Tag: "rural electric coop"

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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Posted August 6, 2019 by lgonzalez

In June, Indiana’s Hendricks Power Cooperative and Endeavor Communications Cooperative announced that they will be partnering to expand fiber optic connectivity in west central Indiana. Endeavor will provide gigabit Internet and voice services over Hendricks's fiber optic network, bringing broadband to more than 5,000 households within the next four years.

Members Want It

According to the June press release, growth in Hendricks, Putnam, and Montgomery Counties have left businesses and residences in need of high-quality connectivity. The region is outside the Indianapolis metro and growing. Because it has been historically rural, large corporate Internet access companies have not made the same investments they’ve made in urban areas.

From the Hendricks Power press release:

“Our members and community leaders greatly expressed the need for access to high-speed Internet,” said Greg Ternet, CEO of Hendricks Power Cooperative. “Combining the resources of these two cooperative-based businesses will allow us to bring fiber-based technological services in a quicker and more efficient fashion. Joint investments by Hendricks Power and Endeavor Communications will help our community grow in terms of quality of life and economic development.”

Endeavor has been serving rural Indiana communities for around 65 years and began deploying fiber in 2006; they completed fiber deployment in 2016 in nine service exchange areas. With several awards under their belt at the state and national level, and ample experience at communications in rural environments, they seem a natural fit for another rural cooperative, such as Hendricks Power.

Hendricks began like many other electric cooperatives in the 1930s — with rural members working together to get power to their homes and farms. The co-op was formed in 1936 when the local utility, which was owned by private interests, would not expand out where population was sparse. Hendricks Power Cooperative now serves more than 30,000 members.

Getting A Gig

Endeavor is using crowdfiber to determine where to connect homes first. Folks should sign up to...

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Posted July 18, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Across the country, state legislatures are ushering in better rural connectivity by passing new laws that enable electric cooperatives to expand high-quality Internet access. In recent years, much of this legislation has authorized co-ops to deploy broadband infrastructure along existing electric easements. Other bills have removed restrictions that previously prevented electric co-ops from providing Internet access. Together, the new legislation makes it easier for electric cooperatives to bring high-speed broadband access to their members, signaling a brighter future for unconnected rural communities

Indiana in the Lead

Indiana’s state legislature was ahead of the curve when it passed SB 478, the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act back in 2017. The FIBRE Act permits electric cooperatives to use easements for their electric poles to also deploy broadband networks. Before the General Assembly passed this legislation, cooperatives that wanted to install communications infrastructure, such as fiber optic lines, along their electric easements would have to gain permission from each individual landowner to attach fiber to the existing poles.

Since the passage of the FIBRE Act two years ago, a number of Indiana electric cooperatives have embarked on broadband projects, including Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC), South Central Indiana REMC, Orange County REMC, and Tipmont REMC. At the announcement event for South Central Indiana REMC’s fiber project, State Senator Eric Koch, author of SB 478, noted that state legislation like the FIBRE Act was enabling electric cooperatives to expand modern connectivity to rural Indiana.

State Laws Advance Co-op Broadband

A wave of support for rural cooperative broadband initiatives rippled through state...

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Posted July 8, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

The lakes and forests of Aitkin County in northern Minnesota make it an ideal location for a vacation home, but poor connectivity has historically limited days spent at the cabin to weekends and holidays. However, a new partnership between Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC) and Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC) is making it possible for families to extend their trips up north by connecting lakeside cabins with high-speed Internet access.

The two co-ops are working together to build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, XStream Fiber, that will bring fast, reliable broadband access to homes and businesses in MLEC's service territory. MLEC hopes that the improved connectivity will benefit the local economy by encouraging seasonal residents, who make up more than 40 percent of the cooperative's membership, to stay in the region for longer.

Partnership Lands State Grant

According to Stacy Cluff, Technology and Energy Services Manager at MLEC, the electric cooperative had been exploring its options for offering high-speed broadband access for a decade. But it wasn’t until 2016 when MLEC began working with CTC, which had previously partnered with Arrowhead Electric Cooperative on a broadband project, that the XStream Fiber network became a reality.

CTC’s role in the partnership is to provide network connectivity, Internet backhaul, and backend support while MLEC manages billing, marketing, and other subscriber services. The cooperatives coordinate technical support calls, with MLEC handling basic issues itself and pushing higher level problems to CTC. The electric co-op owns all of the fiber infrastructure within its service territory.

logo-xstream-fiber.png The Xstream fiber might not have made it into the ground the $1.76 million Minnesota Border to Border Broadband grant that MLEC received in 2016. The award was the first Border to Border grant...

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Posted July 3, 2019 by lgonzalez

Since 2011, PCMag has collected speed data and written about the country’s Fastest ISPs based on download and upload results. This year’s results reflect, once again, that locations with publicly owned broadband infrastructure contribute to communities’ ability to offer faster connectivity.

How They Did It

PCMag asked readers to use a special speed test developed specifically for this reporting that measured download and upload speeds. PCMag's Speed Index assigned to each ISP represented 80 percent download speed and 20 percent upload speed. Filtering out non-U.S. tests, they ended up with 256,016 tests that applied to the comparisons. If, however, a location (for state and regional comparisons) or ISP had fewer than 100 tests, the folks at PCMag did not consider it a contender.

While editors further broke down results so as to stack major ISPs against each other in a head-to-head comparison, they also looked at all the results in a general comparison. PCMag broke down the results further by region and city. For more details on the results, check out the full article.

Munis New and Not-So-New

FairlawnGig in Ohio made the list this year, adding a third municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to the list. The city’s retail service began serving residents with gigabit connectivity back in 2017, after firmly establishing their fiber services for local businesses.

When contemplating the investment, city leaders adopted the approach that their fiber optic network would be an essential piece of infrastructure on par with sewers or roads. Fairlawn used municipal bonds with no intention of turning a profit; they considered the network an investment that would keep the Akron suburb competitive. Residents, businesses, and institutions in Fairlawn, however, have enthusastically signed up for fast, reliable, connectivity where residents can get gigabit Internet access for $75 per month.

pcmag-2019-fastest.png Fairlawn’s municipal FTTH network will keep company with a veteran to the list — Longmont, Colorado’s...

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Posted June 28, 2019 by Jess Del Fiacco

Decades after bringing electricity and telephone services to America’s rural households, cooperatives are tackling a new challenge: the rural digital divide. New updates to our report Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era, originally published in 2017, illustrate the remarkable progress co-ops have made in deploying fiber optic Internet access across the country. 

Download the updated report [PDF] here.

All versions of the report can be accessed from the Reports Archive for this report.

The report features new maps showing overall growth in areas served by co-ops, as well as expanded information about state legislation that supports co-op investment in broadband networks. A few important takeaways:

More than 140 co-ops across the country now offer residential gigabit Internet access to their members, reaching more than 300 communities. 

Co-ops connect 70.8 percent of North Dakota and 47.7 percent of South Dakota landmass to fiber, and residents enjoy some of the fastest Internet access speeds in the nation.

Georgia and Mississippi have overturned state laws banning co-ops from offering Internet access, and other states, including Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina, and Texas, have implemented legislation that will further ease the way. 

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.

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