Tag: "small business"

Posted June 2, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher talks to Tanna Greathouse, a Boone, North Carolina, resident operating an online business, Your Favorite Assistant, from home. Tanna shares her struggle with the lack of connectivity options in the area and what it means to have to sign up for three expensive, overlapping services — DSL, satellite, and mobile — for unreliable, slow, and high-latency Internet connections.

Tanna and Christopher talk about the struggle to perform even basic cloud-based productivity work and how this struggle has been amplified by the coronavirus pandemic. They talk about what things might look like if there were more local Internet choice and how the rise of telework will likely change how large and small businesses operate in the future.

We’ve covered North Carolina’s efforts at local Internet choice many times before. Find our “Why NC Broadband Matters” podcast series, co-produced with NC Broadband Matters, on the Community Broadband Bits podcast index. Episode topics include the homework gap,...

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Posted March 20, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

“While most of us take a high-speed Internet connection for granted, many living in rural areas feel disconnected,” states North Carolina television station WRAL’s new documentary, “Disconnected,” which first aired on March 19.

The documentary features local officials, healthcare professionals, small business owners, and families from across the state discussing the importance of high-quality broadband access and the struggle to connect rural areas. Though “Disconnected” was recorded before the Covid-19 outbreak forced schools and businesses to close nationally, the ongoing crisis further emphasizes the necessity of getting all North Carolinians connected to affordable, reliable Internet access.

“Disconnected” was created with help from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the North Carolina League of Municipalities, and Google Fiber. Watch the documentary below or on the WRAL website.

A Tale of Two Cities

To illustrate the importance of connectivity for everything from education to healthcare, “Disconnected” takes viewers to two small North Carolina towns — one with high-speed Internet access and one without.

Enfield NC

In Enfield, home to 2,300 people, businesses and residents alike struggle to get connected, and town officials face difficulties attracting new employers to the area. Enfield Middle S.T.E.A.M. Academy reports that about 60 percent of students don’t have Internet access at home. WRAL interviews one student’s family, which only has unreliable satellite connectivity. “It’s a lot of running around,” says Lashawnda Silver, the student’s mother. “If I don’t provide it for her, she’s going to lose out.”

Similarly, an Enfield health clinic says that most patients aren’t able to connect at home and even 40 percent of staff lack home broadband access. “It’s a barrier for their healthcare,” explains Mary Downey, Family Nurse Practitioner.

The city of Wilson is less than an hour south of Enfield, but it’s a world apart in terms of connectivity. Wilson's 49,000 residents have access to gigabit speeds over the city's reliable fiber network, Greenlight. We’ve...

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Posted February 12, 2020 by lgonzalez

Whether you're a tech entrepreneur, manage a large industrial operation, or you specialize as an artisan who sells niche products online, fast, affordable, reliable connectivity is now a critical utility for your business. A recent SpotLight article from the North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM) and hosted by WRAL.com, shines a light on the impact of reliable broadband on rural businesses, residents, and local economies.

Unrealized Potential

NCLM provides multiple examples supporting the theory that lack of high-quality connectivity and access to digital tools results in unrealized potential — in jobs, home-based businesses, and small business revenue. A 2019 study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce suggests that 66 percent of rural small businesses struggle with poor Internet or mobile phone connectivity.

Sheila Pope and her husband — both attorneys — have no Internet access at home and when their daughter returns home from college, she must make the trek into town to scope out a reliable connection.

"The trend is for more and more online work. She [Pope's daughter] would have to come to our office or go to the coffee shop in town. We got unlimited data through our cell phone provider so that we could use our phones as a hotspot, but that's unreliable and sometimes the connection would go out and she would lose all her work. It's very problematic," Pope said. "People are not going to want to come here to live and businesses aren't going to come here when they can't get what they need to do business in this digital age." 

NCLM spoke with Aaron Carter, director of marketing for Rhino Shelf, a storage shelving manufacturer. Only recently has the company been able to subscribe to Internet access faster than 20 Mbps:

"Broadband is so important because no matter what your business is, efficiency is the bottom line. It doesn't matter if you have the greatest product in the world; if you're not manufacturing it efficiently, that's a loss. If you're not selling or marketing it efficiently, you're losing," Carter said. "I grew up in Sampson County. I have friends there who run businesses and the way they do business is old-fashioned because they...

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Posted April 20, 2018 by lgonzalez

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we recognize the power of small businesses in local communities. As federal lawmakers consider where they stand on the issue of network neutrality protections, small businesses can join forces to let Congress know that they need network neutrality to stay strong. Fight For The Future (FFTF) has launched a campaign that takes advantage of “Small Business Week” and its proximity to a crucial vote involving the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

Sign, Host, Deliver, Speak

FFTF encourages business owners to express their support for network neutrality by signing a short letter they’ve prepared that succinctly addresses the issue for small businesses:

Dear Member of Congress,

We are companies who rely on the open Internet to grow our business and reach customers online. We are asking Congress to issue a “Resolution of Disapproval” to restore net neutrality and the other consumer protections that were lost when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order in December 2017.

Users and businesses need certainty that they will not be blocked, throttled or charged extra fees by Internet service providers. We cannot afford to be left unprotected while Congress deliberates.

We will accept nothing less than the protections embodied in the 2015 order. Please ensure the FCC keeps its tools to protect consumers and business like ours.

Thank you for considering our views.

Sincerely,

Fight for the Future

Thousands of businesses have already signed on to the letter to be delivered to members of Congress on May 2nd, the high point of “Small Business Week.”

FFTF also offers suggestions, resources, and media materials for local folks who want to attend an event happening in their area or who want to organize a local event. If you want to organize a letter delivery, FFTF offers a package of resources that includes steps to take, graphics and media for outreach, recruitment ideas, and points to consider when talking to the press. It’s all you need in one place — you add the energy.

With strong...

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Posted January 15, 2018 by lgonzalez

Directly north of Springfield, Missouri, sits Hermitage, a rural community of less than 500 residents. With only a few more than 200 households in Hermitage, it isn’t surprising that none of the big incumbent providers want to install the infrastructure to offer businesses or residents high-quality connectivity. A  recent Missourian article described what it’s like for businesses in a community whose owners need fast, affordable, reliable Internet access when it just isn’t available from the national ISPs.

Failure Expected

In Hermitage, entrepreneurs like local storekeepers cringe on the days when customers want to pay with credit or debit cards. Often their unreliable CenturyLink DSL service fails, sometimes for extended periods, which cuts into their revenue. Cindy Gilmore, who owns a local convenience store, has to either track down customers or take a loss when Internet access fails during mid-transaction and she restarts her modem.

Gilmore pays $89 per month to CenturyLink for service that is advertised as “up to” 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps) download. Her speed test result on November 12th was .5 Mbps. Two weeks later a similar test reached the advertised speed and then two days later fell to .4 Mbps, which eliminated her ability to process credit card transactions, work from the office, or look up information she needed for supplies.

Rufus Harris works from home as an online car dealer and relies heavily on Internet access. As part of his work, he researches auto recalls and Carfax reports. The only option for Harris at his home office is CenturyLink and he pays $39 per month for residential “up to” 1.5 Mbps Internet access. He often finds himself, however, renting motel rooms for up to $400 per month because his Internet service at home goes down.

“It’s a shame when you pay for a service that you don’t receive,” Harris said. “We’re supposed to get at least 1.5 (Mbps) or up to, and most of the time it’s not near that good. A lot of the time, it might take 2 minutes to change from one page to the next.”

No Co-ops Yet

Unfortunately for Harris and Gilmore, no cooperatives are offering Internet access in their areas. We’ve documented several co-ops in Missouri, such as...

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Posted September 5, 2017 by lgonzalez

When it comes to rural areas, it’s no secret that national providers have little interest in serving the sparsely populated communities. Cooperatives and small local providers typically pick up the slack but it isn’t easy. In a recent survey indicated that small rural telephone companies are overcoming hurdles to deploy fiber and making long-term plans to continue the trend. Furthermore, rural subscribers are proving that they are hungry for high capacity connectivity.

Local ISPs Are Doing It

Approximately 89 percent of “NTCA 2016 Broadband/Internet Availability Survey Report” revealed that the expense of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployment was the most difficult barrier to break through. Even though they faced the difficult problem of financing, 52 percent of survey respondents in the midst of fiber deployments in the spring of 2017 were serving at least half of their customers with FTTH.

Planning For The Future

Fiber is the future for most of the survey respondents. Eighty-two percent reported long-term fiber strategies with 66 percent of those with strategies planning on offering FTTH to at least half of their customers. Another 39 percent of those with long-term fiber strategies will offer fiber to the node to more than 75 percent of their customers by the end of 2019. Thirty-one percent of local telcos with long-term fiber plans who responded to the survey report said that they have already completed their fiber deployment plans.

Subscribers Want More

According to survey respondents, rural subscribers are choosing faster speeds tiers. Relative to the same survey one year ago, the demand for download speeds in excess of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) more than doubled from eight percent of subscribers to 17 percent of subscribers. As the percentage of subscribers choosing a faster speed tier is increasing, the number of subscribers signing up for slower speeds is decreasing. The report describes rural subscriber behavior as, “moving up the broadband speed chain” and says that “…providers need to be prepared to offer them the level of service they demand.”

What Does The Survey Tell Us?

The survey reveals that rural residents and businesses are increasingly interested in high-quality...

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Posted May 2, 2017 by lgonzalez

The Roanoke Broadband Valley Authority (RVBA) was busy early this legislative session helping to fight off a bill in the Virginia Legislature aimed at limiting local authority. Now that the bill has been all but neutralized by grassroots efforts, RVBA can dedicate 100 percent of its time to improving connectivity and economic development in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley.

Accelerating, Mentoring, Connecting

The RVBA just announced that its network is providing fast, affordable, reliable dark fiber services to a regional business accelerator in downtown Roanoke. The Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program (RAMP) is a collaboration between the city of Roanoke, Virginia Western Community College (VWCC), and the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. In a press release, Shivaji Samanta, Director of Information and Educational Technologies at Virginia Western said:

“Virginia Western has collaborated with the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority to provision fiber connectivity between its main campus and the two downtown Roanoke sites at the Claude Moore Education Center and the new entrepreneur training facilities inside the RAMP building. The project, delivered on time and within budget, provides VWCC with dedicated connectivity to its off-campus locations at speeds limited only by the equipment at the end-points for a fixed monthly cost.”

RAMP is located in an historic building that was once the Gill Memorial Hospital; the city used a $600,000 state grant to renovate the building and transform it into an incubator. VWCC will be offering business education courses at the facility and will offer faculty support, and the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council will develop mentorship and networking opportunities. Members of the Council also lead the RAMP Advisory Board.

Connecting the Business Community

This is the latest in what is sure to be more connections offered by the RVBA. Last fall, finance company, Meridium, signed up with the publicly owned network. The company needed dark fiber for Internet access and data transport for its downtown headquarters.

According to RVBA President and CEO Frank Smith:

“Dark Fiber is advantageous to growing businesses that wish to secure and invest up-front in...

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Posted March 22, 2017 by lgonzalez

In January 2016, Holland, Michigan, made commencing fiber-optic Internet access to residential neighborhoods its number one goal for fiscal year 2017. They’re a little behind schedule, but the town is now moving forward by expanding a pilot project in order to serve a larger downtown area.

It's Really Happening

The Holland Board of Public Works (BPW) held an informational meeting on March 13th to answer questions from the community and share plans for the potential expansion. About a year ago, we reported on the results of a study commissioned by the city in which, based on a take rate of about 40 percent, 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) connectivity would cost residents about $80 per month. Small businesses would pay approximately $85 per month and larger commercial subscriber rates would run around $220 per month. The update on the plan confirms those figures, noting that the four businesses that tested the pilot services had positive experiences. As a result, BPW feels it’s time to expand to more of downtown.

"If it goes really well we hope to be able to expand the service out as far into the community as we can," said Pete Hoffswell, broadband services manager at BPW.

The expansion is planned for construction in June and July, with service testing in August. Actual delivery would be in September, BPW estimates.

BPW will use a boring technique to place conduit and fiber below ground so there will be minimal disruption. No streets will be closed. Next, BPW will get construction bids, evaluate them, and present them to the City Council for approval.

Not An Impulse Decision

tulips.jpeg Holland has had dark fiber in place for decades for the municipal electric operations. Later BPW extended it to schools and businesses that needed high capacity data services. After years of incremental expansions, the network is now more than 150 fiber miles throughout the city.

They tried to lure Google to the community in 2010, but when the tech company went elsewhere, city leaders created a 2011 strategic plan which confirmed the desire to improve connectivity. The plan came with a $58 million recommendation to...

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Posted November 4, 2016 by lgonzalez

Consumers should be able to expect a certain amount of privacy and recent rules adopted by the FCC are a step in the right direction. That step has also revealed some key differences between profit-driven national Internet service providers, smaller ISPs, and municipal networks. The different attitudes correspond with the different cultures, proving once again that small ISPs and munis have more than just profit in mind.

On October 27th, the FCC adopted an Order to allow ISP customers to determine how their data will be collected and used. According to the FCC, they made the decision in response to public comments about the concern for personal data protection.

The New Rules

Over the past few years, consumers have become savvy to the fact that ISPs have access to personal data and that they often sell that data to other companies for marketing purposes. Under Section 222 of Title II of the Communications Act, telecommunications carriers are bound to protect their subscribers’ private information. Because those rule are designed to change as technology changes, says the FCC and Congress, this same authority applies to private data collected by ISPs. 

The FCC decided to divide the permission of use of personal information based on type, categorizing information into “sensitive” and “non-sensitive.”

Sensitive information will require ISPs to obtain “opt-in” consent from subscribers, which will allow them to use and and share this type of information:

logo-xmission.jpg

  • Precise geo-location 
  • Children’s information
  • Health information 
  • Financial information
  • Social Security numbers
  • Web browsing history
  • App usage history
  • The content of communication 

Non-sensitive information would include all other information and customers would need to "opt-out" in order to prevent their ISPs from collecting such data. Examples of non-sensitive personal information include service tier information.

The new rules also require providers to follow “up-to-date and relevant industry best practices” in reference to managing security...

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Posted November 1, 2016 by christopher

Pinetops, a town of about 1,300 outside Wilson, North Carolina, is suffering a double calamity as Hurricane Matthew has left floods and incredible damage in its wake. Less natural but no less frustrating is the unforced error by the North Carolina Legislature in effectively prohibiting municipal broadband networks.

This week, we have a doubleheader interview with Will Aycock, the General Manager of Wilson's fiber-optic Greenlight service, and Suzanne Coker Craig, a local business owner and town council member. They talk discuss the devastation from the hurricane and the threat from the town's only broadband provider being forced to leave town by an ill-conceived state statute.

We often talk about how important modern Internet networks are, but the Pinetops reaction to this storm is a stirring reminder of how true that is. Whether it was as the hurricane approached, hit, or left town, local leadership had to continue fighting to retain Wilson's Internet service because it is that important to them.

Fortunately, Wilson has announced that it will not cut off Pinetops as expected. Instead, it will offer free service, which is not prohibited by current law. Wilson is generously giving the state six months to fix the law so Pinetops is not economically harmed by losing high quality Internet access.

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 28 minutes long and can be played below 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 mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

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