Tag: "rural"

Posted February 20, 2018 by lgonzalez

Last fall, the northern Minnesota community of Ely took up a feasibility study to determine the possibilities of better connectivity with publicly owned Internet infrastructure. They also wanted to explore local interest in investment. After conducting a survey and reviewing the situation, local officials are contemplating moving ahead with two pilot projects.

A Big Demand

Citizens’ group, Ely Area Broadband Coalition (Ely ABC) and the Ely Economic Development Authority (EEDA) collaborated to manage the feasibility study process. In 2016, the Blandin Foundation, the Iron Range Resources Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB), and St. Louis County awarded the city $25,000 which they’ve dedicated toward their efforts to improve local connectivity.

In order to gauge the community’s current feeling about the quality and cost of the services they purchase from area cable and DSL providers, the Ely ABC and the EEDA encouraged area residents and businesses to compete a survey last fall. They wanted evidence to share with potential funding sources that the community was not being served. Community leaders also expected the results to help them decide which direction to take moving forward.

At a recent EEDA meeting, members discussed the survey results and the potential pilot projects.

“We want to see how people are satisfied with what they have and what they feel the needs are,” said Harold Langowski, the city’s clerk-treasurer. “Right now we are assuming everybody wants faster broadband. and that they’re not satisfied with what we have. But we’re only hearing that from people on the committee.”

As anticipated, residents and businesses who took the survey revealed that 94 precent of local residents and 98 percent of business owners want improved connectivity in Ely. Jack Maytum, senior broadband analyst for Design Nine, relayed that approximately 400 residents and 60 local business...

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Posted February 14, 2018 by lgonzalez

When the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative (SLVREC) decided to invest in fiber for more efficient electrical operations, they also took the first step toward improving Internet access for residents and businesses in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. The cooperative is building a network for both members and local nonmembers in some of Colorado’s least populated and worst connected areas.

Up In The Valley

The San Luis Valley in Colorado is the headwaters of the Rio Grande and a high-altitude basin in south central Colorado. There are more than 8,000 square miles within the Valley, but only about half of that is privately owned. The Rio Grande National Forest and the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve cover large swaths of land that attracts naturalists and people looking for outdoor adventure. Tourists also come to the Valley to enjoy the hot springs. The area was once populated with the Ute Native Americans; Mexican settlers have also played a part in populating the region. Mountain ranges bound the Valley on the west and east sides, luring climbers and campers. Alamosa is the most populous community as the county seat with a little under 10,000 people; Adams State University is located there.

Andrea Oaks-Jaramillo, Marketing and Economic Development Coordinator from SLVREC spoke with us about the co-op's venture into fiber connectivity:

“We want to make sure that people live in this area and are able to work and thrive here. We see a lot of our kids that go out of town for university and college and then don’t return because there isn’t a way to make a good living or to telecommute. That’s not what we want. We want to be able to have a stable and thriving economy while still maintaining what is priceless about living in a rural area.”

All Things Lead To Broadband

logo-SLVREC.png The cooperative's move to offer broadband started when they decided to use a SCADA system to identify and deal with outages quickly and to eventually improve metering technology for the electrical system. Members who received electrical services from SLVREC hadn’t approached the cooperative insisting that they develop a broadband network, but several of the co-op Board members living in very rural areas knew that...

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Posted February 6, 2018 by lgonzalez

As one electric cooperative in Indiana is engaged in a project to offer broadband, another project close by is in the works. As rural cooperatives take steps to offer broadband, local communities want to help local co-ops deploy in their areas. 

Jackson County Project Moving Ahead

Last summer, Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC) announced that they had finalized a plan to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to every service member within their 1,400 square mile service area. 

With the strong support of Jackson County leadership, the cooperative started work on phase 1, a plan to establish a backbone through most of the ten counties where REMC members live and work. The first phase of the extensive $60 million project is about one-third finished. This phase will also allow the co-op the chance to connect the first 990 premises in order to work out any issues and refine services before reaching more homes and businesses. As they finish up the first phase, REMC is beginning to plan phase 2.

At a January meeting that involved community leaders in the region and cooperatives, REMC General Manager Mark McKinney provided an update:

“We are in the process now of evaluating where phase two will be. We’re about a third of the way through phase one, which was approximately 330 miles of fiber optic cable being installed. When this is all said and done, if everything goes as planned, we’ll be looking at over 2,000 miles of fiber being installed. This is not fiber to the curb, this will be fiber all the way into the home.”

REMC expects to start serving approximately 1,000 customers in the Brownstown areas in February.

When the State Legislature passed SB 478, REMC was able to deploy fiber easier and faster. The bill, also known as the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act, updated existing law for cooperatives. Prior to the FIBRE Act, easements existed for electrical infrastructure but did not extend to fiber optic lines. SB 478 allows electric cooperatives with existing easements for...

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Posted February 5, 2018 by htrostle

Several rural communities have high-speed Internet service in Oklahoma, thanks to the hard work of the local electric cooperative. Headquartered in Hulbert, Oklahoma, Lake Region Electric Cooperative is already laying the necessary infrastructure for an extensive Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Lake Region Electric Cooperative offers FTTH service to more than 1,000 homes in the rural communities around the city of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. As with electrification, the cooperative is once again providing a much needed utility where no private company would go. This is the internetification of rural America.

Grounded In Community

Lake Region Electric Cooperatives is rooted in rural Oklahoma: it serves the rural communities east of the city of Tulsa and north of the city of Muskogee. The land is rocky, covered in trees, and surprisingly hilly. To get to the headquarters, one must go up a short dirt drive off the main road heading into the town of Hulbert. I dropped by the office to learn more about how the project started and spoke to Communications Specialist Larry Mattes and Fiber Coordinator Eshwar Prasad Beemraj.

For years, the Lake Region Electric Cooperative sent out a survey to its members, and each year, the co-op members wrote back that they needed Internet service. The large private provider in the area had not updated their infrastructure in decades. Like many electric co-ops, Lake Region had helped make Exede satellite Internet service available to their members, but it wasn’t enough. People came to board meetings and annual meetings to voice their concerns.

The co-op had to act and the staff developed a plan to bring the fastest Internet service that they could to the co-op members. They created pilot projects in two areas near the center of their service territory; both were a success. To manage demand for the service, the co-op uses the CrowdFiber platform to track which areas have the most interest. Members can pre-register for the service on the Lake Region Electric Crowd Fiber site and put down a small deposit of about $50.

A Natural Extension Of Service

logo-lake-region-coop-OK.png The electric system is already a network of...

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Posted February 2, 2018 by Matthew Marcus

The Colorado Communications and Utility Alliance has released a new video detailing the urgent need for fast and reliable Internet in rural Colorado. The Alliance argues that Colorado's state and local government can help solve the problem and highlights local initiatives that improved connectivity and drove economic development.

The video profiles Cortez, a small town that has incrementally built an open access fiber network to increase economic vitality while also improving community services, education, and residents’ overall standard of living. It emphasizes the ongoing problems of minimal IT infrastructure investment in rural areas and exorbitant ISP prices for unacceptable speeds. The CEO of Osprey backpacks and bags discusses how the community's fiber network was critical to the company's ability to develop its thriving online business.

The Chief Information Officer of Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Hugo, Colorado, explains the importance of telehealth for aging populations and expresses his frustrations with regional Internet monopolies and restrictive laws.

Just because we’re rural doesn’t mean we should be taken advantage of. The word fair doesn’t even compute at this point, it’s just the right thing to do. And if you’re unwilling to do it, then leave and let someone else come in and help us — or let us help ourselves.

Many communities have begun to do exactly that. Last November, 19 Colorado communities opted out of the restrictive SB 152 law that prevents municipalities from offering advanced telecommunications services to the general public, either on their own or with a partner. Since 2008, almost 123 Colorado local communities have voted to opt out of SB 152.

Watch the video and learn more in an interview with Cortez's General Service Director Rick Smith on our Broadband Bits Podcast here. For more on Colorado communities' decisions to opt out of SB 152, listen to...

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Posted January 30, 2018 by lgonzalez

Suddenlink passed up the opportunity to offer connectivity in Pinetops, North Carolina, for years until now. About a year after a bill in the General Assembly gave nearby Wilson’s municipal network the ability to serve the tiny community, Suddenlink is taking advantage of the law to enter Pinetops and push Wilson’s Greenlight Community Broadband out.

Suddenly Suddenlink

One of his constituents called Town Commissioner Brent Wooten last October to share a conversation he'd had at work in nearby Wilson. Wooten's constituent had encountered a Suddenlink employee who told him, "We're coming to see you in Pinetops." The company had sent out a notice to employees that overtime would be available because Suddenlink was planning to run fiber from Rocky Mount to Pinetops.

Wooten hadn't heard anything from Suddenlink; neither had any of the other Commissioners. All he knew was that the company had been reducing staff and cutting costs ever since being acquired by Altice in 2015.

A Little History

While events that put Pinetops (pop. 1,300) in the national spotlight began in February 2015, the story has roots that go back further. Officials in Pinetops, recognizing that better local Internet access keeps small rural communities from wasting away, approached several providers years ago requesting better Internet infrastructure. Suddenlink’s service area ends about two miles outside of Pinetops town limits. Nevertheless, Suddenlink wasn't willing to bring cable service to Pinetops. CenturyLink didn't want to make investments to upgrade the community's old DSL solution; the community had no options from national providers.

Not far from Pinetops sits Wilson, North Carolina, where the city of about 49,000 enjoys the benefits of a publicly owned fiber optic network, Greenlight. Pinetops officials asked Wilson to expand Greenlight to their town, but state law precluded Wilson from offering broadband beyond county lines. Pinetops and the local Vick Family Farm, a large potato manufacturer with international distribution, were both desperate for better services, out of reach, and out of options because no other ISP...

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Posted January 25, 2018 by lgonzalez

Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) has created a five-year plan to deploy a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to premises within its distribution area. CVEC will begin with a one-year pilot program within a limited region in order to test and prepare for the wider initiative.

More Than Internet Access

CVEC’s plan for the new fiber infrastructure will include more efficient electrical operations across its entire distribution system. CVEC plans to install approximately 4,600 miles of distribution lines and offer services to all of its 36,000 members through a subsidiary. Because so many of its members live in rural areas, they don’t have access to high-quality Internet services. CVEC serves Albermarle County and portions of 13 other surrounding counties.

"CVEC believes that access to reliable, high-speed Internet today is becoming as important as access to electricity in 1937," said CEO Gary Wood. "Give the great need for connectivity, CVEC will leverage its fiber network to provide a broadband Internet solution that will serve the community now and for the future."

One look at the comments on the CVEC Facebook page reinforces the claim that CVEC’s members lack access to high-quality Internet service: 

“You’re lucky to have DSL.” 

“No Internet or cell service just two miles from the interstate has gotten old old old fast fast fast.” 

“With an Internet bill over several hundred dollars a month for relatively crappy service, I will happily spend my money with someone who actually cares!”

“Shut up and take my money.”

Another Go At Access

Other plans to bring Internet access to members have fallen through. At a recent meeting that included the Albermarle County Broadband Authority and the Village of Rivanna Community Advisory Committee, Wood described two other failed attempts by CVEC that depended on partnerships with other entities. One involved delivering broadband over power lines and the other ended in an inability for the cooperative and its partner ISP to reach an agreement.

A 2017 feasibility study...

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Posted January 23, 2018 by lgonzalez

Taylor Electric Cooperative, serving members in the Abilene, Texas region, is starting to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to members through its Access Fiber pilot project.

Four Phases Of The Pilot

Lance Maeda, Director of Information Technology at Taylor EC shared some details about the project that’s now serving a limited number of premises with plans to expand. The cooperative connected its first customer in early December 2017, about six months after the Board decided to pursue the project.

The cooperative is currently working on the first of four phases. This phase brings service to an apartment complex and two residential subdivisions, one of which is located adjacent to a Taylor EC satellite office where they will house electronics for the network. Engineers considered their plan a way to deploy this part of the network more cost effectively and more quickly. With this approach, they can concentrate on perfecting the service to members before moving on to the other phases.

They’ve recently finished the first subdivision where twelve members have signed up for FTTH services and are now focusing on the aerial connection to the apartment complex and the second neighborhood in the planned first phase. Homes in the second neighborhood are more sparsely located and, according to Maeda, Taylor EC will contend with a wide range of densities as they expand the project. Engineers have decided to house the fiber for the second half of the first phase in underground conduit where it will be protected from ice storms and tornados.

No Grants Or Loans

The cooperative received no grants or loans to fund the pilot, funding it entirely through operations; the cooperative is not ready to share the cost of the pilot project. At this point, the electric cooperative is not restricted to offering Internet access in specific areas, says Maeda, but telephone cooperatives that offer services in Texas can only offer Internet access in their own territories. Taylor EC is weighing the pros and cons of applying for FCC funds because accepting any funds might require also accepting limitations.

Customer Service, Natural Fit

Suddenlink offers services in Abilene, but the ISP has earned a poor customer service reputation. Taylor EC will concentrate on the...

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Posted January 22, 2018 by lgonzalez

On January 18th, the FCC ended months of speculation and released a fact sheet that included several key conclusions to be included in the 2018 Broadband Deployment Report. The most important is that the FCC continues to recognize that mobile Internet access is not a substitute for fixed access. The Commission has also decided to leave the definition of broadband at 25/3 Mbps (down/up).

Download the fact sheet here.

“Broadband” Will Not Slow Down

The Commission had proposed reverting to a slower definition of broadband from the current standard of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Under Tom Wheeler’s leadership, the FCC decided to update the standard to its current definition in January 2015, but current Chairman Ajit Pai and other Republican Commissioners suggested in last year’s Notice of Inquiry (NOI) that the FCC might effectively take us backward to a 10 Mbps/1 Mbps standard. 

The suggestion rankled better connectivity advocates and Internet users. Many recognized that lowering the standards would make it easier for the FCC to proclaim that the U.S. was making strong progress toward universal household deployment. The Commission would have been justified making such a conclusion under the standard because large sections of rural American receive DSL, fixed wireless, satellite, or mobile Internet access that would meet a lowered 10/1 standard.

Hundreds of thousands of people, organizations, and businesses filed comments opposing a slower standard. Many of them live in areas where 10/1 speeds are already available but who have been waiting for better options. Commissioners Rosenworcel and Clyburn also spoke out against the lowering broadband speeds. 

Commissioner Rosenworcel tweeted:

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Posted January 15, 2018 by lgonzalez

Directly north of Springfield, Missouri, sits Hermitage, a rural community of less than 500 residents. With only a few more than 200 households in Hermitage, it isn’t surprising that none of the big incumbent providers want to install the infrastructure to offer businesses or residents high-quality connectivity. A  recent Missourian article described what it’s like for businesses in a community whose owners need fast, affordable, reliable Internet access when it just isn’t available from the national ISPs.

Failure Expected

In Hermitage, entrepreneurs like local storekeepers cringe on the days when customers want to pay with credit or debit cards. Often their unreliable CenturyLink DSL service fails, sometimes for extended periods, which cuts into their revenue. Cindy Gilmore, who owns a local convenience store, has to either track down customers or take a loss when Internet access fails during mid-transaction and she restarts her modem.

Gilmore pays $89 per month to CenturyLink for service that is advertised as “up to” 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps) download. Her speed test result on November 12th was .5 Mbps. Two weeks later a similar test reached the advertised speed and then two days later fell to .4 Mbps, which eliminated her ability to process credit card transactions, work from the office, or look up information she needed for supplies.

Rufus Harris works from home as an online car dealer and relies heavily on Internet access. As part of his work, he researches auto recalls and Carfax reports. The only option for Harris at his home office is CenturyLink and he pays $39 per month for residential “up to” 1.5 Mbps Internet access. He often finds himself, however, renting motel rooms for up to $400 per month because his Internet service at home goes down.

“It’s a shame when you pay for a service that you don’t receive,” Harris said. “We’re supposed to get at least 1.5 (Mbps) or up to, and most of the time it’s not near that good. A lot of the time, it might take 2 minutes to change from one page to the next.”

No Co-ops Yet

Unfortunately for Harris and Gilmore, no cooperatives are offering Internet access in their areas. We’ve documented several co-ops in Missouri, such as...

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