USDA Broadband Funding for Rural Projects; Coops On Top

This past July the USDA announced over $85 million in funding for rural broadband projects across seven states. The projects, many awarded to rural cooperatives, aim to bridge the digital divide and expand economic opportunities. For those interested in federal funding opportunities, NTIA has just released this guide [pdf].

Rural areas are often passed over by big telcos because they are considered less profitable. Farming, however, is a high-tech industry, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack believes that Internet access is as necessary as electricity in rural areas:

"Broadband is fundamental to expanding economic opportunity and job creation in rural areas, and it is as vital to rural America's future today as electricity was when USDA began bringing power to rural America 80 years ago. ...  Improved connectivity means these communities can offer robust business services, expand access to health care and improve the quality of education in their schools, creating a sustainable and dynamic future those who live and work in rural America."

The USDA has awarded more than  $77 million in Community Connect Grants for rural broadband projects (since 2009). This July, the USDA loaned $74.8 million and awarded another $11 million in Community Connect Grants. Here is the current round-up of the USDA’s most recent loans and grants:


Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative Inc. will connect Point Hope subscribers and prepare for an undersea fiber line with a $1.4 million grant.


Garden Valley Telephone, one of the largest coops in Minnesota, will continue to expand its FTTH service area with a $12.63 million loan. On average, the coop serves two households per square mile.

Consolidated Telephone, another coop, will perform upgrades and add a new fiber ring to allow for greater bandwidth with a $12.27 million loan.

Northeast Service Cooperative will receive two $3 million grants and, through a partnership with the Fond du Lac Band of Superior Chippewa, provide broadband service on the the Fond du Lac Reservation.


Triangle Telephone Cooperative Association will upgrade their system with fiber through a $29.95 million loan.


@Link Services will receive $1.5 million in grants to provide broadband services in Seminole County.

South Carolina

FTC Communications will improves its wireless to 4G/LTE with a $12.38 million loan.


Scott County Telephone Cooperative, with a $2.1 million grant, will provide one gigabit to 540 locations in Dickenson County to increase economic development.


LaValle Telephone Cooperative will use a $7.61 million loan to deploy fiber.

It is no longer surprising to find faster, more affordable, more reliable Internet networks in rural areas served by coopertives. Minnesota's Farmers Mutual Telephone CooperativeCo-Mo Cooperative central Missouri, or Farmer's Telecommunications Cooperative in Alabama are only a few we have covered. As large corporate providers fail to provide modern services, rural cooperatives have stepped up to offer services to their members and improve economic development prospects in the communities they serve.

Owensboro, Kentucky, Developing Muni FTTH Pilot

Owensboro Municipal Utilities (OMU) is now expanding its Fibernet services with a pilot FTTH program to connect residents this fall. There are approximately 500 homes in the selected area where OMU will test out the new venture. People living in the project area can sign-up online.

Businesses in Owensboro have had access to OMUFibernet for data transport since 1999 and in 2014 the utility added VoIP to its commercial product line. The pilot will offer gigabit Internet access to residents, but OMUFibernet has only advertised speeds up to 100 Mbps to business customers thus far, according to the OMU website. Businesses are also able to lease dark fiber, which allows them to have more flexibility with data transport speeds.

The city, home to approximately 58,000 people, is the county seat of Daviess County and sits on the south side of the Ohio River. The entire metropolitan population is over 116,000 people. OMU has offered electric and water service since 1900 and describes itself as the largest municipal electric and water system in the state.

OMU plans to offer three tiers for symmetrical Internet access in the city's Town & Country neighborhood. Gigabit service will be priced at $99.99 per month, 100 Mbps at $69.99 per month, and 50 Mbps at $49.99 per month. All subscriptions will require a $49.99 installation fee. 

Community Broadband Media Roundup - October 5

Community Broadband News By State


DavisGig working toward faster Internet service by Felicia Alvarez, The Davis Enterprise



Ready … or not? If we’re prepared, broadband can transform Appalachian Kentucky by Ron Daley, Northern Kentucky Tribune



Sanford, Maine's broadband project will be the largest municipal fiber network in the state, eight times the size of the next largest municipal network in Maine.

Broadband Bound! by Ellen W. Todd, Sanford News

Sanford to Build 32-Mile Municipal Broadband Network by Tom Porter, MPBN News

Sanford, Maine, to Build State’s Biggest Muni Broadband Network by Darren Fishell, GovTech

Rockland area exploring $18.6 million community broadband by Stephen Betts, Bangor Daily News

Portland summit to focus on high-speed Internet as key to growth by Whit Richardson, Portland Press Herald & Government Technology



$43.5 million broadband project to be celebrated by Angie Riebe, Mesabi Daily News

Northeast Fiber Network expands by more than 915 miles in areas of unserved or underserved access.



Fairlawn steps closer to creating municipal broadband utility by Sean Patrick,

Inside the Dollars and Cents of Cleveland’s Latest High-Speed Internet Investment by Oscar Perry Abello, Next City



Tennessee Defends Its Community Broadband Ban in Court by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Cleveland Utilities President Says It Needs To Catch Up In Broadband Technology by David Davis, The Chattanoogan

Tennessee Voraciously Defends Its Right To Let AT&T Write Awful State Broadband Laws by Karl Bode, TechDirt

After fifteen years in an apparent coma, earlier this year the FCC woke up to the fact that ISPs were effectively paying states to pass laws focused entirely on protecting uncompetitive, regional broadband duopolies. More specifically, they've been pushing legislation that prohibits towns and cities from improving their own broadband infrastructure -- or in some cases partnering with utilities or private companies -- even in areas local incumbents refused to upgrade. It's pure protectionism, and roughly twenty states have passed such ISP-written laws nationwide. 



Downtown broadband potential rates a comprehensive study on the hurdles by Jim Wilson, Waco Tribune

Yet some Waco City Council members argue convincingly broadband service is critical long-term in redeveloping our city’s core and attracting key businesses. And that’s why municipal broadband initiatives are taking root nationwide. These efforts seek to occupy the vacuum that Internet service providers leave when no initial payoff is foreseen.



A Rural Community Thinks Big by Andrew M Cohill & Matt Rowe, Broadband Communities Mag

Businesses were threatening to leave Charles City County, a rural area in Virginia. Then county officials committed to improving broadband access – and the economic picture turned around.



Man builds house, then finds out cable Internet will cost $117,000 by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Sun Prairie's City Council decided in July to build a municipal fiber network. It's starting as a pilot project in one area but could eventually go citywide. There's no certainty that it will reach Marshall's home, but the initiative provides a glimmer of hope. Wisconsin state law imposes some restrictions on municipal broadband, but doesn't ban the projects.

Naturally, Charter and Frontier both opposed the Sun Prairie network. The companies "spent more than 90 minutes telling city officials why it’s a bad idea, highlighting failures in other municipalities, questioning the utilities’ ability to handle operations, and even hinting, if it goes through, they’ll cut jobs in the Sun Prairie area," said a Sun Prairie Star account of a meeting a few weeks before the vote.

Comcast, Time Warner Again Rank Lowest in Customer Satisfaction by Paul Ausick, 24/7 Wall Street

White House: Municipal Broadband will Expand Internet Service and Increase Competition by Carson Bolter, IVN

New Michigan Bar Journal Article: "The Internet and Municipal Broadband Systems"

A recent Michigan Bar Journal article by attorney Michael J. Watza, The Internet and Municipal Broadband Systems, provides a quick look at the FCC's Open Internet Order [PDF], the recent ruling on state barriers to municipal networks, and how the two may intertwine in Michigan. Watza's three-pager is a great resource for community groups, legislators, and advocates who want to share necessary information without overwhelming the reader.

In addition to providing summaries of each order, Watza offers hope for places that lack the Internet access they need to prosper. He acknowledges Michigan's first gigabit municipal network in Sebewaing and mentions the possibility of public private partnerships. Having worked with Michigan municipalities on telecommunications issues, he knows that other communities in the Great Lakes State also have their eyes on the future:

However, many communities interested in building their own broadband systems have been stymied by state laws written by and for the influential provider industry that either barred such systems or imposed onerous conditions on them. Michigan is one of a couple dozen states with these laws. By striking down such laws, the FCC has authorized and encouraged a significant economic tool for these communities. And perhaps most importantly, by freeing these communities to build on their own or partner with high-speed, low-cost, Internet-friendly private partners like Google (which has been actively pursuing such systems when incumbent monopoly providers have not), it is clear that the FCC is aggressively supporting rate control by the best alternative option in a free market: competition!

Read the entire article [PDF] online and share it with your Michigan friends.

New Video on Economic Development and High-Speed Connectivity in Tennessee

Tennessee Fiber Optic Communities has released another quality video focused on restoring local telecommunications authority. This three minute feature describes the importance of high speed connectivity to local economic development.

The video offers specific examples of businesses that relocated to places like Jackson and Chattanooga, comparing business connectivity in places with municipal networks to areas where high-speed connections from incumbents are costly and hard to come by.

Check out the video from the Tennessee Fiber Optic Communities:

TNFOC_EconomicDevelopment2 from TN For Fiber on Vimeo.

Op-Ed: Community Broadband Networks Drive NC Economy

The Roanoke Daily Herald published this op-ed about local government action for broadband networks on September 25, 2015. We were responding to an earlier Op-Ed, available here. Christopher Mitchell wrote the following op-ed.

Local governments should make broadband choices

Community broadband must be a local choice, a guest columnist writes.

It is stunning any legislator can look at the constituents they serve in rural North Carolina and think, “‘These people don’t need the same high quality Internet access now being delivered in Charlotte and the Triangle. They should be happy with whatever cable and telephone companies offer.”

But that’s just what I think Representatives Jason Saine and Michael Wray are implying in their recent opinion piece on community broadband networks.

By supporting U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis’ legislation to remove local authority for building broadband networks, the two lawmakers are siding with big cable and telephone firms over their own communities.

It is hardly a secret that Time Warner Cable, AT&T, CenturyLink and others are investing too little in rural communities. The majority of residents and local businesses in North Carolina have no real choice today and can expect their bills to go up tomorrow.

Areas served by coops or locally-rooted companies are more likely to see upgrades because they are accountable to the community in ways that national firms are not. Local firms are more willing to invest in better networks and keep prices low because they live in the community.

North Carolina communities stuck with no broadband or slow DSL and cable at best are disadvantaged in economic development and property values. This is why hundreds of local governments have already invested in fiber optic networks — with remarkable success.

Wilson is one example, where the city built the first gigabit fiber optic network in the state. The network has paid all its bills on time and the largest employers in the area all subscribe to it. One local business, which was a vocal opponent of the idea at first, now credits the municipal fiber network with helping her business to expand and reach new clients. The General Manager of Central Computer, Tina Mooring, argues that restrictions on municipal networks hurt the private sector, noting that her clients in areas near Wilson strongly desire access to the high capacity services they cannot get from cable and DSL networks.

Just across the Virginia state line is another approach, where Danville has built a fiber network that is available to private ISPs to offer services. The network has led to new investment and high tech jobs as well as helping existing businesses to expand. Not only have they paid all their bills on time, they make enough net income to contribute $300,000 per year to the general fund.

The fastest citywide network in the nation, offering 10 Gbps was just announced in Salisbury, north of Charlotte. Again, city owned.

This strategy is rarely a partisan issue at the local level. Some 75 percent of the communities that have a citywide municipal network voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. From Maine to Louisiana to California, municipal broadband is a pragmatic question of whether it will improve quality of life and spur economic development.

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis’ legislation to challenge the FCC is not a win for local autonomy. It is an example of distant officials micro-managing local issues.

It is unfathomable the state Attorney General, whose job it is to protect residents and local businesses, has sided with Time Warner Cable and AT&T rather than champion the cause of fast and affordable Internet access for North Carolinians. The state is literally using taxpayer dollars to protect the monopolies of big telecom firms that prevent communities from having a real choice in providers. This is yet another decision that should be made locally, not in Raleigh or D.C.

Christopher Mitchell is the director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis and is @communitynets on Twitter. He writes regularly on

Debate on Municipal Networks by Federalist Society Now Available

Our own Christopher Mitchell recently participated in a debate hosted by the Federalist Society. You can now listen to the debate at the Federalist Society website. We think it offers an intelligent airing of different points of view.

Chris, who is also Policy Director at Next Century Cities, disscussed the role of municipal networks in improving competition, reveiwed reguatory issues, and debated the anticipated legal outcome of February's FCC decision on local authority in Tennessee and North Carolina. He squared off against Charles M. Davidson, Director of the Advanced Communications Law and Policy Institute at New York Law School, and Randolph J. May, President of the Free State Foundation. Both organizations have spoken out against community broadband networks.

Rachel M. Bender, Senior Policy Director of Mobile Future, moderated.

Parker Lecture Scheduled for October 20th; Honoring Everett Parker

The United Church of Christ Office of Communications, Inc. (UCC OC), will hold its annual Parker Lecture on October 20th at 8 a.m. in Washington, D.C., at the First Congregational Church. This year's lecture will be especially meaningful because on September 17th, Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker, known for his groundbreaking work with public rights in broadcasting, passed away at the age of 102.

This year's honorees are:

  • danah boyd, founder, Data & Society Research Institute and “activist scholar” on the social and cultural implications of technology, will give the 2015 Parker Lecture on Ethics and Telecommunications.
  • Joseph Torres, senior external affairs director of Free Press and co-author of News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media, will receive the Parker Award which recognizes an individual whose work embodies the principles and values of the public interest in telecommunications.
  • Wally Bowen, co-founder and executive director of the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN), will receive the Donald H. McGannon Award in recognition of his dedication to bringing modern telecommunications to low-income people in rural areas.

Parker is most widely known for his work in the 1960s, when he fought to establish the right for citizen groups to be heard before regulatory agencies such as the FCC. In 1962, WLBT from Jackson, Mississippi, refused to broadcast Thurgood Marshall who led the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ at the time. Parker was already known for his work on human rights and freedom of speech and, having worked as a reporter, broadcasting executive, and advertising agency leader, black leaders asked him to take up the issue. The outcome revolutionized broadcasting as stations immediately began serving their entire diverse audiences. Read more about Parker's many contributions to the public interest on his online obituary at UCC OC.

You can register online to attend the October 20th lecture.

To honor Parker's life and his work, UCC OC will also host a tribute to Everett Parker at the Church In the Highlands UCC in White Plains, New York on Saturday, October 3rd, at 11:00 a.m. Learn more about this event at the UCC OC Tribute page.

DC-Net Delivers Public Savings

Washington, DC, continues to operate an incredibly successful municipal network. Created in 2007, the municipal government’s 57-mile fiber optic network, DC-Net, provides connectivity to government buildings and community anchor institutions that are health or education based. DC-Net started providing public Wi-Fi hotspots in 2010. We covered some of the savings of DC-Net itself in our 2010 report, and we recently found a report from 2012 that details an example of public savings from the network.

In 2008, the Office of Personnel Management in D.C. needed to replace its aging phone system with state-of-the-art Voice over IP and a video conference system. These two telecommunication systems require a high capacity network. After a market analysis found that prospective vendors would cost more than the budget could handle, they had to find an alternative solution. That’s when they connected with DC-Net. The network kept costs down - the initial cost-savings from the project were about $500,000. 

DC-Net also provided more than Office of Personnel Management had originally anticipated: redundancy, more connectivity, and better coverage. With the added redundancy, the phone and Internet have had less outages. DC-Net then provided gigabit ethernet to the headquarters and Wi-Fi coverage. 

The total cost savings for the Office of Personnel Management over the first 6 year period (from 2008 to 2014) are estimated at $9.25 million. They came in at budget with more connectivity than they had anticipated by using a municipal network that was committed to meeting their needs. Sounds like a good deal to us.

Spanish Fork Building Gig Fiber over Cable Network - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 170

The Spanish Fork Community Network has long been among the most successful community broadband projects. And now that the community has finished paying off the debt of the network, they are using the net income to upgrade to a fiber network that will be capable of delivering a symmetrical gigabit to anyone in town.

John Bowcut, Director of Information Systems and SFCN Director, speaks with us again this week to explain how the project is doing and how they plan to upgrade to fiber. They are pursuing a unique upgrade to our knowledge -- they are building fiber over the coax and will operate both. Telephone and Internet access will run over the fiber and television over the cable.

The network has paid back its debt and continues to generate impressive community savings. With a take rate of 80 percent of the community, the network saves a cumulative $3 million each year. That is a lot of money circulating in the city of 35,000 people.

We previously spoke with John in episode 60. You can read all of our coverage of Spanish Fork here.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 25 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

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Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."