Tag: "rural"

Posted February 18, 2019 by lgonzalez

Missouri’s Bootheel is the ultimate southeast corner of the state, extending south and surrounded on three sides by lands in Arkansas, Tennessee, and a smattering of Kentucky. The area’s known for having fertile soil and vibrant agriculture but now that Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative  is deploying Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), it's also becoming known for high-quality Internet access.

The Region and Lack of Connectivity

Jack Davis has worked in several fields. His tech career started when most people in the area reached the Internet via dial-up connections; at the time he worked as a network administrator for a local dial-up ISP in the 1990s. His second career was in agriculture and now he’s back in the tech field. Davis’s multiple work experiences have given him insight into the increasing broadband needs of rural residents who either farm or work in some other aspect of the agriculture industry.

When Davis went back into tech, he joined Pemiscot-Dunklin because the electric cooperative, which had never had IT staff before, needed to fill a long-existing personnel gap. With approximately 8,800 connected meters, the cooperative is a modest-sized organization. Approximately 20 percent of their load goes toward irrigation, revealing the important role agriculture plays in the region. Internet access in rural areas is limited to fixed wireless. Cooperative members who used to subscribe to the wireless service typically found top speeds were around 3 - 4 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and much slower upload speeds.

Time for an Upgrade

Discussion about the project began in 2014 soon after Davis started at Pemiscot-Dunklin. The way Davis tells it, his boss said “Now that I’ve got you hired, what can we do about Internet service?” The cooperative researched for about two years, examining a variety of options because they anticipated FTTH would be too expensive to deploy. In 2016, they worked with Conexon, the consulting firm that works with electric cooperatives interested in broadband deployment. Conexon's Jonathan Chambers was on Community Broadband Bits, episode 229, to discuss electric cooperatives and rural broadband access...

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Posted February 13, 2019 by lgonzalez

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we believe that competition for goods and services helps communities, consumers, and the economy. This belief carries over into the mobile Internet access market, which is one of the reasons we oppose a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile. We’re not alone and we’ve now joined with other organizations as part of the 4Competition Coalition.

As the prospect of 5G wireless connectivity becomes more probable, these two companies claim that they need to merge in order to remain competitive with the other two mobile Internet access providers. In reality, reducing mobile subscriber options from four to three, creates no benefit for anyone except the companies with less competition.

In a press release announcing ILSR’s decision to join the Coalition, Christopher stated:

“Market competition between Sprint and T-Mobile has made mobile Internet access available to millions of low-income households. We are deeply concerned that this merger will harm those households and leave them without any affordable Internet access.”

Along with ILSR, trade group INCOMPAS joined the 4Competition Coalition. INCOMPAS also strongly advocates ample choice in the broadband arena and recognized Sprint and T-Mobile’s past work to keep competition alive.

So Much to Lose

Losing a mobile Internet access provider as an option is bad, but it isn’t the only consequence that we face if the merger goes through. The Coalition recognizes that results will likely be job losses, higher rates, locking out new entrants to the market, broken promises regarding 5G, and harm especially to people in rural areas. At least 11 states are also not convinced that a Sprint/T-Mobile merger is in the interest of their citizens and are reviewing the proposal.

In order to help spread the word and share information, the 4Competition Coalition is making resources available online. In addition to Petitions to stop the merger that have already been filed, anyone can access and read relevant...

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Posted February 12, 2019 by lgonzalez

Harvard Professor, author, and broadband champion Susan Crawford has been incredibly busy ever since she released her latest book Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution — And Why America Might Miss It. Fortunately for us and our listeners, she hasn’t been too busy to take some time for Community Broadband Bits listeners. She’s here this week to talk about the book, her experiences researching it, and discussing policy recommendations aimed at bringing better connectivity to rural and urban areas.

The conversation between Christopher and Susan is one of our best podcasts. They touch on technology, competition, and how we’ve come to the point when local communities are leading the charge to bring high-quality Internet access to their residents and businesses. Susan shares some of the stories she encountered — both favorable and not so favorable — of places where local leaders are either working to hard to put broadband infrastructure in place or barely moving the dial on getting their communities better connected. 

She’s travelled all across the world to learn about how other countries approach fiber connectivity and how they’re reaping the benefits. Now, she wants to share some of those policies and ideas to help Americans realize that if we don’t adjust our mindset, we could miss out on fiber’s potential.

Order Susan's book online at Indiebound.org. Learn more about the book by reading Christopher's review.

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

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Posted February 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

Big cable and telecom lobbyists managed to locate a legislative vehicle for the components of last December's bill to fund rural broadband, locking out some of the state's most promising opportunities to bring better connectivity to those who need it the most. There’s still time for Michiganders to express displeasure and the result and possibly influence change. You can file a public comment online through February 15th.

The Problems

When we reported on Michigan’s HB 5670 in December, it was set to appear before the House Communications and Technology Committee. Prior to the hearing, however, Chair Michele Hoitenga removed it from the agenda. Regular readers will remember Hoitenga, whose support from cable and telecom companies has inspired her to introduce anti-muni legislation in the past.

The bill, dubbed the “Broadband Investment Act,” established a fund to provide grants for infrastructure deployment, but specifically locked out municipalities and other government entities from eligibility. Consequentially, local ISPs that might want to provide services via publicly owned fiber were also stifled from projects because this provision essentially ended the possibility of public-private partnerships or any competition with large incumbents.

According to the language of HB 5670, “broadband” was defined as 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. While we have seen state broadband legislation from several years ago falling back upon this outdated definition of “broadband,” Michigan condemns rural residents to slow, unreliable, last-century technology. It indicates a thinly veiled attempt to hand over state funds to telecom companies with no interest in providing anything better than what they already offer in rural Michigan — DSL or satellite Internet access.

Language in the bill also goes to extreme lengths to ensure that funds will only go to projects that have not received funding from any other source. What will prevent many projects from ever receiving funds, unless those projects are being developed by big corporate incumbents, is the fact that funds can’t be awarded to projects in places where...

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Posted February 6, 2019 by lgonzalez

The Rio Blanco County Economic Development Department recently published their promotional video to share information about their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The video highlights some of the benefits the infrastructure is now bringing to the communities of Rangely and Meeker by offering interviews with people from different segments of the population. In addition to county administrators, people in the fields of education, real estate, and business leaders discussed how the open access network is positively impacting their fields.

Check out the video, that runs just under five minutes:

Rio Blanco County Broadband Initiative from Align Multimedia on Vimeo.

 

Getting Out the News

The video is an excellent tool to help Rio Blanco County spread the word about their publicly owned infrastructure that will help them stay competitive. One of the recurring themes in the video and from other rural communities throughout Colorado and elsewhere, remains the ability to live and work in an environment unspoiled by urbanization while still having access to connectivity that rivals or surpasses that in urban areas. As Rangely Town Manager Lisa Pierling states:

"You can have the best of both worlds. You can have all of the modernization you need to run your business, but you can still take a step back and just enjoy a little slower paced life than rush to work, rush home."

Learn more about the Rio Blanco County FTTH project by reviewing our coverage.

Posted February 1, 2019 by lgonzalez

Expect to see more Massachusetts communities connected to their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks during 2019. Westfield Gas + Electric (WG+E) has been working with the rural towns on the western side of the state, and an increasing number of the projects are nearing completion. With the arrival of their broadband hut in December, the folks in New Salem embraced their Broadband Committee’s adopted motto, “This Is Really Happening!”

Summer of Speed

Broadband Committee members estimate their publicly owned community network will launch in July as they bring better Internet access to the town of about 1,000 people. After more than three years of seeking a way to high-quality Internet access, delivery of the hut was a physical manifestation of the hard work needed to make this goal happen. Committee member Sue Dunbar told the Greenfield Recorder, “It’s a huge, big brick visual reminder to the town residents, who have been waiting for so long, that this is a reality.”

There's Always Ups and Downs

The project has not been without snags. Underestimates of make ready costs, partly due to long driveways for some potential subscribers, drove up deployment costs, which are still not finalized at around $3 million. A few property owners had opposed new utility poles on or near their property, which hampered a smooth deployment. The fact that the state’s Department of Conservation & Recreation owns swaths of New Salem also interfered with the process by adding an additional level of approval to pole installation.

According to Dunbar, however, New Salem is collaborating with nearby Shutesbury and Wendell, and that collaboration is helping to improve the deployment process. All three communities have contracted with WG+E to build their publicly owned networks. Wendell expects to begin connecting premises in the fall, while Shutesbury is aiming for a May launch. 

Readers may remember that Shutesbury was one of the communities that sent Charter packing when the corporate ISP proposed to serve fewer than all the homes in the community...

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Posted January 30, 2019 by lgonzalez

Gentlefolk of the Jacksonville, North Carolina, region — there has been a change of venue for the Let’s Connect! Speaking Tour and Community Meeting scheduled for tonight 6 p.m.

Fortunately, the gathering has only been moved across the street. This from event organizers:

Due to logistic issues, the Broadband event – Let’s Connect NC meeting -- has been moved to the Jacksonville City Council Chambers in the Jacksonville City Hall at 815 New Bridge Street, right across the street from the JYC Youth Center, where the event was previously scheduled. Parking is available from the Johnson Boulevard side and along the street on New Bridge Street.

Organizers also hope to have signs posted to prevent confusion.

As a reminder, seating for the event is available on a first come, first served basis.

If you’re not able to attend, you can stream the live event at 6 p.m. on G10TV, Jacksonville - Onslow Government Television.

Posted January 30, 2019 by Hannah Bonestroo

In Missouri, rural electric cooperatives are bringing high-quality connectivity to an increasing number of small towns where large corporate Internet access companies don't consider population density high enough to justify investment. A few years ago, we reported that Ralls County Electric Cooperative (RCEC) was connecting New London, their hometown. Now, RCEC is expanding their network into nearby Perry.

It Took A While, But It's Coming

In the small town of Perry (pop. 700) in northeastern Missouri, many businesses currently lack the Internet speeds they need to operate successfully. With the current speeds available, as Senior Vice President of HNB Bank Jeff Albus explained, customers at the bank often have to wait while the employees stare “at a spinning wheel on [their] screen.” In order to secure Internet speeds necessary for a future in the digital age, HNB Bank decided to take initiative and work with the town to approach RCEC about expanding their fiber network into Perry.

Efforts began in 2016. At the time, RCEC was deployng their $19 million project aimed at serving rural areas around the town of Perry but not in the city limits. HNB and community leaders floated a petition and the Mayor had signed a letter of support on behalf of the City Council. With only CenturyLink DSL and satellite coverage to choose from, businesses and residents needed more options.

The community is considered the Southern Gateway to the Mark Twain Lake, where more than 2 million tourists come to enjoy summer recreation. As we've learned from places such as Cook County, Minnesota, and Colorado ski communities, such as Estes Park, high-quality Internet access is an expectation that an increasing number of tourists expect no matter where they go to relax.

From Electricity to Fiber...

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Posted January 28, 2019 by lgonzalez

People in the North Carolina towns of Albemarle, Fuquay-Varina, and Jacksonville, are gathering together this week to discuss rural broadband. Our own Christopher Mitchell and Katie Kienbaum are meeting with residents along with representatives from the North Carolina League of Municipalities and NC Hearts Gigabit in the three towns across the state. Recently, in WRAL TechWire, reporter Chantal Allam shared an interview with Will Aycock, who heads up Wilson’s publicly owned broadband network.

logo-greenlight-nc-2014.png Aycock described how Wilson’s Greenight Community Broadband had been developed to support the economic vitality of the community, while also providing other benefits. He also stressed that Wilson’s decision was significant for them and that each community needs to decide what’s best for their own needs.

In Wilson, he adds, the network has helped to spur a long list of economic development investments, including downtown revitalization and investment in the community’s corporate park. New jobs continue to spring up, while other nearby rural areas contend with losses. The local college has taken advantage of new technological training and programs that require gigabit connectivity. Additionally, the city’s other utility systems benefit from the advanced connectivity. “None of these accomplishments are because of Greenlight specifically, but rather Greenlight is part of a team both within the City and across the broader community that all work together to build our future,” says Aycock.

He and Allam also talk about plans that Wilson and Greenlight have to use the broadband network and fiber infrastructure to continue to advance. Smart city applications, innovative options for entrepreneurs, and more collaboration are all in the future for Wilson. Aycock described Wilson's future vision:

We see Wilson being a focal point for micropolitan smart city efforts that is not secondary to Raleigh-Durham, but rather a part of the North Carolina technology and innovation ecosystem. To make progress, we must think of each region of our...

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Posted January 25, 2019 by Jess Del Fiacco

An op-ed written by Katie Kienbaum, Research Associate at ILSR, was published by the Jacksonville Daily News. It discusses the need for better broadband access in North Carolina, and the upcoming series of community meetings on the subject organized by NC Broadband Matters, the NC League of Municipalities, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Find the full piece below: 

 

When you think about the Internet, what comes to mind might have a lot to do with where you live.

For North Carolinians with good connectivity, the Internet signifies endless opportunity and access to information. But if you live in an area with limited broadband availability or high subscription costs, you may feel more frustrated than excited.

Broadband in North Carolina is a patchwork quilt of quality and availability. In the big metro regions, some neighborhoods are getting high-speed fiber networks from major companies like AT&T and Google. Other communities have partnered with new providers, such as Ting and Open Broadband, to improve local Internet access. And in Wilson, the city built its own fiber optic network, delivering the fastest speeds in the state, attracting new business, and offering affordable access to public housing units.

Even some rural communities have access to the highest-quality connectivity. Cooperatives like Wilkes Communications and RiverStreet Networks are building first-rate broadband networks that will help improve the quality of life for their rural members. In each case, community members worked together to encourage investment in better options.

But many communities are stuck waiting for new investment. Wired broadband is unavailable to at least 500,000 North Carolinians, according to BroadbandNow’s analysis of federal data, while nearly one million others only have access to broadband through a single monopoly provider. Families in these under-connected and often rural communities struggle with everyday tasks, such as completing homework assignments, filling out job applications, and accessing online healthcare.

State policy needs to recognize these shortcomings and better enable investment in local networks. Still, there are ways for communities to take action. With the combined efforts of elected officials, local leaders, rural cooperatives, Internet service providers, and engaged...

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