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West Virginia Coop Expands Rural Internet Access

As in the rest of the country, broadband is now a necessity for rural economic development in West Virginia. Taking on the challenge, Spruce Knob Seneca Rocks Telephone (SKSRT) cooperative overcame impressive obstacles to build a state-of-the-art fiber optic network. 

The cooperative operates in some of the most serene landscape in the United States and some of the most difficult terrain for fiber deployments. The region’s economy primarily relies on ski resorts and tourism from its namesake, Spruce Knob, the highest peak in the Allegheny Mountains. 

SKSRT’s service area also includes the National Radio Quiet Zone, which creates unique challenges for the cooperative. Established in 1958 by the FCC, the National Radio Quiet Zone protects the radio telescopes at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory from interference.  Because these telescopes are incredibly sensitive, the region is greatly restricted in deploying different types of telecommunication technologies. In certain areas of the quiet zone, closest to the observatory, wireless routers and two-way radios are prohibited. 

Because of the mountainous terrain and the technology restrictions, large telecoms had completely bypassed the sparsely populated communities, leaving them with few options for any sort of connectivity. Much of the isolated region still used the old ringdown operator-telephone system until 1972 when the community created SKSRT as a non-profit cooperative. SKSRT installed the latest in telephone infrastructure at the time and committed to encouraging economic development in the region.

Thirty years later, in 2008, the copper infrastructure that SKSRT had originally installed was in bad shape. The coop went to the Rural Utility Service to fund the needed copper improvements. RUS instead encouraged future-proof fiber. While other telecoms have integrated fiber slowly, General Manager Vickie Colaw explained in an interview with us that SKSRT took a different approach:

“It was evolving to a fiber world. That was when we decided to be total fiber-to-the-home.” 


The coop obtained a $7.7 million loan from the USDA and added 57 subscribers to their system, upgraded all of their equipment, and began providing fiber-to-the-home. The presentation of the loan was a celebrated, public event with federal and state officials, local business leaders, and community stakeholders. At that time, then U.S. Rep (now U.S. Sen.) Shelley Moore Capito described the importance of the loan for Pendleton County:

“It’s time for you to be a part of cutting edge technology that exists in the country. It opens up a world of opportunity, a world of learning and a world of the future for Pendleton County."

When the network was completed in 2012, SKSRT became one of the first coops in the country to offer FTTH to everyone in its service area. The small coop then expanded after receiving another $8.5 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to provide broadband service throughout Pendleton County and northern Pocahontas County, a region at the very heart of the National Radio Quiet Zone.  The added restrictions from deploying so close to the observatory proved challenging, but the project made fiber available to an additional 762 full-time households and 560 seasonal houses. With construction of the network mostly finished in these areas, homes have been utilizing the fiber network since late 2014.

Because fiber offers so many more possibilities than copper, SKSRT can offer triple-play service, including IPTV, telephone, and Internet access. For Internet access, most residential users choose a low-tier of 3 Mbps / 1 Mbps or 6 Mbps / 1 Mbps, while businesses prefer to have 15 Mbps down. Business customers can negotiate higher speeds when standard offerings are not sufficient; SKSRT provides 50 Mbps download speeds to a few local businesses. The coop is currently in the process of upgrading the speeds they offer.

Thanks to their local coop, these rural communities in the Alleghenies are connecting to the rest of the world through the latest technology, just as they did 40 years ago.

Video: Next Century Cities' Digital New England Conference

On September 28th, Christopher participated in the Digital New England regional broadband summit in Portland, Maine sponsored by Next Century Cities and the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration). In the morning, he moderated a panel focusing on regional approaches to improve Internet access, and in the afternoon he moderated a panel that included incumbent providers on their preferences for partnerships.

If you were unable to attend the event or did not see the live stream, Next Century Cities has released a video playlist of the two day long event. Christopher can be found moderating the morning panel in the main room during part three. The full agenda is available online.

Digital New England Community Broadband Summit Webcast Live

If you are not able to attend the Digital New England Community Broadband Summit in Portland, Maine, you are in luck. The conference is being webcast live from NTIA's Digital New England Community Broadband Summit website.

The conference will run until 4 p.m. Eastern today and is a collaboration between NTIA and Next Century Cities. NTIA describes the gathering:

The summit will present best practices and lessons learned from broadband network infrastructure buildouts and digital inclusion programs from Maine and surrounding states, including projects funded by NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and State Broadband Initiative (SBI) grant programs funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The summit will also explore effective business and partnership models.

You can view the full agenda online [PDF], complete with a list of guest speakers and moderators.

Fiber-optic Community Broadband Service in the Washington State Wilderness

The Spokane Business Journal recently wrote about the community broadband system in Pend Oreille County, a long a favored destination for all seasons outdoor recreation.  Beginning in 2013, the Pend Oreille County Public Utility District (PUD) began providing residents and tourists with high-speed fiber to the premises broadband via a 573-miles fiber network.  The network was made possible by a $27 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant.

Private companies commonly say that such rural areas are not densely populated enough to justify investing in high-speed broadband infrastructure, leaving many rural communities on the disadvantaged side of the digital divide.  High-speed community broadband systems like the one in Pend Oreille County cancel out this potential problem as they allow tourists, residents, and businesses alike to be closely connected with nature while staying connected for business demands. Indeed, as the website for Pend Oreille County’s Economic Development Council makes clear, the community broadband service is at the core of the county’s ambitious plans to attract people and businesses to the area.

In our recent report, ”All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access,” we wrote about rural communities in Minnesota like Cook County where the tourist industry is a large part of the local economy. As in Pend Oreille, insufficient Internet negatively impacted resorts, lodges, and outfitters that depended on customers who needed more than dial-up Internet access. To solve their problem, they invested in a municipal fiber network.

Local community and business leaders report that they have also started to see people and businesses relocating to the county, encouraged by the area’s combination of fiber-optic broadband and outdoor recreation offerings.  

Alex Stanton, an IT executive whose company is stationed near the banks of the Pend Oreille River in the small town of Newport, confirms the positive impact of the network:

“Today, because of access to high-speed Internet structure in Newport and Pend Oreille County we run a full half of the team out of Newport, and we’re in the process of moving the entire remote support and network operation to Newport,” he says. “We’ve been able to build a local team of people who live and want to work here. Fiber has made that possible.”

Another anecdote comes from a man explaining the pivotal role the fiber-optic broadband service in Pend Oreille County played in convincing him to relocate to the area: 

"My wife and I both work primarily from home, and we have spent the last year and a half trying to find the spot that would allow us to experience nature while still being able to pay for it!  We have searched all over the USA and have discovered that this type of internet access is almost always reserved for large cities.... My wife and I look forward to calling Newport home…"

Eugene Opens Up Dark Fiber for Commercial Connectivity

Businesses are now finding affordable connectivity in Eugene, Oregon, through a partnership between the city, the Lane Council of Governments (LCOG), and the Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB), reports the Register-Guard. A new pilot project has spurred gigabit Internet access in a small downtown area for as little as $100 per month.

According to the article, the city contributed $100,000, LCOG added $15,000, and EWEB spent $25,000 to fund last mile connections to two commercial locations. LCOG's contribution came from an $8.3 million BTOP grant.

The fiber shares conduit space with EWEB's electrical lines; the dark fiber is leased to private ISPs who provide retail services. XS Media and Hunter Communications are serving customers; other firms have expressed an interest in using the infrastructure.

Moonshadow Mobile, a firm that creates custom maps with massive amounts of data, saves money with the new connection while working more efficiently.

To upload just one of the large files Moonshadow works with daily — the California voter file — used to take more than an hour. Now it can be done in 77 seconds, [CEO Eimer] Boesjes said.

“This completely changes the way our data engineers work,” he said.

“It’s a huge cost savings, and it makes it much easier for us to do our work. We can do our work faster.”

The upgrade also will help spur innovation, he said.

“We can start developing tools that are tuned into fiber speeds that will be ubiquitous five to 10 years down the road, so that gives us a huge advantage,” Boesjes said.

The upgraded fiber also could bring more work and jobs to Eugene, he said.

“In December one of my customers said, ‘You can hire another system administrator in Eugene and we’ll move this work from Seattle to Eugene if you have fiber,’ and [at that time] I didn’t have fiber so that opportunity went away,” Boesjes said.

A 2014 article notes that EWEB began installing fiber to connect 25 of its substations and 3 bulk power stations in 1999. At the time, it installed 70 miles of fiber with the future intention of connecting up schools, the University of Oregon, local governments, and long-haul telecommunications providers. There is some speculation that the EWEB Board considered developing a municipal network to offer Internet access to residents and businesses and that the vision was abandoned shortly thereafter.

As word spreads, Eugene officials expect to see more retail customers and more ISPs sign on as participants.

“We had kind of a bidding war going on and that’s what the project was designed to do was to create competition,” [Milo] Mecham [from the LCOG] said.


“We’ve got prices that are competitive with Portland, Chicago, San Francisco — any place you want to go — and for Eugene they’re record breaking,” Mecham said. “These products are similar to what Google is offering in bigger markets, like Austin (Texas) and Charlotte (North Carolina).”

ZipRecruiter has already named Eugene one of the Top 10 Up-and-Coming Cities for Tech Jobs in 2015. As news of its efforts to spread gigabit connectivity take off, more entrepeneurs will head toward to his community of approximately 156,000.

The city plans to connect a third building this year with telecom revenue from the project.

Illinois Munis Partner with Local ISP for Gigabit Network - Community Broadband Bits Episode 160

The southern Illinois cities of Urbana and Champaign joined the University of Illinois in seeking and winning a broadband stimulus award to build an open access urban FTTH network. After connecting some of the most underserved neighborhoods, the Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband (UC2B) network looked for a partner to expand the network to the entire community.

In this week's Community Broadband Bits podcast, we talk with UC2B Board Chair Brandon Bowersox Johnson and the private partner iTV-3's VP and Chief Operating Officer Levi Dinkla. The local firm, iTV-3, already had a strong reputation as an Internet Service Provider as well as operating other lines of business as well.

In our conversation, we talk about iTV-3's commitment to customer service, their expansion plan, and how the network remains open access. Read our continuing coverage of UC2B here. See the neighborhood signups here.

Read the transcript from this show here.

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

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

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

NoaNet Touches Every County in Washington State - Community Broadband Bits Episode 159

The Northwest Open Access Network in Washington has a long history of expanding high quality Internet access into rural areas and now reaches into every county in the state. NoaNet is a nonprofit organization originally formed by local governments and now operating over 2,000 miles of fiber.

This week we talk with Dave Spencer, NoaNet Chief Operating Officer, about the history of NoaNet, how it has impacted the state, and what the future holds for this organization.

We also discuss the NoaNet expansion enabled by the federal broadband stimulus, how their open access fiber network has led to improved wireless connections in many rural areas, and what it takes for a nonprofit organization to thrive in an industry that can be very competitive despite often having very few competitors.

Our previous stories about NoaNet are available here.

Read the transcript from our discussion here.

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

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

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

Gigabit Internet for North Central Ohio Schools

Consolidated Electric Cooperative, a nonprofit, member-owned cooperative, will soon offer gigabit broadband in rural North Central Ohio. They intend to first offer the gigabit to local schools and then to businesses.

According to eSchoolNews, Consolidated Electric Cooperative will provide 15 school districts with gigabit connectivity. The school districts will then have greater access to online resources and be better able to comply with mandated online testing in Ohio. In the article, Doug Payauys, vice-president of information systems for Consolidated Electric Cooperative, described the need for improved Internet access in schools:

"Technology is creating a shift in today’s classroom, and it’s transforming the way teachers educate and students learn. As the country becomes a more digital-based society, schools must work to transform lesson plans and accommodate new technologies” 

The gigabit broadband will also improve the Wi-Fi in the school districts, providing more bandwidth for wireless learning devices. Wireless connections almost always depend on wireline backhaul to ensure each access point does not have a bottleneck between the user and the larger Internet. With better Wi-Fi, the schools hope to support an online curriculum for students to learn at their own pace.

Consolidated Electric Cooperative also intends to offer the gigabit connectivity to local businesses. They already offer some broadband connections to businesses through their Enlite Fiber Optic Network. They first began to develop this network in 2010 with some costs covered through the Broadband Initiatives Program created by the stimulus effort. Since then, they have expanded the network which now consists of 200 miles of fiber optic cable from Columbus to Mansfield, spanning five rural counties in North Central Ohio.

They currently do not offer residential fiber, focusing instead on providing a middle mile connectivity to governments, schools and businesses. They are, however, prepared to adapt to support residential services in the future:

Payauys noted that the network has been designed to enable Consolidated to easily deploy residential broadband if the company were to choose to do so at a future time. And already some other network operators – including three wireless Internet service providers – have stepped up to offer residential broadband using the Consolidated network for aggregation and Internet connectivity.

Consolidated Electric Cooperative expects about a four-year payback on the network and appears ready to continue expanding broadband access in rural Ohio.

In Reedsburg, Expansion Weighed After Muni Fiber Success - Community Broadband Bits Episode 147

The first gigabit city in Wisconsin, Reedsburg, has a municipal fiber network operated by the city-owned electric utility. This week, we talk with General Manager of the Utility Commission, Brett Schuppner. Reedsburg fiber goes back to 2003, which makes it one of the oldest FTTH networks in the nation.

Located about an hour outside of Madison, Reedsburg has seen more investment from local industrial businesses because of its fiber network. They received a broadband stimulus award to expand their network into some surrounding rural areas and are now considering how they can continue expanding the network deeper into surround Sauk County without federal assistance.

We talk about what goes into these expansion discussions - what is the dynamic when one community has a great network and the County would like it to expand?

Read all of our Reedsburg coverage here.

Read the transcript from this conversation here.

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

This show is 13 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

iTV-3 Increases Speeds for Free on UC2B Network

As the FCC works to update current policy to encourage ubiquitous Internet access and adoption, community networks are also taking an active role. Earlier this month, customers of iTV-3 received a boost in speed with no increase in price. iTV-3, a community minded local provider, chose to make the change in order to ensure all its customers were well within the new broadband speeds as redefined by the FCC in January 2015.

Early last year, UC2B and iTV-3 announced their new partnership. The company, which has provided services to residents and businesses to Illinois communities since 2009, is leasing UC2B infrastructure and equipment and will own any infrastructure it builds as part of expansion. 

iTV-3 increased customers' speeds by 10 Mbps, according to a press release on the change:

20/20 Mbps increased to 30/30 Mbps

40/40 Mbps increased to 50/50 Mbps

50/50 Mbps increased to 60/60 Mbps 

“We are increasing the speed tier of all existing Champaign and Urbana iTV-3 customers by 10 Mbps at no additional charge to ensure that every user will exceed the new FCC definition of broadband speed,” said Dinkla. “New areas will be constructed beginning this Spring, bringing gigabit Internet speeds to businesses and neighborhoods throughout the community.  iTV-3 gigabit Internet is yet another reason for people to be excited to live, work, and do business in Champaign and Urbana.”

UC2B has been lauded by the FCC as a model for public private partnerships. The last-mile project, received American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to bring fiber connectivity to urban homes in the Urbana Champaign area. It was deployed by the not-for profit corporation aimed at bringing high-speed service to residents in economically disadvantaged areas along with a number of community anchor institutions. Over the past year, iTV-3 has continued to expand and now also offers services in Peoria, in addition to its Dunlap and Tremont markets.