Tag: "cooperative"

Posted June 10, 2017 by lgonzalez

Lac qui Parle County in western Minnesota has some of the best connectivity in the state. As part of the county’s efforts to get the word out about opportunities in the region, their new Facebook video highlights access to great Internet access and hopes to draw more citizens to the region.

"Come for the Jobs. Stay for the Lifestyle"

Pam Ellison, Economic Development Director for the County, describes the network that is available across the county to businesses and residents. High-quality Internet access is a way to retain businesses, attract new endeavors, and entice people to fill new positions.

Back in 2009, the county began working with Farmers Mutual Telephone Cooperative to find a way to improve Internet access. Through their collaboration, the two entities received a 2010 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity and replace antiquated dial-up. At the time, about 52 percent of premises were still using their telephones to connect to the Internet.

Lac qui Parle had approached incumbent providers, but none were interested in upgrading in the sparsely populated region. Farmers Mutual Telephone Cooperative had deployed in other communities in western Minnesota and had the experience required in such a rural area. The project’s $9.6 million ARRA combined grant and loan allowed the project to be completed by the summer of 2014. Read more details about the network and the story in Lac qui Parle County in our 2014 report, All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access.

Check out Lac qui Parle County’s video:

Posted June 9, 2017 by htrostle

Journalist Jill Nolin recently dove into the details of electric cooperatives and Internet service in an article for the Thomasville Times-Enterprise in Georgia. Rural electric co-ops offer an avenue for robust rural connectivity that is in keeping with the long-standing rural tradition of self-reliance.

Talking With The Cooperatives

The article features interviews with several local electric cooperatives (EMCs) for their perspective on providing Internet service. Nolin spoke with Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, an electric cooperative that has been offering Internet service for almost ten years.

“Sometimes you have to venture out and do what’s right because your members need you to do it, because they’re demanding you to do it and because it’s the right thing to do. That’s what we did. We ventured out. We didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” -- Erik Brinke, Economic Development Director for Blue Ridge Mountain EMC

Nolin explored several possible barriers facing electric cooperatives that want to provide Internet service: from murky legal territory to capital funding. Christopher Mitchell said:

“It’s a kind of inertia to keep doing what they have been doing, and I think that’s changing more rapidly than I thought, candidly. But I think that’s the number one reason why we don’t see a hundred or 200 of the EMCs in this right now, although I think we’ll be there in another year or two from the rate of escalation we’re seeing,”

Nolin describes how the electric cooperatives are currently asking for the law to be clearly spelled out in the state of Georgia. 

Electric Cooperatives Across the Country

Many electric cooperatives around the country have started projects and programs to connect residents and businesses. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we have counted about 50 electric cooperatives involved so far. Our report on North Carolina noted how the rural electric cooperatives could provide Internet access to many unserved communities in that state; changes in the law would allow better EMCs to... Read more

Posted June 2, 2017 by lgonzalez

June will be an exciting month for people living in Brownton, Buffalo Lake, Fairfax, and Stewart in Minnesota. RS Fiber Cooperative will begin construction so those premises can connect to the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network now serving six other communities in the central Minnesota region. This stage of the buildout should bring another 500 subscribers on to the network by the end of the year; the network already serves 1,100 premises.

Bringing The Last Towns Into The Fold

According to general manager Toby Brummer:

“As construction of the network continues, we expect our customer numbers to continue to grow. Once we have the final four towns connected to the network, construction can begin on Phase Two of the project which will involve bringing gigabit fiber service to the township members of the RS Fiber Cooperative.”

Customers who take FTTH service now can sign up for voice, video, and Internet access up to 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps). Addresses that are outside the fiber connection service area have been able to obtain service from the cooperative via its fixed wireless RS Air service.

A Story Of Peaks And Valleys On The Prairie

The RS Fiber Cooperative story began in Sibley and Renville Counties as a regional municipal effort but when Sibley County pulled out, the project had to restructure their plan and design a new strategy. Rather than leave the rural farms behind, the participants decided to form a broadband cooperative to serve as many premises as possible.

Local farms - some of which had no Internet access at all - needed high-quality Internet access in order to operate in the modern agricultural economy. National providers had decided that the area was too sparsely populated to justify investment, so the locals decided they needed to act.

The project has had its challenges, but has overcome each one and in the process won numerous awards. This past May, the RS Fiber Cooperative received the “Cornerstone Award” from Broadband Communities... Read more

Posted May 29, 2017 by htrostle

Can’t get telephone or Internet service? Have you tried starting your own company? In 1998, John Reigle did just that with the support of the community and Michigan State University. Today, Allband Communications Cooperative provides not only telephone service, but also cutting-edge, high-quality Internet access and environmental research opportunities in rural Northeastern Michigan.

A Story Of Promise, Betrayal, And The Telephone Company

We connected with Allband representatives who shared details about Allband's interesting and dramatic history as told by Masha Zager back in 2005. They kindly provided updates and let us know what's in store for this by-the-bootstraps effort that started in the woods of Michigan.

When John Reigle moved out into the woods past the small town of Curran, Michigan, he didn't intend to start a brand-new venture. He simply wanted to build a home and work on his consulting business; he just needed telephone service.

The large incumbent telephone company GTE (which later became Verizon, which still later sold off this service area to Frontier) had assured Reigle that the lot where he planned to build his house would be easy to connect to their telephone network. They quoted him a price of about $34 and scheduled an install date. Trusting that the telephone company’s representatives knew the service area, Reigle moved forward with his plans to build.

After he finished constructing his house in 1998, Reigle contacted the telephone company to finalize his service connection. Despite the earlier assurance that his location would not prove a problem, Reigle found that he was miles away from the GTE network. This time, the company quoted $27,000 to run a copper telephone line from the highway to his new house. 

His consulting firm could not operate without a telephone so he decided to bite the bullet and agree to the steep price. GTE rescinded its quote, however, and no matter how much Reigle offered, the company would not run telephone service to his new house.

Obviously perturbed, Reigle filed a complaint with the Michigan Public Service Commission only to discover that he had built his house in an unassigned area. Despite the previous promises from GTE, the Michigan Public Service Commission noted that legally GTE could not be forced... Read more

Posted May 27, 2017 by htrostle

Bob Hance, President and CEO of Midwest Energy & Communications, formerly known as Midwest Energy Cooperative, spoke to Michigan Radio on the current plans for a high-speed, fiber optic network and the importance of rural connectivity. 

Midwest Energy & Communications offers speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) and has started to expand to new areas in southwest Michigan. Despite concerns that folks might not sign up for Internet service, demand has far exceeded expectations. 

Industrial Park Gets Service

An industrial park in Niles, Michigan, specifically requested to be connected to the high-speed network. Many of the tenants had considered relocating because of the previously shoddy connectivity. Thanks to Midwest Energy & Communications, those businesses chose to stay put. The co-op now serves about 80 percent of the industrial park with high-speed fiber. 

Listen to the full interview here.

For more about the history and structure of the cooperative, check out our own interview with Hance on Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 225.

Posted May 11, 2017 by christopher

Bonus episode! We did several interviews while at the Broadband Communities Summit and Dallas, so we are publishing two episodes this week. Diane Kruse joined us for today's discussion, episode 253, with an update about progress around community broadband in Colorado and great advice for communities considering an investment.

Diane is the CEO and President of NeoConnect, a consulting firm located in Colorado that works with communities around the country. We discuss realistic expectations for the nearly 100 communities that have voted to restore their authority to build and partner for better Internet networks.

We also discuss the range of options from doing nothing to building the full citywide fiber-optic network that Longmont is currently completing. Our interview touches on everything from incremental approaches to shadow conduit. 

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 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or 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 Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted April 25, 2017 by htrostle

This is the transcript for Episode 249 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We have a returning guest, Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative in Texas. She provides a first-hand perspective of the decisions and challenges facing electric cooperatives. Listen to this episode here.

Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts: I think also as you watch come cooperatives have great successes you'll see others follow.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 249 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute of Local Self Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts is Vice President of Communications and Business Services for Pedernales Electric Cooperative. Pedernales serves a large region in Central Texas. In this episode, Christopher gets some honest perspective from someone who can offer unique insight from the world of cooperatives. They discuss a range of issues, including new Legislation from Tennessee, and how it will effect cooperatives. Alyssa and Christopher also get into the challenges that cooperatives must consider, when determining whether or not to offer connectivity to members. You can learn more about Pedernales at pec.coop. Now here is Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts and Christopher talking about cooperatives and the challenges of deciding whether or not to offer connectivity.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today I'm back with Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts, the Vice President of communication and business services for Pedernales Electric Co-op. Welcome back.

Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts: Thanks Chris, Thanks for having me.

Christopher Mitchell: For people who have been long time listeners, Alyssa has been on the show before, although she was not with Pedernales before. Alyssa you have a lot of experience working with rural utilities and thinking about broadband, tell us a little bit about Pedernales. It's one of the nation's smaller electric co-ops, if I remember correctly.

Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts: Yes it is actually the nation's largest electric cooperative. We have... Read more

Posted April 19, 2017 by christopher

As we continue to cover the growing movement of rural electric cooperatives to bring high quality Internet networks to their members, we wanted to bring Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts back on the show. Alyssa was last on the show for episode 109 and has since moved from the Utilities Telecom Council to Pedernales Electric Co-op in Texas.

Though Pedernales is not considering a major broadband investment, Alyssa's insights from her years working with many electric utilities are valuable in understanding what electric co-ops have to consider before making a network investment. 

We start off by discussing the recent legislation in Tennessee that finally allows electric co-ops to offer Internet access before we move on to the real considerations a general manager has to examine before getting into telecom. We also talk quite a bit about the interplay between rural electric co-ops and telecommunications companies.

Read the transcript of the show.

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

This show is 32 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or 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 licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted April 17, 2017 by htrostle

The Cherry Capital of the World, Traverse City, Michigan, continues to weigh its options to improve high-speed Internet service. The city of 12,000 homes and businesses has the results of a feasibility study and is carefully eliminating options as they look for the one that best suits their needs.

Most Likely Possibilities

Local newspapers, the Traverse Ticker and the Record Eagle, have followed the planning process. In late 2015, the city utility Traverse City Light and Power (TCL&P) began developing ideas on how to bring better connectivity to residents and businesses. The possibilities ran the gamut from an open access network to a public private partnership (PPP), and different groups within the community advocated for each option.

In February 2017, the community received the results of a feasibility study, which detailed two main options: operating the network as a city utility or leasing the network to a single private provider. Both options assume about two years for construction and an initial customer base of around 2,900 homes and businesses. The proposed prices are $25 per month for phone service, about $50 per month for 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) Internet access, and about $80 per month for a gigabit (1,000 Mbps) Internet access.

What About Open Access?

Local tech enthusiast group TCNewTech, however, pressed the city to also consider an open access approach, where multiple private providers share use of the infrastructure. TCNewTech member Russell Schindler explained to the Traverse Ticker that he supports public ownership of the network, but his focus is on increasing competition... Read more

Posted April 11, 2017 by htrostle

Out in Big Sky Country, some rural communities look forward to high-speed Internet service from their local telephone co-op. 3 Rivers Communications in Montana has spent the last few years steadily building out their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to rural residents.

This spring, 3 Rivers Communications is set to start on two new areas: an $8 million project near Choteau (pop: 1,700) and a $1.5 million project near Fairfield (pop: 700). 

Focus on Rural Residents

The local newspaper Choteau Acantha reported on 3 River Communications’ latest plans. About 500 folks will be able to get high-quality phone, video, and Internet service at home when the co-op finishes both projects in late 2017 or early 2018. 

The current plans focus on rural residents on the outskirts of both towns. Folks in Fairfield already have access to fiber service, but people within the city of Choteau have DSL. Businesses in Choteau can request fiber connections, but the co-op is not currently planning to offer fiber connectivity to residents inside town limits.

These fiber projects are all part of a larger program to upgrade in the cooperative's service area of 17,000 square miles. The co-op is taking out the old copper telephone lines and replacing them with brand new fiber-optic cables. It’s a large undertaking and will serve approximately 20,000 members.

Federal Funding for Rural Areas

To upgrade to fiber in its large service area, 3 Rivers Communications obtained funding from several federal programs, including the Rural Utilities Services (RUS) and the Universal Service Fund. The co-op received a $70 million loan in 2011 and another $30 million loan in 2016 to improve the network. 

Currently, the lowest tier bundle of phone and 10 Mbps Internet service is $85 per month, but co-op members get back excess revenue in capital credits each year. 3 Rivers General Manager Dave Gibson described the balance of costs and prices to the Choteau Acantha:

“Our customers have the same wants, needs and... Read more

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