Tag: "cooperative"

Posted May 12, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Wally Bowen, the Founder and Executive Director for the Mountain Area Information Network in Asheville, North Carolina, wrote the following op-ed with Tim Karr of Free Press. Wally gave us permission to reprint it here.

North Carolina has a long tradition of self-help and self-reliance, from founding the nation's first public university to building Research Triangle Park. Befitting the state's rural heritage, North Carolinians routinely take self-help measures to foster economic growth and provide essential local services such as drinking water and electric power.

Statesville built the state's first municipal power system in 1889, and over the years 50 North Carolina cities and towns followed suit. In 1936, the state's first rural electric cooperative was launched in Tarboro to serve Edgecombe and Martin counties. Today, 26 nonprofit electric networks serve more than 2.5 million North Carolinians in 93 counties.

Strangely, this self-help tradition is under attack. The General Assembly just passed a bill to restrict municipalities from building and operating broadband Internet systems to attract industry and create local jobs. Although pushed by the cable and telephone lobby, similar bills were defeated in previous legislative sessions. But the influx of freshmen legislators and new leadership in both houses created an opening for the dubiously titled "Level Playing Field" bill (HB 129).

No one disputes the importance of broadband access for economic growth and job creation. That's why five cities - Wilson, Salisbury, Morganton, Davidson and Mooresville - invoked their self-help traditions to build and operate broadband systems after years of neglect from for-profit providers, which focus their investments in more affluent and densely populated areas. Not coincidentally, all five cities own and operate their own power systems or have ties to nonprofit electric cooperatives.

(While the bill does not outlaw these five municipal networks, it restricts their expansion and requires them to make annual tax payments to the state as if they were for-profit companies.)

How does a state that values independence, self-reliance and economic prosperity allow...

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Posted January 12, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

A group of towns in rural western Massachusetts, having already decided on a cooperative structure, have now started the process of joining the coop in order to eventually build an open access FTTH network to serve everyone in each of the member towns.

Originally, the Wired West towns looked to a similar project in Vermont, East Central Vermont Fiber Network, for guidance but found Massachusetts law did not allow them to use the same joint powers agreement approach. After researching Massachusetts law, they found a law previously used by towns to form "light plants" for electrification. In more modern times, the law had been amended to allow such an entity to offer cable television and telecom services. Of the forty muni light plants in Massachusetts, some four provide telecom services.

In order to join the coop, a town has to twice pass a 2/3 vote by those in attendance at a town meeting. The meeting must be no less than 2 months apart and no more than 13 months apart. In talking with folks from Wired West, this approach appears to be unique to Massachusetts.

From the Wired West site:

Passing the MLP legislation creates a new town department, and does not require a town to produce or sell electricity. The Selectboard can choose to oversee its MLP department themselves or appoint a three to five member board. This group is responsible for appointing a manager, making decisions around the town’s participation and representation in the WiredWest Cooperative, and filing annually with the State.

Creating the MLP incurs no cost to the town. If a town decides to join the WiredWest Cooperative, there will be a membership fee of not more than $1,000 per town.

The coop requires at least 2 towns, but that does not appear to be doubt. The towns to consider it thus far have been enthusiastic - Wired West has a helpful map showing where local towns stand in the process. In general, Wired West is an excellent example of how community groups can use a website to keep people...

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Posted December 18, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Fred Pilot, founder of the Camino Fiber Network Cooperative, recently wrote about the importance of community ownership in California's oldest newspaper. An excerpt:

The Camino Fiber Network Cooperative was formed in 2009 with the recognition that unless county residents and businesses — particularly those located in underserved central portions of the county — step into the gap and build their own infrastructure, the county is in clear danger of being left without modern telecommunications services. That would render it an undesirable location to purchase or rent a home or operate a small business, degrading the county’s current and future economic viability.

To avoid this scenario, the Camino Fiber Network Cooperative intends to construct a consumer-owned, open access fiber optic to the premises network that will meet today’s needs as well as those of the future. For membership and other information including a consumer survey, visit the co-op’s Website.

Posted September 20, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Carroll County, Maryland, has announced a partnership with the Maryland Broadband Cooperative to bring fiber-optic broadband to area businesses that have been neglected by incumbent providers.

The county brought the broadband cooperative in to lease out unused fiber on the county’s 110-mile network, which it built over the past two years. The cooperative will connect business customers with its own members, which include various sizes of Internet service providers that can link the businesses to the network. Prices will vary depending on the service provider and location of the business.

The Carroll County Times offers greater coverage in a story by Marc Shapiro.

The County's $9 million network is financed in part with cost savings from transitioning away from $600/month T1 lines and is the result of many years of work. Remember that a T1 offers 1.5 Mbps of connectivity, the new fiber network likely offers 100Mbps to 1Gbps today and is capable of offering much greater capacity in the future. Building these networks is a far smarter move than leasing T1 lines.

Every county school, every major county facility and Carroll Community College is on broadband Internet, said Mark Ripper, chief information officer with the Carroll County Department of Technology Services. All county facilities and libraries and the board of education will have broadband Internet shortly, he said.

The Maryland Broadband Cooperative, a public/private partnership that promotes economic development through technological infrastructure, will lease the "dark fiber," unused fiber, to its member companies, who can in turn sell Internet service to local businesses. The MDBC has 59 members, about 30 of which are Internet providers, said Patrick Mitchell, president and CEO of the MDBC.

Posted September 16, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Western Massachusetts' Wired West is an exciting approach to bringing next-generation broadband networks to rural areas. Thanks to Design Nine's news blog for alerting me to this decision.

For those unfamiliar with our coverage of Wired West, a two page write-up in Berkshire Trade & Commerce Monthly [pdf] offers a good background:

“You often hear that it is too expensive to bring fiber-optic lines to every home, business and institution in a rural area," said Webb, who lives in the remote southern Berkshire town of Monterey. “But that only means it’s too expensive for the business model of private-sector companies who have to show profitability in a very short period. It is not too too expensive if it is done by the communities themselves on a basis that does not have to meet those market demands."

Wired West has announced a decision on the difficult issue of governance structure. They are going to be a public co-operative, comprised of the member towns.

Now the member towns will have to approve the structure and the organization will move forward on the planning necessary to develop, finance, and build their broadband network.

Posted September 14, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

I just spoke with Danna MacKenzie of Cook County and Gary Fields of National Public Broadband (working with Lake County) to find out just how excited they are about yesterday's announcement of broadband stimulus awards. Both Lake and County (separate projects) have been funded to build fiber-to-the-home networks to everyone on the power grid in the region.

They are pretty excited.

In a few years, these North Shore Communities will likely have better broadband options than the metro region of Minneapolis and Saint Paul -- a far cry from the beginning of this year when a single fiber cut stranded the whole north shore.

Bob Kelleher at Minnesota Public Radio covered the awards:

Combined, they will connect 37,000 residents, 1,000 businesses and 98 institutions such as hospitals and schools.

Cook County actually has a double whammy - they already stood to benefit from the North East Service Cooperative, which is building high capacity fiber-optic lines through the North Shore to offer middle-mile backhaul and connect local government facilities and schools.

As of yesterday, they will also get a fiber-to-the-home network from the Arrowhead Electric Cooperative. Cook, currently served in part by Qwest, has little access to true broadband -- some 37% have access to anemic DSL connections and the rest are stuck with dial-up.

Details of the award from Kelleher at MPR:

Joe Buttweiler, who directs membership services with the Lutsen-based Arrowhead Electric Cooperative, said 70 percent of the federal award is a grant and the remainder a loan. He said the cooperative will add another $600,000 for capital.

Back in April, Blandin's Broadband blog published the short summary of the Arrowhead project:

Arrowhead Electric Cooperative proposes to build and operate a fiber optic network to the residential and commercial...

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Posted September 4, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

A brief update from the Camino Fiber Network Cooperative of El Dorado County in California - the Sacramento Bee ran an article earlier this summer covering the coop's approach to expanding broadband (though they may no longer use the term broadband).

Fred Pilot has spear-headed this movement, recognizing that if the community does not pull together and build something themselves, they are not likely to gain access to modern communications.

Currently the co-op is surveying the community through the website, www.caminofiber.net; trying to sign up members for the cooperative; and seeking funding for a technical study of how and whether they could connect to a middle mile source.

To hire an expert will cost $30,000 to $50,000, Pilot said.

Stay up to date via the Camino Fiber Network website.

Posted March 30, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

I added these links to our link section in the right column, but wanted to note them explicitly. One of the goals of this site is to catalog what groups around the country are organizing for better networks that put the community first - if you know of groups, please let us know.

In California's El Dorado County, the Camino Fiber Network Cooperative is seeking ways to finance building broadband to people who currently have no options. Thanks to Eldo Telecom for tipping me off.

In Massachusetts, many communities in the western half of the state have no or poor broadband access, which is why Wired West is investigating options for a publicly owned, open access network.

Posted July 29, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Many people in rural areas get their phone services from a cooperative telephone company. When it comes to fiber in rural areas, some of these cooperatives are on the cutting edge. The July Issue of FTTH Prism [pdf] from Chaffee Fiber Optics has a feature on Paul Bunyan Telephone in Minnesota. They are an aggressive broadband network deployer in rural areas, often saving residents from Qwest or another company unable (sometimes just unwilling) to build these necessary networks.

Cooperative telephone companies fall into our understanding of publicly owned because they focus on their communities first and do not seek to maximize profits at the expense of social benefits.

Paul Bunyan Telephone is nearly 60 years old and now covers over 4,500 square miles. They have used RUS loans to finance significant portions of the network.

Currently, over 4,000 locations are served with our fiber-to-the-home network, which represents about 30 percent of our entire network. For these customers, thanks to the benefits of fiber optics, we can deliver high-speed Internet services up to 40 Mb (both upload and download) and a host of advanced television services including multiple streams of high-definition television, digital video recording, and on-demand services.

For those who claim that people in rural areas just don't understand broadband or don't want it, this company has an answer:

One specific example the fiber optic network capacity can have on a business is Northwood DNA, Inc. This is a business operating in a very rural area, Becida, MN, that provides DNA sequencing and genotyping services globally. The services they provide require receiving and sending large data files electronically. Prior to the deployment of the fiber optic network, their business was only able to report two to three test results per day. Today, with the benefits of the all fiber optic network, they report over 50 test results per day.

The full story starts on page 9 of the 2009 July FTTH Prism.

Posted June 30, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

This article highlights three publicly owned networks that are expanding or building in the midst of a difficult economy - the Dumont Telephone Company in Iowa (a cooperative); Auburn, Indiana; and Greenlight in Wilson, North Carolina.

Dumont is facing the most difficult path:

Deploying rural and small-town fiber is always tough. Doing it without much hope of funding from outside is even tougher. But visionaries in these communities took the long view, planning to stretch out their builds over as much as seven years – longer if they have to. One community – Dumont, Iowa – is profiting from a world-class GPON build with fewer than two households passed per mile and precisely zero businesses to help foot the bill.

Auburn began building a municipal fiber network to keep some local employers in town - called Auburn Essential Services. As happens all over the United States, small towns lose businesses because the private sector is not able to provide the necessary networks. Built at first just to connect some local sites, the city later began to expand it:

In mid-2006 the city adopted a phased rollout plan for FTTP, where each phase would generate revenues that could be used to fund the next phase. The first phase, which includes the neighborhoods where most businesses are located, rolled out between April and December of this year.

The city’s marketing plan includes mailers, door hangers, advertising and even site visits to businesses. Existing technology was leveraged for back-office operations, and customers were given the option of receiving consolidated utility bills or separate bills for electricity and telecommunications.

Wilson, North Carolina, was also dealing with poor local networks that hampered economic development. Time Warner not only refused to build the necessary networks, it then refused to use a network the city offered to let them ride, and finally tried to prevent them by passing what was often called the "Incumbent Protection Act" in the state legislature. Fortunately, Time Warner was not able to prevent local competition and Wilson's network is currently being built. They used a rather unique financing plan:

Rather than issue general obligation bonds, Wilson obtained $31 million in private funding...

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