Tag: "rural"

Posted March 29, 2011 by christopher

Minnesota Public Radio, as part of its Ground Level Broadband Coverage has profiled WindomNet with a piece called "Who should build the next generation of high-speed networks?"

Dan Olsen, who runs the municipal broadband service in Windom, was just about to leave work for the night when he got a call. The muckety-mucks at Fortune Transportation, a trucking company on the outskirts of town, were considering shuttering their office and leaving the area.

"They said, Dan, you need to get your butt out here now," Olsen recalls. "I got there and they said, 'You need to build fiber out here. What would it take for you to do it?'"

Fortune, which employs 47 people in the town of 4,600, two and a half hours southwest of the Twin Cities, relies on plenty of high-tech gadgetry. Broadband Internet access figures into how the company bids for jobs, communicates with road-bound truckers, controls the temperatures in its refrigerated trucks and remotely views its office in Roswell, New Mexico. Fortune even uses the Internet to monitor where and to what extent drivers fill their gas tanks in order to save money.

Yet, when it was time to upgrade company systems three years ago, Fortune's private provider couldn't offer sufficient speeds.

That's where Windomnet came in. Though Fortune was a mile outside the municipal provider's service area, "We jumped through the hoops and made it happen," recalls Olsen. "The council said, "Do it and we'll figure out how to pay for it.' We got a plow and a local crew. We had it built in 30 days."

I have thought about this story frequently when I hear claims that publicly owned networks are failures. For years, lobbyists for cable and phone companies have told everyone in the state what a failure WindomNet has been - they crow about debt service exceeding revenue while ignoring the fact that all networks -- public and private -- take many years of losses before they break even because nearly all the costs of the network are paid upfront.

Toward the end of the article (which should be read in its entirely rather than in the snippets I repost here), Dan puts the matter in context:

Dan Olsen retorts that Windomnet was never designed to make money; one...

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Posted March 28, 2011 by christopher

In the ongoing effort to better network us network-type people, I wanted to note a site, Agrilan Rural Broadband Blog, that is working toward better rural broadband in upstate New York. I plan to put up short posts like this from time to time in hopes that people will get a better sense of who is near them (or has similar interests) for coalitions to advocate for broadband networks that are structurally accountable to communities.

Posted March 22, 2011 by christopher

On Friday March 18, Luisa Handem of Rural America Radio and RuMBA (Rural Mobile & Broadband Alliance) interviewed me. We spoke about the importance of community ownership and ensuring rural areas benefit from the communications revolution.

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Posted March 18, 2011 by christopher

The Roanoke Times recently published an extensive story about broadband, covering everything from what it is to why it is needed and who doesn't have it.

Aside from providing an excellent primer on these issues to those who are new to broadband discussions, Jeff Sturgeon writes about problems often ignored by the media, like the difficulties for companies and other entities can encounter when they need extremely high capacity connections:

Skip Garner directs the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, which unites the powers of biology and information technology to advance medicine. It is at Virginia Tech. Garner said he, too, finds computing power a constraint. In spite of a 1 gigabit connection, "we are limited in what we could do," Garner said.

When the lab's DNA sequencers pile up data, "we will often put it on a 1-terabyte drive ... and FedEx it to our customers," Garner said.

An upgrade to 10 gigabits is coming. He expects it still won't be enough.

It might appear that new facilities would not have such problems, but even the 5-month-old Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute near downtown Roanoke is not satisfied with its Web service. While the speed is good at 10 gigabits, the cost it pays to service providers is staggering.

"It's in the tens of thousands of dollars a month," said Executive Director Michael Friedlander.

This is one world. Communities with their own fiber networks are another -- where these connections are not prohibitively expensive. And yet another world is the world of several rural Minnesota Counties, who cannot even get T.1 lines from incumbent phone providers. In Cook County, in 2008, a company was quoted $600,000 to install a T.1 line. Yes, $600,000 - I had to hear it twice to make sure I wasn't imagining it.

The article explores Design Nine founder Andrew Cohill's thoughts on improving broadband access. Cohill mentions Wired West, a network we have written about previously.

"We think it's got to be treated like essential public infrastructure," he said.

That way, access would be open to any service provider on equal footing. Just as anyone could launch a cab company or food delivery service over the road system, anyone...

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Posted March 17, 2011 by christopher

 I just joined the community at RuMBA - the Rural Mobile & Broadband Alliance - and will be appearing on Rural America Radio to discuss rural broadband issues on Friday, March 18. You can call in with questions. Details from Rural America Radio here:

Listen here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/luisahandem

Fiber Networks are admittedly the most powerful tools for delivery of high-speed Internet anywhere. How can communities take ownership of their broadband choices and funding so as to ensure the best outcome? From Minnesota to North Carolina, there is clearly a battle of words going on between private corporations and rural counties, municipalities and other underserved areas on decision-making. In this edition of Rural America Radio, showhost Luisa Handem interviews Christopher Mitchell,  a strong proponent of publicly owned broadband networks. He is the Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative with the New Rules Project of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.  He has been published in a number of online magazines as well as print publications. Mitchell is the author of last year's report on publicly owned broadband networks titled “Breaking the Broadband Monopoly: How Communities Are Building the Networks They Need.”

You may join the show by dialing 646-378-1746 to ask a question from 3:00-3:30pm CDT, every Friday.

Rural America Radio gives voice to rural residents and those who wish to promote the wellbeing and economic growth of rural communities across the U.S. We bring you the very best in talk-show programming related to rural American affairs, by deliberately focusing on the use of technology, especially high-speed Internet, and healthy living. Rural America Radio is a project of the Rural Mobile & Broadband Alliance (rumbausa.com).

 

Posted March 7, 2011 by christopher

Rockingham County has joined Raleigh in officially passing a resolution against legislation to cripple community networks in the state.

 

RESOLUTION
BY THE ROCKINGHAM COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
AGAINST SENATE BILL 87 and HOUSE BILL 129

WHEREAS, Senate Bill 87 and House Bill 129 have been introduced in the 2011-2012 Session of the General Assembly of North Carolina; and

WHEREAS, these bills do not provide a level playing field to cities, towns and counties, but greatly hinder local governments from providing needed communications services, especially advanced high-speed broadband services, in unserved and underserved areas; and

WHEREAS, these bills impose numerous obligations on cities and towns that private broadband companies do not have to meet; and

WHEREAS, private companies, despite having received favorable regulatory and tax treatment to enable broadband investment, have chosen to avoid the financial commitment necessary to provide top quality services to all residents and businesses; and

WHEREAS, while private companies declare top quality service is cost-prohibitive in our country, the United States continues to lose ground to other nations in broadband access, user cost and growth in number of users, falling behind the United Kingdom, Korea, France, Japan and Canada to name a few, and Japan has Internet access that is at least 500 times faster than what is considered high-speed in the United States and at less cost; and

WHEREAS, the bills would prohibit North Carolina cities and towns from using federal grant funds to 

deploy or operate locally-owned or operated broadband systems, thereby denying N.C. residents access to federal assistance available to the rest of the country and hindering employment opportunities; and

WHEREAS, deployment of high-speed Internet is a new public utility vital to the future economic development, educational outreach and community growth in North Carolina necessary to replace lost textile, tobacco, furniture and manufacturing jobs; and

WHEREAS, the General...

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Posted February 16, 2011 by christopher

As decision time approaches, the discussions in Sibley County (and Fairfax in Renville) are winding down. The county and local governments have to decide whether to commit to the Joint Powers Board. Mark Erickson, the coordinator of the project currently, recently responded to a good set of questions about the project and gave me permission to reprint them here.

Questions from a Sibley County Commissioner:

  1. Regarding parity of costs to build the fiber network into the townships (rural area) compared to cities.  It’s nearly twice as expensive to build out the rural areas and some cities feel they are subsidizing cost of putting fiber in country.
  2. How was the initial money spent for the feasibility study?  No one has seen the breakdown as to what that money went for.  We would like to see an itemized list of how the county's contribution and the Blandin dollars were spent.  How much of that money is left?
  3. There are concerns about how the budget of $150,000 was arrived at for the next phase.  Who established the budget and how was it decided how much money to spend for the different categories?  We haven't seen any details of this either, only general categories.
  4. Who is making the decisions on how money is spent and for what?
  5. Some people feel decisions are being made without elected officials - boards or council members - being part of the decision making process.

Response from Mark Erickson:

Parity of costs between City/County

Last summer when the county requested the rural area be included in the feasibility study, the issue of parity came up because of the higher cost of construction in the rural area.

The topic was discussed at all of the public meetings and the following are the reasons for blending the construction costs:

  1. This is a one time 100-year investment in the entire county (and Fairfax and Renville County) and since the city folks rely on the rural folks and visa versa it is viewed as an opportunity for everyone to invest in one another. The fiber network will benefit city and rural businesses, schools, city and county government, townships, ag producers, senior citizens, etc. If everyone benefits equally then everyone should be treated equally.
  2. When...
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Posted February 9, 2011 by christopher

For two years, National Public Broadband (led by Gary Fields and Tim Nulty) has worked with Lake County, Minnesota, to build a universal rural FTTH broadband network to everyone in the County and some nearby towns in Saint Louis County. Toward the end of 2010, the relationship became somewhat tense as some county commissioners questioned what NPB had told them about Burlington Telecom, and a number of media outlets raised questions about Nulty's relationship to BT's problems without actually investigating the story.

Now the Lake County News-Chronicle (which, over the course of this story, has taken the time to report facts rather than following the lazy lead of the Star Tribune and Duluth News Tribune), reports that Lake County and National Public Broadband are kaput. Lake County is seeking a new partner to build the project.

Lake County could not reach agreement on a permanent contract with National Public Broadband, its consultant firm for nearly two years. The two sides battled for nearly two months and couldn’t solve issues based on bonus payments and the ability for the county to fire NPB without cause and without penalty. The negotiations had bogged down work on the actual project, Commissioner Paul Bergman said, and the board wanted a fresh start.

Additionally, due to the state of financial markets, the County is planning to self-fund the $3.5 million local obligation required to access to the broadband stimulus award. Lake County hoped to bond for the matching funds but the current interest rates make that an fiscally unwise approach.

While this does not change the project, it will change the perception of the project and open it to increased attacks from those who don't want the County to build a network (despite the fact that private providers have no interest in providing anything other than slow DSL and cable networks).

The County had long maintained that no public money would be used. However, most people will likely not care as long as the project keeps its promise to deliver fast, reliable, and affordable broadband to the community. This is the need -- and people need to stay focused on achieving this goal.

At a commissioner meeting in late December, Gary Fields commented to the Board that...

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Posted February 7, 2011 by christopher

As Minnesota's rural county-wide FTTH projects move forward, we have the opportunity to learn more about them in upcoming events.  Thanks to Blandin's broadband blog for covering these issues!

On February 10, Cook County is welcoming Dan Olsen from WindomNet to discuss their experiences with a community-owned fiber network. You can listen to a previous interview on the North Shore with Dan Olsen.  In the interview, Dan Olsen mentions that a number of residents use WindomNet to work remotely, commuting only once a week to their jobs in South Dakota.  

For the rest of us, mostly located in the metro area of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, we can learn about the projects in Cook, Lake, and Sibley Counties at a Telecommuniations and Information Society Policy Forum at the HHH School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

Posted February 1, 2011 by christopher

The SF Examiner is the latest to miss the key point when comparing FDR's rural electrification programs with the Obama Administration's broadband stimulus.  Though both programs did extend essential infrastructure to communities either unserved or underserved, an important differentiator is how they approached it.

Seventy years ago, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt realized that if private industry wouldn't run power lines out to the farthest reaches of rural areas, it would take government money to help make it happen. In 1935, the Rural Electrification Administration was established to deliver electricity to the Tennessee Valley and beyond.

But it wasn't just government money that was needed, it was a focus on local self-reliance -- which is what I wrote in a Letter to the Editor submitted to the paper:

Your article rightly notes that many Americans need help in building the broadband networks they need. But it draws a false comparison between FDR's electrification efforts and Obama's Stimulus.

FDR correctly recognized that the private sector is ill-suited to running the infrastructure needed in rural communities and used loans to fund cooperatives that would allow communities to be locally self-reliant.

Obama's stimulus program was a mix of loans and grants (heavy on grants) to mostly private sector for-profit companies that will have less incentive to run the networks in ways that most benefit the communities (upgrades, customer service).

If Obama had learned from FDR, his Administration would have embraced a fiscally responsible approach that encouraged local self-reliance by building networks that are structurally accountable to the communities they serve.

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