Tag: "rural electric coop"

Posted May 27, 2017 by htrostle

Bob Hance, President and CEO of Midwest Energy & Communications, formerly known as Midwest Energy Cooperative, spoke to Michigan Radio on the current plans for a high-speed, fiber optic network and the importance of rural connectivity. 

Midwest Energy & Communications offers speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) and has started to expand to new areas in southwest Michigan. Despite concerns that folks might not sign up for Internet service, demand has far exceeded expectations. 

Industrial Park Gets Service

An industrial park in Niles, Michigan, specifically requested to be connected to the high-speed network. Many of the tenants had considered relocating because of the previously shoddy connectivity. Thanks to Midwest Energy & Communications, those businesses chose to stay put. The co-op now serves about 80 percent of the industrial park with high-speed fiber. 

Listen to the full interview here.

For more about the history and structure of the cooperative, check out our own interview with Hance on Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 225.

Posted March 27, 2017 by htrostle

In rural New Mexico, about 80 miles west of Albuquerque, sits the small town of Grants. This community of 9,000 people is the seat of Cibola County, but 77 percent of Grants' residents live without high-speed Internet access. Thanks to two intrepid electric cooperatives, however, the town is now set to receive a next-generation network.

Continental Divide Electric Cooperative is teaming up with Kit Carson Electric Cooperative on a 3-year plan to bring a high-speed, fiber network to Grants. Local economic development groups are excited for the telecommuting and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Steady Journey Leads to Cooperative Cooperation

Continental Divide Electric Cooperative spent several years investigating how to improve Internet service. In 2014, they were rejected for a grant to build a proposed $77 million Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. By 2016, the cooperative devised another plan: partner with another organization to pursue better Internet access. The co-op members voted in May of that year to amend the bylaws to try that route. 

With the bylaws amended, the cooperative was then free to partner with Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, which built a fiber network in northern New Mexico a few years ago. Now, Kit Carson has the opportunity to share its experience. The cooperatives will connect homes and business in the town of Grants as they build out the network to connect Continental Divide's electrical substations. 

Chief Executive Officer Robert E. Castillo of Continental...

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Posted March 10, 2017 by Staff

This is the transcript for episode 243 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Mel Coleman, the president of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the CEO of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, explains how electric co-ops can provide high-quality, high-speed Internet service to their rural members. Listen to this episode here.

Mel Coleman: It is on fire and I think it something that most co-ops will, at the very least, be looking at very strongly within the next year or two, if they're not already.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is Episode 243 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week Mel Coleman joins Christopher for a talk on high-quality connectivity in America offered by rural electric cooperatives. Mel is CEO of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative and president of NRECA, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The NRECA represents more than 900 consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives, public power districts, and public utility districts in the US. Mel and Chris get into the purposes of the organization and how broadband has become such a growing interest for cooperative members. They also discuss the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative's new project to bring high-quality Internet access to its rural members with a phased approach. Mel shares information on their progress and their expectations. Learn more about the next project at naeci.com.

Christopher Mitchell: Hey, folks. This is Chris Mitchell, the host of Community Broadband Bits, and I just wanted to ask you if you could do us a real big favor to help us spread this show around, and that's to jump on iTunes or Stitcher, or 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 this show, please give us a rating and help us to build the audience a bit. Thanks.

Lisa Gonzalez: Now, let's get on with the discussion. Here are Christopher and Mel Coleman, CEO of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative and...

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Posted March 9, 2017 by lgonzalez

Residents and businesses in rural regions between Reno and Las Vegas recently learned that their odds at obtaining high-quality Internet access just went through the roof. A collaboration between county owned Churchill County Communications (CC Communications), the Valley Communications Association of Pahrump (VCA), and Switch technology company to deploy a middle mile fiber-optic backbone will open up a range of possibilities for rural communities along the U.S. Highway 95. The route runs north and south along Nevada's far west, passing through a number of small towns that are welcoming the new alliance.

A Backbone Running North And South

For the past 11 months, CC Communications and the VCA have been working to deploy more than 450 miles of fiber from north to south. Switch provided funding for the deployment to link its data centers in Las Vegas and the Tahoe-Reno area and will also provide funding for expansion to some rural communities. VCA will service the network in the south and Churchill will care for the north section.

Along the backbone, CC Communications and VCA will connect local communities. Beatty, in southern Nevada, plans to be the first use the new infrastructure and to deploy fiber in the community. The unincorporated community is home to about 1,000 people and is about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas. According to Valley Electric Association, the rural electric cooperative that owns and operates VCA, they have plans to expand fiber throughout the Beatty community.

“With that backbone, you can link up any town anywhere near it,” said Michael Hengel, spokesman for the Valley Electric Association. “The first all-fiber community in Nevada will be Beatty.”

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Like other rural electric utilities that have chosen to offer broadband, Valley Electric will be using its existing fiber resources initially installed for managing electric distribution for customer connectivity. The cooperative is currently offering fixed wireless Internet access with plans to offer...

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Posted March 7, 2017 by lgonzalez

As an increasing number of rural electric cooperatives are working to bring high-quality Internet access to their members, we’re learning more about new projects and the people behind them. This week, we talk with the CEO of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, Mel Coleman. As an added bonus, we get Mel’s insight as President of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

Mel and Christopher discuss the cooperative’s new NEXT pilot project to bring high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to members. Residents can get symmetrical gigabit connectivity for $79.95 per month. Mel draws parallels between the ways rural electric cooperatives brought electricity to rural areas in the region and now how the cooperatives are meeting the demand for broadband.

As the President of NRECA, Mel sees how other regions of the country are turning to rural electric cooperatives for better Internet access. While many are just getting started and others are well on their way, some have chosen to wait to take the plunge into offering telecommunications services. Why is that? Because just like local communities, cooperatives reflect the unique appetites and needs of their members. Mel explains why the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative feels offering better connectivity to their region is a necessity.

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 16 minutes long and can be played 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 episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is...

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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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