Tag: "rural"

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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Posted January 12, 2018 by lgonzalez

Central Missouri’s Callaway Electric Cooperative began offering high-quality Internet access in 2016 by collaborating with a local telephone cooperative. Since then, it’s subsidiary, Callabyte Technology, has continued to expand its services to members in local rural communities in its service area. Recently, the people of the small community of Holts Summit learned that the project is headed their way.

Anticipating Better Broadband

Holts Summit residents and businesses can expect to receive the opportunity to sign up for Callabyte services in 2018. Business development supervisor for the cooperative, Rob Barnes told attendees at a recent Alderman meeting that the co-op would likely divide the deployment into three phases due to the size of the town. Holts Summit is about 3.5 square miles and home to 3,700 people.

The community of Holts Summit obtains electric service from Ameren Missouri, rather than Callaway Electric; Holts Summit and the cooperative are developing a non-exclusive franchise agreement just as they would a private sector provider that wished to offer video services in Missouri. Businesses and residents in the town currently use satellite Internet service and cable Internet access from Mediacom.

"We've got a number of citizens that would like to start a home-based business, but won't because they don't have reliable internet right now," [City Administrator Rick] Hess said. "So this will be great for businesses."

Ever Growing Service From Co-ops

Calloway Electric Cooperative has been reaching an expanding list of communities and intends to provide service all of Calloway County. They offer Internet access, voice, and video bundles and people in their service area are signing up for all three.

“We are still surprised that the landline service is something people still are taking,” Barnes said. “But as you get out into the rural portions of Callaway County, cellphone service still doesn’t work very well.”

Callobyte stand-alone residential Internet access is available for 100...

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Posted January 9, 2018 by lgonzalez

With only about 757,000 residents and more than 710,000 square miles North Dakota is ranked 53rd in population density among U.S. states, territories, and Washington DC. There may not be many people there, but North Dakota has some of the best connectivity in the United States. Why? Rural cooperatives and independent companies have made continued investments.

In episode 288, Christopher interviews Robin Anderson, Sales Manager for National Information Solutions Cooperative. Robin’s been working in the industry for years and has been involved in bringing better Internet access to rural areas in North Dakota. She has firsthand experience with the issues that arise during deployments and describes the camaraderie that grew naturally out of necessity when small, independent providers worked to achieve their goals to improve connectivity for cooperative members and rural subscribers.

Robin also touches on how federal loan funding helped so many of the cooperatives get started with fiber and how they took the next steps to self-fund as the demand grew. Christopher and Robin talk about the economics of fiber optic networks for cooperatives and the reasoning behind fiber investment in rural areas. They discuss some specific examples of the way collaboration in North Dakota has resulted in better networks.

Read the transcript for this show here.

This show is 28 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 Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted January 9, 2018 by lgonzalez

Blandford, Massachusetts, will work with Westfield Gas & Electric (WG+E) to develop a publicly owned fiber optic network. In order to help get the project started, the state’s Last Mile Program has awarded Blandford a $1 million grant.

The funding grant is part of $45 million allocated to broadband infrastructure last fall. In November 2016, the Governor signed a bill that directed the funding to help improve connectivity in western and north central Massachusetts.

Blandford’s network will connect to approximately 96 percent of its premises, including all the residents located on the town's public roads. A little more than 1,200 people live in the town that covers about 53 square miles. The hilltown community is known for the Blandford Ski Area, which has operated for more than 80 years.

Working With Westfield

Blandford joins a list of other western Massachusetts communities looking to WG+E for their expertise and to act as project managers. WG+E trucks began working in Otis last June and the towns of Ashfield, Shutesbury, Goshen, Colrain, Rowe, Chesterfield, Alford, and Heath have also decided to work with WG+E.

Westfield announced almost a year ago that a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot project had been so successful that they determined expanding the project to a citywide network made the most sense. Since then, they’ve been expanding one neighborhood at a time and are still working on covering the entire community of 42,000.

In the mean time, WG+E has also branched out to work with other communities like Blandford. They’ve helped prove that even small communities can establish high-quality Internet network infrastructure. WG+E have taken on differing roles with these other municipal partners, depending on what level of expertise the community seeks.

Learn more about WG+E’s network and their work with neighboring communities in...

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Posted January 3, 2018 by christopher

With the Federal Communications Comission Republicans poised to redefine broadband to include slow, unreliable, and often bandwidth-capped mobile service, we talk with two high school students from southeast Ohio, Herron Linscott and Lilah Gagne, that have succeeded despite the lack of fixed broadband access in their homes. Soon the FCC may include those homes as having broadband though they clearly don't fit the description of what any sane person would call advanced telecommunications. 

We start off episode 287 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast with Next Century Cities Executive Director Deb Socia, who reminds us why mobile Internet access is not an adequate subsitute for fixed access. Next Century Cities has launched the Mobile Only Challenge - share MobileOnlyChallenge.com around - to highlight the challenges of relying solely on mobile Internet access. 

We then talk to Herron Linscott and Lilah Gagne about their experiences in southeast Ohio as high school students without home fixed Internet access. Both have had to schedule lots of time away from home in order to complete assignments and partake in extra-curricular activities and both offer a window into the importance of connectivity for the next generation. 

Read the transcript for this show here.

This show is 25 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 Arne Huseby for the music. The song is ...

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Posted January 2, 2018 by lgonzalez

Most residents and businesses in Oconee County, South Carolina, used dial-up connections when county officials applied for stimulus funding in 2010; there were still people in the county with no Internet access at all. A few had DSL connections, but even county facilities struggled with antiquated infrastructure. After an AT&T attack upended their plan to offer retail services, they pressed on and improved connectivity in the rural community. Powerful incumbent forces and a bad state law, however, eventually led this community to choose privatization.

Ripe For Stimulus

We spoke with Kim Wilbanks, who served as Project Manager for Oconee FOCUS, the 240-mile fiber optic publicly owned network. She worked with a small team of people that applied for funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to obtain funds for the project. Wilbanks and former FOCUS Director Mike Powell were instrumental in establishing the infrastructure. The Wilbanks family used dial-up Internet access until 2010 when AT&T finally installed DSL on her street on the edge of town in the mostly rural county.

The mountains and hills across the county’s 674 square miles create a terrain that is speckled with man-made lakes. Fishing, water skiing, and sailing are popular and the lakes and waterfalls contribute to the region’s hydroelectric energy. Approximately 75,000 people live in Oconee County scattered within many of the small rural communities. The largest city’s population is only about 8,000.

Oconee County’s rural environment with a sparse population, sluggish economic growth, and high number of unserved and underserved premises, was the type of region where stimulus funds helped jump start projects. When the county received a grant in the second round of awards in the summer of 2010 for $9.6 million, officials at the county planned to connect community anchor institutions and municipal and county facilities first. They planned to later expand and bring businesses and residents better Internet access. The county matched the federal grant with $4.7 million to deploy the $14.3 million fiber optic infrastructure. After the RFP process, they were able to start construction in early 2011. By the end of 2013, they had finished construction; by 2014...

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Posted December 29, 2017 by lgonzalez

The central Washington community of Coulee Dam took a significant step this month to establishing its own fiber optic network. At a December 27th special city council meeting, they announced that they had purchased one mile of fiber optic cable and equipment from Basin Broadband, LLC, for $34,995.

According to The Star, the former owners had only one customer and used the infrastructure to connect the local school district’s offices with the school on the opposite side of town. The district pays $170 per month to lease the line and their agreement expires in 2020; the city promised to honor the agreement.

Changing Charters

Community leaders have considered the prospect of starting a publicly owned fiber optic network for at least 16 months, when they began seeking out the owner of the infrastructure. The city’s population is only approximately 1,100 people, which means national incumbents have little interest in providing high-quality connectivity. CenturyLink offers DSL for residential and business service, but town leaders want to improve economic development possibilities with fiber.

This past summer, the city council began discussing  changing the community’s legal designation in order to step out from under Washington’s restrictive laws that govern the authority of “towns.” City Attorney Mick Howe advised that if the city changed its charter to operate as a “non-charter code city,” they would have more authority. Rather than acting only on specifically allowed activities in state law, they could act as long as they were not engaging in specifically forbidden activities as spelled out in state law.

Councilmember Keith St. Jeor said he knows people who settled in other towns because they have Internet service that is “100 times better.”

Councilmember Schmidt said the town is severely lacking in technology solutions and that they were not likely to come from private enterprise because of the small population. Changing to a code city would simply allow the municipality to explore more options.

“You might be surprised what solutions you...

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Posted December 28, 2017 by lgonzalez

Local investigative news shows often earn a reputation for digging into scams and rip-offs that pick consumers’ pockets. In a recent WLOS News 13 Investigates segment, Western North Carolina’s ABC affiliate started asking some tough questions about Frontier’s Internet access service in rural parts of the state.

A Comedy Of Errors

At the heart of the rip-off in this investigation is Frontier’s habit of advertising speeds that it cannot provide. The WLOS crew traveled to a home in a mountainous area of the region to visit Craig Marble, who moved from D.C., and works from home in the tech field. “It's just a comedy of errors except that it's not funny. It takes five minute to load a single webpage,” Marble said.

Marble discussed how he has paid for service of up to three Mbps download but he has never, to his knowledge, been able to obtain even that slow speed. As far as he’s concerned, he should at least be able to get what he’s paying for every month.

“This should be 3.0, not .3,” Marble said. He showed News 13 various speed tests for his service, they came up .3 and .5, and .6 at various times throughout the morning and afternoon.

Complaints, Complaints, Complaints

According to News 13, numerous complaints against Frontier resonate through local conversation. The station had received other complaints from people, some reporting that their Internet access works about 60 percent of the time. When they followed up with the Attorney General, they learned of 56 complaints filed against Frontier, about half due to issues with slow speeds.

WLOS spoke to Christopher about big telecom’s tendency to advertise “up to” speeds:

“If you can get good speeds in the middle of the night, but not during the day, I think that's deceptive advertising to be suggesting to people that they can get those speeds,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minnesota.

Mitchell says, companies shouldn't advertise what they can't offer.

“This is not something that is beyond the ability of the company to solve, this is a decision that they're making which is to market a service that they cannot deliver or are willing to deliver on reasonable terms,” said...

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Posted December 20, 2017 by lgonzalez

On December 14th, FCC Chair Ajit Pai and the Republican Commissioners voted to present a huge holiday gift to big ISPs by dismantling network neutrality, despite outcries from the American people. When we examined FCC data to determine how many Americans would be left without market protections from known network neutrality violators, the numbers were discouraging. Now we’ve reached into the weeds to analyze the numbers on a statewide basis. 

Percentage Of Population

The results reveal that a significant percentage of Americans will be limited to Internet access only from large monopolies that have a history of violating network neutrality and very strong incentives to abuse their market power. 

Some states with higher population benefit slightly from competition relative to others — compare Florida’s 40 percent to 65 percent in Pennsylvania — but this also reflects the anti-competitive nature of big ISPs that tend to cordon off sections of the country and respectfully stay within their zones. Other, more rural states, such as Wisconsin at 66 percent, have few options because national ISPs just aren’t interested in serving areas where population is sparse and the pay-off is a long time coming. Lack of competition means high probability of service from one of the big four known violators in our study — AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Charter.

In this chart, we've listed states in order of greatest percentage of impacted population: 

...
State Population Served Only By Big 4 Net Neutrality Violators
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Posted December 12, 2017 by christopher

If everyone subscribed to Internet access, the business models for supplying it would be much easier. But there are strong reasons for why many are locked out of Internet access today, a subject we explore with National Digital Inclusion Alliance Executive Director Angela Siefer in episode 284 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. 

We discussed what digital inclusion is and what prevents people from subscribing to the Internet. There are no solutions to these problems from the federal or state levels - the most promising solutions are bubbling up from communities. Angela tells us how.

We also talk about the problems created by redlining - where ISPs like AT&T systematically refuse to invest in some neighborhoods for a variety of reasons. And toward the end we talk about network neutrality and its impact on the digital divide. If you want more Angela after you finish this interview, listen to her with Veronica Belmont from Mozilla's IRL podcast.

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

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

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

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