Tag: "cooperative"

Posted September 29, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Almost 54,000 electric cooperative residents will see the benefits of a statewide law change in Maryland after a summer filled with changes. After a state vote to allow deregulation, Choptank Electric, which serves member owners across nine counties in Maryland’s Eastern Shore, voted in August to become member-regulated so that the cooperative can pursue broadband projects in a part of the state that has long suffered from poor or no connectivity options. 

A State Law and a Membership Vote

The process unfolded earlier this year, when representatives for the co-op spoke with the legislature in Annapolis about offering broadband to its members. State law at the time meant that electric utilities were regulated by the Public Service Commission, which prevented them from entering the broadband space. 

The Eastern Shore sits across Chesapeake Bay, with 450,000 people living across its nine counties. Driven by a lack of connectivity options and a desire for economic development, area legislators submitted HB 999, which drew support from dozens of businesses, 1,200 current Choptank customers, and a number of local governments. The “Rural Broadband for the Eastern Shore Act of 2020” [pdf] passed the state legislature on May 8th, 2020, and freed the co-op from regulation by the Public Service Commission. Talbot County resident Pamela Keeton testified to the Senate Finance Committee:

The bottom line is, no one wants to pay taxes and no one wants to spend money, so we’re left with no Internet service.

The move allowed Choptank to become member-regulated after two regular meetings and a membership vote, which took place from May to August both in person and electronically. Ultimately, it needed 7,000 members to vote yes. All told,...

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Posted September 16, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Over the summer, Windstream and Colquitt Electric Membership Corporation announced that the two entities will work together to expand fiber optic Internet access throughout the electric co-op’s service territory in rural south Georgia. Windstream, the fifth largest telephone company in the nation, will maintain ownership of the newly deployed network and use it to offer its Kinetic broadband services to residents and businesses, while Colquitt, which has more than 45,000 members, will take advantage of the fiber connectivity to improve the management of its electric grid.

The announcement came one year after Georgia lawmakers clarified that electric cooperatives in the state are able to invest in broadband infrastructure to serve their members and established guidelines for co-ops that want to get into the business.

Working Out the Details

According to Telecompetitor, the project will expand Fiber-to-the-Home connectivity and gigabit speeds to Colquitt members who currently have access to Windstream’s much slower DSL services.

Windstream plans to use Colquitt’s labor force and its Rights-of-Way and electric poles to help deploy the network, but the telephone company will own the actual fiber optic lines. Colquitt will receive an indefeasible right of use (IRU) for some of the fiber capacity for internal uses and smart grid applications.

The two companies have not released details on the construction plan or locations yet.

Partnership Pros and Cons

Typically, electric co-ops that partner with a broadband provider to offer connectivity to their members choose to work with a nearby telephone co-op or a locally-owned company, though many electric co-ops do decide to provide the services themselves. For example, Minnesota-based CTC has...

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Posted August 27, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A year ago we wrote about Illinois’ $420 million commitment to broadband expansion, and now the first round of grant winners has been released. Together they total $50 million in state funds matched by $65 million in additional money for 28 projects by 18 different Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that will, ultimately, connect 26,000 homes, farms, community institutions, and businesses in the state. It represents the first milestone in what is a significant commitment to closing Illinois' broadband gap.

Lots of Winners, Some Caveats

The Broadband Grant Program offers applicants up to $5 million in funding for projects with the stipulation that they match it with an equal or greater amount of other, nonstate funds. First-round winners consist of both middle- and last-mile builds touching at least 27 counties throughout the state. For example, Cook County received a little under $2 million to expand its Chicago Southland Fiber Network (CSFN). CSFN provides backhaul services to many, including the Illinois Century Network — which serves over 3,400 public K-12 schools, universities, and libraries. Their application committed to focusing “on fiber paths that will provide distribution and host last mile service platforms addressing those communities with the greatest need, municipalities with no fiber assets . . and key regional education campus facilities.” 

In total, providers representing local control and democratic decision-making did well. The Illinois Electric Cooperative got a little under $3.5 million to build out symmetrical 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) last-mile connections to 746 unserved households and 95 businesses, farms, and community anchor institutions in Calhoun County. Currently, its telecommunications division accounts for a relatively small but growing proportion of the services it provides to its more than 14,000 members across the state. JoCarrol Energy Cooperative, founded in 1939, also received $6 million to complete...

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Posted August 20, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Less than two years after Mississippi lifted its ban on electric cooperative broadband networks, at least 15 of the 25 co-ops in the state have announced plans to provide Internet access to members, with more on the way.

“I would venture to say that there is a higher percentage of co-ops launching [broadband] projects in Mississippi at one time than anywhere else in the country,” said Randy Klindt, partner at Conexon, a consulting firm that is working with several co-ops in the state.

The months in between were marked by two major changes. First, in January of 2019, the Mississippi legislature passed a law that enabled co-ops to create broadband subsidiaries to connect their members. Then a year later, the pandemic hit, highlighting the urgent need for better connectivity and turning the steady stream of cooperative interest in broadband into a veritable flood.

In response to the global health crisis, the state leveraged federal CARES Act money to establish a grant program to fund electric co-op broadband deployment. Through the program, Mississippi awarded $65 million to 15 electric cooperatives to build high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home networks in some of the state’s most disconnected and rural communities, dramatically ramping up the pace of the co-ops’ broadband projects.

“When we started two years ago, I would’ve guessed that you would have had maybe five systems out of 25 in the state that would be to the level where we are now,” Coast Electric Power Association (EPA) President and CEO Ron Barnes said in an interview. “Most people would tell you they were surprised by the speed,” he added.

Opening the Floodgates

Internet access has been lagging in rural Mississippi for years. The state came in at 42 in BroadbandNow’s most recent connectivity rankings. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), at least 35% of rural Mississippians do not have access to the Internet at broadband speeds.

In 2018, the state co-op association, Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi, brought its 25 member organizations together to gauge their interest in changing the state law so the co-ops could address their rural members' inadequate connectivity. At the time, electric co-ops in the state were prohibited from operating for any purpose other than providing...

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Posted August 18, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

This week on the podcast Christopher talks with Ron Barnes, President and CEO Biloxi-based Coast Electric Power, an electric cooperative in Mississippi area, and Jon Chambers, Partner at Conexon, a consulting agency working with rural electric cooperatives to bring fiber to communities around the country. 

In January of 2019 Mississippi state law changed to allow electric cooperatives to provide broadband services to their subscribers, and Ron talks about how Coast Electric, which serves around 80,0000 residents across three counties, began its planning phase shortly thereafter. He relates how the current public health crisis moved up Coast Electric’s timeline, why the cooperative has committed in its buildout to connect the least densely populated areas of its service footprint first, and the challenges and rewards that go along with bringing high-speed Internet to Mississippi’s coast. 

Jon Chambers joins them to highlight how remarkable it has been to see Mississippi’s electric cooperatives spring into action over the last 18 months and play a leading role, and why it’s important that, already, 15 out of 25 have begun to plan their broadband plans with the injection of CARES Act funding. Together, the group discusses what these changes mean for digital equity and inclusion in Mississippi, since the new law requires the cooperatives to build to all of their customers.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show; please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Read the transcript for this episode.

This show is 33 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...

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Posted August 6, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Cooperatives have been doing a lot over the last few months to advance connectivity efforts around the country. That trend is continuing in Virginia, where Prince George Electric Cooperative (PGEC) and Northern Neck Electric Cooperative (NNEC) have announced partnerships with utility provider Dominion Energy to expand broadband access to thousands living and working in rural areas in the state. 

The two projects represent over nearly $32 million in total investment, with money coming from the counties, the electric cooperatives, the investor-owned utility, and the state. 

Innovative Partnerships 

The first-of-its-kind agreement between PGEC and Dominion Energy was originally announced last February, and aimed at a combined 6,700 residents in Surry County. Dominion will serve as the middle-mile provider, and is already installing fiber as part of upgrades to its grid management. It will lease that fiber to RURALBAND, PGEC’s broadband subsidiary, which will then be responsible for building last-mile connections to homes and businesses and acting as the retail service provider. 2,200 of those receiving Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connections will be existing customers of PGEC, with the other 4,500 customers of Dominion. In total, the project is projected to cost between $16 and $18 million. 

“This partnership brings rural Surry County into the modern communications age, bridging a vital utility gap through reliable high-speed broadband services to residents and businesses, essential to Surry’s social and economic prosperity,” said Surry’s Acting County Administrator Melissa Rollins in a press release.

The second project, announced at the end of July, will take place in the Northern Neck region and include King George, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland counties. Currently, those living on the southern shore of the peninsula are worst off,...

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Posted July 31, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Get up to speed with how electric cooperatives are rapidly expanding rural broadband access by watching a recent webinar on the topic from the Community Broadband Action Network (CBAN). The webinar is part of CBAN’s Lunch and Learn series, and it features panelists Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative, and Steve Collier, Vice President of Business Development at consulting firm Conexon.

View the webinar recording on YouTube or below.

Watch the Webinar

CBAN is an Iowa-based network of local governments, broadband providers, and community groups that advocates for better community broadband solutions. Its Lunch and Learn webinar series has covered a variety of topics, including digital inclusion and New Market Tax Credits.

On the recent webinar, the hosts and panelists talked about how rural co-ops provide broadband to a large and growing portion of rural America. They discussed the various reasons why electric cooperatives invest in fiber infrastructure, including smart grid applications, local economic development, and the needs of rural communities. Other topics of conversation included financing for co-op fiber networks, electric and telephone cooperative partnerships, and co-op member organizing efforts. For more, watch below.

Co-op Fiber Continues to Grow

Learn more about how rural electric and telephone cooperatives are bringing high-quality to rural areas with our report Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era. See which co-ops are investing in broadband by viewing the rural cooperatives page on MuniNetworks.org, which features a periodically updated list of cooperative fiber and gigabit networks.

Stay up to date on how electric cooperatives are connecting their communities with our articles on rural electric co-ops.

Posted June 25, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Update (6/25/20):

The board of the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative voted unanimously at yesterday's meeting to create a separate entity to pursue broadband funding and development in the state for its 84,000 member-owners, committing $1 million in funding to the effort.  

In the press release, President and CEO Steve Camareno remarked: “meeting our members’ needs is NHEC’s only focus, and the ability to access fast, reliable internet service is a critical need, now more than ever. In pursuing this initiative, we remain mindful that we must balance that need with our members’ reliance on NHEC as their electric service provider.”

The response by the board shows the success of local organizing efforts around the issue; voting was up 33% at the annual board meeting last week, where adding broadband to cooperative's charter was a primary concern. The move positions NEHC well to pursue money from the state's available CARES funds as well as bid in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction this fall. 

Original story:

Efforts to add broadband to the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative’s (NEHC) charter fell just 2% short of the 2/3 supermajority it needed to pass last week, but supporters remain hopeful. Over seven thousand voters turned out for the annual Board of Directors election, which included the broadband line item on the ballot. The measure fell short by 183 votes. A successful vote would have allowed the co-op to build a broadband network and offer Internet access to its members.

Advocates are still optimistic, and efforts by groups like NH Broadband are ongoing. It was the first attempt to add broadband Internet to the NEHC’s charter. Further, two new members of the 10-person board are on the record in support, with one of them taking the place of an outgoing board member who opposed it. Broadband remained a central topic at this past Monday’s meeting where the board discussed different options, and another meeting is scheduled for today to discuss potential sources from...

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Posted May 22, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

A bill close to being passed by the Louisiana State Legislature would allow electric cooperatives to expand Internet access but only in parts of the state without broadband currently. This limitation in the bill, SB 406, will keep Internet choice out of reach for many rural Lousianans and could even hamstring co-ops’ efforts to expand broadband to unserved areas.

“The language would restrict us from competing with others in the broadband market but would not stop them from cherry picking (customers) from cooperatives who choose to get in the broadband market,” Jeff Arnold, CEO of the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives, explained to the Advocate.

As introduced, SB 406 explicitly authorized the state’s electric cooperatives to deploy broadband networks to connect their members using their existing electrical systems and easements. But, Senate amendments added to the bill later narrowed electric co-ops’ authority only to unserved areas, which include less than 13 percent of the state’s residents, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Louisiana Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill last week, and it’s currently in the House of Representatives awaiting a final reading and vote.

Louisiana Lawmakers Restrict Co-op Connectivity

While Louisiana state law does not prohibit electric cooperatives from offering Internet access, it is not expressly authorized, and one co-op that attempted to enter the business was held up by the state’s Public Service Commission, reported the Advocate. To fix that, SB 406 would specifically allow electric co-ops and their partners to provide broadband access and would permit them to use existing electrical easements and infrastructure to expand service.

However, new language added to the bill would stifle competition and challenge co-ops’ ability to expand broadband access. In particular, an amendment from the Senate Commerce Committee limits the authority only to areas without any broadband access, as ...

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Posted May 20, 2020 by Matthew Marcus

Across the country, more people than ever are working and learning from home, making a quality Internet connection vital for everyone in every locality during the Covid-19 pandemic. For Americans in inadequately connected areas — rural and urban — adapting to a more isolated and remote learning and working lifestyle proves extremely difficult when lacking a reliable Internet connection.

Many electric cooperatives and other broadband providers have quickly rolled out solutions to ensure that their subscribers are connected and well-equipped to adapt. Many of them are also working with community institutions to ensure all residents have some level of connectivity, especially children for remote learning purposes.

OzarksGo Brings Broadband to Busses

Ozarks Electric Cooperative has been working diligently with its fiber division, OzarksGo, to find solutions to improve connectivity for the communities it serves. In a phone interview, Steven Bandy, the general manager of Ozarks Electric, explained that as stay at home orders were issued, more and more homes within their service area were requesting new fiber hook ups. At the same time, families outside of their territory were scrambling for Internet connectivity.

school bus

OzarksGo serves nine counties in Arkansas and western Oklahoma, and they have thus far built out 75 percent of their network. They began deploying the network in 2016 and set a goal of having all of the fiber lit within six years. Bandy is still confident they can stick to this timeline, but he explained that the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted their supply chain and temporarily slowed their ability to make new connections to homes.

That said, they are still finding innovative ways to increase connectivity for residents in their area. When employees of Ozarks Electric saw that the school districts in the counties they serve were planning to set up Wi-Fi hotspots in decommissioned school busses, Bandy and his team at OzarksGo reached out to see how they could help.

They currently have at least six mobile hotspots, three of which are busses connected to fiber, that are providing increased Wi-Fi connectivity throughout the region. Three of the Wi-Fi hotspots are specifically placed around...

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