Tag: "rural"

Posted August 17, 2018 by lgonzalez

In the most recent report from the Blandin Foundation, Researcher Bill Coleman from Community Technology Advisors and his crew put boots to the ground to examine the results of Connect America Fund (CAF II) investments. Bill recently visited our office in Minneapolis to discuss the report with Christopher for episode 318 of the  podcast.

You can download the report, Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons From Two Rural Minnesota Exchanges here.

Bill and Christopher discuss the challenges Bill and his team encountered when they initially decided to gather documentation on what services CAF II funded projects brought to rural Minnesota. In order to get past those challenges, the researchers devised a methodology that other communities can reproduce.

Once the team had answered the technical questions about infrastructure, they analyzed the results and applied them to Minnesota’s statewide goals for broadband access. They determined that, in addition to lack of transparency regarding CAF II network plans, the tendency to invest in slower speeds, including DSL, will not help Minnesota achieve its goals. 

For people living in urban areas who have grown accustomed to broadband within reach, it’s hard to imagine the situation in rural Minnesota, where there are still homes that have no access to the Internet at all. The disparity in speeds and availability complicate the idea that rural folks should have access to high-quality connectivity at the same levels as people living in urban centers.

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

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or 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...

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Posted August 9, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

Great Lakes Energy (GLE), Michigan’s largest electric cooperative and third largest energy utility, is constructing a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to bring gigabit connectivity to its 125,000 members. Construction in the project’s pilot area is underway. Eligible members may be able to subscribe to services from the co-op’s subsidiary Truestream as soon as the end of the year.

Truestream Off to A Quick Start

GLE shared on its website that the co-op decided to build the Truestream network because members expressed a need for better connectivity in rural Michigan.

At the end of 2017, the co-op’s Board of Directors approved the planned fiber project. Board approval came after three feasibility studies, commissioned by GLE and its power supplier, Wolverine Power Cooperative, concluded that a broadband network would be a responsible investment for the co-op. Bill Scott, President and CEO of GLE, wrote in Michigan Country Lines that this conclusion was “based in part on GLE’s very positive satisfaction rating… [and] on surveys done by GLE and Wolverine that show a high demand for high-speed, reasonably priced, Internet service.”

GLE began constructing the first portion of the Truestream network earlier this year. For the initial pilot, the co-op is focusing on the Petoskey service district, which includes Emmet County and parts of Charlevoix and Cheboygan Counties. An online FAQ explains this region was selected because it’s representative of the varying terrain, density, level of connectivity, and type of membership found throughout GLE’s service territory. Some homes could be online by the end of 2018.

logo-Truestream.jpg

State Representatives Lee Chatfield and Tristan Cole joined the co-op at a July 26th ribbon cutting ceremony to congratulate GLE on connecting...

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Posted August 7, 2018 by lgonzalez

If you haven’t already taken a look at our most recent report, now is your chance to get some insight before you download it and dive in. Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom, written by our Hannah Trostle, recently left ILSR to attend grad school, and Christopher Mitchell, transforms FCC Form 477 data into a series of maps that reveal a sad state of competition in the U.S. broadband market. For episode 317 of the podcast, Hannah and Christopher discuss the report and the main findings.

Download the report here.

Hannah and Christopher provide more insight into the main findings of the report, which analyzes where competition exists and where large national providers fail to invest. The result ultimately creates densely populated areas with more competition for broadband (as defined by the FCC) than rural areas. Due to their de facto monopolies, the top national providers capture huge segments of the population.

Hannah and Christopher also talk about the quality of the Form 477 data and the need for better benchmarks, we learn about why Hannah and Christopher felt that it was time to take the data and turn it into a visual story. You’ll learn more about their methodology in developing the maps and their analysis. Hannah, who created the maps that make the foundation of the report, shares some of the surprises she discovered. The two talk about the Connect America Fund and the policies behind the program and how the results have aggravated lack of broadband in rural America and how cooperatives are picking up the slack where big corporate ISPs are failing rural America.

cover-monopoly-report-2018_0.png If you want to learn more about how cooperatives are running circles around the big ISPs in rural areas, download our 2017 report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era.

Read the transcript of the show here.

We want...

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Posted July 31, 2018 by lgonzalez

When we spoke with Justin Holzgrove, Mason PUD 3 Telecommunications & Community Relations Manager, back in October 2017, we discussed how the public utility district in Washington was about to embark on expanding its services. This week, Justin is back and he’s joined by Isak Finer, who works as Chief Marketing Officer for COS Systems. The company is helping Mason PUD 3 develop strategic deployment plan with COS Service Zones, their demand aggregation tool.

In this interview, we learn about the decision to expand the use of the fiber infrastructure from electric utility support purposes to residential and business connectivity. As Justin describes, the county is filled with many small, rural communities. Traditional, large ISPs don’t typically find much motivation to serve these low density areas. Large numbers of electric customers let PUD officials know that they needed better Internet access and they wanted Mason County PUD 3 to supply the infrastructure. 

In order to determine the best way to implement their build out, the PUD engaged COS Systems, a firm with a decade of experience in deployment planning, especially in large, rural areas. Isak gives us background on the company and their software that helps communities, such as Mason County PUD 3, take a thoughtful approach toward deployment to maximize opportunities and move toward success.

Christopher, Isak, and Justin also consider the meaning of “open access” and how that meaning changes depending on location. As technology improves, innovators find new ways to use open access infrastructure that push the limits of what we’ve seen up to now.

Read the transcript of the show here.

Listen to episode 274 of the podcast for our earlier conversation with Justin.

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

This show is 34 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice ...

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Posted July 31, 2018 by lgonzalez

For years, national cable and telecom companies have complained that they work in a tough industry because “there’s too much broadband competition.” Such a subjective statement has created confusion among subscribers, policy makers, and elected officials. Many people, especially those in rural areas, have little or no choice. We wanted to dive deeper into the realities of their claim, so we decided to look at the data and map out what the large carriers offer and where they offer it. In order to share our findings with policy makers, local elected officials, and the general public, we’ve created a report that includes series of maps to illustrate our findings and our analysis, Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom.

Download the report.

Choice: The Ultimate Prize

Whether it’s a brand of breakfast cereal, a model of car, or an Internet Service Provider (ISP), those who purchase a good or service know that when they have more options, the options they have are better. The FCC defines "broadband" as connectivity that provides speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload; our report fouces on service where ISPs claim to offer this minimum threshold. 

When it comes to ISPs, subscribers often have a faux choice between unequal services, such as one telephone company offering slow DSL and one cable company that offers faster cable Internet access. People in rural America often have even slimmer options because cable ISPs don’t provide broadband in less populated rural areas. In other words, the market has spoken and the market is broken.

In this analysis, we examined Form 477 Data from ISPs and submitted to the FCC. While the data paints a grim picture of where competition truly exists, those who read the report should remember that Form 477 Data breaks down information into census blocks. As a result,...

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Posted July 17, 2018 by lgonzalez

An increasing number of local communities in Colorado are finding ways to improve rural connectivity. The Delta Montrose Electric Association (DMEA), a cooperative bringing electricity to approximately 28,000 members in southwest Colorado, is in the midst of Elevate, their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network that will connect all co-op members. We’ve brought co-op Board Members John Gavan and Brad Harding on the show this week to talk about the project and DMEA.

This conversation describes how and why the project got started and the plans for the future. Cooperatives are member organizations and this story is an example of a member-driven project that started when the community chose to improve their future. Significant employment losses in the region had the potential for widespread ripple effects and community members saw high-quality connectivity as a must for economic development.

John and Brad also discuss how the project is part of a larger effort to cope with the loss of electricity demand due to local job losses in the coal industry and a desire to stay on the cusp of innovation. With new infrastructure, the cooperative is investigating ways to offer such enhancements as electric vehicle charging and energy storage. They’ve also been taking a second look at local renewable energy generation facilities and wholesale contracts. DMEA and its members are taking new steps in self-reliance.

DMEA has produced a short video on the Elevate project:

Read more about how cooperatives are bringing broadband to rural America in our 2017 policy brief, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era.

This show is 31 minutes long...

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Posted July 13, 2018 by Hannah Bonestroo

In his recent article written for NBC News, journalist Phil McCausland examines the impacts broadband access can have on rural communities and the challenges that persist in bringing coverage to these isolated areas. Reliable high-speed internet access can spark economic development in some of the United State’s most cash-strapped areas, but a lack of dependable data makes acquiring funding difficult.

McCausland explores how high-speed Internet access is becoming increasingly essential for communities’ economic growth. He spoke with Roberto Gallardo, the assistant director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development, who explained how having broadband access today “is analogous to the installation of a railroad 100 years ago or a highway 50 years ago.”

Bringing Broadband to Rural Areas

McCausland investigates the specific case of Lake County, Minnesota, an area home to 10,000 people that spans 3,000 square miles in the far northeast part of the state. Our 2014 report, All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Fiber Internet Access, describes how the Minnesota legislature set a goal in 2010 to achieve universal access to high speed broadband throughout the state by 2015, including in Lake County. Many of Minnesota’s local governments stepped up to try to accomplish the goal. Local leaders in Lake County decided that they needed high-speed internet in order to take part in the growing digital economy. McCausland found that after nearly eight years of planning and an investment of over $80 million dollars, the area is seeing the economic benefits of high-speed Internet access. Coverage has boosted tourism and allowed for lifestyles that involve working remotely, as well as becoming essential to the growth of local businesses. 

logo-lake-county-mn.png While conclusive data on the exact economic outcomes are yet to come, McCausland’s interviews in the area reveal that many local residents already feel a direct impact. Local sawmill owner, Greg Hull, has seen an increase in business since receiving broadband coverage. He now has an improved website that “made [his company’s] whole Internet presence a lot more viable, which has in turn opened...

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Posted July 9, 2018 by Hannah Bonestroo

In as little as 18 months, the newly formed Pacific Rural Gas Cooperative (PRGC) plans to deliver natural gas and broadband to Spring Creek, Nevada, and to neighboring Lamoille shortly after.

Broadband Needed in Rural Nevada

Nestled at the base of the Ruby Mountains in northeastern Nevada, Spring Creek is a small town of about 12,300 people that originally formed in the 1970s as three large housing sections. The municipality mainly serves as a bedroom community for businesses and industries in the nearby City of Elko. The economy is mostly based on gold mining, with limited ranching, tourism, and manufacturing also providing jobs. Former Nevada governor, Jim Gibbons, who now owns a 40-acre ranch in Lamoille and Tariq Ahmad of Satview Broadband Ltd. founded the co-op in order to serve the 57-square-mile-area in Elko County where those services still do not exist.

Nevada prohibits municipalities with populations greater than 25,000 and counties greater than 50,000 from offering telecommunications services, but small municipalities and co-ops have been stepping up to provide broadband to rural areas. Last year, Churchill County Communications (CC Communications) began partnering with the Valley Communications Association of Pahrump (VCA) and Switch technology to bring fiber to rural areas of southern Nevada along US Highway 95. 

Despite the recent progress in other areas of the state, Spring Creek and Lamoille still need the services PRGC can bring to their communities. Like many other rural communities, large national ISPs have resisted investing in infrastructure needed to offer high-quality connectivity.

While JAB Wireless advertises broadband in the area, the company only provides terrestrial fixed wireless, a service often requires line of sight access between a ground station and subscriber. Beehive Telephone Companies, the only other provider of broadband in the area, brings Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to less than one percent of census blocks in Spring Creek and Lamoille.

Frontier Communications Corporation, the designated Telephone Exchange Area provider, offers Internet access, but no broadband, defined by the FCC as services with a...

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Posted July 6, 2018 by htrostle

The Connect America Fund provides annual federal funding to some of the largest telecommunications providers, but it can be hard for local officials to know where these dollars go.

A recent report digs deep into the federal subsidies for Internet service in Minnesota. Researcher Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors led a Blandin Foundation project that explored how federal Connect America Fund dollars have been used in two Minnesota telephone exchanges. In the end, researchers found that these networks would likely not meet Minnesota’s state connectivity goals.

Boots on the Ground

While digging through a paper trail of right-of-way agreements and local permits, researchers also went out into the field to find the actual infrastructure in the communities. They identified DSLAMs where fiber-optic lines connect to the copper DSL lines that run to people’s homes.

Using the locations of the DSLAMs, researchers mapped where people can likely receive federal government defined broadband of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. The maps also show where people can likely get 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload which is the standard for the Connect America Fund subsidy. 

Result: Little Broadband Access

The 27-page report goes into detail on the connectivity available in the two telephone exchanges. The researchers conclude by explaining:

“In sum, CAF II investments in Minnesota are being spent to build networks that don’t meet today’s federal definition of broadband and won’t meet state goals for the future. Moreover, lack of transparency in proposed CAF II network plans and timelines is making it difficult for impacted communities to plan accordingly to ensure their broadband needs are being adequately met.“ (Page 22)

Read the full report from the Blandin Foundation.

Posted July 3, 2018 by lgonzalez

Another small rural community in Colorado has recently taken an important step toward better connectivity for the community. The Town of Mountain Village issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) late in June to find a firm to conduct a Broadband Assessment and Feasibility Study. Responses are due August 10, 2018.

Read the RFP here.

Assess and Propose

The Town of Mountain Village (TMV) has an existing municipal cable network that offers Internet access, voice, and video. Community leaders want to engage a firm to assess the current infrastructure, consider improvements over the next few years, and make recommendations for improvements.

In addition to searching for ways to improve service and pinpoint any potential adoption and service gaps, the consultants will also be expected to devise a broadband strategy. TMV community leaders understand that the future will require better infrastructure than they now possess. The city wants to learn about the possible outlook for Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), potential partnerships, smart policies, and potential funding sources.

Town of Mountain Village

With only approximately 1,300 full-time residents and an additional non-resident property owner population, Mountain Village has similar qualities to some of the other rural communities we’ve covered. Penobscot, Maine, where seasonal visitors swell the population and the need for better connectivity, recently issued an RFI in their search for firms to help improve local Internet access. In addition to offering services to the general public, TMV's existing network connects municipal facilities, including water and wastewater, public transportation, public safety, parks and recreation, municipal offices, the housing authority properties.

As the name implies, TMV sits within the mountains. At the base of the Telluride Ski Resort in the southwest corner of the state, TMV adopted a free gondola and chondola (chair gondola) system as public transportation in 1996. Cars are still allowed in the town, but parking is limited to two garages and not permitted...

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