People who live out of urban areas enjoy beautiful scenery, quiet solitude, and fresh air. Traditionally, those qualities have come with sacrifice, which includes high-quality Internet access. Now that rural cooperatives are taking the initiative to develop networks, however, rural areas such as northern Minnesota are better served.
In this short video by the PBS and TPT Almanac team, Kaomi Goetz travels “up north” to visit with folks who live beyond the Twin Cities to see how things are changing and how we still need to make improvements.
It’s been a journey of discovery for the folks in "Villageville," our fictional rural community where Internet access isn't meeting the needs of residents or businesses. In Episode 5 of "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!", we learn more about the work rural cooperatives are doing for communities across the country.
Grumpy Gary and Entrepreneur Emily have met up in "Sizeable City," a nearby community that decided to invest in a municipal network. It has paid off in the usual ways -- better Internet access, more jobs, lowered telecommunications costs. In addition to enjoying some java and some jokes (we use the term loosely), they meet up with a representative from the electric cooperative to discuss high-quality Internet access options.
During the conversation, we hear more about the ways cooperatives are serving people in rural areas and why it makes sense that they're delivering fiber optic connectivity. Watch for more pop-up facts about municipal networks, cooperatives, and how both are serving rural communities. Listen to the cooperative's pilot project strategy and be sure to watch through to the end to hear about the final outcome in Villageville.
As with other episodes of "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!", you'll hear past and present voices from the Very Amateur Acting Troupe of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative along with other Institute for Local Self-Reliance talent (again we use the term loosely). We encourage you to share these videos to help spread the word about municipal networks, cooperatives, and the fact that rural communities don't have to be "stuck" with poor Internet access.
If you haven't seen episodes 1 - 4, check them out below, read the backstories, or view them all on our Videos page.
The people of our imaginary community "Villageville" have gathered outside the library, inside the library, and on Grumpy Gary's lawn to talk about the problem of poor local Internet access. Now, they're making it official and letting town leaders know that they want change. It's time for Episode 4 of "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!"
For the past three weeks, we've seen the good folks of this fictional community grapple with the difficulties that many rural towns face. When local connectivity doesn't keep up with the needs of the community, small towns can't be competitive. In Villageville, entrepreneurs, parents, and people who just want better Internet access have been researching why connectivity in their town is so poor and what are some possible solutions. Now they're ready to take their concerns to local elected officials.
The setting in this episode is a bustling town council meeting, in which locals are gathered to discuss what to do about poor Internet access in Villageville. The special speaker tonight is an attorney from the incumbent Internet access company. Citizens are ready to ask him why, for corn's sake, his employer still hasn't updated the services they provide.
During this episode, we learn more about the influence of large corporations and their lobbyists on competition, or the lack of it. The people of Villageville have noticed some patterns in the way state laws get passed and they're ready to talk about it at the meeting. By the end of the evening, folks are inspired to do more than complain.
In addition to the educational value from this short video, you'll enjoy the campy style of the Very Amateur Acting Troupe of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative and a special guest star from the Insitute for Local Self-Reliance. We've had fun writing, acting, and editing these videos and it shows. As with all "masterpieces," artists have come and gone from the Initiative team, leaving their imprints on "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!"
If you haven't seen episodes 1 - 3, check them out below, read the backstories or view them all on our Videos page.
By now, you’ve met the people of “Villageville,” the imaginary town in rural America that, like many similarly situated communities, are struggling to find better connectivity. This week, we continue our soap opera saga “From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet.”
In this episode, the kids of the community are working on another big homework assignment and gather together at the neighbor’s house to tap into his satellite Internet access. Watch to find out the results when Grumpy Gary tells the kids to “get off his lawn.”
In rural areas with low population density, large corporate Internet access providers don’t find the motivation they need to invest in fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. High numbers of residents and businesses depend on satellite Internet access as a last resort. Plans are expensive, unreliable, and typically include data caps. In episode 3, we include pop-up information about satellite Internet access and how communities who must use it settle for less than they deserve.
Don’t miss another opportunity to hear the Very Amateur Acting Troupe from the Community Broadband Networks Initiative and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance fill the roles of local people who are just trying to get online to get stuff done.
Quincy, Massachusetts, recently let the public know that they're serious about encouraging local Internet access competition through public investment. At an October 21st press conference, Mayor Thomas Koch and City Council Member Ian Cain announced that the largest city in Norfolk County will begin gathering data on local interest in a municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.
The Choice That Isn't a Choice
With Comcast as the only option for broadband Internet access, leaders such as Cain feel that it's time to encourage competition. DSL is available, but the average speed in the Quincy area is slower than 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download. Upload speeds are likely around 1 Mbps -- hardly the kind of connectivity a community of 94,000 want to boast about.
Limited fiber for commercial subscribers has been deployed in the city, but without more options, Quincy faces a disadvantage as communities around them invest in better connectivity. The Mayor, Cain, and other local leaders have economic development on their minds when considering the initiative. Cain told press conference attendees, "This is a way to really have Quincy stand out in a way that other cities and towns aren't really looking at. This is a way to put us up front," as a way to attract more businesses.
Cain noted that comments from constituents regarding poor Internet access in Quincy have come to his office for the past five years. In 2018, the city council adopted Cain's resolution to investigate the possibility of publicly owned Internet network infrastructure. Residents have also taken their complaints to the Mayor. At the press conference, Koch said:
“I hear constantly from people about lack of competition – some related to cable, some related to slowness of access to get onto the network. This is something we’re very serious about looking at.”
We recently introduced you to our informative and campy video series, “From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!” In episode 2, we continue the saga of “Villageville,” where the streets are quiet, the people are friendly, and the Internet access leaves much to be desired. Last time, you met some of the people who live in this rural community and discovered how they've dealt with substandard connectivity. People are getting a little fed up; could the wind be shifting in Villageville?
Don’t miss this chance to hear current and past members of the Community Broadband Networks Team try their hand at voiceover acting! We wanted to make this series fun and have fun making it, so you'll hear some familiar voices.
In episode 2, the town’s newest family, shocked and dismayed at Villageville’s poor connectivity, meet to the local librarian to discuss local options. Like students who need fast, affordable, reliable Internet access for homework, entrepreneurs in rural areas often find their business goals hindered if they move to a community forced to rely on outdated solutions like DSL.
As librarians often do, however, Villageville's has been researching the problem and shares her findings. She’s discovered some great information about rural cooperatives. In addition to the facts our local librarian shares, we’ve included pop-up data about cooperatives, connectivity, and economic development. The video is a great way for you to get people interested in learning more about the possibilities in your own rural community.
In rural communities, large companies often won’t invest in high-quality Internet network infrastructure due to the lack of population density. Increasingly, rural electric and communications cooperatives are filling the void and providing the Internet access small towns and surrounding areas need. In order to illustrate the challenges facing these small rural towns, we’ve developed a series of videos titled, “From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!”
The series includes five episodes that tell the story of one small town, its residents, and the way they tackle the need for better local connectivity. In addition to our story about the folks from the imaginary community of "Villageville," we include real-life statistics about connectivity in rural communities.
In the first episode, we’ve introduced some of the characters that will take us through the series as we catch up with them outside the local library. You'll learn why they're hanging out in the parking lot and get a better understanding of what life is like in a rural community where small towns want better Internet access.
Share this resource with others who are interested in exploring options for improving connectivity in their local communities.
We’ll share more episodes that document Villageville's journey in the coming weeks.
We've published all five episodes! Watch them here to find out what happened in Villageville:
After five years of planning, meetings, and overcoming obstacles, the town of Estes Park has officially launched its Trailblazer Broadband Internet service to pilot neighborhoods.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
The Broadband journey started back 2015 when the residents of Estes Park experienced catastrophic outages due to ice and flooding which led to long telecommunications outages. It bacame obvious to community leaders that the town needed a different solution that entailed reliability and redundancy, not available from the incumbent provider. The city held a referendum and with the support of 92 percent of those voting, the town of Estes Park opted out of SB 152.
Fast, Affordable, Reliable Connectivity for Residents and Tourists
Estes Park, considered the gateway to the Rock Mountain National Park, depends on its tourism industry and current Internet speeds may deter vacation goers who need to remain connected to work during time away from work. With the introduction of high-quality Internet access at their resorts and lodging, Estes Park will have an edge over their competition as well as ensuring future economic development opportunities for the entire region.
For town officials, staff, and the majority of residents, the implementation of high-quality Internet access is a welcomed project.
The expected project construction cost is around $26 million. Based on an anticipated take rate of 30 - 40 percent, the community expects to pay off the investment in 10 - 12 years.
Trailblazer Broadband is being rolled out to pilot neighborhoods and is expected to serve the entire town in three to five years. The schedule is based primarily on construction feasibility, population density, and potential revenue.
Check out this marketing video on Trailblazer Broadband:
This summer, Falmouth, Massachusetts, released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study for a community network. The community, where the year-round population of 32,000 swells to more than 105,000 in the summer, has investigated the possibilities of a publicly owned fiber optic network for the past several years. In early September, Christopher visited the east coast and appeared on FalmouthCommunityTV to share information with the greater Falmouth community.
Courtney Bird, who has lead the effort, provides information about how Falmouth has gotten this far. He describes how surprised he was when, at public meetings to discuss better local connectivity, large numbers of people appeared in support of the idea of a publicly owned network. Bird also goes through the steps they took to establish a committee to examine the problem, seek out solutions, and find funding for the study.
Falmouth has received better than expected responses to the RFP, notes Bird, and while they originally expected to decide on a firm by mid-September, he anticipates the decision may be delayed due to the number of proposals. Bird offers updates for local Falmouth and explains what they should expect from the study and from the process.
Peter Cook, who is also on the Committee for a Falmouth Community Network, is IT Director for the local library and a former computer science professor. Peter describes what the Falmouth hopes to learn from the feasibility study. From funding to potential models to possible services, Peter gets into the details of what the community wants from the study. Peter also moves beyond to describe next steps. Falmouth is thinking ahead in order to be prepared and nimble; they encourage locals to stay involved and stay up-to-date.
Learning from Others
Peter and Courtney and the rest of the Committee understand that taking advantage of lessons learned from other communities will help. Christopher answers questions and offers suggestions based on years of research and documented results.
The panel discusses ways to keep the community engaged in the project and the technical needs in the Cape. They review possibilities such as, aging in place, high-...
This week, we have a returning guest from Tennessee to tell us about the many positive changes occurring in Clarksville, home of CDE Lightband. Christy Batts, Broadband Division Director at the network joins Christopher; her last appearance on the podcast was in 2013.
This time, Christy describes how the community network has been innovating for better services and finding undiscovered benefits for local businesses. Voice service from CDE Lightband, is helping small- and mid-sized establishments cut costs and increase revenue. The city is also implementing a new video platform and continues to increase speeds in order to allow subscribers to make the most of their Internet access.
Christopher and Christy talk about how this town has started using innovations in technology to maximize home Wi-Fi with indoor ONTs. The network has had better then expected financial success, even in a place where people tend to relocate frequently, and how other utilities have reaped benefits from the fiber. Christy gives a run down of the future ideas for Clarksville, including plans for free Wi-Fi in public spaces, such as parks. This may not be the first city you think of when you consider municipal broadband in Tennessee, but maybe it should be.
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This show is 24 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...