Tag: "rural electric coop"

Posted November 4, 2019 by lgonzalez

The people of our imaginary community "Villageville" have gathered outside the library, inside the library, and on Grumpy Gary's lawn to talk about the problem of poor local Internet access. Now, they're making it official and letting town leaders know that they want change. It's time for Episode 4 of "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!"

For the past three weeks, we've seen the good folks of this fictional community grapple with the difficulties that many rural towns face. When local connectivity doesn't keep up with the needs of the community, small towns can't be competitive. In Villageville, entrepreneurs, parents, and people who just want better Internet access have been researching why connectivity in their town is so poor and what are some possible solutions. Now they're ready to take their concerns to local elected officials.

The setting in this episode is a bustling town council meeting, in which locals are gathered to discuss what to do about poor Internet access in Villageville. The special speaker tonight is an attorney from the incumbent Internet access company. Citizens are ready to ask him why, for corn's sake, his employer still hasn't updated the services they provide.

During this episode, we learn more about the influence of large corporations and their lobbyists on competition, or the lack of it. The people of Villageville have noticed some patterns in the way state laws get passed and they're ready to talk about it at the meeting. By the end of the evening, folks are inspired to do more than complain.

In addition to the educational value from this short video, you'll enjoy the campy style of the Very Amateur Acting Troupe of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative and a special guest star from the Insitute for Local Self-Reliance. We've had fun writing, acting, and editing these videos and it shows. As with all "masterpieces," artists have come and gone from the Initiative team, leaving their imprints on "From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!"

If you haven't seen episodes 1 - 3, check them out below, read the backstories or view them all on our Videos page.

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Posted October 31, 2019 by lgonzalez

Lawrenceville, Virginia, only has around 1,000 people living in the community, but they anticipate a boost in jobs in the near future, thanks to the local electric co-op, a partnership, and fiber optic connectivity. 

Small-Town Guys Getting It Done

Virginia Business reports that Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) is in the process of wiring a former bank facility with Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) in order for the next tenant to use the building as a call center. Echo World Communications, based in Bedford County, will take up residence and bring approximately 152 new jobs to Lawrenceville.

According to Virginia Business:

It never would have happened if the building couldn’t have been equipped with high-speed, reliable Internet, says Michael Dotti, business director of the Brunswick County Industrial Development Authority. “It’s a huge amount of technology. This was like small-town guys getting it done.”

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) is wiring the bank building this fall at no cost to Brunswick, with funding from Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corp. (MBC), which started in 2004 as a cooperative to bring fiber-optic networks to rural Virginia. The broadband cooperative also has installed about 90 miles of fiber cables in six Southern Virginia counties, with 45 more miles planned by the end of 2020.

Productive Partners

This isn't the first time we've seen these two entities partner to expand access to broadband in southern Virginia. About two years ago, we reported on a project similar to the one in Lawrenceville in which MEC and MBC connected last mile and middle mile fiber to reduce costs and reach more premises.

The Virginia Business article also mentions that MEC is looking to acquire a local telephone cooperative, if the telephone co-op members approve.

MEC also has proposed the purchase of Buggs Island Telephone Cooperative (BIT) by MEC affiliate Empower Broadband. The merger is contingent on BIT’s 4,500 customers, who have been asked to submit votes by Nov. 13.

“We expect it will speed up the process of putting fiber in this area,” says David Lipscomb, MEC’s vice president of member...

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Posted October 21, 2019 by lgonzalez

We recently introduced you to our informative and campy video series, “From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!” In episode 2, we continue the saga of “Villageville,” where the streets are quiet, the people are friendly, and the Internet access leaves much to be desired. Last time, you met some of the people who live in this rural community and discovered how they've dealt with substandard connectivity. People are getting a little fed up; could the wind be shifting in Villageville?

Don’t miss this chance to hear current and past members of the Community Broadband Networks Team try their hand at voiceover acting! We wanted to make this series fun and have fun making it, so you'll hear some familiar voices.

In episode 2, the town’s newest family, shocked and dismayed at Villageville’s poor connectivity, meet to the local librarian to discuss local options. Like students who need fast, affordable, reliable Internet access for homework, entrepreneurs in rural areas often find their business goals hindered if they move to a community forced to rely on outdated solutions like DSL.

As librarians often do, however, Villageville's has been researching the problem and shares her findings. She’s discovered some great information about rural cooperatives. In addition to the facts our local librarian shares, we’ve included pop-up data about cooperatives, connectivity, and economic development. The video is a great way for you to get people interested in learning more about the possibilities in your own rural community.

If you haven’t seen episode 1 yet, check out the synopsis here or watch it below and learn more about our cast of characters and their quest for better Internet access. Share the series playlist, where we'll continue to add episodes as we release them.

Need to get caught up? Here's episode 1:

Posted October 14, 2019 by lgonzalez

In rural communities, large companies often won’t invest in high-quality Internet network infrastructure due to the lack of population density. Increasingly, rural electric and communications cooperatives are filling the void and providing the Internet access small towns and surrounding areas need. In order to illustrate the challenges facing these small rural towns, we’ve developed a series of videos titled, “From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!”

The series includes five episodes that tell the story of one small town, its residents, and the way they tackle the need for better local connectivity. In addition to our story about the folks from the imaginary community of "Villageville," we include real-life statistics about connectivity in rural communities.

In the first episode, we’ve introduced some of the characters that will take us through the series as we catch up with them outside the local library. You'll learn why they're hanging out in the parking lot and get a better understanding of what life is like in a rural community where small towns want better Internet access.

Share this resource with others who are interested in exploring options for improving connectivity in their local communities.

We’ll share more episodes that document Villageville's journey in the coming weeks.

 

UPDATE:

We've published all five episodes! Watch them here to find out what happened in Villageville:

Episode 2:

Episode 3:

Episode 4:

Episode 5:

Posted October 4, 2019 by lgonzalez

On the September 30, 2019 edition of NPR's "All Tech Considered," Paul Flahive of Texas Public Radio reports on the way rural electric cooperatives are using their resources to develop broadband networks in rural Texas communities.

Flahive visits Bandera, "The Cowboy Capital of the World," where Bandera Electric Cooperative is deploying Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH). Read more about how cooperatives are connecting rural communities in our 2019 updated report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era. Visit our Rural Cooperatives page, and listen to the story from NPR News.

 

Posted September 23, 2019 by lgonzalez

Rural communities served by the North East Mississippi Electric Power Association (NEMEPA) should be enjoying high-quality Internet access from their co-op next year, if plans proceed as expected. The co-op Board of Directors voted on September 17th to move forward with plans to develop a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to their entire service area.

Thank you, Legislature

According to their press release, the 2019 change in state law to relax restrictions on electric cooperatives was the factor that encouraged NEMEPA to aggressively pursue the possibilities. With strong support from the state Public Service Commission, state lawmakers embraced the change and passed HB 366, the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act. The bill removed decades-old language that required co-ops to use infrastructure only for delivery of electric service. Electric cooperatives will now allow be able to legally offer Internet access, a much-needed change for rural areas.

The cooperative worked with Conexon, the firm headed up by Randy Klindt and Jonathan Chambers, which has worked with numerous electric cooperatives like NEMEPA to design and develop broadband networks. 

NEMEPA has already commissioned two feasibility studies, which independently determined that the project will be viable as long as they can achieve a minimum take rate. A recent survey indicated that the need is so great in their region that members’ enthusiasm for their services will surpass the benchmark. NEMEPA plan to connect all 25,000 members within their 920-square-mile service area through a subsidiary.

In addition to gigabit connectivity, NEMEPA will upgrade their infrastructure to take advantage of smart grid capabilities to improve electrical distribution. In a letter from CEO Keith Howard posted on their Facebook page, NEMEPA states that people in the...

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Posted September 4, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Applicants in the first round of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ReConnect Loan and Grant Program requested over $1.4 billion to finance rural broadband expansion, exceeding available funds by more than $800 million. Despite tough competition, much of the funding may go to community broadband networks, since more than half of the applicants are publicly or collectively owned, including electric and telephone cooperatives, local governments, and federally recognized tribes.

As was the case in previous federal programs, most community broadband providers applying for ReConnect funds plan to deploy modern, high-speed fiber networks. Unlike the large telecom monopolies, which are letting their rural networks rot even while raking in government subsidies, community owned networks frequently leverage federal funds to deploy future-proof fiber optics in their rural service areas.

ReConnect Review

In 2018, Congress authorized $600 million for the ReConnect program to expand high-quality connectivity in rural America by providing grants and loans to Internet access providers. The first round of ReConnect applications closed earlier this summer with $200 million available in each of the three funding categories:

  • 100 percent grant
  • 50 percent grant - 50 percent loan
  • 100 percent loan

Earlier this year, Congress approved an additional $550 million for the program, which the USDA will distribute after awarding round one funds.

logo-reconnect-eligible.png Most entities were eligible to apply for ReConnect funds, including for-profit companies, rural cooperatives, local governments, and tribes. The guidelines for which communities qualified, however, were much more restrictive. Proposed service areas had to be rural, as defined by the USDA, and had to have between 90 and 100 percent of the...

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Posted August 28, 2019 by htrostle

In July, the Community Affairs Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released Disconnected: Seven Lessons on Fixing the Digital Divide, a report that touches on Internet access, adoption, and affordability. Overall, this is an insightful primer on the digital divide and how banks can help. 

The CRA and the Digital Divide

Banks have a responsibility to invest in disadvantaged communities under the Community Reinvestment Act. The report broadly outlines the state of high-speed Internet access, including the differences between rural and urban access problems, and explains why the digital divide remains so persistent.

Part of the problem is that our data on Internet access and adoption is woefully lacking. The report includes a section on how FCC data overstates coverage and compares it to the ways Microsoft has attempted to verify actual home Internet connections: 

“The FCC’s data measure availability of broadband while the Microsoft data measure broadband usage. The company shared its analysis with the FCC, which is looking at how it might improve its broadband measurements. While the FCC says 24.7 million Americans lack access to broadband, Microsoft found the actual number was 162.8 million.” (P. 26)

Another related problem that the report identifies is that the technology needed for high-speed Internet access seems to be constantly changing. Companies do not continue to invest consistently in rural or low- and middle- income communities, leaving both with last-generation networks. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we've learned from years of research that fiber connectivity has the ability to meet current and future needs.

Closing the Digital Divide

Expanding high-speed Internet access can expand access to banking. The report notes that:

“Among low-income households, research by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City shows that lacking Internet access has a higher correlation to being unbanked than a variety of other characteristics, including employment status and race.” (P. 11) 

Supporting community networks is one way banks can improve high-speed Internet access, and our research appears throughout the report. One of the example explained...

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Posted August 15, 2019 by htrostle

Central Alabama Electric Cooperative (CAEC) will join the increasing number of electric cooperatives that provide broadband access. They've been developing a plan to build a high-speed network and recently announced more details.

Taking a Phased Approach

CAEC plans to construct the network, named CAEC Access, with a phased approach. Phase 1 will connect the co-op’s 24 electrical substations and six main offices with a 365-mile fiber ring. Electric co-ops use fiber to reliably and securely monitor the power grid, but fiber is also the backbone of high-quality Internet access.

According to trade magazine Alabama living, homes and businesses within 4,000 feet of this fiber ring will be able to request an Internet connection from the co-op. CAEC will take requests from both members and non-members; approximately 10,000 homes and businesses are within this initial area. The co-op wants 35 percent of premises in the first phase boundaries to sign up before commencing construction of the Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network. Interested residents and businesses can register at caecaccess.com, which requires a $25 fee.

Up to 1 Gig

The co-op uses the early sign ups to track the level of interest in the project and determine where to build next. CAEC is still working on establishing rates and speed tiers but has determined that Internet access will be about $59.99 for 200 Megabits per second (Mbps). Gigabit connectivity for residents and business owners will also be available. All tiers will be symmetrical.

logo-caec.jpeg In central Alabama, high-quality Internet access is sorely needed. Maps and data from the Federal Communications Commission show...

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Posted August 13, 2019 by lgonzalez

When rural Internet access providers work together to reach common goals, they improve their chances of succeeding. Groups such as the South Dakota Telecommunications Association (SDTA) help members get organized and pursue common needs together. The SDTA also provides a way for entities to connect with each other, research common challenges, and discover solutions. This week, SDTA Director of Industry Relations Greg Dean talks with Christopher about fiber optic deployment in South Dakota, a place that has more fiber optic connectivity than most people realize.

Greg attributes the healthy state of fiber deployment to the fact that small ISPs, such as municipal networks, networks on tribal lands, and cooperatives, have strong ties to local communities. He discusses some of the advantages in South Dakota, such as a collaboration that resulted in a statewide fiber optic backbone.

Christopher and Greg also spend time talking about funding for rural Internet access and how critical it is for organizations like the SDTA and its members to continue to push for deployment dollars. Greg hammers home the fact that connectivity is more important today then ever in places like South Dakota. He offers a few examples that illustrate situations unique to less populated areas that people who have never lived in a rural region might never have considered.

Learn more about the SDTA at their website, sdtaonline.com

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

This show is 32 minutes long and can be played on this page or ...

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