People who live out of urban areas enjoy beautiful scenery, quiet solitude, and fresh air. Traditionally, those qualities have come with sacrifice, which includes high-quality Internet access. Now that rural cooperatives are taking the initiative to develop networks, however, rural areas such as northern Minnesota are better served.
In this short video by the PBS and TPT Almanac team, Kaomi Goetz travels “up north” to visit with folks who live beyond the Twin Cities to see how things are changing and how we still need to make improvements.
It’s been a journey of discovery for the folks in "Villageville," our fictional rural community where Internet access isn't meeting the needs of residents or businesses. In Episode 5 of "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!", we learn more about the work rural cooperatives are doing for communities across the country.
Grumpy Gary and Entrepreneur Emily have met up in "Sizeable City," a nearby community that decided to invest in a municipal network. It has paid off in the usual ways -- better Internet access, more jobs, lowered telecommunications costs. In addition to enjoying some java and some jokes (we use the term loosely), they meet up with a representative from the electric cooperative to discuss high-quality Internet access options.
During the conversation, we hear more about the ways cooperatives are serving people in rural areas and why it makes sense that they're delivering fiber optic connectivity. Watch for more pop-up facts about municipal networks, cooperatives, and how both are serving rural communities. Listen to the cooperative's pilot project strategy and be sure to watch through to the end to hear about the final outcome in Villageville.
As with other episodes of "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!", you'll hear past and present voices from the Very Amateur Acting Troupe of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative along with other Institute for Local Self-Reliance talent (again we use the term loosely). We encourage you to share these videos to help spread the word about municipal networks, cooperatives, and the fact that rural communities don't have to be "stuck" with poor Internet access.
If you haven't seen episodes 1 - 4, check them out below, read the backstories, or view them all on our Videos page.
As we reported back in September, the bulk of applicants to the USDA's ReConnect Loan and Grant Program came from publicly owned projects. Cooperatives, local governments, and tribal government projects comprised more than half of the applications. Awards are now being announced and one of the largest awards so far is going to a North Carolina cooperative to provide fast, affordable, reliable connectivity in southeast North Carolina.
Star Telephone Membership Corporation will be awarded a grant of almost $24 million to develop Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to more than 8,700 households, 10 educational facilities, around 20 businesses, and three community facilities within a 739 square mile area. Subscribers will be able to sign-up for speeds that begin at 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download.
Jeff Shipp, vice president of operations for Star Communications, said projects will take place in the Herring exchange in the northern region of Sampson County, which also loops around the middle portion of Sampson County. The second is the Six Runs area part of county towards Turkey and the third is Harrells, in the southern region. Other projects are scheduled for Bladen County as well.
“We’re very excited about this,” Shipp said. “We’re excited for our members and for our community. We have the lowest density in the entire state in our area, roughly around 3.8 subscribers per mile. We would have to budget $25,000 per mile to put fiber in the ground. That’s why a grant such as this from USDA is so important. We’re also fortunate enough to receive additional funding from the state this year for an area in Bladen County to assist with fiber as well.”
Star Telephone Membership Corporation
The cooperative was created when two smaller co-ops merged in 1959. Since then, the entity has been serving the rural areas in and around Clinton, North Carolina, and has been one of the early adopters of FTTH for members, many who are farmers.
“This is really a big, big day in Sampson County,”...
Minnesota Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, alongside Republican State Representative Pete Stauber recently announced a $1.9 Million grant for broadband deployment in Aitkin County. Two local cooperatives will use the Community Connect grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to deploy fiber optic infrastructure in order to spur economic development, business, telehealth, and educational improvements.
In a press release, Sen. Klobuchar said, "This crucial funding will connect these communities - bringing high speed Internet to even more Minnesotans. We must continue working to expand broadband access in our rural areas, a necessity for our families and businesses.” Sen. Smith commented, "I’m glad to see USDA investing in Aitkin County—including Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe—to ensure rural Minnesotans aren’t left behind in our work to provide affordable and reliable service to everyone.”
The Community Connect grant will allow the partners to expand XStream Fiber to 235 more homes and businesses in Rice River Township, Spaulding Township, and tribal lands in Aitkin County, Minnesota.
MLEC will be in charge of managing billing, marketing, and other subscriber services and CTC will manage network connectivity, Internet backhaul, and backend support. MLEC will also be in charge of handling basic inquiries from...
The people of our imaginary community "Villageville" have gathered outside the library, inside the library, and on Grumpy Gary's lawn to talk about the problem of poor local Internet access. Now, they're making it official and letting town leaders know that they want change. It's time for Episode 4 of "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!"
For the past three weeks, we've seen the good folks of this fictional community grapple with the difficulties that many rural towns face. When local connectivity doesn't keep up with the needs of the community, small towns can't be competitive. In Villageville, entrepreneurs, parents, and people who just want better Internet access have been researching why connectivity in their town is so poor and what are some possible solutions. Now they're ready to take their concerns to local elected officials.
The setting in this episode is a bustling town council meeting, in which locals are gathered to discuss what to do about poor Internet access in Villageville. The special speaker tonight is an attorney from the incumbent Internet access company. Citizens are ready to ask him why, for corn's sake, his employer still hasn't updated the services they provide.
During this episode, we learn more about the influence of large corporations and their lobbyists on competition, or the lack of it. The people of Villageville have noticed some patterns in the way state laws get passed and they're ready to talk about it at the meeting. By the end of the evening, folks are inspired to do more than complain.
In addition to the educational value from this short video, you'll enjoy the campy style of the Very Amateur Acting Troupe of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative and a special guest star from the Insitute for Local Self-Reliance. We've had fun writing, acting, and editing these videos and it shows. As with all "masterpieces," artists have come and gone from the Initiative team, leaving their imprints on "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!"
If you haven't seen episodes 1 - 3, check them out below, read the backstories or view them all on our Videos page.
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has a reputation for looking at today’s reality with an eye toward tomorrow’s needs. In their report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, Benton Senior Fellow Johnathan Sallet continues that perspective and offers insightful recommendations for a new National Broadband Agenda.
As access to high-quality connectivity becomes more critical each day, those without fast, affordable, reliable Internet access lose ground more quickly as time passes. In addition to the opportunities that come with broadband access, lack of adoption translates into lack of technical skills. Innovation isn’t slowing down for folks who don’t have broadband.
As Sallet notes, access to and adoption of broadband improves our economy, strengthens communities, and empowers American workers. Obtaining that access and expanding that adoption, however, is proving more challenging than it should be.
In his report, the author reviews in detail the barriers that have prevented the U.S. from achieving its goal of ubiquitous access and adoption of broadband. He’s able to make recommendations based on four key policy areas:
Deployment of networks where adequate broadband does not exist;
Competition to increase choices and spur lower prices and better-quality service to their residents;
Affordability and Adoption for those who wish to have broadband in their homes but lack the means or the skills to acquire it; and
Community Anchor Institutions, such as schools and libraries, that increasingly serve their users wherever they are.
Deploying Better Networks, Creating Choice
In addition to better data collection in order to know where Internet access is inadequate, Sallet writes that policymakers and citizens should also have access to information about Internet access that hasn't...
We recently introduced you to our informative and campy video series, “From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!” In episode 2, we continue the saga of “Villageville,” where the streets are quiet, the people are friendly, and the Internet access leaves much to be desired. Last time, you met some of the people who live in this rural community and discovered how they've dealt with substandard connectivity. People are getting a little fed up; could the wind be shifting in Villageville?
Don’t miss this chance to hear current and past members of the Community Broadband Networks Team try their hand at voiceover acting! We wanted to make this series fun and have fun making it, so you'll hear some familiar voices.
In episode 2, the town’s newest family, shocked and dismayed at Villageville’s poor connectivity, meet to the local librarian to discuss local options. Like students who need fast, affordable, reliable Internet access for homework, entrepreneurs in rural areas often find their business goals hindered if they move to a community forced to rely on outdated solutions like DSL.
As librarians often do, however, Villageville's has been researching the problem and shares her findings. She’s discovered some great information about rural cooperatives. In addition to the facts our local librarian shares, we’ve included pop-up data about cooperatives, connectivity, and economic development. The video is a great way for you to get people interested in learning more about the possibilities in your own rural community.
In rural communities, large companies often won’t invest in high-quality Internet network infrastructure due to the lack of population density. Increasingly, rural electric and communications cooperatives are filling the void and providing the Internet access small towns and surrounding areas need. In order to illustrate the challenges facing these small rural towns, we’ve developed a series of videos titled, “From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!”
The series includes five episodes that tell the story of one small town, its residents, and the way they tackle the need for better local connectivity. In addition to our story about the folks from the imaginary community of "Villageville," we include real-life statistics about connectivity in rural communities.
In the first episode, we’ve introduced some of the characters that will take us through the series as we catch up with them outside the local library. You'll learn why they're hanging out in the parking lot and get a better understanding of what life is like in a rural community where small towns want better Internet access.
Share this resource with others who are interested in exploring options for improving connectivity in their local communities.
We’ll share more episodes that document Villageville's journey in the coming weeks.
We've published all five episodes! Watch them here to find out what happened in Villageville:
On the September 30, 2019 edition of NPR's "All Tech Considered," Paul Flahive of Texas Public Radio reports on the way rural electric cooperatives are using their resources to develop broadband networks in rural Texas communities.
Rural communities served by the North East Mississippi Electric Power Association (NEMEPA) should be enjoying high-quality Internet access from their co-op next year, if plans proceed as expected. The co-op Board of Directors voted on September 17th to move forward with plans to develop a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to their entire service area.
Thank you, Legislature
According to their press release, the 2019 change in state law to relax restrictions on electric cooperatives was the factor that encouraged NEMEPA to aggressively pursue the possibilities. With strong support from the state Public Service Commission, state lawmakers embraced the change and passed HB 366, the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act. The bill removed decades-old language that required co-ops to use infrastructure only for delivery of electric service. Electric cooperatives will now allow be able to legally offer Internet access, a much-needed change for rural areas.
The cooperative worked with Conexon, the firm headed up by Randy Klindt and Jonathan Chambers, which has worked with numerous electric cooperatives like NEMEPA to design and develop broadband networks.
NEMEPA has already commissioned two feasibility studies, which independently determined that the project will be viable as long as they can achieve a minimum take rate. A recent survey indicated that the need is so great in their region that members’ enthusiasm for their services will surpass the benchmark. NEMEPA plan to connect all 25,000 members within their 920-square-mile service area through a subsidiary.
In addition to gigabit connectivity, NEMEPA will upgrade their infrastructure to take advantage of smart grid capabilities to improve electrical distribution. In a letter from CEO Keith Howard posted on their Facebook page, NEMEPA states that people in the...