Tag: "rural"

Posted February 19, 2020 by lgonzalez

The Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) in Virginia recently announced that they are now ready to begin developing residential Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connections in Roanoke and Botetourt Counties and the cities of Salem and Roanoke.

The Next Logical Step

Since 2016, the open access network has provided services to businesses, public facilities, and community anchor institutions in the region. In 2017, the Authority connected one multi-dwelling unit in the city of Roanoke and began working with a private Internet access company to provide service. Now, the RVBA is determined to connect every premise with high-quality Internet access.

The Roanoke Times reports that:

The process begins with a survey of residents in the Roanoke Valley the municipal broadband authority announced Monday morning. The survey, available on the RVBA website, will help determine where the highest demand for the service is, but with a mind to reach wide areas of the region.

“We’re changing the game,” said RVBA President and CEO Frank Smith. “We’re changing the infrastructure, allowing us to differentiate ourselves across the region and across the country.”

The municipal authority’s mission “has been to be an economic development engine, drive competition, bring more choice in … but also to serve the geographically and economically underserved,” Smith said. “We want to make sure we build in places that make sense economically but make sure we do not ignore those that are economically disadvantaged.”

The RVBA will use survey results to determine where to deploy. Smith anticipates construction to begin this year and expects one provider to be offering service when the residential connections go online, but more Internet service providers to be added as the number of subscribers increases. Multiple ISPs have expressed an interest in delivering residential services...

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Posted February 13, 2020 by lgonzalez

Local officials in eight mostly-rural counties in southwest Pennsylvania are combining efforts to determine first, what connectivity is available and, second, what can be done to improve it.

Seeking Updated Information

Westmoreland, Fayette, Cambria, Somerset, Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon, and Fulton counties have been working with consulting firm Design Nine to develop a survey to share with residents in the region. The Regional Broadband Task Force, established by the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission (SAP&DC), gathered limited data in the past. They estimate that six percent of folks in the region live in places without wired broadband Internet access.

An earlier study determined that:

...2.3 percentage of the 354,751 residents fall below that level of service [25 Mbps upload and 3 Mbps download]. About 1.6 percentage of Blair County’s 123,842 population and 2.2 percentage of Cambria County’s 134,550 population are lacking that basic level of connectivity. At the other end of the spectrum, 55.2 percentage of Fulton County’s 14,506 residents are without the service.

ARC Funds

Funding for the study comes from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). The Task Force received $50,000 from ARC and the member counties contributed a matching $50,000 for the study. They began looking for a firm to help develop the study last fall and chose Design Nine hoping to determine:

  • Level of service being provided; the needs of local businesses and the reliability of the current services being provided;
  • An inventory of broadband assets already in place;
  • An assessment community broadband requirements for bandwidth needs;
  • Determine best technologies to meet the coal impacted community needs; and
  • Cost estimates for different deployment strategies

Businesses Want More in Westmoreland

While the Regional Broadband Task Force is seeking data about connections consistent with the FCC's definition of "...

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Posted February 12, 2020 by lgonzalez

Whether you're a tech entrepreneur, manage a large industrial operation, or you specialize as an artisan who sells niche products online, fast, affordable, reliable connectivity is now a critical utility for your business. A recent SpotLight article from the North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM) and hosted by WRAL.com, shines a light on the impact of reliable broadband on rural businesses, residents, and local economies.

Unrealized Potential

NCLM provides multiple examples supporting the theory that lack of high-quality connectivity and access to digital tools results in unrealized potential — in jobs, home-based businesses, and small business revenue. A 2019 study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce suggests that 66 percent of rural small businesses struggle with poor Internet or mobile phone connectivity.

Sheila Pope and her husband — both attorneys — have no Internet access at home and when their daughter returns home from college, she must make the trek into town to scope out a reliable connection.

"The trend is for more and more online work. She [Pope's daughter] would have to come to our office or go to the coffee shop in town. We got unlimited data through our cell phone provider so that we could use our phones as a hotspot, but that's unreliable and sometimes the connection would go out and she would lose all her work. It's very problematic," Pope said. "People are not going to want to come here to live and businesses aren't going to come here when they can't get what they need to do business in this digital age." 

NCLM spoke with Aaron Carter, director of marketing for Rhino Shelf, a storage shelving manufacturer. Only recently has the company been able to subscribe to Internet access faster than 20 Mbps:

"Broadband is so important because no matter what your business is, efficiency is the bottom line. It doesn't matter if you have the greatest product in the world; if you're not manufacturing it efficiently, that's a loss. If you're not selling or marketing it efficiently, you're losing," Carter said. "I grew up in Sampson County. I have friends there who run businesses and the way they do business is old-fashioned because they...

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Posted February 11, 2020 by lgonzalez

In 2012, the Medina County Fiber Network (MCFN) first began offering fiber optic connectivity to businesses and community anchor institutions in the county. Jump forward eight years later and the network is now proving the case that Ohioans also want fast, affordable, reliable connections in the small communities where national providers aren't willing to upgrade.

Meeting a Goal

When we spoke with CEO David Corrado from MCFN in December 2019 for episode 386 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we learned about the new partnership between MCFN, Lit Communities, and Peak Communications. CEO Brian Snider and Chief Marketing Officer Ben Lewis-Ramirez from Lit Communities also participated in the conversation and the three explained how the partners were employing a community based model to expand the open access fiber optic infrastructure with private capital. 

The entity they created for the project is Medina Fiber and focuses on expanding the benefits of the network to residents in Medina County.

In a February 11th press release from MCFN, Corrado announced that the project has reached a key milestone. Monthly revenue from the network now equals the MCFN $100,000 monthly bond payment.

From the press release:

“This is a key metric that we’re pleased to reach as Medina County Fiber Network begins expanding our trusted network to homes throughout Medina County. It’s proof that the county’s investment in fiber infrastructure works well now, and positions our community for even more economic success and better quality-of-life.”

In December, the initial construction began to approximately 6,100 households in the Villages of Seville, Westfield Center, and Guilford Township at a cost of around $8 million. According to Corrado, demand in these areas "remains strong." Now that the community based open access model is proving to be effective to bring better connectivity to residents and that locals are showing they want to sign up for services, plans are in...

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Posted February 10, 2020 by lgonzalez

Gascosage Electric Cooperative, serving members in south-central Missouri, recently joined the list of ReConnect recipients. The co-op will use a $14 million grant and loan combination to deploy gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to members in four counties where people are unserved and underserved.

Natural Choice

Gascosage General Manager Carmen Hartwell told St. Louis Public Radio, “We’re really a natural choice for this. We already have the infrastructure in place and a history of bringing utilities to rural residents.”

Co-Mo Cooperative and Ozarks Electric Cooperative in Missouri are two other rural electric cooperatives that have expanded the use of their infrastructure to provide broadband to members. In the rural regions of Missouri, as in other states, people living in less populated areas recognize the crucial role high-quality connectivity plays in economic development, educational opportunities, and ability to remain competitive.

“When we take a look at educational opportunities and economic development, internet access may stimulate growth of businesses in our area,” said Hartwell. “It might bring more people into our area that otherwise maybe telecommute for their jobs. Now, they’re going to be able to live on family farms.”

Phasing In Fiber

The co-op has a three-phase plan to connect more than 1,100 households, 20 farms, 20 local businesses, and two rural fire-protection districts. Gascosage has posted detailed information for members, including maps, on their website and their Facebook page revealing exactly where the deployment will occur. The deployment areas are in Camden, Maries, Miller, Phelps, and Pulaski counties. Subscribers will also be able to sign-up for voice services.

Phase one should be completed in early 2021 and will make symmetrical gigabit connectivity available to 285 premises, three farms and eight businesses. Phase two will add 295 premises, to the network, and should also be completed in 2021. The largest Phase will connect 729 homes, businesses, and farms; the co-op will deploy this phase in 2022 and 2023. 

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Posted February 7, 2020 by lgonzalez

Tribal Technology Assessment: The State of Internet Service on Tribal Lands, a report from the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University (AIPI) provides a detailed examination of broadband access, device use, and uses of the Internet by Tribal peoples on Tribal lands. Authors Brian Howard and Traci Morris completed the 2019 report aiming to develop a closer look at the digital divide and "to create a new baseline for future studies with the expectation of potentially measuring growth in coming years."

The AIPI worked with Tribal leadership and members to design a study that would include the participation of those living on Tribal lands. In addition to providing historical perspective on why the issue of digital inclusion has not been studied adequately, the authors address the multiple facets of the digital divide(s) that Native American peoples who live on Tribal lands face and how the large ISPs have left most behind.

The report explains in detail the survey questions, results, and methodology.

Based on the results of the survey, AIPI provides policy recommendations directed at different public and private sectors. At the foundation of their recommendations is the link between local self-reliance and increased adoption of better connectivity:

There needs to be a new model to address the Digital Divide prevalent in rural and Tribal America. What is needed is a positively related regulatory disruption to find new solutions for community based networks for positive social disruption.

AIPI makes recommendations for Congress, such as:

  • Establish the Office of Native Affairs and Policy as a standalone, independent office at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with a permanent annual budget.
  • Establish a Tribal Broadband Fund to support broadband deployment, maintenance, and technical assistance training.

Recommendations for the telecom industry include:

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Posted February 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

At the end of 2019, Congress passed the Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands (RURAL) Act, fixing a tax law change that threatened to raise rates and delay the expansion of broadband for rural cooperative members across the country.

Passage of the RURAL Act ensures that cooperatives can accept federal funds for broadband deployment, disaster relief, and other efforts without risking their nonprofit tax exempt status. A change in the 2017 tax law would have labeled these funds as revenue for the first time, potentially causing co-ops to exceed the allowable percentage of non-member income they must maintain to remain tax exempt.

After Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Rob Portman(R-Ohio) and Representatives Adrian Smith (R-) and Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) introduced the bipartisan bill in April, it attracted 55 additional cosponsors in the Senate and more than 300 in the House. It was eventually incorporated into the consolidated appropriations act and signed into law in December.

“Obstacles From the Federal Government”

We described the possible impact of the 2017 tax law change on rural cooperatives over a year ago, when Senator Smith first brought the issue to our attention.

Failure to remedy it would have forced some co-ops to choose between continuing with desperately needed broadband and disaster recovery projects and increasing their members’ rates. Northwestern Electric Cooperative CEO Tyson Littau described the difficulty of that decision to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA):

Do we rebuild and try to strengthen our distribution system and pay the taxes, or do we delay the mitigation project that would improve 1,200 miles of line throughout our territory? I think we have a responsibility to the membership to improve the system for the future.

Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative was another co-op faced with the prospect of raising electric rates to...

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Posted February 6, 2020 by lgonzalez

This is our fifth episode of the podcast project we're working on with nonprofit NC Broadband Matters to share broadband news, challenges, and innovations from North Carolina. NC Broadband Matters works to find ways to bring ubiquitous broadband coverage to residents and businesses across the state.

Susan Cashion, Vice President, Chief Compliance & Administrative officer from Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation, and Greg Coltrain, Vice President of Business Development for RiverStreet Networks from Wilkes Telephone Cooperative join Christopher for the podcast. When they met up at an event in Raleigh, they discuss the co-ops' collaboration to bring high-quality Internet access to people who live in rural areas.

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.png In this interview, we learn more about both cooperatives and about their long histories of serving people who live in rural communities. Each has their own special expertise and this partnership allows them to combine those for the benefit of members who want better connectivity. Piedmont is one of several electric cooperatives that Wilkes, through RiverStreet, is working with to expand connectivity in rural North Carolina. Greg also describes the ways that RiverStreet works with local communities to take advantage of public assets to expand broadband to more households and businesses.

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

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Posted February 5, 2020 by lgonzalez

Almost six years ago, we told readers about Ottawa, Kansas, where the community of around 13,000 people had invested in publicly owned fiber optic connectivity for local businesses. We recently touched base with IT Director Paul Sommer, who updated us on the progress of their broadband utility and how it has impacted the community.

Steady as it Grows

When we first met Ottawa, they had worked with the local school district and Franklin County to capitalize on existing fiber infrastructure and expand to more locations. Local leaders had learned from Ottawa businesses that the best options available from incumbent AT&T were T1 lines for approximately $600. Higher capacity connections were scarce and financially out of reach for local establishments, and AT&T could not be convinced to upgrade their infrastructure. As Bigham put it, AT&T was "milking the cow."

Once the city, school district, and Franklin County established a partnership, Ottawa began to expand fiber to other municipal facilities and businesses as requested. Sommers, who has taken over as IT Director, says that now all 10 city buildings are on the network. In addition to an industrial park on the original infrastructure on the north end of town, the network now reaches an industrial park to the south.

The electric utility has trained their own staff rather than hiring external fiber deployment personnel. In addition to enriching skills, their employees are able to respond quickly if there are downed cables or other maintenance issues. Sommers recalls an instance when a car, which had caught fire, sent shrapnel flying into the air. By a twist of fate, one piece severed the fiber optic cable hanging some distance away. His team was able to rehang and splice the cable that same day and get the subscriber back online.

By using electric utility staff, Ottawa has reduced the cost of their incremental build over the years. They typically budget around $100,000 each year for expansion of the network, have never gone over, and often don’t spend the entire allotment. Sommers says that, since they own the utility poles in town, have necessary personnel on hand, and equipment at the ready, unnecessary bureaucracy doesn’t slow down maintenance, repairs, or expansion efforts.

Bursting at the Streams

...

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Posted February 4, 2020 by lgonzalez

On February 3rd, 2020, the FCC opened the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window, a six month period in which federally recognized Tribes or Alaska Native Villages have the opportunity to apply for licenses to unassigned spectrum over their Tribal lands. This week on the podcast, we have two guests from MuralNet — CEO Mariel Triggs and Edyael Casaperalta, Legal Advisor and Policy Strategist. MuralNet, a nonprofit that focuses on helping indigenous people build their own networks, has been working to spread the word about the Rural Tribal Priority Window.

Historically, national Internet access companies have fallen short in bringing their services to people living on tribal lands. A few Tribes have been able to develop their own community networks, but others have found roadblocks when competing with large ISPs for spectrum or for funding. As a result, Tribal communities are some of the least connected in the U.S. Mariel and Edyael discuss how fixed wireless, using the 2.5 Ghz band spectrum is well suited to help solve this persistent problem. They share some of the challenges they’ve faced and offer some tips with deployment and in working to develop policy.

We learn more about the criteria that tribes need to meet in order to apply and how, even if they don’t plan on building their own network, owning access to the spectrum is, nevertheless, empowering. Tribes may not wish to operate a community network, but owning the airwaves above their land gives them some control over how those airwaves are used.

To learn more about the claiming the airwaves over Tribal Land, check out MuralNet’s website here. They're always willing to answer questions and to help with the process.

Legal...

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