Broadband Communities

AUG-SEP 2016

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2016 | www.broadbandcommunities.com | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | 35 for the co-op. Where DSL and/or cable connectivity was available, the fastest internet speeds typically topped out around 3 to 4 Mbps downstream and less than 1 Mbps upstream. By today's FCC standard of at least 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up, most of the region did not have broadband access prior to the launch of RS Fiber. is dearth of high-speed internet access has been a serious problem for residents and businesses, including farmers, who increasingly rely on internet connectivity to carry out their work. For example, Linda Kramer of Moltke Township (pop. 330) in Sibley County reported in 2011 that her family's DSL connection was far too slow for her husband, a soybean and wheat farmer, to upload reports to his business partners. He would often attempt to send out reports in the evening only to discover in the morning that they were still transmitting or that the connection had failed during the night. e lack of widespread high-speed internet access worried Superintendent Tami Martin of the Gibbon-Fairfax- Winthrop (GFW) School District, who feared that her students would be left along the roadside of the educational superhighway. In spring 2010, the district's school board allocated $335,000 to buy iPads for all its high school students – the first district in the nation to do so. But Martin says it has been difficult for many students in her district to make the most of this technology. Even in 2015, more than 50 percent of the students had internet connectivity problems when they left school, Martin estimates. "I think the ability to utilize our iPads to the extent we want has been greatly limited," Martin says. "We do not do much of the flipped classroom design because so many of our students cannot access the internet to complete their lessons off site. We have some of our students who sit outside of the public libraries and the schools after hours and in the evenings to get wireless access. As you know, Minnesota is not a climate [in which] this can happen most of the year." (In a "flipped" classroom, teachers videotape their lectures and have students watch the lesson the evening before. en during class the next day, the students do their work, a practice that maximizes engagement with their teachers.) ose concerns deeply resonated with Jacob Rieke, a fifth-generation family grain farmer from Fairfax (pop. 1,180) who has two preschool-aged daughters. "Am I actually putting them at a disadvantage with their peers in the cities?" Rieke asks. "It does make you wonder, 'Should I find a different place to live where there is better access? … at was probably one of my strongest motivations for continuing with the project, at least just to level the playing field." A NEW HOPE: THE CO-OP AWAKENS Co-ops are self-governing, member- owned associations of people who voluntarily band together for mutual social, economic, and cultural benefit. ese organizations are democratically run and make decisions based on the best interests of members. Unlike a for-profit company, which could sell a locally owned fiber network to an out- of-state company, co-ops are structurally resistant to losing local oversight because they are rooted in and democratically accountable to their communities. Anyone who takes services from RS Fiber is a member (or patron) of the cooperative and can vote at its annual meeting. Equity investors in the co-op who do not take services also have voting rights, but those who only lend funds to the co-op do not have voting rights. To avoid conflicts of interest, none of the 17 members of the board of directors is an elected official. e local governments in the RS Fiber territory sold general obligation tax abatement bonds to raise funds that were lent to the cooperative as seed funding. The main network operations center in Winthrop, Minnesota, was built in summer 2015. A poster in the RS Fiber office explains the project's goals.

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