Tag: "rural electric coop"

Posted February 19, 2019 by lgonzalez

Missouri is one of the states where electric cooperatives are taking the lead in bringing high-quality Internet access to rural areas. This week, we talk with Jack Davis, Vice President of IT and Special Projects at Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative. The co-op is in the midst of deploying Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to members in their service area, located in Missouri’s “Bootheel” region.

The mostly agricultural area consists of three counties that extend down from the southeast corner of Missouri and is surrounded by Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The co-op brought electric service to homes in the region in the 1930s and Jack and his colleagues are performing a similar service today by bringing broadband to a region where large corporate ISPs haven't invested much in infrastructure. In this interview, he describes what Internet access is like for people in the region before the cooperative decided on the project, and how strong support from residents and businesses has helped the cooperative determine the services to offer.

Jack and Christopher also discuss how the geography and environment influenced engineering and design plans, how locals are responding to the new service, and potential plans for growth in the region. In this conversation, you’ll also hear about some of the partnerships that Pemiscot-Dunklin has forged with other cooperatives in order to offer better services to cooperative members.

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

This show is 26 minutes long and can be played on this page or ...

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Posted February 18, 2019 by lgonzalez

Missouri’s Bootheel is the ultimate southeast corner of the state, extending south and surrounded on three sides by lands in Arkansas, Tennessee, and a smattering of Kentucky. The area’s known for having fertile soil and vibrant agriculture but now that Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative  is deploying Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), it's also becoming known for high-quality Internet access.

The Region and Lack of Connectivity

Jack Davis has worked in several fields. His tech career started when most people in the area reached the Internet via dial-up connections; at the time he worked as a network administrator for a local dial-up ISP in the 1990s. His second career was in agriculture and now he’s back in the tech field. Davis’s multiple work experiences have given him insight into the increasing broadband needs of rural residents who either farm or work in some other aspect of the agriculture industry.

When Davis went back into tech, he joined Pemiscot-Dunklin because the electric cooperative, which had never had IT staff before, needed to fill a long-existing personnel gap. With approximately 8,800 connected meters, the cooperative is a modest-sized organization. Approximately 20 percent of their load goes toward irrigation, revealing the important role agriculture plays in the region. Internet access in rural areas is limited to fixed wireless. Cooperative members who used to subscribe to the wireless service typically found top speeds were around 3 - 4 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and much slower upload speeds.

Time for an Upgrade

Discussion about the project began in 2014 soon after Davis started at Pemiscot-Dunklin. The way Davis tells it, his boss said “Now that I’ve got you hired, what can we do about Internet service?” The cooperative researched for about two years, examining a variety of options because they anticipated FTTH would be too expensive to deploy. In 2016, they worked with Conexon, the consulting firm that works with electric cooperatives interested in broadband deployment. Conexon's Jonathan Chambers was on Community Broadband Bits, episode 229, to discuss electric cooperatives and rural broadband access...

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Posted February 5, 2019 by lgonzalez

While in North Carolina at the recent Let’s Connect! speaking tour, Christopher sat down with Greg Coltrain, Vice President of Business Development of RiverStreet Networks. Greg participated in panel discussions in all three communities where the community meetings occurred: Albemarle, Fuquay-Varina, and Jacksonville.

RiverStreet Networks is the product of evolution of what began as Wilkes Communications. They’ve acquired several local providers in different areas across the state and are set on bringing high-quality Internet access to rural North Carolinians. In this interview, Greg shares some of the cooperative’s history, including information on how they’ve funded their deployments.

Greg also discusses his experience on the practical side of cooperative life, such as comparative operating costs between fiber and copper, working with electric cooperatives, and the ins and outs of leasing assets from public entities. Christopher and Greg also talk about future plans that RiverStreet has to partner with North Carolina’s electric cooperatives across the state to bring connectivity to more people in rural areas.

Learn more about Wilkes Communications and RiverStreet Networks from our conversation with Eric Cramer from 2016 for episode 188 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

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

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played on this...

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Posted January 30, 2019 by Hannah Bonestroo

In Missouri, rural electric cooperatives are bringing high-quality connectivity to an increasing number of small towns where large corporate Internet access companies don't consider population density high enough to justify investment. A few years ago, we reported that Ralls County Electric Cooperative (RCEC) was connecting New London, their hometown. Now, RCEC is expanding their network into nearby Perry.

It Took A While, But It's Coming

In the small town of Perry (pop. 700) in northeastern Missouri, many businesses currently lack the Internet speeds they need to operate successfully. With the current speeds available, as Senior Vice President of HNB Bank Jeff Albus explained, customers at the bank often have to wait while the employees stare “at a spinning wheel on [their] screen.” In order to secure Internet speeds necessary for a future in the digital age, HNB Bank decided to take initiative and work with the town to approach RCEC about expanding their fiber network into Perry.

Efforts began in 2016. At the time, RCEC was deployng their $19 million project aimed at serving rural areas around the town of Perry but not in the city limits. HNB and community leaders floated a petition and the Mayor had signed a letter of support on behalf of the City Council. With only CenturyLink DSL and satellite coverage to choose from, businesses and residents needed more options.

The community is considered the Southern Gateway to the Mark Twain Lake, where more than 2 million tourists come to enjoy summer recreation. As we've learned from places such as Cook County, Minnesota, and Colorado ski communities, such as Estes Park, high-quality Internet access is an expectation that an increasing number of tourists expect no matter where they go to relax.

From Electricity to Fiber...

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Posted January 15, 2019 by lgonzalez

Midwest Energy and Communications (MEC) offers Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in large pockets of southeast and southwest Michigan, north central Ohio, and a sliver of north central Indiana. Recently, the small rural town of Milton, Michigan, awarded the cooperative $75,000 to deploy fiber to approximately 80 homes in the community.

That Last Five Miles

According to the South Bend Tribune, the funds are being used to install the last 5-mile stretch of fiber that will complete a larger vision to connect the township’s entire 3,800 residents to high-quality Internet access. Mostly agricultural Milton Township is located in Cass County along the Indiana border. Construction is underway and may be completed as early as this spring.

Rates from MEC include:

$49.95 per month for 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) upload and download

$59.95 per month for 50/50 Mbps

$79.95 per month for 100/100 Mbps

$119.95 per month for 1 gigabit upload and dowload (1,000 Mbps)

When the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission and Connect Michigan assessed connectivity in the region almost seven years ago, Cass County was considered “below average” for Internet access in Michigan. Since that time, the Planning Commission has provided resources and information for local communities interested in taking steps toward better local connectivity; working with electric cooperatives and providing grants and loans have helped over time.

Midwest Energy

In addition to providing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access for members in their service area, MEC is also working with Lyndon Township by providing Internet access over the town’s publicly owned fiber network. MEC also offers propane, a popular form of household heat in rural Michigan.

The cooperative begin in 1937 as one of the many rural electric cooperatives formed by locals to bring lights to the families in areas unserved by private sector electric providers. The cooperative added propane service in 1998.

Check out this short video on the history of MEC:

...

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Posted January 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

When Indiana’s Tipmont REMC asked members about broadband in 2017, more than half said that they couldn’t access fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. The rural electric cooperative soon began establishing plans to develop a fiber broadband network. Now, in a move to bring high-quality connectivity to members sooner, Tipmont has acquired local ISP Wintek Corporation, and plans to serve all 23,000 members within the next eight years.

A Comfortable Relationship

Wintek, headquartered in Lafayette, began in 1973 and provides connectivity to Tipmont’s headquarters in Linden, Indiana. The ISP has used the electric co-op's poles for more than 10 years to mount sections of the Wintek fiber for residential and commercial connections. According to Tipmont’s announcement on the acquisition, Wintek has also served as a consultant for IT systems to the cooperative. Tipmont leaders have already established a level of trust with Wintek and vice versa.

According to Oliver Beers, co-owner and COO of Wintek, the acquisition will allow more Wintek customers to access fiber connectivity. “We’ve done as much as we can financially afford to do,” Beers told the Journal Review.

Began as A Solo Project

When the Tipmont board unanimously decided to develop a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, they had not intended to work with another entity. They commenced construction this past summer in Montgomery and Tippecanoe Counties, where they’ve already deployed 30 miles of fiber. In November, they connected a dozen households in Linden as test customers to work with the system for two months.

“It’s really important when you have a service that people depend on, like electric service or broadband service, that we make very sure that what we’re providing is highly reliable given the gravity of what’s being provided,” says [Tipmont REMC President and CEO Ron] Holcomb. “So since we are new...

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Posted December 20, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

Even if a local government isn’t ready or able to build its own broadband network, there are still ways they can help bring the benefits of better connectivity to their community. Over the past few years, several counties in Minnesota have partnered with local electric and telephone cooperatives to expand high-quality Internet access as an economic development strategy. In many instances, county governments have offered financial support to the local co-ops, in the form of grants and loans, to connect their rural residents with high-quality fiber networks, often supplementing federal subsidies or statewide Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Development grants.

Projects Across the State

Minnesota counties have taken a variety of approaches when it comes to helping cooperatives finance broadband deployment projects.

Some, such as Cook County in the far northeastern corner of the state, provided grants to local co-ops. Cook County began its partnership with Arrowhead Electric Cooperative back in 2008 when both entities contributed to a broadband feasibility study. At the time, the county suffered from the worst connectivity in the state, and many people still relied on dial-up. In 2010, Arrowhead was awarded a $16.1 million combined grant and loan from the stimulus-funded Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) to build a fiber network in Cook County. The county government offered Arrowhead a $4 million grant for the project, funded by the voters’ reauthorization of a 1 percent sales tax that was due to expire. In return, Arrowhead agreed to provide services such as Internet access to county buildings at no cost.

Yet more local governments have opted to loan money to co-ops to expand broadband access in their county. Both Big Stone County and Swift County chose this route after Federated Telephone Cooperative received a $3.92 million...

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Posted December 17, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

More and more electric cooperatives have been building broadband networks to bring better Internet access to their rural members. According to the cleverly titled podcast “Along Those Lines” from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), that trend isn’t stopping any time soon.

In the second episode of the podcast, host Scot Hoffman, editor of RE Magazine, speaks with guests Mike Keyser, CEO of BARC Electric Cooperative, and Brian O’Hara, regulatory issues director for NRECA. They discuss the growing interest in broadband among electric cooperatives, some of the hurdles co-ops must overcome when deploying networks, and the impact that better connectivity has on Rural America.

Highlights From Their Conversation

A few years ago, the field of cooperative broadband was populated only by the early adopters. Now, Keyser tells the podcast host, “It seems like we’re reaching this tide where everybody’s now talking about [broadband] at every conference we go to.” One of the reasons for this groundswell of enthusiasm, O’Hara explains, is the increasingly vital role of communications infrastructure in managing the electric grid. Cooperatives’ commitment to local economic development and their “strategic advantages” in deploying networks also plays a role, he says.

BARC Electric Cooperative is one of the dozens of co-ops that have built fiber networks to connect their members. In the podcast, Keyser relates how the co-op ultimately decided to move forward with BARC Connects despite challenges:

“We finally got to the point as a co-op where the board said, look, this is going to revitalize our community, this is our mission, this is what we did 80 years ago . . . We need to just go. This is too important to the community and to the co-op.”

Local residents are clearly excited about the new network. “The single biggest question I get asked everyday is ‘When is it coming to my house?’” shares Keyser. He even believes that revenue from the broadband network will one day outstrip the co-op's income from selling electricity, a testament to the community’s need for better connectivity.

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Posted December 6, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

When privately owned utilities refused to electrify rural areas, communities established electric cooperatives to light up their homes and farms. A recently released report, Unlocking the Value of Broadband for Electric Cooperative Consumer-Members, describes how electric co-ops now have an opportunity revisit that role as they bring Internet access to their rural members nationwide.

The report, published in September by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), finds that millions of people in electric cooperative service territories lack access to broadband. As the report explains, rural electric cooperatives are uniquely poised to meet their members’ needs for better connectivity. However, public investment may still be necessary to connect many rural communities.

Download the report.

Co-ops Could Meet Rural Broadband Needs

Like many rural Americans, members of electric cooperatives often find themselves unserved or underserved by the existing Internet service providers. The report’s authors estimate that more than 6 million electric co-op households — a total of 13.4 million people — don’t have access to broadband, defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Even more co-op members are likely struggling with poor connectivity because of how the FCC data overstates broadband availability and access.

There are several reasons why rural electric cooperatives are in a good position to bring modern-day connectivity to their unserved members, the report notes. Perhaps the most important advantage is that many co-ops are already investing in broadband networks to support smart grid technologies, such as advanced metering infrastructure (“smart meters”). The report points out that a broadband backbone ”not only enables the co-op’s smart grid operations, it also enables connectivity to the broader Internet backbone.” By expanding off their existing...

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Posted November 30, 2018 by lgonzalez

When it comes to high-quality Internet access, the big corporate ISPs have failed rural Mississippi. Other states with similar digital divide issues are starting to see rural electric cooperatives make efforts to connect members. In some places, legislatures have adjusted state laws that complicated co-ops' ability to deploy fiber optic infrastructure. Now, the Public Service Commission (PSC) in Mississippi has formally requested that state lawmakers update an antiquated statute to allow rural electric cooperatives to expand high-quality Internet access.

Waiting for Action

When Magnolia's State Legislators convene in January, they’ll have a unanimous resolution waiting for them from the state’s PSC. The resolution requests that lawmakers take action to adjust Miss. Code 77-5-205 to allow electric cooperatives the authority to offer Internet access. 

James Richardson, Policy Director and Counsel from the Office of Commissioner Brandon Presley, explained that the law currently only allows electric cooperatives the authority to form “…for the purpose of promoting and encouraging the fullest possible use of electric energy…” — electric cooperative are precluded from operating for any other purpose. The law was passed in the 1930s when cooperatives formed across the state to bring electricity to the many farmers in rural Mississippi. The matter has been tested and confirmed at the state Supreme Court

The PSC asks that the State Legislature create an exception in statute in order to allow rural electric cooperatives the the ability to also offer Internet access. Earlier this month, the three Commissioners on the PSC approved the resolution requesting the law change.

logo-ms-psc.jpg Presley has been...

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