Tag: "alabama"

Posted July 1, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Alabama-based Cullman Electric Cooperative recently launched its new Fiber-to-the-Home network Sprout Fiber Internet, reported the Cullman Times.

In 1936, Cullman Electric was the first co-op in the state of Alabama to “energize” its electric lines. Today, it serves about 44,000 member-owners in the north central part of the state.

The first phase of the co-op’s project will extend the Sprout Fiber Internet network to 12,000 of those members, making gigabit Internet access available to both residents and businesses. Community members are looking forward to faster broadband speeds, while state and local officials hope the new network will boost the region’s economy.

“This is going to be a game changer,” State Representative Randall Shedd said at the announcement. “When rural Alabama has high speed Internet, then rural Alabama will be able to do work in rural Alabama.”

Connecting the Grid and Their Members

The electric co-op’s decision to invest in a Fiber-to-the-Home network was influenced in part by a petition organized by Baileyville residents dissatisfied with the poor broadband options available in the area.

Additionally, Cullman Electric was interested in developing a fiber network to connect its substations and better manage its electric grid. “It will cut down outage response times significantly and lay the foundation for us to take advantage of cutting-edge technology in the future,” shared CEO Tim Culpepper.

Sprout Fiber Internet logo

In a Facebook Live video of the announcement, Cullman Electric also noted the importance of a recent state law clarifying that electric cooperatives can use their existing easements to deploy broadband.

The co-op will build the Sprout Fiber Internet network in phases. It...

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Posted January 7, 2020 by lgonzalez

When Mayor Gary Fuller of Opelika, Alabama, was on the podcast back in 2013, the community was building their municipal Fiber-to-the-Home network. He's back this week to talk about all the events that have occurred in his community since then; Opelika has been a whirlwind of activity which has centered around the battle to expand their network, OPS One. Mayor Fuller is joined in the wings by Derek Lee, Director of Opelika Power Services, and Joey Motley, City Administrator, who are on hand to help him with some of the details.

Mayor Fuller and Christopher discuss the reasons why the community wanted to invest in a municipal fiber optic network. In addition to improving their electric utility service with smart grid applications, the community needed an option for better Internet access. Rates from the incumbent were high, services were poor, and folks had had enough. Once the network spanned the entire city, neighboring communities wanted OPS One, but state law prevented expansion.

Christopher and the Mayor talk about the legislative battle to expand the network that went on for several years and how Opelika finally realized that the big telecom and cable companies and their lobbyists were just too powerful to beat at the State Capitol. They talk about how, even though Opelika chose to privatize the network, the community feels better off today than they would have otherwise and would do it all again.

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

This show is 27 minutes long and can be played on this page or ...

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Posted November 21, 2019 by Sayidali Moalim

Alabama communities with lower population density haven’t attracted big national Internet access providers, but their electric cooperatives are increasingly picking up the slack. In recent months, yet another electric cooperative announced that “it’s about time” for Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) for members.

Members are Ready

With over 90 percent of members voting in favor, Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Cooperative (JWEMC) will soon be joining an increasing number of electric cooperatives providing access to broadband. JWEMC’s General Manager, George Kitchens, hopes to have the first customers connected by the fall of 2020 and all members on the network within five years. Kitchens notes that strong support from the community could expedite the timeline. Construction is expected to begin late next summer and the co-op will connect members in both Lawrence County and Morgan County.

“We have studied this internally for over a year,” he said. “We hope to have 18 substations and 1,000 customers hooked up in Year One, 3,800 customers in Year Two and between 3,000 and 5,000 annually Years Three through Five,” said Kitchens

JWEMC has predicted it will need 10,000 subscribers to break even. Currently, folks in rural Lawrence County depend on satellite Internet access, while those who live in the more densely populated areas of Moulton (pop. 3,200) and Town Creek (pop. 1,100) may have access to AT&T DSL or cable Internet access from Charter Communications. Kitchens indicated that the network could be finished in three years, if demand is high and the cooperative can manage a rigorous construction schedule.

The electric cooperative held six public meetings in Lawrence County and Morgan County regarding the fiber optics Internet access project before asking members to vote. The meetings allowed JWEMC authorities to address concerns of cost and services and gave co-op officials a chance to answer questions from members. Following the series of well-received meetings, the cooperative mailed a ballot to members in October. The support for the...

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Posted August 15, 2019 by htrostle

Central Alabama Electric Cooperative (CAEC) will join the increasing number of electric cooperatives that provide broadband access. They've been developing a plan to build a high-speed network and recently announced more details.

Taking a Phased Approach

CAEC plans to construct the network, named CAEC Access, with a phased approach. Phase 1 will connect the co-op’s 24 electrical substations and six main offices with a 365-mile fiber ring. Electric co-ops use fiber to reliably and securely monitor the power grid, but fiber is also the backbone of high-quality Internet access.

According to trade magazine Alabama living, homes and businesses within 4,000 feet of this fiber ring will be able to request an Internet connection from the co-op. CAEC will take requests from both members and non-members; approximately 10,000 homes and businesses are within this initial area. The co-op wants 35 percent of premises in the first phase boundaries to sign up before commencing construction of the Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network. Interested residents and businesses can register at caecaccess.com, which requires a $25 fee.

Up to 1 Gig

The co-op uses the early sign ups to track the level of interest in the project and determine where to build next. CAEC is still working on establishing rates and speed tiers but has determined that Internet access will be about $59.99 for 200 Megabits per second (Mbps). Gigabit connectivity for residents and business owners will also be available. All tiers will be symmetrical.

logo-caec.jpeg In central Alabama, high-quality Internet access is sorely needed. Maps and data from the Federal Communications Commission show...

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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 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 October 19, 2018 by lgonzalez

Once again, restrictive state laws designed to help big ISPs maintain their monopolies have helped push a publicly owned network to privatization. Opelika, Alabama, recently announced that they will sell their OPS One fiber optic network to Point Broadband, headquartered in West Point, Georgia. They expect the deal to be finalized in early November.

The Road to Now

The city of Opelika installed the network to overcome poor services from Charter and to improve municipal electric services with smart grid applications. In 2010, Charter’s astroturf campaign to stop the network failed when local voters supported the ballot initiative to build the broadband infrastructure to allow the city to provide services. By 2014, Opelika Power Services (OPS) was making Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) available for residents and businesses; folks in the community were loving the service from Alabama’s “Gig City.”

Nearby communities still stuck with poor Internet access wanted OPS to serve them also and OPS wanted to add more subscribers, but state law prevents Opelika from expanding beyond their current coverage area. As in the case of Bristol, Virginia, when a state prevents a municipal network from growing and increasing revenue, the state makes it difficult for the network to remain sustainable.

Mayor Gary Fuller recently told WLTZ:

“We attempted on three occasions to get the legislature to [allow us to] expand beyond our city limits, into North Auburn and rural Lee County, Beauregard, and we could never do that because we couldn’t get the law changed.”

seal-alabama.png Each attempt to convince lawmakers that Opelika’s neighbors deserve more options than what the incumbents offer have evoked attacks from misinformation groups,...

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Posted July 11, 2017 by htrostle

Huntsville, Alabama, already has high-speed Internet service through Google Fiber, but the surrounding rural areas must look to their local cooperative for better connectivity. Tombigbee Electric Cooperative has started an ambitious Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project to eventually cover its entire service area over four counties in northwestern Alabama.

In a press release, Tombigbee Electric announced that their Freedom FIBER network will start providing Internet service in the towns of Hamilton and Winfield in September 2017. It’ll take about a year to get the new network to everyone in the designated build out area.

Much Needed Connectivity

Hamilton is the seat of Marion county with about 7,000 residents; 20 miles to the south, Winfield has a population of 5,000. As of June 2016, about 75 percent of the population in Marion County does not currently have access to FCC-defined 25 Megabits-per-second (Mbps) download speeds.

With Freedom FIBER, residents will have a choice between two tiers of Internet service: 100 Mbps for $49.95 per month or 1 gigabit (1,000 Mbps) for $79.95 per month. The co-op will also offer phone service for an additional $29.95 each month. The fiber network will be much more reliable than CenturyLink’s DSL network, which is currently the only choice in the towns.

An Incremental Plan

Tombigbee Electric’s plan will eventually cover much of Marion, Fayette, Lamar, and Winston counties. That’s about 1,600 miles across northwest Alabama, and the co-op has set a goal of covering this area in only 5 years. The expected cost is...

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Posted April 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

When Alabama State Sen. Tom Whatley from Auburn spoke with OANow in late March, he described his bill, SB 228, as a “go-to-war bill.” The bill would have allowed Opelika Power Services (OPS) to expand its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) services to his community. On Wednesday, April 5th, his colleagues in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee decided to end the conflict in favor of AT&T and its army of lobbyists.

The final vote, according to the committee legislative assistant, was 7 - 6 against the bill. She described the vote as bipartisan, although the roll call isn’t posted yet, so we have not been able to confirm.

According to Whatley:

“AT&T has hired 26 lobbyists to work against me on that bill. It really aggravates me because I have boiled one bill down to where it only allows Opelika to go into Lee County. It cuts out the other counties.”

Whatley has introduced several bills this session and in previous legislative sessions to allow OPS to expand beyond the state imposed barriers to offer services in Lee County. Alabama law doesn’t allow OPS, or any other municipal provider, to offer advanced telecommunications services outside city limits. SB 228 would allow Opelika and others (described as a “Class 6 municipalities”) to offer services throughout the counties in which they reside. A companion bill in the House, HB 375, is sitting in the House Commerce and Small Business Committee.

Rep. Joe Lovvorn, who introduced HB 375 agrees with Whatley:

“If it doesn't make sense for a large corporation to go there, that's OK that's their choice,” he said. “But they don't have the right to tell, in my opinion with my bill, the city of Opelika they can't serve them either.”

AT&T’s lobbyists aren’t the only big...

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Posted March 10, 2017 by lgonzalez

Mayor Gary Fuller won’t tolerate lies about his city. In a recent Opelika City News release titled, Setting the Record Straight - Response to Yellowhammer article, Mayor Fuller corrected the numerous misleading errors in a piece written by Jordan LaPorta. The Yellowhammer article covered a Taxpayer's Protection Alliance Foundation (TPA) report, filled with errors and misrepresentation about municipal Internet networks. TPA is one of the many front groups that describe themselves as "nonpartisan think tanks" but are actually funded by industry leaders with an agenda to advance policies that limit competition.

Mayor Fuller has seen untruths written about Opelika before, but this time he felt it was time to fight the flying monkeys.

Get Your Facts Right

Mayor Fuller corrected a number of brazen untruths LaPorta tossed out in his article, including:

  • OPS ONE is not taxpayer-funded - No, LaPorta, there are no tax subsidies. Additionally, there have not been any federal or state grants used for the network.
  • Expenditures grossly overstated - LaPorta incorrectly attributes the cost of an electric grid modernization ($20 million) to the cost of the FTTH network ($23 million). The two are not one and the same. Do your homework.
  • Number of Gig subscribers - LaPorta reports that OPS has one Gigabit subscriber, but they actually have five residential customers who take the service. The city council has recently reduced the price to $94.99 for Gigabit service in some bundles.

This Is Why Opelika Is A Success

OPS ONE is generating annual gross revenues of around $5.5M after three years serving the community. There are more than 3,200 subscribers and testimonials of customers who appreciate obtaining service from a hometown Internet access provider. Even though OPS ONE is still young, states Mayor Fuller, it’s on track:

Mr. LaPorta does correctly quote me as stating Opelika’s network “has not...

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