Tag: "rural"

Posted September 5, 2018 by Hannah Bonestroo

What started as a pilot project back in 2014 has consistently expanded to more addresses. Now the “Little Gig City” has put a date on when they expect to complete the final phase of their community-wide fiber network — early 2020. “Right now we feel like we’re kind of in the home stretch,” says Erwin Utilities fiber optic engineer John Williams. 

When The Time Was Right

The small town of Erwin, Tennessee first explored the possibility of bringing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to its residents in 1999. At the time, however, the community chose not to pursue a publicly owned network because only 20 percent of homes in the area had a computer and the initial estimated cost of over $20 million was too high for local palates. The market changed over the next few years and in 2012, the town finally felt it was time to invest. They constructed a fiber backbone that connected 45 SCADA locations and six county schools. By 2014, the city announced plans to develop a pilot project for business and residential connectivity in the downtown area.

The pilot project reached approximately 1,000 premises; the utility’s goal was to achieve a 25 percent take rate to ensure the service would be self-sustaining. According to Williams, the utility swiftly surpassed their goal and are now at 36 percent subscribership in the original deployment area. Erwin Utilities has expanded, passing a total of approximately 5,000 premises out of 9,000 total potential premises, which are also electric service customers.

logo-erwin-fiber.jpg Because Tennessee municipal utilities are subject to state law that limits their Internet service area to their electric service footprint, Erwin can only provide connectivity to a limited number of premises. The law creates a situation that protects incumbent monopolies, but forces rural folks who obtain electric service from a different provider to rely on ISPs that generally offer poor Internet access options via DSL or expensive satellite service.

The Ultimate in Self-Reliance

Williams, who designed the network, ...

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Posted September 4, 2018 by lgonzalez

A year ago, we last had Jonathan Chambers of Conexon on the podcast to discuss the pros and cons of the Connect America Fund. Since then, the FCC has held an auction to expand connectivity in rural areas as part of the Connect America Fund Phase II (Auction 903) and recently released news of the winning bidders. In episode 321 of the podcast, he’s back for another conversation on the process and the results.

In addition to a brief history on the Connect America Fund, Jonathan and Christopher spend some time discussing the arguments for and against federal funding dedicated to rural deployment. Do ISPs really want to serve residents and businesses in rural areas? Based on the results of the auction, the answer is yes.

As Jonathan notes, this year’s bidding process has been more transparent in years past, but in order for the program to be a true success, there also needs to be accountability. Christopher and Jonathan also discuss the results from this auction and the strong showing that rural electric cooperatives made in the auction. They talk about some of the technological challenges that may arise for some of the bidding firms that promised results that may be beyond their capabilities. Christopher and Jonathan also discuss some of the areas of the country where firms receiving Connect America Funds will deploy.

You can view lists of bid winners and the news release about the auction at the FCC website. There are also maps available at the FCC, to offer visual representations of areas to receive infrastructure, along with eligible areas, and related documents.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 51 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here....

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Posted September 4, 2018 by lgonzalez

In a state as large as Texas, it makes sense to divide the eastern half into defined regions. Likewise, when counties, towns, and other entities in one of those areas realize they need better connectivity, it makes sense to work together on a regional project. The Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) and Economic Development District recently issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a Fiber Optic Broadband Market Analysis and Cost Study. Proposals are due September 25th, 2018.

Read the RFP.

Deep East Texas

The region is also known as the Texas Forest County, with four national forests, lakes, and primarily a rural landscape. Twelve counties constitute the Deep East region that borders Oklahoma on the north and the Gulf of Mexico on the south. About 385,000 people live in the region, which covers more than 10,380 square miles.

DETCOG is an organization that has been around since the mid-1960s and includes counties, cities, school districts, and other entities in the region interested in participating in local economic development efforts. According to the RFP, the DETCOG Board of Directors has decided to re-allocate some of the remaining relief funds from Hurricane Ike to boost the region’s options for high-quality Internet access. Estimated funds remain at  around $513,000.

Within the region, 50 public school districts serve residents in 43 communities. There are two colleges, eleven hospitals, and more than 30 additional healthcare facilities. Ten cooperatives, including telephone, gas, and electric, operate in the region.

Much of the region obtains Internet access via DSL, with cable connections available in a few of the more densely populated areas, such as the county seats. There are also a few fixed wireless providers and at least one area where fiber is available on a limited basis. Some of the most rural areas depend on satellite. There’s very little consistency in the Deep East Texas Region and rates appear to run high for the level of service.

What They Want

To commence their journey toward better regional connectivity, the DETCOG seeks a consultant to study what is now available, what businesses and residents want and need, offer recommendations on what would work well for the region, and provide cost estimates. The...

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Posted August 30, 2018 by lgonzalez

Shortly after Republican FCC Commissioners repealed federal network neutrality protections late in 2017, state lawmakers began introducing legislation to protect their constituents. California’s AB 1999, introduced as one possible antidote to the FCC failure in judgment, passed the General Assembly on August 29th and is on its way to Governor Jerry Brown.

Read the final version of the bill and the Legislative Counsel Digest here.

Let the People Serve the People

As local communities have investigated ways to protect themselves from throttling, paid prioritization, and other activities no longer banned, they’ve looked at investing in publicly owned infrastructure. Rural communities where national Internet service providers are less motivated to deploy have always struggled to attract investment from the same large companies known to violate network neutrality tenets. Assembly Member Ed Chau’s AB 1999 addresses rural communities’ need for better connectivity, solutions that can preserve network neutrality, and challenges in funding broadband infrastructure.

California’s community service districts (CSDs) are independent local governments created by folks in unincorporated areas. CDSs provide services that would otherwise be provided by a municipality. Residents usually join together to form a CSD and do so to establish services such as water and wastewater management, garbage collection, fire protection, or similar services. A CSD also has the ability to create an enhanced infrastructure financing district (EIFD) in order to finance the development of a broadband network.

The EIFD statute granting the authority allows communities, including CSDs, to join together regional projects for a range of financing purposes. Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and various bonding mechanisms are a few examples.

The law currently on the books, which AB 1999 will change, requires CSDs to first determine that no private entity or person is willing to offer broadband in their sector before they are allowed to invest to do so. If they manage to get past the requirement but an entity or person enters the picture and is willing to provide those services, the...

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Posted August 30, 2018 by lgonzalez

People and businesses in the small town of Hermann, Missouri, primarily rely on slow DSL for Internet access. There are also a few areas with cable connections available, and even a few parts of town where no ISPs offer service. This month, community leaders took decisive action to bring another option to town — they adopted a resolution to pursue federal funding for a publicly owned fiber optic network.

Let the People Decide

Late last year, Mayor Robert Koerber proposed a spring non-binding referendum to determine how strongly Hermann voters wanted to invest in the project. At the time, the Board of Alderman were considering a bond issue to cover the cost of deployment, which they estimated at $2.6 million. 

Koerber thought that a strong outcome in support of the project would help attract financing when it was time to begin the project. He also considered the issue something voters should weigh in on, due to the bonding question.

The Board of Alderman supported the idea, but other town matters, including finding a new tourism and economic development director, required immediate attention. Town leaders also decided to look for some one who could help educate the community about the pros and cons of the fiber optic project. Rather than move forward with the referendum town leaders decided in January to put off any vote for the time being.

Pursuing Funding

Prior to their mid-August Board meeting, Alderman in Hermann had the opportunity to meet with representatives from the USDA to discuss other funding possibilities. They determined during those conversations that they could apply for funding from the Rural Utilities Service, which us under the purview of the USDA, for loans to deploy the network. Deadline for their loan application is September 30th.

logo-hermann-mo.png When the Board of Alderman got together, they passed a resolution to authorize submission of their loan application. At the time they passed...

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Posted August 28, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

There may be one famous Orange County already — the one in California is home to Laguna Beach, Disneyland, and The Real Housewives — but Orange County, Indiana, will soon be making a name for itself with world-class connectivity thanks to the local electric cooperative.

After a few years of planning, Orange County REMC is moving ahead with the construction of a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network that will bring premium Internet and telephone services to its members and other nearby residents. Construction on the main fiber ring begins this fall with services starting as early as next year.

The Seventh Cooperative Principle

In Orange County, the co-op’s main service territory, about half of the county’s 9,000 residents do not have access to 25 Megabit per second (Mbps) wired Internet access.

To address this, Orange County REMC began exploring ways to provide fast, reliable connectivity to its members in 2015. Two surveys and a feasibility study confirmed that a fiber project would be financially possible for the co-op and that it would garner sufficient interest from residents, while also improving management of the electric grid. “Based on the second survey, 85 percent of Orange County REMC members stated they would take our service if it were offered,” Matt Deaton, the co-op’s General Manager and CEO, told Hoosier Energy.

Because of the strong community support and the benefits for local businesses and residents, the Orange County REMC Board of Directors approved the FTTH project, Orange County Fiber, in May 2018.

In a recent edition of the Electric Consumer, published by Indiana electric co-ops, Deaton explained:

“All of these factors are found under the seventh cooperative principle ­— concern for community...This was a major decision to expand the services we provide to prepare us to meet the current and future needs of our members.”

Orange County Fiber

The finished fiber network will serve 14,000 people, primarily in Orange County, but also in parts of Crawford, Davies, Lawrence, and...

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Posted August 23, 2018 by lgonzalez

If you live in Alamance County, North Carolina, here’s your chance to share your Internet access experiences with your county leaders. The county asks that as many residents as possible take a few moments to complete their Internet Speed Survey. As the realization spreads that FCC data on where broadband is available is deeply flawed, local communities such as Alamance County are asking their residents to supply that data directly for a more accurate picture.

Finding the Holes

“We really need help from our citizens filling out this survey,” [Assistant County Manager Roy] Walker said. “This is the first step in determining where the Internet holes are in the county and what Internet speeds folks have. The results will be mapped and publicly available [in 2019] in anticipation that county leaders and service providers will better understand the Internet needs of our citizens. The hope is that this survey facilitates more Internet access solutions, more coverage, faster speeds, and increased competition.”

The survey is quick and simple, consisting of only four questions relating to the type of Internet access, speed, and how much folks would be willing to pay for high-quality connectivity. Residents can access the survey online, but a paper version also went to property owners along with their property tax bills in July. The county Tax Office and all libraries in the county have paper copies that residents can complete and submit.

Alamance

The county is considered part of the Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point Combined statistical area, sitting directly east of and adjacent to Guilford County. Within Alamance County, the city of Graham is the county seat. Approximately 159,000 people live in the county, the bulk of which reside in the three largest towns of Burlington, Graham, and Mebane. Beyond the three cities, many of the communities in Alamance County are small, rural towns. Most rural communities in the county contain fewer than 1,500 residents.

The County Planning Board is developing a Comprehensive Plan, and has discussed adding broadband and telecommunications as a priority. While...

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Posted August 17, 2018 by lgonzalez

In the most recent report from the Blandin Foundation, Researcher Bill Coleman from Community Technology Advisors and his crew put boots to the ground to examine the results of Connect America Fund (CAF II) investments. Bill recently visited our office in Minneapolis to discuss the report with Christopher for episode 318 of the  podcast.

You can download the report, Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons From Two Rural Minnesota Exchanges here.

Bill and Christopher discuss the challenges Bill and his team encountered when they initially decided to gather documentation on what services CAF II funded projects brought to rural Minnesota. In order to get past those challenges, the researchers devised a methodology that other communities can reproduce.

Once the team had answered the technical questions about infrastructure, they analyzed the results and applied them to Minnesota’s statewide goals for broadband access. They determined that, in addition to lack of transparency regarding CAF II network plans, the tendency to invest in slower speeds, including DSL, will not help Minnesota achieve its goals. 

For people living in urban areas who have grown accustomed to broadband within reach, it’s hard to imagine the situation in rural Minnesota, where there are still homes that have no access to the Internet at all. The disparity in speeds and availability complicate the idea that rural folks should have access to high-quality connectivity at the same levels as people living in urban centers.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all...

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Posted August 9, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

Great Lakes Energy (GLE), Michigan’s largest electric cooperative and third largest energy utility, is constructing a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to bring gigabit connectivity to its 125,000 members. Construction in the project’s pilot area is underway. Eligible members may be able to subscribe to services from the co-op’s subsidiary Truestream as soon as the end of the year.

Truestream Off to A Quick Start

GLE shared on its website that the co-op decided to build the Truestream network because members expressed a need for better connectivity in rural Michigan.

At the end of 2017, the co-op’s Board of Directors approved the planned fiber project. Board approval came after three feasibility studies, commissioned by GLE and its power supplier, Wolverine Power Cooperative, concluded that a broadband network would be a responsible investment for the co-op. Bill Scott, President and CEO of GLE, wrote in Michigan Country Lines that this conclusion was “based in part on GLE’s very positive satisfaction rating… [and] on surveys done by GLE and Wolverine that show a high demand for high-speed, reasonably priced, Internet service.”

GLE began constructing the first portion of the Truestream network earlier this year. For the initial pilot, the co-op is focusing on the Petoskey service district, which includes Emmet County and parts of Charlevoix and Cheboygan Counties. An online FAQ explains this region was selected because it’s representative of the varying terrain, density, level of connectivity, and type of membership found throughout GLE’s service territory. Some homes could be online by the end of 2018.

logo-Truestream.jpg

State Representatives Lee Chatfield and Tristan Cole joined the co-op at a July 26th ribbon cutting ceremony to congratulate GLE on connecting...

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Posted August 7, 2018 by lgonzalez

If you haven’t already taken a look at our most recent report, now is your chance to get some insight before you download it and dive in. Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom, written by our Hannah Trostle, recently left ILSR to attend grad school, and Christopher Mitchell, transforms FCC Form 477 data into a series of maps that reveal a sad state of competition in the U.S. broadband market. For episode 317 of the podcast, Hannah and Christopher discuss the report and the main findings.

Download the report here.

Hannah and Christopher provide more insight into the main findings of the report, which analyzes where competition exists and where large national providers fail to invest. The result ultimately creates densely populated areas with more competition for broadband (as defined by the FCC) than rural areas. Due to their de facto monopolies, the top national providers capture huge segments of the population.

Hannah and Christopher also talk about the quality of the Form 477 data and the need for better benchmarks, we learn about why Hannah and Christopher felt that it was time to take the data and turn it into a visual story. You’ll learn more about their methodology in developing the maps and their analysis. Hannah, who created the maps that make the foundation of the report, shares some of the surprises she discovered. The two talk about the Connect America Fund and the policies behind the program and how the results have aggravated lack of broadband in rural America and how cooperatives are picking up the slack where big corporate ISPs are failing rural America.

cover-monopoly-report-2018_0.png If you want to learn more about how cooperatives are running circles around the big ISPs in rural areas, download our 2017 report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era.

Read the transcript of the show here.

We want...

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