Tag: "rural"

Posted November 29, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

The Grant County Digital Network Coalition is moving forward with plans to expand connectivity and close the digital divide in Grant County, Oregon.

We first reported on the creation of the coalition, which includes Grant County and the cities of John Day and Seneca, last year. Since then, the group has held three Board of Directors meetings and is making progress toward deploying a fiber optic network in Grant County. The coalition plans to build the network in phases, and once completed, it will connect public facilities, homes, and businesses along the fiber route. To offer Internet access to subscribers, the Grant County Digital Network Coalition will partner with local company Oregon Telephone Corporation (Ortelco).

Working Together to Solve Connectivity Woes

The local governments, led by John Day, established the Grant County Digital Network Coalition to improve the region's inadequate Internet access. Out of all Oregon counties, Grant County ranks second highest on the Digital Divide Index, a measurement of broadband access disparities, according to a presentation prepared by John Day City Manager Nick Green. In 2017, Green told the Blue Mountain Eagle that average Internet download speeds in Grant County are around 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) and that some people don’t have any access at all to the Internet.

Though the county desperately needs better connectivity, the region’s rugged hills make deploying a broadband network to the small communities difficult. Grant County is also home to Malheur National Forest and other federally owned land, further complicating network construction.

The coalition hopes that closing the digital divide in the county will promote local economic...

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Posted November 9, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

For many rural Americans, the local electric or telephone cooperative is their best hope for finally obtaining modern-day connectivity. With the support of government funding, rural cooperatives have brought electricity, telephone service, and more recently broadband access to some of the most rugged and sparsely populated places in the country.

However, recent tax code changes might prevent co-ops from connecting more rural communities. Cooperatives could potentially lose their tax exempt status if they accept government grants for broadband expansion and disaster recovery — an unintended yet foreseeable consequence of the Republican “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” passed late last year. In a press release, Senator Tina Smith called attention to the oversight, noting, “This uncertainty has caused cooperatives significant concern and frozen some of their grant applications.”

Who’s Ready for Some Tax Policy?

As nonprofit membership corporations, rural electric and telephone cooperatives are exempted from paying taxes under section 501(c)(12) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). To maintain this tax exempt status, cooperatives must derive at least 85 percent of their income from members (e.g., from selling electricity). This is sometimes referred to as the the member income test or the income source test.

Not all sources of non-member income are included when calculating this percentage. Revenue from utility pole rentals, for instance, is exempted. In the past, rural cooperatives also excluded federal and state grants from the member income test, based on assorted rulings from the Internal Revenue Service (one example is Rev. Rul. 93-16, 1993–1 C.B. 26, which held that a federal grant given to an airport should not be considered income for tax purposes). As long as co-ops treated the government funding as a source of capital, not income, they could accept as much grant money as they wanted without the...

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Posted October 23, 2018 by lgonzalez

As Election Day draws near, voters in 36 states and three territories are set to choose governors. In Maine, gubernatorial candidates are making rural broadband a key issue. All four candidates agree that the state needs to be involved in some way, and each recently gave the Press Herald a summary of their plan to expand high-quality connectivity to constituents, if elected.

Different Approaches

Both Independent candidates, Terry Hayes and Alan Caron have suggested state investment. Hayes would like to earmark $100 million annually for four years to deploy fiber networks and capitalize on public-private partnerships. Caron suggests a statewide network, funded by $100 million in bonding his first term and a second term if he were re-elected, to connect every city and town.

The Republican candidate stresses public-private partnerships with an emphasis on encouraging private companies to invest in rural areas. The candidate, Shawn Moody, believes that using federal and state funds as the carrot for private sector Internet access companies will be enough to bring rural connectivity up to speed.

Janet Mills, running as the Democratic candidate, has a plan that seems consistent with some of the current activity in Maine. She wants to create Broadband Expansion Districts, that will allow rural communities to band together to expand and administer their own broadband connectivity. She goes on to state that those districts would be eligible for grants. Mills also sees a particular need to address coastal areas where national providers see not profit in upgrading services. She wants to look into establishing “broadband regional hubs.”

Mills’s approach appears a little more consistent with the regional efforts in Baileyville and Calais, the Downeast Broadband Utility. The two rural communities joined forces to create their own dark fiber utility when incumbents wouldn’t bring the services they needed. Recently Cumberland County released an RFP for a similar regional approach...

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Posted October 19, 2018 by lgonzalez

Once again, restrictive state laws designed to help big ISPs maintain their monopolies have helped push a publicly owned network to privatization. Opelika, Alabama, recently announced that they will sell their OPS One fiber optic network to Point Broadband, headquartered in West Point, Georgia. They expect the deal to be finalized in early November.

The Road to Now

The city of Opelika installed the network to overcome poor services from Charter and to improve municipal electric services with smart grid applications. In 2010, Charter’s astroturf campaign to stop the network failed when local voters supported the ballot initiative to build the broadband infrastructure to allow the city to provide services. By 2014, Opelika Power Services (OPS) was making Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) available for residents and businesses; folks in the community were loving the service from Alabama’s “Gig City.”

Nearby communities still stuck with poor Internet access wanted OPS to serve them also and OPS wanted to add more subscribers, but state law prevents Opelika from expanding beyond their current coverage area. As in the case of Bristol, Virginia, when a state prevents a municipal network from growing and increasing revenue, the state makes it difficult for the network to remain sustainable.

Mayor Gary Fuller recently told WLTZ:

“We attempted on three occasions to get the legislature to [allow us to] expand beyond our city limits, into North Auburn and rural Lee County, Beauregard, and we could never do that because we couldn’t get the law changed.”

seal-alabama.png Each attempt to convince lawmakers that Opelika’s neighbors deserve more options than what the incumbents offer have evoked attacks from misinformation groups,...

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Posted October 18, 2018 by lgonzalez

The people of Egremont have had it with Charter Spectrum and their shenanigans. After the latest issue pushed them too far, the town’s Select Board voted to give the company the boot.

How Much?

Charter Spectrum had proposed connecting 96 percent of Egremont’s households for approximately $1.185 million, the lion’s share to be funded by a Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) last mile grant. The company, however, had not calculated make-ready costs correctly until after making their proposal. After examining the situation in Egremont, Charter Spectrum has almost doubled the estimate for the project to $2.285 million.

The difference Charter Spectrum says, is due to the need to replace 150 poles, which they say are not tall enough to accommodate their infrastructure. Charter Spectrum puts the blame on local company Fiber Connect, which has been deploying fiber in Egremont and other Berkshire towns. The national company says that Fiber Connect’s fiber optic cable has filled any room on the poles for Charter Spectrum cables.

MBI isn’t willing to fill the $1.1 million gap created by Charter Spectrum and neither is the company. Peter Larkin from MBI attended the October 15th meeting and presented an MBI proposal, in which the town would pay for half of the gap and MBI would cover the remaining $600,000. Locals at the meeting were less than thrilled.

Unexplained Deal

With a population of only around 1,200 people, the news from MBI topped off an already long and frustrating process to bring high-quality Internet access to the rural town. Egremont had planned to joined Wired West, the broadband cooperative of western Massachusetts towns, but later opted to work with the national cable provider. Ever since the decision, they’ve experienced delays in negotiations, often because Charter Spectrum has remained elusive about where exactly they plan to deploy and which premises would be left out.

Fiber Connect had also proposed building out in Egremont, and a significant portion of the community has expressed support for the local company. MBI, however, has denied grant funds to Fiber Connect, citing it’s five-year record as...

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Posted October 17, 2018 by lgonzalez

Located only 30 miles east of Houston, it’s hard to believe that Mont Belvieu, Texas, ever had poor Internet access. Faced with complaints from residents and businesses, city officials decided to deploy fiber and bring fast, affordable, reliable gigabit connectivity directly to the community via MB Link.

How to Fix the Problem

While it’s not far from the center of a large metro area, Mont Belvieu still maintains a rural character. The town’s history is based in the oil and natural gas industry, which began in the early 1900s. As City Manager Nathan Watkins told Christopher Mitchell in episode 326 of our podcast, approximately 85 percent of natural gas liquids in the U.S. travel to Mont Belvieu for processing. With more than 10,000 miles of pipeline within their salt domes, the town of 8,000 has become a centerpiece of oil and natural gas processing.

Before MB Link, the community dealt with a patchwork of services offered by several different providers. Even though more than one provider operated in town, they didn’t compete with each other. Without competition, ISPs had no impetus to improve services. Residents complained about DSL download speeds of 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps) and cable Internet access download speeds topping out at 5 Mbps. There were even premises that could not obtain Internet access because ISPs reported saturated networks and were not willing to make investments to serve more subscribers.

In 2016, a feasibility study in Mont Belvieu revealed that 60 percent of residents and 79 percent of businesses felt that local Internet access wasn’t adequate for their needs. In the same survey, 90 percent of residents and 100 percent of business respondents opined that high-speed Internet access is an essential service in the same manner as electricity and water.

logo-mont-belvieu.png In addition to the problems that Mont Belvieu was already having with poor Internet access, the community was growing — something city leaders wanted to encourage. New subdivisions were planned but incumbent ISPs didn’t want to deploy infrastructure to the new areas, leaving...

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Posted October 16, 2018 by lgonzalez

It’s been a while since we last visited with Reedsburg Utilities Commission General Manager Brett Schuppner. He’s back on the show again to help us spread the word about this Wisconsin town’s decision to switch all their muni network subscribers to affordable gigabit connectivity and to eliminate all other tiers.

Brett and Christopher get into why the RUC decided that going all-gig would benefit the community’s residents and businesses and how they decided that their role was to provide the service and let the community run with it. RUC has been offering high-quality connectivity for about 15 years, making it one of the oldest publicly owned networks in the U.S.

When Brett was on the show in 2015, he and Christopher talked about the RUC’s plans to expand. "Deja vu" as the same topic comes up again on this week’s episode. The RUC has been awarded funding to help pay for expansion to two nearby communities that need Internet access for the 21st century. Brett shares information about those communities and the logistics behind the projects.

Located about an hour from Madison, RUC’s affordable LightSpeed provides the connections that area Wisconsinites need to telecommute. Brett and Christopher also touch on Reedsburg’s recent designation as a certified Telecommute Forward! community. The certification lets companies know that the city and areas served by LightSpeed have the capacity to support remote employees.

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

This show is 23 minutes long and can be played on this...

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Posted October 11, 2018 by lgonzalez

City Officials in Fort Scott, Kansas, located about 95 miles south of Kansas City, say that they haven’t been able to entice national providers to bring high-quality Internet access to their town of about 8,000 people. That may be a good thing — Craw-Kan Telephone Cooperative is building out fiber in Fort Scott as early as 2019.

Working With the City

Planning for the network has involved collaboration between Fort Scott and the cooperative. Before bringing connectivity to residents, the cooperative has been deploying to a local industrial part, the airport, and the golf course. 

The plan has included an Exchange Agreement between the city and Craw-Kan which allows the co-op to use vacant conduit to connect Fort Scott’s Water Treatment Plant to the golf course and the airport. Fort Scott will also provide an easement for a fiber node at the golf course. Craw-Kan will provide six fibers for the city to use along this part of the route, and will also install vacant conduit for the city during construction at another location. The additional conduit will be earmarked exclusively for the city’s use.

City officials and representatives from Craw-Kan have been working on the deal and the project since the fall of 2017. At a recent City Commission meeting, City Manager Dave Martin said that Fort Scott was excited that the cooperative was bringing gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to town, noting that they’d tried to attract ISPs that would offer better services. Suddenlink offers services in parts of town and AT&T’s DSL is also available. 

Craw-Kan will provide $70 per month symmetrical gigabit connections  with no data caps in addition to 10/10 and 50/50 for $50 per month and $60 per month respectively. Installation is free and a Wi-Fi router is included in the monthly rate.

Working With Other Communities

logo-craw-kan-coop.png

The Fort Scott project is the latest in the Craw-Kan portfolio as they work with local communities in the region. Further south in Pittsburg, Craw-Kan has been building their...

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Posted October 9, 2018 by lgonzalez

We don’t often get the opportunity to interview people from Texas, so when we heard about Mont Belvieu’s gigabit fiber optic network we knew we had to have them on the show. When we learned that four officials from the east Texas town would join us we said, “Even better!” City Manager Nathan Watkins, Director of Broadband and IT Dwight Thomas, Assistant City Manager Scott Swigert, and Communications and Marketing Director Brian Ligon are on the show this week to talk about their publicly owned network, MB Link.

Before they were able to provide the fast, affordable, reliable service to residents all over town, Mont Belvieu had to assert themselves in a legal proceeding against the State of Texas. In this conversation, the guys discuss their elegant argument that won over the court. You’ll also hear why community leaders decided that, even though Mont Belvieu had a thriving oil and gas industry, they felt that investing in high-quality Internet access for residents was a goal they aimed to achieve for the public good. The residents in Mont Belvieu drove this project.

People in Mont Belvieu have clambered to sign up for the network. Our guests discuss how they’ve used their town’s strengths to market the services they offer and how they continue to use communications to help subscribers get the most from MB Link. The guys also talk about how the city plans to add businesses to the network and the reactions from incumbents.

Read more about the network and the court action in our coverage about Mont Belvieu.

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

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Posted October 9, 2018 by lgonzalez

In September, Reedsburg Utility Commission (RUC) in Wisconsin announced that they’re simplifying life for subscribers. They’ve eliminated service tiers and now everyone who signs up for the service receives affordable, symmetrical gigabit Internet access from their recently rebranded LightSpeed service.

Rebranding, Redefining Fast and Affordable

Back in May, RUC decided that they would renew their efforts at marketing by launching the new LightSpeed brand. At that time, they were already signing up new customers for the great gigabit deal, which translated into prices as low as $44.95 per month for 1,000 Megabits per second (Mbps or one gigabit) when purchased as part of a bundle. RUC also offers voice and video.

RUC has been offering Internet access to Reedsburg’s approximately 10,000 people since 2002. In 2014, they were the first in Wisconsin to offer gigabit connectivity. Over the past 16 years, they've expanded into different areas around the city in order to share the benefits of the network.

Growing That Gig

With the new gigabit offering to all, Reedsburg will venture out to two new areas. They received two grants from the state to expand to the Village of Spring Green and the Town of Delton.

logo-Lightspeed-Reedsburg-small.jpg In Spring Green, located about 30 miles due south of Reedsburg, town officials have been working with the RUC to obtain the funding to bring high-quality Internet access to town. The grant will help fund the first phase of the project, which will bring better connectivity to several community anchor institutions, the school district, and multiple government facilities. In bringing LightSpeed to Spring Green, approximately more than 260 residential and 35 commercial premises will also have access to fiber.

Lake Delton, which is south of the Village of Delton,...

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