Tag: "Arkansas"

Posted March 10, 2017 by Staff

This is the transcript for episode 243 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Mel Coleman, the president of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the CEO of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, explains how electric co-ops can provide high-quality, high-speed Internet service to their rural members. Listen to this episode here.

Mel Coleman: It is on fire and I think it something that most co-ops will, at the very least, be looking at very strongly within the next year or two, if they're not already.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is Episode 243 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week Mel Coleman joins Christopher for a talk on high-quality connectivity in America offered by rural electric cooperatives. Mel is CEO of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative and president of NRECA, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The NRECA represents more than 900 consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives, public power districts, and public utility districts in the US. Mel and Chris get into the purposes of the organization and how broadband has become such a growing interest for cooperative members. They also discuss the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative's new project to bring high-quality Internet access to its rural members with a phased approach. Mel shares information on their progress and their expectations. Learn more about the next project at naeci.com.

Christopher Mitchell: Hey, folks. This is Chris Mitchell, the host of Community Broadband Bits, and I just wanted to ask you if you could do us a real big favor to help us spread this show around, and that's to jump on iTunes or Stitcher, or wherever you found this show, and to give us a rating, give us a little review, particularly if you like it. If you don't like it so much, then maybe don't do that; but, if you're enjoying this show, please give us a rating and help us to build the audience a bit. Thanks.

Lisa Gonzalez: Now, let's get on with the discussion. Here are Christopher and Mel Coleman, CEO of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative and...

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Posted March 7, 2017 by lgonzalez

As an increasing number of rural electric cooperatives are working to bring high-quality Internet access to their members, we’re learning more about new projects and the people behind them. This week, we talk with the CEO of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, Mel Coleman. As an added bonus, we get Mel’s insight as President of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

Mel and Christopher discuss the cooperative’s new NEXT pilot project to bring high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to members. Residents can get symmetrical gigabit connectivity for $79.95 per month. Mel draws parallels between the ways rural electric cooperatives brought electricity to rural areas in the region and now how the cooperatives are meeting the demand for broadband.

As the President of NRECA, Mel sees how other regions of the country are turning to rural electric cooperatives for better Internet access. While many are just getting started and others are well on their way, some have chosen to wait to take the plunge into offering telecommunications services. Why is that? Because just like local communities, cooperatives reflect the unique appetites and needs of their members. Mel explains why the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative feels offering better connectivity to their region is a necessity.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 16 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is...

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Posted March 2, 2017 by htrostle

This article was co-written with ILSR's Energy Democracy initiative research associate, Karlee Weinmann, and is cross-posted on ILSR.org.

Ouachita Electric Cooperative, nestled deep in south-central Arkansas, is an unlikely innovator in a pair of industries struggling to adapt to shifting market dynamics: electricity and broadband.

Despite rising demand for energy efficiency and renewable electricity generation, large investor-owned utilities -- and many rural electric co-ops -- have resisted programs to address those needs. Likewise, corporate Internet service providers frequently offer shoddy service at high rates, a particular problem in rural areas with limited competition.

But Ouachita Electric found a way to do both things better, with complementary technologies. Fiber-optic network investments provided lower cost Internet access, but also provide an information backbone for the electric utility that can reduce outage times and verification for energy savings programs. The network and the efficiency programs reduce costs for a customer base dominated by low-income households that can now reinvest their earnings elsewhere in the community.

Inclusive Financing

The utility’s tariff-based, on-bill financing program -- known as HELP PAYS -- allows customers to invest in energy efficiency upgrades at their homes, like insulation and heat pumps, with no upfront cost. Ouachita Electric covers eligible expenses, then recoups its buy-in through payments from participating customers on their monthly bills. Customers immediately pay less thanks to utility-financed energy-saving improvements.

Unlike other energy efficiency programs, the opt-in “inclusive financing” program, HELP PAYS, enables all Ouachita customers to capture significant benefits:

  • Low-income households can pay, because they don’t need to come up with thousands of dollars upfront for qualifying improvements.
  • Renters can...
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Posted November 30, 2016 by lgonzalez

Conway, Arkansas, has been offering Internet access for approximately 20 years; in December, it will begin offering Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) download connectivity to the community. Conway's highest tier Internet access will cost $94.95 per month. According to Conway Corp.'s announcement, the utility will use a 32-channel cable modem to deliver the faster download speeds via the current infrastructure. Upload speeds will be 50 Mbps.

In a statement, reproduced in Multichannel News, CEO Richard Arnold said:

“Internet usage has grown and will continue to as cloud-based products and services become more prevalent. Gigabit download speeds seem a luxury today, but may be tomorrow’s necessity.”

Between 1995 and 1997, the utility completed a citywide cable rebuild in which they used both fiber and coaxial cable. The $5.6 million project allowed them to offer Internet access to Conway subscribers. As an early adopter of municipal Internet access, Conway’s move toward Gig connectivity makes sense:

“For several years, we have been on a strategic path toward gigabit service,” said chief technology officer Jason Hansen in a statement. “With this initiative, Conway Corp is embracing its position as an Internet technology leader.”

Conway Corp’s Internet rates also include:

  • Basic : 6 Mbps download / 1 Mbps upload - $36.95 per month
  • Broadband 25 : 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps - $41.95 per month
  • Broadband 50 : 50 Mbps / 5 Mbps - $51.95 per month
  • Broadband 100 : 100 Mbps / 10 Mbps - $84.95 per month

Conway is county seat to Faulkner County, located in the center of the state and through its utility system, Conway Corp., provides electric, water, wastewater, Internet access, cable TV, and telephone services to the community of 65,000. Conway is considered a suburb of Little Rock, but many of the residents don't commute out of the city for work as there are a number of large employers in Conway.

The city is home to Hewlett Packard, marketing technologies firm Acxiom, and technology company Insight Enterprises. Conway is also home to a...

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Posted May 16, 2016 by htrostle

Ozarks Electric Cooperative has a plan to bring fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to northwest Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma.

Fast, Affordable, Reliable Connectivity At Last

OzarksGo, a wholly owned subsidiary of the electric co-op, will provide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet service with symmetrical speeds of up to a Gigabit (1,000 Megabits) per second. The fiber network will cost $150 million to build over the next six years.

ArkansasOnline and local news station KSFM reported on the future network. The residential FTTH service will have no data caps and OzarksGo will offer additional services, such as telephone and video. At the end of the project, all co-op members will have access to the network's services.

According to the FCC 2016 Broadband report, 25 percent of all Arkansas residents don't have access to broadband (defined as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload). In Oklahoma, the FCC puts the numbers higher at 27 percent. Rural areas are even higher with 48 percent lacking in Arkansas and 66 percent missing out in Oklahoma. Considering the data collection process depends on self-reporting by ISPs, those numbers are considered low. The number of households that do not have access to federally defined broadband, especially in rural areas, is higher.

Soon though, these Arkansas and Oklahoma residents will have access to fast, affordable Internet access. General manager for OzarksGo Randy Klindt, who previously worked on Co-Mo Electric Cooperative's FTTH network, explained in the video below that the price for a Gigabit will be less than $100, which is an entirely opt-in service.

Ozarks Electric Cooperative serves about 71,000 customers, including businesses. Since the service area is so large, OzarksGo will build the network incrementally over the next six years. Each phase will cost between $25 and $35 million - for a total of...

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Posted October 27, 2014 by rebecca

On this week’s community broadband media roundup, we have more reverberations from Next Century Cities, a forward-thinking coalition of cities that promises real progress in establishing or restoring local authority for broadband networks. For the inside scoop on the launch, we suggest taking a look at Ann L. Kim’s Friday Q&A with Deb Socia, the executive director of the organization. 

Here’s an excerpt: 

Q: So when you say you work with cities that are either looking to get next generation broadband or already have it, what does that entail?

A: …We are working with elected officials and also employees, like CIOs and city managers and so forth, and the goal is to really help them figure out their pathway. This is pretty hard work and we recognize that there’s always a local context and so we don’t advocate any one way to do this work, but we help cities think about it.

So [are] you gonna work with an incumbent provider, are you gonna build your own, are you gonna work with a private non-profit? How are you gonna make it happen? What are the alternatives for you? And how can we best support you?

Multichannel’s Jeff Baumgartner covered the launch in Santa Monica as well. The bipartisan coalition offers members collaboration opportunities and support for those communities that face incumbent pressure when they announce plans to move forward with publicly-owned broadband programs. According to China Topix’s David Curry, neither Comcast nor Time Warner Cable have made announcements about gig networks, “with Time Warner Cable even go as far as saying "customers don't want 1Gbps Internet speeds", a statement ridiculed on the Web.”  

Rest assured, there will be much more coverage on this organization’s work in the weeks to come. 

San Francisco is catching on to the “Dig Once” strategy, an idea that is known to help...

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Posted May 31, 2012 by christopher

In an unsurprising result, voters in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, chose not to build their own FTTH network. The margin was 58% against, 42% for. According to that article, the opponents (bankrolled largely by national cable company Cox) outspent proponents by 3:1.

We previously covered this plan and were concerned that the number one reason identified for proposing the network was to diversify revenue for the local government. Quite frankly, that is a poor reason to go head to head against massive companies like Cox and CenturyLink.

The biggest benefits of community networks tend to be the hard to quantify -- aggregate savings to the community from lower prices from all providers in a competitive environment, increased economic development, better customer service from a local provider, etc. These networks are built to be financially self-sufficient, but we caution against expecting them to be a piggy bank for the local government.

Unlike the successful Longmont approach, where those advocating for the community network engaged others who had been through similar fights elsewhere, it seemed like Siloam Springs preferred not to ask for help. Meanwhile, Cox tapped its nationwide resources to oppose the network, with misinformation like this:

Siloam Springs Opposition

Download the full size flyer here.

Communities that want to build community networks should engage the wider community of community broadband supporters and be prepared for flyers like this one. And when seeking local support, make sure you find messages that resonate. Make sure you read about the grassroots movement in Lafayette in our recent report or how Chattanooga had hundreds of community meetings to explain its plan.

These networks face stiff opposition from entrenched opponents that want to be the sole gatekeepers to the Internet -- ensuring a real choice means doing real organizing.

Posted May 15, 2012 by lgonzalez

Recently, we let you know about the situation in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, population 15,039. The town is now investigating the possibility of building their own fiber network. They have had several community meetings and a "vote of the people" is set for May 22, 2012.

Pamela Hill is investigating the twists and turrns in a series of articles about the vote. In one of her articles, Hill looked into another Arkansas community, Paragould, home of the annual "Loose Caboose" Festival.  This community, located in the northeast corner of the state, has successfully operated their own cable network since 1991. Unlike Siloam Springs, the people of Paragould weren't focused first on generating new revenue for the local government, they just wanted to be able to watch tv for a reasonable price.

Back in 1986, Cablevision was the only provider in Paragould. Hill spoke with Rhonda Davis, CFO of Paragould Light, Water & Cable:

"The public wasn’t happy with Cablevision’s service or rates,” Davis said. “We took it to a public vote and did it.”

Prior to Paragould's decision to build their own network, the City had a nonexclusive franchise agreement with Cablevision. The town was dissatisfied by the service they received and, in 1986, Paragould voters approved an ordinance authorizing the Paragould Light and Water to construct and operate a municipal cable system. Three years later, there was a referendum that authorized the city to issue a little over $3 million in municipal bonds to finance the system.

That same month, Cablevision filed suit alleging antitrust violations, breach of contract, and infringement of first and fourteenth amendment rights. The district court dismissed the antitrust and constitutional claims and Cablevision appealed unsuccessfully. The case attracted attention from lawyers and business scholars across the country.

By 1998, the City had purchased Cablevision's remaining service and began offering Internet service. The City has continually upgraded their investment, which now consists of fiber lines that run to nodes throughout the city. Coaxial cable delivers signal and data...

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Posted April 5, 2012 by christopher

Siloam Springs, sporting 15,000 people in the northwestern corner of Arkansas, could be the next community to build its own community fiber network. But first they have to pass a referendum in May in the face of stiff opposition from Cox Cable, which would prefer not to face real competition.

For over 100 years, the city has provided its own electricity via its electrical department. Now, it wants to join the more than 150 other communities that have done so. After last year's changes to Arkansas law, Siloam Springs has the authority to move forward if it so chooses.

Pamela Hill at the City Wire has covered the situation with a series of stories, starting with an explanation of why they are moving forward:

David Cameron, city administrator, said the proposal is not so much about dissatisfaction with current providers as it is about finding new revenue for the city. Cameron said revenue from electric services has been a key source of funding for various projects and necessities for the city. That “enterprise” fund is getting smaller, Cameron said, and an alternative funding source is needed.

“We have done a good job managing accounts, building a reserve,” Cameron said. “We want to keep building on the programs we have. It takes money and funds to do that.”

City officials discussed the issue for the last 18 months and decided to put it to a referendum. Voters will decide the issue May 22.

That is a fairly unique reason. Most communities want to build these networks to encourage economic development and other indirect benefits to the community. Given the challenge of building and operating networks, few set a primary goal of boosting city revenue.

Map of Siloam Springs

If approved by voters, the city plans to spend $8.3 million to install 100 miles of fiber optic cable directly to homes and businesses. The city should be able to repay the debt in 12 years, if things go according to a feasibility study presented to the city’s board of directors in January. Cameron said projections show the system could begin making a profit...

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Posted March 26, 2012 by lgonzalez

A little less than a year ago, the 88th Arkansas General Assembly created HB 2033, later known as Act 1050 [pdf]. The law made a few changes to the Telecommunications Regulatory Reform Act of 1997 and, while “a few changes” may not sound like much, they don’t need to be much in order to have a significant effect on the prospect of municipal broadband in Arkansas. The language gets specific about municipal broadband, related services, and alters the possibilities in Arkansas.

WHO AND WHAT...

Prior law prohibited any government entity from offering, directly or indirectly, basic exchange services. So, an Arkansas town couldn’t create its own telephone company that offered the traditional concept of telephone service, as defined in statute.

Act 1050 expands the prohibition to data, broadband, video, and wireless. With the exception of those owning municipal electric utilities or cable television systems, Arkansas towns are now prohibited from offering broadband services to nonpublic entities.

EVERYBODY EXCEPT…

Prior law allowed an exception for government entities owning municipal electric systems or television signal distribution systems to be able to make telecommunications capacities associated with the facilities available to the public. Offering basic local exchange services was still prohibited.

Act 1050 actually opens up the uses of those networks that may have been created for the use of the electric system or television signal distribution system. The new language adds permission to use those capacities to provide, directly or indirectly, voice, data, broadband, video, and wireless. There is even an insertion that allows for like use in future constructed or acquired facilities. Reasonable public notice and a hearing are required, which is the normal course of action before making new investments.

SOME SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS…

Prior law allowed exceptions to the restrictions for some government entities’ ability to create their own networks for specific purposes. Emergency,...

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