Tag: "rural"

Posted February 28, 2020 by Sushmita Shrestha

There is a festive air in Arrowsic, Maine, after Governor Janet Mills announced on January 30th that the community will develop a publicly owned broadband network for fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. The community will receive $1.2 million in combined grant and loan funding from the USDA's ReConnect Pilot Program to connect 237 households, 20 businesses, and four farms with symmetrical fiber optic service of up to 100 Mbps.

This will be a substantial upgrade because Arrowsic currently contends with patchy DSL connections that top out at 10 Mbps download through Consolidated, with upload speeds much slower. Poor connectivity has been affecting the economy at the local level because it's a strike against Arrowsic when people are looking to relocate to the region. Community leaders approached incumbent providers, including Consolidated and Spectrum, but the national companies rejected requests to serve the rural community with a small population of only around 450. Rather than settle for antiquated, poor serve, Arrowsic decided to pursue a community broadband network.

Multi-Community Effort

The 3 Bridged Islands Broadband Initiative (3BIB) is a nonprofit created by the towns of Arrowsic, Georgetown, and Southport. The organization first initiated a feasibility study, explored funding opportunities, and submitted the application for USDA grant to develop the network in Arrowsic. They've worked with Axiom to develop the design for the infrastructure and, according to the 3BIB website, intend work with private sector partners to offer services via the fiber optic infrastructure.

After the approval of USDA grant, the town of Arrowsic is now determined to close the digital divide and expects to do more to boost the local economy. The town is also looking forward to providing telehealth services to older people with chronic illness, increasing students’ ability to do research and complete assignments through better Internet connections. 

D.J. LaVoy, the USDA rural development deputy undersecretary said in his announcement on January 30th

This substantial investment in broadband in Maine will help ensure that these rural, coastal, and island communities can connect to the vital Internet services that...

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Posted February 27, 2020 by Lisa Gonzalez

Christopher went to North Carolina earlier this month to attend the Institute for Emerging Issues Forum at North Carolina State. While he was there, he interviewed Dr. Jeff Cox, President of Wilkes Community College, and Zach Barricklow Vice President of Strategy for the college.

The conversation was too good not to share as another bonus episode for the project that we’ve been working on with nonprofit NC Broadband Matters. Our common goal is to shed light on some of the connectivity issues in North Carolina. NC Broadband Matters focuses on bringing broadband coverage to local communities for residents and businesses and we’re teaming up for the "Why NC Broadband Matters" podcast series which explores broadband and related issues in North Carolina.

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.png These education leaders discuss the value of broadband and distance learning in places like rural North Carolina. They examine how access to high-quality Internet access is presenting opportunities to potential students and increasing the possibility of economic mobility. They also look at how increased access to community college curriculum is improving the work force and improving economic development in rural areas of the state.

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

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or with the...

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Posted February 25, 2020 by Lisa Gonzalez

Rural areas are taking steps to improve their connectivity and are developing high-quality Internet access on par with the best services in urban centers. When smaller communities band together, they increase their chances of developing fast, affordable, reliable community networks that serve a larger swath of people. This week, Christopher speaks with Travis Thies, General Manager of one of those networks established to serve an eight-town region, Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS).

The network started with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and has continued to make improvements and upgrades to serve folks who were once stuck with antiquated Internet access. Before SMBS, several communities had been told by the incumbent Internet access provider that the best they could ever expect was dial-up service. Now, subscribers can sign-up for gigabit connections. With intelligent partnerships, they're also able to provide service to farms and rural premises beyond town limits.

Travis and Christopher discuss the history of the project, the challenges that community leaders and network officials have faced and overcome, and how the area's demographics have helped them determine the best ways to serve subscribers. They also discuss their partnership with a local fixed wireless Internet service provider and the how better connectivity has attracted people and businesses to the region.

This show is 24 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed...

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Posted February 20, 2020 by Lisa Gonzalez

Determining the state of broadband in a local community can be challenging for professional who conduct surveys and develop feasibility studies. Finding out the same information on a state level is an even more complex task. Nevertheless, North Carolina is tackling the job and earlier this month, the N.C. Department of Information Technology (NCDIT) shared data indices that shine a light on the state of broadband access, adoption, and how the digital divide plays out across the state.

It's More than Mapping

In December 2019, we spoke with Jeff Sural, Director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office for the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, who discussed their work in mapping and examining the Office's attempts to gather a more accurate picture of how and where people in the state use and access the Internet.

Listen to them discuss the project here. They talked as part of our special series on North Carolina connectivity that we're creating in collaboration with NC Broadband Matters:

The indices look at county-level data and reveal a variety of factors. Some results are a stark reality that the digital divide has widened as technology in some regions has advanced — such as indicators that show people have only DSL service and no Internet access at all juxtaposed against those communities where a majority of folks subscribe to available fiber optic connectivity.

These indices were designed...

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Posted February 20, 2020 by Lisa Gonzalez

In recent months, we’ve been working with nonprofit NC Broadband Matters to shed light on some of the connectivity issues in North Carolina. The group focuses on bringing broadband coverage to local communities for residents and businesses and have asked us to help them develop the series, "Why NC Broadband Matters," which explores broadband and related issues in North Carolina.

Many of the discussions have struck a chord with folks in other states, especially those with rural regions and those that grapple with the digital divide. This week, we’re sharing a bonus episode in addition to our monthly episodes. Why? Because this conversation is interesting, important, and inspiring.

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.png While he was recently in North Carolina at the Institute for Emerging Issues Forum at North Carolina State, Christopher had the opportunity to sit down with Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D., Assistant Director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development and a Purdue Extension Community & Regional Economics Specialist. Roberto has been working with the state’s Department of Information Technology to develop their N.C. Broadband Indices and examine digital inclusion in North Carolina.

Roberto, who has studied the digital divide(s) elsewhere speaks with Christopher about the overlap between availability, adoption, and infrastructure. He and Christopher look at how data can help communities take a targeted approach at developing a unique strategy for closing the digital divide for their...

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Posted February 19, 2020 by Lisa Gonzalez

The Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) in Virginia recently announced that they are now ready to begin developing residential Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connections in Roanoke and Botetourt Counties and the cities of Salem and Roanoke.

The Next Logical Step

Since 2016, the open access network has provided services to businesses, public facilities, and community anchor institutions in the region. In 2017, the Authority connected one multi-dwelling unit in the city of Roanoke and began working with a private Internet access company to provide service. Now, the RVBA is determined to connect every premise with high-quality Internet access.

The Roanoke Times reports that:

The process begins with a survey of residents in the Roanoke Valley the municipal broadband authority announced Monday morning. The survey, available on the RVBA website, will help determine where the highest demand for the service is, but with a mind to reach wide areas of the region.

“We’re changing the game,” said RVBA President and CEO Frank Smith. “We’re changing the infrastructure, allowing us to differentiate ourselves across the region and across the country.”

The municipal authority’s mission “has been to be an economic development engine, drive competition, bring more choice in … but also to serve the geographically and economically underserved,” Smith said. “We want to make sure we build in places that make sense economically but make sure we do not ignore those that are economically disadvantaged.”

The RVBA will use survey results to determine where to deploy. Smith anticipates construction to begin this year and expects one provider to be offering service when the residential connections go online, but more Internet service providers to be added as the number of subscribers increases. Multiple ISPs have expressed an interest in delivering residential services...

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Posted February 13, 2020 by Lisa Gonzalez

Local officials in eight mostly-rural counties in southwest Pennsylvania are combining efforts to determine first, what connectivity is available and, second, what can be done to improve it.

Seeking Updated Information

Westmoreland, Fayette, Cambria, Somerset, Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon, and Fulton counties have been working with consulting firm Design Nine to develop a survey to share with residents in the region. The Regional Broadband Task Force, established by the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission (SAP&DC), gathered limited data in the past. They estimate that six percent of folks in the region live in places without wired broadband Internet access.

An earlier study determined that:

...2.3 percentage of the 354,751 residents fall below that level of service [25 Mbps upload and 3 Mbps download]. About 1.6 percentage of Blair County’s 123,842 population and 2.2 percentage of Cambria County’s 134,550 population are lacking that basic level of connectivity. At the other end of the spectrum, 55.2 percentage of Fulton County’s 14,506 residents are without the service.

ARC Funds

Funding for the study comes from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). The Task Force received $50,000 from ARC and the member counties contributed a matching $50,000 for the study. They began looking for a firm to help develop the study last fall and chose Design Nine hoping to determine:

  • Level of service being provided; the needs of local businesses and the reliability of the current services being provided;
  • An inventory of broadband assets already in place;
  • An assessment community broadband requirements for bandwidth needs;
  • Determine best technologies to meet the coal impacted community needs; and
  • Cost estimates for different deployment strategies

Businesses Want More in Westmoreland

While the Regional Broadband Task Force is seeking data about connections consistent with the FCC's definition of "...

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Posted February 12, 2020 by Lisa Gonzalez

Whether you're a tech entrepreneur, manage a large industrial operation, or you specialize as an artisan who sells niche products online, fast, affordable, reliable connectivity is now a critical utility for your business. A recent SpotLight article from the North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM) and hosted by WRAL.com, shines a light on the impact of reliable broadband on rural businesses, residents, and local economies.

Unrealized Potential

NCLM provides multiple examples supporting the theory that lack of high-quality connectivity and access to digital tools results in unrealized potential — in jobs, home-based businesses, and small business revenue. A 2019 study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce suggests that 66 percent of rural small businesses struggle with poor Internet or mobile phone connectivity.

Sheila Pope and her husband — both attorneys — have no Internet access at home and when their daughter returns home from college, she must make the trek into town to scope out a reliable connection.

"The trend is for more and more online work. She [Pope's daughter] would have to come to our office or go to the coffee shop in town. We got unlimited data through our cell phone provider so that we could use our phones as a hotspot, but that's unreliable and sometimes the connection would go out and she would lose all her work. It's very problematic," Pope said. "People are not going to want to come here to live and businesses aren't going to come here when they can't get what they need to do business in this digital age." 

NCLM spoke with Aaron Carter, director of marketing for Rhino Shelf, a storage shelving manufacturer. Only recently has the company been able to subscribe to Internet access faster than 20 Mbps:

"Broadband is so important because no matter what your business is, efficiency is the bottom line. It doesn't matter if you have the greatest product in the world; if you're not manufacturing it efficiently, that's a loss. If you're not selling or marketing it efficiently, you're losing," Carter said. "I grew up in Sampson County. I have friends there who run businesses and the way they do business is old-fashioned because they...

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Posted February 11, 2020 by Lisa Gonzalez

In 2012, the Medina County Fiber Network (MCFN) first began offering fiber optic connectivity to businesses and community anchor institutions in the county. Jump forward eight years later and the network is now proving the case that Ohioans also want fast, affordable, reliable connections in the small communities where national providers aren't willing to upgrade.

Meeting a Goal

When we spoke with CEO David Corrado from MCFN in December 2019 for episode 386 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we learned about the new partnership between MCFN, Lit Communities, and Peak Communications. CEO Brian Snider and Chief Marketing Officer Ben Lewis-Ramirez from Lit Communities also participated in the conversation and the three explained how the partners were employing a community based model to expand the open access fiber optic infrastructure with private capital. 

The entity they created for the project is Medina Fiber and focuses on expanding the benefits of the network to residents in Medina County.

In a February 11th press release from MCFN, Corrado announced that the project has reached a key milestone. Monthly revenue from the network now equals the MCFN $100,000 monthly bond payment.

From the press release:

“This is a key metric that we’re pleased to reach as Medina County Fiber Network begins expanding our trusted network to homes throughout Medina County. It’s proof that the county’s investment in fiber infrastructure works well now, and positions our community for even more economic success and better quality-of-life.”

In December, the initial construction began to approximately 6,100 households in the Villages of Seville, Westfield Center, and Guilford Township at a cost of around $8 million. According to Corrado, demand in these areas "remains strong." Now that the community based open access model is proving to be effective to bring better connectivity to residents and that locals are showing they want to sign up for services, plans are in...

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Posted February 10, 2020 by Lisa Gonzalez

Gascosage Electric Cooperative, serving members in south-central Missouri, recently joined the list of ReConnect recipients. The co-op will use a $14 million grant and loan combination to deploy gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to members in four counties where people are unserved and underserved.

Natural Choice

Gascosage General Manager Carmen Hartwell told St. Louis Public Radio, “We’re really a natural choice for this. We already have the infrastructure in place and a history of bringing utilities to rural residents.”

Co-Mo Cooperative and Ozarks Electric Cooperative in Missouri are two other rural electric cooperatives that have expanded the use of their infrastructure to provide broadband to members. In the rural regions of Missouri, as in other states, people living in less populated areas recognize the crucial role high-quality connectivity plays in economic development, educational opportunities, and ability to remain competitive.

“When we take a look at educational opportunities and economic development, internet access may stimulate growth of businesses in our area,” said Hartwell. “It might bring more people into our area that otherwise maybe telecommute for their jobs. Now, they’re going to be able to live on family farms.”

Phasing In Fiber

The co-op has a three-phase plan to connect more than 1,100 households, 20 farms, 20 local businesses, and two rural fire-protection districts. Gascosage has posted detailed information for members, including maps, on their website and their Facebook page revealing exactly where the deployment will occur. The deployment areas are in Camden, Maries, Miller, Phelps, and Pulaski counties. Subscribers will also be able to sign-up for voice services.

Phase one should be completed in early 2021 and will make symmetrical gigabit connectivity available to 285 premises, three farms and eight businesses. Phase two will add 295 premises, to the network, and should also be completed in 2021. The largest Phase will connect 729 homes, businesses, and farms; the co-op will deploy this phase in 2022 and 2023. 

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