Tag: "alabama"

Posted November 17, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

This week on the podcast, Christopher talks with Maureen Neighbors, Energy Division Chief of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, about the state’s one-of-a-kind, $100 million voucher program designed and deployed for the current school year to help get and keep economically vulnerable students connected. 

She tells Christopher how, with the help of CTC Energy and Technology, the state brought together more than three dozen Internet Service Providers (ISPs) — many of which are local companies — connected with school districts around the state, designed an online portal, and mailed out tens of thousands of brochures to households with students on the free or reduced lunch program to help those families to start new service or pay their existing broadband bill.  

Maureen shares the challenges they met (data and mapping are hard, and wrangling 37 ISPs equally so) and the satisfaction in helping more than 120,000 students (and counting!) stay connected to school during the ongoing pandemic.

This show is 32 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.

Don’t forget to check out our new show, Connect This!, where Chris brings together a collection broadband veterans and industry experts live on YouTube to talk about recent events and dig into the policy news of the day. 

Read the transcript for this episode.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index...

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Posted October 27, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

This week on the podcast Christopher talks with Stacy Cantrell, Vice President of Engineering at Huntsville Utilities in Alabama. Huntsville’s (pop. 197,000) municipal utility serves well beyond the city boundaries, and its electric department built a major network that gets close to every house within the city limits. 

Stacy shares how the 1,100-mile fiber project unfolded, what it took to overcome challenges, and how things are going now that they’re nearly done. The utility uses its network for internal services to bring value to those living in the city, but providers, of which Google will be the first, can lease that network and attach homes to it. 

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 listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript for this episode.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

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 26, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

At the end of August, Alabama rolled out what has been a unique state-level response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and a decision by every school district to offer remote learning as an option for the current school year. Using $103 million in CARES Act funding, the governor’s office enacted the Broadband Connectivity for Students initiative to help low-income families pay for existing or connect new service via a voucher program that runs through December 31st of this year and is worth, on average, about $400 per family. 

To date almost 60,000 vouchers have been redeemed representing more than 100,000 students, and while we would wish to see such a large pot of funds go instead towards permanent connectivity solutions, for thousands of families it’s meant immediate and necessary relief. It also highlights the ongoing importance of fast, reliable, affordable Internet-access for distance learning. 

The process began in late July, with the state issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) [pdf] soliciting responses as many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as wanted to participate in the program. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is heading it up, with the state's Department of Education providing the identifying information for households with students on free or reduced lunch. CTC Technology and Energy is serving as contractor (and receiving approximately $3.4 million for its design work and services).

37 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across fiber, fixed wireless, mobile, cable, and satellite service ultimately made the cut to participate in the program. See the full list of ISPs, but it includes a handful of municipal networks and cooperatives we’ve covered in the past, including: 

  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative
  • Mon-Cre Telephone Cooperative
  • New Hope Telephone Cooperative
  • North Alabama Electric Cooperative
  • The Electric Power Board...
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Posted October 8, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

All across the country, municipal networks, cooperatives, and cities have been putting in extra effort to make sure that Americans have the fast, affordable, reliable Internet access they need to conduct their lives in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

AT&T has decided to take another route. A USA Today report last week revealed that the company has stopped making connections to users subscribing to its ADSL Internet as of October 1st. Anyone calling the company to set up new service is being told that no new accounts are being accepted. 

The decision comes right as the National Digital Inclusion Alliance has released a report detailing that only 28% of AT&T’s territory can get fiber from the company. AT&T has deliberately focused investment in more urban areas of higher income. From the report:

The analysis of AT&T’s network reveals that the company is prioritizing network upgrades to wealthier areas, and leaving lower income communities with outdated technologies. Across the country, the median income for households with fiber available is 34 percent higher than in areas with DSL only — $60,969 compared to $45,500. 

The Deep South Hit Hardest

As of today, it looks like the most conservative number of those affected by the decision will be about 80,000 households that have no other option. Our analysis using the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Form 477 data shows that the Deep South will be hit the hardest (see table at the bottom of the page). 

Collectively it means more than 207,000 Americans who, if disconnected, will have no option for Internet aside from their mobile devices or satellite service. The number of Americans affected by the decision but which have additional wireline options is higher: roughly 2.2 million American households nationwide subscribe to the service (see map, below).  

At this point the decision seems only to affect those subscribing to the company’s ADSL service. Those subscribing to ADSL2 and asymmetric VDSL won’...

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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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