Tag: "telephone"

Posted November 9, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

For many rural Americans, the local electric or telephone cooperative is their best hope for finally obtaining modern-day connectivity. With the support of government funding, rural cooperatives have brought electricity, telephone service, and more recently broadband access to some of the most rugged and sparsely populated places in the country.

However, recent tax code changes might prevent co-ops from connecting more rural communities. Cooperatives could potentially lose their tax exempt status if they accept government grants for broadband expansion and disaster recovery — an unintended yet foreseeable consequence of the Republican “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” passed late last year. In a press release, Senator Tina Smith called attention to the oversight, noting, “This uncertainty has caused cooperatives significant concern and frozen some of their grant applications.”

Who’s Ready for Some Tax Policy?

As nonprofit membership corporations, rural electric and telephone cooperatives are exempted from paying taxes under section 501(c)(12) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). To maintain this tax exempt status, cooperatives must derive at least 85 percent of their income from members (e.g., from selling electricity). This is sometimes referred to as the the member income test or the income source test.

Not all sources of non-member income are included when calculating this percentage. Revenue from utility pole rentals, for instance, is exempted. In the past, rural cooperatives also excluded federal and state grants from the member income test, based on assorted rulings from the Internal Revenue Service (one example is Rev. Rul. 93-16, 1993–1 C.B. 26, which held that a federal grant given to an airport should not be considered income for tax purposes). As long as co-ops treated the government funding as a source of capital, not income, they could accept as much grant money as they wanted without the...

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Posted September 11, 2018 by lgonzalez

Caller ID spoofing, robocalls, and general spam phone calls are one of the hassles of 21st century life. This week on Community Broadband Bits, Christopher and Richard Shockey of Shockey Consulting talk about how the problem has progressed and what leaders in telecommunications are doing about it.

As we transition from our old telephone system to one that involves session initiation protocol, commonly known as SIP, we create a new frontier for those who are finding ways to misuse the technology. Richard, with decades of experience in Data Communications, Voice over IP Technology, Numbering and Signaling, sits as Chairman of the SIP Forum. The SIP Forum brings together people in the industry to advise, advance, and consult on matters related to IP communications and services that are based on SIP. One of their challenges involves finding ways to improve the problems associated with caller ID spoofing, robocalls, and spam calls that are associated with SIP.

In this conversation, Richard gives us a history lesson. He shares his technical expertise to help explain how market conditions, lack of investment, and the transition to the new technology have created a perfect environment for increased caller ID spoofing, robocalls, and the like. Richard describes the work of the SIP Forum and some of the challenges they’ve faced, which aren’t all technical. They have concrete plans to improve the situation, but rollout isn’t easy or quick. Policy, transparency, and rules are all issues that experts must address as they determine how we move forward.

Learn more about the work of the SIP Forum at their website and sign up for one of their mailing lists to learn more about specific tech issues.

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

This show is 39 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download  this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here...

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Posted June 28, 2018 by lgonzalez

In May, Connecticut’s Public Utility Regulatory Agency (PURA) struck a blow at local authority when the ruled that communities could not use their protected utility pole space for municipal fiber deployment. Big cable and telephone companies cheered, broadband advocates and communities that need better connectivity decided to take action. Now, PURA faces lawsuits that challenge the decision from the Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC), the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM), and at least three local communities that just want high-quality Internet access.

Long Wait

The focus of the controversy is Connecticut’s Municipal Gain Space Law, which was first established in the early 1900s to guarantee municipalities the ability to hang telegraph wires. The municipal gain space is a location on all utility poles — publicly or privately owned — situated in the public right-of-way. After multiple law suits over the years in which cities and the state typically won, Connecticut’s legislature finally amended the language of the law to allow government entities to use the municipal gain space for “any use” in 2013.

Almost two years ago, we reported on the petition filed by the OCC and the State Broadband Office (SBO) with PURA asking for clarification on the law, which included establishing clear-cut rules on using the municipal gain space for fiber optic deployment. They felt the rules needed cleaning up because some incumbents in Connecticut were still finding ways to thwart competition and stop or delay plans for municipal fiber deployment. 

logo-PURA-ct.jpeg In addition to using restrictive pole attachment agreements, incumbents were exploiting the lack of definition in the statute to slow make-ready work, question who pays for make-ready work, and generally delay municipal projects. Time is money and losing momentum can drive up the cost of of a project, which in turn erodes a community's will to see it realized.

The Decision in Question

In addition to the petition that the OCC had filed, Frontier, the Communications Workers of America, and the New England Cable and...

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Posted June 7, 2018 by lgonzalez

National ISPs with millions of customers are some of the most hated companies in the U.S. Poor customer service, contract tricks, and a refusal to upgrade services are only a few of the common complaints from subscribers who are often trapped due to lack of competition. Frontier Communications is proudly carrying on that tradition of deficiency in Minnesota. In fact, the company’s excellence at skullduggery has drawn the attention of the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which launched an investigation into the service quality of Frontier this spring.

So Much Going On Here

While many of us are used to some level of poor service when it comes to the big ISPs, Frontier in Minnesota accumulated so many complaints, the PUC felt they had no choice but to take action. According to Phil Dampier from Stop the Cap!, the Commission received 439 complaints and negative comments in a five-week period in early 2018. Some but not all, of the types of issues that subscribers described included:

  • Lack of telephone service for up to a week at a time.
  • Poor quality telephone service, including missed calls and noise on phone lines.
  • Subscribers charged for services they’re not receiving.
  • Service visits that accomplish nothing but for which customers are still charged.
  • Missed service appointments and long delays in getting repairs scheduled.
  • Mistaken disconnections, service additions customers did not ask for, and service errors.
  • Contract issues that include penalties for early termination, even if the subscriber told Frontier they did not want a long term contract.
  • Auto-renew contracts that customers were never told about.
  • Threats to customers’ credit if they don’t pay bills, even when there is a dispute regarding the charges.
  • Customer service promises of discounts not being applied, penalties on disputed bill totals, and checks sent to Frontier but not credited to subscribers’ accounts.

The PUC wanted to hold public hearings to seek out other information from subscribers and those who had previous dealings with Frontier. In order to limit the public spectacle, Frontier and CenturyLink filed comments arguing that the PUC had no authority to review Frontier’...

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Posted January 11, 2018 by lgonzalez

As schools across the country look at their budgets, Janesville, Wisconsin, has decided to cut their future expenses with a fiber optic investment. This spring, the district will use E-rate funding to help finance a fiber optic local area network (LAN) in order to cut telecommunications costs by $70,000 per year.

Connecting Facilities

The school district will install 12 lines, eliminating leased lines and the associated expense. E-rate funds will pay for $1.6 million of the estimated $2 million project; the school district’s contribution will be approximately $400,700 and an additional $225,000 for engineering and project fees. School district officials calculate their contribution will be paid for in nine years. Fiber optic networks have life expectancies upwards of 20 years and in Janesville, District CIO Robert Smiley estimates this project will last for 50 years.

At a recent Board meeting, Smiley told the members that the new network will be like transitioning “to our own private Interstate.” In addition to better prices, the new infrastructure will allow the district to ramp up speeds to ten times what they current share between facilities. The system Janesville School District uses now has been in place since the 1990s.

The federal E-rate program started during the Clinton administration as a way to help schools fund Internet access and has since been expanded to allow schools to use if for infrastructure. School districts obtain funding based on the number of students in a district that are eligible for the National School Lunch Program. Funding for E-rate comes from the School and Libraries Program from the Universal Services Fund.

“Hello, Savings!”

Like many other schools that have chosen to switch to a district owned fiber network, Janesville sees a big advantage for voice communications. Due to the age of their phone system, they’ve had failures in the past. Last winter during a day of inclement weather, a large volume of incoming calls from parents overloaded the system and other parents who had signed up for emergency alerts on their phones didn’t receive them. With a new fiber network, the school district will be able to switch to VoIP.

The Greater...

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Posted October 24, 2017 by christopher

After being told by the large telephone incumbent that he could pay a nominal fee in rural Michigan to get phone service, John Reigle built a home. And when the telephone company changed its mind after quoting an outrageous price, he created a cooperative that is building fiber networks in a very rural region of Michigan. 

General Manager Ron Siegel of Allband Communications Cooperative joins us for episode 276 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We talk about the realities of connecting the most rural unconnected, while fighting for what meager support is available from state and federal sources. 

Along the way we talk about how the cooperative grew up and where its future lies in an uncertain time for local networks as the federal government showers money on the biggest incumbents that aren't really investing in rural America.

We previously wrote about Allband here.

Read the transcript of this show here.

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

This show is 29 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or 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 Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted October 11, 2017 by lgonzalez

Another rural electric cooperative is set to bring high-quality connectivity via fiber optic infrastructure. Volunteer Electric Cooperative (VEC) in Tennessee will be investing in a pilot program in Bradley County by year’s end.

A Learning Process - The Pilot

When it comes to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity via publicly owned Internet infrastructure, Chattanooga is typically the first location on everyone’s lips. Unfortunately, neighboring Bradley County has struggled with chronically poor connectivity. Even though Chattanooga would very much like to expand their reach to serve Bradley County residents and businesses, restrictive state law prevents the city from helping their neighbors.

Last summer, VEC saw an opening when the state legislature changed existing barriers that prevented electric cooperatives from offering broadband access or from applying for state grants to deploy the infrastructure. VEC is currently in the process of preparing grant applications through the state’s economic development commission. 

The purpose of the pilot, according to VEC President Rody Blevins, is to determine the level of interest in Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity in Bradley County. Areas VEC chose for the pilot include homes where there is no service and premises were there are more than one option.

"We are doing that to discover how many would choose our services who have no options as well as those who do have a source for broadband service already available," Blevins said. "That helps us looking at the bigger financial model."

"If we have real low response, that's going to hurt us," he added. "We are not for- profit, so this thing has to pay for itself overtime. If I show my board it will never pay for itself, we can't do it. But, I don't think that's going to be the case."

Blevins told the Cleveland Banner that the cooperative estimates the cost to cover 75 percent of Bradley County would be approximately $40 million. He went on to say that if 50 percent of households in the pilot areas chose to sign up, “we would be in pretty good shape.” 

Working...

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Posted August 23, 2017 by lgonzalez

Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative (CVEC) and local communications cooperative Citizens Connected are joining forces to improve Internet access in rural northern Wisconsin.

Collaborating For Connectivity

The two cooperatives recently announced that they will invest in fiber infrastructure to connect residents, businesses, and schools through a new entity called Ntera. Construction will start in Holcombe, population around 300, because it’s one of the communities with the worst Internet access within the CVEC service area. Construction in Holcombe should begin this fall.

Ntera will offer 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) connectivity to premises in addition to voice and video. Rates have yet to be determined. CVEC’s service area includes approximately 7,500 premises within five counties. Citizens Connected has already invested in fiber infrastructure passing more than 3,200 premises.

Holcombe is a census-designated place in the town of Lake Holcombe, where the population is a little more than 1,000. Even though they’d like to, Lake Holcombe schoolteachers don’t offer devices to students because so many of them don’t have Internet access at home. Superintendent Jeff Matin says that more than half of the students don’t have Internet access because it isn’t available in their home or just too expensive.

The Lake Holcombe schools will use $80,000 in E-rate funding and state grants to connect to existing fiber in the community that will be incorporated into the larger network. Although the school district is obtaining funding to connect, the cooperatives are funding the network investment themselves. They have not yet released a final estimate for the cost of the project. School officials look forward to the educational opportunities the new fiber will bring:

Mastin is eager to have the improved broadband in the Holcombe area. Right now, there is Internet in the school building only.

“We’ll be able to have our community having easier access to the Internet,” Mastin said. “We could give (students) more devices to allow them to connect to it. It’s definitely needed for education in the 21st century.”

...

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Posted August 1, 2017 by lgonzalez

Vernon Communications Cooperative (VC Co-op), serving much of rural Vernon County, Wisconsin, was recently named a Certified Gig-Capable Provider by NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association. VC Co-op joins a growing list of rural cooperatives that are offering gigabit connectivity to members in places where national Internet service providers don’t want to invest in infrastructure. The certification requires that "gigabit technology is currently commercially available within 95 percent of one or more exchanges within [the provider's] serving territory and that such service can be provided without new trenching or stringing new aerial facilities."

Why Do Co-ops Always Start? To Fill A Need

VC Co-op started as a telephone cooperative in 1951 when local farmers collaborated, obtained funding from the Rural Electrification Act, and formed the Vernon Telephone Cooperative. After partnering with other telephone companies in the region to establish Internet service in the early 1990s, VC Co-op also began offering long distance voice and television services in 2001.

VC Co-op has also made a name for themselves by offering twelve community television channels that broadcast various local events, including school sports and concerts, local weather, and even radio shows.

By 2008, VC Co-op had finished upgrading their network in the county seat of Viroqua (pop. 4,400), replacing copper lines with fiber. Viroqua has taken advantage of the fiber in ways that touch almost all aspects of daily life. In addition to public safety, healthcare, and education, local businesses using fiber connectivity have been able to grow beyond the limits of Viroqua. All the while, the VC Co-op has served the community with the same spirit we see from other cooperatives.

logo-organic-valley.jpeg Organic Valley, a farmers cooperative with headquarters in Vernon County, suffered a catastrophic fire in 2013. Without missing a beat, VC Co-op connected 21 temporary locations to house Organic Valley employees and established a connection for the farmers cooperative in another building.

VC Co-op is in the...

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Posted May 29, 2017 by htrostle

Can’t get telephone or Internet service? Have you tried starting your own company? In 1998, John Reigle did just that with the support of the community and Michigan State University. Today, Allband Communications Cooperative provides not only telephone service, but also cutting-edge, high-quality Internet access and environmental research opportunities in rural Northeastern Michigan.

A Story Of Promise, Betrayal, And The Telephone Company

We connected with Allband representatives who shared details about Allband's interesting and dramatic history as told by Masha Zager back in 2005. They kindly provided updates and let us know what's in store for this by-the-bootstraps effort that started in the woods of Michigan.

When John Reigle moved out into the woods past the small town of Curran, Michigan, he didn't intend to start a brand-new venture. He simply wanted to build a home and work on his consulting business; he just needed telephone service.

The large incumbent telephone company GTE (which later became Verizon, which still later sold off this service area to Frontier) had assured Reigle that the lot where he planned to build his house would be easy to connect to their telephone network. They quoted him a price of about $34 and scheduled an install date. Trusting that the telephone company’s representatives knew the service area, Reigle moved forward with his plans to build.

After he finished constructing his house in 1998, Reigle contacted the telephone company to finalize his service connection. Despite the earlier assurance that his location would not prove a problem, Reigle found that he was miles away from the GTE network. This time, the company quoted $27,000 to run a copper telephone line from the highway to his new house. 

His consulting firm could not operate without a telephone so he decided to bite the bullet and agree to the steep price. GTE rescinded its quote, however, and no matter how much Reigle offered, the company would not run telephone service to his new house.

Obviously perturbed, Reigle filed a complaint with the Michigan Public Service Commission only to discover that he had built his house in an unassigned area. Despite the previous promises from GTE, the Michigan Public Service Commission noted that legally GTE could not be forced...

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