Tag: "cooperative"

Posted March 7, 2017 by lgonzalez

As an increasing number of rural electric cooperatives are working to bring high-quality Internet access to their members, we’re learning more about new projects and the people behind them. This week, we talk with the CEO of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, Mel Coleman. As an added bonus, we get Mel’s insight as President of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

Mel and Christopher discuss the cooperative’s new NEXT pilot project to bring high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to members. Residents can get symmetrical gigabit connectivity for $79.95 per month. Mel draws parallels between the ways rural electric cooperatives brought electricity to rural areas in the region and now how the cooperatives are meeting the demand for broadband.

As the President of NRECA, Mel sees how other regions of the country are turning to rural electric cooperatives for better Internet access. While many are just getting started and others are well on their way, some have chosen to wait to take the plunge into offering telecommunications services. Why is that? Because just like local communities, cooperatives reflect the unique appetites and needs of their members. Mel explains why the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative feels offering better connectivity to their region is a necessity.

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 16 minutes long and can be played 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 Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is... Read more

Posted March 2, 2017 by htrostle

This article was co-written with ILSR's Energy Democracy initiative research associate, Karlee Weinmann, and is cross-posted on ILSR.org.

Ouachita Electric Cooperative, nestled deep in south-central Arkansas, is an unlikely innovator in a pair of industries struggling to adapt to shifting market dynamics: electricity and broadband.

Despite rising demand for energy efficiency and renewable electricity generation, large investor-owned utilities -- and many rural electric co-ops -- have resisted programs to address those needs. Likewise, corporate Internet service providers frequently offer shoddy service at high rates, a particular problem in rural areas with limited competition.

But Ouachita Electric found a way to do both things better, with complementary technologies. Fiber-optic network investments provided lower cost Internet access, but also provide an information backbone for the electric utility that can reduce outage times and verification for energy savings programs. The network and the efficiency programs reduce costs for a customer base dominated by low-income households that can now reinvest their earnings elsewhere in the community.

Inclusive Financing

The utility’s tariff-based, on-bill financing program -- known as HELP PAYS -- allows customers to invest in energy efficiency upgrades at their homes, like insulation and heat pumps, with no upfront cost. Ouachita Electric covers eligible expenses, then recoups its buy-in through payments from participating customers on their monthly bills. Customers immediately pay less thanks to utility-financed energy-saving improvements.

Unlike other energy efficiency programs, the opt-in “inclusive financing” program, HELP PAYS, enables all Ouachita customers to capture significant benefits:

  • Low-income households can pay, because they don’t need to come up with thousands of dollars upfront for qualifying improvements.
Posted February 24, 2017 by htrostle

Electric cooperatives are increasingly creating local solutions to rural connectivity woes. Many have built networks that rival those in the best connected cities in the U.S. Rather than waiting for disinterested national providers, cooperatives and their members have found workable solutions.

In south-central Missouri, the Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative is once again exercising the power of community network projects. The Houston Herald reports that Sho-Me Technologies, the communications subsidiary of the co-op, is deploying a fiber-backed, fixed wireless project to connect businesses in Houston, Missouri.

Houston, We’ve Got A Problem

Houston (population: 2,000) is the capital of Texas County, Missouri -- yes, Missouri. Home to about 25,000 people, the rural county has poor connectivity; about 90 percent of the county’s population doesn't have access to high-speed Internet service of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. The Houston Herald reports that speeds of up to 10 Mbps download are the norm in Texas County. Upload speeds are even slower.

The situation has been rough for small businesses in Houston, where they could not perform routine updates without impeding service. For instance, the local dentist office, Family Dentistry, could not accept Microsoft updates for its network without disrupting daily operations at the practice.

Downtown Houston Finds The Local Co-op Solution

The community group, Downtown Houston Inc, was on the look-out for a solution to this problem. Sho-Me Power already had fiber connecting the... Read more

Posted February 15, 2017 by lgonzalez

Last spring, the BT Advisory Board (BTAB) released a report that recommended the city of Burlington, Vermont, try to find a buyer with local ties to purchase its network with the troubled past. As the deadline draws near and the city seeks out the right entity to take the reigns, the community holds on to that goal. Keep BT Local!, the local organization that has been working since 2012 to turn the network into a cooperative, has announced that it will make an offer on the network.

According to Seven Days:

Alan Matson, vice chair of Keep BT Local, said the local co-op will put forward an offer for the utility. The member-funded effort likely won’t put forward as substantial an offer as a private tech company would, Matson acknowledged. Still, he said, “We hope to be one of the finalists in July.”

Matt Cropp, a member of Keep BT Local, said the co-op model would “build broad-based community wealth” and urged Burlingtonians to pitch in. He said he was willing to commit a portion of his retirement savings to the cause. 

Matson and Cropp were among a group of citizens who attended a public meeting with Advisory Board members to discuss options and offer advice on choosing a buyer. As expected, many of the attendees described the network as a valuable public asset and expressed concern that it not fall into the hands of a large, absentee telecommunications conglomerate such as Comcast. 

Choosing Finalists

As part of the process, the Board voted to send its proposed sale process to the city council for approval. Last year’s report established a set of criteria which the city will use to evaluate interested parties. Once the city council approves the process they propose, the BTAB will create a list of interested buyers and officially launch the sales process. They intend to create a list of finalists who would then present publicly before the city council and, by the end of July, the council would choose a... Read more

Posted February 14, 2017 by christopher

The most rural area of Missouri is getting a Fiber-to-the-Home network from the United Electric Cooperative, which has created United Fiber and is expanding across its footprint and to adjacent areas that want better Internet access. Chief Development Officer Darren Farnan joins us to explain why his co-op has taken these steps.

We discuss how they are rolling it out - focusing on areas that need the service while respecting the telephone cooperatives that are within their electric footprint. The project has benefited from a broadband stimulus award and also incorporates fixed wireless technology in some areas.

We discuss some of the economics behind the project and are sure to clarify that though the utility has needed some capital subisides to build the network, it does not need any operating subsidies to continue - it runs under its own revenue. And we talk about the demand for better, faster connections - it is much higher than most realize.

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 30 minutes long and can be played 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 Admiral Bob for the music. The song is Turbo Tornado (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Blue Wave Theory.

Posted January 25, 2017 by lgonzalez

Local officials in Columbia County, Georgia, wanted better public safety communications, synchronized traffic signals, and better connectivity for government facilities. They decided the best strategy was a publicly owned network and their decision is creating opportunities they hadn't anticipated.

When he considers how the county expanded its fiber network to improve economic development, education, and public savings, Columbia County Broadband Utility (C3BU) Broadband Manager Lewis Foster still sounds a little surprised. After all, Columbia County planned on using the network for a limited purpose, but then they realized the diversity of the asset. "It was almost an afterthought," he says.

Poor Options Created A Positive Path

Before the idea of a publicly owned network saw the light of day in Columbia County, local leaders contacted the incumbent providers to set up a dark fiber lease. To their dismay, incumbents AT&T, Comcast, and WOW, would not lease the county dark fiber.

County officials approached incumbents in 2007 and 2008 hoping to secure a dark fiber lease. The large providers, however, said they either didn’t have any dark fiber to lease, they could offer lit services, or they would build a dark fiber network for the county to use. Incumbents demanded a model where the county would pay the construction costs but the infrastructure would be owned and operated by the incumbents – who would then charge the County for access to the network the county had paid for. Foster recalls that incumbents we’re most interested in charging premium rates for lit services. Columbia County officials wanted a better option and found a more fiscally responsible approach in simply owning the network.

recovery1.gif

As county leaders developed a plan to deploy fiber, the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats crafted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). In 2009, with Columbia County's $18 million project plan well developed, they applied for stimulus funding. Their project obtained a $13.5 million stimulus grant; they used county sales tax funds to pay the $4.5 million local match. When the recession hit in 2008, says Foster, the cost to complete other budgeted projects decreased, leaving the county with unspent sales tax funds that they applied to the C3BU project. He... Read more

Posted January 23, 2017 by lgonzalez

High-quality connectivity from the local cooperative is attracting economic development to rural Minnesota. Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC), began developing a fiber-optic network in the Brainerd area in the early 2000s; as the cooperative has expanded the network, businesses are getting fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.

Connected Satellites

A recent Brainerd Dispatch article highlighted several businesses that credit the local workforce and the network for their decision to build satellite offices in the Brainerd area. In addition to “battle-tested sales people who can establish relationships with customers and can ‘close the deal,’” GovMint.com’s Director of Sales Jim Martin told the Dispatch:

Equally important is the area's fiber optic network, a high-speed Internet connection that allows the sales staff to access the company's giant customer and product database, and efficiently complete online sales forms.

Martin said the company relies on its computer system for call routing, customer information, online orders and sales leads that come through the Internet. GovMint.com's sales staff makes 150-300 customer calls a day.

"The system has to be reliable or Jim's phone starts ringing," Martin said. "The service we have in Crosslake is very fast and very reliable."

The company sells rare and unique coins and has headquarters in Burnsville, Minnesota; the satellite office employs 25 people. The company has doubled revenue over the past five years and needed to expand so established the office in Crosslake, near Brainerd and on the CTC network.

Great For The State

logo-CTCcoop.jpg

The Minnesota Department of Human Services chose Brainerd for its service center in part because they needed access to a network that could handle its technology demands. Applications are processed digitally with high bandwidth applications that require access to large state databases. Fiber-optic technology is the obvious choice to handle the work efficiently. There are 160 employees now working in... Read more

Posted January 11, 2017 by lgonzalez

The mythical Paul Bunyan was enormous. Paul Bunyan Communications’ GigaZone appears to be following his example as it continues to expand throughout northern rural Minnesota. The cooperative recently announced that they are expanding the upgrade once again, bringing Gigabit per second (Gbps) capacity to their members via the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. This time, members in the communities of Kelliher and Northome will have access to the upgrade.

The Big Gig

The expansion brings gigabit network to more than 1,700 additional locations; this will bring Paul Bunyan’s GigaZone footprint to more than 29,400 locations. The network covers more than 5,000 square miles in Beltrami County and also reaches areas of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties.

In November 2016, the cooperative began offering service on the Red Lake Nation, which makes it one of only a few tribal communities with high-quality Internet access. Paul Bunyan provides gigabit connectivity to local schools for affordable rates and has been awarded the Leading Lights National Award for most Innovative Gigabit Broadband Service.

A Long Time Coming

Paul Bunyan Telephone began in 1950 when the residents in very rural northern Minnesota either had no telephone service, or received it from their townships, which meant they had to share lines with up to nine other customers. As a prerequisite to obtaining a loan from the Rural Telephone Administration (RTA) through the Rural Electric Administration (REA), the Co-op Board had to purchase and operate an existing system. They started with the privately owned Kelliher Telephone Company along with the Hendrickson Township Telephone system. In addition funds they had obtained by selling memberships in the cooperative, the board directors agreed to mortgage their own property as collateral so another local cooperative and a local bank would loan Paul Bunyan Telephone enough to purchase both telephone systems. It was a risk, but it paid off.

Over the decades,... Read more

Posted December 14, 2016 by htrostle

For more than a century, electric cooperatives have ensured rural communities’ electricity needs are met. Now, many electric co-ops have made strides to ensure their communities have access to today’s newest necessity, Internet service.

In northeastern Missouri, Ralls County Electric Cooperative is bringing high-speed Internet service to the small city of New London. Nearby, the city of Perry hopes the electric cooperative will extend the project to its residents and they've let the co-op know that they will welcome the service with open arms.

Ralls County Electric Cooperative

Ralls County Electric Cooperative is working on a pilot project in New London that will bring incredibly fast and reliable Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to the community's 1,000 residents. The project will offer triple-play services of Internet access, phone service, and high-definition TV.

The New London project won't be the first FTTH project for Ralls County Electric Cooperative. Between 2010 and 2015, the cooperative built a $19 million fiber network in the area. Funding came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in the form of half as a loan and half as a grant. The electric cooperative formed a subsidiary, known as Ralls Technologies, for its telecommunications projects.

Perry Petitions

The Herald-Whig of Quincy, Illinois (about 45 minutes from the Missouri towns), recently reported that officials in Perry are encouraging Ralls County Electric Cooperative to come to their town. They have started a petition to show support for bringing the project to their community. 

Ralls County Electric Cooperative has not committed to extending the project to Perry, but the city’s Mayor Dustin Wasson has signed a letter of support on behalf of the City Council to the electric cooperative. Explaining the need, Mayor Wasson told the Herald-Whig:

"It would allow us to upload things faster, and it would allow us to download things faster," he said. "It would put us... Read more

Posted December 2, 2016 by htrostle

We have created a new fact sheet: Minnesota: Cooperatives and Local Governments Can Solve Rural Digital Divide. The fact sheet highlights rural areas with excellent connectivity and the role of cooperatives and municipalities.

Minnesota cooperatives and municipalities have done great work to bring fast, affordable, reliable Internet service to rural areas throughout the state. They've built many Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks, but there is still much work left to do.

One in 4 Minnesotans lives in a rural area, and of those rural households, 43 percent lack access to broadband, defined by the FCC as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Resilient, robust, fiber is the long-term goal, but fixed wireless can help extend coverage in hard-to-reach rural areas.

Download the fact sheet here.

Learn more about Minnesota’s connectivity in Community Broadband Bits Episode #190 with Dan Dorman, Executive Director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership. He discusses the "donut hole problem" and the economic development potential of rural Minnesota. 

Check out all of our Community Network Fact Sheets here. You can also subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks.

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