Tag: "rural"

Posted May 27, 2021 by Maren Machles

Fifteen years ago, Covington Electric Cooperative (CEC) was the first in the southeast region of Alabama to bring its members online with dial-up Internet access. And while it has since left the broadband business, it announced at the beginning of April it plans to come back in a big way, connecting all of its members once again through its new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, Buzz Broadband. 

Buzz Broadband is a new subsidiary that will provide FTTH broadband service to members across its six-county territory and more than 23,000 households. CEC chose the name, because “like the mighty bee, high-speed broadband is a force to be reckoned with. Having fast and reliable access to such technology takes the sting out of meeting deadlines, virtual learning, working from home and running a business.”

CEC started building out the backbone in January and is on track to finish by the end of this month, with the first members coming online this fall. According to CEC’s 2021 Annual Report, “expansion to all CEC members will be done in phases and will take a few years to be complete.”

Initially, the FTTH build out was supposed to take four years, but with all the enthusiasm around the network, Short asked the board if CEC could fast track the build out to two years. He said that’s what they are aiming for, and when Buzz Broadband was announced, it was made clear that the board is “committed to making high-speed fiber broadband access available to every CEC member by 2025, if not sooner.”

“We’re on track to invest $65 to $70 million in two years, where our electric plan was only $180 million give or take, and it took us 77 years to get to that point,” Short said. “It’s quite an accelerated cash flow.”

Overwhelming Support

CEC was formed in 1944, in response to the Rural Electrification Administration offering long-term, low-interest loans to finance the electrification of rural America. When no one else would bring service to the surrounding area, CEC was born. Today, it has 2,700 miles of electrical power lines spread across six counties, Covington, Coffee, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, and Escambia. It is headquartered in...

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Posted May 11, 2021 by Christopher Mitchell

Earlier this year in March, the Biden Administration signed the American Rescue Plan Act, which included, among many other things, multiple sources of funds for broadband infrastructure. The U.S. Department of Treasury was tasked with writing the rules of how local governments can spend the various funds. The Interim Rule has been published and it appears to significantly limit local ability to invest in needed networks. 

The rules say that communities are expected to focus on areas that do not have 25/3 Mbps service reliably available. But there is no measure of what “reliably” means (in federal statute or otherwise). More than 90 percent of Americans have 25/3 “available” to them by best estimates. The result is considerable confusion for urban areas across the nation who no longer qualify for broadband investments under a strict reading of the proposed rules. This is not what the Biden Administration had suggested we should expect in its many press communications about its broadband approach. 

This discussion is about Section 602, which details the direct payments to local governments under the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund. The aid offered to local governments has numerous authorized expenditures, including broadband infrastructure.

The Interim Rule that governs this program was released yesterday and appears to limit broadband infrastructure investment solely to the most rural regions: those lacking wireline connections reliably delivering 25/3 Mbps (Fact Sheet). Though in excess of 10 million children struggled with remote schooling in urban areas, the Biden Administration is not allowing local governments responsible for them in urban areas to build better networks that would meet their long-term needs. Unconnected families may get some temporary help via the Emergency Broadband Benefit or hotspots from temporary aid to schools, but communities cannot use the funds intended for broadband infrastructure to actually build networks that would permanently solve this...

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Posted May 7, 2021 by Jericho Casper

The Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation (ATMC) is expanding gigabit fiber Internet access with financial assistance from federal and state grants to provide high-speed broadband to residents living in some of North Carolina's most rural, poverty-stricken regions.

A $7.9 million federal allotment from the USDA’s ReConnect Program, to which the North Carolina-based telephone cooperative is contributing matching funds, has kickstarted a $15.87 million Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) broadband deployment project in one of the Coastal Plains’ southernmost counties.

ATMC recently completed construction of the first four phases of its 60-phase “Faster Columbus” project, connecting residents living in the New Life community east of Tabor City to its gigabit fiber service. Upon completion of all 60 phases, the project will provide ATMC’s FOCUS Fiber Internet service to 2,775 unserved households in rural Columbus County. The completed project will also serve over 50 businesses, ten educational facilities, three critical community facilities, and 23 agricultural operations in the communities of Hallsboro, Lake Waccamaw, Bolton, north Tabor City and Whiteville.

The fiber Internet service ATMC is providing is expected to have a substantial impact on the region’s agriculture industry, one of the main sectors of the local economy. The FTTH service will also benefit the Waccamaw Siouan Indian Tribe, whose reservation is located on the edge of the Green Swamp. Speaking of the anticipated service, Brenda J. Moore, Housing Coordinator of the Waccamaw Siouan Indian Tribe said, "Finally our Tribal students can look forward to no more boot-legging of Wi-Fi in order to do their homework."

Although the USDA ReConnect Program allots grant recipients 60 months to complete construction of projects, ATMC’s goal is to complete the entire Faster Columbus project within 20 months. “We want to get Internet [access] to these 2,775 homes as quickly as possible,” Jody Heustess, ATMC’s VP of Marketing, told us in a recent interview. “We have about six construction...

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Posted May 4, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Nebraska Senate rejects amendment supporting municipal broadband in spending plan

Michigan Governor vetoes bill granting private ISPs property tax exemptions

Montana, Iowa and Maine channel Rescue Plan funds towards new broadband grant initiatives

 

The State Scene

Nebraska

The Nebraska Senate approved a plan to spend $40 million over the next two years on expanding rural access to high-speed Internet by a unanimous vote on Tuesday, but only after an amendment to L.B. 388 that would have allowed municipalities to offer retail broadband services was rejected.

State Sen. Justin Wayne introduced the amendment, saying that “broadband should be considered a critical infrastructure need and that private telecommunications companies have not stepped up to serve the whole state,” the Lincoln Journal Star reports.

Wayne urged Nebraska Senators “to look to Nebraska's history of public power as a model, as well as to the example of other states that are allowing cities to offer broadband.” The amendment ultimately failed by a vote of 20-24. Wayne assured fellow Senators that he will reintroduce the amendment in the future. 

The bill marked the first time the Nebraska Legislature has suggested using state tax dollars to fund broadband deployment. As it was submitted to Gov. Pete Ricketts for his signature, the bill would annually allocate, until funds run out, $20 million in grants to projects that increase access to high-speed broadband in unserved regions of Nebraska. It would prioritize projects in regions which lack access to Internet service with speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download/3 Mbps upload. Grant recipients would be required to deploy networks capable of providing service of at least 100/100 Mbps within 18 months. 

 

Michigan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed H.B. 4210 on April 14, a bill which would have granted...

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Posted April 27, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Welcome to In Our View, a new series here at MuniNetworks. From time to time, we'll use this space to explore new ideas and share our thoughts on recent events playing out across the digital landscape, as well as take the opportunity to draw attention to important but neglected broadband-related issues.

Special thank you to ILSR Data and Visualization Researcher Michelle Andrews for noticing the Michigan discrepancy, and for her contributions to this piece.

Earlier this month, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) released updated Form 477 data, the primary source of information used for the FCC’s broadband coverage maps and the basis upon which federal agencies and states make major funding decisions.

With new interim leadership from FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel – who has been well-aware of the FCC’s dubious track record of publishing imprecise, insufficient, and often inaccurate broadband coverage data – you will be disappointed if you were expecting any improvements in the newest data set. 

Filers had until March 26, 2021 to make revisions to data that was submitted by September 1, 2020 for service they provided as of June 30, 2020. When the updated data was first released on April 7, it indicated that nearly the entire state of Michigan had access to 10 Gbps (Gigabit per second) broadband, thanks to Form 477 data provided by Strategic Alliance CDC (see map below, or a high-resolution version here).

Historical Error Repeats Itself

That data has been since scrubbed, probably as someone at the FCC belatedly realized that couldn’t possibly be correct. There are only a relative handful of communities in the entire country where residents have access to 10-gigabit connections (many are municipal networks). For every resident in any state to have access to such high-speed Internet connectivity would be major broadband news shouted from the rooftops of every elected official, economic development board member, and tourism official in the state. But alas, Michigan, which does contain geographical pockets of high-quality Internet access, most definitely does not...

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Posted April 16, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Last fall we wrote about the launch of Project OVERCOME, a grant program "designed to connect the unconnected through novel broadband technology solutions" by soliciting applications from community-based organizations and ultimately award $2.7 million funded through the National Science Foundation and Schmidt Futures (the philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt).

Project OVERCOME seeks to "[C]ollect data to measure the technical and social impacts of different connectivity strategies [in order to] discover patterns of success that can be repeated on a larger scale across the country, and to catalog the distinctions that emerge based on variations in the communities served."

Each of the winning projects will serve as an incubator of sorts, deploying proofs of concept with an array of wired and wireless technologies to connect households in 

Winning applications were recently announced for projects in Blue River, Oregon; Detroit, Michigan; Buffalo, New York; Yonkers, New York; Cleveland, Ohio; Clinton County, Missouri; and Loiza, Puerto Rico.

There's no word on the total number of households the winning bids expect to connect, but they range from apartment buildings to underserved neighborhoods to rural portions of counties. To get robust, resilient connections the bulk of the projects feature fiber backhaul feeding some sort of wireless deployment (including CBRS, millimeter-wave, and RF over Fiber (RFoF)). They also feature an array of partnerships with universities, libraries, nonprofits, and electric cooperatives, including DigitalC, Onward Eugene...

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Posted April 6, 2021 by Maren Machles

Talladega, AL has long been known as the epicenter of NASCAR, a sport synonymous with speed. In 1987, Bill Elliot set the fastest recorded time of 212.089 mph on that very track. 

Cars aren’t expected to start racing down the Talladega Superspeedway track until late April, but the Coosa Valley Electric Cooperative (CVEC) chose the location to announce the fittingly super fast speeds it expects to begin serving up with its new broadband subsidiary, Coosa Valley Technologies, last Wednesday. 

Unfortunately, many residents in Talladega County and surrounding counties have long gone without fast connectivity, with average speeds as low as 5 Mbps (Megabits per second)

CVEC often holds events at the Superspeedway, but for this event they wanted to make sure that since people were gathering, social distancing was possible. Also they wanted to communicate a message.

“It also served as a good backdrop for what we were trying to communicate, which was, we’re going to be provided the fastest broadband service in our area,” Jon Cullimore, CVEC Manager of Marketing and Member Services, told us in an interview as the cooperative prepares to embark on a fiber build intended to bring fast, affordable Internet access to everyone in its electric footprint over the next four years.

Driven by Membership

It all started in 2019 with feasibility studies conducted by two different firms. Both found a profound lack of broadband service throughout CVEC’s service territory, which is situated east of Birmingham.

When the studies were completed, CVEC quickly put together a comprehensive information packet for members to get educated before their annual meeting last September. The members were asked to vote on whether or not CVEC should form a new broadband subsidiary and embark on a new phase of life.

“We got the word out, and we had a record attendance at our annual meeting. We’ve never had that many members show up before,” Cullimore said. “I think we only had 12 ‘no’ votes out of all the [more than] one thousand people that showed up.”  

CVEC quickly got to work...

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Posted April 5, 2021 by Jericho Casper

A pair of bills making the rounds through Florida’s state legislature are an attack on the state’s urban municipal electric utility ratepayers to the financial benefit of big cable monopolies, under the guise of expanding rural broadband.

H.B. 1239 and S.B. 1592 read like regulatory wishlists for Florida’s big Internet service providers. Word around the capitol is that the bills are heavily influenced by Charter Spectrum, the major incumbent cable Internet provider in the region (insiders also noted in an interview that it was sponsored by the Florida Internet and Television Association, of which Charter and Comcast are members).

H.B. 1239/S.B. 1592 would require municipal electric utilities to provide private companies with access to their poles at a capped rate, though the cost of attaching new telecommunications infrastructure differs based on size, shape, and weight. Florida’s municipal electric utilities, and their ratepayers, would be burdened with any additional costs that surpass the capped rate. 

The bills would further require electric utilities to reengineer utility poles to accommodate broadband providers’ attachment requests within 90 days of receiving them. In some instances, municipal electric utilities would be forced to cover the full costs of pole replacements, rather than the new attacher.

At ILSR, we are concerned that make-ready policies do discourage competition and we have encouraged streamlined access and consistent, fair rates to ensure Internet service providers can pursue efficient deployment. However, this bill would force electric ratepayers, including residents and local businesses, to shoulder more of the burden for private firms like Charter Spectrum and AT&T with the latter avoiding paying their fair share of attachment costs. 

H.B. 1239/S.B. 1592 are moving quickly through Florida’s House and Senate, with each having three committees of reference under their belt. As Florida’s legislature wraps up the fourth week of a 60-day session, many are fearful some version of...

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Posted March 29, 2021 by Jericho Casper

 

Snapshot 

Colorado House passes bill that reduces broadband board membership and conceals mapping data

Michigan legislature approves bill granting ISPs property tax exemptions 

New Mexico and Virginia bills await governors’ action 

 

The State Scene

Tennessee

Tennessee is home to some of the most creative local solutions to bridging the digital divide. Municipal fiber networks across the state, including Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber network, Morristown’s FiberNet, and Bristol’s network, have been a boon to economic development, job creation, educational initiatives, and overall quality of life in the past decade.

The next city to potentially join the ranks of providing municipal broadband in Tennessee is Knoxville. On March 11, the Knoxville Utility Board approved a business plan to provide Internet services across its service area. 

Despite the widespread success of municipal networks across Tennessee, the state restricts what populations they can serve. Although Tennessee law allows cities and towns to offer advanced telecommunications services if they have a municipal electric utility, the networks are not permitted to offer those services to residents who live outside of the utility’s service area. Removing these restrictions would permit substantial fiber expansion to connect more residents at no cost to the state or taxpayers.

Multiple laws introduced this legislative session in Tennessee sought to overturn statutes stifling the expansion of municipal networks. As of yet, these legislative proposals have stalled in committee, had their hearings postponed until next year’s legislative session, or been withdrawn altogether. AT&T and Comcast have historically killed these bills in subcommittees and committees early in the process in order to continue limiting broadband competition in Tennessee,...

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Posted March 23, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

This week on the podcast, Christopher speaks with Julie Bushell, President of Paige Wireless and Co-chair of Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Precision Ag Connectivity Task Force.

Christopher and Julie talk about the importance of reliable, symmetrical wireless data connections so farmers can deploy devices on farms which communicate across Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) protocols to bring soil probes, combines, grain bins, wastewater management sensors, and other devices online to report conditions across far-flung fields. They also discuss how a robust rural network can support GPS for planting, irrigation, and harvest, as well as allow for data aggregation to increase efficiencies and allow mapping and maintenance via real-time drone operations.

Finally, Christopher and Julie dig into how more robust connectivity will help make sure high-quality jobs stay in the region, giving subsequent generations more incentive to stick around and help America's farms prosper.

This show is 31 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript here.

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.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also...

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