Tag: "cooperative"

Posted May 23, 2018 by lgonzalez

Holston Electric Cooperative (HEC) in Hamblen and Hawkins County, Tennessee, is about to begin Phase I of its plan to deploy fiber optic connectivity to more than 30,000 members. The multi-year project will bring broadband to the rural area and create smart grid efficiencies for the electric system.

Wide Support for HolstonConnect

There’s been so much interest and so many inquiries about when members can sign-up, General Manager Jimmy Sandlin feels it’s important to ask folks in the service area to be patient and to understand that the build will be a long process. Construction will begin in Rogersville and will extend to South Surgoinsville.

“As HolstonConnect’s services will have less delay times than other products available in your market, the competition may encourage our members to lock themselves into new contracts. Be aware of this tactic, as this is your opportunity to help improve your neighborhood. Owned by the people served, HolstonConnect will connect our community to a great future, just like Holston Electric Cooperative brought rural residents into the future with electricity.”

Prices and a complete list of services have not been posted yet, but the cooperative plans to offer symmetrical gigabit service, voice, and video. In keeping with similar policies from other publicly owned networks, HEC has said there will be no throttling or data caps. 

HEC has had plans in place for a while to deploy a smart grid to improve electric systems. As is the case with many other electric cooperatives, HEC decided to consider taking advantage of the infrastructure’s excess capacity as a foundation for fiber optic connectivity for local residents and businesses. In order to make the venture successful, however, they knew that they would need take rates of around 80 percent from members to make the project viable. The cooperative still needs to determine final estimates, but the initial figure for the entire project comes in at around $120 million.

In early 2017, HEC reached out to members, holding several meetings to gauge interest. Local residents packed the events and the average of pledges to sign up for service averaged around 90 percent of attendees. A survey indicated that 60 percent of those asked would pay...

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Posted April 24, 2018 by htrostle

Internet access isn't effective when it takes forever to load a single webpage or when subscribers spend hours babysitting their computers to ensure files make it through the upload process. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we create maps analyzing publicly available data to show disparities in access and highlight possible solutions. We've recently taken an in-depth look at Georgia and want to share our findings with two revealing maps. According to the FCC's 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, 29.1 percent of the state's rural population lacks broadband access, but only 3 percent of the urban population shares the same problem. Cooperatives and small municipal networks are making a difference in several of these rural communities.

Technology Disparities Across the State

The map below shows what kinds of technology Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are using to offer Internet service to homes or businesses in Georgia. To differentiate areas of the state, the lines represent the subdivisions within counties. Our analysis focuses on wireline technologies, specifically fiber, cable, and DSL. Satellite and fixed wireless services are too dependent on the weather and the terrain for our analysis.

map of georgia, DSL in rural areas

In rural Georgia, premises with wireline access most often rely on DSL; cable and fiber tend to be clustered around towns and cities where population density is higher. Google, for instance, operates a fiber network within Atlanta, Georgia. The large amount of fiber in the eastern half is the Planters Rural Telephone Cooperative, one of the many rural cooperatives that are taking steps to help rural communities obtain the access they need to keep pace with urban centers.

Although DSL service is widespread, it's the least reliable and slowest of the three technologies. It often relies on old copper lines. Cable is more dependable than DSL, but typically slows down significantly during peak web traffic times, such as early evening in residential areas or business hours in downtowns or other areas where businesses cluster. Sometimes called the gold standard of Internet service,...

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Posted March 27, 2018 by lgonzalez

Electric cooperatives in Virginia are continuing to transform connectivity in the state’s rural communities. With funding assistance from state and local government, projects in Mecklenburg and Appomattox Counties will soon be moving forward.

Building Out Mecklenburg

The Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission (TRCC) was formed when the state, along with Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Texas, chose to break off from a Master Settlement Agreement between the largest tobacco companies and the remaining 46 states. The proceeds from their separate settlement have been used for broadband and other projects to diversify the economy. The TRCC administers grants and a loan fund.

Last fall, the Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) announced that they planned to upgrade their fiber optic network infrastructure to connect substations and district offices. The board of directors decided that the upgrade would give them the perfect opportunity to engage in a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot project. As part of the project, MEC entered into an agreement to use the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) fiber backbone.

The cooperative applied for a grant from TRRC and recently learned that they've been awarded $2.6 million for the $5.2 million project. They've dubbed the initiative the EmPower Broadband Cooperative.

EmPower will begin by offering 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical Internet service for approximately $65 - $75 per month; VoIP will also be available. Members within 1,000 feet of the backbone that MEC deploys will have the ability to sign up for the service. Like other pilot projects, MEC will use the opportunity to fine tune the service and gage interest before they decide whether or not to take EmPower to the rest of their electric service area and possibly beyond.

President of MEC John Lee:

Electric cooperatives are, far and away, the best positioned entities to bring ultra-high-speed broadband to the unserved or underserved rural areas of the Commonwealth, and MEC has...

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Posted March 22, 2018 by htrostle

In southern California, an electric cooperative provides high-speed Internet service and continues to expand, meeting the needs of its 4,000 rural members. With community support, Anza Electric has navigated paperwork, construction delays, and more challenges. In May 2018, the California Public Utilities Commission will decide whether or not to award a grant of $2.2 million for Anza Electric’s fiber network project, Connect Anza.

We spoke with Anza Electric’s General Manager Kevin Short to learn more about the grant proposal and the project timeline. In July 2017, we reported that Anza Electric had submitted the grant application for a rural area south of Mount Jacinto in Riverside County. Short provided us with an update and more information on why this area was not part of the co-op’s first Internet access project.

2018 Grant Application

This area in Riverside County follows scenic highway 74 and includes the communities of Pinyon Pines, Garner Valley, and Mountain Center. The project will provide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet service to the rural co-op members. The co-op will also provide free high-speed Internet access to local fire stations and the Ronald McDonald camp for children with cancer. 

In total, the project costs $3.7 million, but the co-op has about $1.5 million to devote to the project. They hope to obtain the remaining $2.2 million from the California Advanced Services Fund through the California Public Utilities Commission. Anza Electric applied for the grant last year. More than 600 people have already signed onto a petition to support the co-op’s application. (Read the petition here.) The California Public Utilities Commission vote in May 2018 on the grant, which will significantly reduce the amount of time the co-op will need to connect the proposed project area.

...

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Posted March 19, 2018 by lgonzalez

For the past seven months, SEMO Electric Cooperative has been working on phase one of construction of a new fiber optic network in southeast Missouri. They recently announced that subscribers are hooked up and taking advantage of Fiber-to-the-Home in rural Scott County and in the towns of Miner, Advance, and Bloomfield.

A Necessity In Society

This is the first of five phases of a $40 million project that the cooperative decided to pursue in 2017. The co-op board saw that providing high-quality Internet access to was filling a demand that incumbents are not meeting, locals want, and assists the community. Homeowners, schools, and local businesses need broadband. Loyd Rice, the administrator of engineering services for SEMO Electric:

“Now we get to build out something that has become a necessity in society. The ability to have a broadband service that is effective now changes the whole quality of life for those folks. It’s definitely a necessity at schools. You can work from home.”

Like other electric cooperatives that have found value in offering broadband service, SEMO has certain advantages in both deployment and operations. Rice noted that they're finding that cost to construct are lower than expected because they’re able to build along existing infrastructure. “And so six seven months into now, we’re probably half to three-fourths the way through our first phase of the actual build,” he told CBS 12 KFVS.

Keeping Locals Updated

As they deploy GoSEMO Fiber, the cooperative provides video updates on its YouTube Channel, the GoSEMO website, and on FaceBook and Twitter. In addition to messages that provide updates on the progress of deployment, staff provides information on equipment. The videos are short and to the point. Here’s the latest, posted on March 11th, 2018:

There’s no installation fee and subscribers can...

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Posted March 6, 2018 by lgonzalez

Senator Janice Bowling has long been a champion for rural broadband in Tennessee. On March 6th, her bill SB 1045 came before the Tennessee Senate Commerce and Labor Committee and the members chose not to advance the bill. Once again, big telephone and cable company interests win out over the needs of rural Tennesseans.

Download SB 1045 here.

Information Session 

Sen. Bowling presented information about the bill at a February 27th meeting of the committee. She introduced SB 1045 last year and it was added and removed from committee hearing schedules several times; HB 1410, the companion House bill from Rep. Weaver, encountered similar treatment. SB 1045 would allow municipal networks and cooperatives to provide broadband service beyond their service areas. Communities that don’t have municipal networks, will regain local authority to invest in Internet infrastructure.

Explaining The Need

In her February 27th presentation, Sen. Bowling described how rural areas in the state are crippled in various ways by the lack of high-quality connectivity. She provided a map that visualizes the disparities between rural areas, communities with fiber optic networks, and urban areas.

She described the need for fiber for economic development:

In rural Tennessee, if we have what is called an industrial park, and we have electricity…you have running water, you have some paved roads, but if you do not have access to fiber at this point, what you have is an electrified cow pasture with running water and walking trails. It is not an industrial park.

janice-bowling.jpg Bowling, whose district includes Tullahoma, has been working in this space for a long time and has gained knowledge from technical experts and business leaders. LightTUBe, her community's municipal fiber optic network, has been serving residents, businesses, and municipal facilities since 2009. The network has boosted economic development, improved education, and public savings...

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Posted February 14, 2018 by lgonzalez

When the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative (SLVREC) decided to invest in fiber for more efficient electrical operations, they also took the first step toward improving Internet access for residents and businesses in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. The cooperative is building a network for both members and local nonmembers in some of Colorado’s least populated and worst connected areas.

Up In The Valley

The San Luis Valley in Colorado is the headwaters of the Rio Grande and a high-altitude basin in south central Colorado. There are more than 8,000 square miles within the Valley, but only about half of that is privately owned. The Rio Grande National Forest and the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve cover large swaths of land that attracts naturalists and people looking for outdoor adventure. Tourists also come to the Valley to enjoy the hot springs. The area was once populated with the Ute Native Americans; Mexican settlers have also played a part in populating the region. Mountain ranges bound the Valley on the west and east sides, luring climbers and campers. Alamosa is the most populous community as the county seat with a little under 10,000 people; Adams State University is located there.

Andrea Oaks-Jaramillo, Marketing and Economic Development Coordinator from SLVREC spoke with us about the co-op's venture into fiber connectivity:

“We want to make sure that people live in this area and are able to work and thrive here. We see a lot of our kids that go out of town for university and college and then don’t return because there isn’t a way to make a good living or to telecommute. That’s not what we want. We want to be able to have a stable and thriving economy while still maintaining what is priceless about living in a rural area.”

All Things Lead To Broadband

logo-SLVREC.png The cooperative's move to offer broadband started when they decided to use a SCADA system to identify and deal with outages quickly and to eventually improve metering technology for the electrical system. Members who received electrical services from SLVREC hadn’t approached the cooperative insisting that they develop a broadband network, but several of the co-op Board members living in very rural areas knew that...

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Posted February 6, 2018 by lgonzalez

As one electric cooperative in Indiana is engaged in a project to offer broadband, another project close by is in the works. As rural cooperatives take steps to offer broadband, local communities want to help local co-ops deploy in their areas. 

Jackson County Project Moving Ahead

Last summer, Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC) announced that they had finalized a plan to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to every service member within their 1,400 square mile service area. 

With the strong support of Jackson County leadership, the cooperative started work on phase 1, a plan to establish a backbone through most of the ten counties where REMC members live and work. The first phase of the extensive $60 million project is about one-third finished. This phase will also allow the co-op the chance to connect the first 990 premises in order to work out any issues and refine services before reaching more homes and businesses. As they finish up the first phase, REMC is beginning to plan phase 2.

At a January meeting that involved community leaders in the region and cooperatives, REMC General Manager Mark McKinney provided an update:

“We are in the process now of evaluating where phase two will be. We’re about a third of the way through phase one, which was approximately 330 miles of fiber optic cable being installed. When this is all said and done, if everything goes as planned, we’ll be looking at over 2,000 miles of fiber being installed. This is not fiber to the curb, this will be fiber all the way into the home.”

REMC expects to start serving approximately 1,000 customers in the Brownstown areas in February.

When the State Legislature passed SB 478, REMC was able to deploy fiber easier and faster. The bill, also known as the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act, updated existing law for cooperatives. Prior to the FIBRE Act, easements existed for electrical infrastructure but did not extend to fiber optic lines. SB 478 allows electric cooperatives with existing easements for...

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Posted January 23, 2018 by lgonzalez

Taylor Electric Cooperative, serving members in the Abilene, Texas region, is starting to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to members through its Access Fiber pilot project.

Four Phases Of The Pilot

Lance Maeda, Director of Information Technology at Taylor EC shared some details about the project that’s now serving a limited number of premises with plans to expand. The cooperative connected its first customer in early December 2017, about six months after the Board decided to pursue the project.

The cooperative is currently working on the first of four phases. This phase brings service to an apartment complex and two residential subdivisions, one of which is located adjacent to a Taylor EC satellite office where they will house electronics for the network. Engineers considered their plan a way to deploy this part of the network more cost effectively and more quickly. With this approach, they can concentrate on perfecting the service to members before moving on to the other phases.

They’ve recently finished the first subdivision where twelve members have signed up for FTTH services and are now focusing on the aerial connection to the apartment complex and the second neighborhood in the planned first phase. Homes in the second neighborhood are more sparsely located and, according to Maeda, Taylor EC will contend with a wide range of densities as they expand the project. Engineers have decided to house the fiber for the second half of the first phase in underground conduit where it will be protected from ice storms and tornados.

No Grants Or Loans

The cooperative received no grants or loans to fund the pilot, funding it entirely through operations; the cooperative is not ready to share the cost of the pilot project. At this point, the electric cooperative is not restricted to offering Internet access in specific areas, says Maeda, but telephone cooperatives that offer services in Texas can only offer Internet access in their own territories. Taylor EC is weighing the pros and cons of applying for FCC funds because accepting any funds might require also accepting limitations.

Customer Service, Natural Fit

Suddenlink offers services in Abilene, but the ISP has earned a poor customer service reputation. Taylor EC will concentrate on the...

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Posted January 12, 2018 by lgonzalez

Central Missouri’s Callaway Electric Cooperative began offering high-quality Internet access in 2016 by collaborating with a local telephone cooperative. Since then, it’s subsidiary, Callabyte Technology, has continued to expand its services to members in local rural communities in its service area. Recently, the people of the small community of Holts Summit learned that the project is headed their way.

Anticipating Better Broadband

Holts Summit residents and businesses can expect to receive the opportunity to sign up for Callabyte services in 2018. Business development supervisor for the cooperative, Rob Barnes told attendees at a recent Alderman meeting that the co-op would likely divide the deployment into three phases due to the size of the town. Holts Summit is about 3.5 square miles and home to 3,700 people.

The community of Holts Summit obtains electric service from Ameren Missouri, rather than Callaway Electric; Holts Summit and the cooperative are developing a non-exclusive franchise agreement just as they would a private sector provider that wished to offer video services in Missouri. Businesses and residents in the town currently use satellite Internet service and cable Internet access from Mediacom.

"We've got a number of citizens that would like to start a home-based business, but won't because they don't have reliable internet right now," [City Administrator Rick] Hess said. "So this will be great for businesses."

Ever Growing Service From Co-ops

Calloway Electric Cooperative has been reaching an expanding list of communities and intends to provide service all of Calloway County. They offer Internet access, voice, and video bundles and people in their service area are signing up for all three.

“We are still surprised that the landline service is something people still are taking,” Barnes said. “But as you get out into the rural portions of Callaway County, cellphone service still doesn’t work very well.”

Callobyte stand-alone residential Internet access is available for 100...

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