Tag: "georgia"

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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Posted November 20, 2018 by lgonzalez

Dalton, Georgia’s OptiLink has served the community for around 15 years, making it one of the first citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) municipal networks. In this interview, Chief Technical Services Officer of OptiLink and for Dalton Utilities Hank Blackwood talks with Christopher about the past, the present, and the immediate future of OptiLink.

Hank describes the original purpose for bringing fiber into the community. From utilities to businesses to residents, city leaders realized that Dalton needed better connectivity and that the best source was a hometown utility that cared about subscribers. In addition to economic development, advancing telehealth, and inspiring entrepreneurs, the OptiLink network has allowed the community to celebrate its diverse culture.

Now that it’s time to update their video offerings, says Hank, OptiLink has discovered a great new video product that is attracting new subscribers. Over the years, they’ve tried to introduce new technologies to Dalton in order to keep the community up to speed and now that they’re introducing gigabit service, they are truly a tech city.

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

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the...

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Posted April 24, 2018 by htrostle

Internet access isn't effective when it takes forever to load a single webpage or when subscribers spend hours babysitting their computers to ensure files make it through the upload process. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we create maps analyzing publicly available data to show disparities in access and highlight possible solutions. We've recently taken an in-depth look at Georgia and want to share our findings with two revealing maps. According to the FCC's 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, 29.1 percent of the state's rural population lacks broadband access, but only 3 percent of the urban population shares the same problem. Cooperatives and small municipal networks are making a difference in several of these rural communities.

Technology Disparities Across the State

The map below shows what kinds of technology Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are using to offer Internet service to homes or businesses in Georgia. To differentiate areas of the state, the lines represent the subdivisions within counties. Our analysis focuses on wireline technologies, specifically fiber, cable, and DSL. Satellite and fixed wireless services are too dependent on the weather and the terrain for our analysis.

map of georgia, DSL in rural areas

In rural Georgia, premises with wireline access most often rely on DSL; cable and fiber tend to be clustered around towns and cities where population density is higher. Google, for instance, operates a fiber network within Atlanta, Georgia. The large amount of fiber in the eastern half is the Planters Rural Telephone Cooperative, one of the many rural cooperatives that are taking steps to help rural communities obtain the access they need to keep pace with urban centers.

Although DSL service is widespread, it's the least reliable and slowest of the three technologies. It often relies on old copper lines. Cable is more dependable than DSL, but typically slows down significantly during peak web traffic times, such as early evening in residential areas or business hours in downtowns or other areas where businesses cluster. Sometimes called the gold standard of Internet service,...

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Posted June 9, 2017 by htrostle

Journalist Jill Nolin recently dove into the details of electric cooperatives and Internet service in an article for the Thomasville Times-Enterprise in Georgia. Rural electric co-ops offer an avenue for robust rural connectivity that is in keeping with the long-standing rural tradition of self-reliance.

Talking With The Cooperatives

The article features interviews with several local electric cooperatives (EMCs) for their perspective on providing Internet service. Nolin spoke with Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, an electric cooperative that has been offering Internet service for almost ten years.

“Sometimes you have to venture out and do what’s right because your members need you to do it, because they’re demanding you to do it and because it’s the right thing to do. That’s what we did. We ventured out. We didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” -- Erik Brinke, Economic Development Director for Blue Ridge Mountain EMC

Nolin explored several possible barriers facing electric cooperatives that want to provide Internet service: from murky legal territory to capital funding. Christopher Mitchell said:

“It’s a kind of inertia to keep doing what they have been doing, and I think that’s changing more rapidly than I thought, candidly. But I think that’s the number one reason why we don’t see a hundred or 200 of the EMCs in this right now, although I think we’ll be there in another year or two from the rate of escalation we’re seeing,”

Nolin describes how the electric cooperatives are currently asking for the law to be clearly spelled out in the state of Georgia. 

Electric Cooperatives Across the Country

Many electric cooperatives around the country have started projects and programs to connect residents and businesses. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we have counted about 50 electric cooperatives involved so far. Our report on North Carolina noted how the rural electric cooperatives could provide Internet access to many unserved communities in that state; changes in the law would allow better EMCs to...

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Posted March 3, 2017 by lgonzalez

Earlier this legislative session, we followed legislation in Virginia, which would have negatively impacted municipalities’ ability to use their publicly owned infrastructure to improve connectivity. We’re now watching a bill in Missouri that’s been resurrected from legislation that died last year. Another state bill just appeared on our radar in Georgia that interferes with local community authority by prescribing stringent rules on permitting and applications.

The Wrong Direction

When our Christopher saw it, he said: 

This is based on the false notion that cities are the barrier to better networks rather than recognizing the power of pole owners and existing attachers as a far more significant barrier.

The bill, HB 336 or the Broadband Strategy for All of Georgia Act, allows communities to be certified as “broadband ready,” which may allow providers that serve those communities eligible for state tax incentives. In order for a community to be certified as a “broadband ready community,” it must comply with a specific model ordinance, created by the state that dictates the process for reviewing applications for broadband projects.

The bill starts out all wrong, by defining broadband as 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download by 1 Mbps upload. 10:1 not broadband.jpg Clearly that indicates that its point of origin is the incumbent telephone companies who want to make it easier to provide their slow DSL, rather than encourage upgrades to the FCC definition of “broadband.” As a reminder, the federal government considers broadband to be 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps.

The process proposed in HB 336 assumes that local communities that are trying to protect their public spaces are the bad guys and any DSL or cable company who wants to insert their lines or equipment in public space is but a poor victim. The bill applies to any “public rights of way, infrastructure and poles, river and bridge crossings, or any other physical assets owned or controlled by the political subdivision.”

The Heavy Hand Of The State

HB 336 caps application...

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Posted January 25, 2017 by lgonzalez

Local officials in Columbia County, Georgia, wanted better public safety communications, synchronized traffic signals, and better connectivity for government facilities. They decided the best strategy was a publicly owned network and their decision is creating opportunities they hadn't anticipated.

When he considers how the county expanded its fiber network to improve economic development, education, and public savings, Columbia County Broadband Utility (C3BU) Broadband Manager Lewis Foster still sounds a little surprised. After all, Columbia County planned on using the network for a limited purpose, but then they realized the diversity of the asset. "It was almost an afterthought," he says.

Poor Options Created A Positive Path

Before the idea of a publicly owned network saw the light of day in Columbia County, local leaders contacted the incumbent providers to set up a dark fiber lease. To their dismay, incumbents AT&T, Comcast, and WOW, would not lease the county dark fiber.

County officials approached incumbents in 2007 and 2008 hoping to secure a dark fiber lease. The large providers, however, said they either didn’t have any dark fiber to lease, they could offer lit services, or they would build a dark fiber network for the county to use. Incumbents demanded a model where the county would pay the construction costs but the infrastructure would be owned and operated by the incumbents – who would then charge the County for access to the network the county had paid for. Foster recalls that incumbents we’re most interested in charging premium rates for lit services. Columbia County officials wanted a better option and found a more fiscally responsible approach in simply owning the network.

recovery1.gif

As county leaders developed a plan to deploy fiber, the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats crafted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). In 2009, with Columbia County's $18 million project plan well developed, they applied for stimulus funding. Their project obtained a $13.5 million stimulus grant; they used county sales tax funds to pay the $4.5 million local match. When the recession hit in 2008, says Foster, the cost to complete other budgeted projects decreased, leaving the county with unspent sales tax funds that they applied to the C3BU project. He...

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