Tag: "rural"

Posted March 5, 2019 by lgonzalez

Brent Christensen, Chief Operating Officer of Christensen Communications, came into our Minneapolis office to sit down and have a chat with Christopher this week for podcast 346. Their interview comes a short time after Christopher and several other Institute for Local Self-Reliance staff took a tour of the Christensen Communications facilities.

Brent has an additional role as President and CEO of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance (MTA) a group that advances...

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Posted February 27, 2019 by lgonzalez

Earlier this month, we learned about a Senate bill in the Arkansas State Legislature that, in it’s original form, would have rescinded state restrictions preventing many municipalities from improving local connectivity. After amendments, SB 150 lost most of its effectiveness, but the bill that became law this week is still a small step in the right direction for a state where the rate of broadband connectivity is some of the lowest in the country.

Beginning Promise

For years, Arkansas has been one of the states that doesn’t allow government entities from providing broadband services to the public. The ban specifically disallowed “directly or indirectly, basic local exchange, voice, data, broadband, video, or wireless telecommunication service.” There has always been an exception to the ban for communities that have their own electric or cable utilities and want to offer telecommunications services. No municipality may offer basic exchange service, interpreted as telephone service.

Only a few communities have taken advantage of the legal exception, such as Paragould, Clarksville, and Conway. In recent years, electric cooperatives are deploying in rural areas, but many of the state’s rural residents rely on DSL, fixed wireless, and satellite. In the few more populous communities, there may also be scattered cable connections available. 

seal-arkansas.png Even though large incumbent ISPs have collected federal grant funding in the past, deployment in Arkansas has been inadequate to connect all Arkansans. According to the FCC, connectivity to households is near the bottom of the list.

SB 150 is one of several bills introduced by the Republican Woman’s Legislative Caucus as part of their “Dream Big” initiative. Other bills in the initiative...

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Posted February 26, 2019 by lgonzalez

This week, Marshall FiberNet’s Customer Service and Marketing Manager Jessica Slusarski talks to Christopher about the town’s investment in their community broadband network. Quiet and quaint Marshall, Michigan, didn’t expect to become one of the state’s communities with the best Internet access, but here we are. Like many other small towns where big incumbent providers didn’t want to make infrastructure investments, most of Marshall was stuck with DSL and some premises were still using dial-up connections. Their solution was clear — build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Jessica and Chris discuss how the idea became a reality and what were some of the services that the city decided they wanted to include for subscribers, based on the needs of residents and businesses. They also discuss how, even though Michigan requires local communities to reach out to the private sector first, a lack of responses allowed the town to move forward. Jessica describes the favorable response from users and how subscribers are taking advantage of better Internet access than they’ve ever experienced.

We also learn about nuts and bolts, including what it took to get the network deployed, how the city administrates the utility, and what’s next. You can learn more details by reading our coverage of Marshall’s FiberNet.

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

This show is 23 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 February 19, 2019 by lgonzalez

Missouri is one of the states where electric cooperatives are taking the lead in bringing high-quality Internet access to rural areas. This week, we talk with Jack Davis, Vice President of IT and Special Projects at Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative. The co-op is in the midst of deploying Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to members in their service area, located in Missouri’s “Bootheel” region.

The mostly agricultural area consists of three counties that extend down from the southeast corner of Missouri and is surrounded by Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The co-op brought electric service to homes in the region in the 1930s and Jack and his colleagues are performing a similar service today by bringing broadband to a region where large corporate ISPs haven't invested much in infrastructure. In this interview, he describes what Internet access is like for people in the region before the cooperative decided on the project, and how strong support from residents and businesses has helped the cooperative determine the services to offer.

Jack and Christopher also discuss how the geography and environment influenced engineering and design plans, how locals are responding to the new service, and potential plans for growth in the region. In this conversation, you’ll also hear about some of the partnerships that Pemiscot-Dunklin has forged with other cooperatives in order to offer better services to cooperative members.

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

This show is 26 minutes long and can be played on this page or ...

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Posted February 18, 2019 by lgonzalez

Missouri’s Bootheel is the ultimate southeast corner of the state, extending south and surrounded on three sides by lands in Arkansas, Tennessee, and a smattering of Kentucky. The area’s known for having fertile soil and vibrant agriculture but now that Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative  is deploying Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), it's also becoming known for high-quality Internet access.

The Region and Lack of Connectivity

Jack Davis has worked in several fields. His tech career started when most people in the area reached the Internet via dial-up connections; at the time he worked as a network administrator for a local dial-up ISP in the 1990s. His second career was in agriculture and now he’s back in the tech field. Davis’s multiple work experiences have given him insight into the increasing broadband needs of rural residents who either farm or work in some other aspect of the agriculture industry.

When Davis went back into tech, he joined Pemiscot-Dunklin because the electric cooperative, which had never had IT staff before, needed to fill a long-existing personnel gap. With approximately 8,800 connected meters, the cooperative is a modest-sized organization. Approximately 20 percent of their load goes toward irrigation, revealing the important role agriculture plays in the region. Internet access in rural areas is limited to fixed wireless. Cooperative members who used to subscribe to the wireless service typically found top speeds were around 3 - 4 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and much slower upload speeds.

Time for an Upgrade

Discussion about the project began in 2014 soon after Davis started at Pemiscot-Dunklin. The way Davis tells it, his boss said “Now that I’ve got you hired, what can we do about Internet service?” The cooperative researched for about two years, examining a variety of options because they anticipated FTTH would be too expensive to deploy. In 2016, they worked with Conexon, the consulting firm that works with electric cooperatives interested in broadband deployment. Conexon's Jonathan Chambers was on Community Broadband Bits, episode 229, to discuss electric cooperatives and rural broadband access...

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Posted February 13, 2019 by lgonzalez

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we believe that competition for goods and services helps communities, consumers, and the economy. This belief carries over into the mobile Internet access market, which is one of the reasons we oppose a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile. We’re not alone and we’ve now joined with other organizations as part of the 4Competition Coalition.

As the prospect of 5G wireless connectivity becomes more probable, these two companies claim that they need to merge in order to remain competitive with the other two mobile Internet access providers. In reality, reducing mobile subscriber options from four to three, creates no benefit for anyone except the companies with less competition.

In a press release announcing ILSR’s decision to join the Coalition, Christopher stated:

“Market competition between Sprint and T-Mobile has made mobile Internet access available to millions of low-income households. We are deeply concerned that this merger will harm those households and leave them without any affordable Internet access.”

Along with ILSR, trade group INCOMPAS joined the 4Competition Coalition. INCOMPAS also strongly advocates ample choice in the broadband arena and recognized Sprint and T-Mobile’s past work to keep competition alive.

So Much to Lose

Losing a mobile Internet access provider as an option is bad, but it isn’t the only consequence that we face if the merger goes through. The Coalition recognizes that results will likely be job losses, higher rates, locking out new entrants to the market, broken promises regarding 5G, and harm especially to people in rural areas. At least 11 states are also not convinced that a Sprint/T-Mobile merger is in the interest of their citizens and are reviewing the proposal.

In order to help spread the word and share information, the 4Competition Coalition is making resources available online. In addition to Petitions to stop the merger that have already been filed, anyone can access and read relevant...

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Posted February 12, 2019 by lgonzalez

Harvard Professor, author, and broadband champion Susan Crawford has been incredibly busy ever since she released her latest book Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution — And Why America Might Miss It. Fortunately for us and our listeners, she hasn’t been too busy to take some time for Community Broadband Bits listeners. She’s here this week to talk about the book, her experiences researching it, and discussing policy recommendations aimed at bringing better connectivity to rural and urban areas.

The conversation between Christopher and Susan is one of our best podcasts. They touch on technology, competition, and how we’ve come to the point when local communities are leading the charge to bring high-quality Internet access to their residents and businesses. Susan shares some of the stories she encountered — both favorable and not so favorable — of places where local leaders are either working to hard to put broadband infrastructure in place or barely moving the dial on getting their communities better connected. 

She’s travelled all across the world to learn about how other countries approach fiber connectivity and how they’re reaping the benefits. Now, she wants to share some of those policies and ideas to help Americans realize that if we don’t adjust our mindset, we could miss out on fiber’s potential.

Order Susan's book online at Indiebound.org. Learn more about the book by reading Christopher's review.

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

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Posted February 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

Big cable and telecom lobbyists managed to locate a legislative vehicle for the components of last December's bill to fund rural broadband, locking out some of the state's most promising opportunities to bring better connectivity to those who need it the most. There’s still time for Michiganders to express displeasure and the result and possibly influence change. You can file a public comment online through February 15th.

The Problems

When we reported on Michigan’s HB 5670 in December, it was set to appear before the House Communications and Technology Committee. Prior to the hearing, however, Chair Michele Hoitenga removed it from the agenda. Regular readers will remember Hoitenga, whose support from cable and telecom companies has inspired her to introduce anti-muni legislation in the past.

The bill, dubbed the “Broadband Investment Act,” established a fund to provide grants for infrastructure deployment, but specifically locked out municipalities and other government entities from eligibility. Consequentially, local ISPs that might want to provide services via publicly owned fiber were also stifled from projects because this provision essentially ended the possibility of public-private partnerships or any competition with large incumbents.

According to the language of HB 5670, “broadband” was defined as 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. While we have seen state broadband legislation from several years ago falling back upon this outdated definition of “broadband,” Michigan condemns rural residents to slow, unreliable, last-century technology. It indicates a thinly veiled attempt to hand over state funds to telecom companies with no interest in providing anything better than what they already offer in rural Michigan — DSL or satellite Internet access.

Language in the bill also goes to extreme lengths to ensure that funds will only go to projects that have not received funding from any other source. What will prevent many projects from ever receiving funds, unless those projects are being developed by big corporate incumbents, is the fact that funds can’t be awarded to projects in places where...

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Posted February 6, 2019 by lgonzalez

The Rio Blanco County Economic Development Department recently published their promotional video to share information about their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The video highlights some of the benefits the infrastructure is now bringing to the communities of Rangely and Meeker by offering interviews with people from different segments of the population. In addition to county administrators, people in the fields of education, real estate, and business leaders discussed how the open access network is positively impacting their fields.

Check out the video, that runs just under five minutes:

Rio Blanco County Broadband Initiative from Align Multimedia on Vimeo.

 

Getting Out the News

The video is an excellent tool to help Rio Blanco County spread the word about their publicly owned infrastructure that will help them stay competitive. One of the recurring themes in the video and from other rural communities throughout Colorado and elsewhere, remains the ability to live and work in an environment unspoiled by urbanization while still having access to connectivity that rivals or surpasses that in urban areas. As Rangely Town Manager Lisa Pierling states:

"You can have the best of both worlds. You can have all of the modernization you need to run your business, but you can still take a step back and just enjoy a little slower paced life than rush to work, rush home."

Learn more about the Rio Blanco County FTTH project by reviewing our coverage.

Posted February 1, 2019 by lgonzalez

Expect to see more Massachusetts communities connected to their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks during 2019. Westfield Gas + Electric (WG+E) has been working with the rural towns on the western side of the state, and an increasing number of the projects are nearing completion. With the arrival of their broadband hut in December, the folks in New Salem embraced their Broadband Committee’s adopted motto, “This Is Really Happening!”

Summer of Speed

Broadband Committee members estimate their publicly owned community network will launch in July as they bring better Internet access to the town of about 1,000 people. After more than three years of seeking a way to high-quality Internet access, delivery of the hut was a physical manifestation of the hard work needed to make this goal happen. Committee member Sue Dunbar told the Greenfield Recorder, “It’s a huge, big brick visual reminder to the town residents, who have been waiting for so long, that this is a reality.”

There's Always Ups and Downs

The project has not been without snags. Underestimates of make ready costs, partly due to long driveways for some potential subscribers, drove up deployment costs, which are still not finalized at around $3 million. A few property owners had opposed new utility poles on or near their property, which hampered a smooth deployment. The fact that the state’s Department of Conservation & Recreation owns swaths of New Salem also interfered with the process by adding an additional level of approval to pole installation.

According to Dunbar, however, New Salem is collaborating with nearby Shutesbury and Wendell, and that collaboration is helping to improve the deployment process. All three communities have contracted with WG+E to build their publicly owned networks. Wendell expects to begin connecting premises in the fall, while Shutesbury is aiming for a May launch. 

Readers may remember that Shutesbury was one of the communities that sent Charter packing when the corporate ISP proposed to serve fewer than all the homes in the community...

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