Tag: "cooperative"

Posted January 25, 2013 by lgonzalez

“The electric co-ops represent possibly the greatest potential for expansion of really good infrastructure in rural America,” [Todd] Pealock said, explaining how it’s a natural fit for co-ops to be infrastructure providers.

“It’s very synergistic for our linemen to hang cable, to lift the hardware up,” Pealock said. “The splicing is very natural for them.”

Todd Pealock is CEO of Habersham Electric Membership Corporation (EMC), and chairman of the board of North Georgia Network. In a recent article in the Electric Co-op Today news page, Pealock described how electric coops have a natural affinity for bringing broadband to rural America. We brought you a similar news story from Missouri earlier this year. Electric coops  are partnering with the public sector in a range of projects across the country.

The North Georgia Network project is funded primarily with a $42 million stimulus grant and state grants contributed to building the 260-mile backbone. Another 800 miles of middle and last mile installation was completed on November 30, 2012.

The project already connects schools, government, hospitals, higher ed, and other community anchor institutions across an eight county area. Over 2,000 homes are connected to the open access network. Businesses also trust their broadband needs to the network, intended to spur economic development in the region. In addition to Habersham EMC, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC is also a partner.

“It’s been a natural magnet of interest to the business community,” Pealock said. “I think they see this as tremendous infrastructure.”

Because they are cooperatives, owned by the customers, these organization are accountable to communities in ways that absentee-owned companies like Windstream, Frontier, and others are not.

Posted December 19, 2012 by lgonzalez

Burlington Telecom may be headed for some changes. Due to the mismanagement of the prior Burlington Mayor Administration, the network took on an unsustainable amount of debt and damaged its reputation. Some of the plans to make the network sustainable again involve privatizing it. Unfortunately, as we have seen with public power privatizations, such an action typically results in worse services and higher prices due to the loss of local control.

Operating under the name Keep Our Telecom Local, a group of local residents and business leaders want to ensure BT remains owned by the community by turning it into a cooperative. At a December 13 public meeting, the group of about 50 volunteers gathered and talked strategy. According to a Burlington Free Press article on the meeting, attendees broke into smaller groups to discuss specific issues and plans.

The next step will be efforts to increase publicity for the movement and the creation of a business plan. Currently, a committee is forming to determine the best way to file for a Vermont Certificate of Public Good. Another committee is looking into formation of a board of directors.

Most municipal networks do not have to contend with the problems that have plagued Burlington Telecom. But even with all of the problems faced by this publicly owned network, the community still sees great value in rescuing it rather than abandoning it. The Burlington community appreciates the incredible value of keeping their broadband resource local. From the article:

Don Schramm, one of the organizers of tentatively named Green Mountain Broadband Fiber, said it makes sense to pursue a Third Way.

“Keeping our telecom locally owned means that the jobs stay here, the money spent stays here, the profit stays here — and most importantly, the control stays here,” Schramm said. “We will have a broadband cooperative responsible to our community needs, not the profit wants of out-of-state owners.”

We applaud the community for...

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Posted October 17, 2012 by lgonzalez

A last mile broadband project in Taos, New Mexico, encountered a temporary snag and appears to be back on track. The situation highlights the potential conflict created between federal and state entities. State officials acted to show their support and now expect the project to continue.

Kit Carson Electric Cooperative (KCEC) was awarded a $45 million grant and an accompanying $19 million loan from the American Recovery and Reinvestment (ARRA) stimulus funding. The project is expected to span about 3,000 square miles of New Mexico and will include smart grid technology in addition to high speed broadband to rural communities. From a story on the USDA website:

The Kit Carson Electric Cooperative (KCEC) “fiber-tohome” project will allow greater bandwidth, providing the quality necessary for applications such as telemedicine, teleconferencing and video sharing for education, business and entertainment. Once completed, the co-op’s project will make broadband service available to 29 communities, reaching about 20,500 households, 3,600 businesses and 183 community institutions, including hospitals, schools and other government facilities. Two Native American pueblos will also receive broadband service once the project is complete.

In September, 2011, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) included as part of a rate order that KCEC spin off its broadband business into an independent company.  J.R. Logan covered the story in the Taos News:

The PRC's original order stated that Kit Carson must create a separate Internet subsidiary to protect electric ratepayers from potential losses, or explain why such a separation was not feasible.

According to the article, KCEC received communication from the RUS looking for clarification on whether or not the order was entered and would be followed. The RUS wanted a definitive answer because divestiture would violate the terms of the agreement between KCEC and the RUS. The entire project was in jeopardy.

RUS Logo

According to...

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Posted September 28, 2012 by lgonzalez

We have closely followed the efforts of WiredWest, the collaborative project involving 37 (and growing) towns in western Massachusetts. The group is currently collecting pre-subscription cards to show support for the project. The pre-subscription results will also assist efforts to finance the project by documenting the existing demand.

Plans for the 2,000 mile fiber optic network continue to inch forward with every new town that joins the group. Estimated cost for the network is between $60 million and $120 million and, as the cooperative grows, so does the group's ability to successfully apply for grants and issue bonds. Much of the cooperative's business and technical expertise comes from in-kind contributions from its members. We see Wired West as a prime example of communities coming together to take control of their own destiny.

A recent Berkshire Eagle article by Scott Stafford discussed some of the results from a March marketing survey. From the article:

Average survey respondents have two computers (desktop, lap-top or notebook devices) in the home. And while 88 percent currently have some type of home Internet service, 45 percent are dissatisfied with the speed of their Internet.

The survey also showed that 25 percent who responded currently run a business from home or telecommute. An additional 30 percent said they would likely operate a business out of their home or telecommute if they had better Internet access.

He spoke with Monica Webb, Chair of WiredWest's Executive Committee, who pointed out some economic realities:

"Many people are saying they would start a home-based business or telecommute if they had better broadband access," Webb said. "And there are a number of second homeowners that would stay in the county longer, or relocate here full time, if there was better Internet service."

The impact on the regional economy could be significant. Webb described the role of broadband access to the local economy as "fundamental infrastructure," comparable to the telephone service and electricity.

"We know it will be good...

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Posted May 23, 2012 by lgonzalez

Rural electric cooperatives were essential to expanding electricity throughout rural America after private sector business models overwhelmingly failed to electrify our farms over many decades. Electric coops embody the spirit of local community and local concerns. Cooperatives often have decades of experience with project planning and implementation. We have seen electric coops use their own existing resources as a starting point to expand broadband access to their community.

At the Calix Community Blog, there are two videos on electric co-ops, both in Missouri, that have taken on the challenge of providing broadband to their customers.

Co-Mo Electric Cooperative in Tipton, Missouri, applied twice for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funding and were twice turned down. Members of the coop expressed their need for improved broadband as a way to improve the economic situation in this central Missouri community. The cooperative pressed on without stimulus funding and have extended their community footprint. Learn more from this Calix video, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative Finds Success With Fiber:

In northwest Missouri, United Electric Cooperative (UEC) is using ARRA funds to bring broadband to the community. The co-op, located in Maryville, serves residents in ten surrounding counties. UEC brought electricity to the area 70 years ago and is doing the same for broadband through their fiber optic network. Calix highlights UEC in another customer video, United Electric Cooperative Expands Broadband in Missouri:

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Posted May 4, 2012 by lgonzalez

According to the 2010 Census, North Dakota is 48th in population in the country and the 17th most expansive. Such a geography is not appealing to any entity, commercial or otherwise, who might consider building fiber-to-the-home in North Dakota. There are more populated cities, as in all states, but human density in North Dakota is the 4th lowest.

With North Dakota geography and demographics in mind, it is reasonable to expect any North Dakota fiber optic project would to need to be big. North Dakota Cooperatives, Dickey Rural Networks and Dakota Central Telecommunications, can use the word "gigantic" to describe their recently completed ftth project. The network covers 10,000 square miles, about 1/7th of the state, and every business and home - about 18,000 households - are connected to the network.

Federal, state, and local officials got together recently to celebrate the new network with students and staff at Jamestown College. From Mark Potts, at NewsDakota.com:

"You talk about connectivity, we are attached to the entire world here," Gov. Jack Dalrymple said. "If we had talked that way even 10 years ago in North Dakota, a lot of people would have laughed and said you don't know what it's like to be in a rural area."

While internet access was available via DSL prior to the fiber launch, local businesses and residents could see the difference immediately. Bruce Ordahl, manager of a local printing company commented for Republic article by AP Reporter Dave Kolpack:

"We have some big graphic files and have always been looking for more speed," said Bruce Ordahl, who oversees 40 employees at Gwinner-based J&M Printing. "We have really saved a lot of time and money with the fiber."

Ordahl said it would take about five minutes to download a typical file when his company was using a DSL connection. That same file now takes about 10 seconds, he said.

In addition to working together to complete this long term project, both companies are providing Internet...

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Posted February 7, 2012 by christopher

Wally Bowen has again penned an op-ed that we gained permission to reprint. The original ran in North Carolina's Durham News Observer.

President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address that he wants to upgrade the nation's "critical infrastructure," including our "incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world."

The Green Bay Packers know how to tackle this problem.

Green Bay, Wis., population 104,000, and its National Football League franchise have much in common with communities left behind in today's broadband world. In 1923, the Packers faced a similar crisis. How to keep the team in Green Bay despite being in an "uncompetitive" market.

Green Bay took a page out of the playbook of rural electrification. It converted the franchise into a community-owned nonprofit. The move permanently tied the Packers to Green Bay and lifted the burden of generating profits for outside investors. In short, Green Bay found a business model in scale with its market.

Rural electrification via a community-ownership business model began more than 100 years ago when for-profit utilities bypassed rural areas. This self-help solution has deep roots in rural America, where nonprofit cooperatives have long provided essential services for local economies.

Yet the congressionally mandated National Broadband Plan omits nonprofit networks as part of a universal broadband strategy. Blair Levin, a former FCC official and Raleigh attorney, is the Plan's lead author. According to Thomas Friedman in a Jan. 3 column in The New York Times, Levin now believes that "America is focused too much on getting 'average' bandwidth to the last 5 percent of the country in rural areas, rather than getting 'ultra-high-speed' bandwidth to the top 5 percent in university towns, who will invent the future."

Levin leads Gig.U, a consortium of major research universities - including UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke and N.C. State - promoting "ultra-high-speed" Internet access. He has every right to advocate for Gig.U, but doing so at the expense of under-served rural communities raises concerns about his work with the National Broadband Plan.

Universal access to electricity was made possible by the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, later amended to help...

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Posted February 6, 2012 by christopher

A group of rural residents living east of Madison, Wisconsin, gathered near Portage of Columbia County to discuss their lack of affordable high speed access to the Internet. These are people for whom slow, overpriced DSL would be an improvement.

Lack of access to the Internet is a drain on rural economies -- their real estate market suffer and they are unable to telecommute, when they would benefit more from it than most who do have the option. They lack access to long-distance education opportunities in a time when the cost of gas makes driving to school prohibitively expensive.

Andy Lewis, who has been working with the Building Community Capacity through Broadband Project with U-W Extension, was on hand to discuss some of the lessons learned through their work, which is largely funded by a broadband stimulus award.

The incumbent providers encouraged residents without access to aggregate their demand and create petitions to demonstrate the available demand. Of course they did. And if CenturyLink decides it can get a sufficient return on its slow and unreliable DSL, they will build it out to some of those unserved areas. This is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario for rural residents. DSL was starting to be obsolete years ago.

The better solution is finding nearby cooperatives and munis that will extend next-generation networks that can provide fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet. Getting a DSL to a town will do very little to attract residents and nothing to attract businesses. It is a 20th century technology in a rapidly evolving 21st century world.

The Beaver Dam Daily Citizen covered the meeting, which eventually turned away from how to beg for broadband to how they can build it themselves:

But several attendees asked why the government can't play a role in making high-speed service available everywhere, in the same way that the government helped bring about rural electrification and telephone service.

This is a very good question. They may decide not to follow that path, but given the importance of access to the Internet, they should look at options for building a network that puts community...

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Posted December 23, 2011 by christopher

One of our kindred spirits across the pond reached out to me after I wrote about Vermont's self-funded community network. The B4RN initiative, Broadband for the Rural North, has launched using a coop model that will offer 1Gbps connections to everyone in the covered territories.

The business plan is available here.

Broadband for the Rural North Ltd has been registered as a Community Benefit Society within the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965 (IPS), and is controlled by the Financial Services Authority. Shares will be issued to provide funding for the project and members of the community will be encouraged to subscribe to the share issue. The share issue will comply with the Enterprise Initiative Scheme established by HMRC to encourage individual share holdings in new and developing companies. Under certain circumstances investors could reclaim 30% of the value of shares produced.

As a community company, the project will be funded and to a greater extent built by the community for the community. Our ambition is to keep expenditure, where possible, within the community. In addition to purchasing shares, the community will have the opportunity to “purchase” shares in exchange for labour and materials during the project build.

The initial share offer will be £2,000,000 of shares with a face value of £1, to be launched in late 2011 and open for 1 year. The project is expected to commence on site in early 2012 and completed by the year end. The initial network will be progressively added to over subsequent years until approximately 15000 properties in adjoining rural parishes are completely connected to the FTTH network.

To keep costs low in their rural areas, B4RN will be taking a non-traditional approach:

B4RN image

B4RN will adopt a different approach; we will lay the duct not on the highway but across the farmland on the other side of the wall. Digging a narrow trench and installing a duct within it is dramatically less expensive across private farmland than along the highway. The...

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Posted August 9, 2011 by christopher

Very good news continues to come from Wired West. From a press release:

August 13th will be a historic occasion for many Western Massachusetts towns, as they form a joint cooperative to build and operate a state-of-the-art telecommunications network for residents and businesses. Founding member towns have traditionally been unserved or underserved by existing broadband providers. The new Cooperative, called WiredWest, will create a community-owned network offering high quality internet, phone and television services to member towns.

Today, most WiredWest towns have only partial coverage from limited-bandwidth broadband technologies. WiredWest's goal is not only to create fair access to broadband for all member town residents, but also to provide very high-quality services on a reliable, state-of-the-art network that will meet the escalating bandwidth requirements of businesses and home owners, and provide enough capacity for many decades.

The proposed WiredWest network will connect to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute's middle-mile fiber-optic infrastructure to create a robust network from end to end.

Twenty-three Western Massachusetts towns have taken the necessary steps to join the WiredWest co-operative by passing votes in two consecutive town meetings. Seventeen additional towns are in the process of voting and are expected to join the Cooperative over the next year. A map of WiredWest towns and their progress can be viewed on the WiredWest website.

The WiredWest Cooperative is utilizing "Municipal Light Plant" legislation, initially drafted in 1906, when rural towns faced a similar crisis of access to fundamental services from a lack of electricity. In 1996, the provision of telecommunications services was added to the statute, which enables municipalities to build and operate broadband services in the Commonwealth.

The leadership team and working groups are focused on finalizing a business plan, putting financing together and early network planning. The group recently received a $50,000 planning grant from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, and has also raised additional funding from local businesses and individuals to assist with start-up requirements.

The incorporation will take place in Cummington, a town in the geographic center of WiredWest's territory.

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