Tag: "rural"

Posted June 12, 2018 by htrostle

Rural broadband policy can be hard to explain. That’s why we made this fact sheet. It explains how rural America can have high-speed Internet service without breaking the bank. Give this to your neighbors, to your co-op board members, city council members, county officials, or state legislators.

Download the fact sheet.

Quick Answers to Common Questions

This fact sheet is full of information that answers common questions, such as: What is broadband? What is Fiber-to-the-Home? Who doesn’t have access? How much money does the government spend to improve Internet infrastructure? What can we do today?

The fact sheet also explains the role of cooperatives and municipal networks in bringing high-speed Internet service to rural communities. About 60 electric cooperatives and more than 200 telephone cooperatives have fiber projects. Many small towns have also built their own networks. Explore more on our Community Network Map.

Take Action

Host a screening of the “Do Not Pass Go” video to educate your friends and neighbors on these issues. We’ve made a guide on how to host a screening and generate conversation in your community.

Create a local group to discuss Internet access: Why does your town need high-speed Internet service? What resources do you have? How much funding do you need? Sometimes the data doesn’t match reality. It’s up to your community to find a way to get the connectivity you need.

More Resources

If you liked this fact sheet, check out our other fact sheets here. Learn about municipal networks, net neutrality, and more. We also write daily stories and highlight in-depth reports. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up-to-date on...

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Posted June 7, 2018 by htrostle

Thanks to the Blandin on Broadband Blog for bringing this report to our attention.

The University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives published a report, “Cooperatives and Rural Broadband: A Selective Survey,” in January 2017 on the role of cooperatives in providing broadband service. A Rural Cooperative Development Grant from the USDA (awarded in 2015) funded the project. The report offers step-by-step advice on broadband projects and dives into the details of Wisconsin’s cooperatives.

Key Takeaways

Researchers explore a select number of telephone and electric cooperatives across the country in order to determine the key factors that drive these rural institutions to provide broadband. They then bring this framework to look directly at Wisconsin’s 11 telecommunications and 24 electric cooperatives. 

Instead of focusing on residential service, the Center for Cooperatives narrows in on business parks and the economic development potential of broadband. Their research shows that telecom cooperatives are bringing gigabit connectivity to businesses in the least-densely populated areas. 

Electric cooperatives are also considering how to meet the demand for high-quality connectivity. The report offers an overview of the many ways electric cooperatives have become involved, from supporting local coalitions to offering Internet service themselves. 

For More Info

Read through to the end: the Institute for Local Self-Reliance even gets a shout-out as a resource. Also check out our rural cooperatives page for our latest research. The whole report is available on the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives website.

Posted June 7, 2018 by lgonzalez

National ISPs with millions of customers are some of the most hated companies in the U.S. Poor customer service, contract tricks, and a refusal to upgrade services are only a few of the common complaints from subscribers who are often trapped due to lack of competition. Frontier Communications is proudly carrying on that tradition of deficiency in Minnesota. In fact, the company’s excellence at skullduggery has drawn the attention of the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which launched an investigation into the service quality of Frontier this spring.

So Much Going On Here

While many of us are used to some level of poor service when it comes to the big ISPs, Frontier in Minnesota accumulated so many complaints, the PUC felt they had no choice but to take action. According to Phil Dampier from Stop the Cap!, the Commission received 439 complaints and negative comments in a five-week period in early 2018. Some but not all, of the types of issues that subscribers described included:

  • Lack of telephone service for up to a week at a time.
  • Poor quality telephone service, including missed calls and noise on phone lines.
  • Subscribers charged for services they’re not receiving.
  • Service visits that accomplish nothing but for which customers are still charged.
  • Missed service appointments and long delays in getting repairs scheduled.
  • Mistaken disconnections, service additions customers did not ask for, and service errors.
  • Contract issues that include penalties for early termination, even if the subscriber told Frontier they did not want a long term contract.
  • Auto-renew contracts that customers were never told about.
  • Threats to customers’ credit if they don’t pay bills, even when there is a dispute regarding the charges.
  • Customer service promises of discounts not being applied, penalties on disputed bill totals, and checks sent to Frontier but not credited to subscribers’ accounts.

The PUC wanted to hold public hearings to seek out other information from subscribers and those who had previous dealings with Frontier. In order to limit the public spectacle, Frontier and CenturyLink filed comments arguing that the PUC had no authority to review Frontier’...

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Posted May 25, 2018 by lgonzalez

Over the past year, towns in rural areas of Maine have mobilized and are taking steps to improve local connectivity. The latest is the community of Penobscot, where the local Broadband Committee recently released a Request for Information (RFI) to seek out firms interested in helping them bring broadband to the coastal community. Responses are due by July 11, 2018.

Read the RFI.

Design and (Perhaps) Implementation

Primarily, the Committee seeks to find a firm interested in providing engineering design. Penobscot clearly states that their goal is to bring symmetrical service to every premise, that speeds are consistent and reliable, and that they expect to see proposals suggesting speeds higher than the FCC’s 25/3 broadband standard.

Like many of the smaller towns in rural Maine and elsewhere, Penobscot isn’t jumping at the chance to operate their own fiber optic network. They're hoping that respondents will be ISPs interested in also operating the network and offering services via the infrastructure.

Goals for Penobscot

According to the RFI, many of the 1,200 year-round residents support themselves with home-based businesses, one of the many sectors that require faster upload speeds for day-to-day operations. In addition to craft and artisans, seasonal businesses cater to tourists that visit each year. People in Penobscot feel that it’s time to take steps to attract younger families to keep the community alive and thriving and Penobscot understands that broadband is a priority for their target demographic. They also want to convince seasonal visitors to stay longer or relocate and free public Wi-Fi is a priority.

logo-penobscot-me.png Other Maine towns, such as Rockport and Sandford, are investing in broadband; communities that continue to rely on slow DSL and cable networks will have a harder time competing for...

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Posted May 18, 2018 by lgonzalez

If you have fast, affordable, reliable Internet access, there’s a good chance you don’t live in rural America. With the exception of areas served by local municipal networks, cooperatives, and a few small independent ISPs, businesses and residents in rural areas suffer along with aging, slow, and often expensive connections. In a docu-series by Maria L. Smith, titled “Dividing Lines,” viewers get the opportunity to hear firsthand what it’s like for people who live in places where there is no high-quality connectivity. 

The docu-series uses the situation in Tennessee to focus on how big corporate ISPs like AT&T, Comcast, and Charter, heavily influenced the state legislature to revoke local telecom authority. The state is still subsidizing the big incumbents, but their not keeping their promises for better connectivity in rural Tennessee.

Smith describes her project and its purpose:

The online world is no longer a distinct world. It is an extension of our social, economic, and political lives. Internet access, however, is still a luxury good. Millions of Americans have been priced out of, or entirely excluded from, the reach of modern internet networks. Maria Smith, an affiliate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and Harvard Law School, created Dividing Lines to highlight these stark divides, uncover the complex web of political and economic forces behind them, and challenge audiences to imagine a future in which quality internet access is as ubiquitous as electricity.

This four-part series is being deployed by organizations and community leaders across the country, from San Francisco to Nashville to Washington, DC, in an effort to educate stakeholders and catalyze policymaking that elevates the interests of the people over the interests of a handful of corporations. 

Watch the trailer:

If you are interested in hosting a screening of the capstone video, email Smith@DividingLines.org

Visit the website for a second trailer and to learn more.

Posted May 9, 2018 by lgonzalez

Approximately 20 U.S. states have some form of legal restriction that creates barriers when local communities want to develop publicly owned Internet infrastructure. In North Carolina, where the state experiences a severe rural/urban digital divide, people are fed up with poor service from influential telephone and cable companies. Folks like Ned Barnett, Opinion Editor from the News & Observer, are calling on elected officials to remove the state’s restriction so local governments can do all they can for better connectivity.

Things Must Change

Barnett’s recent editorial begins out of frustration as he describes how unreliable Internet access forced him to take pen to paper. His own connection prevented him from tending to emails, doing online research, and his phone service also suffered due to momentary loss of connectivity at his office. He goes on to consider how the annoying but temporary inconvenience to him is a way of life for many in rural areas of his state.

While North Carolina has many of the same challenges as other states in getting rural folks online — lack of interest from national ISPs, challenging geography that complicates deployment — Barnett correctly zeroes in on the state’s restrictive HB 129. The law prevents communities with existing broadband infrastructure from expanding to neighboring communities and puts requirements in place that are so onerous, they make it all but impossible for communities considering similar investments to move forward.

Barnett rightly points out that the true purpose of the law was to protect national ISPs from competition, securing their position as monopolies and duopolies. He describes the problems with the state's approach and what North Carolinians have faced in the aftermath:

For one, Internet access isn't a consumer product. It's as basic as access to a phone, electricity or indoor plumbing. Secondly, there isn't any real competition involved. Rural areas often are limited to one provider offering slow access.

The Problem is Real

People familiar with the situation in North Carolina typically know the story of Wilson and Pinetops. When the FCC preempted HB 129 in 2015, Wilson expanded its municipal fiber optic...

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Posted May 7, 2018 by htrostle

The Rocky Mountains are beautiful, but they make Internet access difficult -- that’s the long and short of our research on Colorado. While community networks are making some headway in providing much needed connectivity, much of the state still may only have access to fixed wireless or Satellite service.

Internet Service by Technology

We investigated Internet access in Colorado using the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) Form 477 data. Many of the most rural areas of the state do not have any form of Internet access other than satellite or fixed wireless services. For our analysis, we exclusively looked into wireline Internet service because it is less weather-dependent than satellite or fixed wireless. We added county subdivisions onto our map to help readers differentiate between more urban and predominantly rural areas.

Colorado internet service

Broadband Service

That map, however, shows only Internet service availability across the state; it does not show broadband service. The FCC redefined broadband as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload in 2015. Earlier definitions of broadband included speeds as low as 4 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload.

DSL service, while widely available, often cannot support this latest definition of broadband. It relies on copper telephone lines, and the actual speeds customers experience are often not as fast as advertised, "up to" speeds. Cable can provide broadband speed, but its actual speed can vary in times of peak traffic, such as the early evening. Fiber is the most reliable form of Internet service. In some communities, fiber networks are providing speeds of 10 Gbps (400 times the speed of broadband).

Colorado broadband service

Community Networks

Colorado is one of the many states that erect barriers to community networks. The state law, colloquially known as SB 152, requires public entities to hold a referendum on whether they can even study the possibility of building a community network. About 100 public entities in Colorado...

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Posted May 3, 2018 by lgonzalez

Looking at the Community Network Map, anyone can see that Iowa is filled with towns that have chosen to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure. On May 1st, the community of Pella took a step at the polls that will bring them a little closer to having a "pin" on our map. Ninety-two percent of those voting in the special election chose to authorize the City Council to establish a telecommunications utility.

Approval to Move Ahead

The election results don't establish a timeline for construction or operation of a fiber network or authorize any funding, simply allow city leaders to take the initial steps at forming the utility in the future. The city already operates its own municipal electric utility, so they have the same advantage of many other rural Iowa communities that go on to deploy fiber networks. At a March 12 City Council meeting, elected official unanimously approved the resolution to hold the election. From the minutes of the meeting:

The need for a municipal telecommunications utility is being driven by concerns expressed by citizens and businesses regarding access to highspeed Internet. Furthermore, a municipal telecommunications utility could help meet the long-term high-speed internet access needs of our citizens and businesses.

It is also important to note that many rural communities across Iowa have either formed municipal telecommunications utilities, or are in the process of forming the utility. The reasons these communities have authorized the formation of a municipal telecommunications utility are similar to the reasons the City of Pella is considering this issue. 

The Pella Area Community and Economic Alliance (PACE), a nonprofit of business and citizen leaders, has endorsed the initiative to establish a municipal telecommunications utility. They note that larger businesses in town that require fiber for daily operations have been able to obtain lines from incumbents, but other businesses must suffer with slow connectivity. Incumbents Windstream and Mediacom offer DSL and some cable in the community....

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Posted May 2, 2018 by htrostle

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we analyze data and explore public policies to empower local communities. Our initiative staff work on varied issues from composting to broadband, but all these issues affect our daily lives and our communities. In the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, we often analyze high-speed Internet service availability using the best data that is publicly available. Some of this data, however, is inaccurate, outdated, and misconstrued.

FCC Form 477 Fails in at Least Four Ways

The most common source of this data is the Form 477. It is designed to be standard, uniform, and provide the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with detailed information to make sound decisions. The FCC distributes form 477 to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in order to collect data on their service availability. This form is only accessible online through a government web portal, and it has an accompanying 39-page instruction document. Some of the information is confidential and stripped away before the FCC releases the data to the general public.

The FCC Form 477 may not accurately reflect broadband availability in four main ways: 

1). ISPs may fill out the form improperly. Some ISPs may misplace key information into the form, creating havoc for those analyzing the data. They may input numbers in Kbps instead of Mbps, causing further confusion. For example, a fixed wireless ISP outside of Rochester, Minnesota, offers a maximum speed of 10 Mbps on their website, but the FCC Form 477 states that this ISP advertises a speed of 244 Mbps. Perhaps the ISP meant customers can usually expect a maximum speed of 244 Kbps? Even then, that doesn’t make sense. 

2). The data is out of date. ISPs submit the form twice a year, but the FCC takes time to process this data. By the time we produce maps and research, the underlying data may already be too old to be useful. Mergers may not yet be adequately reflected. For example, at this writing in May 2018 the most recent data currently available is from December 2016. That means the data, the maps, and the research are about a year and a half out of date.

3). The data only includes information maximum advertised download and upload speeds. What the average customer experiences is likely different. They may have bought a lower tier package (see also,...

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Posted May 1, 2018 by lgonzalez

There are often common characteristics among communities that have invested in fiber optic infrastructure. While many of them can't get the connectivity they need from the incumbents or lack reliable Internet access, many begin their ventures into better broadband by connecting utility facilities. A new nonprofit, the Post Road Foundation, sees a valuable link between intelligent infrastructure, high-quality connectivity, and sustainability. By bringing together members of the public and private sectors, the Post Road Foundation is implementing an innovative approach to funding. With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, they've selected five partners to begin implementing their new approach to funding, connectivity, and sustainability.

Bringing It All Together

Co-founders of the Post Road Foundation, Waide Warner and Seth Hoedl, have decades of experience between them in law, policy, and leadership. Their areas of expertise span cyberlaw, government and finance, environmental law and policy, electricity, telecommunications and energy law and policy, nuclear physics, and the list goes on. Through their years of research and in consulting with both public and private entities, Warner and Hoedl both saw that many rural communities needed better connectivity for economic development, better quality of life, and to keep populations strong. They've also found that if local communities or cooperatives are able to use fiber optics to synergize multiple utilities, the community is resilient and more self-reliant.

bluefiber_reverse.jpg Smart grid applications along with water and wastewater utility controls are already known to reduce waste and cut costs in places such as Chattanooga. Smart grids can quickly determine where any damage to a network occurs, allows energy to be diverted to prevent loss of service for customers, and if necessary alerts the control center where an outage has occurred. The system prevents or greatly reduce outages, reduces the number and time that trucks and technicians need to be dispatched, and prevents loss of...

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