Tag: "rural electric coop"

Posted March 10, 2020 by lgonzalez

Norman, Oklahoma, is known for the University of Oklahoma and, with 30,000 students enrolled, one expects Internet access to be vibrant and readily available throughout the area. It hasn't always been that way, but thanks to Oklahoma Electric Cooperative and their OEC Fiber, those who live and work in the areas around the fringes of the University and the city now have access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.

CEO of the co-op Patrick Grace and President of OEC Fiber David Goodspeed visit with Christopher during this week's episode. They talk about how the electric cooperative got into offering fiber to folks in their region and how they've financed the deployment. Patrick and David describe how local competition has influenced their project and how they knew they needed to pursue the prospect of offering Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service. They talk about their rapid expansion and share information on the popularity of their gig service.

They also describe the reactions from subscribers who once had to rely on satellite or mobile hotspots as they've transitioned to at-home gigabit connectivity. Enthusiasm for OEC Fiber has been high, partly due to the services they offer, but also because the community and employees of the cooperative have a deep sense of pride in the contribution their project is making to the region. 

This show is 42 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 March 6, 2020 by lgonzalez

For the first time, an electric cooperative in Arizona plans to develop fiber optic infrastructure in its service area in order to expand broadband availability. Mohave Electric Cooperative (MEC) recently received a state grant to develop fiber optic infrastructure and expects to spend the next two years connecting residents and businesses for high-quality Internet access.

State Funding Efforts

Arizona's Rural Broadband Development Grant Program, which awards up to $1 million for shovel-ready projects, will provide funding to MEC for infrastructure deployment. Two other grants went to private sector providers for a middle mile project and for a Fiber-to-the-Business project. The co-op's network will enable symmetrical connections of up to 10 gigabits.

The region is in the far west-central area of the state where Arizona meets the tip of Nevada and California, not far from the Mojave National Preserve and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. MEC will build out their network to around 35,000 premises in Bullhead City, Fort Mohave, and Mohave Valley. 

In addition to the development grants, Arizona awarded four planning grants to local governments of fewer than 150,000 (municipalities) or 750,000 (counties). One of the grants went to Gila County, which has been working on their Broadband Master Plan. Native American Tribes and nonprofits were also eligible.

Read more about the state's program here

Local Support

Back in October 2019, the Bullhead City Council passed a resolution to support the cooperative's plan to develop the project. Community leaders responded to the results of the MEC survey in which 95 percent of respondents indicated that they wanted broadband from the co-op.

Mayor Tom Brady noted that his office often received complaints about incumbents Suddenlink and Frontier. At the time, MEC said that the cooperative plan includes service to 100 percent of its service area, but officials from MEC stated that...

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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...

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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...

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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. 

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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...

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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...

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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,...

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Posted January 6, 2020 by lgonzalez

Originally published in 2017, our report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era, focuses on cooperatives as a proven model for deploying fiber optic Internet access across the country, especially in rural areas. An update in the spring of 2019 included additional information about the rate at which co-ops are expanding Internet service. Now we’ve updated the report with a new map and personal stories from areas where co-ops have drastically impacted local life.

Download the updated report [PDF] here.

All versions of the report can be accessed from the Reports Archive for this report.

Some highlights from the third edition of Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America include:

  • More than 110 rural electric co-ops have embarked on fiber optic projects to increase Internet access for their members, a number that is growing rapidly from just a handful in 2012.
  • 31.3 percent of the fiber service available in rural areas is provided by rural cooperatives.
  • Personal anecdotes from Michigan, Virginia, Minnesota, and Missouri residents attest to the far-reaching benefits of cooperatives’ expansion into Internet service.
  • new map shows where rural cooperatives are planning to expand fiber Internet service.

Co-ops have proven that this is a model that works. With increased support from federal and state governments, they will continue to connect rural Americans to economic and educational opportunities otherwise denied to them.

*We discovered an error in our first release of the December 2019 edition of this report, which we have since corrected. We deeply apologize for the mistake and take this very seriously -- these data are challenging to work with but we are committed to accurately reporting broadband statistics.

The correct statistic is that cooperatives provide 31 percent of all...

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Posted December 26, 2019 by Sayidali Moalim

Made possible through changes in Mississippi state law, cooperative Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association (TVEPA) has made the move to create a separate, not-for-profit, fiber Internet Service Provider (ISP). Under the trade name, Tallahatchie Valley Internet Services (TVI-Fiber), the co-op plans to offer fiber Internet service across nine northern counties in Mississippi.

Overturning Tradition for Better Rural Connectivity

Until earlier this year, a Mississppi law banned electric cooperatives from operating for any purpose other than electricity. A state Supreme Court decision from 2002 against TVEPA effectively banned electric cooperatives from expanding into other utilities. When Mississippi’s state legislature passed the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act of 2019 (HB 3660) it opened the door for electric cooperatives to provide high-speed Internet access. Immediately after the bipartisan passage, TVEPA went straight to work on evaluating the service area and determining the feasibility of the project. 

“Access to high speed Internet is vital for consumers, education, entertainment and other services in our increasingly digital world,” said Brad Robison, TVEPA chief executive officer. “High-speed Internet is imperative for advancement of business, economic development and tele-medicine. We will offer affordable, reliable broadband with lightning fast speeds and unlimited possibilities for homes and businesses to the areas served by TVEPA.”

TVEPA's service area sits west of Tupelo in northern Mississippi and the co-op serves around 27,000 customers. Batesville is the most populated community in the service area, with about 7,200 people. Most of TVEPA's service area is rural and consists of smaller communities.

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