According to the Brainerd Dispatch

Blandin Foundation announced Tuesday it awarded 46 grants totaling $475,461 to help rural Minnesota communities in advancing high-speed Internet access and use.
The “Resilient Region,” which includes Cass, Wadena, Crow Wing, Todd and Morrison Counties, will benefit from four of the grants that will help achieve community-identified technology goals set last winter.

The projects include…

  • Enhanced Marketing of Our Technology Sector: Project support to implement the Tech Services marketing plan.
  • Video Conferencing System in CTC Technology Room at the BLAEDC/Chamber Offices in Brainerd: Capital support for video conferencing equipment for use by area businesses and organizations.
  • “What the Tech?” Technology Expo: Project support to host a one-day tech expo event in Wadena that will combine active learning by MNSCU students and displays and seminars for the general public. (April 8)
  • PCs for People Youth Project: Project support to continue to train youth to refurbish computers and distribute them to low-income families in the Brainerd area.

Always pleased to share good news from Minnesota Broadband Industry…

Paul Bunyan pic(Bemidji, MN) (February 5, 2015) – Minnesota Lt. Governor Tina Smith visited the headquarters of Paul Bunyan Communications in Bemidji on Wednesday, February 3. The Lt. Governor congratulated the cooperative’s staff on being a leader in bringing high quality broadband Internet service to northern Minnesota and for building one of the largest rural fiber optic Gigabit networks in the United States, the GigaZone. She also discussed the State’s Border to Border Broadband Grant program which the Dayton administration has proposed $100 million in funding for 2016.

The cooperative, in partnership with the IRRRB and Itasca County, was a recipient of a grant from the 2015 Border to Border Broadband Grant program which will fund nearly $2 million of the $5.5 million Central Itasca County Broadband Project. Construction will begin in the spring and will bring broadband Internet service with download and upload speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second along with PBTV and voice services to nearly 1,300 locations that currently lack broadband service.

“We are honored that Lt. Governor Smith took the time during her busy trip to Bemidji to stop at our cooperative and visit with our staff. She along with Governor Dayton are strong proponents of bringing broadband access to all Minnesotan’s and we are very appreciative and supportive of their efforts. There are far too many rural areas that remain without access to broadband. We will continue to do what we can to bring it to as many in northern Minnesota as we can,” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.

In addition to meeting with Paul Bunyan Communications staff, the Lt. Governor toured the cooperative’s facility.

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 Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, Cass , and St. Louis Counties. The Cooperative provides Fiber Optic High Speed Internet Services, digital and high definition television services, Smart Home services, digital voice services, and more.
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Doug Dawson (POTs and PANs) wrote an interesting post earlier this week on municipal networks – promoting public private partnerships. As Doug points out he has a unique perspective because he works with municipalities and small ISPs. And he points out that few communities want to become broadband providers…

One thing that I have noticed over the years is that there is a huge amount of distrust by commercial ISPs towards municipalities that explore building fiber optic networks.

And I think for the most part this distrust is misplaced. It’s been my experience that there are almost no cities that want to be an ISP. I think perhaps the idea that cities want to do this has been caused by the big telcos and cable companies spreading alarms about the cities that have done this. I think that most of the cities that have built fiber, except for a few like Chattanooga, would have much preferred to have a commercial company bring competitive broadband to their city.

It’s easy to forget about the fear and angst in rural America concerning broadband. Rural communities keep seeing other rural places that are getting gigabit broadband while they still have homes that don’t even have DSL. They look around and see little towns of their own size with broadband that are thriving and they realize that if their town stays on the wrong side of the digital divide that their long term viability is at risk.

He goes on to use Winona as an example of why municipalities have to get into the game – or have to think about getting into the game…

Perhaps the best example of this that I’ve heard came from Hiawatha Broadband of Winona, Minnesota. This is a commercial overbuilder who built broadband networks to a number of small towns in their region. They have been at this for a while and what they observed in the last census is that every one of the towns with one of their broadband networks gained significant population while every town around them that doesn’t have broadband is losing population.

People need broadband and they are going to live where they can get it. New homes are going to be built where there is broadband. People want to work at home and can only do that where there is broadband. And people with kids want broadband so that their family is not at a disadvantage. Towns and rural areas without broadband understand these issues and they don’t want their area to dry up and disappear.

His suggestion is public private partnerships…

So I think it’s time to get rid of the mistrust between municipalities and small ISPs and instead come together to get the job done. I’ve done a lot of financial analysis of rural America and fiber projects are a lot more feasible when part of the project is funded by municipal bonds and not just from bank debt.

The Blandin Foundation has supported several conversation on Public Private Partnership – at the 2015 Broadband conference and the 2014 conference. There are several examples of successful partnerships.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | February 5, 2016

Snow Day redefined with broadband at Red Wing Schools

One of the reasons I live in Minnesota is the dream of a snow day. But that dream isn’t as good as it sounds when you’re a teacher and snow day means you are required to physically show up for work to get work credit. Red Wing Schools has a workaround.

Red Wing Schools have made snow days an online working day for educators. Using their group subscription access to Whitewater Learning, Red Wing educators can stay home and work on professional development – and still get credit for working. In years past, educators were required to physically show up for work, even on Snow Days, to get work credit. But with the Whitewater subscription – funded for the Goodhue County Education District (GCED) in part by the Blandin Foundation – educators can report for work simply by logging in and completing at least one online professional development course from Whitewater.

The teachers actually get two weeks to complete the course – so if they don’t have broadband at home they can wait until they get to school or find another location. Teachers seem to like it a lot since they didn’t have to drive in to work during the snowstorm.

Again this year I am happy to share information from Baller, Herbst, Stokes & Lide. They are renowned attorneys that specialize in telecom and broadband issues. It is very generous of them to share their memoranda on compliance with federal regulatory requirements, compliance with the federal Universal Service Program, and qualifying for E Rate subsidies for schools and libraries.

It’s not light reading if you’re not already involved with these issues – but if you are in the thick or (or need to understand the thick of it) I think these tools could be invaluable.

The big news of the day was the release of the latest Minnesota Broadband Task Force report. They have recommended $100 million for broadband funding and speed goals of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up by 2022 and 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up by 2026.

Most of the meeting was spent making plans for 2016. The groups has segmented into three subgroups:

  • Affordability.
  • Emerging technology and issues (such as cyber security)
  • Accessibility

At the end of the meeting they heard from Senator Schmit, Representative Kresha and Representative Johnson. All are broadband proponents. Schmit is focused on funding the fund – maximizing the amount spent on broadband grants to $100 million. Kresha is interested in spending more money than last year (he has already proposed $35 million) but is really focused on telecom regulations. Johnson seemed surprised at the low speed recommendations. He also supports funding for broadband and looking at how to use state funding to leverage federal (CAF 2) funding.

Here are the full notes: Read More…

I am in a Minnesota Broadband Task Force meeting as I post this but I wanted to get the latest report out…

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Releases Annual Report

Report contains policy recommendations,
including $200 million for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program and updated speed goals

The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband released its 2016 Annual Report today, which includes recommendations for Governor Dayton, the legislature, and other policy makers to consider in the 2016 Legislative Session.

The recommendations outlined in the report are aimed at ensuring every Minnesotan has access to broadband, and include $200 million in funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grand Development Program and an update to the state’s outdated speed goals.

“The goal of the task force is that every home and business, border-to-border, should have access to high-speed broadband,” said Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband. “Expanding broadband allows all businesses to compete in today’s global economy no matter where they are located in Minnesota, expands educational opportunities, and helps people stay in touch with health care providers to receive care and monitor their health conditions. These recommendations will move our state closer to our goal.”

The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, created by the Legislature in 2014 and initially funded at $20 million, provides funding to build the state’s broadband infrastructure and promote broadband access in unserved and underserved areas of the state. The grants provide up to a dollar-for-dollar match on funds, not to exceed $5 million for any one project, and are distributed to qualified entities.
Minnesota’s universal broadband access and speed goals, originally established in 2010, specified that by no later than 2015, “all state residents and businesses have access to high-speed broadband that provides minimum download speeds of ten to 20 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of five to ten megabits per second.” As of February 2015, 91.45 percent of Minnesota households had broadband access available at a speed of at least 10 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload, while 80.16 percent of rural Minnesota households had a broadband connection that meets these speeds*.

The task force’s new proposal would update the state’s speed goals to specify that all businesses and homes should have access to high-speed broadband services at a download speed of at least 25 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of at least 3 megabits per second by 2022. These speeds are in alignment with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) definition of high-speed broadband.

Furthermore, the report recommends that by 2026, it is a state goal that all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to at least one provider of broadband with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second.

Additional policy recommendations include:
• Increase telecommunications aid for schools and libraries
• Expand existing sales tax exemption for telecommunications equipment
• Reform regulations of Minnesota’s telecommunications industry
• Review existing permitting criteria to see where there might be opportunities for efficiencies
• Create an Office of Broadband operating fund to promote broadband adoption and use

The full report can be found here.
* These figures include broadband service provided by wired, fixed wireless and wireless technologies, as Minnesota statutes did not specify a technology.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | February 3, 2016

Representative Mike Sundin supports broadband funding

The Pine Journal posts an editorial from Minnesota State Representative Mike Sundin, District 11A, including his views on broadband funding…

I am disappointed that we still haven’t provided the necessary funds to improve basic infrastructure and economic development in communities that need it. Given the state’s projected $1.2 billion surplus, it shouldn’t be so difficult to reach agreement on bread and butter infrastructure improvements that impact every resident of our district.

For example, we know that many rural residents and businesses still need access to good broadband internet connections. The DFL invested $20 million in broadband grants in 2014, and we proposed another $50 million last year, but the GOP underfunded broadband grants by only approving $10 million at the last minute, after being harassed by greater Minnesota newspaper editors for providing zero investments in broadband infrastructure. This is just one example of the ridiculously inadequate proposals that have been put forward by the GOP and Speaker Daudt to address our aging infrastructure.

It’s time to pony up and provide greater Minnesota communities with the support they need to provide basic services and do their jobs. If we can afford to do anything, we can afford to make sure rural communities can provide clean water, quality education, public safety, and excellent healthcare.

Broadband News Around MinnesotaMN Map

Support the Minnesota Broadband Vision
Last fall, attendees at the Minnesota Broadband Conference developed a Minnesota Broadband Visionhttp://wp.me/p3if7-3np:

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.

The Minnesota Broadband Coalition encourages people and organizations to support the effort by endorsing the vision through the Facebook Page. http://wp.me/p3if7-3nV

Minnesota Broadband Task Force
The Task Force finalizes details of their annual report, which should be released soon. They recommend $200 million over  two years for broadband funding (same as last year) and a change to the state broadband speed goals to 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up by 2022 and 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload by 2026. http://wp.me/p3if7-3mk

Also Rock County Commissioner Jody Reisch joins the Minnesota Broadband Task Force. http://wp.me/p3if7-3mO

Minnesota Policymakers’ (and Stakeholders’) Views on Broadband

Minnesota:

Federal:

  • Senator Klobuchar supports federal funding and dig once policies for broadband http://wp.me/p3if7-3ni
  • Franken questions Google’s approach to privacy for students http://wp.me/p3if7-3mY Broadband saves household money – $10,500 annually According to the Internet Innovation Alliance broadband enables Americans to save an average of $11,944 per year on household spending. After factoring in the average annual cost of a mobile data plan and a home broadband connection ($1,440), the annual savings still add up to more than $10,500. http://wp.me/p3if7-3mg USDA Broadband Adoption Program Communities interested in using broadband service to help revitalize small-town main streets and promote economic development are encouraged to apply for Cool & Connected. Deadline is Feb 24. http://wp.me/p3if7-3nl

CNS launches first 100Gb Transport Network in Rural MN
CNS installs 100 Gigabit service to a Minnesota Internet Service Provider. CNS’ transport network covers over 1,100 route miles with 24 pops connecting multiple ISPs, wireless towers, data centers and end users (including hundreds of thousands of out-state users) to both Fargo and the 511 building in Minneapolis. http://wp.me/p3if7-3nO

State Broadband Initiatives
We have compiled a list of state broadband initiatives. We encourage readers to check out the list and send updates or corrections to help create an even better list to share in and out of Minnesota. http://wp.me/p3if7-3n6

Local Broadband News

Carlton County
PCs for People distributes computers to low income households in Carlton County http://wp.me/p3if7-3mi

Dakota County
Dakota County posts RFPs for fiber construction. http://wp.me/p3if7-3mU and http://wp.me/p3if7-3m5

Gaylord
Medical school to open in Gaylord in 2018. http://wp.me/p3if7-3nQ

Princeton
In Princeton it’s not uncommon to see cars pulled up when the library is closed and using devices from their car to get online. http://wp.me/p3if7-3n9

Red Wing
Teens learn to develop and market their mobile apps through classes at Red Wing Ignite. http://wp.me/p3if7-3nr

Redwood County
Redwood County is hosting an open house on February 9 (3-6 pm) at the Redwood County Technology Training Lab to celebrate various broadband projects funded by the Blandin Foundation. http://wp.me/p3if7-3nJ

Renville and Sibley Counties
Calix video features RS Fiber, cooperative FTTH in rural MN, in promotional video. http://wp.me/p3if7-3my

Winona
Hmong business owner moves from St Paul to Winona and learns how to incorporate online tools into their marketing through classes at Project FINE. http://wp.me/p3if7-3nx

Upcoming Events

Stirring the Potbill right

Congratulations to the BBC’s, the alumni communities and their stakeholder groups for the recently awarded Blandin Foundation grants. Overall, there’s a great group of projects to be implemented across rural Minnesota. It is amazing what a relatively small grant of $10,000 or less can do in the hands of a dedicated community.

The next Grant deadline is in March. We are available to help you create a competitive application that will have a positive impact your community. Let us know what you’re thinking and we can help guide the process of creating a great project.

If you’re a BBC that has used its entire allocation from Blandin foundation, consider seeking funding from other sources, either internal to your community or from outside. We have seen many successful projects with limited (or no) budget; they are the result of good collaboration and creativity.

Let us know how we can help!

There have been a number of editorials and article on broadband in the last two weeks. Both Democrats and Republicans seem to embrace the need for public funding for rural broadband. Last week, Representative Kresha (who have been a vocal broadband advocate) reminded readers of the Faribault Daily News that broadband isn’t a partisan issue…

Legislators on both sides agree that Greater Minnesota is in desperate need of expanded broadband access, but to say that Republicans aren’t doing their part to work toward this end is a blatant mischaracterization. Partisan blame games don’t fly in a world where legislators are working to give rural Minnesotans the broadband access they deserve.

He affirms that both parties want to support broadband. He also raises investment made by private providers and the federal government…

Our state is working with the federal government and private entities to greatly expand broadband throughout Minnesota. The $10.6 million of state funding invested in the first year of the current biennium is $10.6 million more than 2013, the first year of a biennium where Democrats controlled the House, Senate, and governor’s office. Just last year, federal and state grants accounted for $96 million designed to develop broadband networks in the unserved and underserved areas of Minnesota. Over the next five years, the federal Connect America Funds will invest $500 million in the state’s rural broadband expansion.

This isn’t an issue where politicians or editorial writers should cast as a deeply partisan matter. I know that many of my colleagues in the House of Representatives support increasing rural broadband access and funding. With hundreds of millions of dollars coming from federal programs and private entities, it’s important the state legislature does its part to ensure your tax dollars aren’t wasted on duplicating initiatives.

I think he’s onto something with recognizing the strength of knowing what funding is coming from where and how Minnesota can make the most of the opportunity. As he notes, $500 million is coming in from federal funds over the next five years. BUT the feds only require that providers upgrade to 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up, which is not the current (or proposed) definition of broadband in Minnesota. It would be great to find a way to use state funding or other assets to get private providers who receive federal funds to commit to the higher goals. That would be a huge win for rural Minnesota – maybe give us an edge over other states who also receive federal funds.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | February 2, 2016

Beyond Endorsing the Broadband Vision to Supporting the Vision

Last week I wrote encouraging folks to endorse the Minnesota Broadband 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.

So far 25 organizations and 50 people have embraced the vision by joining the Facebook Page and/or getting their organization to more formally endorse the vision through a resolution. The spark ignited by the Blandin Foundation and attendees at the conference has been picked up by the Minnesota Broadband Coalition.

The Coalition (which has been around in various permutations since 2009) is promoting the broadband vision and compiling tools that proponents can use to help spread the word – to legislators, to friends and family who might also want to show support and to local leaders to encourage them to make broadband a priority.

One immediate goal is to get more people and more organizations to endorse the vision. It will show legislators that people in Minnesota think broadband is a priority. It will convene proponents and make it easier to mobilize action to raise awareness and educate people on the need for world-class broadband everywhere.

House Republicans recently introduced legislation that proposes $35 million for broadband funding, as opposed to the $100 proposed by House Democrats and the Governor and recommended by the Minnesota Broadband Task Force.

Here is the main proposed changes:

$35,000,000 in fiscal year 2017 is appropriated from the general fund to the commissioner of employment and economic development for deposit in the border-to-border broadband fund account established in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396, for the purposes described in that section. Of the broadband grant awards made by the commissioner with this appropriation, the commissioner must award 60 percent of the funds to applicants in unserved areas and 40 percent to applicants in underserved areas, as the terms are defined in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.394. If grant awards are insufficient to fully expend funds available in either unserved or undeserved areas, the commissioner may expend unused funds on grants to applicants in areas in which grant awards were fully expended.

The amount is higher than last year but lower than other proposed amounts. Also there a specification on how much should go to unserved versus underserved areas. Here is how they define the two:

(h) “Underserved areas” means areas of Minnesota in which households or businesses lack access to wire-line broadband service at speeds that meet the state broadband goals of ten to 20 megabits per second download and five to ten megabits per second upload.

(i) “Unserved areas” means areas of Minnesota in which households or businesses lack access to wire-line broadband service, as defined in section 116J.39.

The Minnesota Broadband Task Force is recommending a new state broadband speed goal of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. It’s unclear to me whether future proposed legislation would aim to change the definition – if so the qualifications specified above would presumably change too.

They have also removed “fiber optics” from the definition of broadband conduit…

“Broadband conduit” means a conduit, pipe, innerduct, or microduct for fiber optic or other cables that support supports broadband and wireless facilities for broadband service.

Finally there are proposed changes that seem to focus on the management of the funds and grant program. First proposed advance notice of grant criteria…

(b) At least 30 days prior to the first day applications may be submitted each fiscal year, the commissioner must publish the specific criteria and any quantitative weighting scheme or scoring system the commissioner used to evaluate or rank applications and award grants under subdivision 6 on the department’s Web site.

Second access to who has applied and how the application fared…

the names of each vendor that provided information to the applicant regarding the scope, cost, or technical aspects of the project; each vendor’s experience in constructing broadband projects; and the ways, if any, in which the proposed project was altered based on vendor comments; and

(10) any additional information requested by the commissioner.

Sec. 4.

Minnesota Statutes 2014, section 116J.395, is amended by adding a subdivision to read:

Subd. 8.

Application evaluation report.

By June 30 of each year, the office shall place on the Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Web site, and provide to the chairs and ranking minority members of the senate and house of representatives committees with primary jurisdiction over broadband, a list of all applications for grants under this section received during the previous year and, for each application:

(1) the results of any quantitative weighting scheme or scoring system the commissioner used to award grants or rank the applications;

(2) the grant amount requested; and

(3) the grant amount awarded, if any.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | February 1, 2016

Medical School in Gaylord expected in 2018

Last April, I wrote about the medical school interested in opening in Gaylord Minnesota. Part of the reason Gaylord was considered was the local investment in infrastructure (through RS Fiber). Here’s a quick update on the project from the Gaylord Hub

“We can safely say we’re going to have a school. I believe now we have the rotations and expecting written confirmation in three weeks.”

That was the statement made by Dr Jay Sexter, CEO of the Minnesota College of Osteopathic Medicine, at a meeting with Gaylord city officials last week. …

Plans are moving forward to develop a medical school in Gaylord, with the school opening in 2018.

The school will be an economic boon to the area – but it’s also a good way to encourage more rural healthcare workers. The article indicates that doctors who study in rural areas are more likely to serve rural areas after graduation and…

The purpose of the medical school is to train primary care physicians for the rural workforce. Nearly 75 percent of the counties in Minnesota are rural, where there is higher incidence of diseases and an aging population. The plan is to collaborate with “anyone and everyone involved in healthcare.”

Posted by: Ann Treacy | February 1, 2016

CNS launches first 100Gb Transport Network in Rural MN

It’s always good to start the week off with big broadband upgrades in rural Minnesota. Here’s the latest from Cooperative Network Services

Cooperative Network Services (CNS) recently completed the required network upgrades to install their first 100 Gigabit service to a Minnesota Internet Service Provider.

The newly upgraded ROADM transport network, utilizing Cisco’s ONS platform, will deliver the bandwidth needed for the first of likely many MN ISPs and WISPs looking to upgrade their connection speeds for future high-bandwidth including the increases in providers who are now offering Gigabit services to business and residential customers.

“This 100Gb upgrade will allow us to provide the bandwidth required by MN ISPs and end-users as data transmission needs increase.” said Dean Bahls, CNS’ Network Services Manager. “We continue to see increases in Internet and dedicated circuit traffic resulting from growth in the video, mobile and cloudbased software and data backup/recover services.”

The network upgrade went smoothly, and 100 Gb wavelengths are now ready for commercial deployment throughout the CNS transport network footprint from Minneapolis and throughout Northern, MN.

“It’s exciting to cross the 100 Gb threshold as so many of the predictions about data usage are coming true. This 10Gb to 100Gb upgrade will be an important part of the advancement of emerging technologies like tele-health, distance learning, immersive entertainment, and the Internet of Things,” said Jason Dale, CNS’ CEO.

CNS’ transport network now covers over 1,100 route miles with 24 pops connecting multiple ISPs, wireless towers, data centers and end users to both Fargo and the 511 building in Minneapolis.

Covering some of the most rural parts of Minnesota, CNS connects hundreds of thousands of out-state users to the information they need each day.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | January 31, 2016

Albert Lea Tribune supports more broadband funding

The Albert Lea Tribune supports greater funding for broadband in Minnesota…

Last year, the Legislature and governor passed $10.84 million in funding for one year.

Gov. Mark Dayton and House Democrats this year have proposed $100 million for border-to-border broadband access. Proposals have not yet been announced from both parties in the Senate from the House Republicans. The governor’s task force on broadband is calling for $100 million each year for the next two years.

They add that fast Internet access to necessary for their work – and other small businesses…

Here at the Tribune, much of our day is dependent on the Internet. If the Internet is down, our operation is stunted and sometimes even halted as we rely on it to do many things.

Internet is becoming something that is not only a helpful tool, but a necessity — at least for our business.
We imagine we are not the only business in Freeborn County that relies on the Internet for much of its operations.

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