Tag: "Arkansas"

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 July 30, 2019 by lgonzalez

John Lester, General Manager of Clarksville Connected Utilities in Arkansas, was on our show several years ago to talk about his work in Chanute, Kansas. Since then, he’s moved on to Clarksville to bring the community's infrastructure up-to-date with fiber. In this interview, John brings along Brian Eisele, President and CEO of the Clarksville - Johnson County Chamber of Commerce, to offer additional perspective.

Clarksville began by introducing a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system to their utilities. In only a few years, they’ve expanded to use the fiber optic infrastructure for improved connectivity for public facilities and businesses. They’re now focusing on a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project to offer fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to all premises in the city. John discusses the city’s investigation into the risks, rewards, and possible models as they worked with consultants to develop a plan. John also shares some of the possible plans for the future of Clarksville Connected Utilities and the surrounding area.

As a local entrepreneur and member of the community interested in driving economic development, Brian Eisele describes the ways the network impacts businesses and residents. He shares some of his own experiences along with other stories of growth related to the presence of the fiber network.

Read more about Clarksville’s network and the community.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please ...

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Posted June 10, 2019 by lgonzalez

Clarksville, Arkansas, began their journey toward better local connectivity to enhance electric utility efficiencies. Four years after making the choice to deploy fiber, the town has chosen to use that fiber to offer Internet access to the community. Gigabit connectivity is on the way to every premise in Clarksville.

Kicking it Off

On June 1st, about 400 people gathered for an event to celebrate three achievements for Clarksville: a new high school campus, re-branding of the municipal utilities, and a fiber splicing to kick-off their upcoming citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployment. They enjoyed free food, tours of the new facility, and learned more about the new infrastructure that will bring fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to residents and businesses. John Lester, General Manager of Clarksville Connected Utilities, told us about the event and the new project.

Re-branding 

logo-clarksville-connected-utilities.png As CCU has worked to update connectivity for the town of around 10,000, Lester and other leaders at the utility have recognized that it's also time for a re-branding. After more than 100 years, the Clarksville Light & Water municipal utility retired “The Waterdrip Guy” and adopted a new name and a new logo. In order to reflect the city’s transition to a more forward thinking and competitive attitude, they transitioned to Clarksville Connected Utilities (CCU); the utility Commission approved the change in March. Their new logo uses the utility locate colors. 

From Light to Light-Speed

In 2017, we reported on Clarksville’s investigation into the possibility of deploying fiber for SCADA operations and how they kept their eye on future uses as part of the decision making process. When determining how best to use the fiber and its extra capacity, city leaders decided to allocate 12 strands each for different specific sectors in the community. They determined that 48 strands would be enough for the electric utility’s needs and chose to allocate 12 strands each for educational facilities, healthcare institutions, public safety needs, and government facilities. Almost 200...

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Posted May 14, 2019 by lgonzalez

It’s mid-May and while some states’ legislatures are still in session, other’s have already debated new legislation, voted, and adopted new laws. This week, we talk with one Senator from Arkansas who, along with her colleagues, are interested in bringing better broadband to rural areas of her state, Breanne Davis.

During the 2019 session, she introduced SB 150, which was ultimately adopted. The bill makes slight changes in Arkansas law that prevent local communities from developing infrastructure to be used for broadband. She and Christopher discuss why she and her colleagues decided it was time to ask lawmakers for the change after years of depending on large ISPs who weren’t living up to promises to expand broadband in rural areas.

Christopher and Senator Davis discuss some of the details of the bill and address the amendments that changed a broad piece of legislation to a targeted law that allows local communities to apply for federal grant funding. She explains some of the reasons for the amendments and how those changes fit into the vision she and her colleagues in the legislature have for the future of Arkansas.

Read more about SB 150.

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

This show is 21 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits...

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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 February 27, 2019 by lgonzalez

Earlier this month, we learned about a Senate bill in the Arkansas State Legislature that, in it’s original form, would have rescinded state restrictions preventing many municipalities from improving local connectivity. After amendments, SB 150 lost most of its effectiveness, but the bill that became law this week is still a small step in the right direction for a state where the rate of broadband connectivity is some of the lowest in the country.

Beginning Promise

For years, Arkansas has been one of the states that doesn’t allow government entities from providing broadband services to the public. The ban specifically disallowed “directly or indirectly, basic local exchange, voice, data, broadband, video, or wireless telecommunication service.” There has always been an exception to the ban for communities that have their own electric or cable utilities and want to offer telecommunications services. No municipality may offer basic exchange service, interpreted as telephone service.

Only a few communities have taken advantage of the legal exception, such as Paragould, Clarksville, and Conway. In recent years, electric cooperatives are deploying in rural areas, but many of the state’s rural residents rely on DSL, fixed wireless, and satellite. In the few more populous communities, there may also be scattered cable connections available. 

seal-arkansas.png Even though large incumbent ISPs have collected federal grant funding in the past, deployment in Arkansas has been inadequate to connect all Arkansans. According to the FCC, connectivity to households is near the bottom of the list.

SB 150 is one of several bills introduced by the Republican Woman’s Legislative Caucus as part of their “Dream Big” initiative. Other bills in the initiative...

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Posted February 11, 2019 by lgonzalez

*Update: After amending the bill significantly, SB 150 passed through the Arkansas Senate to the House. We were initially excited because the original version of the bill reinstated local authority to develop publicly owned broadband networks. The amendment adopted in Committee, however, changed the bill to only allow communities that apply for and receive grants and loans to invest in community networks and only to specific areas and at the speeds defined in those grants and loans. We still consider it a step in the right direction, but the move forward is miniscule. Read the amended bill here.*

 

This session, a new force in the Arkansas State Legislature — the Republican Women’s Legislative Caucus — has decided that they’ll take on the issue of poor connectivity. As part of their “Dream Big” initiative, they’ve introduced SB 150, a bill to restore local telecommunications authority.

"Dreaming Big" Means Bigger Broadband

The bill was introduced on January 23rd along with a suite of four other bills aimed at a variety of issues, including juvenile justice and education. Senator Breanne Davis of Russellville is the lead sponsor of SB 150, which would repeal restrictions preventing communities from developing broadband networks. Current law has an exception for communities that have a municipal electric utility but if SB 150 is adopted, any government entity will be able to offer high-quality connectivity.  

Legislators are focusing on opportunities for local communities to partner with private sector ISPs as a way to solve some of the poorest access to broadband in the country. They're also emphasizing that, if no partner wants to work with a government entity, this bill will allow a city, town, or county to invest on their own.

In a recent conversation with Talk Business & Politics, Davis described the impetus and goal of the bill: 

“About 40% of Arkansans don’t have access to broadband as defined by the FCC, so we decided to change that,” she said. “Our bill simply lifts the ban on cities and counties being able to either partner in a public-private partnership or go out on their own when no one will partner with them and apply...

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Posted September 21, 2018 by lgonzalez

People in Arkansas who depend on Medicaid for healthcare typically don’t have the option to sign-up for affordable health insurance through their jobs. Sometimes they aren’t able to find full-time positions that offer healthcare or they don’t earn enough to afford the premiums in addition to covering life expenses for their families. With so many people offline, either because they can’t afford to pay for connectivity or because they live in areas where there is no connectivity, Arkansas seems like a poor choice for mandatory online reporting of anything, especially activity that dictates eligibility for Medicare. 

State leaders didn’t see it that way, however, when they implemented the policy in June. Medicaid recipients who are able to work must now go online to report at least 80 hours per month of activity; if they fail to do so, they lose access to the state's expanded Medicaid program. The activity can include volunteer work, job training, or several other categories of activities. While the issue of attaching work requirements to Medicaid eligibility has already been deemed arbitrary and capricious by a U.S. District Court in Kentucky, the lack of Internet access appears to be contributing to Arkansas’s dubious efforts to trim its enrollment.

logo-Medicaid.jpgLack of Coverage Complicates

In a state where at least 30 percent of the population has access to only one Internet service provider (ISP) and approximately 20 percent depend on their smart phones for Internet access, the only way to report the new work-related requirement is online. Under the guide of cost savings, the state has not established any other method for reporting for those who don’t have access to the Internet.

In addition to an environment that lags in competition, 17 percent of...

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Posted August 24, 2018 by lgonzalez

Rural electric cooperatives in Arkansas are stepping up and making the investments to bring broadband connectivity to their members. We recently described plans taking shape from North Arkansas Electric Cooperative. This month, construction began in the northeast region on infrastructure that will provide both broadband access and improved smart grid technology in the eight counties of Craigshead Electric Cooperative Corporation (CECC).

A Multi-Year Investment

The cooperative will deploy approximately 5,000 miles of fiber on utility poles and underground over the next five to seven years. Empower, a subsidiary of CECC, will offer Internet access to more than 30,000 members and non-members in its service area northwest of Memphis by the time construction is finished. FCC data has determined that about 44 percent of CECC’s members aren’t able to subscribe to broadband at the 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload minimum threshold because there is no option in their territory.

CECC wants to make use of smart grid technology in order to improve delivery of electric services. Since fiber optic Internet infrastructure and smart grid can exist hand-in-hand, and the region is in desperate need for better connectivity, CECC and Empower will offer high-speed Internet access where incumbents won’t.

The cooperative will spend approximately $100 - $110 million to complete the project; construction on the first phase began in July and should be finished by the end of 2018. In addition to the economic development benefits that will come to the region as the infrastructure attracts new business, 30 new permanent positions which will be created to manage and operate the network.

logo-empower.png Like many rural electric cooperatives, CECC began by local farmers. The Rural Electrification Act (REA) required that they sign up 612 members in the co-op...

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Posted July 19, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

Residents of northern Arkansas will soon be able to obtain high-speed Internet access through their local electric cooperative. North Arkansas Electric Cooperative (NAEC) recently received approval from its Board of Directors to expand its residential broadband pilot program, NEXT, Powered by NAEC. This expansion will bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity and one gigabit speeds to the co-op’s entire service area. 

Origin of NEXT, Powered by NAEC

We first covered NEXT last year on Community Broadband Bits episode 243, when we talked to Mel Coleman, the CEO of NAEC.

While on the podcast, Coleman discussed how rural electric co-ops brought “the next greatest thing,” electricity, to their members. He views the provision of Internet services as following in the same historical tradition: “What we like to think is, ‘This is the next “next greatest thing,”’ and that is broadband in your home, true broadband.”

To bring broadband to their members, NAEC created the subsidiary NEXT to develop the fiber network and connect residences.

Developing a Successful Pilot

In 2016, the NEXT pilot program was launched in three locations in Baxter and Fulton counties. The pilot area included both urban and rural communities as well as portions of the small town of Salem, where NAEC is headquartered. Internet, voice, and video services were offered to approximately 1,500 co-op members within the pilot program’s targeted areas, according to the press release carried by Areawide News.

Since NAEC already owned a fiber backbone to manage its electrical system, the co-op simply had to build out from the existing infrastructure to connect residences. Eligible members could subscribe to symmetrical gigabit services for only $79.95 per month.

“We exceeded our goal of [pilot program] subscribers,” said Coleman, as quoted on the NAEC site, “and many have shared with us the benefits true broadband internet has brought to their families and businesses.”

What’s Next for NEXT?

Following the success of the pilot and the recent approval from the Board of...

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