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In rural communities, large companies often won’t invest in high-quality Internet network infrastructure due to the lack of population density. Increasingly, rural electric and communications cooperatives are filling the void and providing the Internet access small towns and surrounding areas need. In order to illustrate the challenges facing these small rural towns, we’ve developed a series of videos titled, “From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!”
The series includes five episodes that tell the story of one small town, its residents, and the way they tackle the need for better local connectivity. In addition to our story about the folks from the imaginary community of "Villageville," we include real-life statistics about connectivity in rural communities.
In the first episode, we’ve introduced some of the characters that will take us through the series as we catch up with them outside the local library. You'll learn why they're hanging out in the parking lot and get a better understanding of what life is like in a rural community where small towns want better Internet access.
Share this resource with others who are interested in exploring options for improving connectivity in their local communities.
We’ll share more episodes that document Villageville's journey in the coming weeks.
We've published all five episodes! Watch them here to find out what happened in Villageville:
After five years of planning, meetings, and overcoming obstacles, the town of Estes Park has officially launched its Trailblazer Broadband Internet service to pilot neighborhoods.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
The Broadband journey started back 2015 when the residents of Estes Park experienced catastrophic outages due to ice and flooding which led to long telecommunications outages. It bacame obvious to community leaders that the town needed a different solution that entailed reliability and redundancy, not available from the incumbent provider. The city held a referendum and with the support of 92 percent of those voting, the town of Estes Park opted out of SB 152.
Fast, Affordable, Reliable Connectivity for Residents and Tourists
Estes Park, considered the gateway to the Rock Mountain National Park, depends on its tourism industry and current Internet speeds may deter vacation goers who need to remain connected to work during time away from work. With the introduction of high-quality Internet access at their resorts and lodging, Estes Park will have an edge over their competition as well as ensuring future economic development opportunities for the entire region.
For town officials, staff, and the majority of residents, the implementation of high-quality Internet access is a welcomed project.
“This is truly a tremendous milestone for the community,” said Town Administrator Travis Machalek, at the town's official opening ceremony celebration on September 25th.
The expected project construction cost is around $26 million. Based on an anticipated take rate of 30 - 40 percent, the community expects to pay off the investment in 10 - 12 years.
Trailblazer Broadband is being rolled out to pilot neighborhoods and is expected to serve the entire town in three to five years. The schedule is based primarily on construction feasibility, population density, and potential revenue.
Check out this marketing video on Trailblazer Broadband:
This summer, Falmouth, Massachusetts, released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study for a community network. The community, where the year-round population of 32,000 swells to more than 105,000 in the summer, has investigated the possibilities of a publicly owned fiber optic network for the past several years. In early September, Christopher visited the east coast and appeared on FalmouthCommunityTV to share information with the greater Falmouth community.
Courtney Bird, who has lead the effort, provides information about how Falmouth has gotten this far. He describes how surprised he was when, at public meetings to discuss better local connectivity, large numbers of people appeared in support of the idea of a publicly owned network. Bird also goes through the steps they took to establish a committee to examine the problem, seek out solutions, and find funding for the study.
Falmouth has received better than expected responses to the RFP, notes Bird, and while they originally expected to decide on a firm by mid-September, he anticipates the decision may be delayed due to the number of proposals. Bird offers updates for local Falmouth and explains what they should expect from the study and from the process.
Peter Cook, who is also on the Committee for a Falmouth Community Network, is IT Director for the local library and a former computer science professor. Peter describes what the Falmouth hopes to learn from the feasibility study. From funding to potential models to possible services, Peter gets into the details of what the community wants from the study. Peter also moves beyond to describe next steps. Falmouth is thinking ahead in order to be prepared and nimble; they encourage locals to stay involved and stay up-to-date.
Learning from Others
Peter and Courtney and the rest of the Committee understand that taking advantage of lessons learned from other communities will help. Christopher answers questions and offers suggestions based on years of research and documented results.
This week, we have a returning guest from Tennessee to tell us about the many positive changes occurring in Clarksville, home of CDE Lightband. Christy Batts, Broadband Division Director at the network joins Christopher; her last appearance on the podcast was in 2013.
This time, Christy describes how the community network has been innovating for better services and finding undiscovered benefits for local businesses. Voice service from CDE Lightband, is helping small- and mid-sized establishments cut costs and increase revenue. The city is also implementing a new video platform and continues to increase speeds in order to allow subscribers to make the most of their Internet access.
Christopher and Christy talk about how this town has started using innovations in technology to maximize home Wi-Fi with indoor ONTs. The network has had better then expected financial success, even in a place where people tend to relocate frequently, and how other utilities have reaped benefits from the fiber. Christy gives a run down of the future ideas for Clarksville, including plans for free Wi-Fi in public spaces, such as parks. This may not be the first city you think of when you consider municipal broadband in Tennessee, but maybe it should be.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
On August 29th, people in Fort Collins, Colorado, gathered together at the city’s Lincoln Center to celebrate the launch of Connexion, their municipal fiber optic network.
Prior to the get together, the utility announced pricing and services for residential subscribers. Symmetrical gigabit Internet access will be available for $59.95 per month; residents will also have the option to sign-up for 10 gigabit speeds for $299.95 per month.
Business rates are still in the works.
Connexion is also offering bundles that include voice and video. While they’re still developing details on video service, subscribers can choose a voice and Internet access package at this early stage. The utility will not impose data caps and, as expected, there are no contracts.
Connexion has expressed their commitment to network neutrality, a policy that helped drive the local comunity to develop the municipal network.
The event was especially glorious to folks involved in the 2017 vote to change the city’s charter. At the time, big corporate ISPs dedicated close to a million dollars toward influencing the vote to prevent the amendment. Measure 2B was on the ballot to update the city’s authority to invest in a publicly owned network. With a de facto duopoly on Internet access in Fort Collins, incumbents wanted to halt any change, but the measure succeeded and the initiative moved forward.
Learn more about how a group of grassroots organizers was able to defeat Comcast and friends in episode 282 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We spoke with Glen Akins and Colin Garfield, two residents that worked tirelessly to lead the initiative.
For years, Palo Alto residents have patiently waited for the city to move forward on building a citywide municipal Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network. In recent months, local supporters have started pushing harder for progress, noting recent successes in other communities, and by launching Muni Fiber Palo Alto.
In early July, they invited Christopher to give a presentation on municipal broadband and answer questions from community members. Christopher discussed the importance of high quality connectivity, different network models available, and success stories from communities around the country. He shared the many potential benefits of municipal broadband in Palo Alto and addressed some of the challenges cities can face when pursuing broadband projects, including competing with incumbent providers:
“When I hear people in Palo Alto sometimes being concerned about AT&T and Comcast, it’s a good concern to have. You have to have a good business plan, you have to take marketing very seriously, but you should not be intimidated from going into business against them, because frankly, sometimes I hear people say… there’s nothing better than competing against Comcast. Because people really don’t like having Comcast as their provider.”
He also gave an overview of how the Institute for Local Self-Reliance Community Broadband Networks Initiative works to champion community broadband projects, and pointed attendees toward the many resources available on MuniNetworks.org.
Watch Christopher’s presentation in full here:
Learn more about the movement in Palo Alto at MuniFiberPaloAlto.org, and show your support by signing the online petition in favor of a municipal fiber optic network.
Thanks to the Blandin on Broadband blog for bringing our attention to this story!
Farming has gone high tech with feathers, high-speed Internet access, and cutting-edge robots. Jack Kilian a University of Minnesota engineering master’s graduate is behind the Poultry Patrol, a robot for managing turkeys and chickens.
Poultry Patrol, Sign of the Future
The Northfield News covered the story on how Kilian designed the autonomous robot to help farmers with both mundane tasks, such as turning bedding, and important jobs, including detecting diseases. The idea for this handy farm robot came out of a Digi Lab project called the Wild Goose Chaser, a robot used to chase geese off of lawns.
Kilian, however, is far more interested in farming and technology. The Red Wing Ignite center awarded the recent engineering grad $12,500 from the Ag Tech Challenge to fund the Poultry Patrol
Better Tech, Better Internet Access
Agriculture is growing and needs sophisticated technology to manage crops and animals, but that tech works more effectively with better communication, such as high-speed Internet access. Kilian told the Northfield News that the next task is figuring out how to improve Internet access in rural Minnesota.
While some areas of the state are seeing better connectivity, the pace of deployment isn't rapid enough to allow many farmers to take advantage of the innovations in agriculture. Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development in the Department of Employment and Economic Development is offering $20 million in funding this fall to help close the rural-urban digital divide.
Read more about the Minnesota Broadband program and how to apply for grant funding for your local project here. The Office of Broadband Development will accept applications for funding through September 13, 2019.
In the most recent episode of his weekly Netflix show Patriot Act, comedian and former Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj answers the question we’ve all asked ourselves: “Why does my Internet service provider suck so much?” To figure it out, the show, which features research from the Community Broadband Networks initiative, takes a deep dive into Internet access inequality, lobbying telecom monopolies, inept federal regulators, municipal broadband networks, and more.
Minhaj, citing our Profiles of Monopoly report, points to monopoly broadband providers as one of the main reasons for slow speeds, poor service, and uneven access. He calls out Comcast in particular:
“Now look, all of these companies are terrible, but Comcast deserves a special place in Hell . . . In fact, Comcast has been called “America’s Most Hated Company” . . . The emotions are real. People hate Comcast.”
Later, he notes that the federal government shares responsibility for the sad state of affairs:
“The most frustrating part about the broadband cartel is that the government isn’t just letting this happen; it’s helping it happen. They are protecting broadband monopoly power over the public good, and most of the blame falls on one agency: the Federal Communications Commission, or the FCC.”
In the episode, Minhaj also explains how the FCC’s data collection methods vastly overstate broadband coverage, calling Form 477, which the agency uses to collect deployment data from providers, the “government version of ‘grade your own quiz.’”
As a counterpoint, Minhaj highlights how communities across the country, like Chattanooga, Tennessee, are building their own broadband networks to get around monopoly providers and sluggish regulators:
“Small cities are going DIY, and they’re setting up their own Internet. It’s become known as municipal broadband, and it is phenomenal. It turns out, when cities create their own Internet, then their own broadband customers get faster speeds, lower prices, and better customer service — you know, all the things that violate Comcast company policy.”
Municipal broadband, he says, is creating competition and faster, more affordable Internet access:
Vinton, Iowa, is moving ahead with plans for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. This small town is home to only 5,100, but soon it will have Internet service that rivals the largest cities. Broadband Bytes, the blog of the Community Broadband Action Network, posted that Cedar Falls, Iowa, and ImOn Communications will be key to Vinton’s efforts to build the community network.
Steady Progress Since 2015
Since fall 2015, Vinton voters have been awaiting the results of their broadband vote, and the town has been steadily moving forward on plans to improve Internet access. Slow DSL connections limit businesses and residents, and cable is only available in some areas of the community. In 2017, Vinton began to develop a feasibility study for the project, and by Spring 2018, the town had an estimate of $8.9 million for the cost to connect all 2,100 premises within the 4.74 square miles of the community.
The project has drawn attention from the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA), a corporate sponsored group that works to spread misinformation about municipal networks. Their questionable methods to attempt to sway community leaders failed, however, and the project is still advancing. The need for broadband is strong in this town.
Moving Forward: Working with Others and Answering Questions
Plans for Holston Electric Cooperative to offer television service as part of its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network deployment are on pause following allegations from the east Tennessee co-op that broadcasting company Nexstar Media Group refused to engage in “good faith” negotiations over retransmission consent agreements.
Holston Electric Cooperative established its broadband subsidiary, HolstonConnect, in late 2017 after a state law change removed restrictions on rural electric co-ops. Currently, HolstonConnect is in phase one of its FTTH project, which will bring high-quality Internet access to underserved communities in Rogersville, Surgoinsville, and nearby areas. Subsequent deployments will connect the remainder of the cooperative’s service territory, partially aided by federal funding from last year’s Connect America Fund phase II reverse auction.
From the start, the co-op planned to offer a “triple play” of broadband, voice, and video services. However, failure to come to an agreement with Nexstar, one of the nation’s largest station operators, over access to essential local channels has delayed the delivery of television services to HolstonConnect subscribers. In early March, Holston filed a complaint against Nexstar with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), arguing that the broadcasting company demanded exorbitant fees and unfair station tying arrangements during negotiations with the co-op.
“Failure to Negotiate in Good Faith”
To carry popular television programming, networks must sign cable retransmission consent agreements with regional station operators. The FCC requires that these companies behave in “good faith” and make tangible efforts to engage in negotiations.