Tag: "rural"

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.

Posted July 18, 2011 by christopher

We watch in frustration as the federal government, dressed as Charlie Brown asks AT&T, wearing Lucy's blue dress and smiling brightly, if she really will hold the football properly this time. "Oh yes, Charlie, this time I really will create all those jobs if you let us buy T-Mobile," says AT&T Lucy.

Over at HuffPo, Art Brodsky recently revisited AT&T's promises in California to create jobs, lower broadband prices, and heal the infirm if the state would just deregulate the cable video market -- which it did, 4 years ago. California upheld its end of the bargain -- wanna guess if AT&T did? Hint: Charlie Brown ended up on his back then too.

The answer comes from James Weitkamp (via Art's HuffPo post), from the Communications Workers of America, a union that all too often acts in the interests of big companies like AT&T and CenturyLink rather than workers:

"AT&T and Verizon have slashed the frontline workforce, and there simply are not enough technicians available to restore service in a timely manner, nor enough customer service representatives to take customers' calls. Let me share some statistics. Since 2004, AT&T reduced its California landline frontline workforce by 40%, from about 29,900 workers to fewer than 18,000 today. The company will tell you that they need fewer wireline employees because customers have cut the cord going wireless or switched to another provider, but over this same period, AT&T access line loss has been just under nine percent nationally. I would be shocked if line loss in California corresponds to the 40 percent reduction in frontline employees.


"Similarly, since 2006 Verizon California cut its frontline landline workforce by one-third, from more than 7,000 in 2005 to about 4,700 today. I venture that Verizon has not lost one third of its land lines in the state."

Note that AT&T, Verizon, and other massive incumbents like Comcast have been wildly profitable over this term.

The same trend holds in cellular wireless - as noted by the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. wireless industry is booming as more consumers and businesses snap up smartphones, tablet computers and billions of wireless applications. But for...

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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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