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Content tagged with "missouri"
The U.S. Treasury Department announced another six states have been approved to receive nearly $1 billion in Capital Projects Funds from the American Rescue Plan to bring new broadband infrastructure to more than 180,000 homes and businesses.
The latest tranche of CPF funds is heading to Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Utah, bringing the total number of states to have been approved for their share of the $10 billion fund to 22 states.
Freshly proposed legislation in Missouri would prohibit towns and cities from using federal funds to improve broadband access in areas telecom monopolies already claim to serve. It’s just the latest attempt by incumbent telecom giants to ensure that an historic wave of federal broadband funding won’t harm their revenues by boosting local broadband competition.
Missouri SB 1074 - Sponsored by Sen. Dan Hegeman (R., District 12), proclaims that “no federal funds received by the state, political subdivision, city, town, or village shall be expended for the construction of retail broadband internet infrastructure unless the project to be constructed is located in an unserved area or underserved area.” It passed the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment Committee on April 13th.
According to the bill, the Missouri Office of Broadband Infrastructure would certify the project prior to a political subdivision receiving authorization. Before being authorized, the office would be mandated to check with incumbent broadband providers to ensure that they don’t offer service in the specified area.
The bill prohibits federal funding for any projects in areas where a single provider already receives funding to deliver 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds. If it passes, it also allows Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to submit written challenges to grant applicants within 45 days. The Department of Economic Development would then be tasked with determining the truthfulness of each challenge.
Only if applicants can prove they’re servicing an “unserved” or “underserved” area (which again is defined by flawed FCC Form 477 data that routinely overstates existing coverage and speeds using broadband definitions set at ankle height) will the applications be deemed valid.
But the bill gives incumbent monopolies even greater leverage in the challenge process, by letting them challenge a deployment if an incumbent ISP has “taken affirmative steps to begin the process of construction to provide broadband,” or “has been designated funding through federal programs to support the deployment of broadband” in the targeted areas.
Electric cooperatives illustrate the power that community-owned enterprises have to bring Internet access at scale to unconnected rural communities. Because of their work, states like Missouri (where 15 percent of all households only have access to broadband speeds slower than 100/20 Megabits per second, and only 38 percent have access to speeds of 100/100 Megabits per second or faster), will go from being among the least-connected states to one of those with the greatest connectivity in rural areas in coming years.
An infusion of federal funding shows how publicly owned infrastructure can go farther and move faster. Ralls County Electric Cooperative (RCEC) serves as example in Missouri, building on its existing broadband infrastructure to further increase connectivity in one of the most connected counties in the state.
Closing the Gap
Ralls County, located in the northeastern part of the state, is one of three statewide to provide fiber or wireless Internet access to over 90 percent of residents in its service territory. With $1.3 million in funding from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) now in hand, RCEC is extending broadband access outside of its electric service area.
RCEC’s initial fiber buildout began in 2010. By 2014, it was the first electric distribution cooperative in Missouri to have built fiber out to all 6,300 of its members. 70 percent of RCEC’s members currently subscribe to its fiber services. Through its wholly owned subsidiary, the cooperative offers five speed tiers. Speeds range from 50/10 Megabits per second for $50/month to 1 Gbps/15 Mbps for $100/month in select locations.
Reaching Beyond its Electric Membership Footprint
With American Rescue Plan funds flowing into state government coffers, about a third of the nation’s 50 states have announced what portion of their Rescue Plan dollars are being devoted to expanding access to high-speed Internet connectivity.
The federal legislation included $350 billion for states to spend on water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, though everything we have seen suggests that the vast majority of that will not go to broadband. There is also another $10 billion pot of rescue plan funds, called the Capital Projects Fund, that mostly must be used to expand access to broadband.
Laboratories of Broadband-ification
As expected, each state is taking their own approach. California is making a gigantic investment in middle-mile infrastructure and support for local Internet solutions while Maryland is making one of the biggest investments in municipal broadband of any other state in the nation. And although Colorado does not prioritize community-driven initiatives, state lawmakers there have earmarked $20 million for Colorado’s two federally-recognized Indian tribes to deploy broadband infrastructure with another $15 million devoted to boosting telehealth services in the state.
Undoubtedly, individual states’ funding priorities vary. Some states may be relying on previously allocated federal investments to boost broadband initiatives and/or have been persuaded the private sector alone will suffice in solving its connectivity challenges. And in some states, such as Illinois, Minnesota, and Maine, lawmakers have prioritized using state funds to support broadband expansion efforts while other states may be waiting on the infrastructure bill now making its way through Congress before making major broadband funding decisions.
As of this writing, 17 states have earmarked a portion of their Rescue Plan money (totaling about $7.6 billion) to address the digital divide within their borders. Those states are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Callabyte Technology, the Fiber-to-the-Home subsidiary of Callaway Electric Cooperative, recently announced a new expansion into the town of Wardsville (pop. 1,800), after strong interest by residents, businesses, and local officials. It marks just the latest in a succession to area communities exhibiting a strong demand for fast, affordable, reliable Internet access.
We covered Callabyte’s formation after its launch in 2015, when Callaway partnered with nearby King’s Telephone Cooperative to bring fiber service to members. The cooperative, which serves more than 13,000 electric meters, ran a successful pilot in one neighborhood in its electric footprint in 2015 and quickly expanded thereafter. 2016 saw growth to five surrounding areas, and was paired with an announcement that it would be expanding to the totality of the cooperative’s membership going forward. In July 2017, Callabyte celebrated its two-year anniversary as well as signing up its 1,100th subscriber. In 2018 the network doubled its projected size by adding a third build region, and announced a fourth large expansion to fill in the region coverage to be completed between 2019 and 2020.
Driven by Demand
Growth has been driven by strong demand. By September 2017, the network had 1,500 subscribers across 300 miles of main-line fiber. Just three short years later it served 4,700 homes and businesses, with more than 9,000 interested and registered for service.
AT&T Is Abandoning Tens of Thousands of American Households in the Deep South Who Have No Other Internet Access Option
All across the country, municipal networks, cooperatives, and cities have been putting in extra effort to make sure that Americans have the fast, affordable, reliable Internet access they need to conduct their lives in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
AT&T has decided to take another route. A USA Today report last week revealed that the company has stopped making connections to users subscribing to its ADSL Internet as of October 1st. Anyone calling the company to set up new service is being told that no new accounts are being accepted.
The decision comes right as the National Digital Inclusion Alliance has released a report detailing that only 28% of AT&T’s territory can get fiber from the company. AT&T has deliberately focused investment in more urban areas of higher income. From the report:
The analysis of AT&T’s network reveals that the company is prioritizing network upgrades to wealthier areas, and leaving lower income communities with outdated technologies. Across the country, the median income for households with fiber available is 34 percent higher than in areas with DSL only — $60,969 compared to $45,500.
The Deep South Hit Hardest
As of today, it looks like the most conservative number of those affected by the decision will be about 80,000 households that have no other option. Our analysis using the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Form 477 data shows that the Deep South will be hit the hardest (see table at the bottom of the page).
Collectively it means more than 207,000 Americans who, if disconnected, will have no option for Internet aside from their mobile devices or satellite service. The number of Americans affected by the decision but which have additional wireline options is higher: roughly 2.2 million American households nationwide subscribe to the service (see map, below).
Gascosage Electric Cooperative, serving members in south-central Missouri, recently joined the list of ReConnect recipients. The co-op will use a $14 million grant and loan combination to deploy gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to members in four counties where people are unserved and underserved.
Gascosage General Manager Carmen Hartwell told St. Louis Public Radio, “We’re really a natural choice for this. We already have the infrastructure in place and a history of bringing utilities to rural residents.”
Co-Mo Cooperative and Ozarks Electric Cooperative in Missouri are two other rural electric cooperatives that have expanded the use of their infrastructure to provide broadband to members. In the rural regions of Missouri, as in other states, people living in less populated areas recognize the crucial role high-quality connectivity plays in economic development, educational opportunities, and ability to remain competitive.
“When we take a look at educational opportunities and economic development, internet access may stimulate growth of businesses in our area,” said Hartwell. “It might bring more people into our area that otherwise maybe telecommute for their jobs. Now, they’re going to be able to live on family farms.”
Phasing In Fiber
The co-op has a three-phase plan to connect more than 1,100 households, 20 farms, 20 local businesses, and two rural fire-protection districts. Gascosage has posted detailed information for members, including maps, on their website and their Facebook page revealing exactly where the deployment will occur. The deployment areas are in Camden, Maries, Miller, Phelps, and Pulaski counties. Subscribers will also be able to sign-up for voice services.
Phase one should be completed in early 2021 and will make symmetrical gigabit connectivity available to 285 premises, three farms and eight businesses. Phase two will add 295 premises, to the network, and should also be completed in 2021. The largest Phase will connect 729 homes, businesses, and farms; the co-op will deploy this phase in 2022 and 2023.
Community leaders in Independence, Missouri, have recently brought up the topic of publicly owned networks and indicated that they'd like to learn more about how Independence might fare with a muni. The Examiner recently reported that the issue has arisen during a primary candidate forum, at a Public Utilities Advisory Board (PUAB) presentation, and at a Chamber of Commerce event. Various city officials have expressed interest in the topic.
The idea, Mayor Eileen Weir and Chamber President Tom Lesnak said, came in part from a short trip last fall to Fort Collins, Colorado, which had just established a municipally owned broadband network.
Part of the appeal, they said, is that Independence already owns much of the necessary infrastructure, with utility poles and a fiber optic cable network.
“It provides service to all citizens and residents,” Lesnak said. “In Fort Collins, they had to bury everything, and it took a lot of time. We own the poles, and we have a lot of fiber in the ground already.”
Weir cautioned that right now, the broadband idea remains in the “exploratory” stage.
“We’ve seen some places and gathered some information about cities who have implemented broadband,” Weir said, adding that she also saw a presentation about municipal broadband during a National League of Cities conference two months ago in San Antonio. “It’s just something to look at to see if we can do.”
[Assistant City Manager Adam] Norris told PUAB, “If this would gain momentum then we would need to start planning for it in our budget, but it is very early to tell what the timeline is.”
For now, city leaders are still doing their research:
Municipal broadband would involve some capital investment by the city, but it also presents a possible long-term revenue source, Weir said.
“We would have to have more information to put it as a budget item,” Weir said. If the next city budget included a line for broadband, the mayor said, it would simply be for research purposes.
“There’s a lot to learn,” she said.
In the spring of 2019, Houston, Missouri, sent out a call to citizens to share their thoughts on whether or not they'd like to subscribe to Internet access from a municipal network. Less than a year later, the city of around 2,000 people has forged ahead and has hired an engineering firm to begin work on their multi-phase fiber optic project.
Phase One is a Go
Economic Development Director in Houston Rob Harrington says that the city hopes to have the first phase — an eighteen-mile fiber ring that connects city facilities — completed and functional by the end of the summer.
Houston owns and operates a municipal electric utility, which is a big plus for communities interested in better connectivity through publicly owned fiber optic network infrastructure. The Houston Herald reports that the city’s electric utility has brought in additional revenue that, over the last fifty years, has contributed to public improvements in Houston. Houston is the seat of mostly rural Texas County, located in south-central Missouri; the community is about 3.7 square miles.
Another factor in Houston's favor: the city owns the utility poles, which will reduce make-ready time and reduce final cost. A feasibility study, which reported a favorable situation in Houston for a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) system, suggested all but about three miles of the first phase of the infrastructure could be deployed on poles. Sewer lift stations, water towers, and other city facilities will connect, which will allow Houston to reduce telecommunications costs. The city will use reserves to fund the first phase of the project.
Originally published in 2017, our report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era, focuses on cooperatives as a proven model for deploying fiber optic Internet access across the country, especially in rural areas. An update in the spring of 2019 included additional information about the rate at which co-ops are expanding Internet service. Now we’ve updated the report with a new map and personal stories from areas where co-ops have drastically impacted local life.
All versions of the report can be accessed from the Reports Archive for this report.
Some highlights from the third edition of Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America include:
- More than 110 rural electric co-ops have embarked on fiber optic projects to increase Internet access for their members, a number that is growing rapidly from just a handful in 2012.
- 31.3 percent of the ﬁber service available in rural areas is provided by rural cooperatives.
- Personal anecdotes from Michigan, Virginia, Minnesota, and Missouri residents attest to the far-reaching benefits of cooperatives’ expansion into Internet service.
- A new map shows where rural cooperatives are planning to expand fiber Internet service.
Co-ops have proven that this is a model that works. With increased support from federal and state governments, they will continue to connect rural Americans to economic and educational opportunities otherwise denied to them.
*We discovered an error in our first release of the December 2019 edition of this report, which we have since corrected. We deeply apologize for the mistake and take this very seriously -- these data are challenging to work with but we are committed to accurately reporting broadband statistics.