Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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In southern California, an electric cooperative provides high-speed Internet service and continues to expand, meeting the needs of its 4,000 rural members. With community support, Anza Electric has navigated paperwork, construction delays, and more challenges. In May 2018, the California Public Utilities Commission will decide whether or not to award a grant of $2.2 million for Anza Electric’s fiber network project, Connect Anza.
We spoke with Anza Electric’s General Manager Kevin Short to learn more about the grant proposal and the project timeline. In July 2017, we reported that Anza Electric had submitted the grant application for a rural area south of Mount Jacinto in Riverside County. Short provided us with an update and more information on why this area was not part of the co-op’s first Internet access project.
2018 Grant Application
This area in Riverside County follows scenic highway 74 and includes the communities of Pinyon Pines, Garner Valley, and Mountain Center. The project will provide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet service to the rural co-op members. The co-op will also provide free high-speed Internet access to local fire stations and the Ronald McDonald camp for children with cancer.
In total, the project costs $3.7 million, but the co-op has about $1.5 million to devote to the project. They hope to obtain the remaining $2.2 million from the California Advanced Services Fund through the California Public Utilities Commission. Anza Electric applied for the grant last year. More than 600 people have already signed onto a petition to support the co-op’s application. (Read the petition here.) The California Public Utilities Commission vote in May 2018 on the grant, which will significantly reduce the amount of time the co-op will need to connect the proposed project area.
For the past seven months, SEMO Electric Cooperative has been working on phase one of construction of a new fiber optic network in southeast Missouri. They recently announced that subscribers are hooked up and taking advantage of Fiber-to-the-Home in rural Scott County and in the towns of Miner, Advance, and Bloomfield.
A Necessity In Society
This is the first of five phases of a $40 million project that the cooperative decided to pursue in 2017. The co-op board saw that providing high-quality Internet access to was filling a demand that incumbents are not meeting, locals want, and assists the community. Homeowners, schools, and local businesses need broadband. Loyd Rice, the administrator of engineering services for SEMO Electric:
“Now we get to build out something that has become a necessity in society. The ability to have a broadband service that is effective now changes the whole quality of life for those folks. It’s definitely a necessity at schools. You can work from home.”
Like other electric cooperatives that have found value in offering broadband service, SEMO has certain advantages in both deployment and operations. Rice noted that they're finding that cost to construct are lower than expected because they’re able to build along existing infrastructure. “And so six seven months into now, we’re probably half to three-fourths the way through our first phase of the actual build,” he told CBS 12 KFVS.
Keeping Locals Updated
As they deploy GoSEMO Fiber, the cooperative provides video updates on its YouTube Channel, the GoSEMO website, and on FaceBook and Twitter. In addition to messages that provide updates on the progress of deployment, staff provides information on equipment. The videos are short and to the point. Here’s the latest, posted on March 11th, 2018:
Businesses in Taunton, Massachusetts, already have access to fiber optic connectivity offered by Taunton Municipal Light Plant (TMLP). In an effort to bring better connectivity to the rest of the community, TMLP is now connecting residents through a “fiberhood” approach.
TMLP’s customer base already consists of about 20 percent residential customers; they now serve about 450 premises. When the community decided to invest in the infrastructure in1997, the focus was on bringing high-quality connectivity to local businesses. Now, TMLP hopes to expand its network to nearby communities’ residents with $69.95 per month symmetrical gigabit FTTH service. TMLP will also offer Internet access at $34.95 per month for symmetrical 50 Megabit per second (Mbps) service and voice services for $19.95 per month. They will not offer video service.
In order to determine which areas will receive service next, TMLP is asking potential subscribers to sign up at their website to express interest. Once a designated area achieves a 25 percent level of interest, residents can submit applications for installation at their homes. When applications have been approved, TMLP begins deployment in their neighborhood.
Time To Branch Out
Currently, TMLP offers FTTH to one apartment complex and a neighborhood near the high school. The city’s school system obtains connectivity from TMLP, as does a local hospital and its clinics. TMLP wants to expand to neighborhoods in Raynham, Berkley, North Dighton, and Lakeville.
Officials expect brisk demand and comments from local residents confirm that expectation:
“Wish they’d come to the Whittenton area...(TMLP Online is) much more affordable, especially for those who don’t wish to have television and only want WiFi or for those who live alone and need a very basic, simple package deal,” said Michelle Gaoulette, a Taunton resident.
The small number of residential subscribers who live in the areas where FTTH is available seem to appreciate it:
Suddenlink passed up the opportunity to offer connectivity in Pinetops, North Carolina, for years until now. About a year after a bill in the General Assembly gave nearby Wilson’s municipal network the ability to serve the tiny community, Suddenlink is taking advantage of the law to enter Pinetops and push Wilson’s Greenlight Community Broadband out.
One of his constituents called Town Commissioner Brent Wooten last October to share a conversation he'd had at work in nearby Wilson. Wooten's constituent had encountered a Suddenlink employee who told him, "We're coming to see you in Pinetops." The company had sent out a notice to employees that overtime would be available because Suddenlink was planning to run fiber from Rocky Mount to Pinetops.
Wooten hadn't heard anything from Suddenlink; neither had any of the other Commissioners. All he knew was that the company had been reducing staff and cutting costs ever since being acquired by Altice in 2015.
A Little History
While events that put Pinetops (pop. 1,300) in the national spotlight began in February 2015, the story has roots that go back further. Officials in Pinetops, recognizing that better local Internet access keeps small rural communities from wasting away, approached several providers years ago requesting better Internet infrastructure. Suddenlink’s service area ends about two miles outside of Pinetops town limits. Nevertheless, Suddenlink wasn't willing to bring cable service to Pinetops. CenturyLink didn't want to make investments to upgrade the community's old DSL solution; the community had no options from national providers.
Central Missouri’s Callaway Electric Cooperative began offering high-quality Internet access in 2016 by collaborating with a local telephone cooperative. Since then, it’s subsidiary, Callabyte Technology, has continued to expand its services to members in local rural communities in its service area. Recently, the people of the small community of Holts Summit learned that the project is headed their way.
Anticipating Better Broadband
Holts Summit residents and businesses can expect to receive the opportunity to sign up for Callabyte services in 2018. Business development supervisor for the cooperative, Rob Barnes told attendees at a recent Alderman meeting that the co-op would likely divide the deployment into three phases due to the size of the town. Holts Summit is about 3.5 square miles and home to 3,700 people.
The community of Holts Summit obtains electric service from Ameren Missouri, rather than Callaway Electric; Holts Summit and the cooperative are developing a non-exclusive franchise agreement just as they would a private sector provider that wished to offer video services in Missouri. Businesses and residents in the town currently use satellite Internet service and cable Internet access from Mediacom.
"We've got a number of citizens that would like to start a home-based business, but won't because they don't have reliable internet right now," [City Administrator Rick] Hess said. "So this will be great for businesses."
Ever Growing Service From Co-ops
Calloway Electric Cooperative has been reaching an expanding list of communities and intends to provide service all of Calloway County. They offer Internet access, voice, and video bundles and people in their service area are signing up for all three.
“We are still surprised that the landline service is something people still are taking,” Barnes said. “But as you get out into the rural portions of Callaway County, cellphone service still doesn’t work very well.”
In the midst of price increase announcements from Comcast and others for 2018, gigabit subscribers in Longmont, Colorado, are enjoying a price decrease from their publicly owned network, NextLight.
Happy New Year
As of January 1st, standard residential gigabit Internet access rates dropped from $99.95 per month to $69.95 per month. According to Longmont Power and Communications (LPC), about 28 existing subscribers obtained gigabit speeds at the old rate; along with any new gigabit subscribers, the existing customers will receive the new rate.
In addition to this most recent price reduction, NextLight offers a loyalty bonus for subscribers who obtain service for 12 continuous months. Gigabit subscribers who qualify have rates reduced to $59.95 per month. Charter Members — residents who subscribe for services within three months that service is available within their area — are able to receive gigabit connectivity for $49.95 per month as long as they keep their services. Charter Member rates stay with the premise if they sell their home and take that rate with them to their new residence. NextLight subscribers can also sign up for 25 Mbps service for $39.95 per month.
All speeds are symmetrical so subscribers can take advantage of the robust upload speeds. Subscribers are better positioned to work from home and establish at-home businesses. With symmetrical connectivity, Longmont’s school children can take full advantage of web based home work programs and adults who want to pursue distance learning don’t have the hurdle of poor Internet access to handicap their goals.
Part Of The Success
In addition to affordable rates, NextLight offers promotions to increase sign-ups. Subscribers who successfully refer others will get one month of free service for each new subscriber. NextLight is extending the promotion to its Digital Voice service during the first three months in 2018.
"We're customer-based and customer-focused," Longmont Power and Communications General Manager Tom Roiniotis said in a statement.
Southeastern Missouri residents in three counties will soon have Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) available through the Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative. The new project marks yet another opportunity for rural residents and businesses to obtain high-quality connectivity from their electric service providers.
Missouri specifically has been utilizing rural cooperatives as a means to connect people to improved Broadband Internet. Barry Electric Cooperative, Co-Mo Cooperative, Callaway Electric Cooperative, Ralls County Electric Cooperative, and Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative have all begun connecting businesses and residents to their fiber networks.
Pemiscot Dunklin Fiber will serve the residents of Dunklin, Pemiscot and New Madrid counties. The co-op has yet to announce subscription prices, but will offer video, voice, and high-speed Internet access. They plan to provide symmetrical connectivity so subscribers can be participants in the online economy, not just consumers. DSL connections are available to much of the area with scant cable offerings.
Electric cooperatives have provided essential services to rural and underserved areas for many years, and recently they’ve begun to offer Internet service in an effort to ensure rural communities aren’t left behind.
Pemiscot-Dunklin Co-op was organized in 1937, one year after the Rural Electrification Act. The New Deal Era legislation provided federal money for the installation of electrical distribution centers. By 1950, the cooperative had lit up around 90 percent of the region. Ever since the 1950s, the area has contended with population decline as people move to urban areas for employment. Better connectivity spurs economic development, and the cooperative likely sees this investment as both a way to serve members and to make the region more desirable to businesses.
In August, East Central Vermont Telecommunications District (ECFiber) released their 2018 construction plans to expand fiber optic network to the towns of Braintree, Brookfield, Granville, Hancock, Rochester, and Stockbridge in east-central Vermont.
Homegrown And Community Owned
According to Irv Thomae, the District Chairman:
“Our mission is to build and operate a universal, open access, fiber-to-the premises network, ensuring state-of-the art connectivity to every home, business and civic institution in all of our member towns. We are pleased that thanks to our recent financing we can at last provide near-universal coverage to six more towns.”
As of October, ECFiber has built over 420 miles of fiber optic cable and connected over 2,000 active customers in parts or all of their 24 member towns. They plan to complete another 170 miles of the network by the end of 2017 and another 250 miles in 2018. “We plan to continue this process of filling out towns until the entire District is covered,” says Thomae.
ECFiber is a consortium of 24 Vermont towns organized as a Communications Union District under Vermont law (30 V.S.A. § 3052). ValleyNet, a nonprofit organization based in Royalton, operates the community owned fiber optic network. The Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure provides symmetrical speeds from 17 to 700 Megabits per second (Mbps) with no data caps. Top speeds will increase to gigabit connectivity later this year.
After a long and arduous process, the folks in Mount Washington, Massachusetts, were finally able to light up their publicly owned fiber optic network last week. According to resident and Select Board Chair Eleanor Tillinghast, “We are thrilled. We’re going to be the envy of everyone.”
It's Finally Here
As we reported last month, the community was eagerly anticipating the opportunity to finish up the last steps to begin connecting subscribers from the town's 146 premises. Approximately 100 are connected and will take services from local Internet service provider Crocker Communications. In addition to providing Internet access, the ISP will handle billing for the city, provide 24/7 tech support for subscribers, and monitor the network. The infrastructure will be maintained by the company that built it for the city, NextGen Group. Mount Washington owns the infrastructure.
Gigabit connectivity is available, but most subscribers have opted for 500 Megabits per second (Mbps). All speeds are symmetrical, which makes Mount Washington’s network valuable as an economic development tool. Community leaders are already seeing in increase in real estate transactions that they relate to the new network. “People may have ruled Mount Washington out before,” Select Board Member Brian Tobin told the Berkshire Edge. “But we just catapulted ahead of other towns in terms of amenities.” As a potential quiet retreat for New Yorkers located in the Taconic Mountains, Tobin and Tillinghast expect to lure more urbanites who want to work remotely for part of the week. Tobin also has a Manhattan apartment and says that his Internet access speeds in the city are only about 117 Mbps download with slower upload speeds.
A Long Process That's Paid Off
The City of Ammon, Idaho, in partnership with Next Century Cities will host an event titled “The Launch of the Ammon Fiber Utility” to bring together representatives from Ammon and the region, policy and broadband experts, and key stakeholders to show off Ammon’s open access fiber network.
The City’s open access fiber network, named 2016 Community Broadband Project of the Year by the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), is delivering gigabit connectivity to a community of 14,500 people.
The Launch of the Ammon Fiber Utility
The event will offer attendees the opportunity to hear more about the Ammon Model, learn how a conservative, rural town secured a high take rate, its software defined networking technologies (SDN), as well as a tour of its cutting edge facilities.
The full day event will take place Thursday, October 5, 2017, at the Ammon Operations Center and will include presenters from local government, nonprofit, and the private sector. In addition to Christopher, you can expect to see:
- Glenn Ricart, Founder and CTO of US Ignite (Keynote)
- Dana Kirkham, Mayor of Ammon
- Bruce Patterson, Ammon CTO
- Tom Wheeler, former FCC Chairman (video address)
- Michael Curri, Founder and President, Strategic Network Group, Inc
- Shawn Irvine, Economic Development Director, City of Independence, Oregon
- Deb Socia, Executive Director, Next Century Cities
A Learning Experience
If you attend the conference, the morning program will start with keynote speakers and a series of panels:
Smart Cities Panel; researchers, developers, legal and policy experts will discuss current and future challenges.
Policy Discussion with Christopher Mitchell; on the role of government to solve the broadband challenges faced by communities utilizing historical experience inform future policy.