Tag: "rural"

Posted March 14, 2012 by lgonzalez

Chelan PUD is asking the people of their rural community whether they “love” or “just like” their beleaguered and pioneering fiber-optic network. At a series of public input meetings to be held across the county over the next month, residents will have the chance to hear opinions from business, economic, and marketing consultants, as well as express their devotion, or lack thereof, to the network. The future of the network is in question and the Chelan PUD needs to hear from its owners.

At the first meeting, on February 28th, most residents of Chelan County said that having a locally owned and controlled network available to them was a priority. Consultants hired by the PUD said the fiber-optic network could be self-sustaining in the long term with changes in business planning. Recommendations included writing off internal debt, more aggressive marketing efforts to existing and ready locations, and collaborating with ISPs to obtain more subscribers in the open access network. Yes, the PUD Fiber-optic network has had its problems, including high installation costs due to the landscape and lack of conduit, changes in PUD leadership, and incompatible existing residential technology. Nevertheless, experts and the local community appear patient and cautiously optimistic. More meetings will follow; the next is scheduled for March 19th.

Providers lease from the PUD (state law prohibits them from competing directly with retail services) and proceeds from wholesale electricity sales have allowed the network to continue expanding. As we have reported in the past, the PUD is an open access network and while it has not been able to pay down its debt, and has had some difficulties, the PUD network has recognized value in the community, as evidenced at this first meeting. It certainly beats not having access to the essential infrastructure necessary to succeed in the modern economy.

John Tomkins, a Plain resident wants fiber, if it comes to his area. “Business is going to go where they can get a high-speed network. Let’s give our county the opportunity to grow.”

Chelan PUD is finding creative ways...

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Posted March 13, 2012 by ejames

The National Rural Assembly, an advocate for America's hinterland, continues to track harmful legislation moving through the Kentucky Legislature. The assembly's Rural Broadband Policy Group in February publicized Senate Bill 135which eliminates the "carrier of last resort" requirement that big telcos provide basic phone basic and 911 service in rural Kentucky (Feb. press release on SB135). The bill's sponsor Senator Paul Hornback attempted to distance the negative publicity of SB 135 by crafting a new Senate Bill 12 with similar language.  SB 12 cleared a Senate panel today to the dismay of opponents.

After June 30, 2013, AT&T and other electing "Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers" (ILECs) would no longer be required to provide basic landline telephone service to all persons in a service area, and rural Kentuckians would no longer be assured of access to reliable basic phone service, including 911-emergency service. This bill would be especially harmful for rural people, because they are more likely to be in areas phone companies would decide not to serve, if given the choice. If the Kentucky bill succeeds, we expect major telephone companies to try similar bills in other states. The Rural Broadband Policy Group thinks that both bills need to be killed. After June 30, 2013, AT&T and other electing "Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers" (ILECs) would no longer be required to provide basic landline telephone service to all persons in a service area, and rural Kentuckians would no longer be assured of access to reliable basic phone service, including 911-emergency service. This bill would be especially harmful for rural people, because they are more likely to be in areas phone companies would decide not to serve, if given the choice. If the Kentucky bill succeeds, we expect major telephone companies to try similar bills in other states.

The Rural Broadband Policy Group thinks that both bills need to be killed. Possible repercussions:

  • Customers left at the mercy of a utility and its affiliated companies to raise the price for basic service in an area where no other competitor exists. 
  • Possible "redlining" of poor and remote communities where providing service is...
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Posted March 6, 2012 by christopher

After AT&T began pushing a bill in Georgia to revoke local authority to decide to build a publicly owned broadband network, the Georgia Municipal Assocation (GMA) and the SouthEast Assocation of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors began reaching out to Georgia's legislators to explain how the private sector has left serious gaps in broadband coverage, which stopped the bill. Below are two flyers they report being particularly helpful.

GMA, SEATOA, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance are among the vast majority that believe communities should decide locally if a community network makes sense to bring next-generation connections to local businesses and residents.

Georgia is a conservative state and AT&T had enlisted the support of the Senate Majority Leader in pushing their anti-competition broadband bill. Unfortunately for AT&T, their CEO was too candid on calls with Wall Street, contradicting AT&T's lobbyist talking points in Georgia.

Georgia Flyer1

Note, that AT&T was originally trying to define broadband at the absurd 200kbps level but a substitute bill would have bumped it up to a still-too-low 768kbps, which is referenced above.

The other flyer that apparently made a difference with legislators is here:

Georgia Flyer2

Rememeber that elected officials often think of broadband in binary terms. You have it or you don't. In their mind, if you have options aside from dial-up, the problem is solved. These are people that often do not know what is needed to attract economic development, work efficiently from home, or successfully compete remote education courses.

Graphics that explain why we need next-generation networks rather than simply...

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Posted February 29, 2012 by christopher

For tourists and residents alike, much of Colorado is one amazing vista after the next. I nearly circumnavigated it on a recent trip and was re-blown away at how incrediblely beautiful it is (recommendation: stop by Great Sand Dunes National Park).

But those incredible mountains are a two-way street. The same ridges that make it great ski country make it awful wireless country. All those mountains make it hard to provide ubiquitous wireless access - leave the interstate or urban areas behind and you are lucky to see the old "1x" show up on your smartphone.

When I go on vacation, I like to remain connected to find weather reports, directions to my next destination, local cafes, etc. And like just about everyone, I really like to be connected where I live. The private telecom sector gets a failing grade for serving both residents and vacationers.

Don't forget that Colorado is one of the nineteen states that have barriers to publicly owned networks despite the refusal of cable and DSL companies to build next-generation networks. We've frequently written about Longmont's efforts to improve its broadband access despite that legislation.

Senate Bill 12-129 aims to identify areas of the state lacking sufficient acess to the Internet and seeking solutions. A local newspaper reported on testimony from local businesses suffering from the lack of investment:

Wendell Pryor, director of the Chaffee County Economic Development Corp., testified to the impacts of limited bandwidth on businesses in that area.

Princeton Hot Springs Resort, an economic driver that generates the second-highest amount of sales tax among businesses in Chaffee County, is unable to process credit cards electronically when bandwidth traffic is high.

"The broadband is simply not sufficient to allow them to do that, so it's done manually," Pryor said.

He said Monarch Ski Resort, which anchors the winter tourist season in Chaffee County, asks the staff to shut off their computers in order to have adequate broadband availability for skiers and...

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Posted February 28, 2012 by christopher

Kentucky is considering a bill that would significantly change rural telephone service in the state. An editorial examines in issue here. We signed on to a letter opposing the bill, reprinted below:

Dear Senate Standing Committee on Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor:

A harmful bill is before you this week that would cut basic telephone service to rural, low-income and elderly Kentuckians. Senate Bill 135, if approved in your committee, threatens access to what most consider a basic lifeline, including 911-emergency service, for Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens.

As rural Internet and broadband advocates, we know the importance of having access to all forms of communication, including basic telephone service. Communication is a fundamental human right. Lack of basic telephone service isolates people and denies them the right to communicate. Without basic telephone service, rural people will be further isolated from economic and civic participation, and disconnected from the safety our nation’s vital emergency service network.

You have the power to ensure that all Kentuckians can continue to count on basic telephone service.

SB 135 would allow AT&T, Windstream, Cincinnati Bell, and other telecommunications companies to end their obligation as “carriers of last resort.” A Carrier of Last Resort is a telecommunications carrier that commits (or is required by law) to provide service to any customer in a service area that requests it, even if serving that customer would not be economically viable at prevailing rates.

Carriers of Last Resort are crucial to help people in rural, remote, and poor communities stay connected via basic telephone service. Because they are not profitable under a traditional market framework, these communities are the least desirable to corporations primarily interested in profits. The real tragedy of this bill is to further disadvantage the most vulnerable people in Kentucky by cutting their ability to communicate with their loved ones, elected officials, potential employers, medical providers and the society at large.

As rural constituents, we feel compelled to express our concern over the negative impact that SB 135 will have on rural, remote, and poor communities in Kentucky. Especially at a time when poverty rates are statistically high and jobs are scarce,...

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Posted February 16, 2012 by christopher

Susan Crawford's op-ed in Bloomberg makes a tremendous case for publicly owned broadband networks.

She notes the importance of broadband and the failure of big cable and DSL companies to meet the growing needs of communities, just as the electrical trusts were insufficient to electrify much of America.

I'm a bit biased because she cites our work:

Today, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which advocates for community broadband initiatives, is tracking more than 60 municipal governments that have built or are building successful fiber networks, just as they created electric systems during the 20th century. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example, the city’s publicly owned electric company provides fast, affordable and reliable fiber Internet access. Some businesses based in Knoxville -- 100 miles to the northeast -- are adding jobs in Chattanooga, where connectivity can cost an eighth as much.

Though I encourage readers to read the full column, I love the conclusion:

Franklin D Roosevelt

Right now, state legislatures -- where the incumbents wield great power -- are keeping towns and cities in the U.S. from making their own choices about their communications networks. Meanwhile, municipalities, cooperatives and small independent companies are practically the only entities building globally competitive networks these days. Both AT&T and Verizon have ceased the expansion of next-generation fiber installations across the U.S., and the cable companies’ services greatly favor downloads over uploads.

Congress needs to intervene. One way it could help is by preempting state laws that erect barriers to the ability of local jurisdictions to provide communications services to their citizens.

Running for president in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt emphasized the right of communities to provide their own electricity. “I might call the right of the people to own and operate their own utility a birch rod in the cupboard,” he said, “to be taken out and used only when the child gets beyond the point where more scolding does any good.” It’s time to take out that birch rod.

Posted February 13, 2012 by christopher

Lobbyists for major cable and DSL companies (Comcast, Frontier, and others) already earned their pay in Washington state this year by killing a bill that would have allowed some public utility districts to offer retail services on broadband networks in rural areas that were unserved.

Unfortunately, the powerful incumbent cable and DSL companies have been able to kill bills like this in committee year after year even as they refuse to build the necessary networks throughout the state. Comcast is not about to start offering broadband in these low-density areas, but it also does not want to allow public utilities to embarrass them by offering faster connections at lower prices than Comcast offers in Seattle (where it faces no real competition).

Public Utility Districts can currently only offer wholesale services -- meaning that they can only offer services by using private service providers in an open access arrangements. We are strong supporters of this approach where it works. However, in high-cost rural areas, the "middle man" kills the economics. There is not enough revenue to pay for the network.

Some of the public utility districts want the authority to offer retail services in order to bring high-speed connections to these rural areas and encourage economic development. Big companies like Frontier and CenturyLink serve some of the people in some of these areas -- often with significant state and federal subsidies. We could phase out such subsidies by encouraging approaches that are not as massively inefficient as Frontier and CenturyLink -- two of the worst DSL providers in the nation. Unfortunately, what they lack in capacity to invest in modern broadband, they make up for in lobbying prowess.

An article in the Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle offers some more background:

Erik Poulsen, government relations director at Washington Public Utility District Association, said PUDs have used the wholesale authority they were granted in 2000, building 4,500 miles of fiber-optic cable, investing $300 million in infrastructure and joining with 150 retail providers. He said such wholesaling isn’t possible in certain parts of the state.

“The idea was that PUDs would build critical infrastructure and private companies would...

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Posted February 8, 2012 by christopher

AT&T lobbyists in Georgia and South Carolina are arguing that local governments should not be allowed to build the networks that communities need, suggesting that the private sector is primed to make the necessary connections. But AT&T's CEO had a different message for investors a few weeks ago, in an earnings call on January 26:

The other is rural access lines; we have been apprehensive on moving, doing anything on rural access lines because the issue here is, do you have a broadband product for rural America?

We’ve all been trying to find a broadband solution that was economically viable to get out to rural America, and we’re not finding one to be quite candid. The best opportunity we have is LTE.

Whoa! LTE is what you more commonly hear called 4G in mobile phone commercials. The best they can do is eventually build a wireless network that allows a user to transfer just 2GB/month. That is fine for hand-held devices but it does nothing to encourage economic development or allow residents to take advantage of remote education opportunities.

But even the CEO admits they are not bullish on LTE as the solution:

[W]e’re looking at rural America and asking, what’s the broadband solution? We don’t have one right now.

Some may be wondering about "U-Verse" -- AT&T's super DSL that competes with cable in the wealthy neighborhoods of bigger cities. U-Verse cannot match the capacity or quality of modern cable networks but is better than older DSL technologies. But U-Verse is not coming to a rural community near you.

For those who missed the fanfare last year, AT&T's U-Verse build is done. AT&T's lobbyists have probably forgotten to tell Georgia and South Carolina Legislators that the over 20 million AT&T customers without access to U-Verse are not going to get it. But CEO Stephenson made sure investors weren't...

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Posted February 7, 2012 by christopher

Wally Bowen has again penned an op-ed that we gained permission to reprint. The original ran in North Carolina's Durham News Observer.

President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address that he wants to upgrade the nation's "critical infrastructure," including our "incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world."

The Green Bay Packers know how to tackle this problem.

Green Bay, Wis., population 104,000, and its National Football League franchise have much in common with communities left behind in today's broadband world. In 1923, the Packers faced a similar crisis. How to keep the team in Green Bay despite being in an "uncompetitive" market.

Green Bay took a page out of the playbook of rural electrification. It converted the franchise into a community-owned nonprofit. The move permanently tied the Packers to Green Bay and lifted the burden of generating profits for outside investors. In short, Green Bay found a business model in scale with its market.

Rural electrification via a community-ownership business model began more than 100 years ago when for-profit utilities bypassed rural areas. This self-help solution has deep roots in rural America, where nonprofit cooperatives have long provided essential services for local economies.

Yet the congressionally mandated National Broadband Plan omits nonprofit networks as part of a universal broadband strategy. Blair Levin, a former FCC official and Raleigh attorney, is the Plan's lead author. According to Thomas Friedman in a Jan. 3 column in The New York Times, Levin now believes that "America is focused too much on getting 'average' bandwidth to the last 5 percent of the country in rural areas, rather than getting 'ultra-high-speed' bandwidth to the top 5 percent in university towns, who will invent the future."

Levin leads Gig.U, a consortium of major research universities - including UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke and N.C. State - promoting "ultra-high-speed" Internet access. He has every right to advocate for Gig.U, but doing so at the expense of under-served rural communities raises concerns about his work with the National Broadband Plan.

Universal access to electricity was made possible by the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, later amended to help...

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Posted February 6, 2012 by christopher

A group of rural residents living east of Madison, Wisconsin, gathered near Portage of Columbia County to discuss their lack of affordable high speed access to the Internet. These are people for whom slow, overpriced DSL would be an improvement.

Lack of access to the Internet is a drain on rural economies -- their real estate market suffer and they are unable to telecommute, when they would benefit more from it than most who do have the option. They lack access to long-distance education opportunities in a time when the cost of gas makes driving to school prohibitively expensive.

Andy Lewis, who has been working with the Building Community Capacity through Broadband Project with U-W Extension, was on hand to discuss some of the lessons learned through their work, which is largely funded by a broadband stimulus award.

The incumbent providers encouraged residents without access to aggregate their demand and create petitions to demonstrate the available demand. Of course they did. And if CenturyLink decides it can get a sufficient return on its slow and unreliable DSL, they will build it out to some of those unserved areas. This is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario for rural residents. DSL was starting to be obsolete years ago.

The better solution is finding nearby cooperatives and munis that will extend next-generation networks that can provide fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet. Getting a DSL to a town will do very little to attract residents and nothing to attract businesses. It is a 20th century technology in a rapidly evolving 21st century world.

The Beaver Dam Daily Citizen covered the meeting, which eventually turned away from how to beg for broadband to how they can build it themselves:

But several attendees asked why the government can't play a role in making high-speed service available everywhere, in the same way that the government helped bring about rural electrification and telephone service.

This is a very good question. They may decide not to follow that path, but given the importance of access to the Internet, they should look at options for building a network that puts community...

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