In the late 1990’s, John Reigle, founder and current President of Allband Communications Cooperative, decided to build a home and relocate his consulting business to Northeastern Michigan. In need of a dependable telephone for his business, he first called GTE (which became Verizon and is now Frontier) to confirm that they could provide a new telephone line. They told him it wouldn’t be a problem, gave him a date and cost of installation (approximately $34), and even gave him a confirmation number.
Several months later, as construction of his home was drawing to a close, John called GTE to confirm his hook-up date. To his surprise, he was told it would actually cost him approximately $27,000, because they were going to charge him a per-foot fee to run the lines from highway M-65 to his home. After much consideration and his move-in date drawing near, John decided to pay the steep costs, as he would be completely unable to operate his home-based business without a telephone and some form of Internet access. However, when John called back to request the exorbitantly priced service, GTE then told him they would never provide him service, at any cost. In fact, they wouldn’t even give him service if he ran the lines to M-65 himself.
When John called the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to file a complaint, he discovered that his property was located in an “unassigned” area, or an area in which there was no Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier (ILEC). He also was told that no phone company in Michigan had ever been forced to provide phone service to an area they didn’t want to serve. He was given advice no one else had ever taken literally,
“If you want telephone service, start your own phone company.”
And he did, driving 10 miles to use the nearest pay phone, waiting in line in the rain, snow, and heat. With guidance from Michigan State University faculty and students, John founded Michigan’s first non-profit telephone cooperative.
With an amazing amount of effort from John Reigle, Allband’s volunteer Board of Directors, local, state and Federal government support and hundreds of students from Michigan State University, incubation funds needed to form Allband and develop a loan application for the Rural Utility Service (RUS) was awarded and carved out of a $212,000 LinkMichigan grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. RUS ultimately approved the loan application and granted Allband financing totaling $8.048 million to construct its network.
Allband activated its first member in November 2006, and it now serves over 120 cooperative customers in its Robbs Creek Exchange. Allband has continued to expand its role in the community as a unserved/underserved communication pioneer by building new fiber infrastructure over the last five years as it continues with approximately $10 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Stimulus grants.
Allband Communications Cooperative’s primary mission is providing affordable and advanced telephone, 911 and broadband services to residents in Northeastern Michigan who do not have access to advanced telecommunications offered in neighboring more populated cities or other urban areas. In short, Allband’s mission is to “bridge the digital divide” of our rural community by laying an advanced fiber optic foundation that can fulfill current needs and be developed and harnessed over time to improve the economic development and quality of life of our community.
Allband Communication Cooperative provides service in its Robbs Creek exchange, which comprises 177 square miles located in portions of four (4) counties in northeast Lower Michigan (Alcona, Alpena, Oscoda and Montmorency Counties). Robbs Creek is a rural, heavily forested area with an average population density of approximately one premise per mile, and remained for decades an unlikely candidate for telephone service, especially a Fiber to the Home (FTTH) network. Due to the goals of the 1996 Act (FCC) and the Universal Service Fund (USF), Allband is able to proudly provide reliable and life-saving advanced communications in one of the most economically distressed areas of Michigan. Since this area was previously unserved/unassigned, Allband began a long journey of becoming the first ILEC to be formed in decades with the intention of utilizing the many benefits of the Universal Service Fund on behalf of its community. Allband represents many of the goals the fund sought to address; more specifically, providing support to insure affordable rates for service for customers in rural areas where the high cost of investment stifled telecommunication growth. By utilizing the fund and by joining the National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA) pools, Allband can recover a portion of its costs so that it can provide reliable 911 and traditional exchange services at a price its customers can afford.
Allband is the first ILEC to be formed in many years in Michigan. Allband is also the first non-profit telephone cooperative in Michigan and provides one of the most advanced networks in Michigan via pure fiber to the home infrastructure. Until 2005, when Allband activated its first subscriber, Allband’s Robbs Creek Exchange was the largest of several unserved/unassigned areas in Michigan. The development of Allband has been a true challenge from both a regulatory and physical development standpoint. It took multiple years to obtain the funding, licenses, waivers and property easements to build our network in an area that is extremely rural and difficult to construct in. By utilizing USF and NECA support, Allband has successfully served an area that for decades was ignored by other carriers due to the high cost of construction and lack of revenue due to low population densities.
For the last five years, Allband has utilized its RUS funding to provide free service drop installation to its subscribers in an effort to offset our community’s inability to pay for construction due to the economic crisis in our area. Allband has maintained a near perfect customer service record, has not received a single complaint with the MPSC and is proud to provide a cooperative environment where we care for the well being of our subscribers. After all, Allband was started to provide 911 services in an area that lacked traditional telephones and cellular service and saving lives continues to be the cooperative’s number one priority.
Allband Multimedia Overview
On August 4th, 2010 Allband Communications Cooperative (Allband) received two grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for approximately $9.7 million to provide broadband access in unserved areas of Northern Michigan. The award provided Fiber to the Home (FTTH) last mile high-speed data and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP-telephone) services to Allband’s surrounding rural community in Northeastern Michigan. New access to broadband over fiber will spur economic activity in one of the most economically distressed states in our country and create/save jobs.
Allband has focused its attention on project development that will allow low-income households, welfare recipients and struggling businesses the ability to utilize broadband fiber access to pursue new careers, opportunities and applications that will speed Michigan’s economic recovery. Allband’s unique ability to build high-speed networks in rural areas has given our community a new tool to address its economic hardships, and with federal funding opportunities such as the ARRA BIP program, Allband will expand its current network and assist the community on a much larger basis.
Allband’s project provides both middle-mile and last-mile infrastructure to support the provision of new high-speed broadband services in the rural communities outlying Allband’s existing Robbs Creek Exchange and the community of Mikado, MI. The current broadband expansion project will enable these extremely rural communities to access the same broadband services available to residents and businesses in more urban areas of Michigan. Broadband expansion is a key component in the economic development of rural communities, businesses, and farms in Michigan.
The following timeline of the cooperative’s development demonstrates the unique nature of the Cooperative and the extensive efforts of its founders:
a. After being denied basic telephone service by GTE at his Curran, MI residence and then left without an alternate solution, now Allband President John Reigle, began coordinating the formation of Allband with Michigan State University in early 2000.
b. On November 3, 2003, after extensive planning and organizational efforts, Allband filed its Articles of Incorporation with the State of Michigan.
c. On July 29, 2004, Allband filed a complete loan application with the USDA Rural Development, the only source of financing available to build its new network.
d. On August 31, 2004, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) in Case No. U-14200 granted Allband a temporary license to provide service in its Robbs Creek Exchange, an unserved/unassigned geographical location. A permanent license was granted by the MPSC in Case No. U-14200 on December 2, 2004.
e. Allband obtained RUS funding on Oct. 7, 2004 and began constructing an all fiber, passive optical, state of the art telecommunications network that would allow Allband not only to provide standard telecommunications services, but also ubiquitous access to broadband and other advanced services.
f. On August 11, 2005, the FCC granted Allband’s waiver of certain FCC’s rules and allowed Allband to be treated as an ILEC for NECA pooling and Universal Service purposes.
g. On August 18, 2005, the USDA Rural Development Program officially announced a loan for $8 million to fund the construction of Allband’s fiber to the home network.
h. On October 19, 2005, Allband started construction in its Robbs Creek Exchange.
i. On November 10, 2005, the MPSC in Case No. U-14659 granted Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) status to Allband.
j. On November 30, 2006, Allband activated its first cooperative member.
k. In December 2006, after obtaining the necessary waivers from the FCC, Allband was allowed to join the National Exchange Carrier Association (“NECA”) pools as an ILEC. This action allowed Allband to (a) Minimize administrative expenses and (b) Maintain reasonable and stable access rates. Because the Universal Service Administration Company (“USAC”) and NECA recognized Allband as an ILEC per its FCC waivers, NECA began providing Interim Common Line Support and Local Switching Support (two of the FCC’s USF mechanisms) to the cooperative.
l. In January 2008, Allband began receiving High Cost Loop Support (another of the FCC’s USF mechanisms) from USAC/NECA. This support or recovery mechanism is being used and will be used by Allband to recover a substantive portion of the ongoing high cost of providing ubiquitous network facilities and thus, enable Allband to maintain reasonable local exchange consumer rate levels (Currently $19.90 per month plus taxes and regulatory fees).
m. On August 4th, 2010 Allband Communications Cooperative (Allband) received two grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for approximately $9.7 million to provide broadband access in unserved areas of Northern Michigan.
The tireless efforts of a few have brought advanced communications to an area that has long suffered from the technological divide that exists between rural and urban areas. Allband’s unique opportunity to serve a small area of rural northeast Michigan has laid the foundation for a much greater mission; wide spread broadband access or in other words, a gateway to a new age of communication and digital life.
Allband and its mission is proof that collaborative efforts between community driven rural telecommunication providers and government can correct the digital divide that traditional providers with traditional business models cause and fail to correct. Allband is a unique company with a unique mission and is very proud of its accomplishments. The Cooperative and its affiliate Allband Multimedia will continue to find new and unique ways to develop its rural community and bend the rules of traditional economics in order to lay a foundation for a safer, more advanced and less-digitally divided rural America.