Tag: "rural"

Posted October 16, 2018 by lgonzalez

It’s been a while since we last visited with Reedsburg Utilities Commission General Manager Brett Schuppner. He’s back on the show again to help us spread the word about this Wisconsin town’s decision to switch all their muni network subscribers to affordable gigabit connectivity and to eliminate all other tiers.

Brett and Christopher get into why the RUC decided that going all-gig would benefit the community’s residents and businesses and how they decided that their role was to provide the service and let the community run with it. RUC has been offering high-quality connectivity for about 15 years, making it one of the oldest publicly owned networks in the U.S.

When Brett was on the show in 2015, he and Christopher talked about the RUC’s plans to expand. "Deja vu" as the same topic comes up again on this week’s episode. The RUC has been awarded funding to help pay for expansion to two nearby communities that need Internet access for the 21st century. Brett shares information about those communities and the logistics behind the projects.

Located about an hour from Madison, RUC’s affordable LightSpeed provides the connections that area Wisconsinites need to telecommute. Brett and Christopher also touch on Reedsburg’s recent designation as a certified Telecommute Forward! community. The certification lets companies know that the city and areas served by LightSpeed have the capacity to support remote employees.

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

This show is 23 minutes long and can be played on this...

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Posted October 11, 2018 by lgonzalez

City Officials in Fort Scott, Kansas, located about 95 miles south of Kansas City, say that they haven’t been able to entice national providers to bring high-quality Internet access to their town of about 8,000 people. That may be a good thing — Craw-Kan Telephone Cooperative is building out fiber in Fort Scott as early as 2019.

Working With the City

Planning for the network has involved collaboration between Fort Scott and the cooperative. Before bringing connectivity to residents, the cooperative has been deploying to a local industrial part, the airport, and the golf course. 

The plan has included an Exchange Agreement between the city and Craw-Kan which allows the co-op to use vacant conduit to connect Fort Scott’s Water Treatment Plant to the golf course and the airport. Fort Scott will also provide an easement for a fiber node at the golf course. Craw-Kan will provide six fibers for the city to use along this part of the route, and will also install vacant conduit for the city during construction at another location. The additional conduit will be earmarked exclusively for the city’s use.

City officials and representatives from Craw-Kan have been working on the deal and the project since the fall of 2017. At a recent City Commission meeting, City Manager Dave Martin said that Fort Scott was excited that the cooperative was bringing gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to town, noting that they’d tried to attract ISPs that would offer better services. Suddenlink offers services in parts of town and AT&T’s DSL is also available. 

Craw-Kan will provide $70 per month symmetrical gigabit connections  with no data caps in addition to 10/10 and 50/50 for $50 per month and $60 per month respectively. Installation is free and a Wi-Fi router is included in the monthly rate.

Working With Other Communities

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The Fort Scott project is the latest in the Craw-Kan portfolio as they work with local communities in the region. Further south in Pittsburg, Craw-Kan has been building their...

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Posted October 9, 2018 by lgonzalez

We don’t often get the opportunity to interview people from Texas, so when we heard about Mont Belvieu’s gigabit fiber optic network we knew we had to have them on the show. When we learned that four officials from the east Texas town would join us we said, “Even better!” City Manager Nathan Watkins, Director of Broadband and IT Dwight Thomas, Assistant City Manager Scott Swigert, and Communications and Marketing Director Brian Ligon are on the show this week to talk about their publicly owned network, MB Link.

Before they were able to provide the fast, affordable, reliable service to residents all over town, Mont Belvieu had to assert themselves in a legal proceeding against the State of Texas. In this conversation, the guys discuss their elegant argument that won over the court. You’ll also hear why community leaders decided that, even though Mont Belvieu had a thriving oil and gas industry, they felt that investing in high-quality Internet access for residents was a goal they aimed to achieve for the public good. The residents in Mont Belvieu drove this project.

People in Mont Belvieu have clambered to sign up for the network. Our guests discuss how they’ve used their town’s strengths to market the services they offer and how they continue to use communications to help subscribers get the most from MB Link. The guys also talk about how the city plans to add businesses to the network and the reactions from incumbents.

Read more about the network and the court action in our coverage about Mont Belvieu.

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

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Posted October 9, 2018 by lgonzalez

In September, Reedsburg Utility Commission (RUC) in Wisconsin announced that they’re simplifying life for subscribers. They’ve eliminated service tiers and now everyone who signs up for the service receives affordable, symmetrical gigabit Internet access from their recently rebranded LightSpeed service.

Rebranding, Redefining Fast and Affordable

Back in May, RUC decided that they would renew their efforts at marketing by launching the new LightSpeed brand. At that time, they were already signing up new customers for the great gigabit deal, which translated into prices as low as $44.95 per month for 1,000 Megabits per second (Mbps or one gigabit) when purchased as part of a bundle. RUC also offers voice and video.

RUC has been offering Internet access to Reedsburg’s approximately 10,000 people since 2002. In 2014, they were the first in Wisconsin to offer gigabit connectivity. Over the past 16 years, they've expanded into different areas around the city in order to share the benefits of the network.

Growing That Gig

With the new gigabit offering to all, Reedsburg will venture out to two new areas. They received two grants from the state to expand to the Village of Spring Green and the Town of Delton.

logo-Lightspeed-Reedsburg-small.jpg In Spring Green, located about 30 miles due south of Reedsburg, town officials have been working with the RUC to obtain the funding to bring high-quality Internet access to town. The grant will help fund the first phase of the project, which will bring better connectivity to several community anchor institutions, the school district, and multiple government facilities. In bringing LightSpeed to Spring Green, approximately more than 260 residential and 35 commercial premises will also have access to fiber.

Lake Delton, which is south of the Village of Delton,...

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Posted October 4, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

A few weeks ago, we wrote about one of the community meetings held by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to address mounting frustrations over poor service from Frontier Communications. Subscribers at the meeting in Wyoming, Minnesota, complained of download speeds as slow as 0.05 Megabits per second (Mbps), outages that lasted for weeks, and unhelpful customer service representatives.

According to Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), the small town of Ceylon, Minnesota, has had to deal with even more insulting mistreatment at the hands of the company. Residents of Ceylon say that Frontier never actually finished installing its lines in the town. Instead, Frontier has left them lying in people’s yards and dangling from trees — for as long as three years, by one account.

Frontier’s “Corporate Indifference”

Internet access and telephone providers like Frontier usually bury cables underground or suspend them on utility poles to keep the infrastructure safe. In Ceylon, it appears that Frontier has taken a more lackadaisical approach, resulting in lines snaking through the grass, tied to trees, and even crossing over a propane tank. MPR notes that some people in the town have taken it upon themselves to move Frontier’s cables out of the way of harm, attaching them to posts and fences for fear of accidentally severing the connection.

Ceylon officials had previously requested that Frontier fix the problem, to no effect. At the PUC hearing in Slayton, Minnesota, City Councilmember John Gibeau said that the incomplete network installation represented Frontier’s “corporate indifference” to serving rural subscribers, MPR reports.

A representative from Frontier said the company would visit Ceylon to verify that the lines belong to them and to remedy the situation. But for now, Gibeau has a warning for Frontier: "You don't do that to my town and think you're going to get away with it."

Whatever the reason for the slipshod work, Frontier can’t blame it on lack of funding. As Bill Coleman and his team from the Blandin Foundation...

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Posted October 2, 2018 by lgonzalez

While major media outlets cover news about California Governor Jerry Brown’s decision to sign the state’s network neutrality bill, we’re high-fiving his signature on AB 1999. On September 30th, Gov. Brown approved the bill that removes state restrictions limiting publicly owned options for rural Internet access. The change signifies what we hope to see more of - state action empowering local communities set on improving local connectivity.

We’ve been following the development of the bill, introduced by Assembly Member Ed Chau, since early this year when it began to make its way through committee. Christopher went to California in May to testify in support of the bill at a hearing of the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee.

Easing the Way for Rural Communities

AB 1999 focuses on the responsibilities and authority of community service districts (CSDs), created to provide necessary services. CSDs are independent local governments usually formed by residents in unincorporated areas for the purpose of providing the kinds of services city-dwellers often take for granted: water and wastewater management, trash collection, fire protection, etc. In keeping with the ability to raise funds for these services, CSDs have the authority to create enhanced infrastructure financing districts (EIFDs). CSDs are allowed to use EIFDs to fund development of Internet access infrastructure in the same way they would sewer infrastructure, or convert overhead utilities to underground, or other projects that deal with infrastructure and are in the public interest.

Prior to the adoption of AB 1999, however, a CSD would first have to engage in a process to determine that no person or entity was willing to provide Internet access before the CSD could offer it to premises. Additionally, if a private sector entity came along after the infrastructure was deployed and expressed a willingness to do so, the CSD had no choice by law but to sell or lease the infrastructure they had developed rather than operate it themselves.

With the passage of AB 1999, CSDs no longer need to adhere to those strict requirements.

When the California State Legislature chose to pass the...

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Posted September 25, 2018 by lgonzalez

Great Lakes Energy (GLE) in Michigan decided in late 2017 to approve a plan to incrementally deploy Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to cooperative members, beginning with a pilot project in Petoskey. This week, Vice President of Communications, Marketing and Energy Optimization from GLE joins Christopher to talk about what could possibly become the largest FTTH project in the state.

GLE anticipates offering its symmetrical Truestream Internet access to members in the pilot area as early as the end of October. The planning process, however, has involved several feasibility studies and at least two years of planning in addition to several more years of contemplation. Shari explains how the region GLE serves covers many different types of geographies, subscriber income levels, and different levels of Internet access competition. Some folks have only dial-up, while others have the option of cable Internet access. One of the challenges GLE faces is educating potential subscribers about the differences between what they have now and the potential with Truestream.

She explains that the cooperative has decided to approach deployment with a flexible incremental approach, carefully examining demand as they deploy to determine where they go next across their service area. There’s a significant portion of seasonal homes in this northern section of the lower peninsula, and GLE sees that high-quality Internet access can help boost local economic development if those seasonal visitors have the ability to stay longer by working from the cabin.

For more on the project, check out our coverage....

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Posted September 25, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), at least 35 percent of tribal residents do not have access to fixed broadband. In comparison, only 7.7 percent of all U.S. residents lack access to fixed broadband, defined as minimum speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

However, a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes that this disparity is probably even starker.

The report, prepared at the request of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, finds that the FCC’s broadband data is inadequate and inaccurate. As a result, the data overstate sbroadband availability nationwide, particularly in tribal areas. Additionally, the report notes that the FCC fails to engage tribes in the data collection process.

Bad data isn’t just a bureaucratic recordkeeping problem. Tribal communities can miss out on federal funding to improve connectivity in unserved and underserved areas if the FCC data shows that they already have access to broadband.

Reporting Methodology Overstates Access

For the most part, the FCC gets its information on fixed broadband availability through Form 477. Internet service providers (ISPs) submit the form twice a year, listing the census blocks they serve and the highest speeds they advertise.

This data collection methodology inherently exaggerates Internet access. Since ISPs report coverage by census block, an entire block is considered served even if the provider offers, or could offer, access to only one home.

logo-GAO.jpeg Many tribal lands are located in rural areas, the report notes, where large census blocks result in vast overstatements of broadband availability. Census blocks can also contain both tribal and non-tribal lands, further obscuring the extent to which tribal communities lack connectivity.

“Tribal lands are the canary in the coal mine,” Sascha Meinrath, an American Indian Policy Institute board member and Pennsylvania State University professor,...

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Posted September 21, 2018 by lgonzalez

People in Arkansas who depend on Medicaid for healthcare typically don’t have the option to sign-up for affordable health insurance through their jobs. Sometimes they aren’t able to find full-time positions that offer healthcare or they don’t earn enough to afford the premiums in addition to covering life expenses for their families. With so many people offline, either because they can’t afford to pay for connectivity or because they live in areas where there is no connectivity, Arkansas seems like a poor choice for mandatory online reporting of anything, especially activity that dictates eligibility for Medicare. 

State leaders didn’t see it that way, however, when they implemented the policy in June. Medicaid recipients who are able to work must now go online to report at least 80 hours per month of activity; if they fail to do so, they lose access to the state's expanded Medicaid program. The activity can include volunteer work, job training, or several other categories of activities. While the issue of attaching work requirements to Medicaid eligibility has already been deemed arbitrary and capricious by a U.S. District Court in Kentucky, the lack of Internet access appears to be contributing to Arkansas’s dubious efforts to trim its enrollment.

logo-Medicaid.jpgLack of Coverage Complicates

In a state where at least 30 percent of the population has access to only one Internet service provider (ISP) and approximately 20 percent depend on their smart phones for Internet access, the only way to report the new work-related requirement is online. Under the guide of cost savings, the state has not established any other method for reporting for those who don’t have access to the Internet.

In addition to an environment that lags in competition, 17 percent of...

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Posted September 19, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

South Dakota has more cows than people — and if you live in a rural community outside of the state, it’s possible that all those bovines may have better Internet access than you do.

South Dakota Dashboard recently released a report on rural Internet access in the state. It was commissioned by the South Dakota Telecommunications Association (SDTA), whose members include cooperative, municipal, and tribal providers. The report, Connecting South Dakota’s Future: A Report on the Deployment & Impact of Rural Broadband, found that rural connectivity in the state significantly exceeds national averages, proving that high-quality Internet access is possible even in the most rural areas.

Download the report for more details.

Summary of Findings

According to the report, more than three quarters of rural South Dakotans who subscribe to Internet access from SDTA members have access to speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, which are the federal minimums for broadband. Across the country, approximately 61 percent of rural residents have access to those speeds.

Furthermore, 65 percent of people who subscribe to Internet access from SDTA members receive service through Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP). In contrast, only around 40 percent of rural telecommunications company subscribers nationwide are connected via fast and reliable fiber optic lines.

This is all despite the fact that, with fewer than five residents per square mile, deploying fiber costs on average $3,571 per resident in the rural regions served by SDTA members versus about $26 per resident in the more densely populated Sioux Falls.

Fast Internet Speeds Nothing New for South Dakota

In June of this year, we reported on PCMag’s annual ranking of the fastest Internet service providers (ISPs) in the country, which chose South Dakota as the state with the second...

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