Tag: "cooperative"

Posted July 16, 2016 by htrostle

In the 1930s, rural communities joined together through electric cooperatives to bring electricity to their homes and businesses. Today, rural electric co-ops may have the power to bring Internet access to these same communities.

A recent Broadband Communities Magazine article highlights this potential for rural electric co-ops. In the article, Dr. Robert Yadon and D. Bracken Ross of the Digital Policy Institute at Ball State University explain the results of their recent study. 

Electric Co-Ops as Regional Networks

Yadon and Bracken looked into 30 private sector Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) providers in Indiana and 16 rural electric co-ops providing Internet service around the nation. After predicting engineering costs, the researchers highlighted a dozen Indiana rural electric co-ops that could serve as regional hubs of connectivity.

The researchers developed a specific process for rural electric co-ops interested in providing Internet access. In summary, they propose:

“For REMCs [Rural Electric Membership Cooperatives], the process begins with a commitment to a middle-mile, smart grid fiber deployment connecting their substations, followed by a phased-approach business model with strategic growth focusing on last-mile customer density. Exploring local business partnership underwriting opportunities, examining the use of an efficient regional network design and combining multiple federal funding programs are the keys to rural broadband deployment success down the road.”

We don’t necessarily agree with these proposals. Our Christopher Mitchell has written many times about how middle mile cannot solve the last mile problems. The incremental approach based on customer density can repeat some of the same problems we’ve seen with cable and telephone companies - skipping over the most rural and smallest localities. Relying on federal funds is not always necessary. In fact, the researchers point to the success of a co-op that continued on after being denied a federal grant.

Pioneering Electric Co-Ops are Models...

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Posted July 11, 2016 by htrostle

When community leaders in Lenox, Iowa, gathered together to examine the community's cable TV options in the 1980s, they probably didn't expect their decision to impact local Internet access. Fast-forward 30 years, and this town of 1,400 people now has one of the most sought after forms of Internet access infrastructure: Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH).

Lenox Municipal Utilities owns and operates a FTTH network that offers symmetrical speeds to hundreds of customers in town. It’s just one of many communities around the nation that have invested in this rugged, future-proof technology.

Same Utility, Changing Technology

We spoke with the Lenox Municipal Utilities General Manager John Borland who graciously provided some of the history of the network.

Since the early 1900s, Lenox has operated its own electric and water systems. These essential services enabled the community to thrive in the southern plains of Iowa. Eventually, a local entrepreneur decided to build and operate a TV system to ensure that the Lenox community stayed connected. In the 1980s, the town purchased the coaxial network from the owner who was ready to sell the system, but wanted to keep ownership within the community. Unfortunately, Borland didn’t know the identity of the entrepreneur whose investment eventually led to top-notch connectivity in this most unexpected place.

By the late 1990s, the network needed replacing, and nationwide, communities had already begun to realize the importance of Internet access. The incumbent Internet service provider, Frontier, offered dial-up and some DSL. Anticipating future need, Lenox decided to rebuild the entire network with fiber. 

Better Connectivity in the Community

In 2005, the community voted on a referendum to enable the utility to provide Internet service; it was one of many towns voting that year to ensure local control. The FTTH build cost about $1.5 million, which they funded through municipal revenue bonds.

Farmers Mutual Telephone Company ran ...

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Posted July 2, 2016 by htrostle

This 4th of July weekend invites us to celebrate the accomplishments of our country. But, 23 million people in rural areas remain without high-speed Internet access.

Rural areas cannot stay unconnected. Agriculture has become a high-tech endeavor, and high-speed Internet access is necessary. Cooperatives, those democratic institutions formed by rural farmers years ago, are becoming an answer.

The Founding Fathers considered rural communities the life-blood of the country. In 1785, Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to John Jay, stated that:

“[C]ultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. they are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, & they are tied to their country & wedded to it’s liberty & interests by the most lasting bands.”

High-Speed Internet Access Supports Agriculture

The Missouri Farmer Today recently wrote ofthe sorry state of rural Internet access for one family-owned business in Missouri, the Perry Agricultural Laboratory. They process soil samples and perform other agricultural testing for both local and international customers but the best connections available are via satellite. The lab constantly goes over its data cap and sometimes cannot send their reports to customers across the globe if the weather interferes with their signal. A high-speed cable runs along the edge of the property, but the company would have to pay $40,000 to connect to it.

The cost to build high-speed networks in rural areas is a familiar one. By banding together, members of cooperatives - whether electric, telephone, or Internet co-op - strengthen their position and gain the leverage to build networks that will ensure they aren't left behind. The Missouri Farmer Today also interviewed Jim Gann, the director of business...

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Posted June 24, 2016 by htrostle

In Colorado, the Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) saw record crowds at their Annual Meeting of Members. Hundreds of people came to check out the event on June 16th and try out the super fast speeds of Elevate Fiber, DMEA’s Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project.  The project will bring speeds of up to a Gigabit per second (Gbps) to DMEA’s 27,000 members. 

Elevate Fiber

During the event, members were able to check out the speed in person and preregister their homes and businesses. It requires a 12-month contract at a minimum of $49.99 each month according to the DMEA’s website. Residents can sign up at https://join.elevatefiber.com/

Providing Internet access is a new role for the electric cooperative but DMEA has a plan: the co-op will build out the fiber incrementally. Phase I will encompass about 7,500 homes and businesses in Paonia, Cobble Creek, and the Montrose downtown business district. These locations are test cases of overhead and underground installations in urban and rural areas. 

Celebrate the Times

The Montrose Press reported that over 500 people came to the meeting, making it one of the largest in recent memory. The Annual Meeting of Members celebrated the past accomplishments of the co-op and looked ahead to the fiber future. In addition to free hamburgers and hot dogs, and an appearance by former American Idol contestant Jeneve Rose Mitchell,* attendees could see live demonstrations of Elevate Fiber.

In December 2015, the DMEA Board of Directors unanimously voted to proceed with the FTTH project. At the time, they considered building a middle mile network, but wisely chose to deploy last mile connectivity to members' homes and businesses.

The June 16th event culminated with the announcement of the winners of the election to the co-op’s board of directors. Over 5,026 ballots were cast (in person and by mail). Although that’s a small percentage of their membership...

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Posted June 6, 2016 by htrostle

In western Massachusetts, 44 small towns continue the push for high-speed, high-quality Internet access. WiredWest (a cooperative of these town’s municipal light plants) has been ramping up the pressure on the state. They need funding to build a regional network, but a state agency has been reluctant to distribute money.

To update everyone on the ever-changing situation, WiredWest has launched a revamped website, focusing on the latest news and most relevant information. Bookmark WiredWest.net to keep informed.

WiredWest and MBI? It’s A Long Story

WiredWest began in 2010 as folks gathered together to bring better connectivity to their unserved and underserved communities.  They wanted a regional Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network that would bring future-proof fiber optic technology into their homes. After years of working on business plans and creating a governance structure to represent all the towns, WiredWest hit a major roadblock erected by a state agency.

The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) is in charge of distributing state funding to project that will improve Internet access in the state. Previously, the agency had built a middle-mile network (which connects community anchor institutes and could serve as a backbone for FTTH networks). When WiredWest asked for state funding to help develop its fiber infrastructure, MBI stalled the process – to the point that even the governor’s administration got involved. The agency has made some decisions about which projects it will help fund, but its choices have been criticized.

A Berkman Center case study, WiredWest: a Cooperative of Municipalities Forms to Build A Fiber Optic Network, delved into the story of WiredWest. 

...

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Posted May 16, 2016 by htrostle

Ozarks Electric Cooperative has a plan to bring fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to northwest Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma.

Fast, Affordable, Reliable Connectivity At Last

OzarksGo, a wholly owned subsidiary of the electric co-op, will provide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet service with symmetrical speeds of up to a Gigabit (1,000 Megabits) per second. The fiber network will cost $150 million to build over the next six years.

ArkansasOnline and local news station KSFM reported on the future network. The residential FTTH service will have no data caps and OzarksGo will offer additional services, such as telephone and video. At the end of the project, all co-op members will have access to the network's services.

According to the FCC 2016 Broadband report, 25 percent of all Arkansas residents don't have access to broadband (defined as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload). In Oklahoma, the FCC puts the numbers higher at 27 percent. Rural areas are even higher with 48 percent lacking in Arkansas and 66 percent missing out in Oklahoma. Considering the data collection process depends on self-reporting by ISPs, those numbers are considered low. The number of households that do not have access to federally defined broadband, especially in rural areas, is higher.

Soon though, these Arkansas and Oklahoma residents will have access to fast, affordable Internet access. General manager for OzarksGo Randy Klindt, who previously worked on Co-Mo Electric Cooperative's FTTH network, explained in the video below that the price for a Gigabit will be less than $100, which is an entirely opt-in service.

Ozarks Electric Cooperative serves about 71,000 customers, including businesses. Since the service area is so large, OzarksGo will build the network incrementally over the next six years. Each phase will cost between $25 and $35 million - for a total of...

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Posted May 11, 2016 by htrostle

Rural electric cooperatives have decades of experience in providing essential services. Now several are looking to improve Internet access in unserved and underserved regions. In central Missouri, Barry Electric Cooperative and Co-Mo Cooperative have already started by providing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet service. Another Missouri electric co-op, Callaway Electric Cooperative, is also getting into the business.

The co-op’s subsidiary, Callaway Electric Service, aims to offer FTTH in Callaway County and has teamed up with the local telephone co-op’s subsidiary, Kingdom Technology Solutions. Together, they will operate the partnership as Callabyte Technology.

Increasing Speeds and Access

Callabyte Technology will offer symmetrical Internet access speeds (i.e. the same upload and download speed). They will also offer telephone and video service as a triple-play package. Their “basic” speed is 100 Megabits per second (Mbps), four times faster than the FCC’s current download speed for the definition of broadband (25 Mbps download and 3 Mpbs upload). Prices are competitive:

  • $65 for 100 Mbps
  • $75 for 500 Mbps
  • $95 for a Gigabit (1000 Megabits) per second

In the fall of 2015, they began a pilot project in a small section of Callaway Electric Cooperative’s service area, which took place in the Stonehaven Subdivision near Fulton, Missouri. Telecompetitor reported that the project had a 50 percent take rate

Sharing Expertise and Profit

Each partner brings expertise in specific areas of the project. Callaway Electric Service is building the mainline infrastructure, while Kingdom Technology Solutions will manage customer connections, such as drops to the home and customer equipment.  Kingdom Telephone Company, their telephone co-op, has provided FTTH since late 2014 so they have plenty of experience with fiber.

The...

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Posted April 21, 2016 by rebecca

On Wednesday, November 18, 2015 Christopher Mitchell sat down with Bill Wallace of US Ignite and Mark Erickson of the city of Winthrop, Minnesota. In part 2 of our ongoing series, Chris, Bill and Mark talk more about the "nuts and bolts" of building a network. Come back each Wednesday for new video content!

This interview is paired with ILSR's report, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative. The report documents a groundbreaking new model that’s sprung up in South Central Minnesota that can be replicated all over the nation, in the thousands of cities and counties that have been refused service by big cable and telecom corporations.

Posted April 20, 2016 by rebecca

On Wednesday, November 18, 2015 Christopher Mitchell sat down with Bill Wallace of US Ignite and Mark Erickson of the city of Winthrop, Minnesota, to talk about the exciting applications communities can develop if they have the connectivity they need.

This interview is paired with ILSR's report, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative. The report documents a groundbreaking new model that’s sprung up in South Central Minnesota that can be replicated all over the nation, in the thousands of cities and counties that have been refused service by big cable and telecom corporations.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this video podcast on RS Fiber, to be released Thursday as part of our ongoing series featuring community and policy leaders in the field.


Posted April 20, 2016 by lgonzalez

In 2010, communities in rural western Massachusetts began a group that would evolve into the WiredWest Cooperative. Over the past six years, the group, formed to bring better last-mile connectivity to the unserved and underserved areas of the state, has faced a number of challenges. Most recently, disagreements with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), the state agency tasked with distributing funds for last-mile connectivity, have threatened WiredWest's regional cooperative model.

In a new report released by the Berkman Center, authors David Talbot, Waide Warner, and Susan Crawford share the story of these communities' attempt to band together to establish a fiber-optic network.

In WiredWest: a Cooperative of Municipalities Forms to Build A Fiber Optic Network, we learn not only how this region came together, but how they developed their business plan and procured funding, how they anticipate the network to affect affordability, and the ways they have adjusted the plan as circumstances required. The authors also take the time to share some history of cooperatives, and address how the cooperative model - used in the past for electricity and telephone - can benefit the communities in rural western Massachusetts.

Key Findings from the report:

  • WiredWest enabled dozens of small towns to come together through a unified structure and a shared vision of citizen cooperation across municipal borders, a model replicable nationwide.
  • WiredWest has developed and vetted a detailed financial model, drafted an operating agreement, and obtained $49 deposits from more than 7,100 residents who have pledged to subscribe to Internet access services.
  • WiredWest’s plan is designed to achieve economies of scale by centralizing operations and aggregating demand for network equipment and services. WiredWest still must resolve the question of how to balance cooperative versus local ownership of network assets within the boundaries of individual towns.
  • The scale of the project would also allow WiredWest—in likely contrast to single-town networks in the same area—to provide television services, which a majority of pre-subscribers want.
  • WiredWest plans to offer 25 Mbps service for $49 a month, 100 Mbps service for $79 a month, 1 Gbps...
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