Tag: "appalachians"

Posted May 23, 2017 by lgonzalez

Highlands, North Carolina, deployed a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure and fixed wireless complement to serve the community. The small rural community has been operating the municipal network in the Appalachians since late 2015, but is now considering passing the mantle to a private partner. They recently released a Request for Information (RFI) and responses are due June 9th.

High In The Appalachians

Tourism is one of the town’s staple economies, as it’s known for its natural surroundings atop the Nantahala National Forest in the mountains. While less than 1,000 people live in the town all year, summer tourists swell the population to around 20,000. There are several country clubs nearby that cater to the affluent second-home owners in Highlands and there are at least 500 homes that are valued at $1 million or more.

The FTTH network does not serve the entire community. Local leaders want the network available to the entire community, in part to keep second home owners in Highlands for extended periods of time. With better connectivity, many could work from home. The community also operates a municipal electric utility that owns 2,600 utility poles and 110 miles of line, most of it aerial. Interestingly, the Highlands Electric Utility serves over 3,000 accounts, some in the suburban Atlanta areas.

Highlands issued the RFI to search out  provider that would be interested in expanding the FTTH network and acquiring more customers for the network as a whole. They still want to own the infrastructure, but hope to attract a provider willing to lease the existing network and add to it.

Read the rest of the RFI.

Responses are due Friday, June 30th.

Posted March 14, 2017 by lgonzalez

Erwin Fiber is growing in stages and now that the utility in Erwin, Tennessee, has completed phase three of its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployment, about half of its electricity customers have access to high-quality Internet access. That’s not all - phase four this spring will bring gigabit connectivity to more rural customers in two nearby mountain communities.

Reaching Out In Steps

All told, Erwin Fiber more than tripled its service area in 2016. A December grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) will allow the utility to complete the spring build out, which will serve an additional 680 homes and 30 businesses. The Temple Hill and Bumpass Cove areas located in the mountains outside of downtown Erwin will have access to Erwin Fiber's symmetrical Internet access. Due to the remote character of these neighborhoods, people here had little prospect of obtaining high-quality Internet access from other providers. The 35-mile expansion will cost approximately $400,000.

November’s expansion added 2,200 homes and businesses, while a similar effort last March included 1,300 homes and businesses. Both expansions came after the community successfully experimented with a 2015 pilot project in which the city’s electric utility connected an initial 1,200 customers. The utility needed the infrastructure for the electric system other utilities; it was the right to to invest in the equipment for high-speed connectivity and phone service 

Not An Impluse

The municipality of about 6,000 people had considered the investment some 15 years prior but couldn’t afford the investment until recent years when the cost of deployment decreased. In January, Christopher interviewed Lee Brown and John Williams from Erwin Utilities who discussed the community’s project and explained how the fiber infrastructure is benefitting all the utility customers, even those who don’t subscribe to FTTH services.

Posted March 11, 2017 by htrostle

How do we connect rural America? Unreliable, slow Internet service with data caps is the norm for much of the country. Even though the federal government gives billions of dollars to large telecom companies, North Carolina is one of the many states that still has an urban and rural digital divide.

Western North Carolina Public Radio (WCQS) recently spoke with our Christopher Mitchell about local ways to improve rural Internet access. While Christopher spoke of electric cooperatives, two other initiatives are also seeking creative solutions in the western half of the state.

Potential Service from Electric Cooperatives

Communities across the U.S. are already bringing better connectivity to their homes and businesses. Specifically, Christopher pointed to the growing number of electric cooperatives providing Internet service: 

“When you look at the threat communities face from not having broadband Internet—the way people are moving away, and fewer people are willing to move in—these electric membership corporations really have to think about what they can do to make sure there’s a high quality of life.”

In our 2016 North Carolina Connectivity report, we explored the work of two local electric cooperatives, Lumbee River and Blue Ridge Mountain. They collaborated with telephone cooperatives to provide high-speed Internet service in the several rural counties near Georgia.

Spotlight on Local Solutions

The WCQS article reported on two more local initiatives: the community network in Highlands, North Carolina, and the nonprofit Land of Sky Regional Council

Back in 2015, the people of Highlands saw that poor Internet access was hurting their community. They quickly built the Altitude Community Broadband network. Highlands Internet Technology Director Matt Shuler told WCQS: 

“...

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Posted December 2, 2016 by lgonzalez

Earlier this spring, Pikeville, Kentucky, released an RFI for partner interest to bring Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) to businesses, community anchor institutions, municipal facilities, and residential properties. The Appalachian community is ready to move forward and recently released its Request for Proposals (RFP) for Partnership for FTTP Network Deployment. Responses are due January 4, 2017.

A Measured Approach

The community wants any potential partners to focus on a project to be executed in phases. This RFP is for Phase One, described as:

Phase One of the City’s multi-stage project will include constructing a fiber backbone in the selected service area—approximately 57 miles of distribution fiber that will pass 2,850 homes, businesses, and other community organizations that represent potential customers. Phase One will also include constructing a network “core” site that will aggregate traffic from the FTTP sites and house the network’s routers that will allow for interconnection with other networks including the network’s “upstream” connection to the Internet. Planning for upstream connectivity is a critical element of the partnership, and will require meaningful coordination between the City, the Partner, and the Commonwealth. 

Eventually, the goal is to deploy a network that will serve the city of Pikeville (pop. 7,000), nearby Coal Run Village, and other areas in Pike County. Pikeville expects to receive grants, but also anticipates contributing to the cost of the project with funds from bonds, loans, or other mechanism. They also state in the RFP that, depending on the type of partnership, they anticipate some sharing of risk and financial contribution from the partner they choose.

Pikeville

The community realizes how critical high-quality connectivity is to the future of the city and the region. Pikeville, the county seat, is in an area that was once famous for coal production. As eastern Kentucky looks for ways to diversify their economy, high-quality Internet access will be a key component. Community leaders expect RFP respondents to include plans that will integrate the state’s...

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Posted November 12, 2016 by htrostle

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.

HTC, also known as Horry Telephone Cooperative, may be far from Lumbee River EMC’s boundaries, but shares the same commitment to community. The electric co-op reached out to HTC in 2013 while completing construction of the FTTH network. Lumbee River EMC had reached out to three other telephone companies, but eventually landed on HTC. After working out an Indefeasible Right of Use (IRU), HTC set to work and signed up the first customer in 2014. Although at times the...

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Posted September 17, 2016 by htrostle

Few communities in Tennessee have next-generation, high-speed connectivity, but the city of Erwin built its own network despite Tennessee’s restrictions. Now through a collaboration of federal and regional agencies, this “Little Gig City” will get assistance showing off their fiber network.

The planning assistance program, called Cool & Connected, will provide direct assistance to Erwin to develop a marketing plan for the fiber network. Cool & Connected looks to promote the Appalachian communities by using connectivity to revitalize small-town neighborhoods and encourage vibrant main streets with economic development.

Federal and Regional Collaboration

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy explained the program in The Chattanoogan

“Cool & Connected will help create vibrant, thriving places to live, work, and play. We’re excited to be working with these local leaders and use broadband service as a creative strategy to improve the environment and public health in Appalachian communities.”  

Three governmental agencies have brought together the Cool & Connected program to provide planning assistance to ten chosen communities in six states near the Appalachian Mountains. Agencies partnering on the initiative are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Services, and the Appalachian Regional Commission through the Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) initiative.

The “Little Gig City” That Could

Although Erwin is a small community of 6,000 people, it...

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Posted August 22, 2016 by lgonzalez

Garrett County is the westernmost county in Maryland. High in the Allegheny Mountains of the Appalachian Mountain Range; winters are harsh and forest covers 90 percent of the county. Before the county deployed a fiber-optic network, high-quality connectivity was hard to come by for schools, libraries, and other community anchor institutions. By making the most of every opportunity, Garrett County has improved efficiencies for the many small communities in the region and set the stage to improve connectivity for businesses and residents.

Rural, Remote, Ready For Better Connectivity

The county is more than 650 square miles but there are no large urban centers and over time a number of sparsely populated areas have developed as home to the county's 30,000 people; since 2000, population growth has stagnated. Many of the tiny communities where businesses and residents have clustered are remote and do not have public sewer or water. These places tend to have a high number of low-income people. 

Unemployment rates are volatile in Garrett County, fluctuating with natural resources extraction industries. As the coal and lumber industries have waned, many jobs in Garrett County have disappeared. Garrett County Memorial Hospital and Beitzel industrial construction employ over 300 people and are the county’s largest employers. 

All of these characteristics make Garrett County unattractive to the large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that want to maximize investment and focus only on densely populated urban areas. Verizon offers DSL and Comcast offers cable in limited areas but many people rely on mobile Internet access and expensive satellite Internet access.

It Started With BTOP Fiber

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In 2010, the State of Maryland received over $115 million in grant funding through the Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program (BTOP). With a matching $43 million from state and in-kind contributions, Maryland deployed the One Maryland Broadband Network (OMBN). In August 2013, the middle mile fiber-optic network was complete, stretching 1,324 miles across the state connecting 1,068 CAIs.

OMBN runs directly into Garrett County for...

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Posted June 17, 2016 by alexander

Last month, the Haywood Advancement Foundation (HAF) sowed the seeds for a long-term broadband strategy in Haywood County, North Carolina. The nonprofit foundation posted a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study as part of their strategy to develop a master plan and improve local connectivity. A $10,000 grant from the Southwest Commission and a matching $10,000 grant from HAF will fund the early stages of Haywood’s broadband initiative. The due date for proposals is July 15th.

Living In The Present, Planning For The Future

Located about 30 minutes west of Asheville, Haywood County is home to approximately 60,000 residents. Asheville’s status as a cultural hub might be driving up Haywood County property values, but it has failed to bring high quality Internet access to its rural neighbors. 

State law complicates local municipalities' ability to provide fast, affordable, reliable connectivity via municipal networks. North Carolina’s HB 129, passed in 2011, and is currently under review in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) overruled the state law in early 2015, citing the bill’s burden on the national goal of advancing ubiquitous Internet access. North Carolina and Tennessee challenged the FCC’s decision, oral arguments were heard in March, and all participants are now waiting for a ruling. A master plan can help the community establish different courses of action, depending on the ultimate outcome of the court case.

Mark Clasby, executive director of the Haywood County Economic Development Council, reiterated just how important universal...

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Posted May 20, 2016 by lgonzalez

Highlands is a small community of less than 1,000 residents located in the Nantahala National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains. Along the western tip of the state, Highlands faces the same problem as many other rural communities - poor connectivity. In order to bring high-quality Internet access to residents and businesses, Highlands has implemented a plan to deploy city-owned Internet network infrastructure.

A Connected Escape Up In The Mountains

Highland entertains a large number of summer tourists who flock to its high altitude to escape summer heat and humidity. Summer visitors can fill the city’s six square miles and surrounding area with up to 20,000 people. The city operates a municipal electric utility along with water, sewer, and garbage pick up. 

To round off the list of offered services and bring better connectivity to the community, Highlands created the Altitude Community Broadband. In January, the Town Board authorized to borrow $40,000 from its General Fund and $210,000 from its Electric Enterprise Fund to deploy and launch the new service. The loan will be repaid with revenue from the new service.

The town has long-term plans to offer both Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) and fixed wireless service to residents and businesses in the downtown area. Fiber is already available in limited areas within Highlands proper; pricing is available on a case-by-case basis. The landscape is rugged, so residents outside of the city may not be able to transition to FTTH, reported a December HighlandsInfo Newspaper, but the fixed wireless access is still an affordable and workable option in a place considered a poor investment by large providers.

Residential options for Altitude Wireless Internet Access are:

  • Basic (Just give me Internet): 4 Megabit per second (Mbps) [download] ... $34.99
  • Better (Supports some streaming video): 10 Mbps [download] ... $39.99
  • Video Streaming (Comes with free Roku): 25 Mbps [download]... $59.99
  • Extreme (Everyone in my home is connected. Comes with free Roku): 50 Mbps [download]... $119.98

Subscribers can also sign up for the $9.99 per month “carefree in home Wi-Fi”, which is a service in which the utility installs and maintains the customers...

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Posted May 18, 2016 by lgonzalez

Two new Requests for Information (RFI) were recently released in Palo Alto, California, and Pikeville, Kentucky. 

Pikeville, Kentucky

Pikeville is open to both public ownership and Gigabit service via privately owned infrastructure. This community of approximately 7,000 residents wants Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) for businesses, community anchor institutions, municipal facilities, and residents. The regional Appalachian Mountain community, with many jobs lost due to the shrinking coal industry, is turning to connectivity as a way to spur economic development.

Pikeville’s RFI describes how service from existing providers is expensive and "sporadic." This RFI calls for a partner that will help the community develop an open access, affordable, financially sustainable network. In drafting the RFI, Pikeville’s officials made sure to note that low-income residents will not be left behind; bringing this asset to disadvantaged residents is a priority.

The city is the county seat of Pike County and home to a number of colleges as well as several large healthcare facilities. City, county, and federal government facilities are also located in Pikeville and need better connectivity. In 2015, the city obtained a $5 million grant for technology-based training and degree programs for residents in the area. A $1 million grant supplied funding for a Broadband Technology Center in Pikeville. Now the city needs fast, affordable, reliable Internet network infrastructure to complement the Center and to move the local workforce toward more information based industries.

Important Dates:

  • Letter of Intent Due: May 23, 2016
  • Questions Due: May 25, 2016
  • Final RFI Submissions Due: June 3, 2016

The city’s website has more information and details.

Palo Alto, California

Palo Alto is a Silicon Valley city of 67,000 residents; daytime workers coming into the community swell the population to approximately 125,000. Incumbents include Comcast and AT&T who have intimated they might be interested in bringing fiber to the city, but have yet to act. Community leaders are exploring all options with this RFI.

The community has a network of ...

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