Tag: "rural electric coop"

Posted March 2, 2017 by htrostle

This article was co-written with ILSR's Energy Democracy initiative research associate, Karlee Weinmann, and is cross-posted on ILSR.org.

Ouachita Electric Cooperative, nestled deep in south-central Arkansas, is an unlikely innovator in a pair of industries struggling to adapt to shifting market dynamics: electricity and broadband.

Despite rising demand for energy efficiency and renewable electricity generation, large investor-owned utilities -- and many rural electric co-ops -- have resisted programs to address those needs. Likewise, corporate Internet service providers frequently offer shoddy service at high rates, a particular problem in rural areas with limited competition.

But Ouachita Electric found a way to do both things better, with complementary technologies. Fiber-optic network investments provided lower cost Internet access, but also provide an information backbone for the electric utility that can reduce outage times and verification for energy savings programs. The network and the efficiency programs reduce costs for a customer base dominated by low-income households that can now reinvest their earnings elsewhere in the community.

Inclusive Financing

The utility’s tariff-based, on-bill financing program -- known as HELP PAYS -- allows customers to invest in energy efficiency upgrades at their homes, like insulation and heat pumps, with no upfront cost. Ouachita Electric covers eligible expenses, then recoups its buy-in through payments from participating customers on their monthly bills. Customers immediately pay less thanks to utility-financed energy-saving improvements.

Unlike other energy efficiency programs, the opt-in “inclusive financing” program, HELP PAYS, enables all Ouachita customers to capture significant benefits:

  • Low-income households can pay, because they don’t need to come up with thousands of dollars upfront for qualifying improvements.
  • Renters can...
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Posted February 24, 2017 by Staff

This is the transcript for episode 240 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Christopher Mitchell speaks with Darren Farnan of United Electric Cooperative in Missouri. The electric co-op has undertaken a fiber project to bring high-speed Internet service to their members. Listen to this episode here.

Darren Farnan: We're seeing almost 70 percent of our customers either take 100 Mbps service or above. That's telling the story of what that real demand is out there.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is Episode 240 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. It seems like every day we learn of yet another electric cooperative bringing high quality connectivity to rural communities. In areas with low population density, national providers don't offer high speed service and electric cooperatives are already offering electric services, so providing fast, affordable Internet access is often the next logical step. In this interview, Christopher talks with Darren Farnan, Chief Development Officer of United Electric Cooperative in Missouri. The Cooperative is working on a fiber project and in addition to talking about that, the guys discuss the logistics and financing of bringing fiber to very rural areas. Darren also gets into why it's so important and why cooperatives are picking up the slack where national providers won't serve. You'll hear Darren use the term ILEC. If you're not familiar with the term, it's an acronym for Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier. It's a telephone company that's already established and providing telephone service in a local area.

Christopher Mitchell: Hey folks. This is Chris Mitchell, the host of Community Broadband Bits. I just wanted to ask you if you could do us a real big favor to help us spread this show around. That's to jump on iTunes or Stitcher, wherever you found this show, and to give us a rating. Give us a little review, particularly if you like it. If you don't like it so much, then maybe don't do that, but if you're enjoying the show, please give us a rating and help us to build the audience a bit. Thanks.

Lisa Gonzalez: Now, here's Christopher and Darren Farnan, Chief Development Officer of United Electric Cooperative...

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Posted February 24, 2017 by lgonzalez

Jonathan Chambers from Conexon works with rural electric cooperatives as they bring high-quality Internet access to rural America. When he spoke with Christopher for episode 229 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast last November, he had some choice words to say about how the FCC chose to continue to subsidize big telcos for little return.

They Propose "A Huge Mess"

In a recent post on the Conexon blog, Chambers analyzes “The New Trumpfone Program,” and reveals how proposed Connect America Fund (CAF) subsidies, when applied to real world data, creates outrageous financial waste. While providers can receive up to $17,500 per location in CAF funding, when applied to a per subscriber formula, the figure is $100,000:

There are no U.S. communities where satellite or fixed wireless provides broadband to 100% of the homes and small businesses. Not 80% either, which is the FCC assumption. Not 50% or 25% or 15% or 10% or even 5%. The FCC has data on this. Let’s say, for this arithmetic exercise, that a satellite or fixed wireless subscriber achieves a 15% market share of telephone and broadband service in a rural community.

A 15% market share while receiving $17,500 for every location in an area translates into over $100,000 per subscriber. Should there be insufficient competitive pressure in the auction, the $17,500 per location is a realistic outcome, as is the likelihood of $100,000 per subscriber by some technologies.

Reimburse Per Subscriber

Chambers offers a sensible solution to save CAF funds and direct public dollars in the right direction: reimburse providers for actual subscribers, rather than by location.

The most perverse subsidy incentive is one by which a provider makes more money by not serving customers. That’s the current FCC plan and the basis of many current FCC subsidies. By definition, the high cost subsidy is based on how much a provider is calculated to lose per customer. When the FCC provides funding by location, rather than by subscriber, some technologies will make more money by winning the auction, collecting public funding, and serving no one. Hence the fallacy of the argument that it is less expensive to cover rural...

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Posted February 24, 2017 by htrostle

Electric cooperatives are increasingly creating local solutions to rural connectivity woes. Many have built networks that rival those in the best connected cities in the U.S. Rather than waiting for disinterested national providers, cooperatives and their members have found workable solutions.

In south-central Missouri, the Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative is once again exercising the power of community network projects. The Houston Herald reports that Sho-Me Technologies, the communications subsidiary of the co-op, is deploying a fiber-backed, fixed wireless project to connect businesses in Houston, Missouri.

Houston, We’ve Got A Problem

Houston (population: 2,000) is the capital of Texas County, Missouri -- yes, Missouri. Home to about 25,000 people, the rural county has poor connectivity; about 90 percent of the county’s population doesn't have access to high-speed Internet service of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. The Houston Herald reports that speeds of up to 10 Mbps download are the norm in Texas County. Upload speeds are even slower.

The situation has been rough for small businesses in Houston, where they could not perform routine updates without impeding service. For instance, the local dentist office, Family Dentistry, could not accept Microsoft updates for its network without disrupting daily operations at the practice.

Downtown Houston Finds The Local Co-op Solution

The community group, Downtown Houston Inc, was on the look-out for a solution to this problem. Sho-Me Power already had fiber connecting the...

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Posted February 21, 2017 by lgonzalez

While Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act” has been in the news, several other Legislators have introduced companion bills earlier this month that deserve attention.

A Few Gems

SB 1058 and HB 0970, from Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Dan Howell, would allow municipal electric utilities, such as Chattanooga’s EPB, Tullahoma Utilities Board, or Jackson Energy Authority to expand beyond their electric service area. SB 1045 and HB 1410 reclaims local authority for municipalities that want to offer telecommunications service either alone or with a partner.

HB 0970 has been assigned to the House Business and Utilities Committee; SB 1058 was referred to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

Bowling has also introduced SB 1045, a bill that allows municipal electric utilities and electric cooperatives the ability to offer telecommunications services either on their own or with private sector partners. SB 1045 and it’s companion, HB 1410, sponsored by Terri Lynn Weaver in the House, specifies that there are to be no geographic limits to the service area. SB 1045 and HB 1410 are also in the same committees as SB 1058 and HB 0970.

Correcting Existing Problems

The EPB challenged restrictive state law in 2015; the FCC determined that the law was inconsistent with federal goals. The agency preempted both Tennessee and North Carolina's laws that inhibit municipal electric utilities from expanding. When Tennessee and North Carolina appealed the FCC decision, however, the appellate court determined that that states had the right to impose those laws on local communities and reversed the preemption.

Tennessee's current state law prevents municipal electric utilities that offer Internet access and/or video within their electric service area to expand beyond those geographical limits. These new bills propose removing the restrictions; they also contain a clause...

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Posted January 5, 2017 by htrostle

To improve rural Internet access, the Georgia Joint House and Senate Study Committee on High Speed Broadband Communications Access for All Georgians recommends that Georgia enable municipal networks and empower rural electric cooperatives.

The committee recently released their report on potential solutions for the lack of rural connectivity. They held six public meetings over the course of four months in 2016, consulting with stakeholders and concerned citizens.

Support of Local Government Networks 

Specifically, the report recommended that the Georgia legislature:

“Reaffirm the state’s approval of competitive telecommunication markets by continuing to permit locally-owned and operated government broadband services”

In the economic development section of the report, they detailed the positive role of community networks and the challenges in finding financing.

The report pointed to the success of two community networks, Community Network Services (CNS) and ElbertonNet. ElbertonNet is the fifteen-year-old community network of Elberton, Georgia. The report praised the community network’s “tremendous public feedback” and “exceptional customer service.”

CNS is a regional network of eight rural communities in southern Georgia. We've introduced readers to CNS in the past and shared stories of how the network has helped create jobs, improved local STEM educational opportunities, and helped one of the communities it serves reduce taxes. Initially funded by a bank loan, the network contributes over $2 million into the local general fund.  

Several statements referred to the fact that the current situation...

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Posted December 14, 2016 by htrostle

For more than a century, electric cooperatives have ensured rural communities’ electricity needs are met. Now, many electric co-ops have made strides to ensure their communities have access to today’s newest necessity, Internet service.

In northeastern Missouri, Ralls County Electric Cooperative is bringing high-speed Internet service to the small city of New London. Nearby, the city of Perry hopes the electric cooperative will extend the project to its residents and they've let the co-op know that they will welcome the service with open arms.

Ralls County Electric Cooperative

Ralls County Electric Cooperative is working on a pilot project in New London that will bring incredibly fast and reliable Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to the community's 1,000 residents. The project will offer triple-play services of Internet access, phone service, and high-definition TV.

The New London project won't be the first FTTH project for Ralls County Electric Cooperative. Between 2010 and 2015, the cooperative built a $19 million fiber network in the area. Funding came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in the form of half as a loan and half as a grant. The electric cooperative formed a subsidiary, known as Ralls Technologies, for its telecommunications projects.

Perry Petitions

The Herald-Whig of Quincy, Illinois (about 45 minutes from the Missouri towns), recently reported that officials in Perry are encouraging Ralls County Electric Cooperative to come to their town. They have started a petition to show support for bringing the project to their community. 

Ralls County Electric Cooperative has not committed to extending the project to Perry, but the city’s Mayor Dustin Wasson has signed a letter of support on behalf of the City Council to the electric cooperative. Explaining the need, Mayor Wasson told the Herald-Whig:

"It would allow us to upload things faster, and it would allow us to download things faster," he said. "It would put us...

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Posted November 23, 2016 by Anonymous

This is episode 225 of the Community Broadband Bits. Representatives of Midwest Energy Cooperative discuss their project to bring high-speed connectivity to rural southwest Michigan. Listen to this episode here.

Dave Allen: I really see this as a re-lighting of rural America.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 225 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. There's a project taking shape in rural southwest Michigan and the nearby regions of Indiana and Ohio. It's headed up by the Midwest Energy Cooperative. At the recent Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Minneapolis, Chris ran into Bob Hance, President and CEO of the cooperative, and Dave Allen, the cooperative's Vice President of Regulatory Compliance. Naturally, we wanted to hear more about their project and share the details with you. They provide some history and how access to high quality connectivity has positively impacted a number of their rural members. Chris, Bob, and Dave also have some interesting thoughts on federal funding programs, project standards, and the different rules for cooperatives and big corporate providers. Learn more about the project at teamfiber.com, where you can also discover more about the cooperative. Now you may notice some background noise. We apologize in advance. While we advocate for local choice and access to technology, sometimes technology is just not on our side. We had a little trouble with the mic that day. Also, Chris is suffering from allergies, and until winter sets in, he may sound a little like the late Howard Cosell, but never fear, it is our Christopher. Now, here with Chris are Bob Hance, President and CEO, and Dave Allen, Vice President of Regulatory Compliance for Midwest Energy Cooperative.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today, I'm speaking with two folks from Michigan. Bob Hance, the President and CEO of Midwest Energy Cooperative. Welcome to the show.

Bob Hance: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: And Dave Allen, the Vice President of Regulatory Compliance for the Cooperative. Welcome to the show.

Dave...

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Posted November 22, 2016 by christopher

Rural electric co-ops have started delivering high quality Internet access to their member-owners and our guest this week on Community Broadband Bits episode 229 is dedicated to helping these co-ops to build fiber-optic networks throughout their territories. Jon Chambers is a partner at Conexon and was previously the head of the FCC's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis.

Jon is a strong proponent for ensuring rural residents and businesses have at least the same quality Internet access as urban areas. We talk about his experience and frustration at the FCC, which was content to shovel money at telcos for the most basic infrastructure rather than setting higher expectations to ensure everyone had decent Internet access. We talk about how Co-Mo rolled out fiber to its members without federal assistance, inspiring electric cooperatives around the nation to follow suit.

In our discussion, I reference Jon's blog post "FCC to Rural America: Drop Dead." In it, he cites some of the reactions in the FCC from his advocacy for real rural solutions rather than signing big checks to big telcos for delivering slow and unreliable Internet access. One of quotes from a Democrat: "Republicans like corporate welfare, so we’re going to give money to the telephone companies to keep the Republicans on the Hill happy."

Neither political party comes off looking very good when it comes to rural connectivity, which fits with our impression. But Jon confirms another of our experiences when he says that when he works with rural communities, politics doesn't come up. They just focus on solutions.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 36 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other...

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Posted November 12, 2016 by htrostle

Throughout the October Broadband Communities Magazine conference, folks kept repeating this sentiment: some partnerships are smooth and others have rough patches. At the conference, we heard from several electric cooperatives who had partnered with other cooperatives to provide next-generation connectivity to their communities.

We specifically want to highlight the work of two North Carolina electric cooperatives: Lumbee River EMC and Blue Ridge Mountain EMC. They were both included in our report North Carolina Connectivity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Each co-op took the bold step of building a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network throughout sparsely populated regions. At the conference, we were able to learn first-hand about their experiences.

Despite the Distance: Lumbee River EMC & HTC

HTC Chief Executive of Marketing Brent Groome described how the two cooperatives collaborated despite being nearly an hour away from each other. Their work together has involved a commitment to similar values and dedication to improving rural communities. (Lumbee River EMC’s representative was unable to attend the conference as much of the service territory had suffered flooding from the recent hurricane.)

Lumbee River EMC’s entry into Internet service brought fiber connectivity to southeastern North Carolina. The co-op provides electricity to more than 50,000 members. In 2010, the USDA provided Lumbee River EMC with nearly $20 million in funding to install fiber. A state law, however, imposes certain restrictions on electric co-ops and USDA funding. The electric co-op had to find another company with the drive and expertise to provide Internet service.

HTC, also known as Horry Telephone Cooperative, may be far from Lumbee River EMC’s boundaries, but shares the same commitment to community. The electric co-op reached out to HTC in 2013 while completing construction of the FTTH network. Lumbee River EMC had reached out to three other telephone companies, but eventually landed on HTC. After working out an Indefeasible Right of Use (IRU), HTC set to work and signed up the first customer in 2014. Although at times the...

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