Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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Callabyte Prepares for Expansion into Wardsville, Missouri
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.
Loveland Pulse Races Ahead – Episode 443 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
The Front Range in Colorado has been a hotbed of activity recently, and just before Christmas we wrote about how Fort Collins, Estes Park, and Loveland are all pursuing projects to bring better connectivity to residents in the region. This week on the podcast, Christopher talks with Fiber Manager Brieana Reed-Harmel and Marketing and Communications Manager Lindsey Johansen from Loveland’s Pulse network to get some more questions answered.
The network in the city of 79,000 is just finishing its first year of construction. Brieana and Lindsey share with Chris the history behind the birth of the network back to 2014, talk about what success would look like in five years, and share what it has taken to become a valued, local broadband utility for residents of Loveland. They also reveal how they’re working together with Fort Collins and Estes Park to share costs and bring efficiencies to all the municipal networks in the region.
This show is 27 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
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.
Eight Pennsylvania Counties Join Forces to Improve Regional Connectivity
Local officials in eight mostly-rural counties in southwest Pennsylvania are combining efforts to determine first, what connectivity is available and, second, what can be done to improve it.
Seeking Updated Information
Westmoreland, Fayette, Cambria, Somerset, Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon, and Fulton counties have been working with consulting firm Design Nine to develop a survey to share with residents in the region. The Regional Broadband Task Force, established by the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission (SAP&DC), gathered limited data in the past. They estimate that six percent of folks in the region live in places without wired broadband Internet access.
An earlier study determined that:
...2.3 percentage of the 354,751 residents fall below that level of service [25 Mbps upload and 3 Mbps download]. About 1.6 percentage of Blair County’s 123,842 population and 2.2 percentage of Cambria County’s 134,550 population are lacking that basic level of connectivity. At the other end of the spectrum, 55.2 percentage of Fulton County’s 14,506 residents are without the service.
Funding for the study comes from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). The Task Force received $50,000 from ARC and the member counties contributed a matching $50,000 for the study. They began looking for a firm to help develop the study last fall and chose Design Nine hoping to determine:
- Level of service being provided; the needs of local businesses and the reliability of the current services being provided;
- An inventory of broadband assets already in place;
- An assessment community broadband requirements for bandwidth needs;
- Determine best technologies to meet the coal impacted community needs; and
- Cost estimates for different deployment strategies
Businesses Want More in Westmoreland
West Virginia Cooperative Will Use Grant, Loan, Collaboration for Better Rural Connectivity
As the USDA continues to award federal ReConnect funds for rural connectivity, we're glad to see that communities in West Virginia are not being ignored. Most recently, the Harrison Rural Electrification Association (HREA) announced that they will dedicate ReConnect grant funding of approximately $18.75 million to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in rural sections of their service area.
Combining Funding and Collaboration
The project will bring more than 6,300 households high-quality connectivity along with five educational facilities and another community facility. The deployment will cover approximately 354 square miles within Harrison, Lewis, Upshur, Barbour, and Doddridge counties. Once completed, the project will provide better connectivity to around 16,000 residents.
In total, the project will cost an estimated $25 million and HREA will use a $6.2 million loan from CoBank to cover the difference. They plan to complete the project within 3 1/2 years and cooperative leadership intend to have the project ready for bids by the end of February.
Rather than offering Internet access directly to members, the cooperative will work with Prodigi Fiber, a private sector ISP that works exclusively in West Virginia and only with FTTH connectivity. The co-op will lease the infrastructure to Prodigi and dedicate the proceeds from the lease toward the CoBank loan payments.
On the HREA Facebook page, locals have expressed their excitement at the prospect of better connectivity. Some note the need for better reliability while others are looking for better speeds or alternatives to current options.
Lenny W.: Was excited to get the email. This is great for the rural areas of this county. Are there any maps or projections on what areas are going to start and when? I’ll sign up for whatever is $75-$100 per month.
Ken C.: Whoooohoooo
Subscribe to Our Muni Fiber Mailing Lists to Connect and Share
MuniNetworks.org offers a cache of resources for people who have a particular interest in publicly owned broadband networks. As interest in municipal networks has increased in recent years, connections between people can help those researching and organizing. We know that there aren't many places where our audience can have discussions with like-minded individuals, so the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has now established two mailing lists for folks who share our common interests related to municipal fiber networks.
Talkers, Organizers, a Meeting of the Minds
For folks who want to share thoughts on municipal networks with others, including new developments, news on projects, or trends and topics, they can sign up on our Muni Fiber Discussion mailing list.
The list will be lightly moderated and is not a place to dump links to stories; we expect people to share thoughts and ideas and to debate new issues and important developments.
Learn more about the Muni Fiber Discussion mailing list and subscribe here.
For people who are interested in taking steps to organize a community toward developing their own municipal network, we've established the Muni Organizing mailing list. We expect people interested in this conversation to include some of the same people as on the discussion list and others that may be interested related topics, including economic development, connectivity and education or telehealth, and people interested in other community benefits. This discussion will also be lightly moderated.
We imagine the Muni Organizing mailing list to be:
Discussions about efforts to create community networks. This is meant to help share strategies, solve common problems, and otherwise work through the many challenges that accompany this organizing effort. We expect this may include local activists, business leaders, elected officials, city staff, consultants working in this space, and others. However, our goal is to keep it limited to those actually working in this area - not just anyone.
You can get details about the Muni Organizing mailing list and subscribe here.
RiverStreet Networks and Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation Begin Pilot Planning for Rural Connectivity
People living in the service areas of Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation now have the opportunity to express their interest in broadband Internet access from RiverStreet Networks. In one of a series of pilot projects that we covered earlier this year, the two entities are getting started with planning on how to bring better connections to rural folks. People in the community — both members of Piedmont Electric and non-members — are encouraged to go to join.buildpiedmont.com and show their interest.
When enough people in specific areas have expressed their interest in receiving service from RiverStreet, the subsidiary of Wilkes Communications Co-op, will examine deployment.
The first phase, according to Piedmont Electric, will be a wireless solution for rural premises with Piedmont’s infrastructure as a backbone. Fixed wireless will deliver 25 Megabits per scond (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload and Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) could follow for some areas, depending on various factors:
By registering your address at the website, you are expressing your interest in having RiverStreet services. It’s really that simple! Once enough interest has been expressed in a specific area, RiverStreet will consider expanding their service network there. Bringing fiber optic service to a neighborhood is expensive and requires a large amount of resources and labor. The more supporters in your zone, the more likely RiverStreet is to bring high-speed internet service to your door.
Check out this short promotional video on the partnership to encourage people to express their interest:
“We are excited to work with RiverStreet in order to provide this critical need,” [Piedmont President and CEO Steve] Hamlin said. “While we know it will take years to mature and RiverStreet may not be able to serve everyone with wireless technology, we are happy to announce this first step in helping bridge the digital divide.”
Methow Valley Broadband Action Team Seeks Planning Proposals for Better Broadband in Central Washington
In central Washington, the Methow Valley, Okanogan County, and the Colville Confederated Tribes Broadband Action Teams (BAT) are teaming up to improve connectivity and shrink the digital divide across the Methow Valley. As part of the process the BAT has released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for technical assessment and technical implementation planning to help them meet their goals. Deadline for proposals is September 30th, but the BAT has indicated that they will grant an extension upon request.
Methow Valley boasts its scenic treasures, including the North Cascades National Park and the Columbia River. Tourists visit the region for hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and vibrant arts scene. Like other similarly situated communities where natural beauty is an important feature, high-quality Internet access is difficult to come by.
According to the RFP:
Many residents of the Methow Valley live below the poverty line and have limited access to affordable, high-speed Internet services. This lack of access has impacts on education, economic growth and viability, emergency services, and quality of life. Simply put, this area lacks reliable wide-spread broadband access necessary to overcome these challenges.
In September, the Washington State Department of Commerce's Community Revitalization Board awarded a $50,000 grant to the BAT and the Twisp Public Development Authority (PDA) to dig deeper into the need for broadband service in the Methow Valley. Okanogan County provided a match of $16,667 to secure the state grant. The funding has allowed the BAT to move forward on this project.
Read more in the TwispPDA Methow Valley Position Paper [PDF] here.
In 2018, the BAT began working toward better connectivity by creating a work plan, seeking out stakeholders, and obtaining community input. This year, they wish to expand on their planning process and conduct a technical assessment. In order to complete this phase of the plan, the BAT wants a consultant who will:
Volunteer Energy and Twin Lakes Telephone: Cooperatives Continue to Connect Rural Tennesseans
Volunteer Energy Cooperative (VEC) and Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative began collaborating in the fall of 2017 to bring high-quality connectivity to folks in Bradley County, Tennessee. Based on the results of a successful pilot project, the cooperatives have expanded gigabit connectivity to more areas. With a recent grant award, the partners will continue to offer the service to more rural Tennessee residents and businesses.
Catching Up on the News
When we last reported on VEC and Twin Lakes, they had announced that they would be launching the pilot in Bradley County. Residents and businesses in Bradley County have long felt slighted by the state’s restrictive laws that prevent Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber from expanding into their county. Over the years, Bradley County and Chattanooga officials have searched for ways to serve Bradley County, but the state’s insistence on protecting large incumbent monopolies by preventing expansion have left Bradley County folks without fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.
VEC and Twin Lakes commenced the pilot in the Camelot subdivision of the Bigsby Creek Road area of Bradley County. In a February 2018 blog post describing the first customer’s experience, subscriber Mrs. Charles Hollifield said, “We had no problem with the installers. They were on time and friendly. We chose the 25 Mbps because we do not download much but it works well. We haven’t had it quit once since we got it.”
Since then, the initial pilot area passed 120 homes in the first pilot area. Later in the summer of 2018, VEC passed 545 more residences in two additional communities. Last fall, VEC received $1 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to apply toward expanding fiber to approximately 730 premises in in Meigs and Hamilton Counties.
State Assists With Deployment
Co-op Cooperation in Rural North Carolina: RiverStreet Working with Electric Co-ops
In an effort to find ways to connect some of the state’s most disconnected communities, RiverStreet Networks and North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives recently announced that they will work together for a series of pilot projects across the state. The initiative has the potential to discover new options for high-quality Internet access for residents and businesses in areas that have been left behind by national Internet service providers.
Going All Out
North Carolina’s RiverStreet Networks is bent on bringing high-quality connectivity to people living and working in rural North Carolina. After expanding their physical infrastructure through deployment, the communications cooperative started to acquire other fiber networks in various areas across the state. Most recently, RiverStreet merged with TriCounty Telephone Membership Corporation.
For RiverStreet, branching out among areas of the state were there is no high-speed Internet access is an opportunity to tap into an underserved market, not only an underserved population. It’s become obvious in recent years that rural communities want high-quality Internet access at least as fervently as in densely populated areas where big corporate ISP already have a monopoly. After upgrading their own members, RiverStreet was looking for growth; partnering with electric cooperatives is the next step to reaching more subscribers.
Listen to RiverStreet’s Greg Coltrain and Christopher discuss the merger and RiverStreet's plans to bring broadband to rural North Carolina:
Craw-Kan Co-op Bringing Gigabit to Rural Heartland Communities
City Officials in Fort Scott, Kansas, located about 95 miles south of Kansas City, say that they haven’t been able to entice national providers to bring high-quality Internet access to their town of about 8,000 people. That may be a good thing — Craw-Kan Telephone Cooperative is building out fiber in Fort Scott as early as 2019.
Working With the City
Planning for the network has involved collaboration between Fort Scott and the cooperative. Before bringing connectivity to residents, the cooperative has been deploying to a local industrial part, the airport, and the golf course.
The plan has included an Exchange Agreement between the city and Craw-Kan which allows the co-op to use vacant conduit to connect Fort Scott’s Water Treatment Plant to the golf course and the airport. Fort Scott will also provide an easement for a fiber node at the golf course. Craw-Kan will provide six fibers for the city to use along this part of the route, and will also install vacant conduit for the city during construction at another location. The additional conduit will be earmarked exclusively for the city’s use.
City officials and representatives from Craw-Kan have been working on the deal and the project since the fall of 2017. At a recent City Commission meeting, City Manager Dave Martin said that Fort Scott was excited that the cooperative was bringing gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to town, noting that they’d tried to attract ISPs that would offer better services. Suddenlink offers services in parts of town and AT&T’s DSL is also available.
Craw-Kan will provide $70 per month symmetrical gigabit connections with no data caps in addition to 10/10 and 50/50 for $50 per month and $60 per month respectively. Installation is free and a Wi-Fi router is included in the monthly rate.
Working With Other Communities