RS Fiber cooperative held up as model solution in New York

The Nation recently wrote about broadband in New York, specifically troubles that NY has had with Charter Communications failure to keep promises to the state. It led to a discussion of alternative solutions and the RS Fiber cooperative model came up…

Walcott’s preferred option is the latter. For over 80 years, the co-op model has proven an effective way to bring electricity to mostly rural communities. More recently, some have banded together to apply the model to cable and Internet service. One success story is FS Fiber Cooperative, which is bringing fiber-optic service to 10 cities and 17 townships across parts of Minnesota. But the model remains largely untested in urban areas.

Walcott worked with about 50 strikers for three months on a co-op proposal that the group has recently started circulating. Under Walcott’s plan, the telecom co-op could be owned by both workers and customers. Members could elect a board that would appoint managers, including a CEO, and vote on major business decisions, such as to expand the network to new areas.

Without pressure from Wall Street, the co-op could prioritize value over profits, offering faster speeds, reduced cost, and better customer service from workers earning solid wages and benefits. “We’re definitely going to look to build out to all the areas that are underserved,” Walcott said.

The co-op would also commit to net neutrality, promising not to block certain websites or slow their loading speeds.

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About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

3 thoughts on “RS Fiber cooperative held up as model solution in New York

  1. There was recently an article in the Gaylord Hub regarding RS Fiber.

    -The headline reads, “RS Fiber shortfall projected to exceed one million dollars.”
    -The article then goes on to detail RS Fiber only has 996 connections out of a possible 3,907 in Gaylord.
    -The article also details shortfalls are expected to run at least through August 1st of 2020. The article doesn’t detail anything beyond August 1st of 2020.

  2. I’m not sure what news article Mr. Eckles read.
    He states the Gaylord newspaper said there are a total of 3,907 possible connections in Gaylord. That’s interesting, because there are only 2,300 people in the community.
    I assume that in his glee over potential problems with the RS Fiber network he misread the story.
    It would be interesting to know how many communities served by independent phone companies in the state of Minnesota have a level of broadband (symmetrical gigabit) similar to the ten communities in the RS Fiber project.
    I know many independent phone companies have recently taken tax dollars from the federal government to upgrade their networks to (up to) 10 megabits download and (up to) 1 megabit upload, speeds that aren’t much better than dial up in a household with multiple Internet users. But I guess it’s a start. Perhaps the federal government will make more money available to them in the future.
    Our local phone company recently got $4 million in federal dollars to build fiber to the farm in a few partial townships. I applaud their initiative but wish they had used their own money.
    Except for a grant from the state of Minnesota (a program that I believe has seen more than half of the grant dollars go to independent phone companies) not one dime of tax dollars has been used to build out and operate RS Fiber.
    It’s true member cities may have to put in some tax dollars next year. We’ll have to wait and see how it works out. All that has happened to date is the ten cities have been notified it could happen.
    To make the RS Fiber network a reality, each city was asked to pledge approximately $2,100 per home (an amount to be paid back, if necessary, over 20 years, less than $10 a month).
    Since the start of RS Fiber three years ago the local cable company, Mediacom, has not only made significant investments in their network (isn’t competition wonderful?) they have also lowered their prices. At the same time the value of the home in the ten towns has increased approximately $6,000 because they are connected to an all fiber network.
    I think it is fair to say residents are saving more money on their monthly cable and broadband bills than they might have to pay in additional taxes. That not a bad return on a potential investment of just $2,100.
    Apparently, the independent phone companies in the state (who have been receiving regular subsidies from the federal government for decades) can’t find a way to upgrade their networks with their own money. Instead they have indicated they couldn’t possibly make necessary upgrades until more federal dollars were made available.
    And while their wait for more of your money, too many rural Minnesota communities and rural areas outside those communities are left to suffer with less-than-adequate broadband.
    Three years ago in our neck of the woods, local leaders found similar conditions unacceptable and decided to do something about it.
    By the way, there are exceptions to how Minnesota communities and rural areas are served by their local phone companies.
    One exception is Hiawatha Broadband Communications (HBC). HBC has invested their own money to build fiber to the home networks in nearly 20 rural communities in Minnesota. HBC, by the way, manages and operates the RS Fiber network.
    The other exception are communities served by cooperative phone companies like RS Fiber. Customers in those communities are more likely than not to be served by fiber networks capable of delivering symmetrical gigabit speeds.
    And why is that? Because cooperatives focus their efforts on maximizing benefit to their customers (superior broadband) instead of maximizing their bottom lines.
    Mr Eckles, please get your facts straight and give me a call when all of the communities served by independent phone companies in the state of Minnesota have broadband equal to what each of the ten RS Fiber communities have today.
    Respectfully submitted,
    Mark Erickson
    Winthrop, Minnesota
    P.S. – While our cities enjoy symmetrical gigabit speeds, we are unable to serve our rural cousins with the same level of broadband. Currently we can only provide wireless service of 50 megabits download and 25 megabits upload. Not too shabby, really. I’m sure there are many areas of the state who would love to have similar service. Because they understand the importance of broadband in our personal, educational and work lives today, RS Fiber has plans to some day build fiber to all of the farms as well.

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