Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by PJ Armstrong, Interim General Manager at Monmouth Independence Networks (MINET) operating in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. During the conversation, the two discuss how MINET came into existence over fifteen years ago, unique perspectives from an older municipal network, progress on MINET’s recent investor-backed expansion into Dallas, Oregon, and how the pandemic has affected the operations and marketing of municipal networks. Christopher and PJ also geek out about MINET’s custom-built operational support system (OSS) and the technology that powers their networks.
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Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
The Atlantic Telephone Membership Cooperative (ATMC) has worked to meet the communications needs of its members since its inception by the citizens of rural Brunswick County, North Carolina who were without telephone service in 1955. Nowadays, ATMC believes meeting members’ communications needs means ensuring all co-op members have access to gigabit fiber Internet service.
High-speed Internet access is currently available throughout 100 percent of the co-op’s service area in southeastern North Carolina. Most co-op members have access to fiber Internet service already, except for those living in ATMC’s Brunswick County service territory, where ATMC originally began offering Internet services.
Brunswick County is the last county ATMC needs to upgrade to fiber, in order to complete an overarching goal of delivering fiber-to-the-home Internet service to all existing members. The co-op recently announced it will soon start a project to replace all of its copper and coaxial wires in Brunswick County with fiber optic cables. It will cost $100 million dollars and take eight years to complete, but at the end of the project, all of the cooperative’s members in Brunswick County currently served by legacy infrastructure will be upgraded to fiber, offering even faster Internet access speeds and far greater reliability.
In the meantime, ATMC has increased the maximum broadband speed delivered to co-op members in Brunswick County from 200 megabits per second (Mbps) to 600 Mbps, a company press release states. Over 22,000 customers had their download speeds doubled without an increase in price.
“The project is slated to start in January 2022,” according to an ATMC press release announcing the project. “By constructing in the most densely populated communities first, the cooperative estimates that it can convert as many as 75 percent of homes and businesses to the new fiber optic network within the first 60 months.”
Cedar Falls Utilities is bringing 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps) Internet access to the last 700 residents in its electric service area. With the help of a $2.3 million state grant, Cedar Falls Utilities fiber ISP - CFU FiberNet - will be connecting rural residents to the west and north of Cedar Falls city limits.
Up until this point, CFU FiberNet has offered rural residents in the utilities service area without a fiber connection a fixed wireless option called WaveNet Wireless with two speed options: 9/1 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $56/month and 18/2 Mbps for $75/month. We do not know if WaveNet Wireless will continue after the expansion into these rural areas is complete.
The funds were awarded through the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Program which had nearly 180 applicants hoping for a grant from the $97.5 million pot of money. Ultimately, 38 projects were chosen. Winning bids aimed were aimed at two groups of households, with the requirement to deliver at least 100 Mbps symmetrical service to what we usually call “underserved” areas (where service is greater than 25/3Mbps but less than 100/100 Mbps), or 100/20 Mbps service in areas where broadband access is currently less than 25/3 Mbps.
The challenge for these CFU electric subscribers to get onto the fiber network was the $7,500 cost of the drop; households in rural areas all around the country face a similar financial obstacle, even when excellent broadband service is nearby. With CFU contributing an additional $3 million to the effort (making the total project cost $5.3 million) these residents will no longer have the burden of making that hefty financial decision.
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."
The Lafayette, Louisiana-based municipal network, LUS Fiber, is expanding into rural southwest Louisiana with the help of a $3.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA).
The federal grant, announced in February, will cover 80 percent of the cost. LUS Fiber will match up to $700,000 in additional grant funding for the project.
LUS Fiber, which offers speeds up to 10 Gigabit-per-second speeds, is partnering with Acadiana Planning Commission (APC) for the development and construction of the “certified all-fiber network.” Construction of the high-speed Internet backbone along the U.S. Highway 90 is set to begin this year and is expected to be completed within two years.
New Routes, New Subscribers
Forty-seven miles of fiber infrastructure will connect Lafayette Parish, St. Martin Parish, and Iberia Parish. The project “could add between 650 and 1,400 new Internet customers to the telecom’s roughly 21,000 current accounts,” according to the Daily Advertiser’s coverage of the announcement in February.
St. Martin Parish President Chest Cedars told the Daily Advertiser businesses that are central to the economic vitality of the region are just off Highway 90.
“When it was agreed that fiber would take a little left turn and hit our SMEDA Industrial Park it was even a greater win for St. Martin Parish because six of our top 10 taxpayers in our parish are housed in that particular industrial center,” Cedars said.
The final network will connect the cities of Centerville, Kettering, Miamisburg, Moraine, Oakwood, Springboro and West Carrollton with more than 40 miles of fiber, with the resulting infrastructure bringing increased bandwidth, speed, and capacity at an affordable price to the local governments, schools, nonprofits and public safety facilities of seven communities under the Miami Valley Communications Council (MVCC).
Funding the Final Strands
Independents Fiber Network (IFN) has agreed to fund Phase II of the project with $1.8 million, bringing the total cost to just over $3 million. IFN currently owns some of the fiber connecting Springboro and Miamisburg, operating as a middle-mile provider over its 2,000 route-mile network throughout 31 Ohio counties.
“The unique public-private partnership with IFN made it possible for member communities to complete this project without any additional investment of taxpayer dollars,” Leanne Nash, MVCC Board Chair and West Carrollton City Council member told the Dayton Daily News. " At the end of the project, MVCC and IFN will equally split the available fiber and conduit assets which can then be sold or leased to interested technology providers.”
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.
The streaks of paint and tiny white flags popping up across Block Island are not signs of surrender. They are signs of progress. The popular summer tourist destination, nine miles off the coast of Rhode Island, is on the verge of building a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, bringing gig-speed Internet connectivity to the more than 1,000 residents who call the community home.
The markers on residents’ property are plot points along the construction route as network planners prepare to start building the last-mile portion at the end of March.
On Feb. 4, BroadbandBI launched its website, announcing that the construction materials had finally arrived on the Island and signaling the start of construction would soon be underway.
Sertex, the company partnering with the town to build the network, is anticipating deploying more than 60 miles of fiber to deliver high-speed Internet service directly to homes and businesses in New Shoreham, the only town on Block Island.
Pop the Champagne
Residents there unanimously voted in July 2020 to pay for the construction of the island-wide network with $8 million in bonds. Approval for the project was so overwhelming that when the vote took place the Block Island School gymnasium erupted with cheers and applause.
Currently, there are still only three options for Internet service on the Island: Verizon DSL, satellite, and mobile services with the fastest speed advertised at 35 Megabits per second (Mbps). And for a period of time, it seemed as if residents were doomed to those tortoise-like speeds forever.
In 2014, the Block Island Times captured experiences from its readers after an especially frustrating summer of spotty service. One reader, Jessica Fischburg wrote, “We have Verizon and live down in Franklin Swamp. No cell service. Our Internet is painfully slow unless you wake up super early. We have no choice but to disconnect when we come out to the island!”
The Answer Was Blowing in the Wind
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.
There’s more to Nevada than sparkling casinos and vast expanses of arid desert. A six-hour drive north of Las Vegas – about an hour drive east of Reno on I-80 – is Churchill County.
Thanks to an irrigation system fed by the Walker, Truckee, and Carson Rivers, Fallon – the county seat – has long been known as the “Oasis of Nevada,” surrounded by abundant agricultural land with over 600 farms spread across Churchill County’s 5,000 square miles.
Two weeks before Christmas of 2020, county officials were celebrating a different kind of growth when CC Communications broke ground on a new headquarters that will consolidate the 132-year-old telecommunications company’s administrative, network, and customer service operations under one roof.
County Commission Chairman Pete Olsen praised CC Communications for putting the county on the proverbial map because of the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network the county-owned company launched in 2015.
“This is a step on the path towards continuing to build out an amazing home-grown company inside Churchill County,” Olsen said. “It’s an incredible story. We’re so lucky to have this business here in our community, and it’s county owned.”
It was in 2008 that CC Communications first began construction of its $40 million FTTH network, lighting up its first gigabit customer in 2015. Today, Olsen reported, more than 85% of the homes and businesses in Churchill County now have access to the network and get broadband, VoIP and TV services. The residential price for a 100/10 Megabits per second (Mbps) connection is $50 a month; 150/50 Mbps for $70 a month; 250/50 Mbps for $100 month; and a 1Gbps/100Mbps connection for $300 a month.