Tag: "rural"

Posted October 25, 2011 by christopher

Last week, two of the organizations with which we regularly work to promote community solutions to broadband submitted comments to the FCC on the matter of USF reform.

Among the comments from the Rural Broadband Policy Group, is this passage:

Members and allies of the Rural Broadband Policy Group hold “local ownership and investment in community” as a core principle in broadband deployment. We believe that local ownership of broadband infrastructure can address problems such as lack of service, limited provider choice, affordability, slow speeds, and also enforce strong consumer protections. Policies that encourage local ownership create opportunities and wealth in communities. For example, local broadband networks employ IT professionals who live and work in the local community. When communities own their communications infrastructure, not only do they boost their local economies and create jobs, but are also held accountable to ensure that broadband is accessible to every resident. Moreover, the 70-year history of rural electric and telephone cooperatives proves that locally owned networks are vital stewards of public subsidies.

We are disappointed that the proposed USF/CAF reforms ignore the advantages of local ownership and prohibit community broadband networks, anchor institutions and Tribal governments from receiving USF/CAF support. The proposed reforms do not create avenues for local ownership in rural, Tribal, and low-income communities. This is a lamentable flaw in the proposal, and we respectfully request that the Commission include the following recommendations:

Communities that self-provision should be eligible for funds.

Currently, proposed USF reforms exclude community-based networks that have done the most to build out broadband infrastructure to provide essential services in underserved areas. These self-provisioning projects range from municipal networks to private sector nonprofit networks, and play a critical role in the future of their communities. Yet, they are not eligible for the proposed Connect America Fund. Self-provisioning communities have invested their social and financial capital in broadband infrastructure and services because incumbent carriers refused to make these investments. We are innovators, entrepreneurs, digital literacy educators, and Internet Service providers – it is essential that our communities have all the available options to build the...

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Posted October 17, 2011 by christopher

I recently joined some other grassroots groups in talking to FCC Commissioner Copps about the ways the FCC could improve access to telecommunications for most Americans -- you know, the mission of the Federal Communications Commission.  This was the day before FCC Chairman Genochowski announced the broad outline of Universal Service Reform.  

Presently, it appears that the FCC will broadly adopt the industry's plan of taking more money from subscribers and spreading it among private companies and coops that are providing services in rural America.  We have called up on the FCC to recognize the important role of community broadband networks and make them eligible recipients of USF funds but the FCC appears to be ready to double down on its past mistakes of relying on absentee-owners who have little incentive to actually provide reliable services at affordable prices.  (Fred Pilot has also called upon the FCC to make this change.)

The result is that communities like rural Sibley County in Minnesota's farm country may build their own next-generation broadband network, only to find the federal government subsidizing a vastly inferior DSL network from a competitor. This is a fiscally irresponsible approach that prioritizes the profits of a few private companies over what is best for the vast majority of private companies and residents in communities that need networks that are actually accountable to them.  

If you care about this issue, you should ask the Rural Broadband Policy Group or Media Actions Grassroots how you can help.  They have been working to break through the beltway bias against solutions that encourage local self-reliance.

The FCC will soon release its USF reform approach and I fear it will do very little to actually help communities while doing a lot to help a few companies continue to receive federal funds while ignoring community needs.  It is long past time the FCC stop entrusting our communications future to absentee landlords and look to community networks ... or at least locally owned private alternatives embodied by WISPs. 

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Posted October 14, 2011 by christopher

Listen to a great conversation about rural broadband needs from a hearing on October 12 in Kentucky. From the show description:

On October 12 a group gathered at Appalshop to talk about the importance of accessible, affordable high-speed Internet in Appalachian communities. Residents from across the region came to share their concerns and ideas with special guests Jonathan Adelstein, administrator of the Rural Utilities Service in the US Department of Agriculture, and Mark Defalco from the Appalachian Regional Commission. The first broadband hearing to be held in rural America, was co-sponsored by the Center for Rural Strategies, the Center for Media Justice, and Free Press, with the local support of Appalshop, the Partnership of African American Churches, and the Central Appalachia Regional Network. This WMMT Mountain Talk highlights excerpts from the presentations and public comments shared at the event.

Posted October 7, 2011 by christopher

Rachel Maddow reminds us that many areas of America still do not have broadband in her coverage of the broadband stimulus funds prior to an interview with USDA Secretary Vilsack on October 5 (transcript).

While introducing Secretary Vilsack, Rachel had a terrific explanation of why public investments into broadband are essential:

The idea here behind spreading broadband to America`s rural areas is the same one behind the rural electrification program from the 1930s. The idea that even if it`s not profitable for private industry to extend the basics of modern economic life, electric light then and the Internet now, even if it`s never going to be profitable to some private company to extend those things to every last home down every long dirt road in America, it is worth it to America, worth it to us, that everybody has access to those things. That we`re all plugged in.

It is the right kind of jobs investment for the country to put people to work laying those lines and connecting those Americans to the grid and it is the right things to do for the rural parts of the country so that people and businesses in every part of the country can compete economically.

Extremely glad to see Rachel devoting time to this important issue.

Visit msnbc.com for...

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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...

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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...

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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.

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