Tag: "rural electric coop"

Posted October 18, 2016 by Anonymous

This is episode 224 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. ILSR research associate and MuniNetworks.org writer, H.R. Trostle, joins the show to discuss the recent report on North Carolina's connectivity and the importance of cooperatives. Listen to this episode here.

 

H.R. Trostle: The telephone cooperative are very used to serving these very sparsely populated rural areas in North Carolina. That's what they were designed to do. That's why they were made.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 224 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Recently, we released a report focusing on the availability of high-quality Internet access in North Carolina. H.R. Trostle, a research associate at the Institute and one of our authors on MuniNetworks.org, analyzed data from several different sources and she's talking to Chris this week to discuss her conclusions. She and Chris, who co-authored the report with her, discovered that municipal networks and cooperatives have an important role to play in North Carolina. Take a few minutes to check out the report and check out the detailed maps that show the results of their analysis. The report is titled North Carolina Connectivity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. It's available at ILSR.org and MuniNetworks.org. Now here are Chris and H.R. Trostle, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, discussing in detail their recent report and their findings on Internet access in North Carolina.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broad Bits Podcast. Coming to you live today from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance offices in Minneapolis, with H.R. Trostle, the co-author of our new report on North Carolina. Welcome to the show.

H.R. Trostle: Thanks Chris, it's great to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: Hannah.

H.R. Trostle: Hi.

Christopher Mitchell: I thought we would start with a broad overview of what did the report cover.

H.R. Trostle: The report covered everything from electric...

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Posted October 14, 2016 by lgonzalez

Duck River Electric Membership Corporation (DREMC) in Tennessee announced in September that it has launched a feasibility study to investigate ways to use a proposed fiber-optic network to bring better connectivity to members.

Exploring Added Value

According to the announcement, DREMC is considering investing in a fiber-optic loop to improve communications between its offices and substations. DREMC recognizes that this initial investment can be a first prudent step in considering the future of the cooperative and the vitality of rural Tennessee:

A fiber-optic loop has been proposed to connect all offices and substations, including the co-op’s emergency operations center. This project could also provide capacity for community purposes: fiber that could be leased to other parties, even Internet-to-home providers.

The broadband feasibility study will explore how the proposed fiber-optic loop might help improve connectivity in rural areas served by DREMC.

Within The Confines Of The Law

In Tennessee, electric cooperatives are prohibited from providing Internet access to residents, but DREMC still wants to use its publicly owned infrastructure for the benefit of members.

DREMC serves the areas south of Nashville. Columbia and Tullahoma are some of the more densely populated areas and have their own electric utilities, which also provide Gigabit connectivity. Rural areas outside of the cities rely on cooperatives like DREMC for electricity; the state restrictions will keep those communities in that last century for Internet access because national providers have no desire to serve them. 

From the announcement:

“This is a first but very important step,” says DREMC President and CEO Michael Watson.

“Today, so much depends on connectivity. Economic development, job creation and retention, healthcare, education, and public service are all enhanced by access to broadband Internet. But many rural households and communities do not have the connectivity they need.”

Watson describes the situation as very similar to the mid-1930s when electric cooperatives were created...

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Posted October 13, 2016 by lgonzalez

We have extensively studied the connectivity situation in North Carolina and just released our report, “North Carolina Connectivity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” Now you can hear from the report authors, H.R. Trostle and Christopher Mitchell, in our most recent PRX coverage.

We spoke with both authors who gave us a recap of the situation in urban and rural North Carolina. They explained how they examined the data and came to the conclusion that, while urban areas are served relatively well by big private providers, the same cannot be said in rural areas. Unless a muni or rural telephone or electric cooperative offers Internet access in a rural region, odds are rural residents and businesses just don’t have access to FCC defined broadband speeds. Audio coverage runs 5:22.

Listen to the story on PRX…

You can also download the report to dig into the details and learn more about connectivity in North Carolina.

Posted October 11, 2016 by Nick

North Carolina's digital divide between urban and rural communities is increasing dangerously in a time when high quality Internet access is more important than ever. Rural and urban areas of North Carolina are essentially living in different realities, based on the tides of private network investment where rural communities are severely disadvantaged. The state has relied too much on the telecom giants like AT&T and CenturyLink that have little interest in rural regions.

Download the Report

The state perversely discourages investment from local governments and cooperatives. For instance, electric co-ops face barriers in seeking federal financing for fiber optic projects. State law is literally requiring the city of Wilson to disconnect its customers in the town of Pinetops, leaving them without basic broadband access. This decision in particular literally took the high-speed, affordable Internet access out of the hands of North Carolina's rural citizens.

The lengths to which North Carolina has gone to limit Internet access to their citizens is truly staggering. Both a 1999 law limiting electric cooperatives' access to capital for telecommunications and a 2011 law limiting local governments' ability to build Internet networks greatly undermine the ability of North Carolinians to increase competition to the powerful cable and DSL incumbent providers. 

In the face of this reality, the Governor McCrory's Broadband Infrastructure Office recommended a "solution" that boils down to relying on cable and telephone monopolies' benevolence. What this entire situation comes down to is a fundamental disadvantage for North Carolina's rural residents because their state will not allow them to solve their own problems locally even when the private sector abandons them.

"It's not as if these communities have a choice as to what they're able to do to improve their Internet service," says report co-author Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "There's a demonstrated need for high-quality Internet service in rural North Carolina, but the state literally refuses to let people help themselves."

...

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Posted August 3, 2016 by htrostle

Electric cooperatives are bringing high-speed Internet service throughout northeast Oklahoma. In 2014, Bolt Fiber, a subsidiary of Northeast Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, started building a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network throughout their service area. Now, slightly to the south, Lake Region Electric Cooperative is planning to expand their FTTH network.

Lake Region Electric Cooperative is about to begin another phase of construction on their FTTH network in the area around Tahlequah, Oklahoma, capital of the Cherokee Nation. The subsidiary or the electric co-op, Lake Region Technology and Communications, is managing the project.

Expanding Reliable, Rural Internet Service

In late 2014, the co-op began two pilot projects for FTTH service. After the success of those projects, the co-op decided to expand. They have divided their service area into 11 zones and are seeking sign-ups. The co-op will expand the FTTH network to the zones where the most people pre-register. The network provides high-speed Internet access, HD video, and high-quality phone service.

The electric co-op requests a $50 deposit with pre-registration, but will waive the $250 installation fee with a pre-registration. If someone signs up after construction starts, they pay a reduced installation fee. Residents and businesses who decide to sign up for services after the network is up and running in their zone will pay the full installation fee. The co-op might also charge a line extension fee depending on the distance from the existing fiber line.

Rates are still subject to change, but the co-op's website suggests Internet access will be symmetrical, offering the same speeds on the upload and download, starting at $49.95 per month for 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) for residential customers. Business Internet access will start at $99.95 per month for 50 Mbps. Both include a free Wi-Fi router.

Positive Responses 

More than 700 members are already online. Lake Region Electric Cooperative serves the communities around the city of Tahlequah. With this project, the electric co-op hopes to bridge the digital divide between the urban and rural areas. In a...

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Posted July 16, 2016 by htrostle

In the 1930s, rural communities joined together through electric cooperatives to bring electricity to their homes and businesses. Today, rural electric co-ops may have the power to bring Internet access to these same communities.

A recent Broadband Communities Magazine article highlights this potential for rural electric co-ops. In the article, Dr. Robert Yadon and D. Bracken Ross of the Digital Policy Institute at Ball State University explain the results of their recent study. 

Electric Co-Ops as Regional Networks

Yadon and Bracken looked into 30 private sector Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) providers in Indiana and 16 rural electric co-ops providing Internet service around the nation. After predicting engineering costs, the researchers highlighted a dozen Indiana rural electric co-ops that could serve as regional hubs of connectivity.

The researchers developed a specific process for rural electric co-ops interested in providing Internet access. In summary, they propose:

“For REMCs [Rural Electric Membership Cooperatives], the process begins with a commitment to a middle-mile, smart grid fiber deployment connecting their substations, followed by a phased-approach business model with strategic growth focusing on last-mile customer density. Exploring local business partnership underwriting opportunities, examining the use of an efficient regional network design and combining multiple federal funding programs are the keys to rural broadband deployment success down the road.”

We don’t necessarily agree with these proposals. Our Christopher Mitchell has written many times about how middle mile cannot solve the last mile problems. The incremental approach based on customer density can repeat some of the same problems we’ve seen with cable and telephone companies - skipping over the most rural and smallest localities. Relying on federal funds is not always necessary. In fact, the researchers point to the success of a co-op that continued on after being denied a federal grant.

Pioneering Electric Co-Ops are Models...

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Posted July 2, 2016 by htrostle

This 4th of July weekend invites us to celebrate the accomplishments of our country. But, 23 million people in rural areas remain without high-speed Internet access.

Rural areas cannot stay unconnected. Agriculture has become a high-tech endeavor, and high-speed Internet access is necessary. Cooperatives, those democratic institutions formed by rural farmers years ago, are becoming an answer.

The Founding Fathers considered rural communities the life-blood of the country. In 1785, Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to John Jay, stated that:

“[C]ultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. they are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, & they are tied to their country & wedded to it’s liberty & interests by the most lasting bands.”

High-Speed Internet Access Supports Agriculture

The Missouri Farmer Today recently wrote ofthe sorry state of rural Internet access for one family-owned business in Missouri, the Perry Agricultural Laboratory. They process soil samples and perform other agricultural testing for both local and international customers but the best connections available are via satellite. The lab constantly goes over its data cap and sometimes cannot send their reports to customers across the globe if the weather interferes with their signal. A high-speed cable runs along the edge of the property, but the company would have to pay $40,000 to connect to it.

The cost to build high-speed networks in rural areas is a familiar one. By banding together, members of cooperatives - whether electric, telephone, or Internet co-op - strengthen their position and gain the leverage to build networks that will ensure they aren't left behind. The Missouri Farmer Today also interviewed Jim Gann, the director of business...

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Posted June 24, 2016 by htrostle

In Colorado, the Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) saw record crowds at their Annual Meeting of Members. Hundreds of people came to check out the event on June 16th and try out the super fast speeds of Elevate Fiber, DMEA’s Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project.  The project will bring speeds of up to a Gigabit per second (Gbps) to DMEA’s 27,000 members. 

Elevate Fiber

During the event, members were able to check out the speed in person and preregister their homes and businesses. It requires a 12-month contract at a minimum of $49.99 each month according to the DMEA’s website. Residents can sign up at https://join.elevatefiber.com/

Providing Internet access is a new role for the electric cooperative but DMEA has a plan: the co-op will build out the fiber incrementally. Phase I will encompass about 7,500 homes and businesses in Paonia, Cobble Creek, and the Montrose downtown business district. These locations are test cases of overhead and underground installations in urban and rural areas. 

Celebrate the Times

The Montrose Press reported that over 500 people came to the meeting, making it one of the largest in recent memory. The Annual Meeting of Members celebrated the past accomplishments of the co-op and looked ahead to the fiber future. In addition to free hamburgers and hot dogs, and an appearance by former American Idol contestant Jeneve Rose Mitchell,* attendees could see live demonstrations of Elevate Fiber.

In December 2015, the DMEA Board of Directors unanimously voted to proceed with the FTTH project. At the time, they considered building a middle mile network, but wisely chose to deploy last mile connectivity to members' homes and businesses.

The June 16th event culminated with the announcement of the winners of the election to the co-op’s board of directors. Over 5,026 ballots were cast (in person and by mail). Although that’s a small percentage of their membership...

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Posted February 11, 2016 by htrostle

Electric coops empowered communities during rural electrification in the 1930s, connecting people to power grids. Now electric coops have the opportunity again to empower communities through affordable, high-speed connectivity. In Colorado, the Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) is moving forward with a pilot project for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Unanimous Decision for Fiber

In late December 2015, the DMEA Board of Directors gave the green light to start the pilot project. The move to provide connectivity comes as no surprise. DMEA considered providing middle mile connectivity for a long while before coming to the decision to instead deploy FTTH. If the coop had chosen to develop the middle mile network, they would not have connected members’ homes, but instead would have built infrastructure connecting to the larger Internet. 

Many projects funded with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funds were built as middle mile networks. At the time, policy makers theorized that middle mile projects would encourage private sector last mile providers to complete the link to subscribers. Over time, this theory has proven too optimistic. Municipalities and smaller private providers are connecting to middle mile networks in some places, but the large scale build out expected from big name providers is just not happening.

For DMEA, FTTH is their solution: building a larger network and taking the fiber directly to members’ homes. Virginia Harman, DMEA spokesperson, described the decision to do FTTH as a reaction to member demand. In a recent survey, members highlighted the importance of high-speed Internet access for their homes. The goal now is to build the network in a sustainable way.

Phased Approach to Connectivity

Providing high-speed Internet access to all members will prove a challenge; DMEA serves over 32,000 members throughout three counties (Montrose, Delta, and Gunnison) in Colorado. To complete the task, they will use an incremental approach. As members generate interest in the project in each specific area, the coop will install fiber optic cable in that region. Revenue from that section will help fund the next section of the build, and so on. The...

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Posted November 23, 2015 by lgonzalez

As the people of Tennessee wait for the court to determine their broadband future, state and local leaders in Nashville are hearing municipal network advocates and foes.

The bipartisan Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, anticipating state legislation aimed at removing state anti-muni laws next session, recently heard from advocates of municipal networks. Those in favor of keeping state barriers in place also took a seat at the table. The Commission includes state legislators and local community leaders. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is now considering Tennessee's petition to vacate FCC's February decision to overturn state laws against local authority.

The Same Old Argument

The Tennessee Cable Association (TCA), representing large incumbent cable providers, repeated the same misinformation we have heard before - that municipal networks are "failures." Their lawyer pointed to debt as proof-positive that "these communities that have gone into this business have done very poorly," reported the Johnson City Press.

Chattanooga's EPB President Harold DePriest summed up the weakness of that statement when he said, “It’s the same reason you have a 30-year mortgage on your house, instead of a 5-year mortgage.” It's about long-term vision and planning.

A number of representatives from Tennessee communities served by municipal networks attended the meeting and presented the facts. Chattanooga's world-famous fiber network is often in the limelight, but smaller Tennessee towns with networks like Erwin and Jackson have benefitted from their investments and other communities, such as Cleveland, have plans to follow suit.

Erwin Making Strides

Erwin Utilities sent fiber optic engineer John Williams who called out TCA for using the word "failure" and describing it as a...

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