Tag: "rural"

Posted April 19, 2012 by christopher

Christopher Mitchell spoke with Gavin Dahl about community broadband on KYRS, a community radio station in Spokane, Washington, on April 11. The discussion touched on legislation in Washington that could have encouraged rural broadband deployment by area public utility districts and why the private sector is not getting the job done.

We also discussed the role of federal policy and what some communities have done elsewhere to build next generation networks.

Posted April 18, 2012 by lgonzalez

VisitMendocino.com sums up this northern California community as a peaceful and serene:

"Mendocino County, where rugged coastline, breathtaking beaches, picturesque villages, majestic redwood forests and America's Greenest Wine Region beckon you to escape to a slower pace."

While the people of Mendocino County love life in the slow lane, they would love a fast lane for the Internet. Mendocino County, known for its wineries, its redwoods, and its greenery is now becoming known for its efforts to develop their own community-owned broadband.

The Mendocino County Broadband Alliance (MCBA) was borne out of a need to fill gigantic gaps in broadband coverage created by the private sector. The geological and rural nature of the area presents an insurmountable challenge to the private cable and telco business models in this spacious county of just under 88,000 residents. While there is still archaic dial-up service, spotty and unreliable satellite access, and a few communities with DSL, the MCBA reports that over half of the population has NO access to broadband.

Community leaders in Mendocino County have contemplated the need for access in their area for some time. What really drove home the urgency of the situation was the 2011 death of Esplanade, Mendocino County's small, local, independent ISP. Carol Brodsky, of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, spoke with MCBA for the story:

When Esplanade, a small, privately owned south-coast Internet service provider closed its doors in 2011, around 400 customers were left in digital darkness, according to Greg Jirak, strategic planning chair for the Mendocino County Broadband Alliance. The resultant issues cascaded and greatly affected the lives of individuals, organizations and businesses.

Jirak goes on to describe other ways Mendocino County has suffered due to the loss of a large part of the scanty Internet coverage they had:

“When Esplanade folded, the Coast Community Library was no longer able to provide public Internet access,” Jirak explains.

Seniors were severely impacted because of Esplanade’s shutdown. “The South Coast Senior Center staff helped seniors use their Internet connection to deal with Social Security, Medicaid, insurance issues and medical...

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Posted April 13, 2012 by lgonzalez

Washington's Olympic Peninsula is one step closer to being laced in a new fiber-optic network. The first link in the new Peninsula-wide broadband project is between Blyn and Sequim and will serve the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe from its new Blyn library to a local medical clinic located in Jamestown. Also benefiting from the new expansion will be the Sequim Library.  Thirty people, including state and federal elected officials, a representative from the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe, NoaNet, and local public safety professionals, recently gathered together at the Sequim Library to celebrate the new expansion, as reported by Jeff Chew in the Peninsula Daily News.

Clallum County PUD's network is part of NoaNet, an open access wholesale only network, and now has 24 miles of fiber-optic cables between Port Angeles and Sequim. From Chew's artcle:

“High-speed broadband is the most exciting thing that has happened in law enforcement in my career,” Port Angeles Police Chief Terry Gallagher told about 30 at the Sequim Library.

Gallagher said broadband Internet will allow officers to work faster and more efficiently, enabling them to multitask in their patrol cars, such as checking a motorist's identification while checking on a city webcam and communicating all at once.

The construction of the project is overseen by NoaNet. The network is planned to run from Brinnon to Port Ludlow and  Port Townsend and then across the Olympic Peninsula to Neah Bay to Forks. This portion of the project, from Blyn to Sequim, was chosen first  because it was part of the first round of funding and because it is less complex than other legs of the network.

Thirty-six counties, 170 communities, and over 2,000 anchor institutions (schools, libraries, public safety facilities, etc.) will benefit with better connectivity, funded with approximately $140 million ARRA (...

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Posted April 12, 2012 by lgonzalez

Leverett, Massachusetts, is one step closer to a community owned FTTH network. The town of 2,000 will have weekly public information meetings until the Annual Town Meeting scheduled for April 28, 2012. If the required $3.6 million funding is approved at the meeting, the city will issue a Request For Proposals to build the network.

The 1 gig network is slated to be an aerial build, except where existing utilities are underground, in which instances, fiber cable will also be placed underground. Leverett plans to use a $40,0000 planning grant, obtained from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, to hire G4S Technology to design the last mile fiber-optic network to connect to MBI's stimulus-funded middle mile. The middle mile project is scheduled to be completed in June, 2013, and Leverett plans to be ready to connect soon after. The goal is to have every home connected with fiber by 2014.

Whereas most communities explicitly choose not to use tax revenue to pay for a community network, Leverett's present plan is for a slight increase in local taxes to assist in the financing. The town will borrow the amount necessary to build the network and pay it back over 20 years using a combination of tax revenue and revenues from the new broadband service. Peter d'Errico, Chair of the MBI Grant Broadband Committee observes that homeowners' net spending figures will decline once the system is in place. From the article:

A town survey concluded a municipal network could offer better Internet and phone service at far cheaper rates than private providers, he said.

"It will be a little more on their tax bill and a lot less on their Internet bill, so overall they will be pay less," d'Errico said.

Leverett Map

According to the Broadband Committee, approximately 37% of households in Leverett use slow, sketchy satellite, 23% use dial-up, 20% are on DSL, 14% use wireless, and 6% of households have no internet access. Some households, although theoretically accessible via satellite, never get a connection because of trees and the picturesque,...

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Posted April 11, 2012 by lgonzalez

Good news for folks in Jackson, Wilder, and Bingham Lake in Southwest Minnesota! Your local broadband options are about to get much better. Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS) just announced that construction is advancing on the new network. The 125-mile fiber ring is expected to be completed by September, 2012. If you live in their service area, give them a call.

Here are contact details from the announcement:

Wilder - A sales event has been held. Please call our Lakefield office at 507-662-7000 if you still need to sign up for services.
 
Bingham Lake - A sales event will be held on April 10th from 12 PM to 8 PM at the town hall/community center. If you are unable to attend, please contact our Lakefield office at 507-662-7000.
 
Jackson - Our first three construction phases have been identified. We intend to have phases 1-3 completed by June, 2012. Our web-site, mysmbs.com will be updated as construction dates are set for phases 4-9. The entire City of Jackson will be completed by fall, 2012.  Southwest Minnesota Broadband informational material will be delivered to homes according to construction phasing in the coming months. 

SMBS is a consortium of 8 communities: Bingham Lake, Brewster, Heron Lake, Jackson, Lakefield, Okabena, Round Lake and Wilder.  Stimulus finding of $12.8 million dollars is allowing the communities to offer ftth service in this rural area, building on the network first established in Windom by the local public power utility.

SMBS recognizes the need for a community owned network in a place where the private sector does not want to invest. On their FAQ page:

What is SMBS? Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services is consortium of cities that realize today’s incumbent service providers will not be able to provide the next-generation of broadband services that will keep this area competitive with the global marketplace. SMBS will own and operate the network, employees will be your friends and neighbors and dollars will stay in your communities.

Rates and more user information are also available on their website. Congrats to SMBS and all their prospective subscribers! We look forward to reporting more about how this community's investment i...

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Posted March 21, 2012 by lgonzalez

In past reporting, we have briefly discussed Pend Orielle PUD’s efforts at filling the broadband service gap in rural areas. People living in rural areas, while possibly needing connectivity more than urbanites, are often left to fend for themselves. In this case, the community was largely passed over by the private sector but took up the challenge to do it themselves. In addition to implementing a pilot program in 2011, they attempted to restore their right to make their own decisions about broadband.

In a commentary posted on the Pend Orielle PUD website, Commissioner Dan Peterson describes the agency’s commitment to their first priority, providing reliable electricity, and how expansion of their fiber network will improve the process of delivery. Yes, there are risks of building a community fiber-optic network, notes Peterson, but is has been done, done well, and will enhance the ability to fulfill that first priority. Additionally, the Commissioner notes that broadband access is something the people of Pend Orielle County need to stay competitive and gain any possible edge:

It increases educational opportunities, economic vitality, property values, and jobs. Our rural county will leap forward in this information age with state-of-the-art infrastructure. Without this gift, such progress is otherwise impossible.

The Pend Orielle PUD received stimulus funds, which it used to expand the network, but are considering the fiscal future of the network and current and future customers. Peterson and the PUD sought legislative changes, SB 6675, that would give the PUD the authority to offer retail services on its network, currently a no-no. In his commentary, Peterson attempted to allay the fears of those he correctly anticipated would be opposed to such authority – the potential competition.

Having the authority does not necessarily mean using that authority. We want local providers to be successful. We do not want to put anyone out of business. We will not compete unfairly. But we must ensure that this new PUD system pays its own way and does not raise electric rates...

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Posted March 14, 2012 by lgonzalez

Chelan PUD is asking the people of their rural community whether they “love” or “just like” their beleaguered and pioneering fiber-optic network. At a series of public input meetings to be held across the county over the next month, residents will have the chance to hear opinions from business, economic, and marketing consultants, as well as express their devotion, or lack thereof, to the network. The future of the network is in question and the Chelan PUD needs to hear from its owners.

At the first meeting, on February 28th, most residents of Chelan County said that having a locally owned and controlled network available to them was a priority. Consultants hired by the PUD said the fiber-optic network could be self-sustaining in the long term with changes in business planning. Recommendations included writing off internal debt, more aggressive marketing efforts to existing and ready locations, and collaborating with ISPs to obtain more subscribers in the open access network. Yes, the PUD Fiber-optic network has had its problems, including high installation costs due to the landscape and lack of conduit, changes in PUD leadership, and incompatible existing residential technology. Nevertheless, experts and the local community appear patient and cautiously optimistic. More meetings will follow; the next is scheduled for March 19th.

Providers lease from the PUD (state law prohibits them from competing directly with retail services) and proceeds from wholesale electricity sales have allowed the network to continue expanding. As we have reported in the past, the PUD is an open access network and while it has not been able to pay down its debt, and has had some difficulties, the PUD network has recognized value in the community, as evidenced at this first meeting. It certainly beats not having access to the essential infrastructure necessary to succeed in the modern economy.

John Tomkins, a Plain resident wants fiber, if it comes to his area. “Business is going to go where they can get a high-speed network. Let’s give our county the opportunity to grow.”

Chelan PUD is finding creative ways...

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Posted March 13, 2012 by ejames

The National Rural Assembly, an advocate for America's hinterland, continues to track harmful legislation moving through the Kentucky Legislature. The assembly's Rural Broadband Policy Group in February publicized Senate Bill 135which eliminates the "carrier of last resort" requirement that big telcos provide basic phone basic and 911 service in rural Kentucky (Feb. press release on SB135). The bill's sponsor Senator Paul Hornback attempted to distance the negative publicity of SB 135 by crafting a new Senate Bill 12 with similar language.  SB 12 cleared a Senate panel today to the dismay of opponents.

After June 30, 2013, AT&T and other electing "Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers" (ILECs) would no longer be required to provide basic landline telephone service to all persons in a service area, and rural Kentuckians would no longer be assured of access to reliable basic phone service, including 911-emergency service. This bill would be especially harmful for rural people, because they are more likely to be in areas phone companies would decide not to serve, if given the choice. If the Kentucky bill succeeds, we expect major telephone companies to try similar bills in other states. The Rural Broadband Policy Group thinks that both bills need to be killed. After June 30, 2013, AT&T and other electing "Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers" (ILECs) would no longer be required to provide basic landline telephone service to all persons in a service area, and rural Kentuckians would no longer be assured of access to reliable basic phone service, including 911-emergency service. This bill would be especially harmful for rural people, because they are more likely to be in areas phone companies would decide not to serve, if given the choice. If the Kentucky bill succeeds, we expect major telephone companies to try similar bills in other states.

The Rural Broadband Policy Group thinks that both bills need to be killed. Possible repercussions:

  • Customers left at the mercy of a utility and its affiliated companies to raise the price for basic service in an area where no other competitor exists. 
  • Possible "redlining" of poor and remote communities where providing service is...
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Posted March 6, 2012 by christopher

After AT&T began pushing a bill in Georgia to revoke local authority to decide to build a publicly owned broadband network, the Georgia Municipal Assocation (GMA) and the SouthEast Assocation of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors began reaching out to Georgia's legislators to explain how the private sector has left serious gaps in broadband coverage, which stopped the bill. Below are two flyers they report being particularly helpful.

GMA, SEATOA, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance are among the vast majority that believe communities should decide locally if a community network makes sense to bring next-generation connections to local businesses and residents.

Georgia is a conservative state and AT&T had enlisted the support of the Senate Majority Leader in pushing their anti-competition broadband bill. Unfortunately for AT&T, their CEO was too candid on calls with Wall Street, contradicting AT&T's lobbyist talking points in Georgia.

Georgia Flyer1

Note, that AT&T was originally trying to define broadband at the absurd 200kbps level but a substitute bill would have bumped it up to a still-too-low 768kbps, which is referenced above.

The other flyer that apparently made a difference with legislators is here:

Georgia Flyer2

Rememeber that elected officials often think of broadband in binary terms. You have it or you don't. In their mind, if you have options aside from dial-up, the problem is solved. These are people that often do not know what is needed to attract economic development, work efficiently from home, or successfully compete remote education courses.

Graphics that explain why we need next-generation networks rather than simply...

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Posted February 29, 2012 by christopher

For tourists and residents alike, much of Colorado is one amazing vista after the next. I nearly circumnavigated it on a recent trip and was re-blown away at how incrediblely beautiful it is (recommendation: stop by Great Sand Dunes National Park).

But those incredible mountains are a two-way street. The same ridges that make it great ski country make it awful wireless country. All those mountains make it hard to provide ubiquitous wireless access - leave the interstate or urban areas behind and you are lucky to see the old "1x" show up on your smartphone.

When I go on vacation, I like to remain connected to find weather reports, directions to my next destination, local cafes, etc. And like just about everyone, I really like to be connected where I live. The private telecom sector gets a failing grade for serving both residents and vacationers.

Don't forget that Colorado is one of the nineteen states that have barriers to publicly owned networks despite the refusal of cable and DSL companies to build next-generation networks. We've frequently written about Longmont's efforts to improve its broadband access despite that legislation.

Senate Bill 12-129 aims to identify areas of the state lacking sufficient acess to the Internet and seeking solutions. A local newspaper reported on testimony from local businesses suffering from the lack of investment:

Wendell Pryor, director of the Chaffee County Economic Development Corp., testified to the impacts of limited bandwidth on businesses in that area.

Princeton Hot Springs Resort, an economic driver that generates the second-highest amount of sales tax among businesses in Chaffee County, is unable to process credit cards electronically when bandwidth traffic is high.

"The broadband is simply not sufficient to allow them to do that, so it's done manually," Pryor said.

He said Monarch Ski Resort, which anchors the winter tourist season in Chaffee County, asks the staff to shut off their computers in order to have adequate broadband availability for skiers and...

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