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Posted January 6, 2020 by lgonzalez

Originally published in 2017, our report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era, focuses on cooperatives as a proven model for deploying fiber optic Internet access across the country, especially in rural areas. An update in the spring of 2019 included additional information about the rate at which co-ops are expanding Internet service. Now we’ve updated the report with a new map and personal stories from areas where co-ops have drastically impacted local life.

Download the updated report [PDF] here.

All versions of the report can be accessed from the Reports Archive for this report.

Some highlights from the third edition of Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America include:

  • More than 110 rural electric co-ops have embarked on fiber optic projects to increase Internet access for their members, a number that is growing rapidly from just a handful in 2012.
  • 31.3 percent of the fiber service available in rural areas is provided by rural cooperatives.
  • Personal anecdotes from Michigan, Virginia, Minnesota, and Missouri residents attest to the far-reaching benefits of cooperatives’ expansion into Internet service.
  • new map shows where rural cooperatives are planning to expand fiber Internet service.

Co-ops have proven that this is a model that works. With increased support from federal and state governments, they will continue to connect rural Americans to economic and educational opportunities otherwise denied to them.

*We discovered an error in our first release of the December 2019 edition of this report, which we have since corrected. We deeply apologize for the mistake and take this very seriously -- these data are challenging to work with but we are committed to accurately reporting broadband statistics.

The correct statistic is that cooperatives provide 31 percent of all...

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Posted December 17, 2019 by Jess Del Fiacco

Originally published in 2017, our report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era, focuses on cooperatives as a proven model for deploying fiber optic Internet access across the country, especially in rural areas. An update in the spring of 2019 included additional information about the rate at which co-ops are expanding Internet service. Now we’ve updated the report with a new map and personal stories from areas where co-ops have drastically impacted local life.

Download the updated report [PDF] here.

All versions of the report can be accessed from the Reports Archive for this report.

Some highlights from the third edition of Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America include:

  • More than 110 rural electric co-ops have embarked on fiber optic projects to increase Internet access for their members, a number that is growing rapidly from just a handful in 2012.
  • 31.3 percent of the fiber service available in rural areas is provided by rural cooperatives.
  • Personal anecdotes from Michigan, Virginia, Minnesota, and Missouri residents attest to the far-reaching benefits of cooperatives’ expansion into Internet service.
  • A new map shows where rural cooperatives are planning to expand fiber Internet service.

Co-ops have proven that this is a model that works. With increased support from federal and state governments, they will continue to connect rural Americans to economic and educational opportunities otherwise denied to them. 

Read Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era [PDF] here.

Posted November 29, 2019 by lgonzalez

In early November, the city of Alexandria, Virginia, began seeking bidders to construct an institutional network to connect city facilities. In addition to developing infrastructure to meet the city administrative needs, Alexandria wants to bring local schools, public safety, and its Smart City Mobility transportation efforts together on a publicly owned fiber optic system.

According to the city's website:

In addition to improving connectivity among City facilities and sites, the Municipal Fiber project will create potential partnership opportunities to expand consumer choice and increase available speeds for broadband services available in Alexandria. In response to consistent feedback regarding the lack of options for cable television and broadband Internet services, the City has actively pursued other potential providers. With the construction of the new fiber optic network, the City is planning to seek new partners who could lease excess conduit space to provide broadband service to residents and businesses. This would allow all providers to compete fairly and would encourage providers to offer consumer services.

The city of Alexandria currently leases an I-Net from Comcast and has decided to make the long-term investment to replace that infrastructure. By eliminating the lease arrangement, Alexandria will have more control over the use of the fiber optic network, giving them the ability to expand it in the future to businesses and households or work with private sector partners if the community chooses. The city will also be able to better plan for financial needs if they don't have to contend with unpredictable rate hikes from Comcast.

Alexandria has been looking at developing a municipal network for several years now, but budgeting has been a roadblock. By eliminating an expensive lease from Comcast, they will be able to redirecting those funds toward better local connectivity through a municipal network project.

In order to reduce the cost of the deployment wherever possible:

Because digging and burying conduit is a significant cost of building a fiber network, the City is taking all reasonable opportunities to...

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Posted October 31, 2019 by lgonzalez

Lawrenceville, Virginia, only has around 1,000 people living in the community, but they anticipate a boost in jobs in the near future, thanks to the local electric co-op, a partnership, and fiber optic connectivity. 

Small-Town Guys Getting It Done

Virginia Business reports that Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) is in the process of wiring a former bank facility with Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) in order for the next tenant to use the building as a call center. Echo World Communications, based in Bedford County, will take up residence and bring approximately 152 new jobs to Lawrenceville.

According to Virginia Business:

It never would have happened if the building couldn’t have been equipped with high-speed, reliable Internet, says Michael Dotti, business director of the Brunswick County Industrial Development Authority. “It’s a huge amount of technology. This was like small-town guys getting it done.”

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) is wiring the bank building this fall at no cost to Brunswick, with funding from Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corp. (MBC), which started in 2004 as a cooperative to bring fiber-optic networks to rural Virginia. The broadband cooperative also has installed about 90 miles of fiber cables in six Southern Virginia counties, with 45 more miles planned by the end of 2020.

Productive Partners

This isn't the first time we've seen these two entities partner to expand access to broadband in southern Virginia. About two years ago, we reported on a project similar to the one in Lawrenceville in which MEC and MBC connected last mile and middle mile fiber to reduce costs and reach more premises.

The Virginia Business article also mentions that MEC is looking to acquire a local telephone cooperative, if the telephone co-op members approve.

MEC also has proposed the purchase of Buggs Island Telephone Cooperative (BIT) by MEC affiliate Empower Broadband. The merger is contingent on BIT’s 4,500 customers, who have been asked to submit votes by Nov. 13.

“We expect it will speed up the process of putting fiber in this area,” says David Lipscomb, MEC’s vice president of member...

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Posted May 28, 2019 by lgonzalez

The Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) announced in January 2018 that they had solidified plans to deploy fiber across 14 counties for smart grid operations and to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to the region. The project, dubbed Firefly Fiber Broadband, is underway, and we’ve got President and CEO Gary Wood along with Communications and Member Services Manager Melissa Gay on the podcast this week to discuss the multi-year project.

During this interview, we learn about the CVEC service territory, which is a mix of a few denser populated areas and very rural communities where poor Internet access, when it’s available, is a real problem. CVEC members have been dealing with unreliable connections, oversubscription, and outdated technologies for years. Those problems will be eliminated, however, with FTTH from the co-op that many have come to trust. By obtaining grants, working with local communities, and approaching the process in a strategic manner, CVEC plans on bringing gigabit connections to about 37,000 potential subscribers within five years.

Gary and Melissa describe the cooperative’s process, the discoveries they made about attitudes toward the co-op from members in the community (including some interesting stories), and lessons learned. We hear about some of their marketing approaches that focus on the uniqueness of the region and what it was like to establish a subsidiary in accordance with state law. Through all the hard work, Melissa and Gary have nothing but accolades for employees of the cooperative and compliments for local officials who helped get the project off to a strong start.

Learn more about the status of project from CVEC.

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

This show is 40 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using...

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Posted May 9, 2019 by lgonzalez

During this legislative session, state lawmakers in several states passed bills that allocated funds to broadband deployment and planning programs. In many states, elected officials are listening to constituents and experts who tell them that they need fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to keep their communities from dwindling. States that refuse funding to public entities, however, block out some of the best opportunities to connect people and businesses in rural areas. In places such as Michigan, Tennessee, and Virginia, states need to trust their own people to develop necessary broadband networks.

The Great Lakes State: Not Great at Supporting Local Broadband

Michigan’s HB 5670 caught the attention of community broadband advocates when it was introduced by Representative Michele Hoitenga in 2018. The bill was firmly anti-municipal network and after some investigation, it became clear that Hoitenga received guidance from lobbyists from big cable and telephone monopolies. HB 5670, with its sad definition of “broadband” and attempt to fork over state funds to big national ISPs didn’t go anywhere alone after word spread.

seal-michigan.png Folks from the Michigan Broadband Cooperative (MBC) and other constituents in rural Michigan voiced their concern and the bill seemed to disappear. In reality, the House folded the language into SB 601, a large appropriations bill, which has now become law. Section 806 lists the types of entities that are eligible to receive grants from the $20 million set aside for infrastructure -- public entities are specifically eliminated.

In Michigan, places such as Sebewaing, and Marshall have already proven that local residents and businesses need gigabit connectivity and that they trust services from their local municipal utility broadband provider. The language of SB 601 as written will also prevent local governments from obtaining...

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Posted February 28, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

When Arlington County, Virginia, decided to deploy dark fiber and make it available to businesses in 2015, officials dreamed of economic development, tech innovation, and competition in the broadband market. Four years and approximately $4 million later, the fiber network has fallen short of those lofty goals and instead lies in the ground mostly unused.

A recent investigation by the local news outlet ARLnow explores the reasons why Arlington’s network has failed to live up to expectations; ARLnow’s article takes a nuanced look into the project’s specific shortcomings. In particular, the article points to certain choices that Arlington made when designing the network and lease contract, presenting an opportunity to learn from the county’s mistakes and offering hope for the network’s future.

What Went Wrong

Arlington conceived of the 10-mile dark fiber network as an extension of the county’s existing network, ConnectArlington, which already serves schools, traffic lights, and other government buildings. County officials believed the dark fiber expansion, which businesses and Internet service providers (ISPs) could lease access to, would promote economic growth. “At the time,” ARLnow explains, “county leaders championed the construction of the ‘dark fiber’ network as a transformative step for Arlington.” One former official even described the dark fiber as a “competitive advantage over other jurisdictions.”

Unfortunately, county leaders’ “build it and they will come” attitude has not bred success, and the network is drastically underutilized at present. This failure was not inevitable, the article says, but rather “Arlington officials made a series of decisions in designing the program that scared off any businesses interested in leasing the fiber.” ARLnow quotes a member of the Broadband Advisory Committee assembled by the Arlington County Manager:

“‘They have this huge amount of fiber in the ground, and not a single strand of it has been leased,’ said Chris Rozycki, a member of the Broadband Advisory Committee that studied ConnectArlington [and CEO of Potomac Fiber]. ‘It’s like they’ve built...

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Posted December 11, 2018 by lgonzalez

As they look back over their accomplishments, the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) has more than the holidays to celebrate at the close of 2018. In addition to stimulating competition in the region, the RVBA network is attracting more investment and helping local nonprofits operate more efficiently.

Dual Purpose

For Feeding America Southwest Virginia in Salem, connectivity from RVBA is critical. “Without that Internet connection reliability, it would be very difficult for us to achieve our mission,” says IT Director Eric Geist. The food bank is one of the enterprise customers that the RVBA serves in the region, providing affordable access to organizations and institutions such as nonprofits, businesses, and institutions.

By providing affordable connectivity and services focused on the needs of businesses, the RVBA network has helped drive competition in the region. According to CEO Frank Smith’s research, prices have dropped 25 - 30 percent. The change squares with the RVBA mission to enhance and promote economic development by improving connectivity services and prices in Salem, Roanoke, and the counties of Roanoke and Botetourt. They've seen results in the past three years with greater expectations ahead.

The History

Before the network, the valley was caught in a connectivity “donut hole.” The populations in Salem and Roanoke had access to some cable Internet access and were large enough to prevent the region from obtaining grants to entice providers to upgrade. In 2013, local governments decided to work together to improve connectivity and funded a feasibility study, which recommended an open access network.

roanoke-valley-va_1.jpg Botetourt and Roanoke Counties were indecisive about their commitment to the project, but the cities of Salem and Roanoke pushed ahead. Salem, with its own electric utility, already had some fiber infrastructure in place, which lowered the cost of the...

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Posted May 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

Portsmouth, Virginia, recently announced that they intend to invest in fiber optic infrastructure to reduce telecommunications costs, encourage economic development, and keep the city competitive in the region. The project is also part of a regional effort to foster economic development in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area.

In the April press release, the city announced that the project will include a 55-mile fiber optic ring around the city that will connect municipal facilities and anchor institutions. The plan will use a five-year multiphase approach for the estimated $9 million capital project and construction is likely to begin this summer.

According to city CIO Daniel Jones, costs for the first year will come in at around $2.7 million. Portsmouth is currently reviewing bids for the project.

Significant Savings

Portsmouth CIO Dan Jones noted, “Right now, Portsmouth is internet carrier dependent. The broadband network will improve municipal operations at a substantial cost savings.” 

Last year, the city adopted a Fiber Master Plan, which analyzed potential cost savings, should Portsmouth choose to invest in its own Internet network infrastructure. Consultants estimated that the city and public schools spend more than $1 million on connectivity costs per year for municipal facilities, schools, and public libraries. The community’s schools’ telecom expenditures are almost $638,000 per year; libraries spend around $29,000 per year. Portsmouth schools receive an 80 percent reimbursement from the federal E-rate program, which allows the school system to receive a subsidy of more than $510,000 annually. Portsmouth plans to use E-rate dollars to help fund network construction in areas where it serves school facilities.

When Portsmouth invests in its own infrastructure, rather than leasing lines from the incumbent providers, consultants...

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Posted April 23, 2018 by lgonzalez

When local community leaders choose to make improving connectivity a priority, they first need to reach out to residents and businesses to discover the extent of the problem. In Fredericksburg, Virginia, the City Council has launched a survey and asks that businesses and residents take a few minutes to complete it.

The city is about 45 miles south of Washington, D.C., and known for its historic quality, which extends to architecture in the downtown area. Large employers in the area include GEICO, the University of Mary Washington, and Mary Washington Healthcare — all industries that need access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. About 28,000 people living in Fredericksburg, and unemployment is less than 4 percent. The Rappahannock River runs along the city’s northern border.

In their announcement about the survey, the City Council wrote:

City Council has established a priority to create more focus on broadband and to strive to be the fastest City in Virginia for broadband. To further that goal, we’d like to find out more about your broadband access and needs. Our focus is on residents and businesses within the City limits.

There are two separate surveys for residents and businesses; the survey will remain open until May 18th, 2018

It Starts By Asking Questions

A survey may or may not lead to public investment in Internet infrastructure, but it helps community leaders move past anecdotal information about local connectivity. By asking people in the community to share their experiences and opinions, city leaders are better able to determine if there is a problem, discover options that may help solve the problem, and get a sense for how the citizenry feel about potential investment.

Sometimes a survey leads a community to consider taking up a feasibility study for deeper examination of the potential solutions. Other times, news of a survey inspires local private sector ISPs to improve services. In places like western North Carolina, regional officials launched a survey hoping to correct inaccurate FCC data. West Virginia has ...

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