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Unpacking Policies In West Virginia's HB 3093
West Virginia rural communities struggle with access to broadband but a bill in the state legislature is taking some first steps to encourage better connectivity. HB 3093 passed the House with wide support (97 - 2) and has been sent on to the Senate for review. The bill doesn’t appropriate any funding for Internet infrastructure projects around the state, but adopts some policies that may help local communities obtain better connectivity.
Revenue Neutral And Popular
The state is facing a $500 million budget deficit and lawmakers don't have the appetite to appropriate finds for Internet infrastructure projects. As in most states, policy bills do well during times of financial strife. Elected officials still want to do what they can to encourage better broadband so, according to at least one lawmaker, the revenue neutral nature of the bill has contributed to its success in the legislature. Delegate Roger Henshaw, one of the bill's co-sponsors, told Metro News:
“Notice this is a revenue-neutral bill,” Hanshaw said. “That’s in fact one of the reasons we’re rolling it out now. We have other bills here in both the House and Senate that are not revenue-neutral bills that were on the table for consideration.
“But with the clock ticking on us, it became clear that we probably ought to be looking at options to advance service that didn’t even have the possibility of a financial impact. This bill does not.”
Check out the 3-minute interview with Hanshaw on Soundcloud.
The Broadband Enhancement Council
West Virginia’s Broadband Enhancement Council was created in a previous session and receives more authority and responsibility under HB 3093. They are tasked with the authority to, among other things, gather comparative data between actual and advertised speeds around the state, to advise and provide consultation services to project sponsors, and make the public know about facilities that offer community broadband access.
NC Rural Electric Cooperatives Teach Model Collaboration
Throughout the October Broadband Communities Magazine conference, folks kept repeating this sentiment: some partnerships are smooth and others have rough patches. At the conference, we heard from several electric cooperatives who had partnered with other cooperatives to provide next-generation connectivity to their communities.
We specifically want to highlight the work of two North Carolina electric cooperatives: Lumbee River EMC and Blue Ridge Mountain EMC. They were both included in our report North Carolina Connectivity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Each co-op took the bold step of building a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network throughout sparsely populated regions. At the conference, we were able to learn first-hand about their experiences.
Despite the Distance: Lumbee River EMC & HTC
HTC Chief Executive of Marketing Brent Groome described how the two cooperatives collaborated despite being nearly an hour away from each other. Their work together has involved a commitment to similar values and dedication to improving rural communities. (Lumbee River EMC’s representative was unable to attend the conference as much of the service territory had suffered flooding from the recent hurricane.)
Lumbee River EMC’s entry into Internet service brought fiber connectivity to southeastern North Carolina. The co-op provides electricity to more than 50,000 members. In 2010, the USDA provided Lumbee River EMC with nearly $20 million in funding to install fiber. A state law, however, imposes certain restrictions on electric co-ops and USDA funding. The electric co-op had to find another company with the drive and expertise to provide Internet service.
National Cooperative Month: Celebrate Gigabit Cooperatives
Time to celebrate the work of rural cooperatives that bring high-quality Internet access to residents and businesses forgotten by national corporate providers. October is National Cooperative Month! Let’s celebrate some of the accomplishments of those cooperatives providing next-generation connectivity.
We pulled together a list of cooperatives who were actively advertising residential access to a Gigabit (1,000 Mbps) at the end of 2015. These cooperatives rang in 2016 with Gigabit speeds, inspiring others to improve rural connectivity throughout the U.S.
To assemble the list, we used Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Form 477 data from December 2015 to find all the providers advertising a residential Gigabit download speed. This generated a list of about 200 providers. Those providers were then manually sorted into “cooperative” or “not cooperative” based on publicly available information. If you would like to make a correction or suggestion concerning this list, please email email@example.com
2015’s Gigabit Cooperatives
Two Fiber Networks Collaborate: Aim to Bridge Digital Divide in Georgia
In October, the North Georgia Network (NGN) cooperative announced the formation of a new partnership with Georgia Public Web (GPW), a pairing that will conjoin two large fiber optic networks that together cover most of the State of Georgia. The newly announced partnership will enable the two organizations to more effectively confront their shared mission to improve broadband access across the state. Paul Belk, president and CEO of NGN, expressed his enthusiasm for the new partnership:
GPW is a great company for NGN to work with, as we have similar goals to serve communities challenged with ‘the digital divide.’ The companies are great links to each other because GPW serves most of the state with the exception of NGN’s footprint. Together we create a complete solution.
Two Networks Become One
This partnership connects GPW’s nearly 3,500 mile fiber optic network that stretches across most of the state to NGN’s 1,600 mile network. As Mr. Belk noted, a look at NGN’s network map shows that it covers one of the few remaining service areas in Georgia that GPW’s massive network map does not reach.
Member Owned Networks Collaborate for Rural Georgia Libraries
A member-owned nonprofit network and a telecommunications cooperative are helping seven regional libraries in mountainous northeast Georgia improve services for patrons with fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.
Collaboration for Community
The North Georgia Network Cooperative (NGN), in partnership with member-owned Georgia Public Web (GPW), recently launched 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) symmetrical broadband access speeds in seven library facilities in the Northeast Georgia Regional Library system (NEGRLS). Upgrades in some of the locations were significant. At the Helen library campus, the facility switched from a 6 Mbps download DSL connection to the new service.
The new initiative also enables the complementary “NGN Connect” service which includes hosted Wi-Fi service and a VoIP telephone system at each location. The upgrade extends from the cooperative's role in the Education Exchange, Georgia's only regional 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps) private cloud for exclusive use by school systems launched last September.
Helping Rural Georgians Help Themselves
Donna Unger, director of member services for NGN, explained NGN’s mission for the project:
I've often heard libraries build communities, it's very fitting that we are here today celebrating the new 100 Mbps connection to the Northeast Georgia Regional Library System provided by NGN Connect. This is what we're about, NGN's foundation was built upon the communities in which we serve. It's becoming more critical for libraries, government, education and businesses alike to have reliable and affordable bandwidth to meet the daily demands of the ever-changing dynamics of today's digital world.
NEGRLS Director Delana L. Knight highlighted the initiative’s benefits:
Offering free access to this important resource is another way that our local public libraries are empowering our communities by providing support for job seekers, students, as well as almost limitless educational and entertainment opportunities for all citizens.
Rural Cooperative Launches Educational Network in Northern Georgia
There was some good news at the end of August in Georgia, just in time for the new school year: a fiber optic network spanning 3,600 miles and potentially tying together up to 330 schools with 10 gigabit connections was announced. Dubbed the “Education Exchange,” the network is the product of an agreement between the rural cooperative North Georgia Network (NGN), private cable provider ETC Communications, and a private fiber optic ISP and infrastructure company called Parker Fibernet. Each of these three carriers’ existing fiber optic assets will provide a piece of the network, and all are connected to each other and to the broader internet in Atlanta.
While formed through a partnership of cooperative and private providers, the network will be governed by the schools themselves, which are spread throughout 30 different counties and reach across the northern third of the state, from the western border with Alabama to the eastern border with South Carolina. Both public and private schools will be able to connect.
The new network should allow schools to realize some significant cost savings from replacing phone lines with VOIP and dropping slower leased data connections. More interesting, however, are the educational and administrative applications of such fast direct connections: video conferencing for teachers and administrators between and within school districts; accessing bandwidth-intensive online educational materials; expanding access to wi-fi devices throughout schools; and pooling purchasing power of many districts to get discounts and expanded digital course content.
How each district and each school use the network will be up to them, but the possibilities are considerable. Some of the early schools that beta tested the network have already experimented by hosting real time virtual music collaborations between schools. Paul Belk, NGN’s CEO, described the motivations driving his cooperative to establish the network:
“The strength of our communities, our economy, and workforce all starts in our schools...as a community-owned company, it’s our job to give back and use our resources to better the next generation.”
Understanding the Georgia Communications Cooperative - Community Broadband Bits Podcast #92
First BTOP Project Connects Rural North Georgia Communities
Back in December, 2009, Vice President Biden travelled to Dawsonville, Georgia, to officially kick off the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) program. The first award, a grant of $33.5 million, went to the North Georgia Network Cooperative. The group combined that grant with local and state funding and in May, 2012, lit the North Georgia Network (NGN).
We spoke with Paul Belk, CEO of NGN, who shared the network's story and described how it is improving economic development while serving schools and government across the region. We also recently published a podcast interview with Paul Belk.
In 2007, Bruce Abraham was the Lumpkin County Development Authority President and could not recruit new business to the region. Atlanta is only 60 miles away but companies and entrepeneurs were not willing to branch out toward north Georgia. Business leaders repeatedly told Abraham they were not interested because of the lack of broadband. DSL was available from Windstream, but businesses kept telling Abraham, "That's not broadband." North Georgia was losing jobs and there was no strategy to replace them.
Abraham found economic development representatives from Forsyth, White, Union, and Dawson counties shared the same problem. With North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, the group decided to address the problem together.
In 2008, they received a OneGeorgia Authority BRIDGE grant. They used the $100,000 award to commission a feasibility study that suggested the area had potential as a new tech hub. The study also indicated that the region's traditional manufacturing and agricultural industries would continue to dwindle. The group, determined to pursue the establishment of a new tech economy, knew the first step would be next-generation infrastructure.