Tag: "rural"

Posted April 27, 2017 by lgonzalez

Earlier this week, we learned that a bill in the Maine House of Representatives had been introduced that would steal local telecommunication authority from communities working to improve their connectivity. LD 1516 / HP 1040 was assigned to the House Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee and is scheduled for a hearing on May 2nd at 1 p.m.

No Barriers...Yet

Maine is a mostly rural state that doesn’t draw much investment from national cable and telephone companies, so in the past few years local folks have started taking steps to improve Internet access for themselves. Their efforts have gotten the attention of the big corporations that fear competition and, since Maine doesn’t have restrictions on municipal networks, it appears to be one of the next targets. Rep. Nathan Wadsworth’s bill imposes a number of restrictions that threaten to derail current or proposed projects to bring better connectivity to several Maine communities. 

The bill is deceivingly titled “An Act To Encourage Broadband Development through Private Investment,” but it will discourage any new investment that may attract new entrants to Maine.

Let Them Know What You're Thinking

If you want to contact members of the committee and tell them that this bill will discourage investment, rather than encourage it, contact information for all the members is available here. The best time to stop a bill is early in committee. If one of these elected officials represents you, be sure to let them know.

Posted April 27, 2017 by lgonzalez

Charles City is looking to join the ranks of Iowa municipalities that offer fast, affordable, reliable connectivity via publicly owned fiber. The town of approximately 7,600 people released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a Fiber-to-the-Premise Feasibility Study earlier this month. Responses are due May 5th.

In 2005, Charles City voters approved a referendum that gave the city the authority to establish a telecommunications utility. They’ve already taken steps to pursue an Internet network infrastructure project, but incumbents Mediacom and CenturyLink have made marginal improvements in local services whenever the city appeared to move beyond a the feasibility study phase. So far, the city has held off from making their own investment.

In 2014, they joined with ten other Iowa communities to study the possibility of a regional effort, which later became known as the Iowa Fiber Alliance (IFA). The positive outcome of that study encouraged Charles City to continue on and, after funding a local preliminary study, they decided to commission a full feasibility study.

In this RFP, Charles City states that its intention is to offer retail services, but the study should also include information about other business models like open access and public-private partnerships. They are looking for several proposed financing options, including General Obligation (GO) bonds and revenue bonds.

Iowa Fiber Alliance

The regional effort in which Charles City is participating may or may not come to fruition, so the community needs its consultant of choice to consider three different possibilities. From the RFP:

SCENARIO 1: IFA builds a fiber transport network of which Charles City has ownership rights. The City shares a proportional share of network construction and operations. The IFA aggregates Internet bandwidth among members and provides at least two diverse connections to peering points. For video and telephone service architecture, Charles City receives services from other IFA members. 


SCENARIO 2: The IFA is not built. Charles City still partners with another company for Internet bandwidth, IP video, IP telephone switching services but provides for its own transport capacity by either leasing fiber or... Read more

Posted April 25, 2017 by htrostle

This is the transcript for Episode 249 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We have a returning guest, Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative in Texas. She provides a first-hand perspective of the decisions and challenges facing electric cooperatives. Listen to this episode here.

Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts: I think also as you watch come cooperatives have great successes you'll see others follow.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 249 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute of Local Self Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts is Vice President of Communications and Business Services for Pedernales Electric Cooperative. Pedernales serves a large region in Central Texas. In this episode, Christopher gets some honest perspective from someone who can offer unique insight from the world of cooperatives. They discuss a range of issues, including new Legislation from Tennessee, and how it will effect cooperatives. Alyssa and Christopher also get into the challenges that cooperatives must consider, when determining whether or not to offer connectivity to members. You can learn more about Pedernales at pec.coop. Now here is Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts and Christopher talking about cooperatives and the challenges of deciding whether or not to offer connectivity.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today I'm back with Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts, the Vice President of communication and business services for Pedernales Electric Co-op. Welcome back.

Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts: Thanks Chris, Thanks for having me.

Christopher Mitchell: For people who have been long time listeners, Alyssa has been on the show before, although she was not with Pedernales before. Alyssa you have a lot of experience working with rural utilities and thinking about broadband, tell us a little bit about Pedernales. It's one of the nation's smaller electric co-ops, if I remember correctly.

Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts: Yes it is actually the nation's largest electric cooperative. We have... Read more

Posted April 19, 2017 by christopher

As we continue to cover the growing movement of rural electric cooperatives to bring high quality Internet networks to their members, we wanted to bring Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts back on the show. Alyssa was last on the show for episode 109 and has since moved from the Utilities Telecom Council to Pedernales Electric Co-op in Texas.

Though Pedernales is not considering a major broadband investment, Alyssa's insights from her years working with many electric utilities are valuable in understanding what electric co-ops have to consider before making a network investment. 

We start off by discussing the recent legislation in Tennessee that finally allows electric co-ops to offer Internet access before we move on to the real considerations a general manager has to examine before getting into telecom. We also talk quite a bit about the interplay between rural electric co-ops and telecommunications companies.

Read the transcript of the show.

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

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 download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted April 15, 2017 by lgonzalez

RS Fiber Cooperative, serving communities in central Minnesota, has received attention and awards for a collaborative approach to improve local connectivity. The project is bringing better Internet access to farms, businesses, and residents in rural Minnesota that had little chance of ever getting better service from the national providers.

In a recent edition of National Public Radio’s The Call-In: Rural Life, Winthrop economic development director Mark Erickson, who was one of the champions of the project, talks with series host Lourdes Garcia-Navarro about what better connectivity means for rural areas.

Remember to check out our extensive coverage of the RS Fiber Cooperative, including our 2016 report, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative.

Erickson’s interview begins at around 4:20. Transcripts for the show are available here.

Posted April 11, 2017 by htrostle

Out in Big Sky Country, some rural communities look forward to high-speed Internet service from their local telephone co-op. 3 Rivers Communications in Montana has spent the last few years steadily building out their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to rural residents.

This spring, 3 Rivers Communications is set to start on two new areas: an $8 million project near Choteau (pop: 1,700) and a $1.5 million project near Fairfield (pop: 700). 

Focus on Rural Residents

The local newspaper Choteau Acantha reported on 3 River Communications’ latest plans. About 500 folks will be able to get high-quality phone, video, and Internet service at home when the co-op finishes both projects in late 2017 or early 2018. 

The current plans focus on rural residents on the outskirts of both towns. Folks in Fairfield already have access to fiber service, but people within the city of Choteau have DSL. Businesses in Choteau can request fiber connections, but the co-op is not currently planning to offer fiber connectivity to residents inside town limits.

These fiber projects are all part of a larger program to upgrade in the cooperative's service area of 17,000 square miles. The co-op is taking out the old copper telephone lines and replacing them with brand new fiber-optic cables. It’s a large undertaking and will serve approximately 20,000 members.

Federal Funding for Rural Areas

To upgrade to fiber in its large service area, 3 Rivers Communications obtained funding from several federal programs, including the Rural Utilities Services (RUS) and the Universal Service Fund. The co-op received a $70 million loan in 2011 and another $30 million loan in 2016 to improve the network. 

Currently, the lowest tier bundle of phone and 10 Mbps Internet service is $85 per month, but co-op members get back excess revenue in capital credits each year. 3 Rivers General Manager Dave Gibson described the balance of costs and prices to the Choteau Acantha:

“Our customers have the same wants, needs and... Read more

Posted April 7, 2017 by htrostle

This spring, two more communities in Colorado reclaimed the authority to build municipal networks. Colorado Springs and Central City voted to opt out of SB 152, a state law that removed local telecommunications authority in 2005.

Voters overwhelmingly chose to restore local authority to make decisions for themselves. Now the cities can discuss if a community network is right for them.

Quick Count

The Denver Business Journal covered the outcome of these April votes - noting the strong showing in rural Central City. The referendum to “opt out” of SB 152 easily passed in the small community; of the 182 ballots, 162 folks voted yes for local control [pdf]. That means 89 percent of the voters were in favor of the measure. 

In the much larger, urban community of Colorado Springs, the Colorado Springs Independent described a much tigher vote: 61 percent to 39 percent in favor of local authority. That’s about 50,000 yes votes to 32,000 no votes. Voters also decided another related ballot initiative concerning the sale of city infrastructure. Assets related to city utilities, such as water, electricity or telecom, now cannot be sold without the approval of a supermajority of 60 percent of votes cast in a referendum. 

Nearly 100 Communities Say YES

These two communities join the nearly 100 communities that have already restored local authority. Last November, 26 other communities also voted to opt out of the law. More communities may join this growing movement this fall. 

 

Posted April 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems allow utility systems to gather and analyze real time data. The computer system reduces outages, keeps the utilities running efficiently, and allows staff to know where problems arise. Municipal utilities that use SCADA systems are increasingly taking the next step - using the fiber-optic infrastructure that supports SCADA to bring better connectivity to town. Clarksville took that route and is now considering ways to become one of the best connected communities in Arkansas.

"I Don't Think We're In Kansas Anymore"

As the seat of Johnson County, Clarksville is located in the northwest area of the state along I-40 and is home to just under 10,000 people living at the foothills of the Ozarks near the Arkansas River. The area is known for its scenery and its tasty peaches and every summer, the county holds a popular Peach Festival. The nearest urban areas are Little Rock, about 90 minutes to the east, and Fort Smith about an hour west. 

Large employers in the community include University of the Ozarks, Tyson Foods, Haines, and Baldor, a motor and control manufacturing processor. There’s also a Walmart Distribution Center in Clarksville.

When he began as General Manager of Clarksville Light and Water (CLW) in 2013, John Lester realized that one of the challenges the municipal electric utility faced was that it did not have a SCADA system for managing the electric, water, or wastewater system communications. Even though the Clarksville utility system was well cared for and managed, a SCADA system could push it to the next level in efficiency and services.

Lester had been instrumental in optimizing the use of the fiber-optic network in Chanute, Kansas, which had been developed for the municipal utilities. He understood the critical nature of fiber connectivity to utility efficiency, public savings, and economic development. Over time, the Chanute network had attracted new jobs, opened up educational opportunities for K-12 and college students, and created substantial savings. 

logo-peach-fest.jpeg In Clarksville, the utilities commission... Read more

Posted March 29, 2017 by lgonzalez

West Virginia rural communities struggle with access to broadband but a bill in the state legislature is taking some first steps to encourage better connectivity. HB 3093 passed the House with wide support (97 - 2) and has been sent on to the Senate for review. The bill doesn’t appropriate any funding for Internet infrastructure projects around the state, but adopts some policies that may help local communities obtain better connectivity.

Revenue Neutral And Popular

The state is facing a $500 million budget deficit and lawmakers don't have the appetite to appropriate finds for Internet infrastructure projects. As in most states, policy bills do well during times of financial strife. Elected officials still want to do what they can to encourage better broadband so, according to at least one lawmaker, the revenue neutral nature of the bill has contributed to its success in the legislature. Delegate Roger Henshaw, one of the bill's co-sponsors, told Metro News:

“Notice this is a revenue-neutral bill,” Hanshaw said. “That’s in fact one of the reasons we’re rolling it out now. We have other bills here in both the House and Senate that are not revenue-neutral bills that were on the table for consideration.

“But with the clock ticking on us, it became clear that we probably ought to be looking at options to advance service that didn’t even have the possibility of a financial impact. This bill does not.”

Check out the 3-minute interview with Hanshaw on Soundcloud.

The Broadband Enhancement Council

West Virginia’s Broadband Enhancement Council was created in a previous session and receives more authority and responsibility under HB 3093. They are tasked with the authority to, among other things, gather comparative data between actual and advertised speeds around the state, to advise and provide consultation services to project sponsors, and make the public know about facilities that offer community broadband access. 

HB 3093 briefly addresses the creation of the “Broadband Enhancement Fund," and addresses how the funds should be spent. For now, the fund remains dry... Read more

Posted March 23, 2017 by lgonzalez

Since August 2016, the small community of Pinetops has been on the verge of losing their best connection to the 21st century - high quality Internet access. The North Carolina Legislature has a chance to change all that this session with legislation that will carve out an exception to restrictive state laws that prevent a local municipal provider from serving this rural town.

The State Blocks Service

When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the FCC’s preemption of state law restricting geographical reach of broadband from municipal electric utilities, Pinetops was in a pickle. Nearby Wilson had extended its Greenlight high capacity Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to the tiny community where residents and businesses were still slumping on DSL, dialing up, or not connected at all. The court’s reversal required the city of Wilson to risk losing their ability to serve their own community if they continued to do business as a provider for Pinetops.

The only way Pinetops and another customer outside Wilson County - Vick Family Farms - could continue with Greenlight was when the City Council voted to continue temporary service at no charge. Elected officials made the decision based on the expectation that legislators would introduce proposals to carve out exceptions for both Pinetops and the Vick Family Farm, commercial potato farm also located outside of Wilson County. Last week, they made good on that promise.

Reps Step In To Help

Representatives Susan Martin (R) and Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D), both from Wilson, introduced HB 396, which allows Wilson to expand Greenlight to Pinetops and the area in Nash County where Vick Family Farms is located. The legislation would allow the Nash County business to continue with the service it needs for daily operations. Pinetops is located in Edgecombe County. North Carolina’s restrictions prevent municipal networks like Greenlight from... Read more

Pages

Subscribe to rural