Tag: "rural"

Posted July 15, 2011 by christopher

For years, telephone and cable companies have claimed there is little demand for better networks because they cannot identify a single "killer app" that needs 100Mbps or 1Gbps. Recently, I've heard from kindred spirits saying that the "killer app" is the network itself.

This is a smart response.

Imagine someone demanding we dismantle the Interstates unless we can identify a single use that makes them worthy. The proposition is absurd. There are thousands of ways the Interstates are used. Some -- like ensuring the military can move about the country quickly -- are quite important whereas others are important only to a few people (as when my family goes on vacation).

We are all better off because we have such a robust transportation system. Our markets are more efficient and we have greater freedom of movement. We all also bear the cost (whether it be through taxes, pollution, or other impacts … and yes, we bear that cost unevenly). Roads have been essential infrastructure for centuries -- few argue they should only be built where those along the path can pay for the full cost of doing so.

Access to the Internet is rapidly becoming as important as the roads have long been. Whether for economic development, education, health, or quality of life, a lack of fast, reliable, and affordable access to the Internet diminishes all.

For years, rural cooperatives have built telecommunications networks in rural areas where no private company would dare invest. Joan Engebretson explains why "Broadband Payback is not Just About Subscriber Revenues.".

Antique Phone

The upshot is that in doing a cost/ benefit analysis on telecom infrastructure investment, it’s important to take into account not only the direct revenues that the infrastructure generates but also the dollars that flow into a community as a result of the investment.

Imagine trying to sell a home today that only had party line phone service and think about the impact that would have on the value of the home. Now apply that logic to broadband. With two-thirds of U.S. households accustomed to having broadband connectivity, I’m already hearing that homes in areas with inadequate broadband...

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Posted July 6, 2011 by christopher

The East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network has announced it will connect an entire town as its second phase. Barnard, Vermont, will be the first town to have universal access to ECFiber's next-generation network.

An update on Phase 1 of this network:

Phase 1, with construction under way (see photo) and scheduled to go live in early August, brings an ultra-high-speed fiber loop from the ECFiber central office near I89 Exit 3, along VT Routes 107 and 12,  to the center of Barnard. ECFiber expects to begin connecting businesses and residents who live on this route in early August and will provide detailed subscriber information closer to that date.

ECFiber has 23 member towns, but Barnard could be the most enthusiastic. This is as grassroots as it gets:

At its June meeting, the ECFiber Governing Board authorized an initiative to extend service to the rest of Barnard town. This requires a second round of capital-raising through a similar "friends and families" offering directed specifically to residents, businesses, and others who wish to support the deployment of universal broadband in Barnard.

Loredo Sola, ECF Governing Board Chair commented, "When we first took our plan to Barnard, we were inundated with residents offering to pay the entire cost of extending the Phase 1 trunk to their homes. This enthusiastic response inspired us to authorize a Barnard-only fund drive."  ECFiber will be organizing informational meetings for Barnard residents and businesses to explain the details of the plan.
When sufficient funds have been committed to build out the entire town, the Barnard Local Fund will close, and construction of Phase 2 can begin.

Barnard had 94% of the community presubscribe!

The success of ECFiber comes without any support of the state, which has continued to pretend wireless connections and out-of-state corporations will provide the networks necessary for the economic development needed by communities.

EC Fiber Truck

Valley News took note of the story and expanded on it:

Without other funding streams, it could take seven to 10 years to build out to all 23 towns...

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Posted June 28, 2011 by christopher

Todd County, a rural community "where the forest meets the prairie" along I-94 in the geographic center of Minnesota, is the latest of many counties to examine local solutions to their lack of affordable, fast, reliable, and certainly universal access to the Internet. This could be a blueprint for how to initiate a process to improve broadband in a rural community.

Todd County is quite rural, with about 10,000 households and businesses that could be wired for service.

From what I have learned, this initiative originated with a group of beef farmers who are tired of being left behind on the rural world wide wait. They pushed the Todd County Livestock Advisory Committee, which pushed on the County, which approved the following resolution [pdf]:

RESOLUTION OF SUPPORT TO ESTABLISH RECIPROCAL BROADBAND SERVICES COUNTY WIDE, KNOWN HEREAFTER AS TODD COUNTY FIBERBAND

WHEREAS, the world’s cultural and economic environment is becoming increasingly more knowledge-driven and information-based, and Todd County citizens, businesses, and agriculture need access to that information, and;

WHEREAS, research indicates that introduction of broadband in to rural areas increases the rate of job growth and income of rural areas and that the presence of broadband in a community is the greatest indicator of future economic success, and;

WHEREAS, broadband access has evolved from a luxury and entertainment item to an essential infrastructure for business, health care, education and government and the speeds needed to maintain local and global competitiveness are greater than telecommunication companies serving Todd County are willing to provide, and;

WHEREAS, demand exists for broadband access, but without a concerted and unified effort being made to obtain appropriate access for the citizens of Todd County, it is likely that demand will not be met, and;

WHEREAS, this body wants its citizens to maintain the highest quality of life and its businesses to be as competitive and productive as possible, the highest speed, highest capacity broadband, and other telecommunications services are critical for maintaining a healthy and competitive community, and;

WHEREAS, high...

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Posted June 26, 2011 by christopher

Like many Washington Public Utility Districts, Pend Orielle, has connect small portions of its electric territory with an open access fiber-to-the-home. But these projects have been difficult to finance in remote (and often mountainous) areas. Pend Oreille previously built a pilot project but is now expanding its network with a stimulus grant from the feds.

The work has begun and is expected to end by November 30, this year. From a previous press release:

The project will make highspeed Internet available to approximately 3,200 households, 360 business, and 24 community anchor institutions such as schools, libraries, and health care facilities. Residents and business owners will have the opportunity to subscribe to a variety of highspeed Internet services through local internet service providers.

Posted June 20, 2011 by christopher

Public interest advocates in the telecom arena have long been frustrated with a parade of large, powerful non-profit organizations blindly supporting the positions of powerful telecom companies that just happen to make large donations to those non-profits.

A story this week confirmed the worst of our suppositions: these groups often have little idea of what they are supporting. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation seemed pretty enthused about the AT&T T-Mobile takeover a few weeks ago. Odd for GLAAD to be excited about its constituency paying higher prices for wireless services, but whatever.

Until a few days ago, when we got a look behind the scenes -- AT&T wrote their statement and it was simply signed by the organization's President -- who apparently had no idea what it was about. But he knew that AT&T gives big money to the org. He has since resigned.

Around the time that we learned of the GLAAD shenanigans, we learned how super excited Cattle Ranchers are for the AT&T takeover of T-Mobile. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest this merger will do anything for rural residents but increase the prices they pay. There is no shortage of spectrum in rural areas so T-Mobile offers nothing AT&T cannot do on its own.

And while the Cattle Ranchers are clamoring for higher monthly prices from AT&T, the single best hope for rapidly expanding wireless broadband access in rural areas - the unlicensed white spaces - is being quietly killed. Ironic, ain't it?

I have long supported the efforts of the Media Action Grassroots, which works to organize and educate people about essential issues in telecom and media. They work with real people and represent real people's interests all the time, not just when it doesn't conflict with a big donor. We need to support organizations that support our values, particularly when it is inconvenient to do so.

Update: More of the media is finally starting to take notice of the obvious:...

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Posted June 17, 2011 by christopher

The Daily Yonder recently ran a cleverly titled article by Craig Settles, "Wyoming Town Creates Broadband Bonanza." We have previously written about Powell and its unique public-private partnership approach to an open access muni FTTH network.

Craig offers some more details, including some of the planning:

The planning team went a step further. Broadband feasibility studies typical include asking constituents about their level of interest in Internet services. Powell’s team secured firm commitments from institutions such as schools and hospitals that would not only subscribe to the network but entice their customers to subscribe, too. They contacted businesses about moving or expanding operations to Powell.

With agreements and letters of intent in hand, Powell was able to give Tri-County Telecom (TCT) more credible revenue predictions. “We presented our data and potential institutional subscribers,” states Bray. “TCT then adjusted for what their real costs were and described how the buildout was going to look, what the real breakeven was (and based on what assumptions), when certain goals had to be met and how long it will take to reach certain milestones over 20 years.” Bray calls all of the TCT forecasts, “conservative.”

He also notes that Powellink broke even at the end of 2010, an impressively short period of time.

Posted June 16, 2011 by christopher

We have previously covered the East Central Vermont Fiber Network and their local frustrations at receiving little state or federal support in building a next-generation network. The feds and state government seem too heavily influenced by those with lobbying clout -- leading to subsidies to build lesser networks that local do not want.

They want real Internet, not another wireless promise that fails to deliver. A story from Vermont Public Radio discusses increased tensions as the networks struggle over a few community anchor tenants to help finance the rest of the network. Here, Loredo Sola of EC Fiber explains the problem:

SoverNet will own the infrastructure but is required to provide bandwidth at wholesale cost to providers who extend the service outward.

Loredo Sola is skeptical. He says he's already lost one institutional contract to the SoverNet project. He says that's forced E.C. Fiber to scrap its plans to serve smaller users in the area.

Sovernet is building a middle mile network connection community anchor institutions, but is an example of the exact wrong way to do it. Supposedly, the investment (the vast majority of which is funded by a federal stimulus award) will allow more ISPs to build more last mile networks as they have access to better backhaul.

But lowering the operating cost of a network does very little to make that network affordable to build. The high up front capital costs are what limit broadband in rural (and urban too!) areas. Compounding the problem is what Sola mentions above, Sovernet is taking the key anchor institutions off the board with its project so communities are actually left with a harder business case to connect themselves.

Groups like the Vermont Telecommunications Authority are so proud of having solved a short term problem, they have totally missed the fact that the longer term problem of making sure everyone has fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet is now much harder to solve.

When I first read about the WiscNet situation, I was interested to learn that it acted as an ISP but rarely provided the physical connections --...

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Posted May 30, 2011 by christopher

nDanville, the open access fiber-optic network operated by the City's public power company, has been quietly succeeding in southern Virginia. This network has already connected half of the communities health care facilities, allowing them to improve medical care with 100Mbps and gigabit circuits at affordable prices.

The medical network connects Danville Regional Medical Center and about half of the area’s medical facilities to nDanville, a fiber optic network established by the city. The high performance fiber allows real-time access to patient medical records and allows for the exchange of CT and MRI scans instantly.

Another article notes praise for the city's efforts:

"It enables us to better serve our patients by having their information available across multiple sites," Deaton [CEO of Danville Regional Medical Center] said. "We will continue to support the city's efforts in linking our medical community together, and I want to commend the city for the success of this network and making healthcare a top priority."

The Intelligent Community Forum brought the above success to my attention in awarding Danville a recipient of its 2011 Founders Awards. (Chattanooga is in the running for Intelligent Community of year and really, how could it possibly lose?) But ICF details more impressive details from nDanville:

logo-icf.gif

On average, fiber connections for these facilities provide twice the bandwidth of the previous connection but at a 30% savings. More than 90% of the medical facilities (approximately 125 locations) are to be connected by December  2011, said Jason Grey, the Broadband Network Manager of Danville Utilities, who led Danville’s charge to become a recognized intelligent community by ICF.

ICF further noted that the nDanville Network provides a crucial link between the Danville Diagnostic and Imaging Center and the Danville Regional Hospital. This high capacity connection allows the two facilities to exchange CT and MRI scans...

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Posted May 25, 2011 by christopher

Folks in Colorado will want to check out the 2011 Rural Broadband MountainConnect conference at Mt Princeton Springs, Nathrop, Colorado from June 12-13. Those who want to go will have to Request an Invitation (see the site for details).

Some of the discussion topics include:

  • What exactly is Rural Broadband?
  • What are the real Community Benefits?
  • How do we get to Gigabit Speeds?
  • Success stories: Lessons learned
  • National Trends & Regulation

I have been assured that this is not some vendor-dominated event trying to selling you something, so if you are nearby, consider checking it out.

Posted May 20, 2011 by christopher

We are very fortunate that Stephen Cobb has taken the time to fully explain the realities behind satellite connections in Satellite Internet Connection for Rural Broadband: Is it a viable alternative to wired and wireless connectivity for America's rural communities? The answer is no.

The technical problems (e.g. latency) inherent in a satellite connection to the Internet should disqualify it from being called "broadband." Satellite connections do not allow users to take full advantage of modern Internet applications, which is a common sense definition of the term broadband.

Download the 2 MB version or the print quality 3.3 MB version (both are PDFs).

RuMBA is the Rural Mobile & Broadband Alliance that was inspired by Louisa Handem, who does Rural America Radio. RuMBA published this white paper.

irst of all, it isn't broadband (unless one uses the absurd definition occasionally pushed by big companies like AT&T that broadband is simply an always-on connection faster than dial-up).

At the federal government site broadband.gov, run by the FCC, you can see Satellite listed as a type of broadband, despite the fact that the two main providers of such service avoid using the word "broadband" when they are pitching their service. So why include satellite alongside DSL, cable, wireless, and fiber? The answer may lie in pro-satellite lobbying. The logic for such lobbying is simple: If it can be said that satellite is a broadband option for rural communities, as listed by the FCC, then terrestrial telcos can argue there is no compelling need to provide those communities with alternatives. 

Satellite is not a "broadband option" because it does not offer broadband in any meaningful way. Even if it did, it is absurdly expensive for what it does offer:

The HughesNet ProPlus satellite Internet service plan costs $80 per month and comes with a usage cap of 425 megabytes per day. The headline performance of this plan is a download speed of 1.6 Mbps (megabits per second or 1,600 Kbps...

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