Most of the time at yesterday’s meeting was spent combing through the Task Force draft report in groups. I was disappointed that they didn’t get to a discussion of speed goals or recommendations but they did discuss all other aspects of the report.

Here’s the draft handed out at the meeting. It will be helpful as you read through the notes below

11:00 a.m. — 11:10 a.m. Welcome, introductions, approval of minutes – done
11:10 a.m. — 11:20 a.m. Public comment – done
11:20 a.m. — 11:30 a.m. Update from the Office of Broadband Development

$11 million in grants
$18 million in matching
Awards from $100,000 up to $5 million. Good geographic distribution.
Next step is to convene the group of awardees to walk them through the grant process.

We are often asked about the role of the Task Force in grant awards. We try to make it clear that the Task Force is not involved at all.

We have heard from Internet 2 folks. They did a high level state-level report on education and broadband. MN is not one of the 38 states listed with a forward looking designation. Mostly because the Governor was not able to give a quote in time for the publication.


11:30 a.m. — 1:40 p.m. Discussion of broadband speed goal recommendations – The Task Force broke up into three groups to discuss the report. Read More…

Posted by: Ann Treacy | November 23, 2015

Swift County wins $4.95 million state broadband grant

I announced the awards last week, but as more information comes out from each community, I’ll post more. From the Swift County Monitor County wins $4.95 million state broadband grant | Swift County Monitor News //

Swift County and Federated Telephone Cooperative have received the highest award in this year’s latest round of funding for expansion of broadband services in Minnesota.

Friday the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) announced that Federated and Swift County had been awarded $4.95 million.

The project will deliver high-speed Internet service to 600 households, 425 businesses and 75 community institutions, DEED said.  The project affects 13 of the county’s 21 townships concentrated on area just east of the Benson city limits.

The area in Swift County included in the project is most of each of the following townships in the eastern half of the county: Kerkhoven, Hayes, Pillsbury, Dublin, Kildare, Camp Lake, Benson, Torning, Cashel, Swenoda, Six Mile Grove and Clontarf.

However, there were sections along U.S. Highway 12 between Murdock and Kerkhoven that would be excluded from the project as well as some areas east of Benson between Minnesota Highway 9 and U.S. Highway 12.  Much of the western half of the county already has fiber cable.

Total project costs are $12.5 million with $7.5 million (60 percent local match) coming through a loan from Swift County to Federated. Swift County’s Board of Commissioners plans to pass a bond issue early in 2016 with the proceeds being loaned to Federated for the project.

Federated had sought the county’s backing because no source of funding exists that has either the capacity to lend the amount of money needed for the project, or that can provide the terms needed to make it doable, Federated’s General Manager Kevin Beyer told commissioners in July.

A loan in the private sector would only be for 10 years with refinancing needed after that to pay the balance. “Most financial folks will tell you that interest rates will be higher 10 years from now than they are today,” he said. “We can’t take the volatility of a higher interest rate 10 years from now; it may sink the project. That is why the 20 years at current interest rates is very important. I can’t get a loan from anyone for 20 years at current interest rates.”

DEED only had $10.58 million available to lend this year for its Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program with the maximum grant limited to $5 million – or nearly half the pot available.

In all, the 44 grant applications were submitted this year seeking $29.06 million to expand broadband coverage for their areas.

Last year, DEED received 40 applications seeking $44.2 million, but had $20 million available.

In July, Swift County pledged to bond for $7.5 to $8 million to help Federated expand broadband fiber optic cable to unserved areas in the eastern half of the county.

“With grant requests nearly triple the available funding, it’s clear that the need for investment in rural broadband access is significant,” said Lt. Governor Tina Smith. “The $10.58 million available this year is a start, but it’s essential that the Legislature provide sufficient funding next session.”


Last week – while the Minnesota Broadband conference was happening in St Louis Park, the Pioneer Press ran an editorial from Annette Thompson Meeks from the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota. The letter alluded to the conference (although they had the wrong date) and the keynote speech from Susan Crawford.

Here’s a cheat sheet on the issues at hand. Susan Crawford encourages the option for local government to provide broadband to residents and businesses as a utility. The Freedom Foundation discourages government intervention because of the risk involved with using government money to build, maintain and run a broadband provider business – citing a study done by Charles Davidson and Michael Santorelli that included a profile of the network in Monticello.

To be clear – they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Freedom Foundation supports “free markets and limited government” and Crawford writes about the negative impact of broadband monopolies have had on “America’s global economic standing”. They each have a story. And as Davidson and Santorelli point out (in a different publication on broadband than the one cited in the Freedom Foundation article) narratives matter…

Narratives matter in politics and policymaking. How an issue is framed and the evidence offered in support combine to tell a distinctive story about a particular issue or industry; the goal is to pique the interest of stakeholders and animate or deter a particular type of response. In the context of the market for broadband Internet access in the United States, two competing narratives have emerged, each with a unique set of arguments, evidence, and desired outcomes.

They go on to say…

Whether GONs [Government Owned Networks] are a prudent and appropriate investment of public funds and other resources is the subject of fierce debate. Advocates and opponents alike cite an array of reasons, data points, successes, and failures as evidence of the wisdom or folly of having a municipality enter the broadband market as a service provider. In many ways, this debate is a microcosm of the larger conversation about broadband in the United States and which of the competing narratives more accurately reflects the consumer experience and the realities of the marketplace across the country.

The problem is that there is no singular “consumer experience” across the county or in Minnesota. As Bernadine Joselyn is fond of saying, if you’ve been in one small town in Minnesota, you’ve been in one small town. They are all different. I recently had reason to dig into county-level data on broadband. We hoped to find the magic ingredient to better broadband. We’re still looking.

Some local providers are an asset to the community. (We have many in Minnesota!) And I heard at the conference that some communities feel like they are being held back by their providers. Attendee stories were a strange mix of “What we do with a Gig” and “How we innovate to get kids access after school because they can’t get access at home”. (Quick aside – where would you like to live?)

Willing local providers are the best partners! But there have to be options for when that isn’t the case. Shannon Sweeney (from David Drown Associates) spoke at the conference about Broadband Partners. His goal is to minimize risk. They have six directions they look to before they look at community networks…

“Only after all other opportunities are exhausted do we begin to look at alternatives for providing services through a start-up company – and even then we go back to Step 1 and have similar conversations with operators, companies or cooperatives in other industries that could potentially provide this service.”

There is risk in a community-owned network. But there’s risk to the community in not having broadband too. It’s difficult to measure the negative capability inherent in not doing something but there is a cost of doing nothing – the loss of opportunity. It’s not the job of a private business to take on that risk (all the more credit for those who do!) but it responsibility of local government to remove barriers for their local businesses and citizens. Community broadband networks are a door that should be open to local governments – it will be the right door for some and not others. It will rarely (I have never seen it) be the first door a community tries. I’ve seen the communities where the door is shut on them and they do risk loss of business and residents. Those costs are as hard to recoup any investment risk.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | November 22, 2015

Minnesota Broadband Task Force Meeting Agenda: Nov 23

Sorry this notice is a little late. It’s the agenda for the Nov 23 Broadband Task Force meeting…

Broadband Task Force – November 23, 2015
DEED – James J. Hill Conference Room
1st National Bank Building
332 Minnesota Street
Saint Paul, MN, 55101-1351
11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

11:00 a.m. — 11:10 a.m. Welcome, introductions, approval of minutes

11:10 a.m. — 11:20 a.m. Public comment

11:20 a.m. — 11:30 a.m. Update from the Office of Broadband Development

11:30 a.m. — 12:30 a.m. Discussion of broadband speed goal recommendations

12:30 a.m. — 1:00 p.m. LUNCH

1:00 p.m. — 2:50 p.m. Review 2015 Task Force Report

2:50 p.m. — 3:00 p.m. Wrap up, plans for December 8 meeting

Good news for more sections of Minneapolis… (Also I want to give special recognition for how US Internet keeps in touch with their customers and prospects. The following announcement was posted on Reddit – check it out to see the ongoing conversation. People ask good customer questions and get good answers.

We are just wrapping up the 2015 fiber season in Minneapolis and it was easily our best season to date. Thanks everyone for the support, excitement, and sometimes patience ;)

2016 planning is coming along very well and I am happy to announce the first 3 phases of the 2016 construction season.

Please see the map for locations;

We will start taking orders for Phase 1 immediately and over the next couple months open Phase 2 and 3. We need to get as many people pre-wired over the winter for a smooth construction season next summer.

Weather permitting we are looking to add a Phase 4 in 2016, these details will come next summer as we determine progress.

Again, thanks everyone for the support and let’s hope for a mild winter so we can get started again.

-Travis / USI

Here’s a look at the map…

us internet

Congrats to Paul Bunyan, IRRRB and Itasca County…

Paul Bunyan Communications awarded State of Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Grant for portions of Central Itasca County

Cooperative will bring Broadband network to over 1,250 locations

(Bemidji, MN) (November 21, 2015) –Paul Bunyan Communications has been awarded a Border to Border Broadband Grant from the state of Minnesota to expand its fiber optic services to portions of central Itasca County in partnership with the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) and Itasca County.

As a result, the cooperative will begin expansion construction next spring that will pass over 1,250 locations in portions of Balsam Township, Lawrence Township, Nashwauk Township, and the city of Taconite.  Final expansion plans that will determine the locations to be passed are expected by early spring.

“This is very exciting news for so many people who are currently without access to broadband in central Itasca County and it is a truly collaborative effort that makes it possible.  Our cooperative has a long history of expanding our network to underserved areas but it has become increasingly challenging to go it alone without grant support.  The support offered by both IRRRB and Itasca County has been phenomenal.  Additionally, the Itasca Economic Development Corporation was instrumental in building community support and providing guidance through the grant application process.  The irony is these areas will not only get Broadband access, they’ll go from no real access to becoming a part of one of the largest rural Gigabit networks in the country.  Many will go from satellite and dial up to speeds of up to a Gigabit per second,” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.

Paul Bunyan Communications expects to finalize the expansion plans by early spring and will contact all locations along the expansion route shortly thereafter. Construction will start in the early summer and will be completed by June 30, 2017.  While the general area of the expansion is determined, the specific locations that it will pass will depend upon the final network design.  Those in the region interested on keeping up to date on the project can look for updates on the Paul Bunyan website at or join the Paul Bunyan Communications Central Itasca Fiber Project Group on Facebook at

“I am really excited about this project and the positive impact it will have on people’s lives.  Students will have access to educational resources, employees will be able to work from home, seniors will be able to stay in their homes longer with telemedicine, and a rural medical clinic will finally get the connectivity it has needed for years.” added Steve Howard, Paul Bunyan Communications Information Technology and Development Manager.

“In addition to the local partnerships we’ve formed that makes this a reality, no project would have gotten off the ground if it wasn’t for the hard work of our elected officials who championed the Border to Border Broadband Grant Program.  I want to thank all of them and also the Office of Broadband Development that oversees the program.  This is going to make a world of difference in so many ways to a lot of people in central Itasca County!” said Johnson.

All of the cooperative’s services will become available once the network is operational including GigaZone service options like unprecedented Broadband Internet speeds of up to 1000 Mbps – a Gigabit, PBTV Fusion and low cost unlimited local and long distance GigaZone voice service.  There is no membership fee to join Paul Bunyan Communications, membership is included by subscribing to either local phone service or GigaZone Internet service.

Paul Bunyan Communications has the region’s largest and fastest all fiber optic network with over 5,000 square miles throughout most of Beltrami County and portions of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties.  The Cooperative provides Broadband High Speed Internet Services including the GigaZone, digital and high definition television services, Smart Home services, digital voice services, and more.

I’m going to call the 2015 Broadband conference a success! Thanks to everyone who attended. Highlights include the announcement of the Border to Border Broadband Fund recipients, an inspiring talk from Susan Crawford and the crafting of a new Minnesota Broadband Vision. For a more complete view of the conference, check out the video recap from Bernadine Joselyn.

And here’s a short list of articles posted on the conference:

Posted by: Ann Treacy | November 21, 2015

Remarks by Senator Al Franken: 2015 #MNBroadband Conference

We were delighted to have Senator Franken join us at the end of the conference. I want to thank Tim Marema from the Daily Yonder for sharing his audio of the talk with me. You can hear the speech in its entirety.

broadband visionModerated by Senator Matt Schmit

Representative Dave Baker
Senator Vicki Jensen
Representative Ron Kresha
Representative Paul Thissen

Policy makers responded to the Minnesota Broadband Vision that was crafted during the conference:

One added highlight was when Rep Thissen suggested the Legislature consider $100 million for broadband in 2016, Rep Kresha suggested closer to $30 million and a representative from Senator Dayton’s office announced that he would be suggesting a budget significantly higher than what he suggested in 2015 ($30 million).


Posted by: Ann Treacy | November 21, 2015

Unveiling the Minnesota Broadband Vision #MNBroadband Conference

broadband visionThroughout the conference, attendees worked on creating a Minnesota Broadband Vision. (I wrote earlier about the process.) The penultimate activity of the day was to solidify the vision:

Everyone in Minnesota will be able to use convenient, affordable world-class broadband networks that enable us to survive and thrive in our communities and across the globe.

Once the vision was formulated, we got working on ways to spread the vision to policy makers, community leaders, well really everyone in Minnesota. Here’s a quick video of the ideas that emerged…



Learn how Social Media Breakfasts, App Camps, industry sector initiatives and business technology promotion projects can positively influence the tech savviness of your own community. Hear about best practices for helping residents, businesses and key community institutions learn new skills and deploy new tech strategies.
Moderated by Karl Samp, Community Technology Advisors

Julie Foote, Market Development and Sales, MVTV Wireless
Maureen Ideker, Systems Director of Telehealth, Essentia Health
Kay Wruke, County Recorder, Martin County


Posted by: Ann Treacy | November 20, 2015

Co-ops and Broadband Deployment: 2015 #MNBroadband Conference


Many of Minnesota’s best rural broadband services are provided by cooperatives. Find out if a cooperative model might work for your community, and how existing cooperatives might be your best bet for a public-private partnership.
Moderated by Shannon Heim, Senior Counsel, Dykema

Joe Buttweiler, Partnership Development Manager, Consolidated Telephone Co.
Stacy Cluff, Supervisor, IT & Network Security, Mille Lacs Energy
Joel Dahlgren, General Counsel, RS Fiber; Chief Risk Officer, United Farmers Coop
Kyle Oldre, Administrator & Emergency Management Director, Rock County

Note: I am hoping to upload video from this session over the weekend – but in the meantime I wanted to get the basic info out in a timely fashion.


Learn how to build an innovative community culture by creating a physical space where technologists, engineers, financiers and entrepreneurs can launch new ideas, applications and companies.
Moderated by Ann Treacy, Owner, Treacy Information Services

Betsy Bonnema, Founder, WORKUP (Willmar)
Matt Faris, Founding Member, Duluth MakerSpace
Dave Hengel, Executive Director, Greater Bemidji Inc. / LaunchPad


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