Tag: "cooperative"

Posted March 4, 2022 by Karl Bode

Like numerous U.S. counties, large segments of Kandiyohi County, Minnesota (pop. 44,000) lack access to affordable Internet service at modern speeds. So like many underserved communities, the county—situated about ninety miles west of Minneapolis—is looking to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime collision of funding opportunities to help finance a massive fiber broadband expansion across numerous county townships. 

A recent survey by the county unsurprisingly reveals that residents are greatly annoyed by the lack of affordable Internet access options, with 64 percent of locals saying they’re dissatisfied with the Internet service provided by regional monopolies.

Ten Projects on Tap

Hoping to address the shortcoming, Kandiyohi County and the City of Willmar Economic Development Commission have been working on ten different projects to shore up Internet access around the county. 

Some of the proposed projects involve partnerships with national monopoly providers like Charter Communications, but others will involve the county and a local cooperative doing the heavy lifting. The county had hoped to fund the projects with a combination of subscriber fees, American Rescue Plan funds, NTIA grants, and upcoming Minnesota state grants.

The first major project closest to being “shovel ready” is a $10 million fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project in partnership with the Federated Telephone Cooperative of Morris. Federated is expected to finance twenty-five percent of the overall project, with new subscribers expected to pay about $1,250 per household to connect to the gigabit-capable network. 

Kandiyohi County is also eyeing the unprecedented federal funding opportunities created by both the recently-passed infrastructure bill and Covid relief efforts. All told, the country hopes to combine a large chunk of the $8.3 million it’s receiving from the American Rescue...

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Posted December 13, 2021 by Maren Machles

In an effort to connect rural communities in eastern Mississippi where the big monopoly Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have failed to deliver– Mississippi Power has agreed to lease its dark fiber to East Mississippi Connect (EMC), the telecommunications subsidiary of the East Mississippi Electric Power Association (EMEPA). The immediate goal is to bring high-speed Internet connectivity to underserved areas in Lauderdale (pop. 74,000) and Kemper (pop. 9,700) counties. 

In February, EMC received $38.6 million in Rural Digital Opportunity Funds (RDOF) grants to deploy fiber-to-the-home broadband to rural residents in the eastern part of the state. EMC, approved by EMEPA members and established in October 2020, has been building out the network in phases, with the majority of Phase One – which covers parts of Lauderdale, Kemper and Clark counties – complete, or near completion. There are a total of five phases that will eventually reach into 11 counties and connect 37,000 homes and businesses. 

The deal marks the first time Mississippi Power has agreed to lease its dark fiber – a move that was buoyed by a recently passed state law that allows electric utilities to “permit broadband providers use of the electric delivery system.” 

EMC has two pricing and speed tiers: 100 Megabit per second symmetrical for $70/month and 1 Gigabit per second for $100/month. 

​​“We are excited to be partnering with Mississippi Power to expand our opportunity of reaching an even greater number of rural communities with access to high-speed fiber Internet,” East Mississippi Electric Power Association Chief Executive Officer Randy Carroll said in a joint press release.

A number of rural communities were left in...

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Posted December 1, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio

The USDA’s ReConnect program has disbursed more than $1.5 billion since its inception in December 2018. On the whole, the USDA seems to have done a better job than the FCC of leading to new broadband infrastructure which is fast, affordable, and locally controlled. Much of the money it has given out has gone to community-driven solutions, with Tribes, electric and telephone cooperatives, and local governments applying for and winning awards. The program has also seen partnerships between counties and other public as well as private entities. 

But there’s a lot to like about the newest round of funding, totaling $1.2 billion more (representing a full 80 percent of all money given out so far). The application process for Round 3 began at the end of November, with applications due by February 22, 2022.

Announced at the end of October, the new scoring metric represents a significant step in the right direction, increasing speed definitions on both sides of the application. But there are other things to like here as well. 

First, it gives explicit preference for projects that are community-driven, with CTC Technology and Energy writing of the “preference for local governments, non-profits, and cooperatives as applicants and additional points to those applications.” Second, it will likely result in at least a little more marketplace competition, by not only providing significantly more flexibility in defining proposed funded service areas, but in giving additional points to open access networks as well. Third, it lets applicants demonstrate eligibility completely separate from the FCC’s Form 477 data. Fourth, for the first time the program awards extra points to applications that will bring connectivity solutions to “socially vulnerable...

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Posted October 29, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio

The Johnson City Press has reported that the partnership between the partnership between Central Georgia Electric Membership Corporation and Conexon Connect has yielded its first connection on the new network in Monro County, Georgia, with beta users testing out the new service before it begins to expand to 5,300 miles of new fiber and 14 counties in the electric cooperative's territory. Additional connections are planned for November 2021.

Posted October 26, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Calloway County (pop. 39,000) in western Kentucky is known for the picturesque shorelines circling Kentucky Lake, the wildlife at Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area, and as the home of Murray State University where Ja Morant dazzled basketball fans before becoming an NBA phenom.

Now there's a different team coming to town that will delight local residents: a new partnership between Calloway County and West Kentucky and Tennessee (WK&T) Telecommunications Cooperative will soon make this rural corner of the state known as a home for high-speed Internet connectivity, as the county and WK&T recently announced they were joining forces to expand the cooperative’s existing fiber network to reach every unserved and underserved location in the county.

Calloway County and WK&T are each committing a $6.2 million matching contribution for the first phase of the expansion project, which will see the co-op’s fiber-to-the-home network in the region extended 236 miles to serve an additional 4,274 homes and businesses. 

WK&T currently serves over 15,000 subscribers in Kentucky and Tennessee with broadband, voice, video and security services, some of whom are in Calloway County. There are also a number of households in the city of Murray, the county seat, with access to fiber service through the city-owned utility Murray Electric System (MES). Yet, thousands of premises on the outskirts of the county remain unserved by Internet Service Providers. The fiber expansion project, which the Calloway County Fiscal Court unanimously voted to pursue in early August, will ensure all county residents can benefit from access to high-speed Internet service. 

To supply their respective portions of the local match, the county has indicated it will contribute a portion of its $7.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds, while WK&T has applied for a $5.54 million Economic Development Administration grant made available through the...

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Posted October 18, 2021 by Maren Machles

More than $34.6 million in COVID relief funds were awarded in August to 15 Minnesota cities and counties across the state as part of the Small Cities Coronavirus Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG-CV). The grant program was created to support Minnesota’s COVID-19 response efforts with the help of a special allocation of Community Development Block Grant funds from the CARES Act fund. 

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) administered the grants which can be used for projects like housing assistance and commercial rehabilitation, but the majority of the funding - approximately $32 million - will be used for broadband projects. 

“The pandemic has made clear how vital broadband is to the lives of Minnesotans and to the economic vitality of our state,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove in a DEED press release. “These grants will help communities fund broadband and other important projects as we write the next chapter of our economy.”

Aitkin County, receiving the largest grant of $4.8 million, submitted an application to work with the Mille Lac Energy Cooperative on a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project that would pass approximately 565 homes across seven communities, six of which don’t even have access to 10/1 Megabit per second (Mbps). The application projected it would take approximately 93 miles of fiber and $9,000 per passing location. In its application, the county shared that while the median household income across Minnesota is $71,300, the median across these communities is $45,990, demonstrating that there is a clear issue of infrastructure and access, but also affordability. As part of its application, Aitkin County and MLEC announced the latter would include a low-cost plan to help address the digital divide: 

MLEC will offer a discounted plan at $39.95 with speeds of 50Mbps/50 Mbps to qualifying residents.If the Emergency Broadband Benefit is continued after the initial funding period" MLEC hopes to participate in this program and will discontinue the discounted...

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Posted September 2, 2021 by Maren Machles

As communities across the country are working to bring more affordable, reliable Internet access to their residents, one county in Michigan is gearing up to reach every household within its bounds. On Wednesday night, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners held a Ways and Means meeting and unanimously approved a resolution obligating state funding, including American Rescue Plan funds, to several initiatives, with $14.6 million dollars being allocated to broadband infrastructure. 

Although some communities in the county have made progress in recent years in improving connectivity, thousands of households have been left with broadband at basic speeds. While many are slated to receive service via the recent wins by Mercury Broadband (a Kansas-based ISP, focused on connecting rural America) and Midwest Energy and Communications (MEC, a Michigan electric cooperative) from the 2020 Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, there are still 17 townships scattered across the county with more than 3,000 households that remained unserved. 

Back in May, the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to plug the remaining holes, with the Task Force signalling its general happiness with the responses in the recent meeting. The allocation on Wednesday, if it receives final approval in the near future, will be used to fund the project proposals the Broadband Task Force is currently negotiating with four ISPs: Midwest Energy and Communications, Washtenaw Fiber, Comcast and Charter-Spectrum. 

This vote brings the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force one step closer to its goal of countywide broadband equity. Its $14.6 million dollar plan will either be approved or vetoed by the County Board of Commissioners on Sept. 15. 

The Journey to Countywide Broadband Equity

The Washtenaw County Broadband Subcommittee was formed in 2017 to assess the county’s broadband coverage and make recommendations about how to achieve “countywide broadband equity” by 2022. 

The Subcommittee came out with...

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Posted August 19, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

There’s a sign in the middle of Lempster, N.H. that reads: “On nearby Allen Road on December 4, 1939, the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative set its first utility pole, an important event in bringing electric service to the farms, mills and homes of the New Hampshire countryside.”

Richard Knox, chairman of the citizen group New Hampshire Broadband Advocates and a member of Broadband Advisory Committee in the town of Sandwich, wrote in the New Hampshire Union Leader about the history behind the sign and why modern-day co-op members are once again celebrating:

When the lights first switched on back in that long-ago December, Lempster schoolchildren marched to the first pole behind a 23-piece band … Residents danced in the streets and partied well into the night … Eighty-one Decembers later, Lempster can claim bragging rights to another momentous first. On December 15, local and state officials joined leaders of the Electric Co-op to celebrate the light-up of its new fiber-optic broadband network.

Expanding Town-by-Town

As we reported then, after New Hampshire Electric Cooperative (NHEC) members voted to authorize the co-op to bring fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) connectivity to its 84,000 members spread out across 115 towns and cities in the Granite State, just weeks later, NHEC connected its first 900 households in Lempster, Clarksville, Colebrook and Stewartstown to its core network, funded with a $6.7 million grant from the state’s Connecting New Hampshire Emergency Broadband Program.

Last month, having been...

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Posted August 10, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Two utility cooperatives in South Carolina – one electric, the other a telephone co-op – have teamed up and are now cooperating to bring fiber-to-the-home Internet service to members living in Anderson, Greenville, Oconee, Pickens and Spartanburg counties.

In September 2020, the Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative (BREC) announced the partnership with WCFIBER, a subsidiary of the West Carolina Telephone Cooperative (WCTEL). WCFIBER has a well-established reputation as a rural broadband provider – serving Abbeville, McCormick, and Greenwood counties, as well as parts of Columbia County, GA – while BREC has a long and proud history delivering electricity to residents and businesses who call this part rural/part suburban corner of South Carolina home.

It’s a partnership that has given birth to Upcountry Fiber, a new subsidiary owned by Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative. The plan is to build out the network incrementally with construction expected to take five years to complete. BREC is not only focused on serving its 25,000 members, when the network is fully built-out, all 64,890 households and businesses in Blue Ridge’s 1,800 square mile service area will have access to gigabit speed fiber connectivity.

BREC has approximately 9,100 members in Anderson County, 4,500 in Greenville County, 31 in Spartanburg County, with the rest split between Oconee and Pickens counties.

Using a combination of BREC and WCTEL capital and loans, the $150 million cost and labor required to build the network will be shared by both cooperatives. BREC is building the core network by deploying fiber along its...

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Posted July 20, 2021 by Maren Machles

Since the passing of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act (TBAA) in 2017, the state has poured more than $100 million into connecting its most rural communities, and more than 20 electric cooperatives throughout the state have spent the last four years making their way into the broadband business. 

Back in 2016 and 2017, Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC), along with many other electric cooperatives, advocated for the right to build fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks out to their memberships in the most rural parts of the state. When TBAA passed through the state legislature, removing major barriers for cooperatives to build out their own networks, SVEC got to work.

Today, 23 electric cooperatives in Tennessee have launched their own broadband projects, including SVEConnect, a broadband subsidiary of SVEC offering FTTH that has connected more than 4,400 members across Marion County. 

From Electrification to Connectivity

SVEC was formed in 1939 to address the broad gaps in access to electricity throughout the rural areas surrounding Chattanooga, Tennessee in Bledsoe, Grundy, Marion and Sequatchie counties. When the cooperative was first established, the nonprofit’s leaders would frequent community events at churches and neighborhood gatherings, keeping their fingers on the pulse of community needs. The cooperative began offering an essential service: electricity.

More than 80 years later, a new disparity in service was emerging: members in SVEC’s service area were not receiving the same high-speed Internet options that were offered in urban areas around the state. 

A problem remained, however. In Tennessee, broadband wasn’t listed in the state statute definition of the “community utility services” cooperatives were allowed to...

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