Tag: "rural"

Posted September 20, 2011 by christopher

Too many policy and decision makers have little idea what life is like in flyover country, let alone on the farm. Many have been convinced that people living in rural areas either have no interest in or use for fast, reliable, and affordable connections to the Internet. This idea is actively pushed by powerful companies that don't want to invest in anything better than last-generation DSL or wireless in areas that won't be sufficiently profitable.

So it is worth pointing out the many ways in which farmers are already connecting to the Internet and incorporating modern communications technology into their lives. Robert Bell's "What Do Rural People Need Broadband For Anyway?" column offers some insight.

Errotabere farms 3,500 acres (14 sq km) in the state of California. He and his staff use the Web to communicate with and deliver documents to government officials, manufacturers, packers and retailers. His staff catches up with pest control advisors via email, and Errotabere checks prices and trades agricultural commodity futures for his crops online.

Another California farmer, Alec Smith, says that one of the most important advances available online is in pest control. When plants show signs of disease, Smith's staff snaps photos and emails them to plant disease specialists at universities, who email back advice on combating the disease.

Mike Smith, who runs a small, 40-acre (162 sq m) farm in the same area, sells his crops directly to customers online. He posts photos of his farm on Facebook, updates the farm Web site weekly with available crops and runs a blog. Customers email their orders. "The Internet means survival to a lot of small farmers," he told the AP. "If you don't have a Web site, nobody's going to know about you."

He has other examples, including the very real problem that life in remote areas can be lonely. We are social animals -- being connected to the Internet allows people who are alone to still connect with others in very important ways.

Posted September 15, 2011 by christopher

When last we looked in on the Lake County FTTH project connecting rural areas north of Lake Superior, the County had just ditched its original management team and Mediacom started trying to derail the project.

The County went on to hire "Lake Communications," a two man firm created for this project, while Mediacom presumably returned to quietly scheming against the introduction of any competition on their turf. Lake Communications has received authority by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to provide broadband in their target territory.

Kevin O’Grady, a staffer for the Public Utilities Commission, called Thursday’s 5-0 vote “uneventful.” He said that aside from a protest from the Minnesota Cable Communications Association that was withdrawn just before the vote, the application was “nothing out of the ordinary.”

The cable association, which faces competition from the fiber project, had complained that the county, without a public vote, couldn’t be the legal authority to provide telecommunications services under Minnesota law. The commission, responding to the complaint, said the authority would be granted to Lake Communications, which it deemed had a proper relationship with the county in providing the service.

The county plans to build the network and lease the lines to Lake Communications for revenue. In its original response to the cable association’s complaint, the state commission said Lake Communications’ application “complies with the requirements typically applied by the commission to applications” across the state. It also stated that Lake Communications’ financial statements were “sufficient and consistent with the financial information filed by other applicants for authority.”

Remember that Minnesota law requires a supermajority vote of 65% before cities and counties provide telephone service. In this case, Lake Communications will be offering the services on infrastructure owned by the County. If there is any sliver of a doubt about the legality of this arrangement, we can expect Mediacom or the Minnesota Cable Communications Association to file suit.

But...

Read more
Posted September 8, 2011 by christopher

The good folks at Public Knowledge have released a report (with a fun video, embedded below) appropriately titled, "4G + Data Caps = Magic Beans." These are the fraudulent version of magic beans - don't expect any beanstalks to data clouds.

The 4G offered by major wireless carriers (with the notable exception of Sprint) is a waste of money because it comes with strict data caps. These data caps actively discourage the types of activities that 4G enables. Activities that are made possible by 4G, such as watching movies or uploading video to the internet, are made impossible by the data caps. As a result most users will avoid taking advantage of these new services out of fear of incurring large overage fees. That makes capped 4G little more than a bait and switch, like being sold a handful of magic beans.

I have been disturbed by statements from a number of policymakers and elected officials suggesting they believe the future of connectivity in rural America is wireless, specifically 4G because it is better than the horrible DSL that is mostly the only "broadband" connection available in much of rural America.

President Obama has suggested that investing in 4G wireless will spur economic development in northern Michigan. Not hardly. What are small businesses going to use the last 29 days of the month after they exceed their data caps?

People in Wired West have told me that those in charge of broadband in Massachusetts have at times been dismissive of their project to bring affordable, fast, and reliable broadband to everyone in their towns because the state would prefer to pretend that cheaper wireless solutions will accomplish the same goal.

4G wireless is not the solution to connecting rural America. It could be an interim solution while we build real broadband out to those areas, but it is insufficient as a solution in and of itself due to the many very real limitations of the technology and the business model of those controlling the spectrum necessary to access to it.

Posted September 6, 2011 by christopher

Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes, may soon also be the land of Countywide rural FTTH. Yet another County is doing a feasibility study to figure out how it can bring fast, affordable, and reliable broadband access to all of its citizens.

Redwood County’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) opted to move forward with a broadband feasibility study that would determine just what the county would need to do in order to get fiber to every premises.

The study, which is being conducted by the Blandin Foundation through what is known as the Robust Broad-band Networks Feasibility Grant Program.

The grant, which includes up to $40,000 for the county as it addresses the needs of every community and farm site from one end of the county to the other, requires matching funds, which are available through the county EDA.

Redwood County

Redwood County is in an interesting area, just north of the Windom area muni FTTH networks and west of the proposed project in Sibley and Renville counties. This study comes not long after Todd County started a feasibility study as well (the the latest on that). And though we haven't discussed it much on MuniNetworks.org, Lac qui Parle County to the northwest is working with a rural telephone cooperative to bring FTTH to many in their border as well.

And then beyond them, we have Cook County going FTTH with their electric coop and Lake County going its own way, both with the assistance of the broadband stimulus awards.

Minnesota could very well become the state with the most impressive rural connections. Unfortunately, thus far we have seen no assistance from the state in this matter, but perhaps the Dayton Administration will chart a new course. He has decided to appoint a new...

Read more
Posted August 24, 2011 by christopher

This has been a great month for communities building their own high capacity broadband networks in New England. Wired West in rural Massachusetts has formalized its coop of communities. Just last Friday, we wrote about the East Central Vermont Community Fiber network in beta. As of last night, EC Fiber is out of beta and officially live! Those interested can sign up at MyECFiber.net. Last night, they issued this press release:

SOUTH ROYALTON – Having completed its beta testing, and with the Phase I project nearly complete, ECFiber began connecting its first customers today. Eight customers have been beta-testing the system for the past two weeks, getting sustained 5Mbps symmetrical service.

The Barnard General Store, one of the beta sites, has been offering the experience to customers via WI-FI, and has been finding folks on their doorstep at all hours, trying out the system.

ecfiber-construction.png

“It’s been amazing,” says Kim Furlong, one of the store’s proprietors. “Because so much more of what we do is online, it is truly a joy to reap the reward of high-speed internet. Dial-up, and even satellite, is such a time-robber. Fiber is very different – you can be more efficient, and that is exciting. At the same time, I have some trepidation. People are going to relocate here more permanently because of what is available, and that is probably going to change the fabric of the community.”

According to Project Coordinator Leslie Nulty, 15 new accounts were opened within the first 24 hours after the doorstep delivery of information packets. Barnard Academy, another beta site, is also very excited about the service. They are planning an open house and community celebration of ECFiber’s arrival in mid-October.

Barnard was chosen for the Phase I project because of its proximity to the central office and its large number of unserved users. Pre-registrations topped 90% before the project started. Phase II, to build out the rest of the town of Barnard, is in the planning stages, with an informational meeting set for Thursday night at 7PM at the Barnard Town Hall.

Posted August 19, 2011 by christopher

The East Central Vermont Fiber-to-the-Home network is officially connecting people. This has been a fascinating project to watch, though undoubtedly frustrating from the thousands of people who just want a fast, affordable, and reliable connection to the Internet (though any one of the three would be an improvement for them).

They started trying to finance the network when the markets weren't interested in even lending water to Jesus. They seemed a lock for stimulus funding but that money instead when to a wireless project. The state begged them to apply for Vermont Telecom Authority broadband funds and then slammed the door when they complied. All in the shadow of Burlington Telecom. So they did what they now say they should have done from the start: financed it themselves.

They organized and came up with $1 million locally to start the project. In July, they announced Barnard Vermont would get connected first.

And now they are starting to turn those connections on. And regularly updating their blog, something I love to see! As of yesterday, they had 7 beta connections going and were planning to add 2 more. 3 in 4 of those asked if they want drops installed have already said yes.

We look forward to tracking their progress.

Posted August 11, 2011 by christopher

The open access fiber-optic network in Danville, Virginia, is officially going FTTH. We have long watched nDanville's progress and are excited to see the network expanding into residential access after significantly improving telecom services to businesses and schools.

Last year, City Council debated and ultimately rejected a more ambitious plan to expand the network more rapidly. But the utility has secured permission for a smaller project area this year, allowing it to expand without incurring debt. This project will be financed out of the reserves they have built up from net telecom revenues over the years. That's right, they have been running in the black and are reinvesting those funds into connecting more of the community.

The utility has $250,000 to use for the build, allowing them to connect some 250 homes (maybe double that if they can stretch the funds) in this phase. If things go as well as they have historically, they will roll through the community in this fashion, undoubtedly increasing their capacity as the model proves itself. Additionally, as new developments are built, they will likely be connected due to the extremely low cost in so-called greenfields.

They have one provider lined up to offer video services on their open access network (the utility provides no services themselves) but as they gain subscribers, more service providers will begin offering services.

This network is creating jobs directly (by expanding the physical infrastructure) but is also encouraging many more jobs indirectly -- the local service provider is expanding and local businesses are doing better than they would if mired in the duopoly so many other communities find themselves.

Posted August 9, 2011 by christopher

Very good news continues to come from Wired West. From a press release:

August 13th will be a historic occasion for many Western Massachusetts towns, as they form a joint cooperative to build and operate a state-of-the-art telecommunications network for residents and businesses. Founding member towns have traditionally been unserved or underserved by existing broadband providers. The new Cooperative, called WiredWest, will create a community-owned network offering high quality internet, phone and television services to member towns.

Today, most WiredWest towns have only partial coverage from limited-bandwidth broadband technologies. WiredWest's goal is not only to create fair access to broadband for all member town residents, but also to provide very high-quality services on a reliable, state-of-the-art network that will meet the escalating bandwidth requirements of businesses and home owners, and provide enough capacity for many decades.

The proposed WiredWest network will connect to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute's middle-mile fiber-optic infrastructure to create a robust network from end to end.

Twenty-three Western Massachusetts towns have taken the necessary steps to join the WiredWest co-operative by passing votes in two consecutive town meetings. Seventeen additional towns are in the process of voting and are expected to join the Cooperative over the next year. A map of WiredWest towns and their progress can be viewed on the WiredWest website.

The WiredWest Cooperative is utilizing "Municipal Light Plant" legislation, initially drafted in 1906, when rural towns faced a similar crisis of access to fundamental services from a lack of electricity. In 1996, the provision of telecommunications services was added to the statute, which enables municipalities to build and operate broadband services in the Commonwealth.

The leadership team and working groups are focused on finalizing a business plan, putting financing together and early network planning. The group recently received a $50,000 planning grant from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, and has also raised additional funding from local businesses and individuals to assist with start-up requirements.

The incorporation will take place in Cummington, a town in the geographic center of WiredWest's territory.

Posted July 23, 2011 by christopher

We have long followed the efforts of rural communities in western Massachusetts to form the Wired West network. They will soon wrap up the town meeting season and have a sense of how many local towns are a part of the initial project. But if you aren't already familiar with the project, the Daily Yonder offers a background article.

Midway through the broadband stimulus program in early 2010, several western Massachusetts towns recognized this danger and decided to form WiredWest to take matters into their own hands. These communities believe “control of the network needs to stay in the hands of the community,” states Co-Chair and spokesperson Monica Webb, of Monterey, MA. “Private providers just cherry pick the best subscribers and offer empty promises to the rest of us.”

WiredWest structured itself legally as a "cooperative of municipal light plants," a designation created by a 100-year-old law that enabled towns to distribute their own electricity. This designation allows towns to own telecom services within existing legislative guidelines and use municipal bonds to fund the network, and it grants individuals and businesses tax deductions when they donate to WiredWest. WiredWest also can provide Internet access service without being required to provide cable TV services. Hilltown Community Dev Corp. is a second community co-op in the area and it is designated as a fiduciary able to apply for grants on WiredWest’s behalf. Once WiredWest officially launches this month, it will have the legal authority to apply for grants, contract with providers, and take other actions.

WiredWest early on took stock of its needs, learning how to recruit additional towns to join the coalition. “Of the 47 towns now in WiredWest, Verizon, Time Warner Cable and Comcast are only in seven,” says Webb. “There are two or three WISPs, (wireless Internet service providers) but getting coverage into many places requires lots of towers and repeaters that makes this option expensive. Some towns can make the coverage-to-cost work, but others tried to no avail.”

Posted July 21, 2011 by christopher

If the future is wireless, we have to preserve unlicensed spaces. To explain: most wireless stuff uses licensed spectrum - where only a single entity has permission from the FCC to use a specific wavelength of spectrum. While this is great for those who can afford to license spectrum (companies like AT&T and Verizon), it is not particularly efficient because the rest of us cannot use those wavelengths even if AT&T and Verizon aren't (which is particularly a problem in rural areas).

Contrast that approach with Wi-Fi, which uses unlicensed spectrum. There are portions of spectrum where the FCC has said anyone can do anything. This is why we do not need permission to set up wireless networks in our house.

Last year, the FCC made a great decision to make "white spaces" wireless technology unlicensed -- which will allow more of us (again particularly in rural areas) to use white spaces without having to get permission. Because this decision creates a larger potential market, we would have more manufacturers interested in creating gear -- meaning more innovation and a lower cost to establish wireless networks (that are far more powerful than Wi-Fi allows).

But now Congress is considering reversing that decision and licensing that spectrum to generate a few billion dollars of one-time revenue for the government -- at a cost of far more than billions of dollars of lost opportunities, particularly in rural America where these unlicensed white spaces are the only real opportunity to rapidly deliver broadband in the short term.

In short, keeping these white spaces unlicensed will be far better for rural economies, innovation, and productivity than a one-time infusion of cash into the federal government.

These decisions are going to made shortly, so I encourage everyone to check out Public Knowledge's Action Alert calling on us to contact our members of Congress to oppose this approach.

Pages

Subscribe to rural