unit in their 4-H Fab Lab camp.

The Chevy Suburban towing a U-Haul trailer pulled up to the decommissioned middle school in Metropolis, Illinois, population 6,000. A special kind of 4-H camp was about to begin.

The four leaders—Gabriel Ewing, Jessica Nelson, Colten Jackson, and Virginia McCreary—unloaded the equipment: almost thirty laptops with Intel i5 processors; a thirty-watt mini laser engraver; six 3-D printers; six digital embroidery sewing machines; six electronic vinyl cutters; six soldering stations; and enough small-board electronics for up to a dozen participants to make mini robots out of puff balls.

This camp is part of an exciting pilot project, Digital Innovation Leadership Program(DILP), undertaken by three groups with interlocking missions: GSLIS’s Center for Digital Inclusion (CDI), the Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab, and the University of Illinois Extension, the latter of which has provided GSLIS with $300,000 to run the project. CDI provided financial support for the four camp leaders to receive fab lab training at MIT.

CDI’s mission focuses on improving the democratic, social, and economic vitality of communities through the use of information technologies. Extension, which runs 4-H camps across the state, is looking for ways to bring its programming to under-served communities like Metropolis. And the Fab Lab is part of a nationwide maker movement that provides spaces with innovative, technical tools and encourages people to experiment and make things.

“As the world changes and becomes more reliant on technology, we need to develop and enhance opportunities to make our communities more digitally inclusive,” said Jon Gant, GSLIS research associate professor and CDI director who is the principal investigator on the grant. “It was great to partner with Extension and the Fab Lab and put our research into practice. Digital inclusion is not just about access; it’s also about the adoption and use of tools.”

Once the equipment was set up, the day campers began to wander in. Ewing asked the assembled children, ranging in age from eight to twelve, “What have you made recently? Did you make breakfast this morning? Did you make your bed? Did you make a mess?” This kind of patter got the group giggling but also thinking. Ewing told the children what to expect from this day camp: they would use technology to create and invent whatever they could dream of. Every day of the camp, each participant made something he or she could take home, whether it was a notebook with a laser etching, a sticker, or an Arduino robot made of fabric and puff balls.

This type of rapid prototyping allowed the campers to make things quickly, which, in turn, allowed them to also test and improve their creations immediately. In addition to learning by doing, it also was about experimentation and failure, experiences that tie into critical thinking skills.

“The idea is to demystify technology,” said Ewing. “Everybody can be an innovator. An innovator is not necessarily a white dude in a lab coat.”

Students at Cobden Elementary School in southern Illinois show off their rapid prototyping creations.

Students at Cobden Elementary School in southern Illinois show off their rapid prototyping creations.

Last summer, multiple camps took place in southern Illinois, Peoria, and the Champaign/Danville area. At the end of every camp, the organizers made sure to hold an open-house style celebration to which they invited the campers, their families, and decision makers and opinion leaders within the community.

“The focus is not exclusively on the technology itself so much as opportunities for people to harness technologies in ways that allow them to amplify their interests in building a more resilient, just, and inclusive community—and how we help people exercise choice to achieve those goals,” said Martin Wolske, CDI senior research scientist, who specializes in bringing together technology and community.

Prior to the camp sessions, several teens came to the Illinois campus to get trained in the use of the Fab Lab tools. Thereafter, they participated in the camps with Ewing, Nelson, Jackson, and McCreary, providing support and knowledge, and even helping to instruct. The training allows them to continue to instruct and support their communities when the program is over.

Kirstin Phelps, GSLIS doctoral student and DILP project manager, was impressed with the energy of these teen teachers. “I was struck by their very good rapport with their peers and with the younger participants,” said Phelps. “They could connect with them in a way college students couldn’t.” Phelps also is interested in the leadership around how different stakeholders work together to organize projects like DILP in their communities.

Beyond bringing the camps to town, the researchers also identify specific needs for and obstacles to establishing permanent Fab Lab-type centers for these rural communities. They ask questions such as: “Do individuals interested in these kinds of projects know who to go to for knowledge, money, or physical space within their community?” “How can we create a forum for people interested in the maker movement and digital literacy?”

“The project is really about how to think about a challenge and how to solve it,” said Phelps. “It’s as much about social practices and mindsets as it is about technology. We want to get people to think about their own agency and how they can use technology to help.”

###

 

Smart Cities Innovation Summit – Call for innovations, abstracts, and exhibitors

The Smart Cities Innovation Summit will be held June 13-15, 2016 in Austin, Texas. It is produced in cooperation and in co-location with the US Ignite Application Summit and working with US Ignite’s support programs for the Global City Teams Challenge (GCTC), creating the most comprehensive showcase and accelerator of smart city innovation world-wide. The Summit has issued a call for innovations, abstracts, and exhibitors due February 26, 2016. Click here for the full announcement (downloads PDF).

###

 

US Ignite announces list of funding opportunities for smart gigabit applications and wireless spectrum

US Ignite has put together a list of potential funding sources and opportunities for smart gigabit applications and wireless spectrum. Click here for the full list of funding opportunities from US Ignite (downloads PDF).

###

 

NSF awards $6 million for smart gigabit applications in Champaign-Urbana and 14 other cities

September 14, 2015 (Washington, DC)– US Ignite has been awarded a $6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to build a living lab of testbeds for smart gigabit applications in Champaign-Urbana and 14 other communities throughout the country.  This announcement was made as part of a White House event, at which the Obama Administration made several commitments to support “Smart Cities.”

The end result of the grant will be a growing number of communities nationwide participating in a  “smart city app store” for interoperable and interconnected smart gigabit community applications addressing national priorities.

The three year, public-private project will knit together researchers, citizens, community organizations, technology companies, entrepreneurs, academics and federal, state and local governments to begin to build the next generation of the Internet in the United States. Participating communities include: Burlington, VT; Chattanooga, TN; Cleveland, OH; Flint, MI; Kansas City, KS MO; Madison, WI; the North Carolina Next Generation Network (NCNGN); Richardson, TX; Utah Wasatch Front cities including Salt Lake City and Provo, UT; Lafayette, LA; Urbana-Champaign, IL; and Austin, TX.

Each of these US Ignite communities will receive access to a low-latency and ultra-fast network with locavore (local cloud) computing and storage capabilities that will support highly interactive and visually immersive experiences not possible on today’s commercial Internet. Communities will also receive technical assistance from US Ignite staff and partners in designing and developing applications to take advantage of the new network connections including access to fund accelerators and technical staff.

As part of their participation, cities will fund and build two next-generation applications that will be shared among the larger, nationwide ecosystem of gigabit cities. The awards were granted to communities with strong support from local government, colleges and universities, non-profits, internet service providers and community anchor institutions.

Click here to read the full press release.

###

Champaign-Urbana Leaders Applaud NSF Grant

“UC2B and the University communities are poised to bring strong next-generation application development to support vulnerable populations as they become connected to broadband through the #ConnectHome initiative.  Access to next generation applications around education, healthcare, economic advancement, and green energy will elevate this community and will broaden the reach of next-generation knowledge.”
-Mark Henderson, CIO at the University of Illinois and UC2B Board Member

“The timing of the US Ignite NSF grant is perfect for UC2B and our partner cities. As any of the gig fiber projects nationally will share, it takes time to build a new network from scratch.  For UC2B we built the network and connected community anchor institutions and low-income households in the first phase with federal funding through BTOP.  We are now working through a public private partnership with ITV-3 to expand service to the other 90% of our community. And it’s exciting that in parallel the University of Illinois and the Urbana-Champaign private sector and high-tech community now have funding through US Ignite to continue to broaden opportunities for new research, development and community engagement to build next generation applications focused on public benefit.”
-Dr. Jon Gant, Director of the Center for Digital Inclusion at the University of Illinois and UC2B Board Vice Chair

“This is an exciting new opportunity for our community to further utilize the investment we made constructing the UC2B fiber optic network.  By becoming one of US Ignite’s “Living Labs”, Champaign-Urbana will continue to be a leader in the development of new applications and technologies that have the potential to change the world.”
– Mayor Deborah Frank Feinen, Champaign, Illinois

“By being part of this network of 15 smart cities around the U.S., our community will have the opportunity to host research projects using a faster, next-generation network. This new connectivity makes possible new Internet applications that are visually immersive and interactive. I am excited to see how our community takes advantage of this opportunity.”
-Brandon Bowersox-Johnson, UC2B Not-For-Profit Board Chair

“Urbana is delighted and honored to join the 15 American smart cities chosen to host research projects with our new high-speed internet system.  This new federal grant once again demonstrates the power of cooperation between the University of Illinois and the cities of Urbana and Champaign.”
-Mayor Laurel Prussing, Urbana, Illinois

###

Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen Participates in “Financing for Next-Generation Broadband” Event

Next Century Cities hosted Financing for Next-Generation Broadband, in Lexington, Kentucky. The half-day event brought together mayors, elected officials, business leaders, and community members to share best practices and discuss approaches to broadband financing. The event was held in conjunction with Broadband Communities Magazine’s larger economic development conference “Fiber for the New Economy.”
“Broadband financing is a fundamental component of successful broadband infrastructure projects, and our members want more information about available financing options. We are proud to provide a forum to hold these important and timely discussions,” remarked Next Century Cities Executive Director Deb Socia.

Attendees learned firsthand from regional leaders about the exciting movement towards increased broadband connectivity in Kentucky. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray opened the event with comments on Lexington’s plan to become the next Gigabit City, and Secretary Lori Flanery led the following panel discussion on how Kentucky is using a public-private partnership to achieve KentuckyWired, their statewide middle mile broadband infrastructure project.

Additional panels featured experts from across the country and covered a broad range of financing issues, including financing the last mile, federal support, public/private partnerships and more. The distinguished list of panelists and moderators included such leaders as Mayor Deborah Feinen of Champaign, IL, Dr. Robert Wack, City Council President of Westminster MD, Lev Gonick, CEO of One Community, Nicholas Hann, Senior Managing Director of Macquarie Capital/Macquarie Group Ltd, Joanne Hovis, President of CTC Technology & Energy, and Tom Coverick, Managing Director, Public Finance, representing our sponsor – Keybanc Capital Markets.

Next Century Cities has made audio recordings of all Financing for Next-Generation Broadband panels and will be sharing them with member communities who were unable to attend.

For more information on Financing for Next-Generation Broadband, visit:http://www.bbcmag.com/lexington/financing-next-generation-broadband.html

###

iTV-3 and UC2B Leaders Speak at Broadband Economic Development Conference

Levi Dinkla, Vice President at iTV-3, and Jon Gant, Vice-Chair of the UC2B not-for-profit board, participated in a panel discussion titled “Private Public Partnerships” at the Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Lexington, KY.

The discussion contained perspectives on building fiber networks from both the private and public sector. Communities that do not operate their own utilities, and even some that do, are finding that public-private partnerships (PPPs) may be the best solution for them.  Such PPPs can come in many shapes and sizes.  The session included a detailed analysis of the full range of business models—from full public risk to full private risk, and all the shared-risk variations in between. There was also an overview of the legal issues (state, local and federal) that may arise for communities in such partnerships.

###

September Board Meeting

The UC2B not-for-profit board will conduct a regular board meeting from 8:30 a.m.-10 a.m. on Tuesday, August 25, 2015  at:

713 Edgebrook Drive
Champaign, IL 61820

Meetings are held monthly on the last Tuesday and are open to the public.

To download a PDF of the board meeting packet, click the link below.

09.29.2015 – UC2B NFP – Meeting Packet