Tag: "cooperative"

Posted April 15, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Two more electric cooperatives recently announced plans to build Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks to connect their rural members in the southeastern United States with high-quality Internet access.

The co-ops, Mississippi County Electric Cooperative (MCEC) in Arkansas and Monroe County Electric Power Association (EPA) in Mississippi, will partner with Conexon to manage network design, buildout, and implementation. Conexon has worked with dozens of rural electric cooperatives across the country to deploy broadband access to better serve their member-owners.

Rural communities in the southeast have long struggled with unreliable, unaffordable connectivity, and the current Covid-19 pandemic is further amplifying the health, education, and economic disparities that result from inequitable Internet access. But rural cooperatives, in the region and beyond, are stepping up to meet their members’ broadband needs.

Arkansas Co-op Continues Through Crisis

Big Lake Wildlife Refuge AR

Late last month in a Conexon press release, MCEC announced that it was launching a new subsidiary, MCEC Fiber, to offer its members Internet access with speeds up to one Gigabit per second symmetrical. With its new 600-mile fiber network, MCEC will join several other electric co-ops in Arkansas, including Ozarks Electric Cooperative and Craigshead Electric Cooperative Corporation, that have invested in broadband infrastructure for their communities.

MCEC President and CEO Brad Harrison said in the release:

We have long seen the need of our members and communities for reliable and fast internet service, given that it has become a necessity in many parts of life . . . This network is important for our community, and Conexon opened our eyes to the fact that not only could we provide the service, but we could offer a gold-plated solution...

Read more
Posted April 8, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Last fall, we reported on the large number of community-owned broadband networks among the applicants for the first round of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ReConnect broadband program, which awards grants and loans to expand rural connectivity.

Since then, the USDA has distributed more than $620 million to 70 providers in 31 states as part of ReConnect round one. Just over half of the awardees are community networks, including rural cooperatives, local governments, community agencies, and a tribal provider. The other ReConnect awardees are locally owned providers. Almost all grant and loan recipients plan to build high-quality fiber networks with the funds.

While the impact will be limited by the relatively modest size of the program and restrictive eligibility requirements, the ReConnect awards will nevertheless lead to improved economic opportunity and quality of life in rural areas. These investments will enable more rural Americans to take advantage of precision agriculture, online education, and telehealth visits — services that are now more important than ever as the nation finds itself in the grips of a pandemic.

Co-ops, Munis Win Big

Approximately 30 rural telephone and electric cooperatives in 16 different states are taking home ReConnect grants and loans from the first round of funding. Co-op awards include a nearly $19 million grant for Alaska-based Cordova Telecom Cooperative, a $28 million grant and loan for Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, and a $2.73 million grant for Emery Telecom for projects in Colorado and Montana.

USDA logo

Several municipal networks are also recipients of ReConnect funding. One of the awardees, Osage Municipal Utilities in Iowa,...

Read more
Posted April 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

As coronavirus trackers continue to tick, it’s becoming even clearer that the current pandemic will necessitate months, not weeks, of working and learning from home and other social distancing measures.

To make that transition easier for its members, North Dakota telephone cooperative BEK Communications is offering new subscribers four months of free Internet access on its Lightband Fiber-to-the-Home network. The co-op is also increasing speeds and implementing other efforts through its “BEK Cares” initiative, which aims to make better broadband accessible to rural North Dakotans in response to the growing Covid-19 emergency.

“BEK’s commitment to keep its customers and community connected has never been greater,” the co-op stated in a press release announcing its efforts [PDF]. “We want all of our customers and community members to know we are here for you.”

ISPs Pledge to Connect

Across the country, Internet service providers (ISPs) have launched various efforts to address the connectivity needs of communities impacted by the spread of the novel coronavirus.

FCC logo

Earlier last month, the Federal Communications Commission announced the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, a voluntary program in which ISPs promise to pause disconnections, waive late fees, and open Wi-Fi hotspots to the public. Hundreds of providers have since signed on, including national companies such as AT&T and Comcast as well as local cooperatives like BEK.

In addition to taking the pledge, some companies are also offering a couple months of discounted or no-cost service to households with students and other eligible subscribers. See the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s list of free and low-cost plans for more details on the programs being offered by national ISPs.

However, certain major providers...

Read more
Posted March 5, 2020 by lgonzalez

Mississippians served by electric cooperatives have had plenty to celebrate since the passage of the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act last year. The bill, which eased the way for cooperatives to provide Internet access, has already had a positive affect by inspiring several projects around the state. Recently, Northcentral Electric Cooperative announced that they're creating an affiliate to provide high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to members.

Northcentral Adding Northcentral Connect

The cooperative announced in February that they would be forming  Northcentral Connect, their new affiliate that would be the entity to offer broadband access to members. In the announcement, CEO and General Manager Kevin Doddridge said, "We are excited to see our members’ interest in fiber connectivity. We have conducted several interest and feasibility studies that have led us in this direction.” The co-op hopes to begin rolling out service in the first phase this summer.

Northcentral, which serves an area near the Tennessee border, provides electric service to more than 32,000 premises, including almost 25,000 households. They've operated since 1950 in eastern DeSoto County, western Marshall County, and in Tate and Lafayette Counties. 

logo-northcentral-coop-ms.png Last summer, Doddridge noted that the cooperative was examining the possibility of providing broadband and that, because they had already been installing fiber optic cabling between substations, they had a jump on any possible venture into broadband service. At the time, however, he wanted to be clear that Northcentral would only move forward if offering the service made sense financially and to be able to provide connectivity to their entire service area:

“We are also committed to make sure that we have a plan for universal coverage which will be very difficult,” Doddridge...

Read more
Posted March 3, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In 1999, Yakutat became home to one of Alaska’s first surf shops. Now, two decades later, the coastal community of 600 people is looking at another first for the community — high-speed Internet access.

Cordova Telecom Cooperative (CTC) will be expanding its broadband network to Yakutat from the co-op’s headquarters 220 miles away in Cordova, Alaska. Already, CTC offers wireline and mobile connectivity in and around Cordova. The new project, codenamed NICEY or New Internet Communications for Everyone in Yakutat, will bring high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to the village, which has a large Native Alaskan population.

NICEY will be financed in large part by a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ReConnect grant of nearly $19 million awarded to CTC in December. This money will help fund not only the deployment of the fiber network in Yakutat but also the construction of several remote wireless towers to connect the village to the broader Internet. “I don’t know how many grants of this size local groups have gotten,” CTC general manager and CEO Jeremiah Beckett told the Cordova Times. “It’s pretty big for Cordova.”

Neighbors Partner for Grant

Locals and visitors alike can only reach Yakutat by air or sea — there are no roads to the southeastern Alaskan community. The Internet is similarly hard to access for village residents.

Yakutat’s poor connectivity forces the school to limit student access to online materials and courses; businesses sometimes struggle to run card transactions. Households’ only available option for Internet access is satellite, typically hampered by low speeds, frequent service interruptions, and restrictive data caps.

CTC was a natural partner to tackle Yakutat’s limited connectivity. The telephone cooperative has already invested in fiber and wireless networks in the region and was on the lookout for ways to improve backbone connectivity. Cordova and Yakutat also share a long history and are...

Read more
Posted March 2, 2020 by lgonzalez

Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC), has been working on their plan to deploy Fiber-to-the Home (FTTH) to members and surrounding premises since 2017. The rural cooperative received a financial boost when they recently received a grant and loan award from the USDA's ReConnect Program.

Welcome Funding for Fiber 

With $28 million - part loan and part grant - CVEC plans to fund the first three years of their project. The USDA funding will allow CVEC to connect more than 17,000 households, six health care centers, 15 educational facilities, and 15 other community facilities. When the entire five-year plan is complete, approximately 37,000 premises will have access to FTTH. 

In Buckingham County, CVEC officials announced the award to about 200 people, including local resident Virginia Jackson. She and her family rely on their mobile phones' hotspots for Internet access, which is unreliable and can be expensive. She and her husband were interested in the project and how it would improve connectivity for them and left "excited to see what the project brings to our community."

Early in the planning process, CVEC sought funding from local governments where they plan to deploy infrastructure. They did obtain support, but still sought grants and loans elsewhere to help pay for construction of the project, which they estimated to cost between $110 and $120 million. CVEC has received grants from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI), FCC Connect American Fund, Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission (TRRC), and a loan from the Rural Utility Service (RUS) for smart grid upgrades. 

The project will include deploying approximately 4,000 miles of fiber optic infrastructure and will touch 14 counties. The co-op will deploy in a range of competitive environments. In some areas, locals have only dial-up, whereas in other communities CenturyLink and Comcast already serve subscribers. Even in places where residents already have one or two options, the ability to connect with fiber...

Read more
Posted February 10, 2020 by lgonzalez

Gascosage Electric Cooperative, serving members in south-central Missouri, recently joined the list of ReConnect recipients. The co-op will use a $14 million grant and loan combination to deploy gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to members in four counties where people are unserved and underserved.

Natural Choice

Gascosage General Manager Carmen Hartwell told St. Louis Public Radio, “We’re really a natural choice for this. We already have the infrastructure in place and a history of bringing utilities to rural residents.”

Co-Mo Cooperative and Ozarks Electric Cooperative in Missouri are two other rural electric cooperatives that have expanded the use of their infrastructure to provide broadband to members. In the rural regions of Missouri, as in other states, people living in less populated areas recognize the crucial role high-quality connectivity plays in economic development, educational opportunities, and ability to remain competitive.

“When we take a look at educational opportunities and economic development, internet access may stimulate growth of businesses in our area,” said Hartwell. “It might bring more people into our area that otherwise maybe telecommute for their jobs. Now, they’re going to be able to live on family farms.”

Phasing In Fiber

The co-op has a three-phase plan to connect more than 1,100 households, 20 farms, 20 local businesses, and two rural fire-protection districts. Gascosage has posted detailed information for members, including maps, on their website and their Facebook page revealing exactly where the deployment will occur. The deployment areas are in Camden, Maries, Miller, Phelps, and Pulaski counties. Subscribers will also be able to sign-up for voice services.

Phase one should be completed in early 2021 and will make symmetrical gigabit connectivity available to 285 premises, three farms and eight businesses. Phase two will add 295 premises, to the network, and should also be completed in 2021. The largest Phase will connect 729 homes, businesses, and farms; the co-op will deploy this phase in 2022 and 2023. 

...
Read more
Posted February 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

At the end of 2019, Congress passed the Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands (RURAL) Act, fixing a tax law change that threatened to raise rates and delay the expansion of broadband for rural cooperative members across the country.

Passage of the RURAL Act ensures that cooperatives can accept federal funds for broadband deployment, disaster relief, and other efforts without risking their nonprofit tax exempt status. A change in the 2017 tax law would have labeled these funds as revenue for the first time, potentially causing co-ops to exceed the allowable percentage of non-member income they must maintain to remain tax exempt.

After Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Rob Portman(R-Ohio) and Representatives Adrian Smith (R-) and Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) introduced the bipartisan bill in April, it attracted 55 additional cosponsors in the Senate and more than 300 in the House. It was eventually incorporated into the consolidated appropriations act and signed into law in December.

“Obstacles From the Federal Government”

We described the possible impact of the 2017 tax law change on rural cooperatives over a year ago, when Senator Smith first brought the issue to our attention.

Failure to remedy it would have forced some co-ops to choose between continuing with desperately needed broadband and disaster recovery projects and increasing their members’ rates. Northwestern Electric Cooperative CEO Tyson Littau described the difficulty of that decision to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA):

Do we rebuild and try to strengthen our distribution system and pay the taxes, or do we delay the mitigation project that would improve 1,200 miles of line throughout our territory? I think we have a responsibility to the membership to improve the system for the future.

Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative was another co-op faced with the prospect of raising electric rates to...

Read more
Posted February 6, 2020 by lgonzalez

This is our fifth episode of the podcast project we're working on with nonprofit NC Broadband Matters to share broadband news, challenges, and innovations from North Carolina. NC Broadband Matters works to find ways to bring ubiquitous broadband coverage to residents and businesses across the state.

Susan Cashion, Vice President, Chief Compliance & Administrative officer from Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation, and Greg Coltrain, Vice President of Business Development for RiverStreet Networks from Wilkes Telephone Cooperative join Christopher for the podcast. When they met up at an event in Raleigh, they discuss the co-ops' collaboration to bring high-quality Internet access to people who live in rural areas.

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.png In this interview, we learn more about both cooperatives and about their long histories of serving people who live in rural communities. Each has their own special expertise and this partnership allows them to combine those for the benefit of members who want better connectivity. Piedmont is one of several electric cooperatives that Wilkes, through RiverStreet, is working with to expand connectivity in rural North Carolina. Greg also describes the ways that RiverStreet works with local communities to take advantage of public assets to expand broadband to more households and businesses.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us...

Read more
Posted January 29, 2020 by lgonzalez

As the USDA continues to award federal ReConnect funds for rural connectivity, we're glad to see that communities in West Virginia are not being ignored. Most recently, the Harrison Rural Electrification Association (HREA) announced that they will dedicate ReConnect grant funding of approximately $18.75 million to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in rural sections of their service area.

Combining Funding and Collaboration

The project will bring more than 6,300 households high-quality connectivity along with five educational facilities and another community facility. The deployment will cover approximately 354 square miles within Harrison, Lewis, Upshur, Barbour, and Doddridge counties. Once completed, the project will provide better connectivity to around 16,000 residents.

In total, the project will cost an estimated $25 million and HREA will use a $6.2 million loan from CoBank to cover the difference. They plan to complete the project within 3 1/2 years and cooperative leadership intend to have the project ready for bids by the end of February.

Rather than offering Internet access directly to members, the cooperative will work with Prodigi Fiber, a private sector ISP that works exclusively in West Virginia and only with FTTH connectivity. The co-op will lease the infrastructure to Prodigi and dedicate the proceeds from the lease toward the CoBank loan payments.

Early Excitement

On the HREA Facebook page, locals have expressed their excitement at the prospect of better connectivity. Some note the need for better reliability while others are looking for better speeds or alternatives to current options. 

Lenny W.: Was excited to get the email. This is great for the rural areas of this county. Are there any maps or projections on what areas are going to start and when? I’ll sign up for whatever is $75-$100 per month.

Ken C.: Whoooohoooo

Sharon L.: Please,...

Read more

Pages

Subscribe to cooperative