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Kandiyohi County And CTC Co-op Team Up For Connected Future

In an effort to improve local connectivity, Kandiyohi County will collaborate with a local cooperative, Consolidated Telecommunications Company of Brainerd (CTC Co-op). Kadiyohi County is in step with the increasing number of rural communities joining forces with cooperatives when big corporate providers find no reason to invest in less populated areas.

Keeping It Local

In early July, the County Board of Commissioners signed a letter of intent with CTC Co-op in order to start planning for a potential project. The move improves the county’s chances to obtain one of the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Program grants and motivates CTC Co-op to begin allocating some of its own funds toward a potential Kandiyohi project.

Kandiyohi County is home to approximately 42,000 people in central Minnesota and covers approximately 862 square miles of prairie. The region, filled with lakes, is a popular fishing destination. Like many places well known for outdoor recreation, residents and businesses can’t obtain the Internet access they need to keep pace with more populated areas.  

Minnesota's Lac qui Parle County worked with the Farmers Mutual Telephone Cooperative when incumbent Frontier chose not to pursue a partnership. The county received funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) but did not have the expertise or resources to maintain or manage a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. Farmers Mutual, who already had experience after deploying their own network, stepped in and by 2014 residents and businesses had access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. Read more about the project in our report, All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Fiber Internet Access.

Determining Need

The county hired a firm to perform a feasibility study, which includes a telephone survey. In April, county officials announced that the firm had started calling residents and businesses and would continue to do so throughout the summer. Now that Kandiyohi County and CTC Co-op have committed to working together, CTC Co-op will be able to use the study results to determine how to improve local connectivity.

Experienced Rural Cooperative

CTC Co-op has already developed high-quality Internet access for many of its members. The co-op received a state Border-to-Border Boradband grant to develop fiber connectivity for the South Brainerd and Fort Ripley areas. The cooperative, started in 1950, serves members in Sullivan Lake, Randall, Pillager, Outing, Nokay Lake, Nisswa, Motley, Mission, Lincoln, Leader, Freedhem, Little Falls, Brainerd, Baxter, and Crosby. They offer Internet access, video, and voice as well as additional services to local businesses.

The letter of intent does not detail any specific plans other than to establish a commitment for the county to work with CTC Co-op. Joe Buttweiler, who works as a Partnership Development Manager for CTC Co-op told the County Commission, "As we work together, we can decide. ... We can create whatever we want.”

Why a Gig? The Video Response You've Been Waiting For!

With the increasing number of gigabit cities, a trend led by local governments, Google, and some cutting edge small ISPs, some are confused why a gigabit is important now when most applications do not need that much bandwidth to operate. We get this question frequently and decided to make a short video explainer for why a making a gigabit available to everyone is a smart goal. 

Please share widely!

 

PBS Takes A Look At Internet Cooperatives

We aren’t the only ones noticing. As rural communities take control of their connectivity by banding together to form broadband cooperatives, their efforts are getting attention. Earlier this month, PBS News Hour featured a story on the Wired West and RS Fiber Cooperatives.

Ivette Feliciano visits with local residents, business owners, and community leaders in both western Massachusetts and rural Minnesota where both initiatives are rewriting the rules for rural dwellers. She visits with Jake Reike, a farmer from Renville County; he talked with Chris during the Community Broadband Bits podcast episode #198. He described for us how improving local connectivity was what his family needed to maintain their farming lifestyle.

Feliciano also sought out expert Susan Crawford, who explained why people in these sparsely populated communities need high-quality connectivity and why they refuse to wait for big providers who may never come to their rescue.

Download a copy of our report RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative, to learn the details of one Minnesota farming region is bringing better Internet access to its people and businesses. There is much to be gained by joining forces.

For more on Wired West, we recommend WiredWest: a Cooperative of Municipalities Forms to Build a Fiber Optic Network, from the Berkman Center. Crawford helped author that report that dives deeper into the situation in western Massachusetts.

Community Connections - Westminster & Ting: The How and the Why

More and more cities are turning to public-private partnerships (PPP's) in building Internet networks that meet the needs of 21st century homes and businesses. If a city builds its own fiber and leases it to a trusted partner, they can negotiate for activities that benefit the public good, like universal access. 

In this video Christopher Mitchell interviews Dr. Robert Wack with Westminster, Maryland and Elliot Noss, CEO of Tucows, the parent of Ting. The two talk about their revolutionary public-private fiber partnership.

The video outlines a basic economic principle: "Ownership equals control, and control means leverage." If you don't have that leverage (such as ownership of infrastructure) you won't get a good deal from your private ISP.

Noss has long been active in preserving and expanding the open Internet. Dr. Wack is a city council member and driving force behind the open access fiber network partnership. 

For a much more detailed look at public-private partnerships, check out our guide: "Successful Strategies for Broadband Public-Private Partnerships". The term "public-private partnership" has been muddied in the past. The report clears up the confusion: public entities and private companies must both have "skin in the game" to balance the risks and amplify the rewards.

 

Community Connections - Jason Hardebeck, Baltimore

Residents and businesses in Baltimore have been dealing with poor access for years. In 2015 the city's mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake named a 27-member task force to address the problem and has spoken out about the need for more investment.

In this episode of Community Connections, Christopher Mitchell caught up with Broadband Coordinator Jason Hardebeck to talk about about his city's challenges and opportunities.

Hardebeck is tasked with developing a strategy that puts his city's residents and businesses first. These challenges are familiar to many cities across the United States and this interview serves as a good illustration of why owning some conduit and dark fiber can be a big benefit to cities as they try to solve the problem of the digital divide. 

 

Fiber in Lenox, Iowa

When community leaders in Lenox, Iowa, gathered together to examine the community's cable TV options in the 1980s, they probably didn't expect their decision to impact local Internet access. Fast-forward 30 years, and this town of 1,400 people now has one of the most sought after forms of Internet access infrastructure: Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH).

Lenox Municipal Utilities owns and operates a FTTH network that offers symmetrical speeds to hundreds of customers in town. It’s just one of many communities around the nation that have invested in this rugged, future-proof technology.

Same Utility, Changing Technology

We spoke with the Lenox Municipal Utilities General Manager John Borland who graciously provided some of the history of the network.

Since the early 1900s, Lenox has operated its own electric and water systems. These essential services enabled the community to thrive in the southern plains of Iowa. Eventually, a local entrepreneur decided to build and operate a TV system to ensure that the Lenox community stayed connected. In the 1980s, the town purchased the coaxial network from the owner who was ready to sell the system, but wanted to keep ownership within the community. Unfortunately, Borland didn’t know the identity of the entrepreneur whose investment eventually led to top-notch connectivity in this most unexpected place.

By the late 1990s, the network needed replacing, and nationwide, communities had already begun to realize the importance of Internet access. The incumbent Internet service provider, Frontier, offered dial-up and some DSL. Anticipating future need, Lenox decided to rebuild the entire network with fiber. 

Better Connectivity in the Community

In 2005, the community voted on a referendum to enable the utility to provide Internet service; it was one of many towns voting that year to ensure local control. The FTTH build cost about $1.5 million, which they funded through municipal revenue bonds.

Farmers Mutual Telephone Company ran a fiber line to Lenox, ensuring middle mile connectivity. By 2008, Lenox Municipal Utilities had the FTTH system up and running, bringing high-speed Internet to residents and businesses.

Now, Lenox Municipal Utilities offers triple play: television, telephone, and symmetrical Internet service, so upload and download speeds are equally fast. They also provide bundled packages for customers who want to purchase all three services. The network has about 450 customers for their Internet service, and several larger businesses have dedicated lines. 

Lenox is just one of the many small communities that offer next-generation high-speed connectivity in Iowa. For more stories about these self-reliant Iowa communities, check out our past stories in the Iowa tag.

Network Neutrality At 80 mph

It’s good for you, it’s good for all of us, and for many people, discussing it is as thrilling as watching paint dry. We’re talking about the principle of network neutrality, if course.

Stephen Colbert has found a new way to share this important issue and he has found a thrilling way to do it - on a roller coaster with Professor Tim Wu!

Check it out!

Ammon's Model: The Virtual End of Cable Monopolies

The city of Ammon, Idaho, is building the Internet network of the future. Households and businesses can instantly change Internet service providers using a specially-designed innovative portal. This short 20 minute video highlights how the network is saving money, creating competition for broadband services, and creating powerful new public safety applications.

We talk with Ammon's Mayor, local residents, private businesses, and the city's Technology Director to understand why a small conservative city decided to build its own network and then open it to the entire community. We explain how they financed it and even scratch the surface of how software-defined networking brought the future of Internet services to Ammon before any larger metro regions.

Ammon's network has already won awards, including a National Institute of Justice Challenge for Best Ultra-High Speed Application, and spurred economic development. But perhaps most important is that most communities can replicate this model and bring these benefits to their communities.

For more information, see our in-depth coverage on Ammon. Sign up for our weekly newsletter to stay informed on what local governments are doing to improve Internet access.

View the video below, or on YouTube here. Please share widely!

Blue Ribbon Panel: The Public and Private Sectors Working Together

Like electricity in the last century, advanced communications services and capabilities can become the drivers and enablers of simultaneous progress in economic development, education, government services, digital equity, and just about everything else that matters most to our communities.

This Blue Ribbon Panel explores the challenges of establishing effective partnerships to bring better connectivity to local communities. The video is from the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas, on April 5 - 7, 2016.

Moderator: Lev Gonick - CEO, OneCommunity

Panelists: 

Chris Mitchell – Director, Community Broadband Networks Initiative, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Nicol Turner-Lee – VP and Senior Research and Policy Officer, Minority Media and Telecommunications Council 

Rollie Cole – Senior Fellow, Sagamore Institute for Policy Research

Doug Kinkoph – Associate Administrator, NTIA

 

Video: Break the Chains, Build Local Power

Since our founding in 1974, we have worked to rewrite the rules and empower communities to choose their own future. Across several vital economic sectors, we help break the corporate stranglehold that extracts wealth from local economies and undermines democracy.

We give communities the tools to build a strong local economy themselves. From banking to energy, healthy soils to community-owned Internet networks, time and again we have shown that when we level the playing field for individuals and businesses, we improve our economy and the quality of life for all citizens.

Support our work to help communities down the path to local self-reliance. This video illustrates our work, and explains how all of our unique and distinct initiatives, together, build a holistic philosophy of local self-reliance.

Please share it and let others know that we’re fighting for communities to take charge of their whole economy. If you love it, we invite you to make a contribution to our mission of locally-driven economies, because beating back big corporations (or producing awesome animations) isn’t cheap. :)