State of the Cooperative

In January 2013 the Magnolia Road Internet Cooperative (MRIC) finished the replacement of its two upstream wireless links to the Internet. In addition to increasing the total bandwidth available to members, we have been upgrading our network with new equipment, upgrading 15 of 17 POPs so far, with the remaining two POPs to be upgraded this spring. We have added two new POP locations where the community has specifically requested service and has contributed funding; a third new POP is in the planning stage.

Much of this is possible due to new equipment on the market that is both dramatically lower in cost as well as more powerful than our previous equipment. Previously, we had made a decision to use Motorola's Canopy equipment. A year or so later a relatively new company in the wireless market set a new standard, offering three times the speed for less than half the cost. We decided to change our strategy and standardize on Ubiquity equipment. As we upgraded our internal equipment and began to upgrade members' equipment, many members have reported an increases in performance and/or reliability, prompting us to recommend that anyone who has not had an upgrade in the last three years to request more information on upgrade options.

MRIC has not actively promoted service to new members in order to ensure that our current membership's bandwidth was not unduly affected. We have charged relatively high upfront fees to become a member of MRIC. This meant potential new members with other options would probably select a cheaper option, but allowed for those in the community who really needed Internet access, but had limited options, to get it from MRIC.

In order to meet our goal of doubling the available upstream bandwidth to keep pace with members' ever-increasing demands, MRIC would need to add more members to pay for the increased capacity. Having 400 members share 200 Mbps still offers more bandwidth than 300 members sharing 100 Mbps, and MRIC can do that without impacting reliability (due to our infrastructure improvements and a change in our upstream bandwidth providers).

MRIC has decided to lower our up-front charge to become a member to $100 plus equipment costs. This $100 charge includes both installation and membership. We are also offering to upgrade current and former members to newer equipment for $50 in labor plus the cost of equipment, with some limitations for those with more complicated setups. The equipment ranges from $50 (if you have most of what is needed and only require one of the smaller radio units), to $200 (if your location happens to require the most powerful radio, antenna and you need mounting hardware, and cabling.

Finally, more members are asking about VOIP phone service. While MRIC has the option to look into its own plans to provide that type of service, there are already multiple VOIP providers whose services work on MRIC today. They often offer better rates than some other providers who bundle VOIP phone service with their Internet service. Ooma is one option for around $5 a month and Skype is also a freely available option. Many members are using services like Ooma, Skype, and Vonage for their VOIP needs with MRIC, eliminating the need for additional VOIP charges in addition to Internet access charges.

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