Tag: "cooperative"

Posted July 24, 2017 by lgonzalez

Like other states with significant rural populations, local communities in Indiana have been working to come up with ways to improve connectivity for residents and businesses. Two more areas in Indiana can expect better connectivity as county government invests for economic development and a rural electric co-op decides its time to offer Internet access to members.

Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation

In the south central section of the state, Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC) serves members in ten counties. Their members don’t live in areas in and around the larger towns in the region because most of those premises already had electric service when REMC obtained a federal loan to electrify the area in 1937. Their service area covers about 1,400 square miles and they serve 24,200 members.

In June, the cooperative announced that it had approved a five-year plan to provide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to every member in its service area. In their press release, REMC compared the project to rural electrification, which launched the cooperative, and wrote: 

Several factors were taken into consideration: enhancing the quality of life for members, agricultural and agribusiness needs, providing an enhanced path for education and healthcare opportunities, keeping our communities economically viable, and developing a plan where no REMC member is eft out. All of these facts fall under Cooperative Principle #7: Concern for Community.

A Big Project

REMC will invest approximately $5.43 million for the project’s first phase; the entire project will cost $20 million in Jackson County alone. The investment for REMC’s entire service area will be $60 million. Co-op officials estimate the project will be cash positive in three years and will be completely paid for in 16 years.

In June, Jackson County Council unanimously approved a tax abatement for the cost of phase 1, which establishes the backbone for the system and snakes through most of the counties in REMC’s service area. Phase 1 will also include an opportunity to test the network by connecting approximately 990 members in order to work out problems before offering services to members across the entire network.

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Posted July 18, 2017 by lgonzalez

As if bringing high-quality connectivity to rural central Minnesota wasn’t enough, RS Fiber Cooperative has recently established the “Cornerstone Member” program. Now that gigabit connectivity is available, existing residential customers can upgrade from 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) with no price increase. As long as they continue service uninterrupted through 2017, they offer stands.

General Manager Toby Brummer:

“We wanted to do something for those customers who made that early commitment to RS Fiber. We thought they should be recognized in some special way for their loyalty and support of the cooperative. Future Internet applications will likely require higher speeds and this will set our customers up for broadband success for the foreseeable future.”

It's What They Do

The upgrade to gigabit connectivity for existing subscribers with no increase in price follows the same pattern we’ve seen from other publicly owned networks. Recently, we presented detailed data from municipal networks in Tennessee that showed how rates have changed very little over decades, even though speeds have consistently increased.

Vermont’s ECFiber also recently announced a speed increase at no extra charged for subscribers. They also plan another increase in 2018.

RS Fiber Cooperative has been connecting towns and rural areas in Sibley and Renville County. For more about the cooperative, check out our 2016 case study, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative. The last four communities to receive services will be connected later in 2017.

Posted July 17, 2017 by htrostle

co-op fiber map 2019 updated

Cooperatives around the country have built on their long legacy of delivering essential infrastructure by starting to deliver next-generation Internet services. Here, we cover the basics of cooperatives in rural areas and then discuss the details of electric and telephone cooperatives that have already branched out into Internet service. Finally, we highlight the first Internet fiber optic cooperative and discuss how other communities have better Internet service through building their own networks.

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Posted July 17, 2017 by htrostle

Throughout the country, telephone and electric cooperatives have found ways to bring affordable, high-speed Internet service to rural residents. This resource page is a one-stop shop for facts and figures on cooperatives and thier role in offering high-speed Internet service. 

From Alabama to Oregon, cooperatives have taken on the challenge of bringing fast, affordable, reliable, connectivity to rural America. This page highlights model projects and discusses what state governments can do to support cooperatives' efforts to connect rural America.

We feature electric cooperative fiber optic projects, cooperatives offering gigabit (1,000 Mbps) service, and the first Internet cooperative - RS Fiber in Minnesota. As of July 2017, almost 90 cooperatives offer gigabit service to their members, and more than 50 electric cooperatives have programs or projects to improve connectivity.

Check out all the information, including several of our podcasts and videos, on our cooperatives resource page.

Suggestions, comments, or questions? Drop H. Trostle an email at htrostle@ilsr.org.

 

Image of the barn courtesy of backituptech on pixaby.

Posted July 5, 2017 by christopher

This is the central hub for ILSR’s research on Internet access around the Appalachian United States. We have compiled federal statistics on broadband availability and federal subsidies for large Internet Service Providers. We've created detailed maps of 150 counties in Kentucky, Southeast Ohio, and northern West Virginia.

We've also created Rural Toolkits for Kentucky, Southeast Ohio, and northern West Virginia. These toolkits offer a big picture look at connectivity on a regional and statewide level.  They also provide action steps for folks to learn more and get involved.

Remember these three key details when reading through this information:

Internet access: if you can get online, check email, and browse the web.

Broadband: the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) currently defines this as speed of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. 

Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH): a high-speed fiber-optic connection directly to the home. This type of technology can support speeds of more than 1,000 Megabit-per-second (Mbps).

Appalachia can get better Internet service, but the big companies aren’t going to do it. Cooperatives and small towns are stepping up and delivering world-class Internet service.

Kentucky

kentucky toolkit imageThis information covers the entirety of the state – all 120 counties.

Rural Toolkit: This toolkit provides the basics of how to get started. From what is broadband to the details of federal funding, this toolkit has got you covered. At the back, it includes a statewide fact sheet, which is also available separately.

Statewide Fact Sheet: Did you know that three Internet Service Providers get more than $327 million to spend on rural Kentucky? Did you know that they aren’t required to build high-speed networks offering broadband?

Information for each county in the state can be found in this Dropbox folder. Each county map outlines where there is any form of Internet...

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Posted July 4, 2017 by htrostle

On the border of Tennessee and Kentucky, an electric cooperative looks to a more connected future. The Tri-County Electric Cooperative that operates across state lines is preparing to build a state-of-the-art network for high-speed Internet service throughout Trousdale County, Tennessee. This will be the first year of construction for the cooperative after several years of planning.

Tri-County Electric plans to soon begin services to Trousdale County, the smallest county in Tennessee. Many of the county's 8,000 residents' choice is limited to Comcast and AT&T, and Tri-County Electric's Vice-President and General Manager Paul Thompson noted that people in the county often only subscribe to about 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. With a steady membership base of 50,000 spread across two states and a close relationship with the county, the electric co-op is in a good position to move forward with the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project. The cooperative intends to offer an affordable base package that provides faster, more reliable connectivity than what the incumbents are willing to offer the rural communities.

Funding From The Feds

Since 2014, Tri-County Electric Cooperative has actively pursued financing for a FTTH network in the county. The co-op applied for a grant through the Rural Broadband Experiments program managed by the Federal Communications Commission. They did not receive any funding, but the process resulted in a tangible plan.

The process of applying for the grant built up community support for the project and enabled the co-op to identify key assets. As part of the grant application, they noted which census blocks they expected to connect and what community anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries, and government buildings, could be included. The Trousdale County government even passed a resolution giving explicit permission for Tri-County Electric to build and operate a FTTH network. 

Although Tri-County Electric Cooperative did not receive that grant, the co-op continued to pursue different avenues for funding. This year, the co-op received a...

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Posted June 10, 2017 by lgonzalez

Lac qui Parle County in western Minnesota has some of the best connectivity in the state. As part of the county’s efforts to get the word out about opportunities in the region, their new Facebook video highlights access to great Internet access and hopes to draw more citizens to the region.

"Come for the Jobs. Stay for the Lifestyle"

Pam Ellison, Economic Development Director for the County, describes the network that is available across the county to businesses and residents. High-quality Internet access is a way to retain businesses, attract new endeavors, and entice people to fill new positions.

Back in 2009, the county began working with Farmers Mutual Telephone Cooperative to find a way to improve Internet access. Through their collaboration, the two entities received a 2010 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity and replace antiquated dial-up. At the time, about 52 percent of premises were still using their telephones to connect to the Internet.

Lac qui Parle had approached incumbent providers, but none were interested in upgrading in the sparsely populated region. Farmers Mutual Telephone Cooperative had deployed in other communities in western Minnesota and had the experience required in such a rural area. The project’s $9.6 million ARRA combined grant and loan allowed the project to be completed by the summer of 2014. Read more details about the network and the story in Lac qui Parle County in our 2014 report, All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access.

Check out Lac qui Parle County’s video:

Posted June 9, 2017 by htrostle

Journalist Jill Nolin recently dove into the details of electric cooperatives and Internet service in an article for the Thomasville Times-Enterprise in Georgia. Rural electric co-ops offer an avenue for robust rural connectivity that is in keeping with the long-standing rural tradition of self-reliance.

Talking With The Cooperatives

The article features interviews with several local electric cooperatives (EMCs) for their perspective on providing Internet service. Nolin spoke with Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, an electric cooperative that has been offering Internet service for almost ten years.

“Sometimes you have to venture out and do what’s right because your members need you to do it, because they’re demanding you to do it and because it’s the right thing to do. That’s what we did. We ventured out. We didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” -- Erik Brinke, Economic Development Director for Blue Ridge Mountain EMC

Nolin explored several possible barriers facing electric cooperatives that want to provide Internet service: from murky legal territory to capital funding. Christopher Mitchell said:

“It’s a kind of inertia to keep doing what they have been doing, and I think that’s changing more rapidly than I thought, candidly. But I think that’s the number one reason why we don’t see a hundred or 200 of the EMCs in this right now, although I think we’ll be there in another year or two from the rate of escalation we’re seeing,”

Nolin describes how the electric cooperatives are currently asking for the law to be clearly spelled out in the state of Georgia. 

Electric Cooperatives Across the Country

Many electric cooperatives around the country have started projects and programs to connect residents and businesses. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we have counted about 50 electric cooperatives involved so far. Our report on North Carolina noted how the rural electric cooperatives could provide Internet access to many unserved communities in that state; changes in the law would allow better EMCs to...

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Posted June 2, 2017 by lgonzalez

June will be an exciting month for people living in Brownton, Buffalo Lake, Fairfax, and Stewart in Minnesota. RS Fiber Cooperative will begin construction so those premises can connect to the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network now serving six other communities in the central Minnesota region. This stage of the buildout should bring another 500 subscribers on to the network by the end of the year; the network already serves 1,100 premises.

Bringing The Last Towns Into The Fold

According to general manager Toby Brummer:

“As construction of the network continues, we expect our customer numbers to continue to grow. Once we have the final four towns connected to the network, construction can begin on Phase Two of the project which will involve bringing gigabit fiber service to the township members of the RS Fiber Cooperative.”

Customers who take FTTH service now can sign up for voice, video, and Internet access up to 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps). Addresses that are outside the fiber connection service area have been able to obtain service from the cooperative via its fixed wireless RS Air service.

A Story Of Peaks And Valleys On The Prairie

The RS Fiber Cooperative story began in Sibley and Renville Counties as a regional municipal effort but when Sibley County pulled out, the project had to restructure their plan and design a new strategy. Rather than leave the rural farms behind, the participants decided to form a broadband cooperative to serve as many premises as possible.

Local farms - some of which had no Internet access at all - needed high-quality Internet access in order to operate in the modern agricultural economy. National providers had decided that the area was too sparsely populated to justify investment, so the locals decided they needed to act.

The project has had its challenges, but has overcome each one and in the process won numerous awards. This past May, the RS Fiber Cooperative received the “Cornerstone Award” from Broadband Communities...

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Posted May 29, 2017 by htrostle

Can’t get telephone or Internet service? Have you tried starting your own company? In 1998, John Reigle did just that with the support of the community and Michigan State University. Today, Allband Communications Cooperative provides not only telephone service, but also cutting-edge, high-quality Internet access and environmental research opportunities in rural Northeastern Michigan.

A Story Of Promise, Betrayal, And The Telephone Company

We connected with Allband representatives who shared details about Allband's interesting and dramatic history as told by Masha Zager back in 2005. They kindly provided updates and let us know what's in store for this by-the-bootstraps effort that started in the woods of Michigan.

When John Reigle moved out into the woods past the small town of Curran, Michigan, he didn't intend to start a brand-new venture. He simply wanted to build a home and work on his consulting business; he just needed telephone service.

The large incumbent telephone company GTE (which later became Verizon, which still later sold off this service area to Frontier) had assured Reigle that the lot where he planned to build his house would be easy to connect to their telephone network. They quoted him a price of about $34 and scheduled an install date. Trusting that the telephone company’s representatives knew the service area, Reigle moved forward with his plans to build.

After he finished constructing his house in 1998, Reigle contacted the telephone company to finalize his service connection. Despite the earlier assurance that his location would not prove a problem, Reigle found that he was miles away from the GTE network. This time, the company quoted $27,000 to run a copper telephone line from the highway to his new house. 

His consulting firm could not operate without a telephone so he decided to bite the bullet and agree to the steep price. GTE rescinded its quote, however, and no matter how much Reigle offered, the company would not run telephone service to his new house.

Obviously perturbed, Reigle filed a complaint with the Michigan Public Service Commission only to discover that he had built his house in an unassigned area. Despite the previous promises from GTE, the Michigan Public Service Commission noted that legally GTE could not be forced...

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