Tag: "rural"

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 CVEC members have been dealing with unreliable connections, oversubscription, and outdated technologies for years.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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Posted May 24, 2019 by lgonzalez

The fifth anniversary of the announcement of the KentuckyWired project is approaching later this year. As voters start to assess their candidates’ job performance, the unfinished and over budget middle mile public-private partnership (P3) has become an albatross that incumbents aren’t able to easily cast off. When we last discussed the project in 2017, we shared our observations and misgivings. Not much has changed, except some of our concerns have played out and the project has become troubled by new problems.

In Case You’re Just Arriving to the Party… 

The statewide, massive middle mile project officially began when Kentucky announced in late 2014 that they would build a fiber optic network in order to bring better connectivity to rural areas. They planned to find a private sector partner and sought bids. In the fall of 2015, Australian firm Macquarie won the contract for what soon became an even larger endeavor — a fiber optic network that would enter every county in the state at a minimum of one location. The network would consist of approximately 3,200 miles of fiber and connect about 1,000 public facilities. At the time the project was developed, the state estimated that deployment would cost approximately $300 million.

With early bipartisan support, the state allocated $30 million from their budget, which they expected to combine with $23.5 million in federal grants. When the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority issued $232 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds and $58 million in taxable revenue bonds to complete financing, Bond Buyer named the issue the “Deal of the Year” for 2015. Macquarie’s timeline estimated an optimistic one-year completion for the entire statewide project.

logo-Macquarie.jpgMacquarie Capital, as the entity managing the project, included in the agreement with the state a requirement that they and their partners, including Black & Veatch from Kansas and Ledcor of Canada, would build, operate, and maintain the network for 30 years. During the course of those three decades, the state would pay them approximately $1.2 billion and when the term was over, Kentucky would own the infrastructure free and clear. During the contract period, Kentucky would make “...

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Posted May 21, 2019 by htrostle

In late April 2019, the Vermont Public Service Department announced $220,000 worth of grants to bring high-speed Internet service to 220 homes and businesses around the state. The Department awarded ECFiber with about $63,000 to serve nearly 50 homes and businesses in Tunbridge and Corinth, Vermont, according to the press release. 

This was a competitive award: 20 organizations applied for $960,000 worth of grants from the Connectivity Initiative, but only a few organizations received funding. The Department explained that they chose those projects that had the most bang for their buck. The Department is spending less than $1,000 on average for each address that is considered unserved or underserved. According to June Tierney, Commissioner of the Public Service Department:

“The Connectivity Initiative enables providers to bring high-speed internet to communities with some of the hardest to serve locations, both in terms of cost and terrain.”

From DSL to Fiber

ECFiber is a community-driven effort of 24 member towns focused on bringing high-speed Internet service to rural Vermont, but for the first few years of its existence, the government continually passed over ECFiber for funding. The organization instead used an innovative self-financing model to raise funds, got some funding from a capital investment group, and later, after the state established the "communications union district" designation, issued revenue bonds to continue to grow. Now ECFiber...

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Posted May 15, 2019 by htrostle

Cooperatives are building the next-generation networks that will support rural areas long into the future. We’ve covered this extensively at ILSR as we have gathered materials on community networks from across the country into one place. We want to share this fact sheet from National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (NRECA) on how electric cooperatives are well-situated to bring high-speed Internet service to another 6.3 million households.

6.3 Million Households Have a Co-op, But No Broadband

The fact sheet features an insightful map of the areas within electric cooperative service territories that do and do not have broadband. (Note: The FCC defines broadband as a speed of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.) Many telephone and electric cooperatives can take the credit for bringing needed connectivity to their communities. For example, more than 90 electric cooperatives across the U.S. have built Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks, which offer some of the fastest Internet service in the country.

The NRECA fact sheet, however, reveals the 6.3 million households in rural electric cooperative service areas that still need high-speed Internet access. These areas are primarily in the Midwest and the South. Creating pathways for electric cooperatives to extend Internet service is increasingly a priority in a number of these states, and state legislatures are now passing laws to empower both electric and telephone cooperatives. NRECA offers more policy recommendations to continue the momentum.

You can learn more about the ways rural cooperatives are bringing better connectivity to rural areas by reading our 2017 report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era.

Check out the NRECA fact sheet, and drop us a line if you know of more resources to add to the ILSR’s Community Networks Initiative archives. 

Posted May 14, 2019 by lgonzalez

About ten years ago, we first reported on Johnson City, Tennessee. At that time, the community was in the process of installing fiber to improve reliability for their public electric utility. The Johnson City Power Board (JCPB) discussed the possibility of offering broadband via the new infrastructure, but they weren’t quite ready to move forward. Now JCPB has renamed itself BrightRidge and has not only started connecting local subscribers with fiber optic connectivity, but is offering 10 gig symmetrical service.

Past Plans

Johnson City has considered more than one model over the years before realizing the current plan. After initial consideration, they decided to move forward with a public-private partnership to first serve businesses and later residential subscribers. Later, they concluded that a public-public partnership with the Bristol Virginia Utility Authority (BVU) was a better option. After difficulties in Bristol with political corruption and state restrictions, however, that ultimately ended public ownership of the BVU, Johnson City was considering options again.

In 2017, they commissioned a fresh feasibility study to build on lessons learned from their own and others’ experiences and look deeper in the the possibilities of a publicly owned broadband utility.

Johnson City is located between Chattanooga and Bristol. Both cities have fiber infrastructure which has helped spur economic development. Being sandwiched in between these two communities requires Johnson City to be able to compete or contend with the possibility of losing employers and residents who want or need better connectivity. 

The JCPB also decided in 2017 to change their name to BrightRidge; they remain a “not-for-profit, local power company.”

An Eight Year Plan

logo-johnson-city-tn.png In July 2018, BrightRidge...

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Posted May 13, 2019 by Hannah Bonestroo

On April 4th, 2019, the Board of Commissioners of Berrien County, Michigan approved a resolution that formally acknowledges that achieving countywide access to high-speed Internet is crucial to the county’s mission of improving quality of life for present and future generations.

Read the resolution here.

Connected Nation ranks Michigan 34th among states for broadband adoption and an estimated 368,000 rural households still do not have access to FCC defined broadband at 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Many areas of Berrien County lack access to Internet speeds over 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps uploads. The resolution will ensure that the county commits to pursuing opportunities and partnerships that increase broadband availability.

County commissioners Ezra Scott, of New Buffalo, and Teri Freehling, of Baroda introduced the measure and have already begun taking steps to turn it into action including creating a board subcommittee that works with municipalities and community partners to pursue broadband opportunities. They're also exploring the possibility of a grant application for the newly announced U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect Program). The commissioners hope that the resolution demonstrates how serious Berrien County is about pursuing countywide broadband access. As Freehling stated, “broadband is more than an option, it’s a necessity.”

Other local leaders have put their commitment to better local connectivity on record with various resolutions. Most recently, Bozeman, Montana, passed a resolution declaring broadband essential infrastructure. In 2018, Bangor, Maine,...

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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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