Tag: "rural digital opportunity fund"

Posted January 19, 2022 by Emma Gautier

Electric cooperatives illustrate the power that community-owned enterprises have to bring Internet access at scale to unconnected rural communities. Because of their work, states like Missouri (where 15 percent of all households only have access to broadband speeds slower than 100/20 Megabits per second, and only 38 percent have access to speeds of 100/100 Megabits per second or faster), will go from being among the least-connected states to one of those with the greatest connectivity in rural areas in coming years. 

An infusion of federal funding shows how publicly owned infrastructure can go farther and move faster. Ralls County Electric Cooperative (RCEC) serves as example in Missouri, building on its existing broadband infrastructure to further increase connectivity in one of the most connected counties in the state.

Closing the Gap

Ralls County, located in the northeastern part of the state, is one of three statewide to provide fiber or wireless Internet access to over 90 percent of residents in its service territory. With $1.3 million in funding from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) now in hand, RCEC is extending broadband access outside of its electric service area.  

RCEC’s initial fiber buildout began in 2010. By 2014, it was the first electric distribution cooperative in Missouri to have built fiber out to all 6,300 of its members. 70 percent of RCEC’s members currently subscribe to its fiber services. Through its wholly owned subsidiary, the cooperative offers five speed tiers. Speeds range from 50/10 Megabits per second for $50/month to 1 Gbps/15 Mbps for $100/month in select locations. 

Reaching Beyond its Electric Membership Footprint

The RDOF funding has allowed RCEC to extend its service area to “100 percent of the addresses in areas along U.S. 24, north of Mark Twain Lake, and areas on Highway 54 south of the Mark Twain Lake.” RCEC Manager and CEO Lynn Hodges expects to reach half of these areas...

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Posted December 13, 2021 by Maren Machles

In an effort to connect rural communities in eastern Mississippi where the big monopoly Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have failed to deliver– Mississippi Power has agreed to lease its dark fiber to East Mississippi Connect (EMC), the telecommunications subsidiary of the East Mississippi Electric Power Association (EMEPA). The immediate goal is to bring high-speed Internet connectivity to underserved areas in Lauderdale (pop. 74,000) and Kemper (pop. 9,700) counties. 

In February, EMC received $38.6 million in Rural Digital Opportunity Funds (RDOF) grants to deploy fiber-to-the-home broadband to rural residents in the eastern part of the state. EMC, approved by EMEPA members and established in October 2020, has been building out the network in phases, with the majority of Phase One – which covers parts of Lauderdale, Kemper and Clark counties – complete, or near completion. There are a total of five phases that will eventually reach into 11 counties and connect 37,000 homes and businesses. 

The deal marks the first time Mississippi Power has agreed to lease its dark fiber – a move that was buoyed by a recently passed state law that allows electric utilities to “permit broadband providers use of the electric delivery system.” 

EMC has two pricing and speed tiers: 100 Megabit per second symmetrical for $70/month and 1 Gigabit per second for $100/month. 

​​“We are excited to be partnering with Mississippi Power to expand our opportunity of reaching an even greater number of rural communities with access to high-speed fiber Internet,” East Mississippi Electric Power Association Chief Executive Officer Randy Carroll said in a joint press release.

A number of rural communities were left in...

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Posted November 17, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

When the FCC announced the winners of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) last December, many industry veterans were surprised by the appearance of LTD Broadband as the largest recipient of funds. The company managed to snag more than $1.3 billion to serve 528,000 locations across 15 states, but its capability to do so immediately drew skepticism from many (including us).

Now, a little less than a year later, the company's chickens are coming home to roost. In a recent ruling denying the company the expanded Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) status it needs to offer service in RDOF-awarded areas, the Iowa Utilities Board took LTD to task for a history of noncompliance and late payments:

Specifically, LTD had not complied with the Board’s February 22, 2019 order, as LTD had not yet filed a registration as a telecommunications service provider, was past due on its DPRS assessment, and had not yet filed an annual report with the Board for reporting years 2019 and 2020. 

[B]eyond the procedural flaws in LTD’s Application, the company’s responses to Board . . . illustrate that LTD has routinely submitted regulatory filings with obvious errors, if filings were submitted at all . . . It is for this reason that the Board takes seriously LTD’s history of inconsistent compliance with this provision, as the regulatory burden is minimal and the consequence of failing to uphold the obligation ETCs pledge to carry out impacts the rest of the industry, the Board, and most importantly, the Iowans served by the program.

But the regulatory board took its comments a step further, basing its ruling also on the fact that the company's behavior in the state betrays what looks like a lack of ability to meet its bidding commitments during the auction:

The record in this docket does not merit the expansion of a credential that signals to the public that LTD has evidenced the technical and financial capabilities required to carry out the public interest obligations of those entrusted with federal funds. LTD’s responses and actions lack the candor that the Board would expect from a carrier seeking to evidence the expertise to take on this degree of expansion.

...
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Posted September 13, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The Connect This! show has officially returned, kicking off an unofficial Season 2 with better production value, worse jokes, and the same lively conversation and hot takes we've all become accustomed to. 

On the latest episode, co-hosts Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) are joined by Doug Dawson (CCG Consulting) and Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber) to catch up after a frenzied summer. With all of the federal, state, and local broadband infrastructure funding programs and projects announced over the last three months, the panel breaks down what they've been seeing across the country. 

During the course of the conversation, they cover what's been going on with the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (including ISPs turning funds back in and LTD failing to get its ETC status), more supply chain constraints, how communities can plan for current and future funding, and incumbents continuing to lock up MDUs.

Subscribe to the show using this feed, or visit ConnectThisShow.com

Email us broadband@muninetworks.org with feedback, ideas for the show, or your pictures of weird wireless infrastructure to stump Travis.

Watch here, or below.

Posted September 2, 2021 by Maren Machles

As communities across the country are working to bring more affordable, reliable Internet access to their residents, one county in Michigan is gearing up to reach every household within its bounds. On Wednesday night, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners held a Ways and Means meeting and unanimously approved a resolution obligating state funding, including American Rescue Plan funds, to several initiatives, with $14.6 million dollars being allocated to broadband infrastructure. 

Although some communities in the county have made progress in recent years in improving connectivity, thousands of households have been left with broadband at basic speeds. While many are slated to receive service via the recent wins by Mercury Broadband (a Kansas-based ISP, focused on connecting rural America) and Midwest Energy and Communications (MEC, a Michigan electric cooperative) from the 2020 Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, there are still 17 townships scattered across the county with more than 3,000 households that remained unserved. 

Back in May, the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to plug the remaining holes, with the Task Force signalling its general happiness with the responses in the recent meeting. The allocation on Wednesday, if it receives final approval in the near future, will be used to fund the project proposals the Broadband Task Force is currently negotiating with four ISPs: Midwest Energy and Communications, Washtenaw Fiber, Comcast and Charter-Spectrum. 

This vote brings the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force one step closer to its goal of countywide broadband equity. Its $14.6 million dollar plan will either be approved or vetoed by the County Board of Commissioners on Sept. 15. 

The Journey to Countywide Broadband Equity

The Washtenaw County Broadband Subcommittee was formed in 2017 to assess the county’s broadband coverage and make recommendations about how to achieve “countywide broadband equity” by 2022. 

The Subcommittee came out with...

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Posted August 19, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

There’s a sign in the middle of Lempster, N.H. that reads: “On nearby Allen Road on December 4, 1939, the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative set its first utility pole, an important event in bringing electric service to the farms, mills and homes of the New Hampshire countryside.”

Richard Knox, chairman of the citizen group New Hampshire Broadband Advocates and a member of Broadband Advisory Committee in the town of Sandwich, wrote in the New Hampshire Union Leader about the history behind the sign and why modern-day co-op members are once again celebrating:

When the lights first switched on back in that long-ago December, Lempster schoolchildren marched to the first pole behind a 23-piece band … Residents danced in the streets and partied well into the night … Eighty-one Decembers later, Lempster can claim bragging rights to another momentous first. On December 15, local and state officials joined leaders of the Electric Co-op to celebrate the light-up of its new fiber-optic broadband network.

Expanding Town-by-Town

As we reported then, after New Hampshire Electric Cooperative (NHEC) members voted to authorize the co-op to bring fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) connectivity to its 84,000 members spread out across 115 towns and cities in the Granite State, just weeks later, NHEC connected its first 900 households in Lempster, Clarksville, Colebrook and Stewartstown to its core network, funded with a $6.7 million grant from the state’s Connecting New Hampshire Emergency Broadband Program.

Last month, having been...

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Posted June 22, 2021 by Jericho Casper

This article was originally published on GovTech.com. Read the original here. This version contains additional details.

The southwest corner of New Hampshire will be blanketed with Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks over the next two years, as over 20 communities are drawing up plans to enter into public-private partnerships to boost high-speed Internet access in the Granite State.

Fitzwilliam, Marlborough, Gilsum, and Troy voted in March to issue bonds through the New Hampshire Municipal Bond Bank to construct fiber networks; while Greenfield, Jaffrey, Marlow, Roxbury, Keene, Peterborough, and Temple, delayed by the pandemic, have been voting in support of FTTH agreements throughout April, May and June.

According to New Hampshire’s Southwest Region Planning Commission (SWRPC), six more cities, Charlestown, Goshen, Langdon, Salisbury, Sullivan, and Unity, have also issued warrant articles indicating their interest in partnering with a private Internet Service Provider (ISP) to expand Internet access. Most of the cities are considering partnerships with Consolidated Communications to improve insufficient connectivity.

Consolidated is expanding its fiber mileage across southwestern New Hampshire at an increased pace. The ISP has nearly completed construction of FTTH networks in Dublin, Harrisville, Rindge, Westmoreland, and Walpole, five Cheshire County towns which voted to bond last year. Upon finishing construction of the most recent project service agreements, which are expected to be complete by the end of 2021, Consolidated will have upgraded an additional...

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Posted May 27, 2021 by Maren Machles

Fifteen years ago, Covington Electric Cooperative (CEC) was the first in the southeast region of Alabama to bring its members online with dial-up Internet access. And while it has since left the broadband business, it announced at the beginning of April it plans to come back in a big way, connecting all of its members once again through its new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, Buzz Broadband. 

Buzz Broadband is a new subsidiary that will provide FTTH broadband service to members across its six-county territory and more than 23,000 households. CEC chose the name, because “like the mighty bee, high-speed broadband is a force to be reckoned with. Having fast and reliable access to such technology takes the sting out of meeting deadlines, virtual learning, working from home and running a business.”

CEC started building out the backbone in January and is on track to finish by the end of this month, with the first members coming online this fall. According to CEC’s 2021 Annual Report, “expansion to all CEC members will be done in phases and will take a few years to be complete.”

Initially, the FTTH build out was supposed to take four years, but with all the enthusiasm around the network, Short asked the board if CEC could fast track the build out to two years. He said that’s what they are aiming for, and when Buzz Broadband was announced, it was made clear that the board is “committed to making high-speed fiber broadband access available to every CEC member by 2025, if not sooner.”

“We’re on track to invest $65 to $70 million in two years, where our electric plan was only $180 million give or take, and it took us 77 years to get to that point,” Short said. “It’s quite an accelerated cash flow.”

Overwhelming Support

CEC was formed in 1944, in response to the Rural Electrification Administration offering long-term, low-interest loans to finance the electrification of rural America. When no one else would bring service to the surrounding area, CEC was born. Today, it has 2,700 miles of electrical power lines spread across six counties, Covington, Coffee, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, and Escambia. It is headquartered in...

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Posted May 6, 2021 by Maren Machles

Tired of waiting for connectivity solutions to come to town, one Minnesota community has instead partnered with a local telephone cooperative to build a fiber network reaching every home and business in the city.

In embarking on its journey to improve local Internet access six years ago, Long Prairie (pop. 3,300) ended up partnering with one of the most aggressive fiber network builders in the state - Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) - on a solution that meets local needs. The two finished a ubiquitous Fiber-to-the-Home build in 2018, with CTC now owning and operating the network. 

Looking for Solutions

The City of Long Prairie (pop. 3,300), the county seat in Todd County, Minnesota, has long struggled with connectivity. It has manifested in issues with connecting students from their homes, with losing parts of the local workforce, and in a lack of access to support larger healthcare institutions for their aging population. 

In 2014, the city met with state officials as well as broadband providers to discuss the results of a feasibility study that was done back in 2011. Todd County stressed that this was a pressing issue that couldn’t wait anymore - they needed state support with funding and potentially help setting up a partnership with a local co-op. But this kind of partnership couldn’t just be with any co-op, it had to be a mutually beneficial partnership that could connect all of Long Prairie’s businesses and residents. It would take 2 more years before the community entered into an agreement with the right one.  

CTC started in the 1950s as a telephone cooperative, and began offering Internet access via DSL service in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Around 2008, CTC’s Board of Directors decided that the best long-term strategy for providing strong, reliable connectivity would be to build out Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) for all of its members. 

Building on that initial network, the main vision and mission driving the co-op over the last 10 years has been getting as many people in the area fast and reliable connectivity as possible. But because CTC is just one firm, that has meant developing relationships with other towns, cities, and counties that bloom into successful partnerships. 

...

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Posted April 6, 2021 by Maren Machles

Talladega, AL has long been known as the epicenter of NASCAR, a sport synonymous with speed. In 1987, Bill Elliot set the fastest recorded time of 212.089 mph on that very track. 

Cars aren’t expected to start racing down the Talladega Superspeedway track until late April, but the Coosa Valley Electric Cooperative (CVEC) chose the location to announce the fittingly super fast speeds it expects to begin serving up with its new broadband subsidiary, Coosa Valley Technologies, last Wednesday. 

Unfortunately, many residents in Talladega County and surrounding counties have long gone without fast connectivity, with average speeds as low as 5 Mbps (Megabits per second)

CVEC often holds events at the Superspeedway, but for this event they wanted to make sure that since people were gathering, social distancing was possible. Also they wanted to communicate a message.

“It also served as a good backdrop for what we were trying to communicate, which was, we’re going to be provided the fastest broadband service in our area,” Jon Cullimore, CVEC Manager of Marketing and Member Services, told us in an interview as the cooperative prepares to embark on a fiber build intended to bring fast, affordable Internet access to everyone in its electric footprint over the next four years.

Driven by Membership

It all started in 2019 with feasibility studies conducted by two different firms. Both found a profound lack of broadband service throughout CVEC’s service territory, which is situated east of Birmingham.

When the studies were completed, CVEC quickly put together a comprehensive information packet for members to get educated before their annual meeting last September. The members were asked to vote on whether or not CVEC should form a new broadband subsidiary and embark on a new phase of life.

“We got the word out, and we had a record attendance at our annual meeting. We’ve never had that many members show up before,” Cullimore said. “I think we only had 12 ‘no’ votes out of all the [more than] one thousand people that showed up.”  

CVEC quickly got to work...

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