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Satellite Access to the Internet is NOT Broadband

We have long maintained the obvious, that the technical problems (e.g. latency) inherent in a satellite connection to the Internet should disqualify it from being called "broadband." Satellite connections do not allow users to take full advantage of modern Internet applications, which is a common sense definition of the term broadband. We are very fortunate that Stephen Cobb has taken the time to fully explain the realities behind satellite connections in Satellite Internet Connection for Rural Broadband: Is it a viable alternative to wired and wireless connectivity for America's rural communities? The answer is no. Download the 2 MB version or the print quality 3.3 MB version (both are PDFs). RuMBA is the Rural Mobile & Broadband Alliance that was inspired by Louisa Handem, who does Rural America Radio. RuMBA published this white paper. I am going to excerpt a few great pieces of detail from the paper, but I cannot emphasize enough that this is a great reference with which to respond to anyone who suggests satellite should be "good enough" for rural communities. First of all, it isn't broadband (unless one uses the absurd definition occasionally pushed by big companies like AT&T that broadband is simply an always-on connection faster than dial-up).
At the federal government site broadband.gov, run by the FCC, you can see Satellite listed as a type of broadband, despite the fact that the two main providers of such service avoid using the word "broadband" when they are pitching their service. So why include satellite alongside DSL, cable, wireless, and fiber? The answer may lie in pro-satellite lobbying.

Cortez, Colorado, Also Launches Open Access Network

On the heels of our story announcing a new open access community fiber project in Idaho, we have learned of a similar project in Cortez, Colorado. Cortez is the county seat of Montezuma County in the extreme southwest of the state and has approximately 8,000 residents. Much of Colorado has long suffered from Qwest's refusal to invest in modern networks -- though a more charitable take on it would be to say Qwest's inability because it simply does not have the capacity to invest in the kind of networks communities now need to take advantage of modern communications technologies. In the late 90's, Qwest's services in Cortez were served by microwave links incapable of meeting local needs and Qwest refused to invest in a better connection due to an insufficient business case. In the words of Rick Smith, Director of General Services for Cortez (and in charge of the network), the city then decided "to take its destiny in its own hands." They began building their own network. The initial phase was an I-Net, built with the City's capital funds, to connect schools and other public facilities. They were able to later expand that under Colorado's Beanpole Project, a program that sought to aggregate community traffic in an attempt to lure more private sector investment in networks. Along the way, they began leasing some dark fiber to private companies that needed better telecommunications options. When Qwest pushed through a bill in 2005 to limit local authority to build networks (click on Colorado on the Community Broadband Preemption Map), Cortez was grandfathered, leaving it with more authority to invest in this essential infrastructure than most communities. A press release details the financing for this latest phase:

Stephens County Considers Broadband Feasibility Study in NE Georgia

Counties in northeast Georgia are among the latest to examine their options to improve access to the Internet in local communities due to the massive failure of the private sector to adequately invest in essential infrastructure needed for economic development and maintaining a high quality of life. Those involved may include Stephens County, Hart County, Franklin County, Rabun County, and Habersham County. However, Franklin County refused to contribute to a feasibility study, with some arguing that the "utility owners" should do it - though it is not clear which "utility owners" are referenced here. Others found this troubling:
“I think some of the other commissioners maybe feel like it’s more of a private matter, that some of the commercial businesses should be putting in infrastructure,” he said. “However, someone like Windstream, if they have a potential customer for a data center, they’re going to steer that customer to where they have infrastructure. They don’t care about Franklin County.” It’s important to understand, he added, that high-quality jobs will not come to Franklin County if it is not up-to-date with its infrastructure.
This is exactly correct -- what does a private sector provider care about a single county in Georgia? They care about a fast return on their investment, not about a community's vitality. In the meantime, Stephen's County has contributed $500 toward a match for the study. Minutes from the Feb 28 meeting of Stephens County Development Authority [pdf] offer more details of the study:
OneGeorgia’s Nancy Cobb has approached the Joint Development Authority of Franklin, Hart & Stephens Counties and “offered” to fund 80% of a Broadband Connectivity Feasibility Study (expected to cost about $240,000) in northeast Georgia. Her offer is contingent upon us actually officially requesting it and matching it with 20%. We anticipate her next meeting to be sometime in May/June.

Organizing for Change: Rural Communities and Broadband

Over the past few years, I have worked with some great folks in a coalition called the Rural Broadband Policy Group to advocate for rural communities and businesses. This is a working group organized under the National Rural Assembly.
The Rural Broadband Policy Group is a growing national coalition of rural broadband advocates that emerged from the National Rural Assembly. The group's goals are  
  1. to articulate national broadband policies that provide opportunities for rural communities to participate fully in the nation's democracy, economy, culture, and society, and
  2. to spark national collaboration among rural broadband advocates.
 
We adopted the following principles:
  1. Communication is a fundamental human right.
  2. Rural America is diverse.
  3. Local ownership and investment in community are priorities.
  4. Network neutrality and open access are vital.
The principles are further explained here and you can sign up or ask questions about the group on that same site. We are especially keen on working with organizations in rural areas who want to have a say in federal or state issues. When we develop comments for a federal proceeding or connect with various policymakers, you can be notified and have the option of signing on. For instance, read a recent letter we submitted to the FCC [pdf]. Snippet:
Big telecommunications companies have failed in extending Internet service to rural areas. They claim it is costly and not profitable. We are tired of waiting for AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast.

FCC Commissioner: Blocking Local Broadband Authority "'Exactly The Wrong Way to Go"

FCC Commissioner Copps spoke at the SEATOA Conference in Asheville, North Carolina, on Tuesday. He went out of his way to condemn legislation that would preempt the authority of local governments to build broadband networks, echoing a similar statement from his colleague, Commissioner Clyburn. But he started with a discussion about the importance of broadband access to the Internet:
Getting broadband out to all our citizens is not just something that would be nice for us to do. It is something essential for us to do if we want to provide individuals the opportunity to live productive and fulfilling lives in the Twenty-first century and something equally imperative if we want our country to have a competitive edge in this challenging world.
But he moved on to highlight the importance of communities having the right to build their own networks, should they deem it necessary:
When incumbent providers cannot serve the broadband needs of some localities, local governments should be allowed--no, encouraged--to step up to the plate and ensure that their citizens are not left on the wrong side of the great divide. So it is regrettable that some states are considering, and even passing, legislation that could hinder local solutions to bring the benefits of broadband to their communities. It's exactly the wrong way to go. In this context, too, our previous infrastructure challenges must be the guide. The successful history of rural electrification, as one example, is due in no small part to municipal electric cooperatives that lit up corners of this country where investor-owned utilities had little incentive to go. Those coops turned on the lights for a lot of people! You know, our country would be a lot better off if we would learn from our past rather than try to defy or deny it.
fcc-copps.jpg We strongly support his comments, while emphasizing that an incumbent that simply provides DSL or cable services must not be construed as necessarily serving the broadband needs of communities.

Rural Massachusetts Open Access Fiber-Optic Network Builds Momentum

We are hearing exciting news from western Massachusetts -- at least 17 towns have already held the necessary meetings and votes to join the Wired West cooperative that will build an open access, universal, FTTH broadband network in each of the member towns. This is an exciting project in a region largely left behind by cable and phone companies. Back in January, we described the steps necessary to form a "Municipal Light Plant," in each community but a recent update from Wired West reminds us about the specifics:
Town participation in the WiredWest municipal telecommunications cooperative requires passing two consecutive town votes at separate meetings to establish Municipal Light Plant (MLP) legislation in the town. The MLP legislation was created in the Commonwealth over 100 years ago to enable towns to generate their own electricity. In 1996, the ability for towns to offer telecommunications services was added to the MLP statute. WiredWest charter towns researched various governance options and determined this was the best choice for enabling towns to offer telecommunications services, work together cooperatively and issue municipal debt to capitalize the network.
Towns have been passing the 2/3 votes with overwhelming approval, as in the town of Florida, with a 30-1 vote. Wired West is maintaining an impressive map of the status of each town along the path. Clicking on a town brings up more information about that town. Kudos to them for making a great map that is easy to use and conveys a lot of information. The Berkshire Eagle recently published an op-ed discussing the importance of economic development in the area:
Because many Berkshirites work, either at home or in an office, in towns without high-speed Internet service, making such connections widely available is vital to economic development in the county.

Building an Equity and Justice Movement for Communications

Following a four day retreat in September of 2010, Consumers Union and the Center for Media Justice released a report called Building an Equity and Justice Movement for the Internet, Mobile Phones, and Future Networks: A summary of goals, policies, strategies, and best practices by and for groups working for Internet policies that ensure opportunity, democracy, and equity for all. From the introduction:
This report is a brief summary of the Knowledge Exchange, written for participants and to share with the field. It reflects the open and frank discussions that took place during the convening, as well as the ease of communication among the group. The words in this report are quoted, paraphrased, and combined from presentation and discussion notes. The document includes ideas raised by individuals as well as collectively agreed-upon points. Overall, the 2010 Knowledge Exchange reflects just one moment in time in the midst of ongoing, overlapping conversations on these issues. This document is one of several publication projects emerging from the 2010 Knowledge Exchange that will be produced by CMJ. Strategy ideas, tools, case studies, and more will be available to our network members online through the MAG-Net website, www.mag-net.org. Facts, statistics, and other data are as of September 2010. For up-to-date media/telecom policy and campaign information, visit www.centerformediajustice.org and www.mag-net.org.

Minnesota's Northeast Service Cooperative Middle Mile Network Breaks Ground

Thanks to Minnesota Public Radio for an update on stimulus broadband projects in NE MN. A massive non-profit middle-mile project called the NorthEast Service Cooperative will finally provide redundancy and modern connections to an area long neglected by Qwest.

Hundreds of miles of fiber optic cables will bring faster Internet access to the Arrowhead region of Minnesota by the end of this summer. Ground for a broadband network stretching 915 miles was broken yesterday. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and other politicians were on hand to tout the long-term economic significance of this federally funded project.

Soon, entire counties will not have to fear disastrous meltdowns from Qwest's inability to offer reliable services, as when they went 12 hours without any telecommunications, meaning police could not run background checks or run plates, credit cards and ATMs went offline, and border security had to use Canadian comms.

Northland News offered greater coverage as well as a video that would not embed here for reasons unknown.

The 915 miles of fiber optic network will stretch across eight counties in the Arrowhead Region and bring world class web speeds to the area.

State lawmakers were also on hand at the ceremony and say this type of technology is pivotal to economic development.

"I want this to be the next step in people realizing that economic diversification on the Iron Range can be done because we are wired, we're ready to go, and we have a work force that is second to none," said state Sen. David Tomassoni.

We have to wonder how many of these legislators will support removing barriers in Minnesota law to communities building their own networks.

Note that the the NE Service Coop is a middle-mile network and that Frontier will be using it to improve their services.

Time Warner Cable Monopoly Protection Act Heads to North Carolina Governor

It took far more longer than expected, due to the many phone calls from concerned citizens opposing it, but Time Warner Cable's investments in the North Carolina Legislature have finally paid off. A bill that will crush its only potential broadband competition in the state is sitting on the Governor's desk. We join with SEATOA, the vast majority of businesses in North Carolina who depend on broadband, and local communities in calling on the Governor to veto it. The NC House had to approve it again due to changes made in the Senate -- including a change that absolutely gutted the rural exemption for communities who are lacking access broadband access to the Internet. Representative Avila and other sponsors have made many promises throughout this process that they never intended to hold true to. SEATOA has long organized to preserve local authority in this matter and reported:
We made certain Rep. Avila understood that that clarification gutted the exemption and she did not care. e-NC reports that the private sector providers are permitted to report an entire Census Block as having access to internet, if only one home in the block actually has it.  In essence, North Carolina will have no "unserved areas" or communities will have to do their own door to door surveys, an expensive and monumental feat.
But what do you expect from elected officials who calls something a "level field" while bragging that they are crafting rules (such as limited service territories) that only apply to the community networks, which already operate at a disadvantage to a $19 billion a year competitor like bill author Time Warner Cable? When the bill passed the Senate, a newspaper in Davidson noted its unequal approach that further handicapped communities:
Davidson Mayor John Woods said Tuesday MI-Connection deserves to be treated the same as private companies. “We strongly object to the territory limits that this bill will impose on MI-Connection which are not imposed on other broadband providers. In addition, MI-Connection would remain subject to open meeting laws, which do not apply to those other providers,” he said. Mr. Venzon also said local governments already face other rules that put them at a disadvantage to private competitors, including the requirement to operate under the N.C. Public Records Law.