Tag: "georgia"

Posted September 16, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Over the summer, Windstream and Colquitt Electric Membership Corporation announced that the two entities will work together to expand fiber optic Internet access throughout the electric co-op’s service territory in rural south Georgia. Windstream, the fifth largest telephone company in the nation, will maintain ownership of the newly deployed network and use it to offer its Kinetic broadband services to residents and businesses, while Colquitt, which has more than 45,000 members, will take advantage of the fiber connectivity to improve the management of its electric grid.

The announcement came one year after Georgia lawmakers clarified that electric cooperatives in the state are able to invest in broadband infrastructure to serve their members and established guidelines for co-ops that want to get into the business.

Working Out the Details

According to Telecompetitor, the project will expand Fiber-to-the-Home connectivity and gigabit speeds to Colquitt members who currently have access to Windstream’s much slower DSL services.

Windstream plans to use Colquitt’s labor force and its Rights-of-Way and electric poles to help deploy the network, but the telephone company will own the actual fiber optic lines. Colquitt will receive an indefeasible right of use (IRU) for some of the fiber capacity for internal uses and smart grid applications.

The two companies have not released details on the construction plan or locations yet.

Partnership Pros and Cons

Typically, electric co-ops that partner with a broadband provider to offer connectivity to their members choose to work with a nearby telephone co-op or a locally-owned company, though many electric co-ops do decide to provide the services themselves. For example, Minnesota-based CTC has...

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Posted July 9, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

As Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative (GDBI) Director Deanna Perry promised last September, a state intra-agency task force has completed its mapping project of broadband Internet access in the Goober State. It offers a far more detailed look at who does and does not have Internet access — right down to individual homes and businesses.  

Broadband Access Reality Check

The interactive map shows what we’ve known for a long time: that the FCC’s data on nationwide coverage dramatically overstates baseline broadband availability (defined as a connection capable of 25/3 Megabits per second (Mpbs)). This is especially true in rural areas. Georgia’s data, in particular, shows that of the more than 507,000 homes and businesses in the state lacking any access options, nearly 70% of these locations are in rural parts of the state. The reason for this discrepancy is because the GDBI map is based on location-specific data (individual houses and businesses), while the FCC map considers a whole census block served if just one location in that block is served.

Users can dive into the GBDI Unserved Georgia Map and type in an address or city to see how many locations within each census block are unserved, or check out the FCC vs GBDI comparison map to see the difference in reported coverage. In the GIF below, the GDBI data is on the left, while the FCC's claimed coverage is on the right.

GBDI vs FCC data

Equally interestingly, the map shows many areas where even just a handful of miles outside of mid-size metro areas like Athens or Macon, there are...

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Posted October 3, 2019 by lgonzalez

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mapping has long been criticized for inaccuracies. Now, state and local initiatives are taking up the challenge of poor broadband mapping and developing ways to create their own maps that better reflect the reality of broadband coverage in their communities. The Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative (GBDI) recently showcased several county-level maps they’ve developed that provide the detail that FCC maps lack.

Therein the Problem Lies

As experts have noted, FCC data on which maps are based are inadequate because their foundation is based on census blocks. If one premise in a census block can be served by an Internet access provider, that provider will report on the Form 477 that the entire census block is served. In rural areas where census blocks can be very large tracts of land, this can leave many premises indicated as served but actually unserved. 

We developed this graphic to illustrate the issue:

diagram-census-blocks-2018.jpg

When local communities apply for funding that’s based on the need to connect unserved and underserved premises, they can be disqualified due to incorrect mapping data. For local leaders who need to get their communities connected and expect to apply for grants and loans, FCC mapping can derail their funding and delay or end a proposed project.

This past August, the FCC announced that they will finally take steps to improve mapping and began seeking comments on the new Digital Opportunity Data Collection. Read the announcement [PDF].

Fixing the Maps

In Georgia, the GBDI sought to obtain information on a more granular level to obtain an accurate representation of where residents and businesses need to be connected and where they lack the kind of connectivity they need. 

According to GBDI Director Deanna Perry, staff developed a database of all premises located within the targeted counties they...

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Posted September 5, 2019 by lgonzalez

Less than a year ago, we reported on Dalton, Georgia’s transition to becoming the first gigabit city in the state. In August, the community took it up a notch when they began offering 10 gigabit residential Internet access from Dalton Utilities’ OptiLink.

As Foretold by Hank

When we interviewed Chief Technical Services Officer Hank Blackwood last November about the new gigabit tier, he told us that 10 gig plans were in the works. The boost in capacity is part of the city’s long-term vision to lure more tech innovators to Dalton. In addition to attracting firms able to offer more jobs, community leaders want to provide an environment ripe for entrepreneurs who may find working from home the secret sauce.

From the press release announcing the new 10 gig service for $349.95 per month:

“We are proud to offer our residents the very best in ultra-high-speed Internet and next-generation video, delivering services wanted and needed by so many communities,” says Dalton Utilities’ Hank Blackwood, Chief Technical Services Officer. “Very few areas have this level of fiber optic capability.”

Subscribers can still sign up for OptiLink at gigabit, 100 Megabit per second (Mbps), 75 Mbps, and 50 Mbps services. When bundled with phone or OptiLink’s new VidLink service, subscribers can cut stand-alone rates by around $5 per month. All tiers provide symmetrical service.

Check out residential OptiLink rates here.

Sweet Sixteen

Since 2003, residents and businesses have enjoyed access to fiber optic connectivity from Dalton Utilities. Like other public utilities, in the late 1990s utility management originally decided on fiber optic infrastructure investment as a way to better manage and control other utilities such as electric, water, gas, and water. As Dalton developed their supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, larger businesses in the community approached them and asked for connectivity via the fiber network.

Community leaders realized...

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Posted July 18, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Across the country, state legislatures are ushering in better rural connectivity by passing new laws that enable electric cooperatives to expand high-quality Internet access. In recent years, much of this legislation has authorized co-ops to deploy broadband infrastructure along existing electric easements. Other bills have removed restrictions that previously prevented electric co-ops from providing Internet access. Together, the new legislation makes it easier for electric cooperatives to bring high-speed broadband access to their members, signaling a brighter future for unconnected rural communities

Indiana in the Lead

Indiana’s state legislature was ahead of the curve when it passed SB 478, the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act back in 2017. The FIBRE Act permits electric cooperatives to use easements for their electric poles to also deploy broadband networks. Before the General Assembly passed this legislation, cooperatives that wanted to install communications infrastructure, such as fiber optic lines, along their electric easements would have to gain permission from each individual landowner to attach fiber to the existing poles.

Since the passage of the FIBRE Act two years ago, a number of Indiana electric cooperatives have embarked on broadband projects, including Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC), South Central Indiana REMC, Orange County REMC, and Tipmont REMC. At the announcement event for South Central Indiana REMC’s fiber project, State Senator Eric Koch, author of SB 478, noted that state legislation like the FIBRE Act was enabling electric cooperatives to expand modern connectivity to rural Indiana.

State Laws Advance Co-op Broadband

A wave of support for rural cooperative broadband initiatives rippled through state...

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Posted May 29, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

At a May 6 City Commission meeting in Decatur, Georgia, city leaders approved a project budget of $2.35 million to build a municipal I-Net and award the construction contract to Georgia-based Network Cabling Infrastructures, Inc. The decision came amid demands from cable giant Comcast that the community of about 24,000 immediately begin paying exorbitant fees for infrastructure the city has used under a past local franchise agreement. The case of sour grapes was resolved, but it once again reveals how the large corporate monopolies don't hesitate to flex their muscles when things don't go their way.

Conflict Over I-Net

The infrastructure at the center of the dispute dates back to the late 1990s to a franchise agreement Decatur made with MediaOne, which Comcast has since acquired. As part of the deal, MediaOne agreed to connect city facilities with a fiber network, and the city permitted the cable company to recover some construction costs through a 25 cent charge on subscribers’ monthly bills, up to a total cap of $200,000. MediaOne finished building the I-Net in 2000. Since then, Decatur has used the infrastructure without paying fees to MediaOne or Comcast for critical city operations.

Last year after working with a consultant, Decatur decided to replace the aging I-Net with a new, city owned fiber network and began to search for a contractor to build it. Comcast was one of several companies that responded to a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) issued by Decatur in October, but it did not meet the requirements established by the city.

logo-comcast.png Less than one month after Decatur notified Comcast that it was not selected, the company told former City Manager Peggy Merriss that it planned to retire the I-Net right away, unless the city paid for its use. A few months later, Comcast reiterated its intentions to current City Manager Arnold, explaining that the company had acquired a state franchise to replace the local franchise agreement that ended in 2009. According to Arnold, Comcast decided to charge the city approximately $370,000 annually for use of the current I-Net until the new one is built.

At the Decatur City Commission meeting on April...

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Posted May 17, 2019 by htrostle

Legislative changes are helping electric cooperatives continue to expand high-quality Internet access in rural parts of America. At least three state governments have bills in the works that empower cooperatives to provide high-speed Internet service in their service territories.

Georgia, Maryland, Alabama

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp recently signed into law SB 2 and SB 17, which clarify that both electric and telephone cooperatives are able to provide broadband service. This change allows the electric cooperatives to use their easements which have been used for electric service to extend those easements so they also apply to equipment and lines needed in order to supply broadband service. Electric cooperatives have already been at work on providing Internet service in Georgia: Habersham Electric Cooperative operates Trailwave Network, and the Pineland Telephone and Jefferson Energy Cooperatives have partnered to bring Internet service to their communities.

In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan has just approved SB 634 which similarly underscores how electric cooperatives can use their easements to provide broadband. Meanwhile in Alabama, HB 400 will codify in existing law that electric cooperatives have the ability to offer broadband service and that their easements are valid for that use. Alabama HB 400 has passed in the House and is now working its way through the Senate. Alabama cooperatives North Alabama Electric and Tom Bigbee Electric already provides high-speed Internet service in their service territories. 

Cooperatives Bring New Tech to Rural Areas

The fact is, from electricity to Internet service,...

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Posted February 14, 2019 by lgonzalez

Pineland Telephone Cooperative is known for providing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) services in southeast Georgia’s rural areas between Savannah, Augusta, and Macon. Now the co-op’s subsidiary Pineland Communications is expanding south and west into Americus, where they plan to provide fiber connectivity to local businesses.

Partnering for Pineland

In January, Pineland began deploying fiber to the delight of potential commercial subscribers. The project should start offering gigabit Internet access, voice, security, and computer services to local businesses this fall. Pineland is considering expanding to residential connections in Americus and Sumter County in the future. Pineland invested $2 million toward the project and local donors also contributed.

The project was spearheaded by the One Sumter Economic Development Foundation and began with a feasibility study three years ago. In August 2018, when the Foundation and Pineland announced the project, Rene Smith from the Foundation told WGXA:

"For our businesses, it means an opportunity to access high speed data -- which we see as vital for business success as well as education for our young people in this community. We feel like it's vital for our future."

 In addition to the feasibility study from the Foundation, the local hospital authority also contributed by selling property for the central office to Pineland at market value. Sumter Electric Membership Corporation, Georgia Electric Membership Corporation, Georgia System Operations Corporation, and Georgia Transmission Corporation all assisted with the project. As a result of the efforts of all the entities involved, Americus can market itself to potential new employers as Gig-Certified.

Coming to Americus 

The small city is home to businesses that need high-speed options and reliability that only fiber can provide. Americus is somewhat geographically removed, however, from larger cities where big corporate providers are more inclined to offer it. As Executive Director...

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Posted January 11, 2019 by Hannah Bonestroo

While 97 percent of Georgia’s urban population has access to broadband, the urban-rural digital divide in the state remains stark and only 70.9 percent of the rural population has that access. Considering estimates are based on self-reported data from incumbent providers and determined broadly by census block, the data overstates the reality on the ground. Representative Doug Collins from Georgia’s 9th congressional district is now leading the charge to mitigate this disparity, not only in his home state but in rural regions throughout the country. In a recent “Dear Colleague” letter, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee stated his intentions of introducing the CAF (Connect America Fund) Accountability Act at the start of the 116th Congress. Collin, a Republican representing Georgia's 9th District, introduced H.R. 427 on January 10th. If passed, the bill will create stricter requirements for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s broadband infrastructure funding under CAF.

Reaching for Accountability

CAF was designed to subsidize network deployments in unserved rural areas, which have often been overlooked due to the high expense of constructing infrastructure for few and scattered populations. While many providers that have received this funding have used it properly, as Collins stated, “others have taken taxpayer dollars but failed to fulfill their obligations to their consumers… instead using taxpayer dollars ineffectively or inappropriately – turning their backs on those families at the last mile.”

Currently, CAF recipients are required to provide speeds of at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. While this threshold is well below the current FCC definition of “broadband” service of at least 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, Collins noted that in his home district of Northeast Georgia, a region where a majority of ISPs are CAF recipients, consumers report speeds that are “consistently abysmal, sometimes not even reaching 3 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps.”

...

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Posted November 28, 2018 by lgonzalez

In a recent episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, host Christopher Mitchell spoke with Hank Blackwood from Dalton Utilities in Georgia about their publicly owned network, OptiLink. Hank described an upcoming milestone for the community of around 35,000 and a few surrounding rural areas with access to the network. Now it’s official — OptiLink is the first municipal network in the state that offers residential gigabit Internet access to subscribers.

Updates, Updates

Gigabit connectivity is coming on the heels of another improvement for OptiLink subscribers. This fall, officials at Dalton Utilities launched their new video product, VidLink. Hank described that the old video equipment needed a facelift after providing services to the community for 15 years.

With VidLink and the new subscriber base it began to attract, and the desire to give Dalton the economic development tools for a truly tech-centered economy, network officials decided it was time to expand gigabit connectivity. They had offered the service to businesses for about four years and on November 19th, 2018, officially launched residential symmetrical gig service.

Residential GIGLink service is an affordable $79.95 per month when bundled with VidLink and voice. Stand alone GIGLink service costs $84.95 per month.

Households can still sign up for three other symmetrical tiers as low as $41.95 per month for 50 Megabits per second (Mbps). Bundling with voice and video saves subscribers $5 per month.

It All Began With SCADA

Dalton Utility customers have enjoyed OptiLink since 2003, but the fiber infrastructure took root in Dalton in the 1990s. Like many other municipal networks that have been serving subscribers since the early 2000s, Dalton Utilities needed better communications between facilities and the ability to better manage and control their electric, gas, water, and wastewater utilities. They developed their Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system; soon some of the larger local businesses were approaching Dalton Utilities requesting connectivity. As a major center for carpet manufacturing, some of the community’s largest employers needed the kind of high-speed...

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