Communities across America have built their own broadband networks to ensure access to affordable, reliable, and fast networks. We tell their stories and defend their authority to build these networks.
With the release of our North Carolina report, it is important to remember that reports and maps are only as good as the underlying data. Although federal and state governments have collected information on deployment and access for several years, the accuracy and quality of that data is up for debate. Chatham County, North Carolina, wants to show the actual situation that local residents face.
“It is up to us to show areas that are unserved or underserved. We also have to deal with the fact that several state regulations and laws restrict what counties can do to promote more broadband options in those areas.”
The federal data is based around Form 477. Internet service providers (ISPs) submit to the Federal Communications Commission what their maximum advertised download and upload speeds are for each census block. This form, however, does not include information around pricing.
Although a census block may have high-speed Internet access, it may be unaffordable and it may only be available to one or two houses in that census block. According to the North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office, only 16 percent of North Carolina's population subscribe to broadband speeds, defined by the FCC as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, despite 93 percent of the state ostensibly having access to such speeds.
How accurate is North Carolina's assessment of the data, however? Listen to our discussion about form 477 and the real situation in the state in episode 224 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
Chatham County hopes residents will provide a more accurate picture of what is available by sharing their real world situation rather than depending on ISPs for data.
If you live in Chatham County, North Carolina, we encourage you to take part in this survey.
The city of Ammon, Idaho, continues to garner more recognition and opportunities from its unfolding municipal fiber network.
In a recent news release, Ammon officials announced the city received approximately $600,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to partner with the University of Utah. They will research and develop a series of next-generation networking technologies supporting public safety.
Called SafeEdge, the nearly initiative will give Ammon residents connected to the city's network the opportunity to participate in the initiative to develop applications such as broadband public emergency alerts.
Ammon officials said a major focus of the research will be to evaluate the “feasibility of mixing public safety applications with other applications and services,” such as consumer streaming and data sharing, remote classroom access, and dynamic access to judicial functions, including remote arraignments and access to legal representation.
The city added “It is expected that this open access/multiservice approach will improve the economic feasibility of deploying broadband services in small and rural communities by allowing a variety of services to be deployed across the same infrastructure, while at the same time ensuring that public safety applications can function in this environment.”
The National Science Foundation and US Ignite, an initiative promoting U.S. leadership in developing and implementing next-generation gigabit applications that can be used for social good, are providing nearly $600,000 in funding over a three-year period for the Ammon project. About $235,000 of that funding will go to Ammon as sub awardee, the city said. The project period runs from Oct. 1, 2016 to September 30, 2019.
The NSF grant to Ammon is the latest honor for the city’s municipal fiber network activities. In mid-2015, the city won first place in the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) Ultra-High Speed Apps competition, which encouraged software developers and public safety professionals to use public data and ultra-high speed systems to create apps to improve criminal justice and public safety operations. We reported that Ammon’s application used gunshot detection hardware and a school’s existing camera system. The School Emergency Screencast Application provides the location of gunshot fire for first responders and transmits live-video and geospatial information so they know what to expect and where to concentrate efforts.
“A reliable high speed Wi-Fi connection on the Downtown Transit Center platform will improve the customer experience, allowing passengers to use their wait time more effectively as they work, connect with friends, or download an e-book to enjoy on the ride.”
Burlington Telecom general manager Stephen Barraclough told Vermont Business:
“The opening of the new Downtown Transit Center is a much needed development for the many who commute to and from Burlington daily, and provides an exciting opportunity to highlight Burlington’s powerful gigabit infrastructure as an accelerator for economic, educational and community benefit.”
Burlington Telecom joins a growing list of U.S. communities that are making free high-speed Internet connectivity available at public transit stations and airports.
Free Wi-Fi At The City Gateway
In April 2015, we noted that LUS Fiber began sharing its municipal Gigabit network with travelers at the Lafayette Regional Airport in Louisiana. Free Wi-Fi is available at the airport supported by LUS Fiber, allowing guests to check email, post to social media, and browse the Internet.
"We know that businesses choose to come to Lafayette for a variety of reasons and many have cited our 100% fiber-optic network as one of those reasons,” said City-Parish President Joey Durel. "As a gateway to Lafayette, we want visitors to experience the ultra high speeds of a Gigabit Internet connection, from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave."
For the time being, the city is leasing the network, which is under temporary ownership of Blue Water LLC, a company that purchased the network as part of a deal hatched with CitiBank. The financial giant had sued the city for $33 million after cover-ups from a past mayoral administration cast the network into financial chaos. That agreement requires the city to find a permanent owner for the network and finalize the sale by January 2019. If the city does not find a permanent buyer of their liking, Blue Water can choose the next owner; locals fear it may be a company like Comcast.
The new Wi-Fi will give commuters a chance to taste the high-quality Internet access that Burlington residents and businesses are trying to keep under local control. The network's ownership is uncertain, but the local initiative is doing all it can to keep it from becoming just another big, faceless, unresponsive ISP.
A few of us from the Community Broadband Networks Initiative recently attended the BBC Community Toolkit Program & Economic Development conference in downtown Minneapolis. On the first day, Gigi Sohn, Special Counselor for External Affairs for Chairman Wheeler at the FCC received the award from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice for the Local Internet Choice National Champion. The Obama administration’s FCC, under the guidance of Chairman Wheeler and the sage advice of Gigi, has become enlightened to the positive potential of community networks.
To their credit, the agency has dealt with a number of issues, including network neutrality and a number of other consumer centric matters. We have reported on some of them, but the most central to our work has been the issue of state laws that restrict the deployment and expansion of municipal Internet networks. Gigi, as one of Chairman Wheeler’s top advisors on this matter, played a pivotal role in helping the agency pursue municipal networks as a critical aid to local control, competition, and the ultimate national goal of ubiquitous Internet access.
Gigi reflected on the court battle that reversed the FCC ruling from 2015 preempting state barriers that prevent North Carolina and Tennessee municipal utility Internet networks from serving nearby communities. She noted that advocates shared truths about community networks with data about economic development, competition, and quality of life. The benefits of local authority became clear but, unfortunately, the courts showed us that this is not a battle to be fought on the federal level. The court may have agreed with the fact that municipal networks are beneficial, but they did not believe the FCC had the authority to preempt state laws, even if they are counter-productive.
In other words, in order to obtain local Internet choice, the fight has to also be local:
The battlefield is no longer the FCC and the courts, but state legislatures. And the battle plan is no longer to file convincing petitions and briefs. It is for advocates for local Internet choice to bring every local mayor, city council, business, school, college, library, chamber of commerce and citizen together to convince state officials that for the future of those cities and towns and by extension, the state itself, localities must have the ability to determine their own broadband futures.
Without a doubt, this new battlefield is much larger and the battle will be much harder, longer and more costly. But victory will be sweeter and less vulnerable to legal challenge if local stakeholders make their voices heard.
Sohn restated what Chairman Wheeler told us in August:
As he said on the day of the 6th Circuit decision: “Should states seek to repeal their anti-competitive broadband statutes, I will be happy to testify on behalf of better broadband and consumer choice. Should states seek to limit the right of people to act for better broadband, I will be happy to testify on behalf of consumer choice.” Trust me, you’ll never get a more passionate and persuasive advocate than Chairman Tom Wheeler.
Considering The Future
Looking ahead, Sohn’s words also turned to the practical matters of the physical infrastructure of Internet networks. She urged communities to address the issue of pole attachments as quickly as possible. In addition to obtaining access to poles under the control of incumbents or utility providers, municipalities need to consider the make-ready process. “This ‘make-ready’ process is ripe for gaming by those who disfavor competition,” she observed. Certainly, the games have already commenced, as AT&T has already filed suit to delay Google Fiber deployments in Nashville and in Louisville by preventing make-ready streamlining in those cities.
Sohn left us with the message that, even though we have been through a setback in obtaining local authority, we have profited from the experience as we move the challenge to the state level. She also drew from the promise of opportunity that she sees ahead:
In closing, I’ll paraphrase just about every State of the Union address – “the state of local Internet choice is strong.” This is true despite the setback dealt by the 6th Circuit. Many challenges lay ahead, but so do many opportunities. If the past three years serve as precedent, I know that the passionate, knowledgeable and resilient advocates of this movement will overcome the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities. Let’s keep working together until every community can determine its own broadband needs without barriers. Thanks again for this wonderful honor and for all the support you have given Chairman Wheeler, the FCC and me for the past three years.
Watch the video of Gigi Sohn's speech, courtesy of Ann Treacy at the Blandin Foundation and check out their blog, Blandin on Broadband:
Time to celebrate the work of rural cooperatives that bring high-quality Internet access to residents and businesses forgotten by national corporate providers. October is National Cooperative Month! Let’s celebrate some of the accomplishments of those cooperatives providing next-generation connectivity.
We pulled together a list of cooperatives who were actively advertising residential access to a Gigabit (1,000 Mbps) at the end of 2015. These cooperatives rang in 2016 with Gigabit speeds, inspiring others to improve rural connectivity throughout the U.S.
To assemble the list, we used Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Form 477 data from December 2015 to find all the providers advertising a residential Gigabit download speed. This generated a list of about 200 providers. Those providers were then manually sorted into “cooperative” or “not cooperative” based on publicly available information. If you would like to make a correction or suggestion concerning this list, please email email@example.com
2015’s Gigabit Cooperatives
Ace Telephone Association, also known as Ace Communications or AcenTek, in Minnesota
Adams Telephone Cooperative in Illinois
Albany Mutual Telephone Association in Minnesota
Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation (ATMC) in North Carolina
Ben Lomand in Tennessee
Breda Telephone, also known as Western Iowa Networks, in Iowa
Canby Telephone Association in Oregon
Chequamegon Communications Cooperative, also known as Norvado, in Wisconsin
Clay County Rural Telephone Cooperative, also known as Endeavor, in Indiana
Co-Mo Electric Cooperative in Missouri
Cochrane Cooperative Telephone Company in Wisconsin
Danville Mutual Telephone Company in Iowa
Dickey Rural Telephone Cooperative in North Dakota
ENMR Telephone Cooperative, also known as Plateau, in New Mexico
Gervais Telephone Company, also known as DataVision Cooperative, in Oregon
Farmers Cooperative Telephone Company in Iowa
Farmers Mutual Telephone Company in Iowa
Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative in Alabama
Farmers Telephone Cooperative in South Carolina
Garden Valley Telephone in Minnesota
Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association in Minnesota
Guadalupe Valley Telephone Cooperative in Texas
Halstad Telephone Company in North Dakota
NineStar Connect in Indiana
Hill Country Telephone Cooperative in Texas
Kingdom Telephone Company in Missouri
LaValle Telephone Cooperative in Wisconsin
Lavaca Telephone Company, also known as Pinnacle, in Arkansas
Matanuska Telephone Association in Alaska
McDonough Telephone Cooperative in Illinois
Midwest Energy Cooperative, also known as Midwest Connections, in Michigan
Molalla Communications Company in Oregon
Nemont Telephone Cooperative in North Dakota
North Central Telephone Cooperative in Kentucky
North Dakota Telephone Company in North Dakota
North Georgia Network in Georgia
Northwest Communications Cooperative in North Dakota
Paul Bunyan Rural Telephone Cooperative in Minnesota
Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative Corporation in Kentucky
Peoples Telecommunications in Kansas
Phillips County Telephone Company in Colorado
Pineland Telephone Cooperative in Georgia
Polar Communication Mutual Aid Corporation in North Dakota
Red River Rural Telephone Association in North Dakota
Reservation Telephone Cooperative in North Dakota
Richland-Grant Telephone Cooperative in Wisconsin
Roosevelt County Rural Telephone Cooperative, also known as Yucca Telecom, in New Mexico
RS Fiber Cooperative in Minnesota
Rural Telephone Service, also known as Nex-Tech, in Kansas
Santel Communications Cooperative, also known as Mitchell Telecom, in South Dakota
Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative, also known as Sho-Me Technologies, in Missouri
Skyline Telephone Membership Corporation in North Carolina
South Central Rural Telephone Cooperative Corporation in Kentucky
South Central Utah Telephone Association in Utah
Springville Cooperative Telephone Association in Iowa
Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative Corporation in Tennessee
UBTA-UBET Communications, also known as Strata Networks, in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming
United Electric Cooperative, also known as United Services, in Missouri
UTMA, also known as United Communications and Turtle Mountain Communications, in North Dakota
Valley Telephone Cooperative in Texas
Venture Communications Cooperative in South Dakota
Western Telephone Company in South Dakota
West Carolina Rural Telephone Cooperative in South Carolina
West Central Telephone in Minnesota
West Kentucky Rural Telephone Cooperative in Kentucky
West Wisconsin Telcom Cooperative in Wisconsin
Wilkes Telecommunications in North Carolina
Smart Rural Communities
The National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA - the Rural Broadband Association) has also created the Smart Rural Communities Program to recognize the achievements of cooperatives taking on high-speed connectivity projects. The program includes a Gig-certification process. Even if a cooperative does not advertise a Gigabit (which means they won’t appear on our list), the cooperative still has the ability to provide Gigabit connectivity. Check out the NTCA map of those cooperatives at SmartRuralCommunity.com.
2016’s Growing Gigabit Cooperatives
A number of other cooperatives have recently moved forward with Gigabit community projects. Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC), the telephone cooperative out of Brainerd, Minnesota, launched its Gigabit speed tier this year. This summer, the Custer Telephone Cooperative in rural Idaho announced a new fiber project. The cooperative’s current goal is to offers speeds of 100 Mbps, and eventually a Gigabit Internet access speeds. Other cooperatives are in the early stages of their fiber projects, such as Duck River Electric in Tennessee. The number of cooperatives taking on these projects continues to grow.
An increasing number of cooperatives are recognizing that high-speed Internet access is necessary to keep the rural U.S. competitive. Cooperatives are a community-owned, local solution to connectivity problems. You can learn about how telephone and electric cooperatives are leading the charge to bring high-quality Internet access to rural regions in North Carolina in our most recent report. Download a copy of North Carolina Connectivity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
Rio Blanco County, Colorado, is moving along nicely with its Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) infrastructure investment. Readers will recall that two years ago, voters in the mostly rural county in the northwest corner of the state reclaimed local authority and soon after the community commenced plans to improve connectivity.
In a recent interview of KDNK’s Geekspeak, Rio Blanco County’s IT Director Blake Mobley described details of the project as it moves forward. He also describes how people in the county are hungry for better Internet access. The guys touch on local control and how several other communities in Colorado are voting on the right to make their own telecommunications decisions this election season. From the show website:
On this year’s ballot, voters in Carbondale, Silt, Parachute and Garfield County will decide whether or not to opt out of restrictions on local government control over high speed Internet. Blake Mobley is IT Director for Rio Blanco County. Blake talks with Matt McBrayer and Gavin Dahl about Rio Blanco’s own ballot initiative, and the county’s decision to invest in infrastructure that is now delivering gigabit fiber to homes and businesses in Rangely and Meeker.
Christopher also interviewed Blake back in 2015 for episode #158 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
In June, North Carolina released a report pronouncing that 93 percent of the state has access to broadband speeds. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, our Research Associate H.R. Trostle, who has been examining reporting data in North Carolina for the past year, came to some very different conclusions. In episode 224, she and Christopher talk about the report they co-authored, which gives a different perspective on the connectivity situation in the Tar Heel State.
In their report, North Carolina Connectivity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Trostle discovered that, while urban areas have been well served by the big private providers, those same national companies have shunned rural areas. Instead, rural cooperatives and municipal networks are attempting to serve their residents and businesses with high-quality Internet access. It isn’t easy, however, when state laws discourage investment and access to federal funding.
Trostle gets into her analysis of the data, its limitations, and what we can learn from both. She and Chris go through some of the recommendations they provide to the state of North Carolina as it moves forward. The obvious first step is to repeal the state’s barrier on municipal network expansion, which has caused real harm in Pinetops, North Carolina. They also offer advice on how to facilitate telephone and electric cooperative investment and what that could mean for rural North Carolina.
For more, take a few minutes to download the report, which offers useful maps of where to find various connection speeds in the state.
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The county has relied heavily on manufacturing and retail in the past but as those opportunities dry up, young people are moving away and the future is in jeopardy. Healthcare is another strong industry in the region, but access to high-quality connections is now a must-have for hospitals and clinics. Elected officials also recognize that diversifying the local economy to lure companies that offer higher paying positions will bring new blood to Stark County.
In order to attract new commerce to Stark County, Ohio, they formed a Broadband Task Team (SCBBTT) in the fall of 2014. They have adhered to the philosophy that connectivity is a “fourth utility” and should be treated like electricity, water, gas, or sewer systems. In May, the SCBBTT hired a consultant to perform a feasibility study; the firm presented its findings and recommendations on October 12th.
Consultants Offer Results, Recommendations
Consultants analyzed the amount of fiber in the county and reviewed the state of connectivity for businesses and residents and found both lacking.
Incumbents include local provider MCTV, which offers cable TV, Internet access, and phone services over its coaxial fiber network. Charter Communications, which recently acquired Time Warner Cable assets in the area, and AT&T offer cable and DSL but the feasibility revealed that there is very little fiber connectivity for residents or businesses.
They recommend that the county employ a six-pronged approach:
Formalized Broadband-Friendly Policies and Standards
Develop a Carrier-Neutral Middle-Mile Fiber-Optic Backbone
Expand Connections to Regional Data Centers
Equip Economic Development Areas with Fiber Connectivity
Target Businesses in Close Proximity to Fiber Backbone
Develop Last-Mile Investment Framework to Facilitate Development of Retail Residential and Business Services
Their estimate of the cost for the proposed 130-mile backbone is approximately $22.5 million and would connect 140 community anchor institutions. Design of the network should also put fiber within 1,000 feet of more than 8,000 businesses to facilitate later expansion. The consultants estimate the project would pay for itself in 15 years and after 10 years would generate $5 million in revenue annually. After 20 years, the project should be generating approximately $22 million per year.
Middle Mile Strategy
The consulting firm propose the middle mile strategy as a way for local communities within Stark County to establish their own fiber initiatives. Municipalities could use the county infrastructure to connect to any of three data centers within the region. According to the Executive Summary, analysts calculated that the SCBBTT vision to connect every property with Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in the county in one swoop was out of reach. From the report:
A $330 - $400 million investment to buildout a FTTP network throughout Stark County is unlikely at this point due to economic conditions and political will, however, a measured, strategic approach to making incremental investments in the County are likely to be supported if an actionable roadmap is clearly delivered.
Waits For No One
The county of about 376,000 people is located in east central Ohio; Canton is the county seat. Fifteen percent of the county’s residents live at or below the poverty rate, above the national average of national average of 13.5 percent. More than 18 percent of the population is over the age of 65, also higher than the national average. Elected officials have seen both those numbers on the steady incline in recent years.
"We can't afford not to do this," [Stark County Commissioner Richard] Regula said. He believes that county commissioners should review the proposals and take the lead on the project.
Jackie DeGarmo, co-chair of the task team, said local leaders must decide if they have the "political will" to move forward with the plan. There's a need to create a broadband authority, she said. "A digital world is not going to wait for us."
North Carolina’s small-city and rural residents could be a lot further along in adopting higher-capacity broadband at home if the state would ease laws that restrict phone and power cooperatives’ participation in the internet business, according to a new report.
As Election Day approaches, people in a number of Colorado communities will be addressing special ballot questions on local telecommunications authority. Editors of the local news source, the Journal, encourage voters in Montezuma County and Dolores to opt out of harmful SB 152 and reclaim authority taken away in 2005.
“That Industry Has Had Its Chance”
According to editors at the Journal, SB 152 may have sounded like a good thing to legislators in 2005, but big corporate providers have not lived up to promises to bring high-quality connectivity to rural Colorado:
More than a decade later, that industry has had its chance. Internet providers have cherry-picked the lucrative markets and left small communities and even more sparsely populated rural areas with substandard Internet services that are far from high speed. Now it is time for the public sector to step out from under SB 152 restrictions.
By our last count, 27 towns and counties will offer voters the choice to opt out, but we may discover more as we continue to research before Election Day. The communities who choose to vote on the measure don’t necessarily have solid plans to invest in Internet access infrastructure, but if they want to work with a private sector partner or on their own, they must first hold a referendum.
As Election Day approaches, we anticipate more editorials expressing support; local communities are tired of waiting for better connectivity. As stated by the editors here:
Ballot issues 1A and 2A, respectively, allow local governments to investigate the feasibility of providing broadband services as a public utility or as part of a public-private partnership with taxpayer support for infrastructure.
That is logical, because most of us think of the Internet exactly as an essential utility, right along with electricity, gas and water.
The need is obvious. County voters, vote “yes.” Dolores voters, check the “yes” boxes on both 1A and 2A.
“Pri-Fi” = A broadband delivery model in which a private-sector wireless provider constructs, own, and operates a WiFi network in a major city without requiring any substantial commitments from the city or exposing the city or its taxpayers to any financial risk. When such projects fail, as they usually do, opponents of municipal broadband misrepresent them as failed municipal projects and cite them as proof that public broadband projects are failures.