Tag: "rural"

Posted May 29, 2017 by htrostle

Can’t get telephone or Internet service? Have you tried starting your own company? In 1998, John Reigle did just that with the support of the community and Michigan State University. Today, Allband Communications Cooperative provides not only telephone service, but also cutting-edge, high-quality Internet access and environmental research opportunities in rural Northeastern Michigan.

A Story Of Promise, Betrayal, And The Telephone Company

We connected with Allband representatives who shared details about Allband's interesting and dramatic history as told by Masha Zager back in 2005. They kindly provided updates and let us know what's in store for this by-the-bootstraps effort that started in the woods of Michigan.

When John Reigle moved out into the woods past the small town of Curran, Michigan, he didn't intend to start a brand-new venture. He simply wanted to build a home and work on his consulting business; he just needed telephone service.

The large incumbent telephone company GTE (which later became Verizon, which still later sold off this service area to Frontier) had assured Reigle that the lot where he planned to build his house would be easy to connect to their telephone network. They quoted him a price of about $34 and scheduled an install date. Trusting that the telephone company’s representatives knew the service area, Reigle moved forward with his plans to build.

After he finished constructing his house in 1998, Reigle contacted the telephone company to finalize his service connection. Despite the earlier assurance that his location would not prove a problem, Reigle found that he was miles away from the GTE network. This time, the company quoted $27,000 to run a copper telephone line from the highway to his new house. 

His consulting firm could not operate without a telephone so he decided to bite the bullet and agree to the steep price. GTE rescinded its quote, however, and no matter how much Reigle offered, the company would not run telephone service to his new house.

Obviously perturbed, Reigle filed a complaint with the Michigan Public Service Commission only to discover that he had built his house in an unassigned area. Despite the previous promises from GTE, the Michigan Public Service Commission noted that legally GTE could not be forced... Read more

Posted May 27, 2017 by htrostle

Bob Hance, President and CEO of Midwest Energy & Communications, formerly known as Midwest Energy Cooperative, spoke to Michigan Radio on the current plans for a high-speed, fiber optic network and the importance of rural connectivity. 

Midwest Energy & Communications offers speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) and has started to expand to new areas in southwest Michigan. Despite concerns that folks might not sign up for Internet service, demand has far exceeded expectations. 

Industrial Park Gets Service

An industrial park in Niles, Michigan, specifically requested to be connected to the high-speed network. Many of the tenants had considered relocating because of the previously shoddy connectivity. Thanks to Midwest Energy & Communications, those businesses chose to stay put. The co-op now serves about 80 percent of the industrial park with high-speed fiber. 

Listen to the full interview here.

For more about the history and structure of the cooperative, check out our own interview with Hance on Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 225.

Posted May 25, 2017 by lgonzalez

The Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporations (MBC), a broadband cooperative with member communities in Virginia, recently announced that a new project will bring Internet access to students at home to help close the “homework gap” in Charlotte and Halifax counties.

Homework At Home

Approximately half of the K-12 students in the two southern counties don’t have Internet access at home, interfering with their ability to hone the skills they need for future success. To address the issue, MBC and its partner Microsoft obtained funding from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission and will implement the project which reach 1,000 households and approximately 3,000 students. Students will be able to tap into their schools’ networks to access online assignments and resources from home. The service will be free.

The project is an expansion of a pilot program based on white space technology, which we’ve written about before. White space technology has been used in similar projects by libraries in New York, North Carolina, Colorado, and Mississippi to extend Internet access to communities where people have limited access. White space technology isn’t interrupted by dense forests or hills, so works in the Halifax and Charlotte county terrain.

Better Connectivity, Better Economy

MBC formed in 2004 as an open access network, funded by the Virginia Tobacco Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. The network also received American Recovery and Reinvestment Award (ARRA) funding in order to connect schools and community anchor institutions in southern Virginia and to extend the reach of the network even further. The network now consists of more than 1,800 miles in 31 counties.

The presence of better connectivity has helped spur economic development to the tune of at least 1,100 jobs and $2.1 billion in private investment. In addition to attracting a new Microsoft data center, the network has helped... Read more

Posted May 23, 2017 by lgonzalez

Highlands, North Carolina, deployed a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure and fixed wireless complement to serve the community. The small rural community has been operating the municipal network in the Appalachians since late 2015, but is now considering passing the mantle to a private partner. They recently released a Request for Information (RFI) and responses are due June 9th.

High In The Appalachians

Tourism is one of the town’s staple economies, as it’s known for its natural surroundings atop the Nantahala National Forest in the mountains. While less than 1,000 people live in the town all year, summer tourists swell the population to around 20,000. There are several country clubs nearby that cater to the affluent second-home owners in Highlands and there are at least 500 homes that are valued at $1 million or more.

The FTTH network does not serve the entire community. Local leaders want the network available to the entire community, in part to keep second home owners in Highlands for extended periods of time. With better connectivity, many could work from home. The community also operates a municipal electric utility that owns 2,600 utility poles and 110 miles of line, most of it aerial. Interestingly, the Highlands Electric Utility serves over 3,000 accounts, some in the suburban Atlanta areas.

Highlands issued the RFI to search out  provider that would be interested in expanding the FTTH network and acquiring more customers for the network as a whole. They still want to own the infrastructure, but hope to attract a provider willing to lease the existing network and add to it.

Read the rest of the RFI.

Responses are due Friday, June 30th.

Posted May 10, 2017 by lgonzalez

Franklin, Kentucky's Electric Plant Board is now offering Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity in limited areas of town through a pilot project. Franklin EPB wants to experiment with the possibility of bringing high-quality Internet access and VoIP to all its customers.

Businesses First, Now Residents

In 2013, Franklin EPB began serving local businesses after national providers refused to install fiber connectivity in local industrial parks. Community leaders in Franklin knew that retaining existing businesses and attracting new opportunities relied on fast, affordable, reliable connectivity and that giving up was not an option. The town already had experience with its own electric utility and chose to deploy and manage a municipal fiber network to spur economic development, improve connectivity for municipal facilities, and to enhance communication for EPB facilities.

A $1 million U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration grant combined with municipal bonds funded the initial deployment. The network encouraged a local establishment, Tractor Supply Company, to invest in a Franklin distribution center adding more than 330 jobs to the community.

Rural Kentucky Connecting

Approximately 8,400 people live in Franklin, which is located in central Kentucky along the southern border. Franklin is only about 90 minutes from Clarksville, Tennessee - another community with publicly owned fiber.

For now, residents in the pilot area can sign up for 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds for $50.00 per month. The pilot program page doesn’t describe them as symmetrical, but doesn’t list upload speeds. A gigabit option is not yet available but is listed as "to be determined." Installation is $49 and VoIP activation is $29.95. 

Posted May 9, 2017 by htrostle

This is the transcript for Episode 251 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Carole Monroe and Irv Thomae discuss connectivity in East Central Vermont and the future of the ECFiber Network. Listen to this episode here.

 

Carole Monroe: What we see, in this area, is that most of the customers coming to ECFiber are customers that are coming from FairPoint.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 251 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. ECFiber is a consortium of 24 member towns in East Central Vermont that banded together in 2008, on a mission to bring high quality connectivity to their small, rural towns. The project began with funds from many local investors. Since then, the network has expanded, and a new structure will allow ECFiber to continue to grow. In this interview, we learn about ECFiber's past, present, and future plans. Christopher's guests, Carole Monroe and Irv Thomae, describe what it was like getting the community network going. Now, here's Christopher with Carole Monroe and Irv Thomae, talking about ECFiber in Vermont.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell, and I'm enthusiastic today, to be talking with Carole Monroe, once more. Carole is now the CEO of ValleyNet. Welcome back to the show.

Carole Monroe: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: And we also have Irv Thomae on, who is the district chairman of the governing board for the East Central Vermont Fiber Network-

Irv Thomae: Telecommunications district.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. We're going to explain for a second, how that used to be ECFiber, and now has a different name because it has a new, exciting approach. So welcome to the show, Irv.

Irv Thomae: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: Maybe that's actually just a really good place to start, quickly. Irv, can you just remind me how ECFiber is now structured?

Irv Thomae: We were and still are a collection of 24 municipalities in East Central Vermont, but we formed, originally, under... Read more

Posted May 9, 2017 by lgonzalez

Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS) is now rolling out gigabit connectivity to local communities. Local leaders and network officials anticipate the upgrade will attract more jobs and more people to this rural area of the state:

"Jackson is very fortunate. This is something that a lot of people probably take for granted and don't realize how lucky we are in greater Minnesota to have high capacity access," said Jackson City Administrator Jennifer Bromeland.

"It's just been so vitally important, and to be able to offer that in the communities of our size is just something else. It's absolutely fabulous," SMBS General Manager Travis Thies said.

Regional Effort

SMBS received $12.8 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding to add to their own contributions, for the 181-mile fiber project in 2012. The publicly owned regional network serves the communities of Jackson, Bingham Lake, Heron Lake, Lakefield, Brewster, Wilder, Okabena, and Round Lake. Several of the communities in the consortium had been told by incumbent CenturyTel (now CenturyLink) they would never get upgrades faster than dial-up because the towns were just too small to justify investment from a national provider. Now all the communities collectively own the high-speed fiber-optic network. 

Local businesses strongly supported the project and helped secure the ARRA funding with letters to the federal government expressing the need for better connectivity in the region. Municipal facilities were connected to the Internet via 1.5 Mbps connections that drained bandwidth for the rest of the community. Local healthcare facilities and nonprofits also stepped up to submit appeals to the federal government. Clearly, the entire region - and all sectors in it - needed better connectivity.

Things have changed since the communities took matters into their own hands.

"We have the fiber set up to many of our businesses and residents right now, so we have had this for a while and it's helping or businesses to meet their goals and just helping us to keep people in Jackson and attract people to want to move to Jackson," said Bromeland.

Better Broadband On The Prairie

In addition to bringing high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) access to people... Read more

Posted May 4, 2017 by lgonzalez

Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority (ESVBA) has expanded its fixed wireless coverage area to include the community of Bloxom. The organization has also approved plans to expand its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployment beyond the test project town of Harborton.

Towering Above The Shore

ESVBA opened its Bloxom Tower last fall so residents and businesses in the rural community of about 380 people. The tower enables better connectivity in the underserved town and provides better cellular coverage. ESVBA is also providing a free wireless hotspot near the tower.

In order to stimulate competition and provide choice to potential subscribers, ESVBA’s Broadband Initiative Program will provide free Internet access and transport for up to 12 months for wireless ISPs.

In a press release, Chris Kreisl, of the Bloxom Town Council said:

“We knew how important it was for us to have this kind of infrastructure. Without it, we were being left behind as the information economy continued to push citizens around the globe online. Now, Bloxom businesses have the opportunity to compete on equal footing.”

 

The ESVBA

We introduced readers to the not for profit ESVBA in February. The open access middle mile network began in 2008 with funding from Accomack and Northampton Counties. The organization has obtained about $8 million dollars for deployment and expansions, some from NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which use the infrastructure. ESVBA returned Accomack and Northampton counties’ investments when the network became sustainable.

More Fiber

In March, the ESVBA decided to move forward and expand the FTTH project that we wrote about in February. The expansion will bring high-quality connectivity to houses along residences situated on the ESVBA network’s existing fiber route in five rural areas. Check out expansion areas one and ... Read more

Posted May 3, 2017 by lgonzalez

Today in the Maine Legislature, the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology voted unanimously to stop LD 1516, a bill that would restrict local telecommunications authority. After Tuesday's compelling testimony, when it was time for a Wednesday vote, LD 1516’s sponsor moved the bill be shelved.

Engaging Testimony

On Tuesday, May 2nd, the Committee of Senators and Representatives met to listen to testimony on the bill. We’ve provided audio of the public hearing.

South Portland, Islesboro, the Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council, and Rockport all sent experts with knowledge about developing public projects to testify in opposition to the bill. Representatives from GWI (the ISP working with several local communities that have invested in their own Internet infrastructure), the Maine Municipal Association, and the Mayors’ Coalition also testified against LD 1516.

Communities where publicly owned fiber is already improving local connectivity provided stories of how they tried unsuccessfully to work with incumbents. Page Classon from Islesboro described how incumbent proposals could be described as, “You pay for it, we own it, we charge you what we charge everyone else.” LD 1516 requires local referendums for such investments and Classon balked at taking such a proposal to the voters.

In South Portland, the city paid for construction of its open access fiber-optic network with general fund reserves. The language in LD 1516 restricts communities to funding through revenue bonds but South Portland uses its network to offer free Wi-Fi and to improve connectivity for municipal facilities. Under LD 1516, they would not have been able to make the investment.

Rick Bates from Rockport testified that the bill would force municipalities to contend with restrictions that legacy providers will never face and how those restrictions will not solve the problem of connecting rural Maine. Bates also took the opportunity to point out that organizations such as the Taxpayer Protection Alliance relies on misinformation and incorrect data, such as their erroneous assertion that Rockport has debt for its FTTH project.

... Read more

Posted May 3, 2017 by lgonzalez

We’ve been covering the East-Central Vermont Community Fiber-Optic Network (ECFiber) since 2009; it has come a long way from inception. ECFiber is a group of rural Vermont towns that are working together to deploy a regional network to offer high-quality Internet access to communities typically stuck with slow, unreliable connections such as DSL and dial-up. In this episode, Christopher talks with Carole Monroe, CEO of ValleyNet, and Irv Thomae, District Chairmen of ECFiber’s Governing Board. The not-for-profit ValleyNet operates the ECFiber network.

The organization has faced ups and downs and always seemed to overcome challenges. It began with funding from individual local investors who recognized the need to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to the region. Now, the organization is characterized as a “communications union district,” which creates greater funding flexibility and stability.

In this interview, Carole and Irv talk about the new designation and the plans for bringing the network to the communities that are clamoring for better Internet access. They also get into recent developments surrounding overbuilding by DSL provider FairPoint, a project funded by CAF II subsidies. We hear how ECFiber is bringing better connectivity to local schools and helping save public dollars at the same time and we find out more about the ways Vermonters in the eastern rural communities are using their publicly owned network.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

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 download this mp3 file... Read more

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