Tag: "rural"

Posted December 13, 2019 by lgonzalez

The Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) program from the Blandin Foundation has been helping local cities, counties, tribes, and other self-identified communities of interest or place take steps to meet technology goals since 2013. The foundation is once again seeking participant communities and is accepting applications to be part of the 2020-2021 program cohort.

Download the BBC Application Instructions here for more information on how to apply to the program. The application deadline is January 24th.

Helping Communities Meet Their Goals

Bernadine Joselyn, Director of Public Policy and Engagement at the Blandin Foundation alerted us to the search for participating communities. In an email, Bernadine stated:

This program emphasizes broadband adoption and use in rural communities through the provision of leadership and project development facilitation services as well as project funding of up to $75,000. Project examples include public Wi-Fi access, business technology assessment and training, workforce training, online community and business marketing, online government services and other community generated projects. Communities are required to create a steering team to oversee the effort over the 18-24 month program period 

For communities that have quality broadband services in place, this program can showcase the value of broadband network deployment. For communities working to improve their broadband networks, Blandin Broadband Communities can provide a platform for building community consensus that enhanced broadband networks are critical to a community’s future.

Working for Other Communities Across Minnesota

The last cohort focused on Iron Range communities in northern Minnesota; the Blandin Foundation was able to make use of funding from the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation (IRRR) and St. Louis County. Past entities working with the Blandin Foundation include the Cannon Falls School District, Bois Fort Reservation, Renville and Sibley Counties, the Mille Lacs Band of...

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Posted December 11, 2019 by Sayidali Moalim

Paul Bunyan Communication’s fiber network, GigaZone, continues to expand in Minnesota and is now offering gigabit connectivity in the Big Falls area. The cooperative is one of an increasing number of co-ops, both telephone and electric, that are picking up the slack in rural areas where large, corporate Internet access companies don't find the case for investing in communities that are not densely populated.

The cooperative has a history of expansion thanks in part due to their own contributions and grants like the Minnesota Border-to-Border grant. They also have offered to upgrade every school within its service area to gigabit Internet speeds with no extra charge and the presence of high-quality Internet access from Paul Bunyan Communications has contributed to economic development in the region. 

Members who are already subscribers but not yet signed up for gigabit service can choose to upgrade and can add more options:

GigaZone service options include unprecedented Broadband Internet speeds of up to 1000 Mbps – a Gigabit. Members who subscribe to GigaZone Broadband can also add PBTV Fusion and/or low cost unlimited long distance service. All current service options also remain available to cooperative members within the GigaZone.

Current routers may not be able to support the capacity increase and to help, the cooperative is offering their own Wi-Fi router to subscribers. The router is free to all new GigaZeone customers for the first six months, with a minimal charge thereafter.

Check out the GigaZone availability map to see where the service is available and where the co-op plans to deploy in the future.

Posted December 6, 2019 by Sayidali Moalim

Tombigbee Electric Power Association (TEPA) will become one of the first electric cooperatives in Mississippi to offer fast, reliable, affordable Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to all of its 43,950 residential and commercial members. Made possible through the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act of 2019 (HB 366), TEPA anticipates having coverage to all of its members, mostly in Lee and Itawamba counties, in four years. TEPA recently announced that Conexon will design and manage construction of the network. 

Change in Policy = Change in Possibilities

For more than 60 years, a Mississippi law had banned electric cooperatives from offering anything but electricity to their members. After pressure from the state Public Service Commission, Mississippi’s State Legislature passed HB 366 almost unanimously. The bipartisan legislation allows electric cooperatives to provide high-speed Internet access. Approximately two dozen electric cooperatives offer electric service in Mississippi. As a result, this single policy change has the potential to benefit roughly half of the state’s population.

When Governor Phil Bryant signed the bill into law in January 2019, he gave electric co-ops the lion's share of the credit for getting it through the legislature:

"This is a success for the Mississippi Legislature, for all those involved. If anyone wants to know how this bill got passed so quickly talk to the rural electric associations, because we do, and we listen to them."

Wheels in Motion

TEPA will be joining three other electric...

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Posted December 5, 2019 by lgonzalez

This week is episode three of the new podcast project we're working on with the nonprofit NC Broadband Matters, whose focus is on bringing ubiquitous broadband coverage to local communities for residents and businesses in North Carolina. 

The ten episode podcast series, titled "Why NC Broadband Matters," explores broadband and related issues in North Carolina.

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.png This week, Christopher and his guests explore mapping in our episode titled, "Broadband Mapping Means Money: Understanding How Data Drives Decisions.”

He talks first with Brian Rathbone, Co-Founder of Broadband Catalysts, a consulting firm that works with communities, non-profits, corporations, and governments to expand broadband Internet access. Brian and Christopher dig into federal mapping data and talk about some of the challenges in obtaining accurate data.

Jeff Sural works as Director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office for the North Carolina Department of Information Technology. He and Christopher take the mapping conversation to the state level. Jeff describes the work of the Office and explains why it's important that the state have the most accurate information possible. He explains state methods that involve citizen input about Internet access to help them get a more accurate picture of connectivity for residents and businesses in North Carolina.

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

This show is 54 minutes long and can be played on this page...

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Posted November 26, 2019 by lgonzalez

Some of the most rural areas in the country are in the American western states of Wyoming, Nebraska, and Colorado. This week's guest is Matt Larsen, CEO of fixed wireless Internet service provider Vistabeam. His company has made it their mission to deploy affordable, useful Internet access to the people who live in these areas where large national companies have avoided deploying Internet access infrastructure due to low population density. He grew up living on a ranch and understands the challenges of living in a place where it's difficult to get broadband.

In this episode, we're able to learn more about the company and the recent Connect American Fund Phase II (CAF II) award they've obtained to serve more people in the rural west. Matt describes the areas they'll be serving and how they've had to make some changes in order to meet all the administrative requirements of the federal program. He talks about some of the people who will benefit from their service and explains the bid they submitted to win the funding.

Matt also discusses the Lifeline product that Vistabeam will offer to subscribers, which is a requirement as part of accepting the CAF II subsidy. The new offering is less expensive than satellite Internet access, the only option for many people in the areas covered by this project, and yet offers faster, more reliable service. Christopher and Matt also talk about some conclusions of the recent report by Jon Sallet for the Benton Institute on Broadband and Society and Matt shares his opinion as a fixed wireless provider in the field.

You can listen to Christopher's interview with Jon Sallet about the report in...

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Posted November 25, 2019 by lgonzalez

Several rural counties in east central Indiana, where high-quality Internet access isn't readily available, can anticipate changes in the future, thanks to their local electric cooperative. According to WANE.com, Heartland Rural Electric Member Cooperative (REMC) will be embarking on an expansive project to provide high-quality Internet access via 3,000 miles of new fiber optic infrastructure. The network will serve around 20,000 members in four counties.

WANE.com reports:

The [cooperative] borrowed money to fund the project. In addition, Heartland REMC received several multi-million dollar 10-year tax abatements from Huntington, Wabash, and Wells counties for the project.

The total amount for the project is estimated to be $51 million.

“It’s going to be a long payback period,” [CEO Robert] Pearson said, “but the one commitment we had to make and figure out how to do is to make sure it wasn’t put on the backs of our ratepayers. So no rates will ever be raised because of this. We feel like … there are enough people that want this in order to have the support to pay it back.”

Though Heartland REMC will be constructing the lines for the services, they are partnering with TWN Communications to provide and run the new internet service.

But if you’re not a Heartland REMC member, you can still receive the service. Everyone in the county that does not have high-speed internet can get it as long as the lines are in their area.

Pearson told WANE.com:

“It’s a need in the rural areas and no one else will do it....We at Heartland being a cooperative and servicing those members felt like if no one else is going to do it then we need to because high-speed internet in today’s society is crucial.”

Watch the story on the project, which the cooperative expects to finish in three years:

...

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Posted November 22, 2019 by lgonzalez

Located in the far north of New York State and with only around 3,700 residents, Tupper Lake can enjoy the Adirondacks and natural beauty. Spectrum Cable and Verizon offer services in the community, but community leaders are exploring better options. The only way to begin is at the beginning, of course, and their Broadband Committee recently launched a survey for residents and business owners.

According to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise:

The survey will be mailed out to around 120 businesses already near the Development Authority of the North Country’s existing fiber optic line, and residents can fill it out online by visiting tupperlakeny.gov and clicking the “take the survey here” link before Dec. 31.

The 11-question survey is described as an “exploratory first step” in fiber optic expansion. DANC has already brought fiber optic internet access to Tupper Lake schools, the Wild Center nature museum and the Municipal Park, so the initial lines are already in the ground. 

The committee includes volunteers from local businesses, government, and community development organizations.

Fiber optic infrastructure from schools and other community anchor institutions have served as the foundation on which other communities have expanded networks to businesses, municipal facilities, and households. The federal E-rate Program provides funding to schools for telecommunications expenses, including infrastructure deployment, and is based on the percentage of students in a district that qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.

Places such as Ottawa and Chanute in Kansas both developed fiber optic networks for economic development with school fiber as an important foundation. Chanute decide this past summer to extend its publicly owned fiber infrastrucutre to two residential neighborhoods in order to develop a pilot Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot project.

Posted November 21, 2019 by Sayidali Moalim

Alabama communities with lower population density haven’t attracted big national Internet access providers, but their electric cooperatives are increasingly picking up the slack. In recent months, yet another electric cooperative announced that “it’s about time” for Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) for members.

Members are Ready

With over 90 percent of members voting in favor, Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Cooperative (JWEMC) will soon be joining an increasing number of electric cooperatives providing access to broadband. JWEMC’s General Manager, George Kitchens, hopes to have the first customers connected by the fall of 2020 and all members on the network within five years. Kitchens notes that strong support from the community could expedite the timeline. Construction is expected to begin late next summer and the co-op will connect members in both Lawrence County and Morgan County.

“We have studied this internally for over a year,” he said. “We hope to have 18 substations and 1,000 customers hooked up in Year One, 3,800 customers in Year Two and between 3,000 and 5,000 annually Years Three through Five,” said Kitchens

JWEMC has predicted it will need 10,000 subscribers to break even. Currently, folks in rural Lawrence County depend on satellite Internet access, while those who live in the more densely populated areas of Moulton (pop. 3,200) and Town Creek (pop. 1,100) may have access to AT&T DSL or cable Internet access from Charter Communications. Kitchens indicated that the network could be finished in three years, if demand is high and the cooperative can manage a rigorous construction schedule.

The electric cooperative held six public meetings in Lawrence County and Morgan County regarding the fiber optics Internet access project before asking members to vote. The meetings allowed JWEMC authorities to address concerns of cost and services and gave co-op officials a chance to answer questions from members. Following the series of well-received meetings, the cooperative mailed a ballot to members in October. The support for the...

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Posted November 20, 2019 by lgonzalez

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has a reputation for looking at today’s reality with an eye toward tomorrow’s needs. In their report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, Benton Senior Fellow Johnathan Sallet continues that perspective and offers insightful recommendations for a new National Broadband Agenda.

Download the report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s here.

Broadband for All Needs a New Approach

As access to high-quality connectivity becomes more critical each day, those without fast, affordable, reliable Internet access lose ground more quickly as time passes. In addition to the opportunities that come with broadband access, lack of adoption translates into lack of technical skills. Innovation isn’t slowing down for folks who don’t have broadband. 

As Sallet notes, access to and adoption of broadband improves our economy, strengthens communities, and empowers American workers. Obtaining that access and expanding that adoption, however, is proving more challenging than it should be.

In his report, the author reviews in detail the barriers that have prevented the U.S. from achieving its goal of ubiquitous access and adoption of broadband. He’s able to make recommendations based on four key policy areas:

Deployment of networks where adequate broadband does not exist;

Competition to increase choices and spur lower prices and better-quality service to their residents;

Affordability and Adoption for those who wish to have broadband in their homes but lack the means or the skills to acquire it; and

Community Anchor Institutions, such as schools and libraries, that increasingly serve their users wherever they are. 

"The Same Fabric of Truth-Seeking"

The 150-page report provides examples of successes, challenges, and many more detailed recommendations for a forward-thinking broadband policy agenda. As the author notes, extending high-performance broadband to all of...

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Posted November 20, 2019 by lgonzalez

When Vermont passed legislation to establish "communications union districts" in 2015, funding options expanded for regional community network ECFiber. Since then, other states trying to expand access to broadband in rural areas have looked at the success of ECFiber as a possible model. Now, New Hampshire is considering establishing a similar option as a way for local communities to improve local connectivity.

Waiting for Session

Democratic State Senator Jeanne Dietsch from Peterborough has drafted legislation she intends to introduce in the 2020 session. The bill will allow communities to establish "communications districts" to develop broadband infrastructure, similar to the way they band together in order to create sewer districts for necessary infrastructure. The entities are able to finance projects by applying for grants, loans, issuing bonds, and charging user fees, but are not able to tax.

In a recent GovTech article, Dietsch said:

“We modeled it on New Hampshire sewer districts just because that is language that’s already familiar to our legislators, and it’ll be much easier for them to pass it that way than to try to make it look like Vermont.”

The lawmaker was reflecting on difficulties the legislature had passing Senate Bill 103, which allows municipalities to work together for "multi-town bonding projects." Special interest lobbyists, whose job it is to maintain ISP monopolies, leveled their efforts at the bill when it appeared fearing the competition it might bring. Dietsch wants to avoid a similar fight with the communications district proposal, so has carefully crafted the language of the bill.

If passed, the new authority will allow cities to develop the infrastructure in order to work with private sector partners. ECFiber offers fast, affordable, reliable Internet access directly to the public, rather than providing fiber optic infrastructure for Internet access companies to use.

ECFiber

logo-ecfiber.png Prior to becoming a communications union...

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