Tag: "rural"

Posted October 2, 2019 by lgonzalez

Fixed wireless Internet access from Open Broadband will soon be offered in special pilot areas of Alexander County, North Carolina, reports the Taylorsville Times.

According to the Times, the company started installing equipment on a local mountain; once it has been tested and configured, residents and businesses will be able to subscribe. People in Alexander County can join the wait list now and will be notified when service comes to their area.

“Alexander County conducted a broadband survey back in June 2017, which showed a tremendous need for expanding broadband Internet service in the county,” said Dr. Jeff Peal, Chairman of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners. “To get a better understanding of our need and how service could be improved, the county awarded a contract in September 2017 to Open Broadband for a feasibility study. After learning those results, we began investigating ways to move this critical project forward.”

...

The Alexander County EDC applied for, and received, a $50,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) in early 2019 to help fund the pilot program. The EDC then issued a request for proposals in March to find an Internet Service Provider (ISP) with the best plan, qualifications, and price point. Upon review of the proposals, the EDC Board of Directors approved a contract with Open Broadband to conduct the pilot program. Per the contract, Open Broadband provided a $50,000 match to the ARC grant, and Alexander County Government contributed $36,470 to the project.

Peal told the Times that the pilot project results will determine the future of the partnership between Open Broadband and the county. 

“Pending the results from this pilot program, we hope to continue this partnership and work to expand the broadband network to cover as much of Alexander County as possible in the next few years,” Peal stated. “County officials and staff will continue to pursue all opportunities to expand broadband Internet service to our residents and businesses.”

Open Broadband CEO Alan Fitzpatrick encourages folks to sign up, regardless of where they live in relation to the pilot project.  “If we cannot turn up service at...

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Posted September 30, 2019 by lgonzalez

The history of the Internet Society (ISOC) reaches back to the early 1990s when a group of early Internet pioneers, realizing the power of connectivity, developed an organization aimed at  bringing safe and secure Internet access to everyone. Since then, ISOC has worked in policy, deployment, and the difficult task of creating collaborations. This week, we have ISOC's Director of the North American Bureau Mark Buell and Senior Policy Advisor Katie Watson Jordan to talk about the organization, its history, and the work they do.

In addition to learning about the growth of the organization, which now has chapters all over the globe, Mark and Katie describe their current community network project in remote Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories, Canada. They discuss their role in this and other community network projects, including the next location in Hilo, Hawaii. Read more about Ulukhaktok and the challenges they faced in developing their network in Katie's recent article on the project

Mark and Katie discuss ISOC's policy and access work. In addition to helping leaders establish better guidelines that encourage infrastructure deployment, they have led in matters of security and privacy. They also note that, one of the greatest strengths of ISOC has evolved into the organization's ability to bring people and entities together to achieve common goals. A prime example is their annual Indigenous Connectivity Summit, this year held November 12th and 13th in Hilo, Hawaii. Katie and Mark explain the success of past Summits and talk about...

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Posted September 27, 2019 by lgonzalez

In central Washington, the Methow Valley, Okanogan County, and the Colville Confederated Tribes Broadband Action Teams (BAT) are teaming up to improve connectivity and shrink the digital divide across the Methow Valley. As part of the process the BAT has released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for technical assessment and technical implementation planning to help them meet their goals. Deadline for proposals is September 30th, but the BAT has indicated that they will grant an extension upon request.

Review the RFP here.

Making Improvements

Methow Valley boasts its scenic treasures, including the North Cascades National Park and the Columbia River. Tourists visit the region for hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and vibrant arts scene. Like other similarly situated communities where natural beauty is an important feature, high-quality Internet access is difficult to come by.

According to the RFP:

Many residents of the Methow Valley live below the poverty line and have limited access to affordable, high-speed Internet services. This lack of access has impacts on education, economic growth and viability, emergency services, and quality of life. Simply put, this area lacks reliable wide-spread broadband access necessary to overcome these challenges. 

In September, the Washington State Department of Commerce's Community Revitalization Board awarded a $50,000 grant to the BAT and the Twisp Public Development Authority (PDA) to dig deeper into the need for broadband service in the Methow Valley. Okanogan County provided a match of $16,667 to secure the state grant. The funding has allowed the BAT to move forward on this project.

Read more in the TwispPDA Methow Valley Position Paper [PDF] here.

In 2018, the BAT began working toward better connectivity by creating a work plan, seeking out stakeholders, and obtaining community input. This year, they wish to expand on their planning process and conduct a technical assessment. In order to complete this phase of the plan, the BAT wants a consultant who will:

  • Facilitate Joint Planning with the BAT Team and its Stakeholders
  • Identify...
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Posted September 24, 2019 by lgonzalez

The Connect America Fund (CAF) from the federal government has been both praised and criticized as a mechanism to expand rural broadband deployment. In this episode of the podcast, Principal of Mattey Consulting Carol Mattey talks in depth with Christopher about the program. Carol was a Deputy Bureau Chief in the Wireline Competition Bureau at the FCC to help develop the program and has worked on the National Broadband Plan.

In addition to offering a primer on CAF for those of us who aren’t familiar with its inception or purpose, Carol offers a historical perspective that includes the broad goals of the program. She looks back and offers her opinions on the aspects of the program she considers successful and those that need improvement. Carol and Christopher consider the challenges of creating such a program, including political pressures and the difficulty of navigating unchartered waters. 

They compare the different phases of the CAF program and how large national ISPs and smaller entities have used the awards. Christopher and Carol also discuss possible changes in benchmarks that could make the resulting infrastructure more future proof and useful to rural communities.

For more conversations about CAF with other guests that we’ve had on the show, check out:

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Posted September 23, 2019 by lgonzalez

Rural communities served by the North East Mississippi Electric Power Association (NEMEPA) should be enjoying high-quality Internet access from their co-op next year, if plans proceed as expected. The co-op Board of Directors voted on September 17th to move forward with plans to develop a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to their entire service area.

Thank you, Legislature

According to their press release, the 2019 change in state law to relax restrictions on electric cooperatives was the factor that encouraged NEMEPA to aggressively pursue the possibilities. With strong support from the state Public Service Commission, state lawmakers embraced the change and passed HB 366, the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act. The bill removed decades-old language that required co-ops to use infrastructure only for delivery of electric service. Electric cooperatives will now allow be able to legally offer Internet access, a much-needed change for rural areas.

The cooperative worked with Conexon, the firm headed up by Randy Klindt and Jonathan Chambers, which has worked with numerous electric cooperatives like NEMEPA to design and develop broadband networks. 

NEMEPA has already commissioned two feasibility studies, which independently determined that the project will be viable as long as they can achieve a minimum take rate. A recent survey indicated that the need is so great in their region that members’ enthusiasm for their services will surpass the benchmark. NEMEPA plan to connect all 25,000 members within their 920-square-mile service area through a subsidiary.

In addition to gigabit connectivity, NEMEPA will upgrade their infrastructure to take advantage of smart grid capabilities to improve electrical distribution. In a letter from CEO Keith Howard posted on their Facebook page, NEMEPA states that people in the...

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Posted September 20, 2019 by lgonzalez

On September 12th, Christopher appeared on Community Radio KMUD’s Forward Humboldt to discuss the connectivity situation in Humboldt County, California, with residents there. Humboldt County is one of the more rural regions in the state with heavily forested mountains and more coastline than other other county in California. They’re situated north of California and have dozens of federal, state, and local parks and forests that are strictly protected. As a result, obtaining high-quality Internet access has always been challenging.

During this hour-long interview Christopher and fellow broadband policy advocate Sean McLaughlin join local Sean DeVries. They discuss what Internet access is like for folks living in Humboldt County and how a publicly owned broadband network might help. Their conversation encompasses the definition of broadband and why it's important for local rural communities.

They talk about some of the reasons why Humboldt County, where an effort has been in the works for several years now to improve connectivity, has not been able to take the final steps to develop a publicly owned network. Sean, Christopher, and Sean talk about recent progress in California and possible models that might work in the region.

When considering the future of the community, a community network makes sense. As Christopher notes during the interview:

"Local public ownership makes sure that you can make good decisions today, but also that as things change you have a strong voice in what's an essential input not only for jobs, but also quality of life, for education... this is something that's only going to become more and more important in our lives." 


Posted September 19, 2019 by lgonzalez

Rural tribal communities in the U.S. struggle with some of the worst connectivity in the country. Decades of neglect have put them even farther behind other rural communities, many of which are moving toward community networks rather than depending on national Internet access providers. The most isolated tribal community in the continental United States has chosen to shrink their disadvantages by establishing a community network.

Within the Canyon

The Havasupai Indian Reservation, home to about 600, is surrounded by the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Having populated the region for centuries, the federal government restricted them to the reservation, an area of about 518 acres in Havasu Canyon, in 1882. Non-Indian ranchers, settlers, and miners started takng over the area in the 1870s and Executive Order confiscated the Havasupai homelands for public use. After the establishment of the Grand Canyon National Park and generations of persistence, the tribe finally won back more than 188,000 areas of plateau and canyon lands in 1975 through an Act of Congress.

The community, on the floor of the Grand Canyon, can only be reached by helicopter, or an 8-mile hike that starts 67 miles away from the nearest town. Mail is still delivered by mule.

Seeking Spectrum

That persistence is paying off again as the Havasupai Tribal Council focuses their attention on broadband access. They're collaborating with nonprofit MuralNet to connect the main residential area in Supai, where about 450 tribal members live. The nonprofit's mission is to assist tribes like the Havasupai develop infrastructure to obtain high-speed Internet access. 

orangewireless_2.jpg In the spring of 2018, the tribe obtained a temporary Educational Broadband Service (EBS) Spectrum license. MuralNet, local ISP Niles Radio, and Northern Arizona University have all contributed toward the effort to launch the community network. Niles Radio provided 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) backhaul at no charge in addition to volunteering to help with deployment. With MuralNet professionals and volunteers from the community, the LTE network was up and running within a day. Equipment costs for what MuralNet describes as the first phase of the network were $15,000. As a result, a few...

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Posted September 17, 2019 by lgonzalez

Even though the state of Tennessee adopted legislation long ago to discourage municipal networks, local communities in the state are finding ways to deliver high-quality Internet access via public utilities. This week, Chief Broadband Officer from BrightRidge Stacy Evans visits with Christopher. They talk about the power utility and their expansive broadband project in eastern Tennessee.

BrightRidge used to be known as the Johnson County Power Board, but limitations changed for the entity when it became an energy authority. Stacy provides some history about the region, the energy authority, and the considerations that contributed to the change. He also describes some of the challenges they’ve faced deploying over a very large area in a multi-phased roll-out that employs both Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) and fixed wireless.

They’re still in the early deployment phases, but BrightRidge is already hearing stories about benefits from subscribers. In addition to sharing a few with us, Stacy talks about how BrightRidge has adopted a layered approach at the premise that will make implementing future innovations easier. He and Christopher review some of the indirect benefits from the network, such as improved service from incumbents and improved electrical services.

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 via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the...

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Posted September 12, 2019 by lgonzalez

Community members in Shutesbury, Massachusetts, are now receiving fast affordable, reliable connectivity in their homes and businesses delivered via their publicly owned broadband infrastructure.

It's Happening and People Are Loving It

In late August, officials from Shutesbury announced that they expected testing and verification to be completed in early September. The company hired for installation had scheduled more than 200 premises for September and was making plans to hire additional installers to speed up the process. Shutesbury expects to have most of the town connected to the network by the end of 2019.

In May, 87 percent of the town had already signed up and subscribers have continued to trickle in. Folks in Shutesbury are now beginning to obtain the Internet access they’ve been chasing for more than five years. 

No, Charter, Not You

In 2017, the town rejected a proposal from Charter Spectrum that would have connected 96 percent of the community of around 1,700 people. The offer from the cable comany had come about when the state agency tasked with distributed state funding suddenly had a change of heart. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) decided that the big corporate ISPs, which had refused to upgrade services in the area in the past, should have another opportunity to use state funding to build high-quality Internet access infrastructure. Read more about decisions from MBI that delayed connectivity to many rural towns and strengthened monopoly power for companies that had refused to connect the region.

logo-shutesbury-250.jpg Even though they would have not had to bond, citizens didn’t consider it a good deal. People from Shutesbury wanted every premise connected to fiber. They also didn't want to enter into an agreement with the big ISP because it refused to commit to a specific dollar amount for connecting remaining properties. Voters had already approved bonding to invest in a publicly owned fiber optic network to every premise in town and Charter’s proposal wasn’t up to the standards that...

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Posted August 28, 2019 by htrostle

In July, the Community Affairs Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released Disconnected: Seven Lessons on Fixing the Digital Divide, a report that touches on Internet access, adoption, and affordability. Overall, this is an insightful primer on the digital divide and how banks can help. 

The CRA and the Digital Divide

Banks have a responsibility to invest in disadvantaged communities under the Community Reinvestment Act. The report broadly outlines the state of high-speed Internet access, including the differences between rural and urban access problems, and explains why the digital divide remains so persistent.

Part of the problem is that our data on Internet access and adoption is woefully lacking. The report includes a section on how FCC data overstates coverage and compares it to the ways Microsoft has attempted to verify actual home Internet connections: 

“The FCC’s data measure availability of broadband while the Microsoft data measure broadband usage. The company shared its analysis with the FCC, which is looking at how it might improve its broadband measurements. While the FCC says 24.7 million Americans lack access to broadband, Microsoft found the actual number was 162.8 million.” (P. 26)

Another related problem that the report identifies is that the technology needed for high-speed Internet access seems to be constantly changing. Companies do not continue to invest consistently in rural or low- and middle- income communities, leaving both with last-generation networks. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we've learned from years of research that fiber connectivity has the ability to meet current and future needs.

Closing the Digital Divide

Expanding high-speed Internet access can expand access to banking. The report notes that:

“Among low-income households, research by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City shows that lacking Internet access has a higher correlation to being unbanked than a variety of other characteristics, including employment status and race.” (P. 11) 

Supporting community networks is one way banks can improve high-speed Internet access, and our research appears throughout the report. One of the example explained...

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