Tag: "rural electric coop"

Posted March 26, 2019 by lgonzalez

Two pieces of recently introduced legislation in North Carolina’s General Assembly show a potential to help grow broadband in rural areas. In the past, state lawmakers have kept publicly owned Internet networks tightly reined in to protect cable and telephone monopolies operating in the state, but the restrictions may be loosening as state leaders recognize the need for more options.

The FIBER NC Act

The long list and leadership positions of sponsors attached to H 431 indicate that the FIBER NC Act shows promise. It’s four primary sponsors include the Rules Committee Chair and a Finance Committee Chair, which also bodes well for the future of H 431. Our friends at the North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM) tell us that they expect a similar companion bill with equal muscle behind it to come from the Senate.

The FIBER Act would change existing barriers to allow municipalities and local government the authority to invest in publicly owned broadband infrastructure in order to work with private sector partners. The bill also includes procedures that local governments must follow if they decide to pursue a public-private partnership, including conducting a feasibility study, and proper notification and execution of meetings. Within the language of H 431, the authors include specific instructions for publication and advertisement that describe the opportunity to lease the infrastructure.

Bipartisan support of the bill and the fact that almost 50 House Members, in addition to the four sponsors, have signed on add to the optimism that H 431 has a bright future. Folks at NCLM have expressed strong support for the bill and are galvanizing constituents to encourage elected officials to move H 431 forward. 

It’s first stop is the Committee on Energy and Public Utilities. If it passes there, H 431 will move on to Finance and then to the Rules Committee.

Read the full language of H 431 and follow it’s progress.

Untying Cooperative Hands

seal-north-carolina.jpg When we published our 2016 report, ...

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Posted March 25, 2019 by lgonzalez

Volunteer Energy Cooperative (VEC) and Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative began collaborating in the fall of 2017 to bring high-quality connectivity to folks in Bradley County, Tennessee. Based on the results of a successful pilot project, the cooperatives have expanded gigabit connectivity to more areas. With a recent grant award, the partners will continue to offer the service to more rural Tennessee residents and businesses.

Catching Up on the News

When we last reported on VEC and Twin Lakes, they had announced that they would be launching the pilot in Bradley County. Residents and businesses in Bradley County have long felt slighted by the state’s restrictive laws that prevent Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber from expanding into their county. Over the years, Bradley County and Chattanooga officials have searched for ways to serve Bradley County, but the state’s insistence on protecting large incumbent monopolies by preventing expansion have left Bradley County folks without fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.

VEC and Twin Lakes commenced the pilot in the Camelot subdivision of the Bigsby Creek Road area of Bradley County. In a February 2018 blog post describing the first customer’s experience, subscriber Mrs. Charles Hollifield said, “We had no problem with the installers. They were on time and friendly. We chose the 25 Mbps because we do not download much but it works well. We haven’t had it quit once since we got it.” 

Since then, the initial pilot area passed 120 homes in the first pilot area. Later in the summer of 2018, VEC passed 545 more residences in two additional communities. Last fall, VEC received $1 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to apply toward expanding fiber to approximately 730 premises in in Meigs and Hamilton Counties.

State Assists With Deployment

As part of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act (TBAA) grants awarded in March, VEC received another $1.3 million which they’ll use to connect 867 premises in McMinn County. VEC expects to begin construction on the expansion of the network in the fall of 2019...

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Posted March 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

Senator Janice Bowling has become a broadband hero in rural Tennessee and on the pages of MuniNetworks.org. Year after year, she introduces legislation aimed at expanding local authority to allow communities the ability to improve connectivity. She’s back this year with several bills aimed at expanding fiber in rural areas. 

Seeking Better Connectivity…That’s All

Like Bowling’s past legislation, related bills SB 489, SB 490, and SB 494 grant municipal electric utilities the authority “to provide telecommunications service, including broadband service” and specifies that they can do so beyond their electric service area. This change in the current law would allow places like her own community of Tullahoma to expand to serve neighboring towns. There is no fiscal impact from the Senator’s bills.

Bowling has seen firsthand how access to fiber optic infrastructure, such as Tullahoma’s LightTUBe, lifts economic development, improves educational opportunities, and helps a local community reduce costs. The city has thrived since investing in the network in 2009, while many of the communities that have had to rely on subpar service from the larger incumbents have limped along. 

SB 489 also extends authority for municipalities to collaboration for telecommunications and broadband service, to ease any uncertainty about public-private partnerships.

janice-bowling.jpg In her broadband bills, Senator Bowling defines “broadband” as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical, a move that illustrates the value of upload speeds in today’s economy. Rather than considering subscribers as consumers of Internet access, the Senator...

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Posted March 1, 2019 by lgonzalez

In the past year, communities and cooperatives in Texas have been making gallant efforts to better connect local residents and businesses with high-quality Internet access. Now, they may get a little help from the State Legislature.

Helping Co-ops

Earlier in this session, Senator Robert Nichols introduced SB 14, a bill that will allow electric cooperatives that hold easements obtained for electric service infrastructure the ability to extend those easements to broadband infrastructure. The bill replicates the FIBRE Act, a 2017 Indiana bill that opened up possibilities for rural cooperatives in that state.

Nichols told KLTV that he has high hopes for his bill:

“I’m getting a lot of support because all of the other plans for broadband that have been proposed use subsidies,” said Nichols. “This one asks the state for nothing, it asks the federal government for nothing.”

He also told KLTV that the Governor’s office has expressed support for the proposal.

Read the text of the bill.

Similar to Indiana’s FIBRE Act, the extension of the easement applies to those that already exist. By enacting making the change, cooperatives that already have infrastructure in place will save time in deploying fiber optic networks because they won’t need to obtain a second set of easements from members who’ve already granted them for electricity infrastructure.

In addition to offering broadband to members sooner, cooperatives who are able to take advantage in the change in the law will also save financially. Personnel costs, filing, and administrative fees add up when a co-op must obtain multiple, sometimes dozens or hundreds, of legal easements. Occasionally, a property owner doesn’t consent to an easement right away. This change in the law will prevent hang-ups in deployment due to uncooperative property owners that can jeopardize a project.

Back Home Again in Indiana

Several Indian electric cooperatives have announced Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployments since the FIBRE Act took effect....

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Posted February 19, 2019 by lgonzalez

Missouri is one of the states where electric cooperatives are taking the lead in bringing high-quality Internet access to rural areas. This week, we talk with Jack Davis, Vice President of IT and Special Projects at Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative. The co-op is in the midst of deploying Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to members in their service area, located in Missouri’s “Bootheel” region.

The mostly agricultural area consists of three counties that extend down from the southeast corner of Missouri and is surrounded by Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The co-op brought electric service to homes in the region in the 1930s and Jack and his colleagues are performing a similar service today by bringing broadband to a region where large corporate ISPs haven't invested much in infrastructure. In this interview, he describes what Internet access is like for people in the region before the cooperative decided on the project, and how strong support from residents and businesses has helped the cooperative determine the services to offer.

Jack and Christopher also discuss how the geography and environment influenced engineering and design plans, how locals are responding to the new service, and potential plans for growth in the region. In this conversation, you’ll also hear about some of the partnerships that Pemiscot-Dunklin has forged with other cooperatives in order to offer better services to cooperative members.

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

This show is 26 minutes long and can be played on this page or ...

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Posted February 18, 2019 by lgonzalez

Missouri’s Bootheel is the ultimate southeast corner of the state, extending south and surrounded on three sides by lands in Arkansas, Tennessee, and a smattering of Kentucky. The area’s known for having fertile soil and vibrant agriculture but now that Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative  is deploying Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), it's also becoming known for high-quality Internet access.

The Region and Lack of Connectivity

Jack Davis has worked in several fields. His tech career started when most people in the area reached the Internet via dial-up connections; at the time he worked as a network administrator for a local dial-up ISP in the 1990s. His second career was in agriculture and now he’s back in the tech field. Davis’s multiple work experiences have given him insight into the increasing broadband needs of rural residents who either farm or work in some other aspect of the agriculture industry.

When Davis went back into tech, he joined Pemiscot-Dunklin because the electric cooperative, which had never had IT staff before, needed to fill a long-existing personnel gap. With approximately 8,800 connected meters, the cooperative is a modest-sized organization. Approximately 20 percent of their load goes toward irrigation, revealing the important role agriculture plays in the region. Internet access in rural areas is limited to fixed wireless. Cooperative members who used to subscribe to the wireless service typically found top speeds were around 3 - 4 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and much slower upload speeds.

Time for an Upgrade

Discussion about the project began in 2014 soon after Davis started at Pemiscot-Dunklin. The way Davis tells it, his boss said “Now that I’ve got you hired, what can we do about Internet service?” The cooperative researched for about two years, examining a variety of options because they anticipated FTTH would be too expensive to deploy. In 2016, they worked with Conexon, the consulting firm that works with electric cooperatives interested in broadband deployment. Conexon's Jonathan Chambers was on Community Broadband Bits, episode 229, to discuss electric cooperatives and rural broadband access...

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Posted February 5, 2019 by lgonzalez

While in North Carolina at the recent Let’s Connect! speaking tour, Christopher sat down with Greg Coltrain, Vice President of Business Development of RiverStreet Networks. Greg participated in panel discussions in all three communities where the community meetings occurred: Albemarle, Fuquay-Varina, and Jacksonville.

RiverStreet Networks is the product of evolution of what began as Wilkes Communications. They’ve acquired several local providers in different areas across the state and are set on bringing high-quality Internet access to rural North Carolinians. In this interview, Greg shares some of the cooperative’s history, including information on how they’ve funded their deployments.

Greg also discusses his experience on the practical side of cooperative life, such as comparative operating costs between fiber and copper, working with electric cooperatives, and the ins and outs of leasing assets from public entities. Christopher and Greg also talk about future plans that RiverStreet has to partner with North Carolina’s electric cooperatives across the state to bring connectivity to more people in rural areas.

Learn more about Wilkes Communications and RiverStreet Networks from our conversation with Eric Cramer from 2016 for episode 188 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

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

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played on this...

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Posted January 30, 2019 by Hannah Bonestroo

In Missouri, rural electric cooperatives are bringing high-quality connectivity to an increasing number of small towns where large corporate Internet access companies don't consider population density high enough to justify investment. A few years ago, we reported that Ralls County Electric Cooperative (RCEC) was connecting New London, their hometown. Now, RCEC is expanding their network into nearby Perry.

It Took A While, But It's Coming

In the small town of Perry (pop. 700) in northeastern Missouri, many businesses currently lack the Internet speeds they need to operate successfully. With the current speeds available, as Senior Vice President of HNB Bank Jeff Albus explained, customers at the bank often have to wait while the employees stare “at a spinning wheel on [their] screen.” In order to secure Internet speeds necessary for a future in the digital age, HNB Bank decided to take initiative and work with the town to approach RCEC about expanding their fiber network into Perry.

Efforts began in 2016. At the time, RCEC was deployng their $19 million project aimed at serving rural areas around the town of Perry but not in the city limits. HNB and community leaders floated a petition and the Mayor had signed a letter of support on behalf of the City Council. With only CenturyLink DSL and satellite coverage to choose from, businesses and residents needed more options.

The community is considered the Southern Gateway to the Mark Twain Lake, where more than 2 million tourists come to enjoy summer recreation. As we've learned from places such as Cook County, Minnesota, and Colorado ski communities, such as Estes Park, high-quality Internet access is an expectation that an increasing number of tourists expect no matter where they go to relax.

From Electricity to Fiber...

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Posted January 15, 2019 by lgonzalez

Midwest Energy and Communications (MEC) offers Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in large pockets of southeast and southwest Michigan, north central Ohio, and a sliver of north central Indiana. Recently, the small rural town of Milton, Michigan, awarded the cooperative $75,000 to deploy fiber to approximately 80 homes in the community.

That Last Five Miles

According to the South Bend Tribune, the funds are being used to install the last 5-mile stretch of fiber that will complete a larger vision to connect the township’s entire 3,800 residents to high-quality Internet access. Mostly agricultural Milton Township is located in Cass County along the Indiana border. Construction is underway and may be completed as early as this spring.

Rates from MEC include:

$49.95 per month for 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) upload and download

$59.95 per month for 50/50 Mbps

$79.95 per month for 100/100 Mbps

$119.95 per month for 1 gigabit upload and dowload (1,000 Mbps)

When the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission and Connect Michigan assessed connectivity in the region almost seven years ago, Cass County was considered “below average” for Internet access in Michigan. Since that time, the Planning Commission has provided resources and information for local communities interested in taking steps toward better local connectivity; working with electric cooperatives and providing grants and loans have helped over time.

Midwest Energy

In addition to providing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access for members in their service area, MEC is also working with Lyndon Township by providing Internet access over the town’s publicly owned fiber network. MEC also offers propane, a popular form of household heat in rural Michigan.

The cooperative begin in 1937 as one of the many rural electric cooperatives formed by locals to bring lights to the families in areas unserved by private sector electric providers. The cooperative added propane service in 1998.

Check out this short video on the history of MEC:

...

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Posted January 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

When Indiana’s Tipmont REMC asked members about broadband in 2017, more than half said that they couldn’t access fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. The rural electric cooperative soon began establishing plans to develop a fiber broadband network. Now, in a move to bring high-quality connectivity to members sooner, Tipmont has acquired local ISP Wintek Corporation, and plans to serve all 23,000 members within the next eight years.

A Comfortable Relationship

Wintek, headquartered in Lafayette, began in 1973 and provides connectivity to Tipmont’s headquarters in Linden, Indiana. The ISP has used the electric co-op's poles for more than 10 years to mount sections of the Wintek fiber for residential and commercial connections. According to Tipmont’s announcement on the acquisition, Wintek has also served as a consultant for IT systems to the cooperative. Tipmont leaders have already established a level of trust with Wintek and vice versa.

According to Oliver Beers, co-owner and COO of Wintek, the acquisition will allow more Wintek customers to access fiber connectivity. “We’ve done as much as we can financially afford to do,” Beers told the Journal Review.

Began as A Solo Project

When the Tipmont board unanimously decided to develop a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, they had not intended to work with another entity. They commenced construction this past summer in Montgomery and Tippecanoe Counties, where they’ve already deployed 30 miles of fiber. In November, they connected a dozen households in Linden as test customers to work with the system for two months.

“It’s really important when you have a service that people depend on, like electric service or broadband service, that we make very sure that what we’re providing is highly reliable given the gravity of what’s being provided,” says [Tipmont REMC President and CEO Ron] Holcomb. “So since we are new...

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