Tag: "upgrade"

Posted June 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

In addition to studying how and where local communities examine the potential for publicly owned Internet networks, we’ve looked at rates over time in select areas of the country. We recently put together a comparison of historical rates for municipal networks in Tennessee. Our findings are consistent with what we’ve seen all over the country - publicly owned networks don't hesitate to raise speeds while keeping rates affordable. We've documented the data on our fact sheet: Municipal Networks: Speed Increases & Affordable Prices.

Not Like The Big Guys

National providers make it a habit to periodically raise rates and over time those increases add up. They’ve done it so often, subscribers have come to expect it on a regular basis. Price increases don’t usually include a speed increase. With no need to appease shareholders, officials in charge of publicly owned networks can set rates at a level that allow a network to be sustainable rather than rates that maximize profits.

Publicly owned networks have increased speeds for subscribers, often with little or no fanfare other than quietly alerting subscribers to their improved service. Places Chattanooga’s EPB, Morristown’s FiberNET, and BET in Bristol are in a much different habit than Comcast or AT&T - they increase speeds with no increase in price. Other Tennessee communities have increased speeds significantly with only slight price increases over years of service.

Speeds, Rates Then And Now

On our fact sheet, we include prices for the basic tiers now and when the network began offering services. We also compare the basic speeds when the network began serving the community and today. The results reflect how publicly owned networks focus on providing fast, affordable connectivity to subscribers rather than collecting profit from customers.

Some results may surprise you:

  • Morristown has never increased prices for their standard speed offering. It’s always been a solid $34.95 each month. The speed has increased to 50 Mbps, an 8 fold increase!
  • Bristol has operated a municipal network since 2008. The standard speed is 5X faster than when the city started building the network. (With no price increase.)
  • Chattanooga has not raised their prices since...
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Posted May 9, 2017 by lgonzalez

Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS) is now rolling out gigabit connectivity to local communities. Local leaders and network officials anticipate the upgrade will attract more jobs and more people to this rural area of the state:

"Jackson is very fortunate. This is something that a lot of people probably take for granted and don't realize how lucky we are in greater Minnesota to have high capacity access," said Jackson City Administrator Jennifer Bromeland.

"It's just been so vitally important, and to be able to offer that in the communities of our size is just something else. It's absolutely fabulous," SMBS General Manager Travis Thies said.

Regional Effort

SMBS received $12.8 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding to add to their own contributions, for the 181-mile fiber project in 2012. The publicly owned regional network serves the communities of Jackson, Bingham Lake, Heron Lake, Lakefield, Brewster, Wilder, Okabena, and Round Lake. Several of the communities in the consortium had been told by incumbent CenturyTel (now CenturyLink) they would never get upgrades faster than dial-up because the towns were just too small to justify investment from a national provider. Now all the communities collectively own the high-speed fiber-optic network. 

Local businesses strongly supported the project and helped secure the ARRA funding with letters to the federal government expressing the need for better connectivity in the region. Municipal facilities were connected to the Internet via 1.5 Mbps connections that drained bandwidth for the rest of the community. Local healthcare facilities and nonprofits also stepped up to submit appeals to the federal government. Clearly, the entire region - and all sectors in it - needed better connectivity.

Things have changed since the communities took matters into their own hands.

"We have the fiber set up to many of our businesses and residents right now, so we have had this for a while and it's helping or businesses to meet their goals and just helping us to keep people in Jackson and attract people to want to move to Jackson," said Bromeland.

Better Broadband On The Prairie

In addition to bringing high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) access to people...

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Posted April 28, 2017 by lgonzalez

Coon Rapids, Iowa, recently began its upgrade project, replacing its cable network with Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH). Coon Rapids Municipal Utilities (CRMU) hopes to have the citywide project completed by late summer 2018.

Experience From The Eighties

CRMU started offering cable TV to the community in 1982. At first, the system only offered about 35 channels. In 1996, community leaders began considering the possibility of offering Internet access and formed a task force to address the idea. After talking with residents and researching other communities’ approaches, the task force recommended Coon Rapids move forward with establishing a communications system.

In 1996, 87 percent of votes cast in a referendum were in favor of investing in a municipally owned cable communications system and a similar percentage voted to have CRMU be in control of the system. By the end of August, just a few weeks after the vote, CRMU was offering dial-up Internet access.

The utility constructed a fiber-coaxial system in 1998 and within a year CRMU was providing telephone, Internet access, and cable TV services via the community network.

Coon Rapids is home to about 1,300 people and is located about an hour west of Des Moines.

Posted April 11, 2017 by htrostle

Out in Big Sky Country, some rural communities look forward to high-speed Internet service from their local telephone co-op. 3 Rivers Communications in Montana has spent the last few years steadily building out their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to rural residents.

This spring, 3 Rivers Communications is set to start on two new areas: an $8 million project near Choteau (pop: 1,700) and a $1.5 million project near Fairfield (pop: 700). 

Focus on Rural Residents

The local newspaper Choteau Acantha reported on 3 River Communications’ latest plans. About 500 folks will be able to get high-quality phone, video, and Internet service at home when the co-op finishes both projects in late 2017 or early 2018. 

The current plans focus on rural residents on the outskirts of both towns. Folks in Fairfield already have access to fiber service, but people within the city of Choteau have DSL. Businesses in Choteau can request fiber connections, but the co-op is not currently planning to offer fiber connectivity to residents inside town limits.

These fiber projects are all part of a larger program to upgrade in the cooperative's service area of 17,000 square miles. The co-op is taking out the old copper telephone lines and replacing them with brand new fiber-optic cables. It’s a large undertaking and will serve approximately 20,000 members.

Federal Funding for Rural Areas

To upgrade to fiber in its large service area, 3 Rivers Communications obtained funding from several federal programs, including the Rural Utilities Services (RUS) and the Universal Service Fund. The co-op received a $70 million loan in 2011 and another $30 million loan in 2016 to improve the network. 

Currently, the lowest tier bundle of phone and 10 Mbps Internet service is $85 per month, but co-op members get back excess revenue in capital credits each year. 3 Rivers General Manager Dave Gibson described the balance of costs and prices to the Choteau Acantha:

“Our customers have the same wants, needs and...

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Posted February 7, 2017 by lgonzalez

Muscatine, Iowa, is ready to begin its upgrade, bringing municipal cable network customers up to Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) technology. Last week, the Board of Water, Electric & Communications Trustees from Muscatine Power & Water (MP&W) awarded the contract to a firm that will transform the network and bring speeds up to 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Megabits per second) download tier. No word yet on upload speeds.

As we reported last spring, MP&W is taking a slow march toward finishing this project because there are a number of interlocking pieces that need to fit together correctly. The firm awarded the contract was able to introduce several alternatives that reduced the initial estimate of $8.7 million to $7.5 million. The upgrade will be funded with an interdepartmental loan from the electric utility.

At the same meeting, the Board also reviewed the 2016 budget which came out well for the MachLink communications utility.

Net income of $1,372,919 was budgeted for the communications utility, but actual net income was $2,148,272, with an ending cash balance of $8,257,000. There also is debt of $9,044,000 owed to the electric utility. Gowey said revenues were 3.2 percent over budget, while expenses were 25 percent under.

The upgrade will begin in May and customers are expected to be on the new system as early as August. The project should be completed by the end of 2018.

Posted January 18, 2017 by lgonzalez

Last spring we reported that Spencer Municipal Utilities (SMU) was marching steadily on with its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project that it started in 2015. Within a few months, SMU is set to begin the fourth and final phase; the entire community will soon will have access to fiber connectivity. 

Last And Final Phase

As part of the last phase, the utility will place a new substation in the northeast section of town. According to SMU General Manager and CEO Steve Pick, the utility has purchased a prefabricated structure built especially for this purpose. The structure will be delivered and installed by the sellers and the utility will pay approximately $40,000 for the building.

Spencer, Iowa, population 11,200, is one of the many rural towns that chose to invest in the necessary infrastructure to improve connectivity for local businesses and residents, rather than gamble on whether or not national companies would ever deliver. They began serving customers in 2000 with a cable network and, after they realized customers’ bandwidth demands would continue to rise, decided to upgrade to fiber. The network has been good for the quality of life and economic development in Spencer.

Prepping For The Future

Amanda Gloyd, SMU marketing and community relations manager, told the Daily Reporter:

“Our customers continue to use more bandwidth and we only see that continuing to increase in the future. In the areas of Spencer where the conversion is already complete, we are able to offer 50 [Mbps] all the way to 1 [Gbps] of service, which is exciting to be able to offer in addition to the increased reliability, decreased maintenance and paving the way for how our communication services will be delivered in the future.”

Posted January 11, 2017 by lgonzalez

The mythical Paul Bunyan was enormous. Paul Bunyan Communications’ GigaZone appears to be following his example as it continues to expand throughout northern rural Minnesota. The cooperative recently announced that they are expanding the upgrade once again, bringing Gigabit per second (Gbps) capacity to their members via the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. This time, members in the communities of Kelliher and Northome will have access to the upgrade.

The Big Gig

The expansion brings gigabit network to more than 1,700 additional locations; this will bring Paul Bunyan’s GigaZone footprint to more than 29,400 locations. The network covers more than 5,000 square miles in Beltrami County and also reaches areas of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties.

In November 2016, the cooperative began offering service on the Red Lake Nation, which makes it one of only a few tribal communities with high-quality Internet access. Paul Bunyan provides gigabit connectivity to local schools for affordable rates and has been awarded the Leading Lights National Award for most Innovative Gigabit Broadband Service.

A Long Time Coming

Paul Bunyan Telephone began in 1950 when the residents in very rural northern Minnesota either had no telephone service, or received it from their townships, which meant they had to share lines with up to nine other customers. As a prerequisite to obtaining a loan from the Rural Telephone Administration (RTA) through the Rural Electric Administration (REA), the Co-op Board had to purchase and operate an existing system. They started with the privately owned Kelliher Telephone Company along with the Hendrickson Township Telephone system. In addition funds they had obtained by selling memberships in the cooperative, the board directors agreed to mortgage their own property as collateral so another local cooperative and a local bank would loan Paul Bunyan Telephone enough to purchase both telephone systems. It was a risk, but it paid off.

Over the decades,...

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Posted December 6, 2016 by lgonzalez

Iowans in the small town of Osage have been able to obtain cable Internet access from the community’s municipal utility since 2001. The community is about to take the next step; Osage Municipal Utility (OMU) is acquiring a fiber-optic backbone from a private provider. The purchase will get them started on what will eventually be a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) upgrade.

Serving Osage For More Than 125 Years

Osage, the Mitchell County seat, is home to about 3,600 people and located in north central Iowa. The electric utility began as Osage Electric Light, Heat and Power Company in 1890. After several ownership changes, the municipality became the owner in 1941. In 1959, the utility began supplying natural gas and in 2001, the utility added a communications system. In addition to Internet access, OMU also began offering cable TV and telephone service.

OMU is also developing a Voluntary Community Solar Program in which customers can purchase units of Solar Array capacity and in return they receive a production-related credit on their monthly utility bill.

Another Local Tool

Josh Byrnes, general manager of OMU, described the backbone as “another tool in the economic toolbox.” He noted that the line will create opportunities for people outside of OMU’s service area that live along the backbone to potentially obtain service from private providers.

In addition to providing FTTH to customers in the future, Byrnes noted that OMU will also be bringing much needed redundancy in the area. Incumbent Omnitel Communications is the sole provider of fiber-optic services in Mitchell County. OMU will offer fiber in Mitchell, one of the towns in the county where Omnitel has no fiber presence.

“We are simply getting connectivity to Osage and build out from there. There are going to definitely be opportunities for savings to our rate payers long term. Even more important is the dependability of services moving forward. It’s hard to put a price on that.”

Posted November 24, 2016 by Scott

The NTCA-Rural Broadband Association this month awarded the Highland Telephone Cooperative (HTC) of Sunbright, Tennessee, its national certification as a “Gig-capable” provider, reports the Independent-Herald.

HTC serves Scott and Morgan counties in Tennessee and McCreary County in Kentucky and is now one of 85 Gig-certified company/cooperative providers in the nation. The certification recognizes rural communities that are at the cutting-edge of broadband technology, offering Internet service of up to at least 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Megabits per second or Mbps). The association launched this national campaign in the fall of 2015. 

Years of Planning

HTC completed its $66 million fiber-optic network within the last year; 1 Gig capacity Internet service is available to all 16,5000 members reports the Independent-Herald.  The six-year project upgrades the cooperative’s old copper network. Highland Telephone CEO Mark Patterson: 

"This gigabit certification caps off years of careful planning, investing and building a brand-new fiber network in our area...All along, we knew our commitment was worth the effort so our friends and families in this area could keep their rural lifestyle without sacrificing world-class connectivity."

The upgrade included more than 2,700 miles of fiber by the cooperative's crews and contractors — enough to stretch from Highland's office in Sunbright to Vancouver in British Columbia, the Independent-Herald reported.

"Our area lacks interstates and many economic advantages that other communities enjoy, and we've suffered through some extremely high unemployment in recent years," Patterson said. "An asset like a gigabit-capable network can be our competitive edge when it comes to bringing in industry and growing existing businesses."

85 Gig Networks

To date, the NTCA-Rural Broadband Association has recognized 85 companies and cooperatives from 26 states as Gig-capable. The list includes 26 recipients in Iowa and six from Minnesota....

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Posted September 22, 2016 by htrostle

Once again we return to Iowa to learn about community networks and high-speed connectivity. Home to municipal networks such as in Cedar Falls, Lenox, and Harlan, Iowa also grows publicly owned networks of a different kind - cooperatives’ networks. The Winnebago Cooperative Telecom Association (WCTA) provides next-generation connectivity to rural areas, and is now upgrading infrastructure in its service area. WCTA uses Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) technology to provide Internet access of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps). 

Small Towns and Cities To Get An Upgrade

WCTA is now installing fiber in Forest City, home to about 4,000 people and the county seat of Winnebago County.

WCTA General Manager Mark Thoma told the Globe Gazette’s Forest City Summit newspaper, “We have to work closely with the city. Kudos to the city crew for locating (all the utilities). It’s been going very well.”

WCTA intends to install their fiber underground in Forest City and the municipal utilities department is facilitating the cooperative’s efforts by locating current utilities infrastructure. Collaborating will enable WCTA to bury their fiber without disrupting other services.

This upgrade to fiber will replace the copper lines towns served by WCTA, where members still use DSL. Customers in rural areas received an upgrade to FTTH several years ago. 

Rural Areas First

In 2011, WCTA received $19.6 million American Recovery and Reinvestment (ARRA) award for a fiber broadband project in rural areas throughout its service territory. Half of the money was a grant, and the other half was a loan.

While finishing the fiber builds in these rural areas in 2015, WCTA automatically bumped up the speeds of all rural members. Previous top speeds of 15 Mbps jumped up to 100 Mbps via FTTH but the $65 per month subscription rate stayed the same. WCTA's fiber network speeds are symmetrical, so upload and download speeds are the same.

Cooperatives Have Annual Meetings

The WCTA...

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