Tag: "rural"

Posted July 26, 2019 by lgonzalez

When rural broadband advocates talk about the connectivity needs of farmers, they often discuss real-time crop prices, monitoring the status of fields, or the ability to submit data-intensive reports. An innovator in North Carolina has a different take on why fast, affordable, reliable connectivity is important to his ag-related business and it involves hog waste. He explains how North Carolina’s municipal networks and cooperatives need to be able to operate without restriction if the state’s agribusiness is to advance.

Methane is Power, but Broadband is a Must

In a recent opinion piece by Mark Maloney, the CEO and founder of OptimaBio writes that his company is developing a method for capturing methane from hog waste and transforming the biogas into electricity. According to Maloney, the pilot program has the potential to expand in order to provide affordable energy while also reducing harm to the environment.

A key element that OptimaBio requires, however, is reliable and fast connectivity, which isn't readily available in many rural North Carolina communities yet: 

The equipment that allows this conversion produces large amounts of data to assist us in understanding operations and avoid downtime.

That data is of no value if we cannot transmit it over a reliable communications network.

Today, without reliable broadband, we use radio signals to get the job done. It’s not ideal.

He describes how weather and trees can interrupt radio signals that must be in line of sight of each other, and how the company must purchase expensive equipment in order to use radio signals. At this stage, there is no other alternative in the rural areas where they operate.

A Chronic Problem

Maloney writes that his company is one of many in the agriculture industry that struggles due to poor rural connectivity in North Carolina. In order to allow agribusiness to pursue innovations that can solve problems and find improvements, the state needs to remove onerous hurdles.

As our state policymakers and legislators examine the issues of broadband access, they need to bring all available options and partners to the table – including electric co-ops and local governments. It is imperative that we remove all hurdles that hinder local...

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Posted July 23, 2019 by htrostle

Grays Harbor County Public Utility District (PUD) in Washington state has just finished a fiber optic network to local schools and a local industrial park. The county has been strapped for Internet access, and this network is the first step in developing better connectivity to many of the homes and businesses along the route. Elected officials are also exploring new ways to encourage last mile connectivity.

The Need for Internet Access

The options for high-speed Internet access are limited in Grays Harbor County, Washington. About 74,000 people live in there, and about 78 percent of the population reports having some form of Internet access at home, but it's likely those that live in the rural areas don't have access to "broadband" as defined as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The FCC defines broadband as 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload) that meets certain other technical standards. While satellite Internet access continues to improve, satellite connectivity is still expensive, unreliable, and describing it as "broadband" is a stretch.

The FCC's data paints the situation in Grays Harbor County as similar to other areas where those living in rural areas have poor or no Internet access and many within small- or medium-sized towns have little or no choice. About 13 percent of the population have no access to broadband, and another 53 percent live under broadband monopoly. This means there is only a single provider for those people. Approximately 27 percent have a choice, but it is limited to two providers and typically between competing technologies, such as cable and DSL.

logo-grays-harbor-PUD.jpg The numbers are even starker for rural areas and tribal lands: 29 percent of premises have no access...

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Posted July 16, 2019 by lgonzalez

Rio Blanco County in western Colorado is more than 3,200 square miles with a population of only about 6,400 people in the entire county. Due to the low population density and rural nature of much of the county, large corporate Internet access providers have not felt motivated to invest in broadband access. Thanks to public investment from the county, however, people living in Rio Blanco County are obtaining access to some of the best connectivity in the state. This week, Rio Blanco County’s Communications Director Cody Crooks is at the mic to tell us about their project.

While at the Mountain Connect conference, Christopher and Cody got together to record the interview so we could catch up on the progress of the fiber build. Subscribers in more than 80 percent of premises passed are connecting to the open access network — about double what planners originally anticipated. As Cody explains, folks in the county are “starved” for broadband, the price is right, and two providers offer choice. People are even moving to the county in order to connect to the network.

Cody also gets into some of the other benefits that people are enjoying due to better connectivity. He discussed how they’re funding the investment and the special concerns they have as a governmental entity. Christopher and Cody talk about western Colorado’s project THOR and how Rio Blanco County is involved in the regional initiative to expand affordable rural connectivity.

Check out this promotional video on the network:

Read more about the project's evolution here.

We want your feedback and...

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Posted July 12, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

At the beginning of the year, our Community Broadband Networks team visited North Carolina as part of the Let’s Connect speaking tour. While preparing for the trip and after returning to Minnesota, we researched and mapped Internet access and broadband funding in the state. Here’s what we found.

Broadband Availability by County

According to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data, which is riddled with errors and fundamentally overstates coverage, almost 95 percent of North Carolina has access to broadband speeds of a minimum of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Despite seemingly widespread connectivity, many rural parts of the state are still not connected. While the FCC data shows that nearly all of urban North Carolina has access to broadband and about 97 percent has access to higher speeds of 100 Mbps/10 Mbps, more than 15 percent of rural North Carolina is entirely without broadband and more than 24 percent lacks access to speeds of 100 Mbps/10 Mbps.

However, far more North Carolinians don't have Internet access than the FCC says, particularly in rural communities. The FCC's data collection method relies on self-reporting by providers at the census block-level, which inherently exaggerates the extent of broadband coverage. Even if a provider offers Internet access to only one home within a census block, the entire census block is counted as served. Rural areas, where the census blocks are large and homes are far apart, are especially harmed by this approach.

View the map below to see which parts of the state have high-speed Internet access, according to FCC data.

For greater detail, download the county-level maps from this Dropbox folder.

NC Internet Service Availability by County

Cooperatives Connect Rural N.C.

Rural North Carolina isn’t entirely devoid of high-...

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Posted July 10, 2019 by lgonzalez

Ferry County, located in the eastern region of Washington and along the northern border, recently released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for a Broadband Consultant. Responses are due July 12th, 2019.

Trees Abound, Broadband Absent

Much of Ferry County is home to the Colville National Forest and timber has been one of the main sources of the local economy. Like other areas where forests cover great swaths of the countryside, broadband is either expensive or has never been deployed. There are about 7,600 people living on Ferry County's 2,257 square miles.

In addition to timber, other resource-based industries have traditionally offered jobs to locals, but as those resources have depleted, employment opportunities have decreased. Without reliable broadband, many local residents have struggled to make ends meet.

The Colville Indian Reservation is located within Ferry County and controlled by the Colville Confederated Tribes. Like much of the rest of the county, the reservation faces economic distress; residents have faced the prospect of moving in order to find work. Lacking the same access to broadband, the Tribes have joined forces with the county to form the Ferry County and Colville Confederated Tribes Broadband Action Team (BAT).

The BAT formed in April 2018 and began reaching out to stakeholders such as Washington State University - Ferry County (WSU), Microsoft, and the State of Washington. They aim to boost economic development, improve educational opportunities, enhance telemedicine, and expand other initiatives through broadband that will improve the quality of life in Ferry County.

Obtaining an Expert

Microsoft’s Airband Initiative and Declaration Network Group are  already involved in the process and the consultant will work with them on data collection and analysis. The Airband Initiative uses TV white spaces to deliver connectivity. Learn more about the initiative from Christopher's conversation with Public Knowledge's Harold Feld, episode 262 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. 

Some of the services Ferry County seeks from a...

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Posted July 2, 2019 by lgonzalez

Summer is the time for the Mountain Connect Broadband Development Conference, one of the events that Christopher is sure to attend every year. This year, it was held in Dillon, Colorado, and while he was enjoying the scenery, he collected a series of interviews. This week we hear from Brian Worthen, CEO of Mammoth Networks.

With its home base in Wyoming, Mammoth serves locations in eleven western states. They primarily provide wholesale middle mile service, but the company also offers last mile connectivity in select locations. Brian describes how, over time, Mammoth has developed a system of adopting combinations of technology to get the job done. They provide service in areas that are often sparsely populated, in areas where the geology varies, and Mammoth adjusts to the needs of their diverse customers.

The company received an award at Mountain Connect for their work on Colorado’s Project THOR. In this interview, Brian describes their involvement with the project and with several other local projects in the state. Christopher and his guest talk about cooperatives and their expanding role in delivering high-quality Internet access. They consider which levels of government are best suited to offer financial assistance to broadband initiatives, especially in rural communities, and discuss the potential for Low Earth Orbit Satellites to contribute to universal broadband access.

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

This show is 32 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 this page...

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Posted June 28, 2019 by Jess Del Fiacco

Decades after bringing electricity and telephone services to America’s rural households, cooperatives are tackling a new challenge: the rural digital divide. New updates to our report Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era, originally published in 2017, illustrate the remarkable progress co-ops have made in deploying fiber optic Internet access across the country. 

Download the updated report [PDF] here.

All versions of the report can be accessed from the Reports Archive for this report.

The report features new maps showing overall growth in areas served by co-ops, as well as expanded information about state legislation that supports co-op investment in broadband networks. A few important takeaways:

More than 140 co-ops across the country now offer residential gigabit Internet access to their members, reaching more than 300 communities. 

Co-ops connect 70.8 percent of North Dakota and 47.7 percent of South Dakota landmass to fiber, and residents enjoy some of the fastest Internet access speeds in the nation.

Georgia and Mississippi have overturned state laws banning co-ops from offering Internet access, and other states, including Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina, and Texas, have implemented legislation that will further ease the way. 

Co-ops have proven that this is a model that works. With increased support from federal and state governments, they will continue to connect rural Americans to economic and educational opportunities otherwise denied to them. 

Read Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era [PDF] here.

Posted June 28, 2019 by Jess Del Fiacco

Maps produced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) show that the vast majority of Pennsylvanians have broadband access, but anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. In order to get a clearer picture of on-the-ground broadband access and availability, a team from Pennsylvania State University proposed a research project for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania (CRPA) that would analyze millions of speed tests from around the state. A few staff members from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance were recruited to help with the research: Hannah Trostle and Hannah Bonestroo created the maps for the report and Christopher Mitchell contributed policy recommendations. 

Read the full report here.

A Growing Problem in Rural Counties 

The team collected more than 11 million speed tests in 2018 using the Measurement Lab (M-Lab) platform, which allows users to conduct tests on their actual broadband connections. When the M-Lab’s data was compared to the FCC’s Form 477 speed data, certain discrepancies became apparent. Researchers found that there are actually zero counties in Pennsylvania where at least 50% of residents have access to broadband. 

The findings also showed that not only are median speeds slower in rural counties compared to urban ones, but the discrepancy between FCC data and the measured speeds collected by M-Lab has grown significantly in rural counties over the last few years. This signifies a growing problem for policymakers hoping to bridge rural Pennsylvania’s digital divide. Without a clear and accurate analysis of connectivity, determining where and how funding should be used is difficult. 

Next Steps for Pennsylvania 

Rural communities can face serious economic impacts due to a lack of affordable, reliable, broadband access, so local leaders are motivated to improve access for residents and businesses. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is one of a number of states with laws on the books that restrict municipal broadband, so governments that are willing to invest in broadband infrastructure are often discouraged or flat out prevented from doing so. Some have nonetheless come up with creative solutions to improve local connectivity, but...

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Posted May 30, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Beresford, South Dakota (pop. 2,000), has a long history of providing for itself. Located in the southeast corner of the state, Beresford operates its own electric utility as well as a municipal liquor store and golf course. For nearly 90 years, the city has also provided communications services to the community with the Beresford Municipal Telephone Company (BMTC), which currently offers DSL connectivity to residents and businesses.

In response to subscriber requests for faster speeds, BMTC recently decided to replace its old copper lines with a fully fiber optic network. The Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) upgrade will improve the network’s capacity and reliability, and city officials are optimistic about the potential benefits of better connectivity. “This is really a game changer for us,” said Beresford Mayor Nathan Anderson in a press release announcing the project.

Project Details

Over the next year, BMTC will deploy 70 miles of fiber to replace its current network. The new FTTH network will be capable of gigabit speeds, which over ten times faster than what BMTC can offer now.

“Our copper infrastructure has supported our many services over the years,” explained BMTC General Manager Todd Hansen, “but fiber optic cable improves speed, provides stability and will increase bandwidth.”

City officials believe the new fiber network will help the community grow. “Fiber is really going to help us to recruit and retain people to come, live, work, play and spend in Beresford,” Mayor Anderson said. “It’s potentially going to open new opportunities not just for residents but also for businesses.”

Beresford plans to spend approximately $5 million building the new network. At a March city council meeting, council members decided to commit $2.5 million to the project. The city expects to finance the remaining costs by issuing bonds.

BMTC will start construction on the FTTH upgrade in the fall.

...

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Posted May 28, 2019 by lgonzalez

The Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) announced in January 2018 that they had solidified plans to deploy fiber across 14 counties for smart grid operations and to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to the region. The project, dubbed Firefly Fiber Broadband, is underway, and we’ve got President and CEO Gary Wood along with Communications and Member Services Manager Melissa Gay on the podcast this week to discuss the multi-year project.

During this interview, we learn about the CVEC service territory, which is a mix of a few denser populated areas and very rural communities where poor Internet access, when it’s available, is a real problem. CVEC members have been dealing with unreliable connections, oversubscription, and outdated technologies for years. Those problems will be eliminated, however, with FTTH from the co-op that many have come to trust. By obtaining grants, working with local communities, and approaching the process in a strategic manner, CVEC plans on bringing gigabit connections to about 37,000 potential subscribers within five years.

Gary and Melissa describe the cooperative’s process, the discoveries they made about attitudes toward the co-op from members in the community (including some interesting stories), and lessons learned. We hear about some of their marketing approaches that focus on the uniqueness of the region and what it was like to establish a subsidiary in accordance with state law. Through all the hard work, Melissa and Gary have nothing but accolades for employees of the cooperative and compliments for local officials who helped get the project off to a strong start.

Learn more about the status of project from CVEC.

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

This show is 40 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using...

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