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Blandin Webinar on Minnesota Broadband Grants Now Archived and Available

The Blandin Foundation held an informative webinar on March 13 that is now ready for viewing. 

If you were not able to attend the webinar, this is a great opportunity to learn more about grants available through the Blandin Community Broadband Program (BCBP). There are six active programs that focus on broadband. Mary Magnuson from the Bladin Foundation and Bill Coleman with Community Technology Advisors host the webinar.

Video: 
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Bill to Boost Broadband in Minnesota Struggles in Legislature

In a revealing video about the Internet access problem in rural Minnesota, Annandale City Administrator Kelly Hinnenkamp below describes her town's struggle with connectivity. The video is the latest in a series on the Minnesota Senate DFL YouTube page intended to shed light on the critical situation in the state.

Hinnenkamp describes broadband in the areas outside of Annadale as "horrific." She goes on to discuss how the community's poor connectivity negatively impacts its economic health. She shares a story about entrepreneurs from an artisan spice business once located in Annandale. The company started with online sales but the owners anticipated opening a storefront in the downtown area of the lake community. After contending with eight outages in three weeks, the new business pulled up stakes and moved to Buffalo. 

Buffalo, located only 15 minutes away from Annandale, offers fast, reliable, affordable fiber service to local businesses.

In a February Minnesta Public Radio News article, Hinnenkamp told Dave Peters:

“Broadband is probably the single most important issue in our community right now,” she said. “Our big issue is not that we don’t have service but that we have one provider that has shown little interest in improving it. Broadband is our future."

In a Star Tribune article, Pete Kormanik, the owner of a local McDonald's, expressed his concern as a business owner:

Downloading data for a digital menu board — a task that would have taken 30 minutes at his other restaurants — dragged on for more than four hours.

After delays in processing credit cards, watching training videos and transmitting orders, Kormanik switched to an AT & T antenna. But a cloudy day can slow that service.

“If you can’t stay current with [connectivity], you’re just going to fall behind,” Kormanik said. “And businesses won’t go into those locations.”

Watch the brief interview with Hinnenkamp below or visit the series website to see more interviews. In the words of Dan Dorman, Executive Director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership: 

"It's time to stop talkin' and do something."

Broadband has been discussed for the past several years in Minnesota. Several task forces and reports have all concluded that lack of broadband in Minnesota, especially in the rural areas, will have detrimental effects on the future. Senator Matt Schmit, a DFLer from Red Wing, introduced SF 2056 [PDF] this session to inspire momentum for local broadband projects. Representative Erik Simonson, DFL Duluth, has been pushing the measure in the House.

The bill establishes a grant and loan program focused on local middle- and last-mile projects in areas like Annandale. Dubbed the Border to Border Infrastructure Program, it would bring $100,000,000 from the state's general fund to be applied to broadband projects. The bill has bipartisan support but has not been prioritized by either the Governor or Senate leadership within the Legislature. Meanwhile, Comcast and other incumbent lobbyists have been trying to minimize the fund and any impact it could have.

While it may not become a reality this legislative session, the bill has brought serious reflection on the critical need for Minnesota's rural areas. One of the attractive features of the bill is that funds can be used to supplement funding for local projects. This approach allows local communities to determine the best path for their own needs.

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FCC Rural Broadband Workshop Video

In case you missed it, you can still stream the FCC's Rural Broadband Workshop. The announcement describes the event:

The workshop will include an examination of the broadband needs of rural populations and the unique challenges of both broadband deployment and adoption in rural areas.  In addition, the discussion will highlight the economic, educational, and healthcare benefits that can be realized through broadband deployment and adoption.  The workshop will also examine different business models that have been used to deploy broadband in rural areas, including a discussion of the factors that drive investment decisions and technology choices of different types of providers in rural communities.  Finally, the workshop will examine the role that states have played, and can continue to play, in meeting the rural broadband challenge.

The first discussion, Broadband Needs, Challenges, and Opportunities in Rural America, focuses on the impact broadband access has on education, healthcare, and economic development. Panelists are:

  • Jeff Fastnacht, Superintendent, Ellendale School, Ellendale, ND
  • Charles Fluharty, President and CEO, Rural Policy Research Institute
  • Brian Kelley, CEO, Ag Technologies
  • Thomas F. Klobucar, Ph.D., Deputy Director, Office of Rural Health, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Linda Lord, Maine State Librarian
  • Don Means, Coordinator, Gigabit Libraries Network

Rural Broadband Buildout - Effective Strategies and Lessons Learned, will start at 11:00 a.m. and will include:

  • Will Aycock, General Manager, Greenlight Community Broadband, City of Wilson, NC
  • Michael Cook, Senior Vice President, North America Division, Hughes Network Systems
  • Jimmy Copeland, Director of Special Projects, Troy Cablevision, Inc.
  • Cecil Lara, Director Network Planning, AT&T
  • Denny Law, General Manager/CEO, Golden West Telecommunications
  • Ben Moncrief, Director, Government Relations, C Spire
  • Alex Phillips, CEO, Highspeedlink.net

The 1:30 afternoon panel is titled State Strategies to Meet the Rural Broadband Challenge. Panelists are:

  • Ben Dobbs, Deputy Director, Massachusetts Broadband Institute
  • David Salway, Director, New York State Broadband Program Office
  • Catherine Sandoval, Commissioner, California Public Utilities Commission
  • Lori Sorenson, Chief Operating Officer, Bureau of Communications & Computer Services, Illinois Central Management Services
  • Ray Timothy, Ph.D., CEO/Executive Director, Utah Education Network

Understanding the Georgia Communications Cooperative - Community Broadband Bits Podcast #92

While at the SEATOA Conference in Raleigh last week, I met Mike Foor, the President and CEO of the Georgia Communications Cooperative (GCC). Given the important role GCC is playing in expanding great Internet access in rural Georgia, we wanted to interview him for Community Broadband Bits.

Back in episode 46, we spoke with Paul Belk about the North Georgia Network (NGN). This week we learn more about how cooperatives have worked together to form the GCC and help the NGN to expand.

Mike and I also discuss what it will take to connect rural homes, businesses, and anchor institutions with fiber optics - the real challenges and the imagined ones.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Valley Lodge for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Sweet Elizabeth."

Chris Mitchell and Billy Ray From Glasgow on Community Matters Podcast

In the most recent podcast from Community Matters, Fran Stoddard interviews Chris Mitchell and Billy Ray, from the Glasgow Electric Plant Board. The interview touches on the benefits of community networks, their critical role in the health of local communities, and provides info on getting a local initiative started.

Glasgow, the first municipal network in the country, pioneered the idea of the publicly owned broadband network. Billy Ray, Superintendent of Glasgow's Electric Plant Board shared a detailed account of the community's strategy in episode 74 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. He also helped us to develop a video on the network (soon to be released!).

Community Matters also provides notes from the show, detailing questions and answers. The show runs just under an hour.

 

Home Security Firm ADT Opposes Kentucky Bill to Eliminate Landlines

In February, we reported on another attempt by AT&T, Windstream, and Cincinnati Bell, to eliminate plain old telephone service (POTS) in Kentucky. According to Mimi Pickering from the Rural Broadband Policy Group, AT&T's SB 99 is quickly moving ahead and may even be up for a full House vote at any time.

Kentucky has fought to save its landlines for three years in a row. Many of us only think of landlines as a way to speak with loved ones, but for the isolated, elderly, and those that face daily health hazards, a landline is also a lifeline.

We recently learned that home security firm ADT submitted a letter opposing the passage of SB 99 because many business and residential customers rely ADT's technology designed for traditional landlines. Even thought the letter is dated March 4th, it only recently came to light. The letter states:

Many of our customers, like the one who alerted ADT to this bill, rely on POTS to carry alarm signals to and from monitoring companies like ADT.  Some also use POTS for their Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) and medical alert services.  ADT accepts that the transition from POTS is a natural progression towards new technology, and is actively working to develop best processes and an acceptable timeline where POTS is discontinued; however, the safety of everyday Kentuckians could be jeopardized if this is not done in a pragmatic, thoughtful way.

Kentuckians can weigh in on this bill by calling the toll free message line at 800-372-7181 and tell House leadership and their legislator to oppose SB 99.

ECFiber Welcomes 600th Subscriber

The East Central Vermont Community Fiber-Optic Network (ECFiber) recently connected its 600th customer. The network continues to connect to additional homes and businesses, recently reaching Royalton. According to the Valley News, the network will extend to over 200 miles by the end of 2014, passing more than 2,000 homes and businesses.

The story notes that the Vermont Telecom Authority's Orange County Fiber Connector, a dark fiber project running through Orange and Windsor Counties, facilitated the expansion. From the article:

“In addition to offering us the possibility to connect more than 500 homes and businesses along the route, the (Orange County connector) will enable the interconnection of our remote hubs, allowing us to purchase more bandwidth and offer higher throughput to our subscribers,” said Stan Williams, chief financial officer and interim chief executive officer of ValleyNet, the Vermont nonprofit charged with operating ECFiber.

ECFiber sells tax-exempt promissory notes to local investors to fund the network. The coalition of communities that participate in the network now number 24. The Valley News also reports that the new CEO for ValleyNet will be Tom Lyons, formerly of Sovernet. Lyons replaces Tim Nulty, who recently retired.

Leslie Nulty, one of the network's champions, talked with Chris in episode 9 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. She described the ECFiber model and shared the history of the network.

To Overbuild or Underbuild? A Rural Policy Conundrum - Community Broadband Bits Podcast #91

Lisa Gonzalez and I, Christopher Mitchell, are back in studio for a short conversation about the implications of a municipal network or a coop receiving subsidies from government to engage in overbuilding, where it builds a fiber network in an area already served by slow DSL and cable networks.

This has become an important issue as Minnesota considers a fund that would encourage networks in areas currently unserved and possibly underserved.

We discuss the economics, fairness, and practial realities of both allowing "overbuilding" and disallowing it as Minnesota features two similar networks that have come to different conclusions, to the advantage and disadvantage of different local stakeholders.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 13 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Valley Lodge for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Sweet Elizabeth."

Tennessee Legislature Considers Four Pro-Muni Bills

Even though there are several publicly owned networks in Tennessee, existing state statutes create barriers discouraging investment. This year, there is a movement at the state Capitol that may change the environment.

The Jolt Digest and CivSource recently reported that four bills aimed at expanding municipal networks in Tennessee have strong support in Nashville. These Tennessee bills are a refreshing change from bills that are pushed by the cable and telephone companies to limit investment in next-generation networks.

However, these bills are often killed quickly in committee or subcommittee due to the tremendous lobbying power of the big cable and telephone companies.

According to the Jolt Digest, two bills are location specific. From the article:

S.B. 2005 and H.B. 1974 would expand the municipal electric system’s provision of broadband service in Clarksville, Tennessee’s fifth largest city, while S.B. 2140 and H.B. 2242 would allow Trousdale County  to contract with a rural electric cooperative to provide broadband services.  

As the rules stands, municipal electric utilities that offer broadband cannot expand beyond their electric service territory. Clarksville would like to reach out further to offer services to schools, hospitals, and industrial parks. CDE Lightband now provides a gig product that community anchors need. According to Christy Batts at CDE Lightband, the network recently upgraded residential customers without raising rates. The lowest Internet access speed available to new customers is now 50 Mbps for $44.95 per month.

The Jolt Digest describes the remaining bills as intended to redefine the state's current definition of "telecommunications." The change would allow electric cooperatives to use their existing dark fiber to reach customers that are not served by rural telephone cooperatives. The goal is to encourage economic development, education and health care.

As we so often find, these bills have bipartisan support. Though Republicans at the state and federal level tend to support big cable and telephone company positions more often than Democrats, both Republicans and Democrats at the local level overwhelmingly support the decision being made at a local level rather than state or federal preemption.

PDFs of the full text of the bills are available online:

SB2005, HB1974 - Affecting Clarksville

SB1240, HB2242 - Affecting Trousdale County

SB2428, HB2364 - Addressing the definition of "telecommunications"

SB2562, HB2482 - Facilitates the expansion of municipal utilities’ broadband services for economic development, education, and health care.

2014 Broadband Communities Summit In Austin, Texas Set for April 8 - 10

The 2014 Broadband Communities Summit is scheduled for April 8 - 10 in Austin, Texas.

Chris Mitchell will be speaking at 3 p.m. on April 8 during the Economic Development Program as part of the talk titled "Economic Development: The Killer App." Chris will be back on April 10th to speak during the Rural TeleCon segment. He will present information on the state of broadband in regions that continue to struggle with connectivity. The "Envisioning a Future for Broadband Deployment" panel from 11:00 a.m. - 12:20 p.m. CST.

Other panel discussions in the Rural TeleCon segment will be:

  • The Bandwidth of the States: Where They Stand in 2014 (a quick review of broadband in all 50 states as stimulus projects roll out)
  • Financing Future Bandwidth
  • Disruptive Technology Is Spurring Learning In the Classroom
  • Measuring Prosperity from Rural Broadband Utilization
  • Cool Things Rural Communities Are Doing With Broadband

You can view the entire summit agenda online, review details about free workshops, and plan your trip. You can also register online for the event, to be held at the Renaissance Hotel in Austin.