Tag: "rural electric coop"

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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Posted October 6, 2015 by htrostle

This past July the USDA announced over $85 million in funding for rural broadband projects across seven states. The projects, many awarded to rural cooperatives, aim to bridge the digital divide and expand economic opportunities. For those interested in federal funding opportunities, NTIA has just released this guide [pdf].

Rural areas are often passed over by big telcos because they are considered less profitable. Farming, however, is a high-tech industry, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack believes that Internet access is as necessary as electricity in rural areas:

"Broadband is fundamental to expanding economic opportunity and job creation in rural areas, and it is as vital to rural America's future today as electricity was when USDA began bringing power to rural America 80 years ago. ...  Improved connectivity means these communities can offer robust business services, expand access to health care and improve the quality of education in their schools, creating a sustainable and dynamic future those who live and work in rural America."

The USDA has awarded more than  $77 million in Community Connect Grants for rural broadband projects (since 2009). This July, the USDA loaned $74.8 million and awarded another $11 million in Community Connect Grants. Here is the current round-up of the USDA’s most recent loans and grants:

Alaska

Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative Inc. will connect Point Hope subscribers and prepare for an undersea fiber line with a $1.4 million grant.

Minnesota

Garden Valley Telephone, one of the largest coops in Minnesota, will continue to expand its FTTH service area with a $12.63 million loan. On average, the coop serves two households per square mile.

Consolidated Telephone, another coop, will perform upgrades and add a new fiber ring to allow for greater bandwidth with a $12.27 million...

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Posted April 1, 2015 by lgonzalez

A year ago, the FCC accepted applications from entities seeking Connect America funds for rural broadband experiments. After provisional awards and some eliminations, Chanute's FTTH project, Chattanooga's EPB, and a number of additional cooperatives are now on the list of provisional winners reports Telecompetitor.

According to the article, $27 million became available when 16 entities were eliminated for various reasons.

A recent Chanute Tribune article reports that the city's expected award will be approximately $508,000 if it passes the FCC's post-selection process. Mikel Kline, a consultant working closely with the city on its FTTH project told the Tribune:

It is Kline’s understanding that this $508,467 would be cost support for the city’s Fiber to the Home network over the next six years. It requires the city to become an eligible telecommunications carrier, and to finance and construct the fiber network.

This money can be used to pay operational costs or offset a portion of the debt on the city’s investment in the local infrastructure over the next six years.

Remember that Chanute has developed its fiber infrastructure incrementally over more than two decades. The community is moving ahead with its FTTH project to share the benefits of fiber with residents and more businesses after bringing better connectivity to schools, municipal facilities, and a growing number of businesses. 

Recently, the city applied for and received state approval to bond for deployment costs. A 1947 state law required the application be filed with the Kansas Corporation Commission, the state entity concerned with utility regulations. According to Kline, the city has also applied for eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) status. This designation will allow the city, as a common telecommunications carrier, to obtain Kansas Universal Services Funds.

Read more about their accomplishments in...

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Posted March 8, 2015 by lgonzalez

Co-Mo Cooperative and the Co-Mo Connect Board of Directors recently voted to proceed with the final phases of its gigabit FTTH project. The decision assures the plan to bring to triple-play to all Co-Mo members by the end of 2016.

We checked in on Co-Mo about a year ago, when the cooperative announced it would increase speeds without increasing prices for both residential and business members. Residential fiber Internet service ranges from $39.95 per month for 5 Mbps to $99.95 per month for gigabit service; all speeds are symmetrical.

Triple-play service extends beyond the electric service territory. During the first phase of the project, the city of California (pop. 4,200) opened up city poles for Co-Mo in space that was previously used by a cable company that no longer operated in the area. The project then expanded to Tipton (pop. 3,200) and Versailles (pop. 2,500). In a story on the expansion on the Co-Mo website, General Manager Randy Klindt said:

“We’re creating this wide swath of the most advanced communications network in the country right here in rural Missouri. Part of the cooperative’s mission statement is to improve our communities, and these city projects definitely qualify. It is important the everyone in our region has access to broadband because the economic health of our cooperative members and our local towns are intertwined.”  

...

“Despite what other telecommunication companies say, it’s not only doable, but it’s happened. The broadband speeds we deliver are 100 times what the FCC now determines to be broadband in rural areas,” Klindt said.

Ookla recognized Tipton as the community with the fastest Internet speeds in Missouri in 2014 with and average of 88.86 Mbps for those who ran speed tests on the network reported Lake Expo.com. Co-Mo Connect was also ranked 18th in the U.S. of fastest ISPs with at least 100 speed tests run from subscribers.

“Our little piece of rural America is 18th fastest in the entire nation,” said...

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Posted July 29, 2014 by christopher

If you have doubts that we can or will connect rural America with high quality Internet connections, listen to our show today. Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts, the Industry Affairs Manager at the Utilities Telecom Council, joins me to talk about how utilities are investing in the Internet connections that their communities need.

Many of these utilities are providing great connections, meaning that some of the folks living in rural America have better -- faster and more affordable -- Internet access than residents of San Francisco and New York City.

We discuss the demand for better Internet access and the incredible take rates resulting from investment in some of the communities that rural electric cooperatives are serving.

UTC has a been a strong ally of our efforts to prevent states from revoking local authority to build community networks. Within UTC, the Rural Broadband Council is an independent operating unit.

Read a transcript of this show, courtesy of Jeff Hoel.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 17 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Waylon Thornton for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bronco Romp."

Posted January 4, 2014 by lgonzalez

Residential customers of Co-Mo Connect in Missouri will see a free upgrade this spring. In a December announcement, the cooperative stated it will also begin offering gigabit Internet service for $99.95 per month.

“There are no strings attached,” said Randy Klindt, Co-Mo Comm's general manager. “We’re doing this because we can, because the network has the capacity and we received a good deal on bandwidth. We’re passing those speeds and savings onto our subscribers.”

New residential service options:

  • 5 megabits per second for $39.95 a month; 
  • 35 mbps (currently 20 mbps) for $49.95 a month; 
  • 100 mbps (currently 50 mbps) for $59.95 a month;
  • 1 gbps (currently 100mbps) for $99.95 a month.

According to the announcement, small businesses will also receive speed increases with no increase in price. Klindt notes that Co-Mo prides itself on gimmick-free pricing:

“Nothing is going to decrease after six months or whatever the other companies do,” he said. “And subscribers don’t have to do anything to get the extra speed. If you’re on the 20, 50 or 100 megabit tier right now, we’re simply going to turn up your speed when this becomes available sometime this coming spring.”

We reported on Co-Mo in 2012, as the cooperative began expansion of services. At the time, Co-Mo had been passed over for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding. Coop members wanted to improve the broadband situation for better economic opportunity so Co-Mo pressed on without federal funding. The plan to bring FTTH to all 25,000 coop members has four phases with completion scheduled for 2016.

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