Tag: "rural electric coop"

Posted July 1, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Alabama-based Cullman Electric Cooperative recently launched its new Fiber-to-the-Home network Sprout Fiber Internet, reported the Cullman Times.

In 1936, Cullman Electric was the first co-op in the state of Alabama to “energize” its electric lines. Today, it serves about 44,000 member-owners in the north central part of the state.

The first phase of the co-op’s project will extend the Sprout Fiber Internet network to 12,000 of those members, making gigabit Internet access available to both residents and businesses. Community members are looking forward to faster broadband speeds, while state and local officials hope the new network will boost the region’s economy.

“This is going to be a game changer,” State Representative Randall Shedd said at the announcement. “When rural Alabama has high speed Internet, then rural Alabama will be able to do work in rural Alabama.”

Connecting the Grid and Their Members

The electric co-op’s decision to invest in a Fiber-to-the-Home network was influenced in part by a petition organized by Baileyville residents dissatisfied with the poor broadband options available in the area.

Additionally, Cullman Electric was interested in developing a fiber network to connect its substations and better manage its electric grid. “It will cut down outage response times significantly and lay the foundation for us to take advantage of cutting-edge technology in the future,” shared CEO Tim Culpepper.

Sprout Fiber Internet logo

In a Facebook Live video of the announcement, Cullman Electric also noted the importance of a recent state law clarifying that electric cooperatives can use their existing easements to deploy broadband.

The co-op will build the Sprout Fiber Internet network in phases. It...

Read more
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 ...

Read more
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...

Read more
Posted May 19, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic pushed schools online, rural cooperatives and other local broadband providers have been coming up with innovative ways to connect students during this difficult time. Ozarks Electric Cooperative, with its broadband subsidiary OzarksGo, is one of the co-ops that caught our eye over the past few weeks with its creative solution.

This week, Christopher speaks with Steven Bandy, General Manager of OzarksGo, about the history of the co-op's fiber network and its new efforts to expand broadband access during the pandemic. They discuss the beginnings of Ozarks Electric's Fiber-to-the-Home network and the co-op's plan to connect all of its members in growing Arkansas and Oklahoma communities. OzarksGo has even expanded into a nearby city where it doesn't offer electric service after seeing that the community needed better quality connectivity. Co-op members are extremely enthusasitc about the co-op's fiber network, and Steven explains how people moving to the area target the Ozarks Electric service territory in their home search.

Christopher and Steven also talk about the effects of the pandemic on the co-op's fiber network, which has seen an increase in interest. Steven shares how the cooperative is partnering with a local school district to connect Wi-Fi hotspots on busses and in community buildings with fiber optic backhaul. In addition to bringing broadband access to students in response to Covid-19, OzarksGo has also increased speeds at no cost to subscribers.

This show is 19 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice ...

Read more
Posted May 19, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

The fourth edition of our report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Age, reveals the steady growth of cooperative fiber since we originally released the report in 2017. In the report, we present rural telephone and electric cooperatives as a proven model to connect rural communities across the country with high-quality Internet access. This version updates the maps and analysis in the report with the most recent federal data.

Download the May 2020 update of Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Age [pdf].

We first published this report in 2017 and have updated it in the years since. For all versions, including the most current, visit the Reports Archive.

Highlights from the fourth edition of Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America include:

  • More than 109 rural electric cooperatives have invested in fiber optics to provide broadband access or have fiber projects underway.
  • Cooperative fiber networks cover nearly 82 percent of North Dakota by area, more than 53 percent of South Dakota, and about a quarter of Iowa, Minnesota, and Montana.
  • Updated maps display the extent of rural cooperative networks, the change in network coverage between June 2018 and June 2019, and the predicted future growth of cooperative networks.

Read the updated version of Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Age [pdf].

Posted May 4, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Early last year, Mississippi changed state law to allow electric cooperatives to offer Internet access in addition to electrical service. Since then, several co-ops have announced plans to connect member-owners with fiber optic networks. But despite their new legal authority, some cooperatives are deciding against broadband projects, and their members aren’t happy.

The Daily Journal reported last week on one co-op, Pontotoc Electric Power Association (PEPA), that has chosen not to invest in broadband at this time, citing high costs. PEPA's decision faces strong opposition from some of its members as well as a commissioner from the Mississippi Public Service Commission. Critics claim that cooperative leaders did not fully consider all of the possibilities, and they take issue with the board’s choice to hold the vote during a closed meeting without issuing public notice.

“We’re not adversarial but are advocating for letting the owners get back involved,” Jackie Courson, a PEPA member in favor of broadband, told the Daily Journal.

Critics Question Private Board Vote

The PEPA board decided against moving forward with a broadband network during a private meeting on April 2. Members of the cooperative only found out about the vote four days later, during a public board meeting. In that later meeting, the board limited public discussion on every topic, including the broadband vote, to two people with five minutes each.

As justification for their decision to give the broadband project a pass, PEPA leadership cited the high cost of building fiber infrastructure — estimated at up to $48 million for the northern Mississippi co-op. “One study said it would only be financially feasible after 22 years, and then just marginally. The other two said flat out it was not economically feasible,” PEPA General Manager Chuck Howell explained to the Daily Journal.

Regardless of their members’ enthusiasm, the PEPA board argued that the potential cost put the project out of reach for the co-op. “I realize there is a demand for it. I would have loved to do it, but financially it is too much. The money wasn’t there...

Read more
Posted April 21, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

There’s a belief out there that households don’t really want or need more than a basic broadband connection, much less gigabit connectivity. This mistaken impression especially affects rural areas, where observers point out that a resident may have more fingers on their hand than Megabits per second (Mbps) on their current Internet connection, so surely they’ll be satisfied with a bump up to broadband speeds of 25 or 50 Mbps.

However, in our experience at MuniNetworks.org, demand for high-speed connectivity is actually quite robust in rural areas where the infrastructure exists. We’ve heard from rural cooperatives that many of their fiber network subscribers opt for higher speed tiers and that gigabit take rates near 30 percent in some instances. This suggests rural areas are much more likely than more urban areas to opt for tiers above the lowest cost option.

Even if the majority of rural subscribers don’t need the very highest broadband speeds, it’s important to note that the demand is there and will certainly continue to grow. As federal and state governments invest in rural broadband deployment, they must ensure that the networks they’re subsidizing can meet current and future needs.

Co-ops Feed Need for Speed

Roanoke Connect logoBack in January, Telecompetitor reported that Curtis Wynn, CEO of Roanoke Electric Cooperative in North Carolina, shared on a press call that two thirds of the co-op’s broadband subscribers selected a speed tier above the lowest and cheapest option of 50 Mbps. This isn’t because the co-op’s members have extra money to burn. “We’re one of the poorest areas of the nation. We have a lot of low-income individuals who are our members,” Wynn told a reporter in 2019.

Last month, we spoke with representatives from another electric cooperative, Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (OEC), for episode 398 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. They told us that many of their members also choose to subscribe to above-baseline speeds. The co-op only...

Read more
Posted April 20, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Earlier this month, more than 70 electric cooperatives joined consulting firm Conexon in urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to speed up planned rural broadband funds in response to the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In comments filed with the FCC, Conexon called upon the agency to accelerate phase one of the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) reverse auction, planned for later this year, in order to connect rural communities and bolster local economies affected by the current crisis. Specifically, Conexon suggested that the FCC expedite RDOF applications and subsidies for providers that plan to build gigabit fiber networks, since under the current auction rules, those bidders are essentially guaranteed funding. The filed comments, available in PDF format below, included an open letter signed by dozens of electric co-op leaders who support the proposal.

While the urgency of rural connectivity has been underlined by the nationwide shutdowns intended to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the need for better rural broadband isn’t new. Conexon stated in its comments, “Whether the current health and economic crisis lasts a few months or a year, funding long-term rural fiber networks is necessary and long overdue.”

Proposed RDOF Process

Unlike those who want to postpone RDOF until the Covid-19 crisis passes or the FCC collects more accurate broadband data, Conexon opposes any further delay of the auction. “If anything, in the current economic climate, the RDOF Phase I auction should be accelerated, not delayed,” the company stated.

FCC logoIn its comments, Conexon proposed a couple measures the FCC could take to expedite the RDOF process for gigabit-tier bidders while allowing the rest of the auction to proceed as planned. Most importantly, the FCC could streamline the application process by combining steps in the process and require faster broadband deployment from winning bidders. Conexon also suggested that the agency could extend funding for gigabit fiber networks even if RDOF is postponed, saying, “In the event the auction is delayed beyond this year, the FCC should fund such applicants at the [auction’s] reserve price.”

...

Read more
Posted April 15, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Two more electric cooperatives recently announced plans to build Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks to connect their rural members in the southeastern United States with high-quality Internet access.

The co-ops, Mississippi County Electric Cooperative (MCEC) in Arkansas and Monroe County Electric Power Association (EPA) in Mississippi, will partner with Conexon to manage network design, buildout, and implementation. Conexon has worked with dozens of rural electric cooperatives across the country to deploy broadband access to better serve their member-owners.

Rural communities in the southeast have long struggled with unreliable, unaffordable connectivity, and the current Covid-19 pandemic is further amplifying the health, education, and economic disparities that result from inequitable Internet access. But rural cooperatives, in the region and beyond, are stepping up to meet their members’ broadband needs.

Arkansas Co-op Continues Through Crisis

Big Lake Wildlife Refuge AR

Late last month in a Conexon press release, MCEC announced that it was launching a new subsidiary, MCEC Fiber, to offer its members Internet access with speeds up to one Gigabit per second symmetrical. With its new 600-mile fiber network, MCEC will join several other electric co-ops in Arkansas, including Ozarks Electric Cooperative and Craigshead Electric Cooperative Corporation, that have invested in broadband infrastructure for their communities.

MCEC President and CEO Brad Harrison said in the release:

We have long seen the need of our members and communities for reliable and fast internet service, given that it has become a necessity in many parts of life . . . This network is important for our community, and Conexon opened our eyes to the fact that not only could we provide the service, but we could offer a gold-plated solution...

Read more
Posted April 8, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Last fall, we reported on the large number of community-owned broadband networks among the applicants for the first round of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ReConnect broadband program, which awards grants and loans to expand rural connectivity.

Since then, the USDA has distributed more than $620 million to 70 providers in 31 states as part of ReConnect round one. Just over half of the awardees are community networks, including rural cooperatives, local governments, community agencies, and a tribal provider. The other ReConnect awardees are locally owned providers. Almost all grant and loan recipients plan to build high-quality fiber networks with the funds.

While the impact will be limited by the relatively modest size of the program and restrictive eligibility requirements, the ReConnect awards will nevertheless lead to improved economic opportunity and quality of life in rural areas. These investments will enable more rural Americans to take advantage of precision agriculture, online education, and telehealth visits — services that are now more important than ever as the nation finds itself in the grips of a pandemic.

Co-ops, Munis Win Big

Approximately 30 rural telephone and electric cooperatives in 16 different states are taking home ReConnect grants and loans from the first round of funding. Co-op awards include a nearly $19 million grant for Alaska-based Cordova Telecom Cooperative, a $28 million grant and loan for Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, and a $2.73 million grant for Emery Telecom for projects in Colorado and Montana.

USDA logo

Several municipal networks are also recipients of ReConnect funding. One of the awardees, Osage Municipal Utilities in Iowa,...

Read more

Pages

Subscribe to rural electric coop