Tag: "cooperative"

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...

Read more
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...

Read more
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...

Read more
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...

Read more
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...

Read more
Posted May 13, 2021 by Maren Machles

Last week we wrote about the partnership between Long Prairie, Minnesota and the  forward-thinking and locally minded local telephone cooperative CTC to build a citywide fiber network and bring affordable, high-speed Internet to everyone in town.

Long Prairie isn’t alone, however, among north-central Minnesota communities needing better options, and for at least two others CTC has become a natural partner. This is both because of its location - offering service across the region in Sullivan Lake, Randall, Pillager, Outing, Nokay Lake, Nisswa, Motley, Mission, Lincoln, Leader, Freedhem, Ely, Brainerd, Baxter, and Crosby -  and because it has become one of the most aggressive fiber builders in the state.

Two other cities, specifically, Ely and Little Falls, have also partnered with CTC to bring fiber loops to their business districts. Both communities have faced challenges when it came to building and connecting their residents and businesses to a fiber network.

Dealt a Poor Hand, Ely Forged Ahead

The City of Ely sits on the Southern side of Shagawa Lake with a population of 3,500. While iron used to be what drove the economy, today Ely is a tourist destination and is known as the entry point for the Boundary Waters

Back in 2010, the City of Ely was in a difficult position. There were plans to bring FTTH to the city as part of the Lake County’s county-wide FTTH broadband project. But unfortunately, the project faced a number of obstacles (including pole attachment agreements, weather, and financing issues), and ultimately construction ended before it could reach Ely. 

Likewise, the nearby region has seen improved middle-mile connectivity in the recent past. The Telecommunications and Technology division of the Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC), which owns...

Read more
Posted May 11, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Florida Legislature rewrites utility pole bill to include language backed by municipal electric utilities

North Carolina’s County Broadband Authority Act includes clause drawing criticism from electric co-ops

Oklahoma Governor signs mapping bill, vetoes measure adding Tribal representation to state broadband council

The State Scene

Florida

A Florida bill, which included provisions that would have forced Florida’s municipal electric utilities and their ratepayers to pay private Internet Service Providers’ utility pole make-ready costs, was significantly revised before passing the State House by a unanimous vote of 115-0 on April 28.

H.B. 1239, which no longer includes the make-ready costs provisions, initially read like a regulatory wishlist for incumbent cable monopolies until it was redrafted to become a legislative package aimed at improving broadband deployment across the state. The revised bill now heads to the State Gov. Ron DeSantis for approval.

The final version of the bill establishes additional duties for Florida’s Office of Broadband, creates a state broadband grant program, and requires the Office to conduct mapping of unserved and underserved areas of the state -- a significant deviation from the version that was first introduced in February.

The initial version was sponsored by the Florida Internet and Television Association, of which Charter and Comcast are members, capitol insiders noted. Proponents of the initial language argued that lowering the costs municipal electric utilities charge private ISPs for attaching to their utility poles was a necessary prerequisite to attract private investment in rural communities, and would have required electric utilities statewide to provide private ISPs with access to their poles at a capped rate. The stripped-out portion of the bill had also included tax exemptions on the majority of equipment private ISPs purchased.

... Read more
Posted May 7, 2021 by Jericho Casper

The Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation (ATMC) is expanding gigabit fiber Internet access with financial assistance from federal and state grants to provide high-speed broadband to residents living in some of North Carolina's most rural, poverty-stricken regions.

A $7.9 million federal allotment from the USDA’s ReConnect Program, to which the North Carolina-based telephone cooperative is contributing matching funds, has kickstarted a $15.87 million Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) broadband deployment project in one of the Coastal Plains’ southernmost counties.

ATMC recently completed construction of the first four phases of its 60-phase “Faster Columbus” project, connecting residents living in the New Life community east of Tabor City to its gigabit fiber service. Upon completion of all 60 phases, the project will provide ATMC’s FOCUS Fiber Internet service to 2,775 unserved households in rural Columbus County. The completed project will also serve over 50 businesses, ten educational facilities, three critical community facilities, and 23 agricultural operations in the communities of Hallsboro, Lake Waccamaw, Bolton, north Tabor City and Whiteville.

The fiber Internet service ATMC is providing is expected to have a substantial impact on the region’s agriculture industry, one of the main sectors of the local economy. The FTTH service will also benefit the Waccamaw Siouan Indian Tribe, whose reservation is located on the edge of the Green Swamp. Speaking of the anticipated service, Brenda J. Moore, Housing Coordinator of the Waccamaw Siouan Indian Tribe said, "Finally our Tribal students can look forward to no more boot-legging of Wi-Fi in order to do their homework."

Although the USDA ReConnect Program allots grant recipients 60 months to complete construction of projects, ATMC’s goal is to complete the entire Faster Columbus project within 20 months. “We want to get Internet [access] to these 2,775 homes as quickly as possible,” Jody Heustess, ATMC’s VP of Marketing, told us in a recent interview. “We have about six construction...

Read more
Posted May 6, 2021 by Maren Machles

Tired of waiting for connectivity solutions to come to town, one Minnesota community has instead partnered with a local telephone cooperative to build a fiber network reaching every home and business in the city.

In embarking on its journey to improve local Internet access six years ago, Long Prairie (pop. 3,300) ended up partnering with one of the most aggressive fiber network builders in the state - Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) - on a solution that meets local needs. The two finished a ubiquitous Fiber-to-the-Home build in 2018, with CTC now owning and operating the network. 

Looking for Solutions

The City of Long Prairie (pop. 3,300), the county seat in Todd County, Minnesota, has long struggled with connectivity. It has manifested in issues with connecting students from their homes, with losing parts of the local workforce, and in a lack of access to support larger healthcare institutions for their aging population. 

In 2014, the city met with state officials as well as broadband providers to discuss the results of a feasibility study that was done back in 2011. Todd County stressed that this was a pressing issue that couldn’t wait anymore - they needed state support with funding and potentially help setting up a partnership with a local co-op. But this kind of partnership couldn’t just be with any co-op, it had to be a mutually beneficial partnership that could connect all of Long Prairie’s businesses and residents. It would take 2 more years before the community entered into an agreement with the right one.  

CTC started in the 1950s as a telephone cooperative, and began offering Internet access via DSL service in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Around 2008, CTC’s Board of Directors decided that the best long-term strategy for providing strong, reliable connectivity would be to build out Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) for all of its members. 

Building on that initial network, the main vision and mission driving the co-op over the last 10 years has been getting as many people in the area fast and reliable connectivity as possible. But because CTC is just one firm, that has meant developing relationships with other towns, cities, and counties that bloom into successful partnerships. 

...

Read more
Posted March 24, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Franklin, Kentucky’s (pop. 8,400) electric utility is gearing up for an expansion of its partnership with Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation (WRECC) with the help of $2.3 million from the recent FCC Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). The new partnership will allow Franklin EPB to add new service to roughly 250 locations adjacent to a current project in the area.

The expansion project will add subscribers in the northeast region of Simpson County and nearby parts of the city of Franklin in the south-central part of the state, where the two entities are operating a two-area fiber pilot.

It represents the growth of a collaboration between Franklin EPB and the electric cooperative. In 2019, the two partnered up to deploy service with Franklin EPB leasing dark fiber from the cooperative and acting as service provider to “350 of its customers in northeast Simpson County and in an area on the southeast side of Franklin.” The project brought symmetrical 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) and 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) options for $60 and $80/month to those locations and has brought service to a lot of happy members

 “Providing high-speed Internet [access] in rural areas has been and continues to be an important issue nationwide. Fortunately, we have been able to develop a successful model with Franklin EPB. We’re delighted to be able to expand our service in Simpson County immediately thanks to the RDOF funding,” said Dewayne McDonald, President and CEO of Warren RECC, at the announcement. He continued to emphasize that "part of our mission is to improve the quality of life for our members. This expansion represents a giant leap in progress for them, and we’re excited about the momentum. For the areas we didn’t win, we hope the companies that did win them will live up to their commitment to serve our...

Read more

Pages

Subscribe to cooperative