Tag: "rural electric coop"

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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Posted December 23, 2019 by lgonzalez

People living in the service areas of Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation now have the opportunity to express their interest in broadband Internet access from RiverStreet Networks. In one of a series of pilot projects that we covered earlier this year, the two entities are getting started with planning on how to bring better connections to rural folks. People in the community — both members of Piedmont Electric and non-members — are encouraged to go to join.buildpiedmont.com and show their interest.

When enough people in specific areas have expressed their interest in receiving service from RiverStreet, the subsidiary of Wilkes Communications Co-op, will examine deployment.

The first phase, according to Piedmont Electric, will be a wireless solution for rural premises with Piedmont’s infrastructure as a backbone. Fixed wireless will deliver 25 Megabits per scond (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload and Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) could follow for some areas, depending on various factors:

By registering your address at the website, you are expressing your interest in having RiverStreet services. It’s really that simple! Once enough interest has been expressed in a specific area, RiverStreet will consider expanding their service network there. Bringing fiber optic service to a neighborhood is expensive and requires a large amount of resources and labor. The more supporters in your zone, the more likely RiverStreet is to bring high-speed internet service to your door.

Check out this short promotional video on the partnership to encourage people to express their interest:


“We are excited to work with RiverStreet in order to provide this critical need,” [Piedmont President and CEO Steve] Hamlin said. “While we know it will take years to mature and RiverStreet may not be able to serve everyone with wireless technology, we are happy to announce this first step in helping bridge the digital divide.”

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Posted December 17, 2019 by Jess Del Fiacco

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.
  • A 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. 

Read Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era [PDF] here.

Posted December 6, 2019 by Sayidali Moalim

Tombigbee Electric Power Association (TEPA) will become one of the first electric cooperatives in Mississippi to offer fast, reliable, affordable Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to all of its 43,950 residential and commercial members. Made possible through the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act of 2019 (HB 366), TEPA anticipates having coverage to all of its members, mostly in Lee and Itawamba counties, in four years. TEPA recently announced that Conexon will design and manage construction of the network. 

Change in Policy = Change in Possibilities

For more than 60 years, a Mississippi law had banned electric cooperatives from offering anything but electricity to their members. After pressure from the state Public Service Commission, Mississippi’s State Legislature passed HB 366 almost unanimously. The bipartisan legislation allows electric cooperatives to provide high-speed Internet access. Approximately two dozen electric cooperatives offer electric service in Mississippi. As a result, this single policy change has the potential to benefit roughly half of the state’s population.

When Governor Phil Bryant signed the bill into law in January 2019, he gave electric co-ops the lion's share of the credit for getting it through the legislature:

"This is a success for the Mississippi Legislature, for all those involved. If anyone wants to know how this bill got passed so quickly talk to the rural electric associations, because we do, and we listen to them."

Wheels in Motion

TEPA will be joining three other electric...

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Posted November 25, 2019 by lgonzalez

Several rural counties in east central Indiana, where high-quality Internet access isn't readily available, can anticipate changes in the future, thanks to their local electric cooperative. According to WANE.com, Heartland Rural Electric Member Cooperative (REMC) will be embarking on an expansive project to provide high-quality Internet access via 3,000 miles of new fiber optic infrastructure. The network will serve around 20,000 members in four counties.

WANE.com reports:

The [cooperative] borrowed money to fund the project. In addition, Heartland REMC received several multi-million dollar 10-year tax abatements from Huntington, Wabash, and Wells counties for the project.

The total amount for the project is estimated to be $51 million.

“It’s going to be a long payback period,” [CEO Robert] Pearson said, “but the one commitment we had to make and figure out how to do is to make sure it wasn’t put on the backs of our ratepayers. So no rates will ever be raised because of this. We feel like … there are enough people that want this in order to have the support to pay it back.”

Though Heartland REMC will be constructing the lines for the services, they are partnering with TWN Communications to provide and run the new internet service.

But if you’re not a Heartland REMC member, you can still receive the service. Everyone in the county that does not have high-speed internet can get it as long as the lines are in their area.

Pearson told WANE.com:

“It’s a need in the rural areas and no one else will do it....We at Heartland being a cooperative and servicing those members felt like if no one else is going to do it then we need to because high-speed internet in today’s society is crucial.”

Watch the story on the project, which the cooperative expects to finish in three years:

...

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Posted November 21, 2019 by Sayidali Moalim

Alabama communities with lower population density haven’t attracted big national Internet access providers, but their electric cooperatives are increasingly picking up the slack. In recent months, yet another electric cooperative announced that “it’s about time” for Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) for members.

Members are Ready

With over 90 percent of members voting in favor, Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Cooperative (JWEMC) will soon be joining an increasing number of electric cooperatives providing access to broadband. JWEMC’s General Manager, George Kitchens, hopes to have the first customers connected by the fall of 2020 and all members on the network within five years. Kitchens notes that strong support from the community could expedite the timeline. Construction is expected to begin late next summer and the co-op will connect members in both Lawrence County and Morgan County.

“We have studied this internally for over a year,” he said. “We hope to have 18 substations and 1,000 customers hooked up in Year One, 3,800 customers in Year Two and between 3,000 and 5,000 annually Years Three through Five,” said Kitchens

JWEMC has predicted it will need 10,000 subscribers to break even. Currently, folks in rural Lawrence County depend on satellite Internet access, while those who live in the more densely populated areas of Moulton (pop. 3,200) and Town Creek (pop. 1,100) may have access to AT&T DSL or cable Internet access from Charter Communications. Kitchens indicated that the network could be finished in three years, if demand is high and the cooperative can manage a rigorous construction schedule.

The electric cooperative held six public meetings in Lawrence County and Morgan County regarding the fiber optics Internet access project before asking members to vote. The meetings allowed JWEMC authorities to address concerns of cost and services and gave co-op officials a chance to answer questions from members. Following the series of well-received meetings, the cooperative mailed a ballot to members in October. The support for the...

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Posted November 19, 2019 by lgonzalez

Tri-County Electric Cooperative in north central Pennsylvania has listened to its members' wishes and is developing a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for Internet access. While Christopher was at the October Broadband Communities Economic Development event in Alexandria, Virginia, he met up with Craig Eccher, President and CEO of the co-op, to learn more about the project and the cooperative.

Craig describes how the infrastructure was needed for basic electric operations - to improve communication between substations - and that members had also begun to request Internet access from their co-op. When they sought information through a survey, the results were supportive, but cooperative leadership needed to take a creative approach to get members to attend a meeting for discussion about project details. Craig describes how the demographic support surprised and encouraged them and how state and federal funding provided the boost they needed to confirm the project.

The cooperative is redefining partnerships both in the community and in ways that go beyond the co-op's service area. Craig talks about business and member partnerships that will help expand the use of the infrastructure. He also describes how the project has breathed new life into the role of the cooperative within the Appalachian community it serves and how, while happy with the new excitement, it's important to manage expectations.

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

This show is 24 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this...

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Posted November 18, 2019 by Sayidali Moalim

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently awarded a $2.85 million grant to Forked Deer Electric Cooperative headquartered in Halls, Tennessee, and $9.75 million to Orangeburg County, South Carolina to develop broadband infrastructure. The awardees will use the ReConnect grants to construct or expand existing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to thousands of households, critical community facilities, and educational facilities.

A Reconnect Primer

In 2019, Congress allocated $600 million for the ReConnect Program to help expand high-quality Internet access to rural America. Applicants can apply for a 100 percent grant, 100 percent loan, or a grant-loan combination. The ReConnect Program provides funding to allow for-profit companies, rural cooperatives, local governments, and tribes to deploy broadband infrastructure under specific guidelines. The service area for qualified applicants must be rural communities with 90 - 100 percent of the population considered "underserved," defined as Internet access speeds of 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload or lower.

As we reported in September, more than half of the applications submitted came from cooperatives and local governments.

Orangeburg County

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Orangeburg County was awarded federal stimulus funds in 2010 and added around $4 million of their own money for rural broadband projects. Shortly following the stimulus package award, the state legislature enacted a law discouraging simlar local investment. The law requires local governments to charge rates for broadband Internet services similar rates to those of private companies, even if service could be provided at a lower cost. This law effectively limits local broadband authority and discourages communities from developing publicly owned networks.

Orangeburg County is pressing on, however, in order to connect...

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Posted November 11, 2019 by lgonzalez

It’s been a journey of discovery for the folks in "Villageville," our fictional rural community where Internet access isn't meeting the needs of residents or businesses. In Episode 5 of "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!", we learn more about the work rural cooperatives are doing for communities across the country.

Grumpy Gary and Entrepreneur Emily have met up in "Sizeable City," a nearby community that decided to invest in a municipal network. It has paid off in the usual ways -- better Internet access, more jobs, lowered telecommunications costs. In addition to enjoying some java and some jokes (we use the term loosely), they meet up with a representative from the electric cooperative to discuss high-quality Internet access options.

During the conversation, we hear more about the ways cooperatives are serving people in rural areas and why it makes sense that they're delivering fiber optic connectivity. Watch for more pop-up facts about municipal networks, cooperatives, and how both are serving rural communities. Listen to the cooperative's pilot project strategy and be sure to watch through to the end to hear about the final outcome in Villageville.

As with other episodes of "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!", you'll hear past and present voices from the Very Amateur Acting Troupe of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative along with other Institute for Local Self-Reliance talent (again we use the term loosely). We encourage you to share these videos to help spread the word about municipal networks, cooperatives, and the fact that rural communities don't have to be "stuck" with poor Internet access.

If you haven't seen episodes 1 - 4, check them out below, read the backstories, or view them all on our Videos page.

Share the series playlist, where you can see all the episodes from Villageville, U.S.A.

You can get caught up on the saga here with ...

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