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In Reedsburg, Expansion Weighed After Muni Fiber Success - Community Broadband Bits Episode 147

The first gigabit city in Wisconsin, Reedsburg, has a municipal fiber network operated by the city-owned electric utility. This week, we talk with General Manager of the Utility Commission, Brett Schuppner. Reedsburg fiber goes back to 2003, which makes it one of the oldest FTTH networks in the nation.

Located about an hour outside of Madison, Reedsburg has seen more investment from local industrial businesses because of its fiber network. They received a broadband stimulus award to expand their network into some surrounding rural areas and are now considering how they can continue expanding the network deeper into surround Sauk County without federal assistance.

We talk about what goes into these expansion discussions - what is the dynamic when one community has a great network and the County would like it to expand?

Read all of our Reedsburg coverage here.

Read the transcript from this conversation here.

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

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 Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

Community Broadband Media Roundup - April 17

This week, Christopher traveled to Austin, Texas for the Broadband Communities Conference. It was great to connect with so many people doing great work and build on the energy we are seeing across the country. Onward!

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Pokes Finger in Eye of Telecom Incumbents at Broadband Communities in Austin by Drew Clark, BroadbandBreakfast.com

Wheeler Talks Up Pre-emption Says There Are Serious Questions About ISP Competition by John Eggerton, MultiChannel

Just to reiterate: 

"The Commission respects the important role of state governments in our federal system," he said, "and we do not take the matter of preempting state laws lightly. But it is a well-established principle that state laws that inhibit the exercise of federal policy may be subject to preemption in appropriate circumstances. My position on this matter was shaped by a few irrefutable broadband truths:

  • You can't say you're for broadband - but endorse limits on who can offer it,
  • You can't follow Congress' explicit instruction to 'remove barriers' to infrastructure investment - but endorse barriers to infrastructure investment,
  • And you can't say you're for competition - but deny local elected officials the right to offer competitive choices."

National broadband summit aims to 'Gigafy America' WRAL TechWire

Municipal Broadband: Signs of Desperation? by Bernie Arnason, Telecompetitor

One response to this question regarding the need for municipals to enter the broadband business grabbed my attention – desperation. It was voiced by Deborah Acosta, the chief innovation officer for the city of San Leandro, California during the panel discussion “Using Broadband to Drive Economic Development: Successful Local Approaches.”

 

Community Broadband Networks News: State-by-State

California

Digital Divide: 100,000 lack Internet access in SF, report says by Joshua Sabatini, San Francisco Examiner

100,000 San Franciscans Don't Have Internet? by Jay Barmann, SFist

Massachusetts

Letter: Key moment for broadband by Steve Nelson, Berkshire Eagle

The regional fiber network is our best tool for economic development. For keeping young people here after they graduate from our fine colleges and universities. For attracting families with young children, who will get a better education because increasingly kids will have to do more homework online.

...

The choice we face in our moment of truth this spring is simple. Each of us must decide for ourselves, our families and our towns: to move ahead or fall behind.

Washington

Group fighting for Seattle broadband to become a public utility by Kipp Robertson, MyNorthwest.com 

Citizens took to social media when Comcast service went down for more than 30,000 customers. Follow the hashtag: #ComcastOutage for the stream.

"If Internet were a public utility in Seattle, everyone would have access," Roach said. "There's just no limit to the things that could shift in our city if we had that access."

Making Internet a public utility could allow for better reliability, Roach said. The impact of construction crews accidentally cutting a fiber-optic line in South Lake Union, for example, might have less impact if there are more safeguards.

Restless crowd wants Tacoma to keep control of Click network by Kate Martin, News Tribune

People are passionate about connectivity, and believe that there are may benefits beyond the bottom line. It's important that elected officials realize this before they make long-term deals that will impact their constituents. 

 

Oh, ALEC...

Phone Company Refuses to Stop Denouncing ALEC’s Telecom Policy Credo Mobile said it will not comply with the conservative group's cease-and-desist demands by Dustin Volz, National Journal

Anti-municipal broadband group tries to silence a critic ALEC sent cease-and-desist to wireless carrier, which refuses to comply by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

ALEC Threatens To Sue Critics That Point Out It Helps Keep Broadband Uncompetitive from the sloppy-denial dept by Karl Bode, TechDirt

Leverett Starts to Light Up in Massachusetts

The celebrated municipal network in Leverett, Massachusetts, is starting to serve select areas of the community. Customers' properties on the north side of town are now receiving 1 gigabit Internet service from the town's partner Crocker Communications. These early subscribers are considered "beta sites." Telephone service will become available when the network has been fully tested.

According to the press release:

The Town's initial plan was to turn on all subscriber locations at the same time; but interest from pre-subscribers was so strong that the Town's Broadband Committee arranged to offer sequential connections as individual homes are spliced into the network distribution cable. 

We learned about Leverett in 2012 as they explored the possibility of a municipal network. Lack of Internet access and problems with traditional phone service drove the community to take the initiative. Since then, they have been heralded as a model for self-reliance by the press, featured in case studies, and included in a white paper from the National Economic Council and Council of Economic Advisors.

LeverettNet subscribers pay a monthly $49.95 fee to the local Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the agency that maintains and operates the infrastructure. As more subscribers sign-up, that fee will decrease.

For stand-alone gigabit Internet access, subscribers pay an additional $24.95 per month. Stand-alone telephone service will be $29.95 per month. Those services will be $44.95 per month when bundled together.

A subscriber with bundled services of 1 gigabit symmetrical Internet access and telephone service pays a total of $94.90 per month, which includes the MLP fee. 

According to the press release, LeverettNet currently has 600 pre-subscribers, a take rate of 70%. Community leaders expect the network to be completed by August.

For more on Leverett, listen to the Community Broadband Bits podcast episode #113, in which Chris interviewed Peter d'Errico from Leverett's Select Board and the Broadband Committee.

Improving Mid-Atlantic Internet Access - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 146

When we last wrote about the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative, it was a coop focused on open access middle mile connections. Now it has become the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation and is starting to work on some plans to expand open access last mile access.

This week, we speak with MBC President and CEO Tad Deriso to learn more about their history and current approach. We discuss how they got started financially and lessons for other middle mile open access efforts.

We also discuss their plan to expand the model to last mile businesses and homes in Martinsville in southern Virginia. And along the way, we learn how incumbent providers react differently to open access in the middle mile than in the last mile.

Read the transcript from our discussion here.

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 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 Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

Minnesota House Proposal to Kill Broadband is the Wrong Move for Economic Development

Representative Pat Garofalo’s (R-53B) proposal to cut funding for broadband grants is the wrong move for Minnesota. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is absolutely opposed to any suggestion Minnesota should have two-tiered Internet access - a fast standard in urban areas and slower, less reliable access in Greater Minnesota.

Wireless technology and satellite Internet are not sufficient for homes and businesses in the modern economy. They certainly won’t lead to the kind of job creation or retention that Greater Minnesota needs. Modern jobs require modern connections.

ILSR has long fought the notion, often advanced by the cable monopoly lobbyists in Saint Paul, that wireless is good enough for people that don't live in the metro. Nearly 100 years ago, the United States wisely pursued policies to electrify farms and the boosts to the economy were staggering. Given the significant budget surplus, now is the not the time for the Legislature to turn its back on Greater Minnesota.

“It’s outrageous to us that a lawmaker who is supposedly in favor of needed job creation for our communities would turn around and slash the very thing that could support it,” says Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). “Rural Minnesotans should not be constantly moved to the back of the line for 21st century connectivity. We can’t wait any longer for the kinds of investments that will carry our schools and businesses across the digital divide.”

In Windom, Minnesota, for instance, the community has seen strong job growth, including at the Toro Manufacturing plant, because it could get better Internet access from the small city's utility than it could get at Twin City locations. Those jobs would not exist if local employers relied only on wireless or satellite technologies.

More information:

ILSR published All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access, a detailed report on how local communities across the state can improve Internet access for government, businesses, and residents. One of our policy recommendations from studying these 12 communities in depth was expanded, rather than reduced, state support for these efforts.

Cooperative Lights Up $88 Gigabit in Northeast Alabama

Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative (FTC) is now bringing gigabit service to its Alabama members. According to the Online Reporter, FTC is the largest member-owned cooperative in the state and offers symmetrical service to businesses and residents in two counties.

The cooperative began in 1952 when telephone companies of the time did not want to invest in the rural area of the state due to low expected returns. Years earlier, the community had organized its own electric cooperative and reproduced its success to bring telephone service to residents. The area, referred to as Sand Mountain, is a natural plateau at the southern tip of the Appalachian Mountain chain.

WHNT 19 News attended a lighting ceremony in Geraldine where the FTC CEO said that the cooperative has covered approximately 84 percent of its membership area. The fiber network runs between Chattanooga and Huntsville, consisting of approximately 2,770 miles of fiber.

“We’ve now covered about 84 percent of our traditional membership on Sand Mountain between the Tennessee River and the Georgia/Tennessee lines,” said Fred Johnson, CEO of Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative. “We’ve also been able to extend that network to communities of interest such as Fort Payne, Collinsville, Valley Head, Section, Dutton, and other areas in DeKalb and Jackson County that are part of our competitive area but not traditional area.  They now all have access to that fiber broadband network.”

“Geraldine, and every other municipality in DeKalb and Jackson County that we touch can say they’re a gig city just like the rest,” Johnson says.

FTC pricing for stand alone symmetrical  broadband is an affordable $67.50 for 100 Mbps and $88 for gigabit service. The cooperative also offers triple play and other bundling options.

WHNT 19's coverage:

Bar Harbor, Maine, Studies Muni Fiber to Replace Time Warner Cable Franchise

For the past several months, Maine communities have been a hotbed of broadband activity. Bar Harbor, located midway along the state's Atlantic coast, is another community looking at fiber as a necessary investment. 

According to a February article in the Mount Desert Islander, the town of 5,200 has decided to move forward with a feasibility study. The town received Internet access at no additional cost as part of its previous franchise agreement with Time Warner Cable. That agreement expired about a year ago and, as we have seen in other communities, the cable giant now appears to be holding out in order to charge for the same service. From the article:

“The guidance that we’ve received from the lawyers helping us … is that the cable company really doesn’t want to give us anything, and may in fact want to start charging us for the fiber network that we get today as part of that franchise agreement,” said Brian Booher. He is a member of the communications technology task force, which has studied the issue of broadband availability in Bar Harbor.

A similar situation in Martin County, Florida, inspired that community to build its own network. It is now saving millions, with no need to contend with typical Time Warner Cable hassles, price hikes, and poor service. Read more in our case study on Martin County [PDF].

Bar Harbor seems to be adopting the same attitude as the rest of the state. They see that economic development success rests on connectivity and that entities like Time Warner Cable are not in business to boost local economic development. Booher went on:

“If the only way to get there is to do it ourselves, that’s the Maine mentality right there. So, my attitude is, let’s look at this and see what it would take.”

Community Broadband Media Roundup - March 14

Whether You’re Red or Blue, You Should Love the FCC’s Internet Plan: This Tea Party guy gets it. Why don’t DC Republicans? by Susan Crawford, BackChannel

He said (paraphrasing), “I want my freedom and I can’t stand the idea of government messing with our lives, and that’s why I like the Tea Party. But I also can’t stand that there’s a company that can tell me what kind of Internet access I can get — I can’t run my business from my home because I can’t buy the connection I need here.”


FCC Ruling

FCC order allows EPB to expand Gig service to outlying areas
Dave Flessner, Times Free Press

"We're glad that a growing number of state lawmakers are supporting proposed legislation that would remove the territorial restrictions that currently prevent municipal utilities from extending fiber services to neighboring areas," he said. "This Tennessee-driven approach is the best near-term option for serving more of the people across our state who are currently underserved or poorly served with broadband connectivity."

Here's The FCC's Ruling On Municipal Broadband
by Karl Bode

The FCC's taking aim at North Carolina and Tennessee protectionist laws first, with the hopes that other states and cities will petition the FCC for help down the line. While the FCC's net neutrality rules tries to protect consumers in the absence of competition, the municipal broadband ruling is an effort to actually create a little additional competition.

Local governments should make broadband choices
By Christopher Mitchell, Guest columnist

When Comcast announced plans last year to invest hundreds of millions in theme parks in Florida and California, its customers may have wondered why the cable giant wasn't using those funds to deliver a faster or more reliable Internet connection. While Comcast's Universal Studios faces competition from Walt Disney World, most people don't have a real choice in high-speed Internet access.

FCC decision gives counties hope of blazing Internet speeds 
by Charles Taylor, County News

Electric Co-ops as a Vehicle for Bringing Fiber to Rural Areas
by Mitchell Shapiro, Quello 

I recently listened to an interview with Randy Klindt, General Manager of Co-Mo Connect, a rural electric co-op building a gigabit fiber network in Central Missouri. It reminded me that the nation’s rural electric co-operatives can be effective vehicles for deploying advanced communication infrastructure in relatively high-cost and underserved rural areas.

...

As Klindt points out, member owned co-ops like Co-Mo have a different perspective than private companies when it comes to investment horizons. While the latter tend to prefer payback in a 3-5 year timeframe, co-ops view both electricity and communication networks as long-term infrastructure investments with payback timeframes in the 10-20 year range.

Recent FCC Proceedings Highlight Importance of Equity, Local Control
By Nicole DuPuis, Public CEO

These decisions speak to the basic tenets of democracy and equity. The internet, which is one of our country’s most sound economic engines, has also developed into a carrier of social good. It protects our right to free speech, broadens our access to information, and enables us to communicate across physical boundaries. Policies that view and protect these services as institutionalized goods to which the public should have unrestricted access reflect democratic ideals and a spirit of equality among all citizens.

FCC Chooses 12 New Rural Broadband Experiment Winners
by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor

 

Alabama

FCC ruling may allow Opelika to expand fiber network
by Pierce Ostwalt, The Plainsman

“I’ve been mayor for 10 years [since] last October,” Fuller said. “In my first three or four years, the most complaints I got about anything was Charter. Sorry customer service, outages all the time, pricing was going up and there was no competition.”

Fuller’s comments fall in line with many of the points made by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler before the FCC’s Feb. 26 ruling.

 "Broadband access providers have the technical ability and the economic incentive to impose restrictions on Internet,” Wheeler said. 

Idaho

Local Schools Make PLans for Own Broadband
by Chelsea Brentzel

"I think it's just something we do in the spirit of collaboration, and I think that's always important because when we talk about the school district and the city it's all the same people, and so anytime we can keep costs down it benefits everyone involved," Kirkham said.

She said the IEN crisis puts a focus on local government.

"This is always an argument for local control so whenever you have local control, then you aren't at the mercy of the decisions being made higher up the ladder and so this is one of those instances where you see that being played out," Kirkham said.

Rural schools find faster Internet at cheaper prices
by Michael H. O’Donnell, Idaho State Journal

If there is a silver lining to the mess involving the state of Idaho’s broken contract to establish the Idaho Education Network, it’s the realization that local Internet providers might be able to provide better service to small school districts for less money. 

Kentucky 

Mayor seeks companies to boost Internet speeds
City issues Request for Information as next step of Gigabit City project

New Mexico  

Rancho Santa Fe Association moves forward with plans for ‘fast, reliable’ fiber-optic network
by Karen Billing, Rancho Santa Fe Review

Norther Carolina

From Hollywood to Wilson, NC - a broadband move
By Allan Maurer, Special to WRAL TechWire

After 16 years in Los Angeles, the founders of ExodusFX moved their video special effects business to the East Coast three years ago, finally choosing the Eastern NC City of Wilson because of its gigabit municipal broadband network… 

... In LA, it would cost from $1,5,00 to $3,000 a month or more to get the necessary high speed broadband connections if you could find them at all, he says. By moving to Wilson, the company helps keep much work from going to India or China by reducing its production costs, including cost of living as well as the much less expensive bandwidth it needs. In Wilson, they pay $150 a month for their dedicated fiber hookup. 

Ohio

Progress continues on Fairlawn’s municipal Wi-Fi project
By Sean Patrick West Side Leader

“We’re the first city in our area — really, the State of Ohio — to do something like this,” he said. “We’re creating not only Wi-Fi, but also fiber for broadband. It will be a utility for residents and for businesses, so I think it’s pretty exciting.” 

Rhode Island

Chippendale: Homes Without Internet Access Leave Students Unable to Excel in School
GoLocal News

“But, there is a catch - and it’s a big one,” explained the representative. “There are approximately 232 Foster homes that have no means of accessing Broadband Internet. The students in those households want to do their homework – but they can’t. They have the high tech equipment - which taxpayers have paid for, but the technology is rendered useless in the students’ own homes! This is why I introduced House bill 5488. We must bring access to Broadband Internet to those Foster residences ASAP so these students can do their schoolwork and complete their homework.”

Tennessee

City backs TUB in broadband expansion efforts
by Andrea Agardy, Tullahoma News

The board of mayor and aldermen has officially voiced its support of the Tullahoma Utilities Board’s (TUB) bid to offer its LightTUBe Internet service outside the current limits of its coverage area.

Brian Skelton, TUB’s general manager, was among those praising the FCC’s decision.

“I am happy with the FCC decision,” Skelton said. “Municipal broadband expansion is certainly one of the answers to help get high speed broadband to more unserved and underserved Tennesseans. While I respect the concern of the state having their laws overridden by the federal government, this decision should ultimately be made at the local level, and many states, including Tennessee, have passed laws prohibiting a local decision.”

Federal authorities are not alone in taking another look at the issue. A bill to lift the restrictions on municipal Internet providers, sponsored by Sen. Janice Bowling [R-Tullahoma] and State Rep. Kevin Brooks [R-Cleveland], is currently pending in the state legislature.

Virginia

Broadband: Connecting rural Nelson County poses trials

“What is important about the NCBA’s ‘open access’ network is that businesses and residences that decide to obtain Internet are not locked into having service from only one ISP,” Carter said.“… It is the authority’s objective for additional ISPs to contract to use the NCBA network so that there will be more choice through competition for services, and that increased competition will also result in improved and expanded services.” 

And finally,

How small cable companies say they get screwed by their larger rivals: Small cable operators have to pay the big ones for access to TV programming
by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica  

Small Cable Ops Beg FCC For Help in Battling Cable Giants
by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Tech Blog GigaOm Abruptly Shuts Down
by Ravi Somaiya, New York Times

When Gigabit Communities Go Rogue
Jason Meyers, THE GIGABOT

A gigabit network deployment in Pelican Bay, Fla., provides a good example of what can happen when fed up (or, perhaps, underfed) broadband consumers take matters into their own hands -- and should serve as a wakeup call for broadband service providers that may not be paying enough attention to the needs of their niche customers. 

Why America's Internet Is So Sh*tty And Slow
Adam Clark Estes, Gawker Media

You may have heard that the internet is winning: net neutrality was saved, broadband was redefined to encourage higher speeds, and the dreaded Comcast-Time Warner Cable megamerger potentially thwarted. But the harsh reality is that America's internet is still fundamentally broken, and there's no easy fix.

Yolo County, California Ready for Better Broadband

The Yolo County Board of Supervisors in California voted unanimously recently to accept consultants' recommendations to take steps improve broadband in the county. Some of those recommendations included investing in infrastructure to improve both urban and rural areas in the northern county. 

The Davis Enterprise reported on the meeting from February 24th:

With its diverse mix of rural and urban areas, the county has communities where little or no broadband service is available. And even in urban areas with greater access to service and providers, many residents complain of slow and unreliable connections, according to the Yolo Broadband Strategic Plan, which also provided direction for county officials on closing the divide in the coming years.

The strategic plan, commissioned in 2013, notes that in some areas residents must rely on dial-up or satellite:

“Residents are generally limited to low-speed connections that prevent these users from accessing the majority of online content,” reported John Honker of Magellan Advisors LLC, which prepared the report.

“Using the Internet for anything but simple Web browsing is challenging in these communities,” he said.

The situation is especially critical for farming communities in the county, reports the study:

Yolo's agricultural populations are also challenged by poor access to broadband, especially in the farming and seed technology industries. Yolo farms are often unable to keep up with the technological advancements in the agricultural field that would allow them achieve greater productivity and better management of their natural resources.

In the more urban areas, such as the City of Davis (home of UC Davis), residents complain they cannot get the service they need in households with multiple devices. In those cases, the bandwidth they need is just too expensive if it is available. These same communities complain of unreliable networks.

Almost a third of Yolo County residents who responded to the study survey reported that they use satellite or dial-up for Internet access, 35 percent said they use AT&T DSL, 18 percent reported they use Frontier DSL, and 18 percent reported they use mobile Internet. Eighty-five percent of respondents reported download speeds of slower than 6 Mbps, reports the Yolo County profile from the study.

“Yolo County is on the wrong side of the digital divide,” [Honker] told county supervisors. “The more devices we’re using, we’re taxing our connections more, creating demand for the services and the networks can’t keep up.”

Monica Webb Talks WiredWest on The Take Away

Monica Webb, long-time spokesperson and current chairman for Massachusetts' WiredWest, recently spoke with John Hockenberry on The Take Away. Monica briefly described why the coalition of local communities chose to take control of their own connectivity with a regional municipal effort.

Fittingly enough, Monica describes how she had to drive 20 minutes in order to access a connection that was reliable enough for the interview.

As we reported in January, WiredWest is currently working with specific communities to determine detailed cost estimates so they can assess their ability to deploy infrastructure with as much information as possible. As you will hear in the interview, funding is one of the primary hurdles facing smaller rural communities in western Massachusetts.

The interview runs a little over 4 minutes.

For a longer discussion on WiredWest, listen to Christopher interview Monica for Episode #2 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the summer of 2012.