Tag: "rural"

Posted April 21, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

There’s a belief out there that households don’t really want or need more than a basic broadband connection, much less gigabit connectivity. This mistaken impression especially affects rural areas, where observers point out that a resident may have more fingers on their hand than Megabits per second (Mbps) on their current Internet connection, so surely they’ll be satisfied with a bump up to broadband speeds of 25 or 50 Mbps.

However, in our experience at MuniNetworks.org, demand for high-speed connectivity is actually quite robust in rural areas where the infrastructure exists. We’ve heard from rural cooperatives that many of their fiber network subscribers opt for higher speed tiers and that gigabit take rates near 30 percent in some instances. This suggests rural areas are much more likely than more urban areas to opt for tiers above the lowest cost option.

Even if the majority of rural subscribers don’t need the very highest broadband speeds, it’s important to note that the demand is there and will certainly continue to grow. As federal and state governments invest in rural broadband deployment, they must ensure that the networks they’re subsidizing can meet current and future needs.

Co-ops Feed Need for Speed

Roanoke Connect logoBack in January, Telecompetitor reported that Curtis Wynn, CEO of Roanoke Electric Cooperative in North Carolina, shared on a press call that two thirds of the co-op’s broadband subscribers selected a speed tier above the lowest and cheapest option of 50 Mbps. This isn’t because the co-op’s members have extra money to burn. “We’re one of the poorest areas of the nation. We have a lot of low-income individuals who are our members,” Wynn told a reporter in 2019.

Last month, we spoke with representatives from another electric cooperative, Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (OEC), for episode 398 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. They told us that many of their members also choose to subscribe to above-baseline speeds. The co-op only...

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Posted April 20, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Earlier this month, more than 70 electric cooperatives joined consulting firm Conexon in urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to speed up planned rural broadband funds in response to the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In comments filed with the FCC, Conexon called upon the agency to accelerate phase one of the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) reverse auction, planned for later this year, in order to connect rural communities and bolster local economies affected by the current crisis. Specifically, Conexon suggested that the FCC expedite RDOF applications and subsidies for providers that plan to build gigabit fiber networks, since under the current auction rules, those bidders are essentially guaranteed funding. The filed comments, available in PDF format below, included an open letter signed by dozens of electric co-op leaders who support the proposal.

While the urgency of rural connectivity has been underlined by the nationwide shutdowns intended to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the need for better rural broadband isn’t new. Conexon stated in its comments, “Whether the current health and economic crisis lasts a few months or a year, funding long-term rural fiber networks is necessary and long overdue.”

Proposed RDOF Process

Unlike those who want to postpone RDOF until the Covid-19 crisis passes or the FCC collects more accurate broadband data, Conexon opposes any further delay of the auction. “If anything, in the current economic climate, the RDOF Phase I auction should be accelerated, not delayed,” the company stated.

FCC logoIn its comments, Conexon proposed a couple measures the FCC could take to expedite the RDOF process for gigabit-tier bidders while allowing the rest of the auction to proceed as planned. Most importantly, the FCC could streamline the application process by combining steps in the process and require faster broadband deployment from winning bidders. Conexon also suggested that the agency could extend funding for gigabit fiber networks even if RDOF is postponed, saying, “In the event the auction is delayed beyond this year, the FCC should fund such applicants at the [auction’s] reserve price.”

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Posted April 15, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Two more electric cooperatives recently announced plans to build Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks to connect their rural members in the southeastern United States with high-quality Internet access.

The co-ops, Mississippi County Electric Cooperative (MCEC) in Arkansas and Monroe County Electric Power Association (EPA) in Mississippi, will partner with Conexon to manage network design, buildout, and implementation. Conexon has worked with dozens of rural electric cooperatives across the country to deploy broadband access to better serve their member-owners.

Rural communities in the southeast have long struggled with unreliable, unaffordable connectivity, and the current Covid-19 pandemic is further amplifying the health, education, and economic disparities that result from inequitable Internet access. But rural cooperatives, in the region and beyond, are stepping up to meet their members’ broadband needs.

Arkansas Co-op Continues Through Crisis

Big Lake Wildlife Refuge AR

Late last month in a Conexon press release, MCEC announced that it was launching a new subsidiary, MCEC Fiber, to offer its members Internet access with speeds up to one Gigabit per second symmetrical. With its new 600-mile fiber network, MCEC will join several other electric co-ops in Arkansas, including Ozarks Electric Cooperative and Craigshead Electric Cooperative Corporation, that have invested in broadband infrastructure for their communities.

MCEC President and CEO Brad Harrison said in the release:

We have long seen the need of our members and communities for reliable and fast internet service, given that it has become a necessity in many parts of life . . . This network is important for our community, and Conexon opened our eyes to the fact that not only could we provide the service, but we could offer a gold-plated solution...

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Posted April 9, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

With Covid-19 cases growing across the country, it's more important now than ever that households have access to telehealth services.

For the seventh episode of the "Why NC Broadband Matters" podcast series, we spoke with Dave Kirby, president of the North Carolina Telehealth Network Association, about the role of telehealth in the healthcare system, both during the pandemic and after it ends. "Why NC Broadband Matters" is created in partnership with NC Broadband Matters, a nonprofit organization working to connect communities across North Carolina to high-quality broadband access.

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.png In his conversation with Christopher, Dave explains the important functions broadband serves in modern healthcare systems, and he describes different telehealth applications, including video visits and connected care devices.

The pair discuss how hospital closures and limited access to healthcare impacts rural North Carolina communities. Dave touches on some of the research into how broadband can connect underserved areas to remote healthcare providers. Unfortunately, many rural communities don't have adequate Internet access, and the lack of connectivity is a barrier to telehealth. Christopher and Dave talk about the challenges to expanding broadband for telehealth in rural areas but also about the potential cost savings of better healthcare access in the state

Before wrapping up the interview, Dave predicts that the current Covid-19 crisis will push more healthcare providers to adopt telehealth, even after the pandemic...

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Posted April 8, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Last fall, we reported on the large number of community-owned broadband networks among the applicants for the first round of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ReConnect broadband program, which awards grants and loans to expand rural connectivity.

Since then, the USDA has distributed more than $620 million to 70 providers in 31 states as part of ReConnect round one. Just over half of the awardees are community networks, including rural cooperatives, local governments, community agencies, and a tribal provider. The other ReConnect awardees are locally owned providers. Almost all grant and loan recipients plan to build high-quality fiber networks with the funds.

While the impact will be limited by the relatively modest size of the program and restrictive eligibility requirements, the ReConnect awards will nevertheless lead to improved economic opportunity and quality of life in rural areas. These investments will enable more rural Americans to take advantage of precision agriculture, online education, and telehealth visits — services that are now more important than ever as the nation finds itself in the grips of a pandemic.

Co-ops, Munis Win Big

Approximately 30 rural telephone and electric cooperatives in 16 different states are taking home ReConnect grants and loans from the first round of funding. Co-op awards include a nearly $19 million grant for Alaska-based Cordova Telecom Cooperative, a $28 million grant and loan for Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, and a $2.73 million grant for Emery Telecom for projects in Colorado and Montana.

USDA logo

Several municipal networks are also recipients of ReConnect funding. One of the awardees, Osage Municipal Utilities in Iowa,...

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Posted March 6, 2020 by lgonzalez

For the first time, an electric cooperative in Arizona plans to develop fiber optic infrastructure in its service area in order to expand broadband availability. Mohave Electric Cooperative (MEC) recently received a state grant to develop fiber optic infrastructure and expects to spend the next two years connecting residents and businesses for high-quality Internet access.

State Funding Efforts

Arizona's Rural Broadband Development Grant Program, which awards up to $1 million for shovel-ready projects, will provide funding to MEC for infrastructure deployment. Two other grants went to private sector providers for a middle mile project and for a Fiber-to-the-Business project. The co-op's network will enable symmetrical connections of up to 10 gigabits.

The region is in the far west-central area of the state where Arizona meets the tip of Nevada and California, not far from the Mojave National Preserve and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. MEC will build out their network to around 35,000 premises in Bullhead City, Fort Mohave, and Mohave Valley. 

In addition to the development grants, Arizona awarded four planning grants to local governments of fewer than 150,000 (municipalities) or 750,000 (counties). One of the grants went to Gila County, which has been working on their Broadband Master Plan. Native American Tribes and nonprofits were also eligible.

Read more about the state's program here

Local Support

Back in October 2019, the Bullhead City Council passed a resolution to support the cooperative's plan to develop the project. Community leaders responded to the results of the MEC survey in which 95 percent of respondents indicated that they wanted broadband from the co-op.

Mayor Tom Brady noted that his office often received complaints about incumbents Suddenlink and Frontier. At the time, MEC said that the cooperative plan includes service to 100 percent of its service area, but officials from MEC stated that...

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Posted March 5, 2020 by lgonzalez

Mississippians served by electric cooperatives have had plenty to celebrate since the passage of the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act last year. The bill, which eased the way for cooperatives to provide Internet access, has already had a positive affect by inspiring several projects around the state. Recently, Northcentral Electric Cooperative announced that they're creating an affiliate to provide high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to members.

Northcentral Adding Northcentral Connect

The cooperative announced in February that they would be forming  Northcentral Connect, their new affiliate that would be the entity to offer broadband access to members. In the announcement, CEO and General Manager Kevin Doddridge said, "We are excited to see our members’ interest in fiber connectivity. We have conducted several interest and feasibility studies that have led us in this direction.” The co-op hopes to begin rolling out service in the first phase this summer.

Northcentral, which serves an area near the Tennessee border, provides electric service to more than 32,000 premises, including almost 25,000 households. They've operated since 1950 in eastern DeSoto County, western Marshall County, and in Tate and Lafayette Counties. 

logo-northcentral-coop-ms.png Last summer, Doddridge noted that the cooperative was examining the possibility of providing broadband and that, because they had already been installing fiber optic cabling between substations, they had a jump on any possible venture into broadband service. At the time, however, he wanted to be clear that Northcentral would only move forward if offering the service made sense financially and to be able to provide connectivity to their entire service area:

“We are also committed to make sure that we have a plan for universal coverage which will be very difficult,” Doddridge...

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Posted March 3, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In 1999, Yakutat became home to one of Alaska’s first surf shops. Now, two decades later, the coastal community of 600 people is looking at another first for the community — high-speed Internet access.

Cordova Telecom Cooperative (CTC) will be expanding its broadband network to Yakutat from the co-op’s headquarters 220 miles away in Cordova, Alaska. Already, CTC offers wireline and mobile connectivity in and around Cordova. The new project, codenamed NICEY or New Internet Communications for Everyone in Yakutat, will bring high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to the village, which has a large Native Alaskan population.

NICEY will be financed in large part by a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ReConnect grant of nearly $19 million awarded to CTC in December. This money will help fund not only the deployment of the fiber network in Yakutat but also the construction of several remote wireless towers to connect the village to the broader Internet. “I don’t know how many grants of this size local groups have gotten,” CTC general manager and CEO Jeremiah Beckett told the Cordova Times. “It’s pretty big for Cordova.”

Neighbors Partner for Grant

Locals and visitors alike can only reach Yakutat by air or sea — there are no roads to the southeastern Alaskan community. The Internet is similarly hard to access for village residents.

Yakutat’s poor connectivity forces the school to limit student access to online materials and courses; businesses sometimes struggle to run card transactions. Households’ only available option for Internet access is satellite, typically hampered by low speeds, frequent service interruptions, and restrictive data caps.

CTC was a natural partner to tackle Yakutat’s limited connectivity. The telephone cooperative has already invested in fiber and wireless networks in the region and was on the lookout for ways to improve backbone connectivity. Cordova and Yakutat also share a long history and are...

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Posted March 3, 2020 by lgonzalez

In February, Christopher was in North Carolina at the Institute for Emerging Issues Forum at North Carolina State University. While he was there, he had the opportunity to conduct several interviews with people engaged in research, working with boots on the ground to expand broadband, or advocating for better policy so more people have access to high-quality Internet access. One of the people he spoke with was Danika Tynes, Ph.D., a Senior Research Associate from the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

One of Danika's areas of expertise is telehealth, which continues to expand in relevance and application with new innovations and the expansion of broadband access. During the conversation, Danika discusses some of the results of her research, including the elements that help telehealth efforts succeed. She also discusses how telehealth applies in different environments and how data can be used to improve its applications for patients and healthcare professionals. Danika also shares a personal experience that illustrates how telehealth is actually more ingrained in our daily lives than we realize.

This show is 29 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.

Read the transcript for this episode.

Listen to ...

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Posted March 2, 2020 by lgonzalez

Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC), has been working on their plan to deploy Fiber-to-the Home (FTTH) to members and surrounding premises since 2017. The rural cooperative received a financial boost when they recently received a grant and loan award from the USDA's ReConnect Program.

Welcome Funding for Fiber 

With $28 million - part loan and part grant - CVEC plans to fund the first three years of their project. The USDA funding will allow CVEC to connect more than 17,000 households, six health care centers, 15 educational facilities, and 15 other community facilities. When the entire five-year plan is complete, approximately 37,000 premises will have access to FTTH. 

In Buckingham County, CVEC officials announced the award to about 200 people, including local resident Virginia Jackson. She and her family rely on their mobile phones' hotspots for Internet access, which is unreliable and can be expensive. She and her husband were interested in the project and how it would improve connectivity for them and left "excited to see what the project brings to our community."

Early in the planning process, CVEC sought funding from local governments where they plan to deploy infrastructure. They did obtain support, but still sought grants and loans elsewhere to help pay for construction of the project, which they estimated to cost between $110 and $120 million. CVEC has received grants from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI), FCC Connect American Fund, Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission (TRRC), and a loan from the Rural Utility Service (RUS) for smart grid upgrades. 

The project will include deploying approximately 4,000 miles of fiber optic infrastructure and will touch 14 counties. The co-op will deploy in a range of competitive environments. In some areas, locals have only dial-up, whereas in other communities CenturyLink and Comcast already serve subscribers. Even in places where residents already have one or two options, the ability to connect with fiber...

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