Tag: "electric"

Posted December 19, 2016 by lgonzalez

About a year ago, we reported that Rock Falls, Illinois, had decided to develop a fiber network to offer connectivity to local businesses. Now, the town of less than 10,000 is closer to expanding that network to offer Gigabit Internet access and voice to residents.

Considering Expanding Services

In September, community leaders began considering the expansion after consultants suggested investing in Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) as the best way to make use of the city’s resources. They offered a “fiberhood” option so Rock Falls Electric Department could connect new subscribers incrementally; they suggest starting with business corridors where many commerical entities are already taking service. The fiberhood approach requires people in specific areas of the city to sign up first, then after a certain percentage of the households committ, construction begins.

Rock Falls began planting fiber and conduit in the 1990s and have connected the municipal electric utility substations, schools, and other municipal facilities. They have also leased out excess capacity to private providers who want to offer connectivity to commercial customers in prior years.

Funding - It's Complicated

The fiber backbone is already in place but a complete citywide FTTH system will cost approximately $13 million, estimate consultants. After consulting bonding professionals, city leaders discovered that they needed to consider a few issues before deciding how to proceed. SaukValley.com reported on the financing discussion:

“We need either a feasibility study or our most recent audit that includes revenues from the broadband business to show we can make our bond payments,” [City Administrator Robin] Blackert said. “But a new feasibility study would cost us between $60,000 and $80,000, and we have no past revenue history with the new utility.”

Blackert said it was previously thought that the new fiber utility could be the primary alternate revenue source, and the electric department, which has been handling the broadband operations to this point, could be...

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Posted December 15, 2016 by KateSvitavsky

Super-fast, reliable, and affordable Internet access is coming to residents living in public housing in Wilson, North Carolina. Greenlight, Wilson’s municipal network, recently began providing 40 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $10 per month to public housing residents -- about a quarter of the service’s original cost. All services from Greenlight are symmetrical, so upload speeds are just as fast as download speeds.

“Because of this partnership, more students will be able to be online in their homes and more adults will be able to take advantage of online job training and application tools…In addition, the partnership connects more customers to the community network, thereby increasing the return on the community’s investment,” said Greenlight general manager Will Aycock.

Partners For Progress

A new partnership between the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Wilson’s Public Housing Authority enables residents to receive discounted Greenlight services. HUD Secretary Julian Castro visited Wilson in October to discuss the importance of Internet access, indicating it is becoming a higher priority for the Department:

"We know these days that the Internet is not a luxury; access to it is really a necessity in this 21st-century global economy. And we want to make sure every single child in our nation has access to it… Our goal is that every single public housing resident have access to the Internet."

Residents receive a router at no cost from the Housing Authority, which oversees public housing in Wilson. Greenlight, the community's municipal fiber network offers speeds from 40-100 Megabits per second (Mbps). As a service of the City of Wilson, Greenlight emphasizes its commitment to fair pricing and providing a quality product. 

“One of Greenlight’s core principles is to enhance the quality of life for all residents, making high-speed internet available for everyone… It’s an important step in bridging the digital divide,” stated City Manager Grant Goings during the initial announcement event.

Low Income Programs Not Always This Good

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Posted December 6, 2016 by lgonzalez

Iowans in the small town of Osage have been able to obtain cable Internet access from the community’s municipal utility since 2001. The community is about to take the next step; Osage Municipal Utility (OMU) is acquiring a fiber-optic backbone from a private provider. The purchase will get them started on what will eventually be a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) upgrade.

Serving Osage For More Than 125 Years

Osage, the Mitchell County seat, is home to about 3,600 people and located in north central Iowa. The electric utility began as Osage Electric Light, Heat and Power Company in 1890. After several ownership changes, the municipality became the owner in 1941. In 1959, the utility began supplying natural gas and in 2001, the utility added a communications system. In addition to Internet access, OMU also began offering cable TV and telephone service.

OMU is also developing a Voluntary Community Solar Program in which customers can purchase units of Solar Array capacity and in return they receive a production-related credit on their monthly utility bill.

Another Local Tool

Josh Byrnes, general manager of OMU, described the backbone as “another tool in the economic toolbox.” He noted that the line will create opportunities for people outside of OMU’s service area that live along the backbone to potentially obtain service from private providers.

In addition to providing FTTH to customers in the future, Byrnes noted that OMU will also be bringing much needed redundancy in the area. Incumbent Omnitel Communications is the sole provider of fiber-optic services in Mitchell County. OMU will offer fiber in Mitchell, one of the towns in the county where Omnitel has no fiber presence.

“We are simply getting connectivity to Osage and build out from there. There are going to definitely be opportunities for savings to our rate payers long term. Even more important is the dependability of services moving forward. It’s hard to put a price on that.”

Posted November 14, 2016 by lgonzalez

Estes Park, Colorado, recently moved into the design engineering phase as it considers how to bring high-quality connectivity to businesses and residents.

One Step At A Time

With a $1.37 million grant from the Energy Mineral Impact Assistance Fund, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) is providing the funding to proceed with the engineering phase. Larimer Emergency Telephone Authority (LETA) is providing additional grant funding to extend the project further to include a wider geographic area for 911 and public safety purposes.

This phase of the project should be complete by next summer and will result in a shovel-ready plan. At that time, the Town Board will consider the information and decide how to proceed. The goal is to develop a network to make Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) capacity available to the Estes Park Light and Power service area.

So Far, So Good

Last fall, 92 percent of those voting on the issue chose to opt out of SB 152, the restrictive state law that prevents Colorado local governments from offering telecommunications services or advanced services or partnering with private partners to do so. Since then, they have hired a consultant to draft a feasibility study and examine model business options.

The community’s municipal electric utility already has fiber in place, and has the personnel, knowledge, and significant assets to ease the operation and management of a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network utility. The consulting firm estimated that, if the city chooses to deliver services themselves, they should focus on Internet access rather than adding video and voice to the list of services. Estimates for the project are approximately $27 - $30 million.

For video of the community's Project Stakeholder Kickoff Presentations, check out their Broadband Initiative page.

Posted November 5, 2016 by htrostle

In October in Minneapolis, Broadband Communities Magazine hosted the “Fiber for the New Economy” conference. The first day featured a set of four panels on the role of rural electric cooperatives in providing much-needed connectivity to far-flung communities.

We want to provide the highlights and give further context to some of the most fascinating stories. In this post, we’ll cover some of the latest research coming out of Ball State University’s Center for Information and Communication Sciences.

Indiana’s Electric Cooperatives 

Researcher Emma Green from Ball State University kicked off the track. Her presentation, “Rural Broadband: Technical and Economic Feasibility,” outlined the potential role of rural electric cooperatives in facilitating last mile (connectivity to homes and business) and middle mile (regional connectivity) deployment. 

Green's research centered on Indiana, where 14 percent of the population does not have broadband access (speeds of at least 25 Megabits (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload). In rural areas of the state, however, more than half of the population does not have access to those speeds. Green's research underscored how rural electric cooperatives can use their assets (such as Smart Grids, Right-of-Way access, and pole ownership) to facilitate middle mile connectivity. 

We previously noted some of this research from Ball State University in our post BBC Mag Spotlights Rural Electric Co-ops. Focusing on the middle mile is not always a pathway to long-term last mile solutions, and our Christopher Mitchell has often pointed out those pitfalls. Unless a provider is willing to invest in the critical last mile connections, middle mile networks have only a minimal impact.

Green, however, did not stop at the middle mile. She brought her presentation back to bear on last mile connectivity. Electric cooperatives are in a great position to partner with other entities to provide services. They could also simply move forward with last mile fiber projects...

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Posted October 25, 2016 by christopher

Telephone and electric cooperatives are making strides in bringing high-quality connectivity to rural areas while national providers stay in the city. This week we speak with two gentlemen from rural southwest Michigan’s Midwest Energy Cooperative: President and CEO Bob Hance and Vice President of Regulatory Compliance Dave Allen.

The electric cooperative has embarked on a project to bring fiber-optic connectivity to its members within its electric distribution grid. The multi-year project will bring better functionality to electric services and high-speed Internet access to areas of the state struggling with yesterday’s technologies. Bob and Dave describe the cooperative’s commitment to it’s members and discuss the deep roots of the cooperative in the region. They also touch on how the project is already improving lives in the areas that are being served.

Bob, Dave, and Chris, also spend some time discussing the difficulties that face rural cooperatives, especially regarding federal funding and its distribution. Serving sparsely populated areas is a challenge. Federal funding is often distributed more favorably to big corporate providers that promise to deliver much slower speeds than cooperatives like Midwest Energy. Co-ops are delivering better services, and building better networks with less federal funding; they also face higher hurdles to obtain that funding.

Why do they do it? Because they are invested in the future of their communities.

Read more about the project at the Midwest Connections Team Fiber website.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or ...

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Posted October 25, 2016 by lgonzalez

The town of Pinetops, North Carolina, has a six-month reprieve.

On October 20, the Wilson City Council voted to continue to provide telephone and Internet access to customers outside of Wilson County, which includes Pinetops, for an additional six months at no charge. As we reported earlier, the City Council had been backed into a corner by state law, which would force them to discontinue Wilson’s municipal Greenlight service, or risk losing their exemption entirely.

In August, the Sixth Circuit for the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the FCC decision to preempt North Carolina’s state law that prevented Greenlight from serving nearby Pinetops. When Hurricane Matthew struck Pinetops, however, the Wilson community could not fathom piling yet another burden - lack of high-quality Internet access - on the struggling rural community.

"We Cannot Imagine..."

After examining the law and reaching out to state leaders, Wilson’s elected officials chose to provide services at no charge while state legislators work to change the current harmful state law. Once again, a community that offers publicly owned connectivity proves that there is more to the venture than profit. From a Wilson press release:

"Our broadband utility has always been about bringing critical infrastructure to people, improving lives and communities,” said Grant Goings, Wilson City Manager. “We cannot imagine being forced to disconnect people and businesses that need our services. We are thankful that, in partnership with our phone service provider, we have identified a way to keep folks connected while Rep. Martin and Sen. Brown work to fix this broken State law."

For more on the situation in Pinetops, read about how high-quality Internet has improved economic development and how the Vick Family Farm, a large local employer, depends on Greenlight for operations. You can also hear from Suzanne Coker Craig, a local elected official and business owner, who...

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Posted September 29, 2016 by lgonzalez

AT&T lawyers filed suit against Nashville just two days after Mayor Megan Barry signed the new One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) ordinance into law. The Metro Council passed the proposal for the final time, and sent it on to the Mayor, on September 20th.

Seeking Out Streamlining

OTMR was proposed by Google Fiber, which wants to enter the Nashville market by deploying an aerial fiber network. In order to do that, they need to attach fiber-optic cables to utility poles around town, but the current process is cumbersome and will significantly delay the rollout. OTMR streamlines the procedure but would allow some one other than AT&T to manage the rearrangement of wires on all poles in the Nashville rights-of-way. The telecom giant owns about 20 percent of the poles in Nashville; the city’s electric utility, NES, owns the rest.

Three Arguments

AT&T seeks a permanent injunction to stop the city from enforcing the new ordinance. They argue the city does not have the authority to enforce the ordinance - that role is within federal jurisdiction through the FCC.

They go on to state that the Metro Council does not have the authority to pass the ordinance because, according to the city charter, only the Electric Power Board the has the right to pass regulations that deal with issues related to equipment, such as poles and the cable on them. 

AT&T also asks that the court grant a permanent injunction on the basis that they already have a contract with the city relating to AT&T’s wires that are on NES poles. The contract allows the company to handle its own wires and enforcing the ordinance would basically nullify that component of the contract.

What This Is Really About

AT&T filed a similar suit in Louisville earlier this year when the Metro Council there passed OTMR; that suit is still ongoing. Google Fiber wants to serve both communities and, in typical AT&T fashion, the telecom giant is attempting to use the courts to put a block on them. Even before the final Metro Council vote, AT&T...

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Posted September 21, 2016 by lgonzalez

As part of our coverage on the events in Pinetops, North Carolina, we recently published "Rural Pinetops Disconnected from Internet Thanks to Telecom Monopolies" on PRX. The audio story runs for 3:28.

Readers are familiar with the small rural community that could only get high-quality Internet access from Greenlight, a nearby municipal electric utility. Wilson, the home of Greenlight, was forced to cut off service to Pinetops due to restrictive state laws. We talk a local business owner and community leader, to Suzanne Coker Craig, about the situation. 

Get more details at PRX...

Expect more audio coverage of current events that impact residents, businesses, and local governments as they strive to obtain better connectivity. We encourage you to share this and upcoming stories to help spread the word about the benefits of publicly owned networks and the right for local communities to determine their own broadband destiny.

Posted August 15, 2016 by lgonzalez

EPB customers love the fast, affordable, reliable Internet access they get from their muni and they appreciate the way its smart-grid helps them save money on their electric bill. According to a new J.D. Power report, their municipal utility is also the highest rated mid-size utility in the South for customer service and reliability.

Double Honors

Just a month ago, Consumer Reports magazine rated EPB the best TV and Internet access utility in the county for customer satisfaction, as chosen by a reader survey. The J.D. Power report went on to rank EPB number two in the country in the category of municipal or investor-owned electric utility.

The Times Free Press reports that in 2015 EPB Fiber Optics earned a net income of $23.5 million while the electric division earned $3.5 million. EPB President David Wade said that the smart-grid has reduced power outages by 60 percent and contributed to customer satisfaction by enhancing reliability of the system.

"The lesson that utilities can learn from other high-performing service providers is that to excel you need a culture that puts customers and employees first," said John Hazen, senior director of the utility practice at J.D. Power. "And because customer expectations continue to increase, you need to have a mindset of continuous improvement to keep up."

It looks like EPB has that lesson committed to memory. From the Time Free press article:

EPB Chairman Joe Ferguson said the favorable grades from EPB customers reflect the utility's local ownership, public service and management focus on serving the customer.

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