Tag: "rural"

Posted February 11, 2020 by lgonzalez

In 2012, the Medina County Fiber Network (MCFN) first began offering fiber optic connectivity to businesses and community anchor institutions in the county. Jump forward eight years later and the network is now proving the case that Ohioans also want fast, affordable, reliable connections in the small communities where national providers aren't willing to upgrade.

Meeting a Goal

When we spoke with CEO David Corrado from MCFN in December 2019 for episode 386 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we learned about the new partnership between MCFN, Lit Communities, and Peak Communications. CEO Brian Snider and Chief Marketing Officer Ben Lewis-Ramirez from Lit Communities also participated in the conversation and the three explained how the partners were employing a community based model to expand the open access fiber optic infrastructure with private capital. 

The entity they created for the project is Medina Fiber and focuses on expanding the benefits of the network to residents in Medina County.

In a February 11th press release from MCFN, Corrado announced that the project has reached a key milestone. Monthly revenue from the network now equals the MCFN $100,000 monthly bond payment.

From the press release:

“This is a key metric that we’re pleased to reach as Medina County Fiber Network begins expanding our trusted network to homes throughout Medina County. It’s proof that the county’s investment in fiber infrastructure works well now, and positions our community for even more economic success and better quality-of-life.”

In December, the initial construction began to approximately 6,100 households in the Villages of Seville, Westfield Center, and Guilford Township at a cost of around $8 million. According to Corrado, demand in these areas "remains strong." Now that the community based open access model is proving to be effective to bring better connectivity to residents and that locals are showing they want to sign up for services, plans are in...

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Posted February 10, 2020 by lgonzalez

Gascosage Electric Cooperative, serving members in south-central Missouri, recently joined the list of ReConnect recipients. The co-op will use a $14 million grant and loan combination to deploy gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to members in four counties where people are unserved and underserved.

Natural Choice

Gascosage General Manager Carmen Hartwell told St. Louis Public Radio, “We’re really a natural choice for this. We already have the infrastructure in place and a history of bringing utilities to rural residents.”

Co-Mo Cooperative and Ozarks Electric Cooperative in Missouri are two other rural electric cooperatives that have expanded the use of their infrastructure to provide broadband to members. In the rural regions of Missouri, as in other states, people living in less populated areas recognize the crucial role high-quality connectivity plays in economic development, educational opportunities, and ability to remain competitive.

“When we take a look at educational opportunities and economic development, internet access may stimulate growth of businesses in our area,” said Hartwell. “It might bring more people into our area that otherwise maybe telecommute for their jobs. Now, they’re going to be able to live on family farms.”

Phasing In Fiber

The co-op has a three-phase plan to connect more than 1,100 households, 20 farms, 20 local businesses, and two rural fire-protection districts. Gascosage has posted detailed information for members, including maps, on their website and their Facebook page revealing exactly where the deployment will occur. The deployment areas are in Camden, Maries, Miller, Phelps, and Pulaski counties. Subscribers will also be able to sign-up for voice services.

Phase one should be completed in early 2021 and will make symmetrical gigabit connectivity available to 285 premises, three farms and eight businesses. Phase two will add 295 premises, to the network, and should also be completed in 2021. The largest Phase will connect 729 homes, businesses, and farms; the co-op will deploy this phase in 2022 and 2023. 

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Posted February 7, 2020 by lgonzalez

Tribal Technology Assessment: The State of Internet Service on Tribal Lands, a report from the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University (AIPI) provides a detailed examination of broadband access, device use, and uses of the Internet by Tribal peoples on Tribal lands. Authors Brian Howard and Traci Morris completed the 2019 report aiming to develop a closer look at the digital divide and "to create a new baseline for future studies with the expectation of potentially measuring growth in coming years."

The AIPI worked with Tribal leadership and members to design a study that would include the participation of those living on Tribal lands. In addition to providing historical perspective on why the issue of digital inclusion has not been studied adequately, the authors address the multiple facets of the digital divide(s) that Native American peoples who live on Tribal lands face and how the large ISPs have left most behind.

The report explains in detail the survey questions, results, and methodology.

Based on the results of the survey, AIPI provides policy recommendations directed at different public and private sectors. At the foundation of their recommendations is the link between local self-reliance and increased adoption of better connectivity:

There needs to be a new model to address the Digital Divide prevalent in rural and Tribal America. What is needed is a positively related regulatory disruption to find new solutions for community based networks for positive social disruption.

AIPI makes recommendations for Congress, such as:

  • Establish the Office of Native Affairs and Policy as a standalone, independent office at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with a permanent annual budget.
  • Establish a Tribal Broadband Fund to support broadband deployment, maintenance, and technical assistance training.

Recommendations for the telecom industry include:

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Posted February 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

At the end of 2019, Congress passed the Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands (RURAL) Act, fixing a tax law change that threatened to raise rates and delay the expansion of broadband for rural cooperative members across the country.

Passage of the RURAL Act ensures that cooperatives can accept federal funds for broadband deployment, disaster relief, and other efforts without risking their nonprofit tax exempt status. A change in the 2017 tax law would have labeled these funds as revenue for the first time, potentially causing co-ops to exceed the allowable percentage of non-member income they must maintain to remain tax exempt.

After Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Rob Portman(R-Ohio) and Representatives Adrian Smith (R-) and Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) introduced the bipartisan bill in April, it attracted 55 additional cosponsors in the Senate and more than 300 in the House. It was eventually incorporated into the consolidated appropriations act and signed into law in December.

“Obstacles From the Federal Government”

We described the possible impact of the 2017 tax law change on rural cooperatives over a year ago, when Senator Smith first brought the issue to our attention.

Failure to remedy it would have forced some co-ops to choose between continuing with desperately needed broadband and disaster recovery projects and increasing their members’ rates. Northwestern Electric Cooperative CEO Tyson Littau described the difficulty of that decision to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA):

Do we rebuild and try to strengthen our distribution system and pay the taxes, or do we delay the mitigation project that would improve 1,200 miles of line throughout our territory? I think we have a responsibility to the membership to improve the system for the future.

Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative was another co-op faced with the prospect of raising electric rates to...

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Posted February 6, 2020 by lgonzalez

This is our fifth episode of the podcast project we're working on with nonprofit NC Broadband Matters to share broadband news, challenges, and innovations from North Carolina. NC Broadband Matters works to find ways to bring ubiquitous broadband coverage to residents and businesses across the state.

Susan Cashion, Vice President, Chief Compliance & Administrative officer from Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation, and Greg Coltrain, Vice President of Business Development for RiverStreet Networks from Wilkes Telephone Cooperative join Christopher for the podcast. When they met up at an event in Raleigh, they discuss the co-ops' collaboration to bring high-quality Internet access to people who live in rural areas.

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.png In this interview, we learn more about both cooperatives and about their long histories of serving people who live in rural communities. Each has their own special expertise and this partnership allows them to combine those for the benefit of members who want better connectivity. Piedmont is one of several electric cooperatives that Wilkes, through RiverStreet, is working with to expand connectivity in rural North Carolina. Greg also describes the ways that RiverStreet works with local communities to take advantage of public assets to expand broadband to more households and businesses.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us...

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Posted February 5, 2020 by lgonzalez

Almost six years ago, we told readers about Ottawa, Kansas, where the community of around 13,000 people had invested in publicly owned fiber optic connectivity for local businesses. We recently touched base with IT Director Paul Sommer, who updated us on the progress of their broadband utility and how it has impacted the community.

Steady as it Grows

When we first met Ottawa, they had worked with the local school district and Franklin County to capitalize on existing fiber infrastructure and expand to more locations. Local leaders had learned from Ottawa businesses that the best options available from incumbent AT&T were T1 lines for approximately $600. Higher capacity connections were scarce and financially out of reach for local establishments, and AT&T could not be convinced to upgrade their infrastructure. As Bigham put it, AT&T was "milking the cow."

Once the city, school district, and Franklin County established a partnership, Ottawa began to expand fiber to other municipal facilities and businesses as requested. Sommers, who has taken over as IT Director, says that now all 10 city buildings are on the network. In addition to an industrial park on the original infrastructure on the north end of town, the network now reaches an industrial park to the south.

The electric utility has trained their own staff rather than hiring external fiber deployment personnel. In addition to enriching skills, their employees are able to respond quickly if there are downed cables or other maintenance issues. Sommers recalls an instance when a car, which had caught fire, sent shrapnel flying into the air. By a twist of fate, one piece severed the fiber optic cable hanging some distance away. His team was able to rehang and splice the cable that same day and get the subscriber back online.

By using electric utility staff, Ottawa has reduced the cost of their incremental build over the years. They typically budget around $100,000 each year for expansion of the network, have never gone over, and often don’t spend the entire allotment. Sommers says that, since they own the utility poles in town, have necessary personnel on hand, and equipment at the ready, unnecessary bureaucracy doesn’t slow down maintenance, repairs, or expansion efforts.

Bursting at the Streams

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Posted February 4, 2020 by lgonzalez

On February 3rd, 2020, the FCC opened the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window, a six month period in which federally recognized Tribes or Alaska Native Villages have the opportunity to apply for licenses to unassigned spectrum over their Tribal lands. This week on the podcast, we have two guests from MuralNet — CEO Mariel Triggs and Edyael Casaperalta, Legal Advisor and Policy Strategist. MuralNet, a nonprofit that focuses on helping indigenous people build their own networks, has been working to spread the word about the Rural Tribal Priority Window.

Historically, national Internet access companies have fallen short in bringing their services to people living on tribal lands. A few Tribes have been able to develop their own community networks, but others have found roadblocks when competing with large ISPs for spectrum or for funding. As a result, Tribal communities are some of the least connected in the U.S. Mariel and Edyael discuss how fixed wireless, using the 2.5 Ghz band spectrum is well suited to help solve this persistent problem. They share some of the challenges they’ve faced and offer some tips with deployment and in working to develop policy.

We learn more about the criteria that tribes need to meet in order to apply and how, even if they don’t plan on building their own network, owning access to the spectrum is, nevertheless, empowering. Tribes may not wish to operate a community network, but owning the airwaves above their land gives them some control over how those airwaves are used.

To learn more about the claiming the airwaves over Tribal Land, check out MuralNet’s website here. They're always willing to answer questions and to help with the process.

Legal...

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Posted February 3, 2020 by shrestha

In  November 2017 we reported that Mount Washington, a town of roughly 200 people in southwestern Massachusetts, had deployed its own infrastructure for broadband service. More than two years after the initial setup, a recent article in Government Technology on municipal broadband in Massachusetts takes us back to the tiny town. We learn how fast affordable, reliable publicly owned Internet infrastructure has brought positive transformation to the citizens of Mount Washington, located in the Taconic Mountains.

You Could Barely Use It

The article covers several layers of how high-speed Internet access has provided a jumpstart for the local economy. The small town with its remote landscape and inherent challenges had only two options before broadband: dial-up or a long-distance Wi-Fi service, which provided download speeds of less than 1 Mbps. 

“You could barely use Wi-Fi calling, and it was impossible to stream anything,” said Brian Tobin, Mount Washington select board member. “You could send emails, and you could do Internet searches that just took a long time.”

In spite of the fact that they're the third smallest town in the state, the Mount Washington Broadband Network now offers fiber optic infrastructure and contracts with an Internet access provider to offer speeds which surpasses those in some of the state's much larger communities. Funding for the network is part of a larger state plan to bring broadband to rural towns in need of Internet service. The Government Technology article notes that: 

“Mount Washington benefited from the Last Mile Program, which provided more than $35 million in grants for rural broadband. The program is run by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), which is part of the state agency Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech).”

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Posted January 29, 2020 by lgonzalez

As the USDA continues to award federal ReConnect funds for rural connectivity, we're glad to see that communities in West Virginia are not being ignored. Most recently, the Harrison Rural Electrification Association (HREA) announced that they will dedicate ReConnect grant funding of approximately $18.75 million to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in rural sections of their service area.

Combining Funding and Collaboration

The project will bring more than 6,300 households high-quality connectivity along with five educational facilities and another community facility. The deployment will cover approximately 354 square miles within Harrison, Lewis, Upshur, Barbour, and Doddridge counties. Once completed, the project will provide better connectivity to around 16,000 residents.

In total, the project will cost an estimated $25 million and HREA will use a $6.2 million loan from CoBank to cover the difference. They plan to complete the project within 3 1/2 years and cooperative leadership intend to have the project ready for bids by the end of February.

Rather than offering Internet access directly to members, the cooperative will work with Prodigi Fiber, a private sector ISP that works exclusively in West Virginia and only with FTTH connectivity. The co-op will lease the infrastructure to Prodigi and dedicate the proceeds from the lease toward the CoBank loan payments.

Early Excitement

On the HREA Facebook page, locals have expressed their excitement at the prospect of better connectivity. Some note the need for better reliability while others are looking for better speeds or alternatives to current options. 

Lenny W.: Was excited to get the email. This is great for the rural areas of this county. Are there any maps or projections on what areas are going to start and when? I’ll sign up for whatever is $75-$100 per month.

Ken C.: Whoooohoooo

Sharon L.: Please,...

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Posted January 23, 2020 by lgonzalez

This month, both Frontier Communications and CenturyLink put the FCC on notice that neither company expected to meet deployment milestones related to Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II). In total, rural households in 23 states will have to wait for connectivity that the two large companies were tasked with developing using federal subsidies.

Not-So-Great Expectations

When Frontier and CenturyLink accepted the funding in 2015, they agreed to provide deployment of Internet access speed of at least 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. By the end of 2018, they agreed to have at least 60 percent of the premises within each state connected and 80 percent of the premises connected by the end of 2019.

In their letter to the FCC, Frontier claims that of the contracted 774,000+ locations in 29 states waiting for connectivity through the CAF II program, they have deployed to around 596,000 in CAF II census blocks. They calculate that these deployments come to at least 70 percent in each state where they've accepted funding. The company also says that in 13 states they "may not have met" the 80 percent milestone.

The failure was a continuation of last year, when they reported that they had met the 60 percent milestone in 27 states, but had failed to make the grade in New Mexico and Nebraska.

logo-frontier.png Frontier accepted more than $283 million in CAF II funding soon after the FCC redefined broadband to 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps. The CAF II program had also increased minimum connections from 4 Mbps / 1 Mbps to 10 Mbps / 1 Mbps, which seemed outdated almost from the beginning. 

The company has been the subject of investigation in Minnesota and other states, due to complaints stemming from poor services, bad...

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