Rio Blanco County Fiber Project Forges Ahead

The Rio Blanco County's fiber optic and wireless network project continues to make steady progress with services likely available in some areas by January. 

County IT director Blake Mobley offered the update at a recent meeting of the Meeker board of trustees. Asked by the trustees when broadband access would be available to residents, Mobley said, “I think it’s very likely local will be lit in 2016,” according to a report in the Times Herald.

Work In Progress

Currently, Rio Blanco County is building out an open access network in the towns of Meeker (pop. 2,500) and Rangely (pop. 2,400) and fixed wireless system across a county-wide tower network. The county plans to build infrastructure to the curb and allow private providers to finish the connections to residential and business customers from curb to premise. Cost of the first stage is estimated at about $13 million. Rio Blanco County has a total population of 6,200 people over 3,000 square miles or an average of 2 people per square mile.

In a recent report to the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, Mobley said the fiber project will offer several tiers of Internet service, including 1 Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second or Mbps) symmetrical to residential and business customers in Meeker and Rangely. Gigabit service from Cimarron Telecommunications, one of the first providers to offer services over the county network, will cost $70 per month.

Meanwhile, most rural subscribers who are outside of Meeker and Rangely, will have access to Internet speeds of 25 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload with no data cap over the fixed wireless system, Mobley told us.

The Rio Blanco County fiber network will provide residents and businesses in Meeker and Rangely an alternative to DSL service from Centurylink and Strata.

“The intent is to reach as close to 100 percent of rural addresses as we can,” Mobley told us. “This phase of the project is a work in progress.”

Grants, County Funds, Partner Contributions

Rio Blanco County is financing the stage 1 of the project from two grants from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA); a $2 million general appropriation to build the fiber network and a $1.66 million grant to erect 8 to 12 towers for fixed wireless coverage. The bulk of the remaining financing is coming from internal County funds and also some assistance from community anchor institutions and other partners, Mobley said in episode #158 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast last year.

Connectivity's Community Impact: Looking At The Numbers

People rave about next-generation connectivity’s possibilities in rural economies, but what does that mean for locals? A recent survey quantified the actual impact of a reliable high-speed Internet connection in an underserved area.

Central Minnesota telephone cooperative, Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC), released the results of an impact survey on their newest fiber Internet service customers. CTC had extended their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to an underserved area south of Brainerd, with funding from a 2015 state broadband grant.

A Positive for Small Businesses and Farms

The survey of the CTC customers in the grant footprint highlighted the importance of connectivity for the community. Forty percent reported that they could not live in a home without a reliable high-speed connection. At the same time, fifty-six percent of the CTC customers currently use their home Internet connection for work purposes.

The new connectivity had a positive impact on small businesses and farms. More than twenty percent of the CTC customers maintain a home-based business or farm, and thirty-six percent of them reported that Internet service reduced their overall operating costs. Meanwhile, nine percent of all the CTC customers surveyed stated that they plan to start a home-based business in the next few years.

Reaching Goals

These results are especially refreshing for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program. CTC received more than $750,000 from the program in 2015 to improve connectivity for telecommuting and home-based businesses in the area. 

The previously underserved area sits south of Brainerd and extends to Fort Ripley. To encourage survey responses, CTC offered the chance to win an iPad and sent reminder postcards and emails to their customers. Twenty-eight percent of CTC’s customer base in that area took the survey either online or over the phone

The Co-op Perspective

Blandin on Broadband recently published videos from a co-op panel at the 2016 Minnesota Broadband Conference. In this short video from the conference, CTC representative Kristi Westbrock discusses the survey and the role of rural co-ops in expanding access to high-quality Internet service. 

"We Just Can't Go Back In Time": Pinetops Calls For Repeal Of State Law

In a September 22nd press release, the community of Pinetops, North Carolina, called out their Governor as they lose access to high-quality Internet access. Read the full statement here:

A state law is forcing the termination of Gigabit Internet service to the small rural town of Pinetops, NC. Last week, members of the Wilson, NC City Council expressed their deep regrets as they voted to approve the city attorney’s recommendation to disconnect Wilson Greenlight services in Pinetops under the North Carolina law commonly known as H129 (S.L. 2011-84).

Wilson was able to bring fiber-to-the-home Gigabit service to our town in April 2016, after the FCC preempted H129 on the grounds that it is anti-competitive and creates barriers to the deployment of advanced telecommunications capacity. Under Governor Pat McCrory, North Carolina challenged that ruling in May, 2015 in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and won a reversal last August.

Members of the Pinetops community are particularly distressed because the Gigabit service Wilson was delivering enabled Pinetops to compete with urban areas of North Carolina that get such Gigabit services from Google Fiber, AT&T, and Frontier. In Pinetops, in contrast, other sources of Internet service don’t meet the federal definition of broadband and are insufficient to support small business, home-based telework needs, and homework for students. The Gigabit network enabled the Town to begin developing new economic development plans to attract knowledge workers from nearby Greenville and Rocky Mount. That strategy is now impossible in light of the imminent disconnection of Gigabit services.

Town Commissioner Suzanne Coker-Craig operates a small screen printing business that depends on Wilson Greenlight’s hyper-fast upload speeds.  Commissioner Coker-Craig, with her colleagues in Pinetops government, passed a resolution in early September detailing the devastating economic impact this disconnection will have on their rural community. “H129 is now only hurting North Carolina’s rural communities.” the Commissioner stated. “Our urban areas are getting their Gigabit from the likes of Google. This is not a positive move forward for Eastern North Carolina in any fashion and we must lay the blame and the resolution at the feet of our Governor and state legislators” who are responsible for the anti-Gigabit law.

Pinetops Mayor Burress met last week with Governor McCrory’s staff, and handed them the Town’s letter and a Town resolution asking for repeal of the law that is forcing the Wilson City Council to cease service to Pinetops.  

Commissioner Coker-Craig reported that she has set up a Facebook page ​called “NC Small Towns Need Internet Access,” that directs residents on how to call their legislators and candidates who are running against them. “We are holding the Governor and our state legislature responsible for keeping this law in place, by challenging the FCC and knowing this would be the effect of a win. This law is not about protecting taxpayers, it’s about preventing competitive choice, and now it’s only hurting our rural areas where those monopoly companies could care less about bringing us 21st Century Internet.”

“We just can’t go back in time,” said Coker-Craig. “That does not represent sound social or economic policy,” the Mayor’s letter states.

​The Wilson Times reports that the Town's fiber network will be disconnected by Halloween.​

Designing A Faster Anacortes Starts With NoaNet

Anacortes, Washington, is officially on the road to better connectivity via publicly owned infrastructure. Community leaders voted on September 19th to collaborate with the statewide middle mile network, Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet), to get the project started.

One Piece At A Time

Public Works will be the first to use the fiber backbone to monitor and control its facilities; the community’s current radio-based system is prone to frequent failure. Water and sewer utility funds will pay for the design and construction of this section of the network. Officials estimate the fiber backbone will cost around $3 million.

Turning To Experience

The city approved $175,000 in design fees to nonprofit NoaNet, in part because it is funded and managed by several public utility districts. It brings high-quality Internet access to local government facilities all across the state. NoaNet’s fiber-optic network spans Washington with more than 2,000 miles through metro and rural areas. Its open access model encourages multiple service providers to offer services to more than 2,000 schools, libraries, hospitals, and other community anchor institutions in over 170 communities. The network has served the state for 15 years.

The Anacortes plan would connect its network to the Internet and then to local businesses and homes in a later phase. For now, the city’s priority is the utilities upgrade:

“Every day my guys are telling me we have (communication) failures,” Buckenmeyer said. “A fiber telemetry system is arguably the best system you can have. Our current system is outdated and we need to do something about it.”

Buckenmeyer said the first phase of the network could be finished within 18 months.

An Island Community

Anacortes, home to about 16,000 people, is located on the northern half of Fidalgo Island. Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands surround it on the north; Skagit Valley and Mount Vernon, another community with its own municipal network, are east on the mainland.

Island communities are often plagued by poor connectivity. Often they are hard to reach and large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can't justify the cost to bring high-quality Internet access to places that are not densely populated. Places like Islesboro, Maine, and Doe Bay, which is also in Washington, have taken to finding their own solutions to improving Internet access.

Iowa Knows Co-op Connectivity

Once again we return to Iowa to learn about community networks and high-speed connectivity. Home to municipal networks such as in Cedar Falls, Lenox, and Harlan, Iowa also grows publicly owned networks of a different kind - cooperatives’ networks. The Winnebago Cooperative Telecom Association (WCTA) provides next-generation connectivity to rural areas, and is now upgrading infrastructure in its service area. WCTA uses Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) technology to provide Internet access of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps). 

Small Towns and Cities To Get An Upgrade

WCTA is now installing fiber in Forest City, home to about 4,000 people and the county seat of Winnebago County.

WCTA General Manager Mark Thoma told the Globe Gazette’s Forest City Summit newspaper, “We have to work closely with the city. Kudos to the city crew for locating (all the utilities). It’s been going very well.”

WCTA intends to install their fiber underground in Forest City and the municipal utilities department is facilitating the cooperative’s efforts by locating current utilities infrastructure. Collaborating will enable WCTA to bury their fiber without disrupting other services.

This upgrade to fiber will replace the copper lines towns served by WCTA, where members still use DSL. Customers in rural areas received an upgrade to FTTH several years ago. 

Rural Areas First

In 2011, WCTA received $19.6 million American Recovery and Reinvestment (ARRA) award for a fiber broadband project in rural areas throughout its service territory. Half of the money was a grant, and the other half was a loan.

While finishing the fiber builds in these rural areas in 2015, WCTA automatically bumped up the speeds of all rural members. Previous top speeds of 15 Mbps jumped up to 100 Mbps via FTTH but the $65 per month subscription rate stayed the same. WCTA's fiber network speeds are symmetrical, so upload and download speeds are the same.

Cooperatives Have Annual Meetings

The WCTA 66th Annual Meeting takes place today; vaudeville performer Peter Bloedel of Minnesota will entertain the members as they decide on the future direction of the co-op. Governed by the people they serve, cooperatives should be invested in building a vibrant future for their communities. 

WCTA is just one of many cooperatives that has taken on a community network project. Last year, telecommunications co-op Wiatel began a $25 million fiber project in western Iowa. Cooperatives are proving to be a promising option in rural areas where big corporations like Comcast, Centurylink, or AT&T don't anticipate the profit margin they need for their shareholders.

To learn more about cooperatives and Internet access, visit our cooperative tag and check out the work of ILSR’s energy program: “Re-Member-ing the Electric Cooperative” on the potential of rural electric cooperatives.

"Go West, Young ISP!" Ting Moving Into Centennial, Colorado

What do Maryland’s Westminster; Sandpoint in Idaho; Holly Springs, North Carolina; Charlottesville, Virginia; and now Centennial, Colorado, all have in common? Ting's "crazy fast fiber" Internet access.

In a press release, the Toronto Internet Service Provider (ISP) announced that as of today, it is taking pre-orders to assess demand in Centennial. The results will determine if the company will take the next step and offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to Centennial’s 107,000 residents and its local businesses. Ting estimates residential symmetrical Gigabit Internet access (1,000 Megabits per second download and upload) will cost approximately $89 per month; business subscriptions will cost about $139 per month. According to the Ting blog, they are also planning to offer a low-cost option of 5 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical Internet access for $19.99 per month.

All Part Of The Plan

In March, the city released the results of a feasibility study and published its Master Plan, which included investing to expand the city’s existing network of more than 50 miles of dark fiber. Ting is the first provider to offer services via the infrastructure.

Once it is established that a sufficient demand exists for Ting’s symmetrical Gigabit Internet access, construction to specific areas of town will begin.

Mayor Pro Tem and District 4 Council Member Charles “C.J.” Whelan said:

“Ting Internet in Centennial will enable faster and more affordable Internet services for both residents and businesses, just as the City’s Fiber Master Plan intended. Technology, and in particular connectivity to the Internet, has become essential to everyday life, so much so that we experience withdrawals when it is not there. Data connectivity needs to be efficient and readily available, and it is at its best when it, ‘just works’ and you don’t have to think even about it. Bringing such a high level of service to Centennial is what makes this collaboration with Ting so exciting.”

"A Fine Ear"

When Centennial voters chose to reclaim local authority in 2013, they told the rest of the state they would chart their own course. They also let ISPs know that they were open to collaboration to improve local connectivity. Centennial is only one of over four dozen municipalities and counties that have opted out of the state's restrictive law, SB 152.

In a video on why Ting chose Centennial as its next city, CEO Elliot Noss pointed out the strong election results of referenda in which Centennial and other Colorado communities chose to reclaim local authority. “Clearly, the state of Colorado has a fine ear for better, faster, Internet.”

Watch the video here:

Coverage Of Pinetops: Hear Us On PRX

As part of our coverage on the events in Pinetops, North Carolina, we recently published "Rural Pinetops Disconnected from Internet Thanks to Telecom Monopolies" on PRX. The audio story runs for 3:28.

Readers are familiar with the small rural community that could only get high-quality Internet access from Greenlight, a nearby municipal electric utility. Wilson, the home of Greenlight, was forced to cut off service to Pinetops due to restrictive state laws. We talk a local business owner and community leader, to Suzanne Coker Craig, about the situation. 

Get more details at PRX...

Expect more audio coverage of current events that impact residents, businesses, and local governments as they strive to obtain better connectivity. We encourage you to share this and upcoming stories to help spread the word about the benefits of publicly owned networks and the right for local communities to determine their own broadband destiny.

Local Authority "A-Number One" Priority For Congress, Says Wheeler

“A-number one importance.”

On September 15th, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee gathered to discuss FCC oversight and telecommunications issues. Among those issues, the Committee discussed municipal networks.

Senator Cory Booker (D - NJ) asked FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to provide his thoughts on how important it is that Congress takes action. The matter he put before Wheeler was the prospect that Congress act to allow local communities to have local authority on issues relating to Internet infrastructure and advanced telecommunications capabilities. How important is it?

Wheeler’s answer: “A-number one importance.”

Wilson, Pinetops, And A Harmful State Law

Booker, who introduced a bill in 2015 to restore local authority, brought up the subject of Wilson, North Carolina, and nearby Pinetops. When the FCC rolled back restrictive state laws in 2015, Wilson’s electric utility finally had the legal authority to help their neighbors so began offering high-quality Internet access through it’s municipal Internet service, Greenlight. Earlier this summer, the Court of Appeals found in favor of the state, which challenged the FCC decision. As a result, Wilson must cut off service to Pinetops or risk losing the legal ability to serve anyone. The FCC has announced that it will not pursue further review of the decision and will focus its resources on other areas. 

Booker described the situation in Pinetops as “disturbing,” but went on to praise Wilson for investing to solve the need in the region and pointing out how local businesses, including those in Pinetops, came to depend on those investments. He went on to say he was “disappointed, if not angered” by the Court of Appeal’s decision.  

Watch a clip of the hearing:

For Pinetops and other rural communities where big cable and DSL companies refuse to bring the connections they need, the North Carolina General Assembly has betrayed them. Rather than give local communities the tool they need to move into the 21st century, the men and women of the state Capitol would rather bank on heavy campaign donations from the industry heavy hitters. These are the same entities that pushed to pass state laws that prevent local communities from investing in their own futures. 

An Enlightened FCC

Wheeler has advocated for local authority for some time now, a significant shift from past FCC Chairmen, who continued to push the antiquated notion that large private sector providers would be our saviors. In his August 10th statement on the Court of Appeals Order reversing the FCC decision, Wheeler stood with Pinetops and other rural communities who want their state legislators to stand down:

“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.”

Tom Wheeler, Cory Booker, and an increasing number of elected officials are now seeing the benefits of publicly owned Internet networks, thanks to a growing momentum of local community leaders, business owners, and advocates.

Medina County Aims to Be Mecca of Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 220

Medina County has built a fiber network to connect its core facilities and leases its fiber to multiple ISPs to improve connectivity in its communities. David Corrado, CEO of the Medina County Fiber Network, joins us to discuss their approach on Community Broadband Bits episode 220.

We discuss how the Port Authority became the lead agency in building the network and the challenges of educating potential subscribers on the benefits of using a full fiber network rather than the slower, less reliable connections they were used to.

Medina's approach allows carriers to buy lit services or dark fiber from the county network. And as we have seen elsewhere, the biggest challenge can be getting the first and second carriers on the network. After that, it can really pick up steam as other carriers realize they are missing out if not using it.

At the end of our interview, we added a bonus from Lisa - she just produced a short audio segment about Pinetops losing its Internet access from the city of Wilson in North Carolina.

Read the transcript of the episode here.

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

This show is 27 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

Broadband Communities Regional Conference Fast Approaching: Oct. 18 - 20

As you say good-bye to September, consider making your way to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to attend the 2016 Broadband Communities Mag Annual Conference at the downtown Radisson Blu. The event is scheduled for October 18 - 20 and you can still register online.

The Economic Development Conference Series brings Fiber For The New Economy to the "City of Lakes" as part of its Community Toolkit Program. The conference is full of information you can use if your community is looking for ways to improve local connectivity through fiber. There will be presentations on economic development, financing, and smart policies that help lay the groundwork for future fiber investment. There are also some special sessions that deal specifically with rural issues and a number of other specialized presentations and panel discussions.

Christopher will be presenting twice on Wednesday, October 19th at 10:00 a.m. and again at 11:15 a.m. with several other community broadband leaders on the Blue Ribbon panel. They will address questions and discuss important updates, review helpful resources, and describe where we need to go next.

Next Century Cities will present a special Mayor’s Panel on October 20th and the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) will arrive on October 18th for a special day-long program.

Check out the full agenda online.

Key facts on the Broadband Communities’ Conference

What: “Fiber for The New Economy”

Where: Radisson Blu Downtown Hotel, 35 S. Seventh St., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55402.

When: Oct. 18-20, 2016


Photo of Lake Harriet and the Minneapolis skyline courtesy of Baseball Bugs