Tag: "rural"

Posted September 25, 2013 by christopher

Yet another Minnesota town is fed up with slow, unreliable Internet access and is examining what it can do to make sure it has the network it needs to succeed in the modern economy. Annandale is 50 miles northwest of Minneapolis with a population of 3,200 and has Windstream as the telephone company.

Windstream, as with other large firms that primarily serve rural America, offers a DSL more suited to the late 1990's than 2013. It has little capacity to invest in better networks, even if it had the willingness. We've covered Windstream several times in previous stories.

After a flood of complaints from residents to City Hall about slow speeds and frequent outages, the City issued a request for proposals for a feasibility study that will explore alternatives to the present reliance on Windstream.

Local leaders understand that the private sector is not likely to invest significantly in its community due to its density and rural location. But the town needs modern Internet access to retain and attract good jobs. The Annandale Advocate newspaper ran a story on September 17 but it is not available for non-subscribers.

At a chamber of commerce meeting later in the week Gunnarson added that strong broadband is a basic, essential feature of modern commerce.

"New businesses expect good Internet. When you buy a car you expect tires on it. Unfortunately, our car has wooden tires," he said.

logo-annandale-advocate.jpg

The same paper published a guest editorial by City Council members to explain how little power the City has over private providers. Many people falsely believe that towns are actively keeping competition out:

We even had some people angrily ask our staff why are we keeping the competition out. So to set the record straight, the city can't do much about it because it is all private wires, equipment, operations and corporate customer service.

Also, a recent call to the PUC, the Public Utilities Commission, confirms that not much can be done since broadband is not regulated. Sorry folks. As far as letting in competition, we have zero say in that. Any other provider can come in any time. In fact, many of us citizens would throw the...

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Posted September 24, 2013 by christopher

Holyoke Gas & Electric has been connecting community anchor institutions and local businesses in Western Massachusetts with fiber networks for years. Rather than using exception access to the Internet as a competitive advantage over more poorly connected neighbors, the Municipal Light Plant (in the parlance of Massachusetts law) is helping nearby towns to establish their own networks.

I met Senior Network Engineer Tim Haas in a lunch with people building community owned networks in Leverett and Princeton in late August. He joins me for episode #65 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We discuss the Holyoke approach, its network, and enthusiasm for assisting others in the region to improve access to the Internet.

Read the transcript of our discussion here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 17 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted September 17, 2013 by christopher

The small town of Windom in southwest Minnesota has long been one of the smallest FTTH networks in the nation. I have long wanted to bring WindomNet General Manager Dan Olsen on our show because it has some of the best anecdotes in the world of community owned networks. We finally got him!

To understand WindomNet, you should know that it has fewer households than what many of us consider to be the minimum threshold for a viable triple-play FTTH network. Not only have they made it work, they have attracted numerous employers to town, as our interview discusses. It also kept a local employer located just outside of town in the area after a massive telelphone company operating in Minnesota found itself unable to provide the service that business requested. Tiny Windom ran a fiber out to the business and kept them in the region.

The network has expanded to nearby farm towns with the help of a broadband stimulus award. Even now, after bringing connections to a rural region that the big providers have largely ignored, the big cable and CenturyLink lobbyists that live in the capital in Saint Paul have relentlessly lied about Windom, calling it a failure and presenting skewed figures to suggest the investment had not succeeded.

In our discussion, Dan and I explore the reality of WindomNet and how it is benefiting a much larger region beyond its own borders. Read all of our coverage about Windom here.

Read the transcript for this show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 18 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

...

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Posted September 11, 2013 by lgonzalez

Okanogan County, located along the extreme north central border of Washington State, is expanding its wholesale fiber optic network to more small local communities. The Okanogan Public Utility District (PUD) received a $5.5 million grant and a $3.7 million loan through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and will extend service to about 80% of the PUD service area. The county is home to about 41,000 people.

According to a recent Methow Valley News article, the construction began in February and the project is schedule for completion by the end of 2013. The network will be about 200 miles long and will also include 143 wireless access points along the power line route. Construction will also include new poles, tall enough to host both power and fiber optic lines. According to the PUD's director of power:

Some people who will now have the option of faster Internet connections were previously served only by dial-up or satellite services, said [Ron] Gadeberg. Even with the expanded “last-mile” network, “there are still tons of unmet needs, because it’s such a big county and some people are so remote that it is cost-prohibitive to serve them,” he said.

A local ISP, MethowNet.com, offers service to customers on the PUD's existing fiber network and will expand northward to serve additional communities north of its current service area.

Posted September 5, 2013 by lgonzalez

The Star reports that the Roanoke City Council unanimously voted to work with surrounding communities to form a broadband coalition. We reported Roanoke County,  Botetourt County, Salem and the town of Roanoke were in the process forming the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority. Local community leaders took the first step in Roanoke, where the community has already set $1 million aside for the venture.

The Authority is starting out with support from the local media. A Roanoke Times editorial addressed the situation in the Valley and stressed the importance to act quickly:

There is no time to waste in building a broadband Internet structure that will keep the Roanoke Valley competitive. Without it, the region will wither and watch futilely while others whiz by. They already are.

The board will need to make many decisions with little time to tarry since the region’s capabilities are lagging. Businesses already are encountering hiccups when overloading the existing network. And other regions beckon with faster speeds. The Roanoke Valley is too large and well off economically to have qualified for federal funds and tobacco-relief funds that have brought broadband to rural and struggling areas in Southside and far Southwest Virginia. But it isn’t large enough to attract providers that would build bigger, better networks in order to compete for customers.

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The region has no choice but to build its own network. An authority charged specifically with that task should best be able to hire the experts and vet the options so that Roanoke Valley accelerates to warp speed.

Roanoke Valley map from Foundation For Roanoke Valley

Posted August 15, 2013 by dcollado

“With agriculture being the number one industry in the state, we are looking to inspire students to learn globally and live and produce locally. Agriculture and STEM education are a natural fit. With GPS-guided equipment and variable-rate irrigation and fertilizer applicators to better manage natural resources, education is key." These are the words of Beau Sherman, Regional Distant Learning and Video Coordinator for Education serving schools connected by Community Network Services (CNS) in Georgia.

CNS was formed in 1997 when several towns in rural southwest Georgia got together to form a public telecom utility. They started by connecting local schools and libraries with a fiber broadband network. While CNS has since grown into a full-service telecommunications provider - offering phone, video and internet access to business and residential customers - its impact on local education is a shining example of how community broadband networks can improve local education. CNS now serves 65 schools across 3,278 rural square miles including the cities of Cairo, Camilla, Moultrie, Pelham and Thomasville.

To help realize the network’s full educational potential, the school districts served by CNS teamed up to hire Beau Sherman. Mr. Sherman had long been a strong advocate for pushing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education in rural southwest Georgia. So he was the perfect fit for the role of helping the schools harness their new state-of-the-art broadband network.

One way Mr. Sherman is leveraging CNS’s high-speed fiber network is bringing live interactive science demonstrations into classrooms via Georgia Tech’s Direct 2 Discovery (D2D) program. With CNS and D2D, students in rural southwest Georgia enjoy live interactions with research scientists demonstrating principles of science in fields including astronomy, high-energy physics and nanotechnology. Students see in HD exactly what the scientists see and can ask questions as if they were all in the same room. Having worked with schools lacking high-speed fiber connectivity, Sherman attests that these two-way HD interactions would not be possible for his students without CNS’s fiber network.

Another way CNS is enabling new educational opportunities is by offering telepresence...

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Posted August 8, 2013 by lgonzalez

A Wenatchee World article recently announced that Douglas County Public Utilities District is reducing the rate it charges to connect to the community fiber network. According to the July 18th article, connecting to the Douglas County Community Network (DCCN) previously cost a one time fee of $250. The PUD Commissioners decided to shave $100 off the price because revenue from the network is "more than covering" installation costs. Now $150 will connect a customer in the service area.

This reduction is one of several:

From 2010 to mid 2011, Douglas PUD required customers to pay the full cost of a hookup. At this rate, which could total more than $1,000 each, only about 30 customers signed up, Vibbert said.

In mid 2011, the PUD reduced the rate to $500 and enticed 139 more hookups. It reduced the rate again in mid 2012 to $250.

The open access network currently hosts six different providers, some offering telephone and television services in addition to Internet. The Wenatchee World notes that the DCCN is available to approximately 46 per cent of the Douglas PUD's 15,000 electric customers.

Posted August 6, 2013 by lgonzalez

The Roanoke Valley, nestled in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, grapples with the same connectivity problems facing many communities in rural Virginia. Private providers have few incentives to invest in next-generation Internet networks because the low density population promises too little profit. 

Like Danville, Bristol, and the Rockbridge area, communities in the Roanoke Valley are taking matters into their own hands. A February 2013 Roanoke Times news article reported that local businesses and regional governments collaborated to fund a $50,000 study. The study recommended creating a broadband authority to investigate the possibility of building an open access network. The Roanoke Times has more recently reported that public hearings are on the schedule for August:

Public hearings are coming up next month in the city and county of Roanoke, Salem and Botetourt County on a plan for local governments to band together to form a Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority. It could work with the private sector to create a regional open-access, fiber-optic Internet network that would allow large and small service providers to compete on a level playing field. [A PDF of the schedule includes the proposed resolution and Articles of Incorporation for the Authority.]

Roanoke Valley Map

According to a June report from WSLS channel 10, the Roanoke City Council has already set aside $2 million to direct toward broadband in the Valley. For years, the local economy relied on manufacturing and textiles but outsourcing eliminated jobs and sent young people elsewhere looking for work. Local leaders now look for other footholds for economic development. Fortunately, they recognize the importance of broadband as they transition. From the WLSL report...

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Posted July 30, 2013 by lgonzalez

We have followed developments in Leverett since we first learned about the small town's decision to build its own next generation infrastructure. The community has faced some challenges but is determined to get its residents connected.

After an overwhelming vote to support a bond measure and minor tax increase to fund the network, Leverett encountered delay when the State attorney general ordered a new bid in April. According to a GazetteNet article, a technical glitch on the bid form allowed bidders to exclude themselves from parts of the project, affecting the overall bid. Leverett awarded the first bid to G4S, but two other firms submitted complaints prompting the review.

After reviewing revised bids in May, Select Board awarded the $2.27 million contract to Millennium Communications Group. The GazetteNet reports that Millennium met with town officials in June to answer questions and examine the bid in detail.

The GazetteNet spoke with Select Board Member Peter d'Errico: 

“When this is up and running, Leverett’s going to have state-of-the-art, worldwide telecommunications capability,” d’Errico said. “It’s comparable service to what Google is providing in Kansas City, and it means that Leverett will also become a desirable place for all kinds of people who work in the mediums that require that level of technology. I see it as having economic benefits for the town, cultural benefits for the town and when you add in things like telemedicine, it means that it’s more than lifestyle, it’s quality of life.”

Scheduled completion date is December 2014.

Posted July 24, 2013 by lgonzalez

We introduced you to Olds, Alberta and their community network O-Net in 2012. Now this community of 8,500 will be the first Canadian "gig town" where residents will have access to a gig at incredibly low prices. 

CBC News reports that the Olds Institute for Community and Regional Development, the nonprofit organization building the network, recently approved the upgrade. Residents with 100 Mbps will have access to a gigabit with no increase in price. Depending on how they bundle, the price for Internet will range between $57-90 per month.

CBC's Emily Chung noted how much of rural Canada offers only dial-up or satellite. Olds used to have the same problem; businesses were considering leaving town:

"We had engineering companies here who were sending memory chips by courier because there wasn't enough bandwidth to deal with their stuff," recalls Joe Gustafson, who spearheaded the project to bring a fibre network to Olds.

...

"Now there's no talk about people leaving because of bandwidth challenges."

The $13-14 million project, which also included a video conference center and 15 public use terminals for residents, launched in July 2012. The organization acquired a $2.5 million grant from the province of Alberta and a $6 million loan from the town of Olds. When incumbents were not interested in providing service over the network, O-Net adapted:

"We said, 'Well I guess if we're going to do this, we have to do our own services,'" Gustafson recalled.

The Olds Institute spent $3.5 million to buy the necessary electronic equipment to run internet and other services on the network and to build a central office to house it all. Last July, it launched O-Net.

The community-owned service offers not just internet, but also phone and IPTV services — TV signals carried on the network that includes dozens of SD and HD channels, and movies on demand that can be paused and later resumed.

The network will be available to the entire town by 2014. The residential plan brings one gig to access points in town that each serve four or five households. According to [Director of...

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