Tag: "rural"

Posted August 20, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Less than two years after Mississippi lifted its ban on electric cooperative broadband networks, at least 15 of the 25 co-ops in the state have announced plans to provide Internet access to members, with more on the way.

“I would venture to say that there is a higher percentage of co-ops launching [broadband] projects in Mississippi at one time than anywhere else in the country,” said Randy Klindt, partner at Conexon, a consulting firm that is working with several co-ops in the state.

The months in between were marked by two major changes. First, in January of 2019, the Mississippi legislature passed a law that enabled co-ops to create broadband subsidiaries to connect their members. Then a year later, the pandemic hit, highlighting the urgent need for better connectivity and turning the steady stream of cooperative interest in broadband into a veritable flood.

In response to the global health crisis, the state leveraged federal CARES Act money to establish a grant program to fund electric co-op broadband deployment. Through the program, Mississippi awarded $65 million to 15 electric cooperatives to build high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home networks in some of the state’s most disconnected and rural communities, dramatically ramping up the pace of the co-ops’ broadband projects.

“When we started two years ago, I would’ve guessed that you would have had maybe five systems out of 25 in the state that would be to the level where we are now,” Coast Electric Power Association (EPA) President and CEO Ron Barnes said in an interview. “Most people would tell you they were surprised by the speed,” he added.

Opening the Floodgates

Internet access has been lagging in rural Mississippi for years. The state came in at 42 in BroadbandNow’s most recent connectivity rankings. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), at least 35% of rural Mississippians do not have access to the Internet at broadband speeds.

In 2018, the state co-op association, Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi, brought its 25 member organizations together to gauge their interest in changing the state law so the co-ops could address their rural members' inadequate connectivity. At the time, electric co-ops in the state were prohibited from operating for any purpose other than providing...

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Posted August 19, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

If you live in the land of ten thousand lakes, your help is needed. The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition has launched a speed test initiative to collect much-needed data from everyone in the state so that lawmakers and stakeholders can better direct broadband expansion efforts now and in the future. Hop over to the speed test page and give them a hand.

Data, Data, Data

The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition (MRBC) — which is made up of over a hundred utilities, cooperatives, regional development commissions, nonprofits, private companies, and rural and urban interest groups — has worked for years with local communities and in the state capitol to advocate for more funds and help local communities address Internet access imbalances across the state. The initiative is the latest mark of their efforts, asking Internet users to input their addresses and how much they pay their Internet Service Provider (ISP) to get a better sense of speeds, availability, and prices. 

To date, they’ve gotten results from a little over 15,000 tests in 11,000 locations. There are predictable problem areas in the northeast part of the state, and according to the map just under 7% of locations are unserved so far. Saint Louis, Itasca, and Carlton Counties account for the bulk of the tests outside of the metro area, though Minnesotans in Scott and Le Sueur Counties south of the 169 corridor are also putting up a strong showing. 

We’ll be interested to see the report the group puts out once the test is complete and the data have been analyzed, but initial qualitative results show great news for those living in areas with cooperatives and other nonprofits and less-great news for those in areas with some of the problem monopoly ISPs. Subscribers of Paul Bunyan Communications (which started life as a telephone cooperative), for instance, enjoy high symmetrical upload and download speeds that should be serving those forced to work, visit the doctor, and grocery shop from home well. 406 results from the ISP in Itasca County show an average of 74 Megabits per second (Mbps) both up and down...

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Posted August 18, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

This week on the podcast Christopher talks with Ron Barnes, President and CEO Biloxi-based Coast Electric Power, an electric cooperative in Mississippi area, and Jon Chambers, Partner at Conexon, a consulting agency working with rural electric cooperatives to bring fiber to communities around the country. 

In January of 2019 Mississippi state law changed to allow electric cooperatives to provide broadband services to their subscribers, and Ron talks about how Coast Electric, which serves around 80,0000 residents across three counties, began its planning phase shortly thereafter. He relates how the current public health crisis moved up Coast Electric’s timeline, why the cooperative has committed in its buildout to connect the least densely populated areas of its service footprint first, and the challenges and rewards that go along with bringing high-speed Internet to Mississippi’s coast. 

Jon Chambers joins them to highlight how remarkable it has been to see Mississippi’s electric cooperatives spring into action over the last 18 months and play a leading role, and why it’s important that, already, 15 out of 25 have begun to plan their broadband plans with the injection of CARES Act funding. Together, the group discusses what these changes mean for digital equity and inclusion in Mississippi, since the new law requires the cooperatives to build to all of their customers.

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

Read the transcript for this episode.

This show is 33 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 August 17, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, is currently experiencing firsthand the consequences of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC's) 2018 preemption of local governments’ authority to regulate 5G infrastructure in their cities. With its initial handful of applications for new small cell transmitters just submitted to the county board by Verizon under the new rules, local officials are grappling with a host of limitations — including fee caps, shorter timing windows, and rights of way exemptions — which outline clearly a problem more and more communities will face in the coming months and years.

Less Say, Less Money

We pointed out when the FCC handed down the order in the fall of 2018 that it represented a significant giveaway to wireless carriers while placing additional restrictions and financial burdens on local regulators, most of which are county boards and city departments. Among the most troublesome of the order’s provisions are new 60- and 90-day approval windows for the installation of infrastructure on existing and new wireless facilities, a limitation to annual fee scales for small cell sites set between $100-250, a right now enjoyed by wireless providers to place infrastructure on municipally owned poles and traffic lights, and a rule that says if regulating authorities don’t get to an application within sixty days it automatically becomes approved. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the fee cap in a ruling last Wednesday.

In sum, it puts additional strain on local governments (many of whom are already stretched thin) while limiting their ability to set their own fees for access to publicly owned infrastructure as well as the expedited work they are being forced to do. At the time, opponents called it a public tax on private 5G deployment, a giveaway,...

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Posted August 14, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Tribal residents and others living along near Six Rivers National Forest in Humboldt County, California are about to get a broadband boost. The Yurok and Karuk Tribes announced at the end of July that the Klamath River Rural Broadband Initiative received more than $10 million from the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC's) California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to add over a 100 miles of additional fiber to the project’s community network, connecting hundreds of additional homes, businesses, and anchor institutions. The award marks the second injection of funding from the CPUC’s grant program to the initiative. 

Over the River and Through the Woods

Humboldt County covers more than 4,000 square miles along the coast in the northwest part of the state, about 60 miles west of Redding. It’s one of the least-densely populated areas in the state, marked by rural, mountainous, rugged terrain for the roughly 150,000 people who live there. Those in the northern fifth of the county have it particularly hard; the region is bounded by national forests on either side, with the Klamath River running down the middle. As recently as 2009, telephone service in the region was unreliable, and Internet access was restricted to dial-up or satellite. The Klamath River Rural Broadband Initiative (KRRBI) has been working since 2013 to address this digital divide.

The new CPUC award totals a little more than $10.8 million to add 104 miles of new fiber to their middle-mile network. Last-mile connections come via fixed wireless, a cost-effective way to bring broadband to rural areas. The new route will connect the communities of Orleans to Orick and Weitchpec to Wautec and Johnsons, bringing new service to 616 households, 8 first responder agencies, and 14 additional anchor institutions like schools, tribal offices, and health care clinics. The project will also add three redundant links to the existing network across the 80-square mile area.

“For the residents of far Northern California, this initiative will...

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Posted August 12, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

As data changes, we stay current so you can get the most recent information. It's important to be up-to-date, but seeing how broadband and related issues have changed over time also has value. As we release new versions of our report Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom [pdf] with updated information, we’ll connect you with prior publications here.

We published our first profile of the largest cable and telecom providers in 2018, where we detailed the lack of real choices most Americans had when it came to high-quality, reliable broadband. At the time, we found that for the largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) investment was correlated to competition rather than the regulatory environment. Monopoly ISPs expanded their Fiber-to-the-Home networks only in areas where they faced competition, and rural Americans were left behind as a result. The report includes things like: 

  • Maps of the largest ISPs and their service areas, including where they compete with one another. 
  • Analyses of what broadband technologies are available to subscribers in a given region, and what that means for Internet choice
  • How many Americans are stuck with one of the monopoly cable or telecommunications companies as the sole provider.

Links on this page will take you to original and current publications of the report. 

Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom July 2018 Edition [PDF]
  Millions of Americans Left Behind as Monopoly ISPs Refuse to Compete in 2020 Report ...
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Posted August 12, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

We published our first profile of the largest cable and telecom providers in 2018, where we detailed the lack of real choices most Americans had when it came to high-quality, reliable broadband. At the time, we found that for the largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) investment was correlated to competition rather than the regulatory environment. Monopoly ISPs expanded their Fiber-to-the-Home networks only in areas where they faced competition, and rural Americans were left behind as a result.

Our 2020 report, Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom finds that these key points remain true, and the report includes a host of new maps to show it.

From the report:  

  • Comcast and Charter maintain an absolute monopoly over at least 47 million people, and another 33 million people only have slower and less reliable DSL as a “competitive” choice.
  • The big telecom companies have largely abandoned rural America — their DSL networks overwhelmingly do not support broadband speeds — despite many billions spent over years of federal subsidies and many state grant programs. The Connect America Fund ends this year as a failure, leaving millions of Americans behind after giving billions to the biggest firms without requiring significant new investment.
  • At least 49.7 million Americans only have access to broadband from one of the seven largest cable and telephone companies. In total, at least 83.3 million Americans can only access broadband through a single provider.

All versions of this report are in the Reports Archive. Read the 2020 report Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom [pdf].

Posted August 12, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

We published our first profile of the largest cable and telecom providers in 2018, where we detailed the lack of real choices most Americans had when it came to high-quality, reliable broadband. At the time, we found that for the largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) investment was correlated to competition rather than the regulatory environment. Monopoly ISPs expanded their Fiber-to-the-Home networks only in areas where they faced competition, and rural Americans were left behind as a result.

Our 2020 report, Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom finds that these key points remain true, and the report includes a host of new maps to show it. From the report:  

  • Comcast and Charter maintain an absolute monopoly over at least 47 million people, and another 33 million people only have slower and less reliable DSL as a “competitive” choice.
  • The big telecom companies have largely abandoned rural America — their DSL networks overwhelmingly do not support broadband speeds — despite many billions spent over years of federal subsidies and many state grant programs. The Connect America Fund ends this year as a failure, leaving millions of Americans behind after giving billions to the biggest firms without requiring significant new investment.
  • At least 49.7 million Americans only have access to broadband from one of the seven largest cable and telephone companies. In total, at least 83.3 million Americans can only access broadband through a single provider.

Read the 2020 report Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom [pdf].

 

Posted August 11, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Today on the podcast we welcome Angela Siefer and Craig Settles. Angela is the founder and Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and a tireless digital equity and inclusion advocate whose has worked to connect communities for over two decades. Craig is a nationally recognized consultant who works with public- and private-sector clients to build and improve networks. He hosts Gigabit Nation and is the President of Communities United for Broadband.

Together, Christopher, Angela, and Craig untangle the long history of broadband subsidies and racial bias, and how that has come to influence who has affordable connection options today. They also talk about the current stage of telehealth and the ramifications of the Digital Equity Act since its adoption a year ago. Angela highlights the importance of having state digital equity plans to address unequal access in anticipation of disbursing funds to close the digital divide during the pandemic. The group also talks about the costs of not being connected — in healthcare, in employment searches and job training, and in k-12 education — and how to make sure that both rural and urban broadband plans address everyone who lives there.

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

Read the transcript for this episode.

This show is 46 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 Community Broadband Bits page.

Listen to ...

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Posted August 6, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Cooperatives have been doing a lot over the last few months to advance connectivity efforts around the country. That trend is continuing in Virginia, where Prince George Electric Cooperative (PGEC) and Northern Neck Electric Cooperative (NNEC) have announced partnerships with utility provider Dominion Energy to expand broadband access to thousands living and working in rural areas in the state. 

The two projects represent over nearly $32 million in total investment, with money coming from the counties, the electric cooperatives, the investor-owned utility, and the state. 

Innovative Partnerships 

The first-of-its-kind agreement between PGEC and Dominion Energy was originally announced last February, and aimed at a combined 6,700 residents in Surry County. Dominion will serve as the middle-mile provider, and is already installing fiber as part of upgrades to its grid management. It will lease that fiber to RURALBAND, PGEC’s broadband subsidiary, which will then be responsible for building last-mile connections to homes and businesses and acting as the retail service provider. 2,200 of those receiving Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connections will be existing customers of PGEC, with the other 4,500 customers of Dominion. In total, the project is projected to cost between $16 and $18 million. 

“This partnership brings rural Surry County into the modern communications age, bridging a vital utility gap through reliable high-speed broadband services to residents and businesses, essential to Surry’s social and economic prosperity,” said Surry’s Acting County Administrator Melissa Rollins in a press release.

The second project, announced at the end of July, will take place in the Northern Neck region and include King George, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland counties. Currently, those living on the southern shore of the peninsula are worst off,...

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