Tag: "north carolina"

Posted September 16, 2019 by lgonzalez

As people living in areas plagued by hurricanes deal with increasingly difficult storms this time of year, policy advocates consider the impact of broadband on public safety. In this article shared with us by NC Broadband Matters, author Fiona Morgan reports on connectivity as critical for first responders. She delves into the ways FirstNet and other tools are affecting the conversation and she talks to people who work in emergency situations and understand communication needs during natural disasters.

Fiona's article originally ran on February 21st, 2019, on NC Hearts Gigabit's Our Stories.

Surviving the Storm: Why Broadband Matters for Public Safety

by Fiona Morgan

The water rose faster and higher than anyone had anticipated. Hal Lowder, Jr., recalled watching Hurricane Florence’s impact arrive in Whiteville, where he is the city’s emergency services director. “It was all swamp on Madison Street,” he said. In low-lying areas that might flood two feet in a big storm, water was more than 12 feet high. Even downtown, on Main Street, some areas had eight feet of water. “It was over my head. It was just bizarre.”

The coastal plain of North Carolina was hit hard by the hurricane. The 911 call center was down, and the police and firefighter radio system was inoperable. But there was no loss of life in Whiteville, thanks to the dedication of emergency responders and to the communications systems they had in place.

One of the reforms that came out of the 9-11 Commission was an effort by the federal government to bridge gaps in emergency responder communications. FirstNet is a nationwide public safety broadband network, a service of the federal government provided under exclusive contract with AT&T. Whiteville, seat of Columbus County, was the first city in North Carolina to sign up for FirstNet.

hurricane-symbol.png While it’s not yet available everywhere, FirstNet has become part of the critical information infrastructure of emergency communications. And there’s reason to hope that as it’s built out, it will lead to greater connectivity in parts of the state that currently lack even reliable cellular service.

Red Grasso serves as the state of...

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Posted September 13, 2019 by lgonzalez

A mapping method to accurately depict broadband coverage in the U.S. remains elusive. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced that they intend to work on the issue but officials in North Carolina aren’t waiting. They’ve launched their own efforts to document Internet access speeds in order to challenge to the FCC’s broadband coverage map, the basis for many loan and grant programs.

North Carolina began seeking self-reporting data from residents in 2017 via their online NC OneMap tool. With only around 6,000 people using the tool, however, state officials such as Jeff Sural have decided to seek help from the Measurement Lab (M-Lab), which has launched similar projects in Seattle and Pennsylvania. Sural is the state’s director of Department of Technology’s broadband infrastructure office and he's seeking ways to ensure communities in North Carolina have access to funding to expand rural broadband access.

Streamlining for the Masses

The goal of the new effort will be to make gathering the data as simple as possible. The NC OneMap site requires users to jump from a speed testing page back to the mapping site in several steps. M-Lab and North Carolina want to develop an application that will gather upload and download speed, IP address and coordinates of the device at the time of the test. They also plan to collect information on ISP, latency, and whether the connection is throttled or manipulated in any way. 

In an interview with StateScoop, Sural said:

“So far, one thing we have gleaned from our crowdsourcing tool is that there are a number of locations in areas where the FCC says there is [download coverage of 25 megabits per second and an upload rate of 3 Mbps] that are not getting those speeds.”

Faulty Maps Need Fixing

Officials seeking funding for unserved and underserved areas find themselves blocked due to grossly overstated FCC coverage and are looking for methods to collect data on their own. Because service to one premise in a census block deems that particular block to be “served” by the FCC, large rural swaths of property with no access or poor access are wrongly categorized and ineligible for a...

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Posted August 8, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Municipal broadband networks already serve more than 500 communities across the country, but some states are trying to keep that number from growing. Nineteen states have established legal barriers or even outright bans on publicly owned networks, according to well-respected communications law firm Baller Stokes & Lide.

These state laws, often enacted at the behest of large telecom monopolies, slow the development of community owned connectivity in various ways. From Alabama to Wisconsin, states have implemented everything from direct prohibitions on municipal networks to oppressive restrictions and requirements that limit competition.

The outlook for municipal connectivity may be starting to improve though, despite incorrect reports that state-level broadband preemption increased over the past year. Baller Stoke & Lide’s list of states with restrictions on municipal broadband investment actually shrunk this year from 20 states to 19 — a result of downgrading Colorado’s SB 152 from bonafide barrier to mere annoyance. Still, barriers to community networks remain in more than a third of all states, leaving millions of Americans unconnected and tens of millions more without local Internet choice.

Bans, Blocks, and Burdens

Common approaches to preempting municipal broadband networks range from straightforward bans to confusing financial restrictions and complicated legal requirements. While some states have established one main barrier to community broadband, many more have adopted a bird’s nest of regulations that kill any possibility of municipal connectivity, if only because of the legal uncertainty created by complex and vague laws.

Out of the 19 states with restrictions on municipal networks, a few explicitly ban local governments from providing communications services to their citizens. In Nevada, only municipalities with less than 25,000 people and counties with less than 55,000 people can offer telecommunications services. Both Arkansas and Tennessee bar municipalities without electric utilities from providing Internet access in most situations. Yet other states restrict where government utilities can deploy broadband or what types of services they can offer...

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Posted August 5, 2019 by lgonzalez

Thanks to NC Broadband Matters and Fiona Morgan for sharing this story that describes one family's need for telehealth applications and how changes in North Carolina state law could help boost infrastructure investment. With better connectivity, especially in rural areas, people who have an urgent need for telehealth and related applications, or who live far away from healthcare professionals, can access specialized care only available in urban areas.

Fiona's article originally ran July 24, 2019, on NC Hearts Gigabit's Our Stories.

A Lifeline to Heath: Why Broadband Matters for Telemedicine

by Fiona Morgan

When Daphne Sykes was 21, an accident nearly severed her spine and left her paralyzed from the neck down. At the time, she was a rising senior at UNC-Charlotte getting ready to start a career. During the medical odyssey that followed, she and her family persevered through rehab and occupational therapy, adjusting their routines and their home. Today, almost four years later, she’s a college graduate working remotely as an accountant from her family’s home in rural Cabarrus County, thanks in no small measure to high-speed Internet access.

“She’s been positive throughout this whole situation,” her mother, Lisa Sykes, said. “She’s very energetic. She’s got a dry sense of humor. Her mind is very, very clear. She’s strong in her faith, and very determined.”

The Internet is vital to Daphne’s quality of life. It allows her to do everything from operating the lights in her room to communicating with clients. “Broadband really opens up opportunities to her,” Lisa said.

For Daphne, being able to stay in constant communication with her doctor via email is essential. Like many people with spinal cord injuries, Daphne experiences neuropathic pain, often in the form of pins and needles on her feet, as well as muscle spasms. For these and other ongoing health issues, she takes a variety of medications that need frequent adjustment. A mild cold, or even a thunderstorm, can throw her health off balance. 

Across North Carolina, people living with complex medical conditions are slowly getting access to telemedicine, the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients through telecommunications technology. Telemedicine can involve video conferencing, storing or sharing medical records and test...

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Posted July 26, 2019 by lgonzalez

When rural broadband advocates talk about the connectivity needs of farmers, they often discuss real-time crop prices, monitoring the status of fields, or the ability to submit data-intensive reports. An innovator in North Carolina has a different take on why fast, affordable, reliable connectivity is important to his ag-related business and it involves hog waste. He explains how North Carolina’s municipal networks and cooperatives need to be able to operate without restriction if the state’s agribusiness is to advance.

Methane is Power, but Broadband is a Must

In a recent opinion piece by Mark Maloney, the CEO and founder of OptimaBio writes that his company is developing a method for capturing methane from hog waste and transforming the biogas into electricity. According to Maloney, the pilot program has the potential to expand in order to provide affordable energy while also reducing harm to the environment.

A key element that OptimaBio requires, however, is reliable and fast connectivity, which isn't readily available in many rural North Carolina communities yet: 

The equipment that allows this conversion produces large amounts of data to assist us in understanding operations and avoid downtime.

That data is of no value if we cannot transmit it over a reliable communications network.

Today, without reliable broadband, we use radio signals to get the job done. It’s not ideal.

He describes how weather and trees can interrupt radio signals that must be in line of sight of each other, and how the company must purchase expensive equipment in order to use radio signals. At this stage, there is no other alternative in the rural areas where they operate.

A Chronic Problem

Maloney writes that his company is one of many in the agriculture industry that struggles due to poor rural connectivity in North Carolina. In order to allow agribusiness to pursue innovations that can solve problems and find improvements, the state needs to remove onerous hurdles.

As our state policymakers and legislators examine the issues of broadband access, they need to bring all available options and partners to the table – including electric co-ops and local governments. It is imperative that we remove all hurdles that hinder local...

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Posted July 18, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Across the country, state legislatures are ushering in better rural connectivity by passing new laws that enable electric cooperatives to expand high-quality Internet access. In recent years, much of this legislation has authorized co-ops to deploy broadband infrastructure along existing electric easements. Other bills have removed restrictions that previously prevented electric co-ops from providing Internet access. Together, the new legislation makes it easier for electric cooperatives to bring high-speed broadband access to their members, signaling a brighter future for unconnected rural communities

Indiana in the Lead

Indiana’s state legislature was ahead of the curve when it passed SB 478, the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act back in 2017. The FIBRE Act permits electric cooperatives to use easements for their electric poles to also deploy broadband networks. Before the General Assembly passed this legislation, cooperatives that wanted to install communications infrastructure, such as fiber optic lines, along their electric easements would have to gain permission from each individual landowner to attach fiber to the existing poles.

Since the passage of the FIBRE Act two years ago, a number of Indiana electric cooperatives have embarked on broadband projects, including Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC), South Central Indiana REMC, Orange County REMC, and Tipmont REMC. At the announcement event for South Central Indiana REMC’s fiber project, State Senator Eric Koch, author of SB 478, noted that state legislation like the FIBRE Act was enabling electric cooperatives to expand modern connectivity to rural Indiana.

State Laws Advance Co-op Broadband

A wave of support for rural cooperative broadband initiatives rippled through state...

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Posted July 12, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

At the beginning of the year, our Community Broadband Networks team visited North Carolina as part of the Let’s Connect speaking tour. While preparing for the trip and after returning to Minnesota, we researched and mapped Internet access and broadband funding in the state. Here’s what we found.

Broadband Availability by County

According to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data, which is riddled with errors and fundamentally overstates coverage, almost 95 percent of North Carolina has access to broadband speeds of a minimum of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Despite seemingly widespread connectivity, many rural parts of the state are still not connected. While the FCC data shows that nearly all of urban North Carolina has access to broadband and about 97 percent has access to higher speeds of 100 Mbps/10 Mbps, more than 15 percent of rural North Carolina is entirely without broadband and more than 24 percent lacks access to speeds of 100 Mbps/10 Mbps.

However, far more North Carolinians don't have Internet access than the FCC says, particularly in rural communities. The FCC's data collection method relies on self-reporting by providers at the census block-level, which inherently exaggerates the extent of broadband coverage. Even if a provider offers Internet access to only one home within a census block, the entire census block is counted as served. Rural areas, where the census blocks are large and homes are far apart, are especially harmed by this approach.

View the map below to see which parts of the state have high-speed Internet access, according to FCC data.

For greater detail, download the county-level maps from this Dropbox folder.

NC Internet Service Availability by County

Cooperatives Connect Rural N.C.

Rural North Carolina isn’t entirely devoid of high-...

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Posted April 2, 2019 by lgonzalez

Interest in community broadband and broadband service from cooperatives has grown significantly within the past few years. This legislative session, lawmakers in states such as Vermont, North Carolina, and Arkansas, have decided that they’d like to start contributing to new ways to bring better Internet access to their constituents. This week, Christopher and Jess Del Fiacco, our Communications Specialist, sit down to review some of the most recent state bills that we find promising.

Jess and Christopher talk about H 513 making it’s way through Vermont’s legislature. The bill contains policy changes and financial support designed to invigorate local broadband projects. H 513 was developed after state leaders examined the success of ECFiber, the regional network that brings gigabit connectivity to more than 20 communities in the central part of the state. 

The state of North Carolina’s FIBER NC ACT, which relaxes some of the state’s restrictions on local Internet network infrastructure investment, also comes up in the conversation. Christopher finds the bill a promising start to restoration of local telecommunications authority in North Carolina. State lawmakers are also considering another bill that will assist with pole issues.

Christopher and Jess spend some time examining what’s happening in Tallahassee, Florida, where city leaders have decided that they...

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Posted April 1, 2019 by Hannah Bonestroo

On Friday, April 26th from 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM, NC Broadband Matters will host its 2nd Annual NC Hearts Gigabit Interactive at the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center in Raleigh. The event will showcase why broadband access is critically important to urban and rural communities in North Carolina for workforce development and technology innovation.

Register online for the event.

In late 2012, over thirty communities came together in Wilson, North Carolina, over a series of lunches to discuss ways in which to bring more gigabit fiber Internet to the state. By 2016, these talks had turned into formal action and became known as the NC Hearts Gigabit campaign. The following year, the nonprofit NC Broadband Matters was formed to function as the campaign’s coordinating body. Since its inception, NC Broadband Matters has worked to bring together both private and public stakeholders to promote statewide affordable, fast, and reliable Internet. 

With a full agenda covering various aspects of broadband policy and finance, the 2nd Annual NC Hearts Gigabit Interactive is one more way that NC Broadband Matters is working to educate stakeholders on why fast Internet is the future. Harvard Law School Professor Susan Crawford, who recently discussed her new book Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution and Why America Might Miss It on our Community Broadband Bits podcast, will be the keynote speaker of the event.

You can review the full agenda to learn more about specific panel discussions. To help spread the word, feel free to download and share this promotional flyer.

To hear Susan Crawford’s discussion about how cheap and reliable fiber Internet access can revolutionize our country in person, register here. If you can’t make it to the Interactive,...

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Posted March 26, 2019 by lgonzalez

Two pieces of recently introduced legislation in North Carolina’s General Assembly show a potential to help grow broadband in rural areas. In the past, state lawmakers have kept publicly owned Internet networks tightly reined in to protect cable and telephone monopolies operating in the state, but the restrictions may be loosening as state leaders recognize the need for more options.

The FIBER NC Act

The long list and leadership positions of sponsors attached to H 431 indicate that the FIBER NC Act shows promise. It’s four primary sponsors include the Rules Committee Chair and a Finance Committee Chair, which also bodes well for the future of H 431. Our friends at the North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM) tell us that they expect a similar companion bill with equal muscle behind it to come from the Senate.

The FIBER Act would change existing barriers to allow municipalities and local government the authority to invest in publicly owned broadband infrastructure in order to work with private sector partners. The bill also includes procedures that local governments must follow if they decide to pursue a public-private partnership, including conducting a feasibility study, and proper notification and execution of meetings. Within the language of H 431, the authors include specific instructions for publication and advertisement that describe the opportunity to lease the infrastructure.

Bipartisan support of the bill and the fact that almost 50 House Members, in addition to the four sponsors, have signed on add to the optimism that H 431 has a bright future. Folks at NCLM have expressed strong support for the bill and are galvanizing constituents to encourage elected officials to move H 431 forward. 

It’s first stop is the Committee on Energy and Public Utilities. If it passes there, H 431 will move on to Finance and then to the Rules Committee.

Read the full language of H 431 and follow it’s progress.

Untying Cooperative Hands

seal-north-carolina.jpg When we published our 2016 report, ...

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