OzarksGo, the fober subsidiary of the Arkansas-based Ozarks Electric Cooperative, has connected its 20,000th subscriber. It plans to bring its fiber service to every user in its electric footprint by the end of 2021.
This piece was written by Christopher Mitchell and Ry Marcattilio-McCracken
The second round of Techdirt’s Greenhouse Policy forum lands on the topic of broadband in the age of Covid and brings together a collection of voices speaking to facets of an important conversation. “The triple whammy of limited competition, regulatory capture, and Congressional corruption,” Karl Bode writes in introduction, “has resulted in the U.S. being utterly mediocre (or worse) in nearly every major broadband metric that matters.” Deb Socia and Geoff Millener have contributed to talk about online education, Harold Feld writes about radio spectrum, Terique Boyce talks about New York City’s Master Plan, and Jonathan Schwantes writes about treating broadband like a public utility. We likewise contributed an essay on community broadband and the steps local governments have taken to get citizens connected.
We encourage you to read it over at Techdirt, but will repost it below.
When it comes to the goal of ensuring all Americans have affordable and reliable Internet access, we are pretty much stalled. Sure, the FCC will make noise every year about our quest to bridge the digital divide, but it has focused solely on for-profit private solutions. And while there are many hundreds of good local companies making important local investments, the FCC has tended to throw the most money at the few extremely big ones (the same big ones that are on the other side of the revolving door at the FCC for most employees, whether staff or political appointees.)
In response to the pandemic, companies like Charter and AT&T have been on their best behavior and done their best to extend connections more widely than they did in normal times. It...Read more
In a new essay published by the Nonprofit Quarterly, Christopher tackles the connectivity gap in the context of the ongoing pandemic and how it could be solved by a variety of proven nonprofit models that are already connecting tens of thousands of Americans efficiently to fast, affordable networks.
See an excerpt below, but check out the whole piece over at the Nonprofit Quarterly:
One of the longest-lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic may be the lost education opportunities for millions of children. While the vast majority of children studying remotely are adversely affected, several million students have no home broadband Internet access at all. As a result, they have been extraordinarily disadvantaged. For too many, public schooling has effectively ended.
[S]omewhere between 15 and 41 million Americans cannot buy a reasonable broadband connection today because their home is not served by an ISP. Most, but not all, of these homes are in rural America, and we typically talk about this problem as being one of “access.” Tens of millions more Americans live in a location that’s served by an ISP, but they cannot afford the fees or face other barriers such as lacking a device or digital literacy. This problem is typically referred to as a lack of digital inclusion, or the digital divide, although these terms are often tossed around loosely.
There is no single policy to solve the broadband problems faced by the nation. In most cases, better networks and lower prices would really help, but achieving that would require different strategies in rural or urban areas. Challenges around literacy and online safety/security will be more difficult.
The answer then is the answer now: nonprofit business models. In a nation as large and varied as the United States, a single business model rarely meets everyone’s needs. Universal electricity required some 4,000 municipal electric departments and nearly 1,000 rural electric cooperatives. And it worked. Not because municipal networks and cooperatives are magical, but because they have the right incentives.
Cities face a greater challenge because the stakes are higher. Cable and telephone lobbyists have shaped rural broadband subsidy programs but see an existential threat in programs aimed at improving urban...
This week on the podcast Christopher talks with the city of Sandwich, New Hampshire’s Broadband Advisory Committee Chair Julie Dolan and member Richard Knox. The join us to discuss the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative’s recent vote to add broadband to its charter.
Sandwich is particularly poorly served in NH and they have been seeking solutions for a long time. In organizing around the electric cooperative (which covers 115 towns and includes 85,000 members), in less than a year local stakeholders have organizing two votes around the importance of quality Internet access which, at the beginning of October, pushed the co-op into the business. Julie and Richard share with Chris how it all unfolded and what it means moving forward.
Don’t forget to check out our new show, Connect This!, where Chris brings together a collection broadband veterans and industry experts live on Youtube to talk about recent events and dig into the policy news of the day.
This show is 38 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.
Read the transcript for this episode.
Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or ...Read more
At the end of August, Alabama rolled out what has been a unique state-level response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and a decision by every school district to offer remote learning as an option for the current school year. Using $103 million in CARES Act funding, the governor’s office enacted the Broadband Connectivity for Students initiative to help low-income families pay for existing or connect new service via a voucher program that runs through December 31st of this year and is worth, on average, about $400 per family.
To date almost 60,000 vouchers have been redeemed representing more than 100,000 students, and while we would wish to see such a large pot of funds go instead towards permanent connectivity solutions, for thousands of families it’s meant immediate and necessary relief. It also highlights the ongoing importance of fast, reliable, affordable Internet-access for distance learning.
The process began in late July, with the state issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) [pdf] soliciting responses as many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as wanted to participate in the program. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is heading it up, with the state's Department of Education providing the identifying information for households with students on free or reduced lunch. CTC Technology and Energy is serving as contractor (and receiving approximately $3.4 million for its design work and services).
37 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across fiber, fixed wireless, mobile, cable, and satellite service ultimately made the cut to participate in the program. See the full list of ISPs, but it includes a handful of municipal networks and cooperatives we’ve covered in the past, including:
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative
- Mon-Cre Telephone Cooperative
- New Hope Telephone Cooperative
- North Alabama Electric Cooperative
- The Electric Power Board...
More than a year and a half of planning and negotiation will culminate in fiber infrastructure laid to every household in one Tennessee county over the next few years. West Kentucky & Tennessee Telecommunications Cooperative (WK&T), using its own funds along with money from the Henry County Commission and the state of Tennessee, will extend its existing network to cover the entire county and give residents access to its broadband network and services.
Expanding Their Commitment
The recent news serves to expand a partnership that was originally announced in the spring of 2019. At that time, WK&T (founded 1951) pledged $2 million in investment and was awarded $2 million in matching funds from the second round of the state’s Broadband Accessibility Grant Program to reach 912 unserved homes in Henry County.
Local officials have decided to aim higher, however, with the county commission joining the effort to commit $3 million of its own funds to reach as many as 1,400 homes in what County Mayor Brent Greer explained in an interview is the first phase of a countywide build that will take shape over the next 24-26 months. The cost of the first phase will be approximately $8 million, with $3 million coming from the county commission, $3 million from WK&T, and $2 million from the state. By the time it’s through, though, the project will total $20 million and bring WK&T infrastructure to every home, business, and farm.
Henry County sits in the northwest part of the state and has a population of 32,000 spread across a little over 13,000 households, with the city of Paris holding about a third of the population. The county is predominantly white, with average household incomes below $41,000/year. As part of the terms of this first phase, 325 homes low-income will receive free access for three months...Read more
Tens of thousands of homes, businesses, farms, schools, and community anchor institutions in the Sunflower State will see better connectivity options over the next few years. A recent executive order [pdf] establishing a Kansas Office of Broadband Development followed by the announcement of more than $49 million in grants to 67 projects around the state means a host of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), fixed wireless, and institutional networks will break ground in the near future. The measure comes in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
A Broadband Office and Grant Program
The new Office of Broadband Development has been placed in the state’s Department of Commerce, and given the task of promoting networks of all kinds — municipal, cooperative, private, and nonprofit — as well as supporting regional initiatives, developing a better broadband map, and removing policy barriers to fast deployment.
The state actually has two grant programs ongoing at the moment as part of the connectivity program approved the state’s Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) Taskforce and the State Finance Council. The Broadband Partnership Adoption Grants (BPAG) are designed to help low-income Kansans pay for service with existing plans. The large pot of grant money just announced, on the other hand, is part of the Define Connectivity Emergency Response Grant (CERG), which will use CARES funding to facilitate new builds between now and the end of the year.
It is heartening to see that there were no restrictions placed on application eligibility for CERG, and that municipal, cooperative, and other community-owned networks could apply for support. In places like Ohio, we’ve recently seen the establishment of a broadband grant program which explicitly bars municipal...Read more
A collaboration between cooperatives is bringing fiber connectivity to hundreds of unserved homes in southern Kentucky. Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation (WRECC) and North Central Telephone Cooperative (NCTC) will be working together to connect 800 homes in the endeavor, which will also be used to gauge the feasibility of further buildout in the region down the road.
The project is situated in the southern part of Warren County, along U.S. Route 231 and just south of the city of Bowling Green near the unincorporated community of Alvaton. It began with a franchise agreement in 2017 between WRECC and NCTC, with KentuckyWired paying NCTC to build north into Warren County where the telephone cooperative’s fiber subsidiary could partner with WRECC to expand inside a pilot service area. The electric cooperative will supply backbone fiber and lateral lines via its existing assets, with NCTC funding the remainder of the build that will bring residents online.
A Welcome Venture
More than 60,000 people live in the county outside of the city limits of Bowling Green, and many of them — especially in the southern portion— have limited or no connectivity options. WRECC and NCTC make a natural pairing, with the latter (founded in 1938) serving power to more than 67,000 members today (about half of them in Warren County). NCTC (founded 1953) serves 20,500 members mostly in Tennessee.
WRECC President and CEO Dewayne McDonald said of the project:
Our board of directors has challenged us to find a way to bring high-speed Internet [access] to our members. After extensive research, we decided that partnering with others was the best route.
Construction started end of 2019, with the build split into 7 areas and originally anticipated to be complete in the summer 2020. By June the partnership had completed construction through areas 1-4, with drops in areas 1-3 nearly done by the end of the month. By August, crews were finished with areas 5 and 6 as well,...Read more
An effort to add broadband to the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative’s (NHEC) charter will end on October 14th after a month-long membership vote which began in September. If it passes, it will represent a new era for the co-op and open the way for better connectivity for tens of thousands living in the state.
Back in June a ballot initiative fell short by two percentage points of the threshold needed to change the cooperative’s governing documents. A grassroots organizing campaign and Board vote immediately thereafter, however, affirmed both the membership’s and the new Board’s commitment to broadband as essential infrastructure.
In mid-August the Board voted unanimously to propose amendments to the NHEC’s charter, and in September President and CEO Steve Camarino went on the New Hampshire Business Review’s podcast to talk about how important connectivity is for all in the state and the role NHEC could play in bringing better access to those in its service territory and beyond. Per procedure, all 85,000 members of the electric cooperative were given a chance to vote by mail or electronically starting in the middle of September, and the window closes on Wednesday.
As it stands, NHEC bylaws [pdf] allow it to pursue projects like broadband, but current policy and procedure requires an approval process which prevents it the flexibility and speed it needs to do take advantage of state and federal funds and make broadband-related capital investments. The change under consideration would allow members as well as the Board to move with the same speed it is allowed to on electric utility service projects for broadband ones as well. The current requirement on non-electric utility service involves a months-long membership vote. From the co-op’s website:
Affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet [access] is critical for the vitality of NHEC’s members and the communities we serve. However, due to the rural nature of the Co-op’s service territory, many NHEC members do not have access to these services. In response to this pressing...
Last June's scaled-down Vermont’s Emergency Broadband Action Plan, intended as a fast-moving effort to connect residents in the Green Mountain State in the era of COVID, has seen its first two rounds disbursed since August. The Get Vermonters Connected Now Initiative has granted Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across the state a little under $8 million of its available $17 million budget to fund projects which will reach almost 7,500 locations by the end of the year. Of these, more than 3,000 did not have 4/1 Megabit per second (Mbps) service.
Round 1 Winners
The program is run by the Public Service Commission, which does not stipulate any match requirements and establishes 25/3 Mbps as the minimum speed for new services (though it does encourage grantees to aim for 100 Mbps symmetrical connections “where possible”). Community-owned networks are included in the list of winners.
The first round, announced at the end of August, totaled $3,926,650 to serve over 5,800 locations. Of them, the Commission notes, 2,200 lack a connection of 4/1 Megabits per second (Mbps), and 465 premises identified a specific telehealth, telework, or distance learning need related to the ongoing public health crisis. The full list of winners are:
- $351,520 to Mansfield Community Fiber to extend fiber broadband to 676 locations and offset the customer costs for 10 locations
- $171,770 to the NEW Alliance (Cloud Alliance and New England Wireless) to serve wireless broadband to 632 locations
- $1,964,230 to VTel to serve wireless broadband to 3,992 location
- $56,607 to Duncan Cable to extend fiber broadband to 35 locations
- $152,500 to Comcast to extend cable broadband to 77 locations
- $1,117,570 to ECFiber to extend fiber broadband to 394 locations
- $112,453 to Waitsfield & Champlain Valley Telecom to extend fiber broadband to 26 locations
Round 2 Winners
The second round, just announced, totaled $3,991,847 in grant for 1,651 eligible...Read more