People who live out of urban areas enjoy beautiful scenery, quiet solitude, and fresh air. Traditionally, those qualities have come with sacrifice, which includes high-quality Internet access. Now that rural cooperatives are taking the initiative to develop networks, however, rural areas such as northern Minnesota are better served.
In this short video by the PBS and TPT Almanac team, Kaomi Goetz travels “up north” to visit with folks who live beyond the Twin Cities to see how things are changing and how we still need to make improvements.
It’s been a journey of discovery for the folks in "Villageville," our fictional rural community where Internet access isn't meeting the needs of residents or businesses. In Episode 5 of "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!", we learn more about the work rural cooperatives are doing for communities across the country.
Grumpy Gary and Entrepreneur Emily have met up in "Sizeable City," a nearby community that decided to invest in a municipal network. It has paid off in the usual ways -- better Internet access, more jobs, lowered telecommunications costs. In addition to enjoying some java and some jokes (we use the term loosely), they meet up with a representative from the electric cooperative to discuss high-quality Internet access options.
During the conversation, we hear more about the ways cooperatives are serving people in rural areas and why it makes sense that they're delivering fiber optic connectivity. Watch for more pop-up facts about municipal networks, cooperatives, and how both are serving rural communities. Listen to the cooperative's pilot project strategy and be sure to watch through to the end to hear about the final outcome in Villageville.
As with other episodes of "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!", you'll hear past and present voices from the Very Amateur Acting Troupe of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative along with other Institute for Local Self-Reliance talent (again we use the term loosely). We encourage you to share these videos to help spread the word about municipal networks, cooperatives, and the fact that rural communities don't have to be "stuck" with poor Internet access.
If you haven't seen episodes 1 - 4, check them out below, read the backstories, or view them all on our Videos page.
As we reported back in September, the bulk of applicants to the USDA's ReConnect Loan and Grant Program came from publicly owned projects. Cooperatives, local governments, and tribal government projects comprised more than half of the applications. Awards are now being announced and one of the largest awards so far is going to a North Carolina cooperative to provide fast, affordable, reliable connectivity in southeast North Carolina.
Star Telephone Membership Corporation will be awarded a grant of almost $24 million to develop Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to more than 8,700 households, 10 educational facilities, around 20 businesses, and three community facilities within a 739 square mile area. Subscribers will be able to sign-up for speeds that begin at 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download.
Jeff Shipp, vice president of operations for Star Communications, said projects will take place in the Herring exchange in the northern region of Sampson County, which also loops around the middle portion of Sampson County. The second is the Six Runs area part of county towards Turkey and the third is Harrells, in the southern region. Other projects are scheduled for Bladen County as well.
“We’re very excited about this,” Shipp said. “We’re excited for our members and for our community. We have the lowest density in the entire state in our area, roughly around 3.8 subscribers per mile. We would have to budget $25,000 per mile to put fiber in the ground. That’s why a grant such as this from USDA is so important. We’re also fortunate enough to receive additional funding from the state this year for an area in Bladen County to assist with fiber as well.”
Star Telephone Membership Corporation
The cooperative was created when two smaller co-ops merged in 1959. Since then, the entity has been serving the rural areas in and around Clinton, North Carolina, and has been one of the early adopters of FTTH for members, many who are farmers.
“This is really a big, big day in Sampson County,”...
Minnesota Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, alongside Republican State Representative Pete Stauber recently announced a $1.9 Million grant for broadband deployment in Aitkin County. Two local cooperatives will use the Community Connect grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to deploy fiber optic infrastructure in order to spur economic development, business, telehealth, and educational improvements.
In a press release, Sen. Klobuchar said, "This crucial funding will connect these communities - bringing high speed Internet to even more Minnesotans. We must continue working to expand broadband access in our rural areas, a necessity for our families and businesses.” Sen. Smith commented, "I’m glad to see USDA investing in Aitkin County—including Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe—to ensure rural Minnesotans aren’t left behind in our work to provide affordable and reliable service to everyone.”
The Community Connect grant will allow the partners to expand XStream Fiber to 235 more homes and businesses in Rice River Township, Spaulding Township, and tribal lands in Aitkin County, Minnesota.
MLEC will be in charge of managing billing, marketing, and other subscriber services and CTC will manage network connectivity, Internet backhaul, and backend support. MLEC will also be in charge of handling basic inquiries from...
In late October 2019, Christopher travelled to the D.C. area to attend a Broadband Communities Economic Development event and while he was there, he sat down with Executive Director Adrianne Furniss and Senior Fellow Jon Sallet from the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. This week, we get to sit in on their conversations about the recent change at Benton from "foundation" to "institute" and about their recent report, Broadband for America's Future: A Vision for the 2020s.
First, Christopher speaks with Adrianne, who discusses the reasons why the organization has recently changed in order to stay current with their mission and with the times. She talks a little about the history of Benton and describes some of the reasons for developing the report.
Christopher spends most of the interview with Jon Sallet, who authored the report and who has a long career in antitrust and communications. After working in D.C. in telecommunications and Internet policy for several decades, he's seen the influence of the Internet grow. In this report, Jon analyzes stories and situations from around the U.S. and establishes a vision that will help us move forward to connect as many people as possible. He and Christopher discuss the four major factors that, if nurtured correctly, can help us integrate broadband into all sectors of society and maximize its usefulness. Christopher and Jon give special time to competition, an issue that arises repeatedly in the work at Benton and in our work at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
The interview will spark your interest in the report that...
The people of our imaginary community "Villageville" have gathered outside the library, inside the library, and on Grumpy Gary's lawn to talk about the problem of poor local Internet access. Now, they're making it official and letting town leaders know that they want change. It's time for Episode 4 of "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!"
For the past three weeks, we've seen the good folks of this fictional community grapple with the difficulties that many rural towns face. When local connectivity doesn't keep up with the needs of the community, small towns can't be competitive. In Villageville, entrepreneurs, parents, and people who just want better Internet access have been researching why connectivity in their town is so poor and what are some possible solutions. Now they're ready to take their concerns to local elected officials.
The setting in this episode is a bustling town council meeting, in which locals are gathered to discuss what to do about poor Internet access in Villageville. The special speaker tonight is an attorney from the incumbent Internet access company. Citizens are ready to ask him why, for corn's sake, his employer still hasn't updated the services they provide.
During this episode, we learn more about the influence of large corporations and their lobbyists on competition, or the lack of it. The people of Villageville have noticed some patterns in the way state laws get passed and they're ready to talk about it at the meeting. By the end of the evening, folks are inspired to do more than complain.
In addition to the educational value from this short video, you'll enjoy the campy style of the Very Amateur Acting Troupe of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative and a special guest star from the Insitute for Local Self-Reliance. We've had fun writing, acting, and editing these videos and it shows. As with all "masterpieces," artists have come and gone from the Initiative team, leaving their imprints on "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!"
If you haven't seen episodes 1 - 3, check them out below, read the backstories or view them all on our Videos page.
Lawrenceville, Virginia, only has around 1,000 people living in the community, but they anticipate a boost in jobs in the near future, thanks to the local electric co-op, a partnership, and fiber optic connectivity.
Small-Town Guys Getting It Done
Virginia Business reports that Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) is in the process of wiring a former bank facility with Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) in order for the next tenant to use the building as a call center. Echo World Communications, based in Bedford County, will take up residence and bring approximately 152 new jobs to Lawrenceville.
According to Virginia Business:
It never would have happened if the building couldn’t have been equipped with high-speed, reliable Internet, says Michael Dotti, business director of the Brunswick County Industrial Development Authority. “It’s a huge amount of technology. This was like small-town guys getting it done.”
Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) is wiring the bank building this fall at no cost to Brunswick, with funding from Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corp. (MBC), which started in 2004 as a cooperative to bring fiber-optic networks to rural Virginia. The broadband cooperative also has installed about 90 miles of fiber cables in six Southern Virginia counties, with 45 more miles planned by the end of 2020.
This isn't the first time we've seen these two entities partner to expand access to broadband in southern Virginia. About two years ago, we reported on a project similar to the one in Lawrenceville in which MEC and MBC connected last mile and middle mile fiber to reduce costs and reach more premises.
The Virginia Business article also mentions that MEC is looking to acquire a local telephone cooperative, if the telephone co-op members approve.
MEC also has proposed the purchase of Buggs Island Telephone Cooperative (BIT) by MEC affiliate Empower Broadband. The merger is contingent on BIT’s 4,500 customers, who have been asked to submit votes by Nov. 13.
“We expect it will speed up the process of putting fiber in this area,” says David Lipscomb, MEC’s vice president of member...
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has a reputation for looking at today’s reality with an eye toward tomorrow’s needs. In their report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, Benton Senior Fellow Johnathan Sallet continues that perspective and offers insightful recommendations for a new National Broadband Agenda.
As access to high-quality connectivity becomes more critical each day, those without fast, affordable, reliable Internet access lose ground more quickly as time passes. In addition to the opportunities that come with broadband access, lack of adoption translates into lack of technical skills. Innovation isn’t slowing down for folks who don’t have broadband.
As Sallet notes, access to and adoption of broadband improves our economy, strengthens communities, and empowers American workers. Obtaining that access and expanding that adoption, however, is proving more challenging than it should be.
In his report, the author reviews in detail the barriers that have prevented the U.S. from achieving its goal of ubiquitous access and adoption of broadband. He’s able to make recommendations based on four key policy areas:
Deployment of networks where adequate broadband does not exist;
Competition to increase choices and spur lower prices and better-quality service to their residents;
Affordability and Adoption for those who wish to have broadband in their homes but lack the means or the skills to acquire it; and
Community Anchor Institutions, such as schools and libraries, that increasingly serve their users wherever they are.
Deploying Better Networks, Creating Choice
In addition to better data collection in order to know where Internet access is inadequate, Sallet writes that policymakers and citizens should also have access to information about Internet access that hasn't...
Okanogan County and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation are working together in central Washington to bring last mile broadband connectivity to the region. The partners have created the Broadband Action Team (BAT) and are working step by step to develop fast, affordable, reliable Internet access for about 42,000 people in the area. They recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) as they search for a firm to help develop a County and Tribal Broadband Strategic Plan. Proposals are due November 26th, 2019.
Okanogan County and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation have contended with significant challenges. According to the RFP:
Much of Okanogan County, including the Colville Reservation within Okanogan County, is plagued with high unemployment, excessive poverty, and an absence of quality of life amenities that have proven to be undesirable to most residents and insurmountable barriers to 21st century economic and community development. Okanogan County and the Colville Confederated Tribes are historically and economically a distressed area. Historically, the surrounding areas within Okanogan County have been dependent on a resource-based economy. Community and economic resources have decreased dramatically as a substantial as the Omak Mill, closed. Many individuals have struggled to find work elsewhere and have either had to move, find government work, or start their own business.
Like many other communities that have decided it’s time to diversify their economy, leaders have determined that improving connectivity is necessary for economic development. Other livability issues, such as public safety, educational opportunities, and distance learning will improve in the region with the Internet access that people now lack.
Both parties also believe that this project will help strengthen their ability to jointly collect data regarding other infrastructure needs in the area. The county and the tribe want to pursue planning for other projects and work together.
By now, you’ve met the people of “Villageville,” the imaginary town in rural America that, like many similarly situated communities, are struggling to find better connectivity. This week, we continue our soap opera saga “From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet.”
In this episode, the kids of the community are working on another big homework assignment and gather together at the neighbor’s house to tap into his satellite Internet access. Watch to find out the results when Grumpy Gary tells the kids to “get off his lawn.”
In rural areas with low population density, large corporate Internet access providers don’t find the motivation they need to invest in fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. High numbers of residents and businesses depend on satellite Internet access as a last resort. Plans are expensive, unreliable, and typically include data caps. In episode 3, we include pop-up information about satellite Internet access and how communities who must use it settle for less than they deserve.
Don’t miss another opportunity to hear the Very Amateur Acting Troupe from the Community Broadband Networks Initiative and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance fill the roles of local people who are just trying to get online to get stuff done.