Tag: "rural"

Posted May 9, 2019 by lgonzalez

During this legislative session, state lawmakers in several states passed bills that allocated funds to broadband deployment and planning programs. In many states, elected officials are listening to constituents and experts who tell them that they need fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to keep their communities from dwindling. States that refuse funding to public entities, however, block out some of the best opportunities to connect people and businesses in rural areas. In places such as Michigan, Tennessee, and Virginia, states need to trust their own people to develop necessary broadband networks.

The Great Lakes State: Not Great at Supporting Local Broadband

Michigan’s HB 5670 caught the attention of community broadband advocates when it was introduced by Representative Michele Hoitenga in 2018. The bill was firmly anti-municipal network and after some investigation, it became clear that Hoitenga received guidance from lobbyists from big cable and telephone monopolies. HB 5670, with its sad definition of “broadband” and attempt to fork over state funds to big national ISPs didn’t go anywhere alone after word spread.

seal-michigan.png Folks from the Michigan Broadband Cooperative (MBC) and other constituents in rural Michigan voiced their concern and the bill seemed to disappear. In reality, the House folded the language into SB 601, a large appropriations bill, which has now become law. Section 806 lists the types of entities that are eligible to receive grants from the $20 million set aside for infrastructure -- public entities are specifically eliminated.

In Michigan, places such as Sebewaing, and Marshall have already proven that local residents and businesses need gigabit connectivity and that they trust services from their local municipal utility broadband provider. The language of SB 601 as written will also prevent local governments from obtaining...

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Posted May 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

The Austin, Texas, 2019 Broadband Communities Summit was about a month ago, but we’re still enjoying the experience by sharing Christopher’s onsite podcast interviews. This week, he and University of Virginia Assistant Professor Christopher Ali have an insightful conversation about rural broadband, media, and the Internet — and we get to listen in.

Dr. Ali works in the University Department of Media Studies and has recently published a piece in the New York Times titled, “We Need A National Rural Broadband Plan.” In the interview, he and Christopher discuss the op-ed along with Dr. Ali’s suggestions for ways to improve federal involvement in expanding rural connectivity. In addition to structural issues of federal agencies that affect the efficiency of rural expansion, Dr. Ali discusses the advantages he sees from a single-entity approach.

The two also get into a range of other topics, such as the importance of broadband to help deliver a range of media, especially in rural areas where local media outlets are disappearing.

Read Dr. Ali's op-ed here and order his book, Media Localism: The Politics of Place from the University of illinois Press to learn more.

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

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 listen to the interview on...

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Posted May 3, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Last November, we reported on a change to the tax code that is deterring rural telephone and electric cooperatives from leveraging government funding to expand broadband access. We were alerted to the issue by the office of Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), who sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig requesting that they remedy the issue and announcing her intention to introduce corrective legislation.

Federal elected officials have introduced such a measure, called the Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands (RURAL) Act. Senator Smith together with Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced the Senate version of the bill, S. 1032, in early April, followed by Representatives Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Adrian Smith (R-NE), who introduced a companion bill, H.R. 2147, in the House a few days later. The RURAL Act would ensure that co-ops, which are many rural communities’ only hope for better connectivity, could take full advantage of federal and state funding for broadband networks.

Addressing Legal Ambiguity

As we explained last year, a tax policy change included in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act carelessly put rural co-ops at risk of losing their tax-exempt status if they accepted government funding for broadband projects or disaster relief, among other things. Traditionally, these government grants were excluded from the requirement that electric and telephone cooperatives obtain at least 85 percent of their income from members (often referred to as the member income test) to maintain their tax exemption. The 2017 law threatened this precedent by changing the tax code so that “any contribution by any governmental entity or civic group” is now included in a corporation’s gross income. This has made some co-ops hesitant to apply for programs like the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Pilot Program for fear of jeopardizing their...

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Posted April 25, 2019 by lgonzalez

Last August, Pineland Telephone and Jefferson Energy Cooperatives in Georgia began developing a project together to bring fiber connectivity to businesses in the small towns of Louisville (pop. 2,200) and Wrens (pop. 2,000). This February, the partners finished construction and celebrated with a ribbon cutting ceremony. The event marked marked another instance in which cooperatives are working together to improve connectivity in rural areas.

The project began in Louisville last summer when the cooperatives realized they could team up to reduce costs and improve Internet access for businesses in Jefferson County. In a July 2018 press release, Pineland Telephone commented:

“Rural America lacking the broadband service needed to compete globally is on everyone’s radar, with Georgia and national legislation being considered so that improvements can be developed. Instead of waiting on funding and policies that may not come, cooperatives working together determined a way to make advancements in the communities in which they serve.”

logo-jefferson-EMC.jpg Pineland’s Dustin Durden told the Augusta Chronicle that both cooperatives deployed fiber simultaneously. Jefferson Energy worked on construction between Bartow and the Louisville area, which were then connected to Wrens, while Pineland began with fiber within the town of Louisville and then worked within Wrens. Working together, they were able to finish the project in about 18 months.

As Durden explains in this Facebook video, Pineland, Jefferson, and the city of Louisville are using the infrastructure to make free Wi-Fi available in the community’s downtown park:

Fiber for Electric Efficiencies and Expansion

Jefferson Energy sees several uses for the new...

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Posted April 23, 2019 by lgonzalez

Doug Dawson, President of CCG Consulting and author of the POTS and PANS blog, was willing to sit down with Christopher for episode 353 of the podcast this week. Christopher interviewed Doug in Austin, Texas, at the 2019 Broadband Communities Summit. They discussed all sorts of happenings in the telecommunications and municipal network space.

In addition to 5G and the hype that has surrounded it for the past year, Doug and Christopher make some predictions about where they think the technology will go. They also talk about the involvement of Amazon in the satellite broadband industry and what they think that means for different folks from different walks of life.

Other happenings that Doug and Christopher get into include different public-private partnerships that Doug has been watching and some new models that he’s seen this past year. He’s noticed that communities are more willing to work outside the box and that an increasing number of local communities are moving beyond feasibility studies to investment. Doug and Christopher talk a little about Erie County, New York, where the community is developing a middle mile network, and Cortez, Colorado, where the town has attracted several private sector companies because they worked hard to develop the right infrastructure.

Check out POTS and PANS for Doug's great articles.

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

This show is 33 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to...

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Posted April 18, 2019 by lgonzalez

Great Lakes Energy (GLE) is considering expanding their Truestream fiber Internet access and voice service to more rural areas in the northwestern region of Michigan’s lower peninsula. In a recent news release, the electric cooperative announced that they began sending engineers to their Boyne service area to collect necessary information for analysis as they explore possible deployment in the area.

Growing One of the Largest

Last summer, we reported on the co-op's pilot project in the Petosky service area and their long-term plans to bring gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to their 125,000 members. The cooperative decided to begin with residential service and potentially expand to business subscriber offerings in the future.

Subscribers from the pilot area have reported positive feedback. Brian Bates, who is also the owner of Bear Creek Organic Farm in Petosky, posted speed test results on the Truestream FB page and commented:

“Truestream is more than 400 times faster than speeds we were able to get with our previous Internet provider. And for 75% less money with no contract and unlimited everything!”

By January, approximately 9,000 potential subscribers had registered interest via the Truestream website.

Better Broadband Coming to Boyne

Boyne City is located directly south of the city of Petosky and the GLE Boyne service area includes parts of five counties in the surrounding region. GLE will conduct a second field study this fall if results of the first study are favorable.

“If the findings are positive,” said [Lacey Matthews of GLE Communications and Communications], “Great Lakes Energy may budget for expansion of the fiber network in 2020, pending approval by the Great Lakes Energy Board of Directors in late 2019.”

As other...

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Posted April 5, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Innovation today requires a high-speed Internet connection, and in rural areas, that often means a fiber optic network owned by a local government, a cooperative, or a local business. It’s no surprise then that when the Rural Innovation Initiative was looking for rural communities with good connectivity and an interest in innovation-based economic development, it turned to cities served by locally owned broadband networks. Out of the nine communities initially selected to participate in the Rural Innovation Initiative, more than half have a local Internet access provider instead of a national ISP.

Initiative Bridges Rural Opportunity Gap

The Rural Innovation Initiative is a new program created by the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) and Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. (RISI), with funding and support from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA). Launched at the end of last year, the initiative works to “bridge the opportunity gap in rural America by helping communities build the capacity to create resilient, innovation-based jobs.”

For the first part of 2019, CORI and RISI selected nine cities and community partners to take part in what they describe as a “fast-paced technical assistance sprint,” which will help participants develop innovation hubs as an economic development strategy. The initiative will also prepare communities to apply for federal funding opportunities, such as EDA’s Regional Innovation Strategies program. More than 100 rural communities from 40 states applied for the program, which is free for participants. Selection criteria included location in a census-designated rural county, access to New Market Tax Credits and Opportunity Zones, partnerships with higher education and local nonprofits, and existing high-speed broadband networks — Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in particular.

CORI and RISI, in partnership with EDA, will offer further technical assistance to communities through the Rural Innovation Initiative after this initial project complete. To learn more, watch a webinar about the program from December 2018.

Connectivity Sets Communities Apart...

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Posted March 26, 2019 by lgonzalez

Over the past few years, Partner Jonathan Chambers of Conexon has become our “go-to guy” for FCC conversations. This week, he joins us to talk about a recent issue that revolves around the Connect America Fund Phase II auction and one of the grant recipients, Viasat.

With former experience working at the FCC in the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, Jonathan has insight we try to tap into every time a thorny issue arises. Satellite Internet access provider Viasat was one of the top winners of federal funding, winning more than $122 million. Questions remain, however, if they will be able to deliver services that meet the requirements and deliver what they promised. Apparently, Viasat is unsure if their chosen satellite technology will be able to meet the testing thresholds and have asked the FCC to retroactively adjust the requirements to ensure their services pass muster.

The FCC has yet to decline this request, which raises direct and indirect issue with the CAF II program, the FCC’s administration of the program, and Viasat. In this interview, Jonathan and Christopher discuss the issue in more detail and use the matter as a springboard to more thoroughly talk about the role of federal, state, and local government in developing rural broadband. Jonathan and Christopher ponder ways for local residents to have more of a voice in how broadband is funded and deployed in their communities and how ways to improve the process.

For a list of the CAF II winning bidders, check out the August 2018 FCC press release. You can also learn if your area is in a region where Viasat has won a bid by checking out the CAF II Auction Results map.

To learn more about voice...

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Posted March 25, 2019 by lgonzalez

Volunteer Energy Cooperative (VEC) and Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative began collaborating in the fall of 2017 to bring high-quality connectivity to folks in Bradley County, Tennessee. Based on the results of a successful pilot project, the cooperatives have expanded gigabit connectivity to more areas. With a recent grant award, the partners will continue to offer the service to more rural Tennessee residents and businesses.

Catching Up on the News

When we last reported on VEC and Twin Lakes, they had announced that they would be launching the pilot in Bradley County. Residents and businesses in Bradley County have long felt slighted by the state’s restrictive laws that prevent Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber from expanding into their county. Over the years, Bradley County and Chattanooga officials have searched for ways to serve Bradley County, but the state’s insistence on protecting large incumbent monopolies by preventing expansion have left Bradley County folks without fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.

VEC and Twin Lakes commenced the pilot in the Camelot subdivision of the Bigsby Creek Road area of Bradley County. In a February 2018 blog post describing the first customer’s experience, subscriber Mrs. Charles Hollifield said, “We had no problem with the installers. They were on time and friendly. We chose the 25 Mbps because we do not download much but it works well. We haven’t had it quit once since we got it.” 

Since then, the initial pilot area passed 120 homes in the first pilot area. Later in the summer of 2018, VEC passed 545 more residences in two additional communities. Last fall, VEC received $1 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to apply toward expanding fiber to approximately 730 premises in in Meigs and Hamilton Counties.

State Assists With Deployment

As part of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act (TBAA) grants awarded in March, VEC received another $1.3 million which they’ll use to connect 867 premises in McMinn County. VEC expects to begin construction on the expansion of the network in the fall of 2019...

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Posted March 13, 2019 by lgonzalez

In an effort to find ways to connect some of the state’s most disconnected communities, RiverStreet Networks and North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives recently announced that they will work together for a series of pilot projects across the state. The initiative has the potential to discover new options for high-quality Internet access for residents and businesses in areas that have been left behind by national Internet service providers.

Going All Out 

North Carolina’s RiverStreet Networks is bent on bringing high-quality connectivity to people living and working in rural North Carolina. After expanding their physical infrastructure through deployment, the communications cooperative started to acquire other fiber networks in various areas across the state. Most recently, RiverStreet merged with TriCounty Telephone Membership Corporation

For RiverStreet, branching out among areas of the state were there is no high-speed Internet access is an opportunity to tap into an underserved market, not only an underserved population. It’s become obvious in recent years that rural communities want high-quality Internet access at least as fervently as in densely populated areas where big corporate ISP already have a monopoly. After upgrading their own members, RiverStreet was looking for growth; partnering with electric cooperatives is the next step to reaching more subscribers.

Listen to RiverStreet’s Greg Coltrain and Christopher discuss the merger and RiverStreet's plans to bring broadband to rural North Carolina:

...

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