MRBC Update: Governor Announces Broadband Funding

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

Governor Proposes $170 Million in New Broadband Funding

Gov. Tim Walz outlined a portion of his 2022 supplemental budget plan this afternoon which includes $170 million for the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program. The funds are in addition to the $70 million from the Capital Projects Fund that lawmakers allocated last year in the biennial budget.
“To continue growing Minnesota’s economy, we must invest in the people who made it strong in the first place,” said Governor Walz. “By investing in workforce development, cutting taxes for the middle class and working families, lowering costs, and expanding access to resources like technical education and high-speed broadband, we will improve economic prosperity across the state and grow the workforce we need to compete.”
“The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition is very pleased that Gov. Walz has proposed this historic investment in broadband funding,” said Jay Trusty, Chair of the Coalition. “Closing the digital divide is one of the most pressing issues of our time and this investment help will level the playing field for rural communities across the state.”
State economists projected a nearly $8 billion budget surplus in December. Legislators will return to Saint Paul on January 31 to begin the 2022 legislative session and decide how to divvy up the massive influx of revenue, in addition to other pressing items.
There is no news yet on if or how the state will spend the remaining $110 million Capital Projects Fund allocation it is set to receive from the U.S. Treasury as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. Treasury guidance was issued this fall and made clear the funds should be used for broadband connectivity projects. The Coalition has asked legislators and the governor’s administration to direct those funds to the Border-to-Border fund.

Ookla speed ranks MN mobile speeds 6 and MN fixed broadband speeds 39

Ookla has just released United States Median Speeds from December 2021. You can dig into the report to see which providers seem to provide the fastest service; I mostly looked at the high level.

Mobile speed rankings: Minnesota ranks 6.

Fixed Rate. Minnesota ranks 39.

Succinct notes on Federal Broadband Funding Opportunities from Common Sense

How do you wrap up some of the largest broadband funding opportunities ever into a concise, pretty easy-to-use format? Use very small print. But thanks to the hard work from Common Sense Media and the ability to zoom in on a PDF, that information is a ton more accessible in one place. They look at the practicalities of:

  • Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)
  • American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)
  • Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 (CA
  • Other Broadband ProgramsA21)

Cloquet (MN) is asking residents to take broadband survey and speed test (Carlton County)

Pine Knot News reports…

Cloquet schools superintendent Michael Cary spoke about how important reliable and affordable high-speed internet is for today’s students. The Cloquet Broadband Committee is asking residents for a few minutes of their time to complete a survey about their internet service. Local business people and public officials gathered Wednesday morning to talk about the need for reliable high[1]speed internet in today’s world, and how the pandemic has exposed some of the deficits in the city of Cloquet

Here’s more info on the survey…

Thanks to the selection of the city of Cloquet as a Blandin Broadband community, the city has more resources now to evaluate needs and options to improve service within city limits. But they need more information from residents and businesses about their access to the internet: cost, reliability, speed and more. The information gained will help guide the city and community leaders on opportunities to explore ways to improve broadband services. That’s where the survey comes in. Through Jan. 31, the city is reopening its broadband survey at https://www.goctc.com/cloquet for individuals and businesses within the eastern Cloquet city limits. A map puts the borders of eastern Cloquet at Kinden and West St. Louis River roads to the north, Crosby Road to the east, Moorhead Road to the south and Pinewood Drive and the St. Louis River to the west. Scanlon is not included, nor is the Fond du Lac Reservation, which will be rolling out its broadband fiber to all residents within the FDL Reservation territory, including the western municipal city limits of Cloquet. Those without internet access can get assistance with completing the survey at the Cloquet Public Library. Anyone who completes the survey will be entered into a drawing to win an iPad. People can test upload speeds at this website: https://broadband.ramsmn.org/mn-rural-broadband-coallition%5B1%5Dinitiative.

Kandiyohi County and Willmar Economic Development Commission continues with broadband advocate Connie Schmoll

West Central Tribune reports

With broadband expansion opportunities continuing to be made available for communities in Kandiyohi County, Connie Schmoll, who has been working on a contract basis for the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission since May 2021, doesn’t want to leave her job undone.

“It has been my honor and privilege to continue working on broadband,” Schmoll said. “It is a necessary infrastructure and it is needed to continue economic development.”

The EDC’s Joint Operations Board agreed at its meeting Thursday to extend Schmoll’s contract for an additional three months, until the end of March. The contract extension will cost the EDC approximately $9,100.

“I think this is worth every dime,” said Aaron Backman, EDC executive director.

I’m sharing this for several reasons. First, to congratulate Connie, who does a great job. Second, because it’s important to recognize that being a broadband advocate can, and probably should be, a paid position. Some communities are lucky and they have engaged providers. Where that isn’t the case, the community benefits greatly from an engaged leader who looks into the options, who works with policymakers and educates the residents. An investment in a broadband leader is an investment in the community, especially as more funding is bring invested in broadband deployment.

Flights in and around the US are disrupted due to 5G roll out and concerns over adjacent spectrum

I think broadband is life changing. I’m also terrified to fly. So I’ve been watching the issues with American airlines and 5G roll out with one eye closed. The concern is that the 5G spectrum is very close to the spectrum that airlines use and older planes may not handle the potential interference well, as NPR reports

Rapport says the wireless carriers need more and more radio spectrum to carry more and more bits to our smartphones. The Federal Communications Commission auctioned off radio spectrum to the wireless carriers a big chunk of the “C” band of radio spectrum for about $80 billion in 2020. The segment of the spectrum in the “C” band purchased by AT&T and Verizon happens to sit right next to the frequencies used by radio altimeters in aircraft.

“The radio altimeters on our aircraft determine not only the height above the ground … as we come in for a landing or we’re taking off, but they’re tied to many other systems in our aircraft,” said Joe DePete, head of the Air Line Pilots Association, in a recent interview with Yahoo Finance.

Altimeters are critical for pilots to use during bad weather when visibility is poor. Pilots like DePete worry that strong 5G signals from cellphone towers placed close to airport runways could interfere with the radio altimeters.

“The issue is that some of the older planes and older aircraft equipment that were built maybe 30 or 40 years ago do not have very good band pass filters. They don’t have very good filters on their receivers,” says Rappaport.
It’s similar to the way that CB radios would sometimes interfere with old TV sets, before cable and digital signals, according to Rappaport.

The roll out was delayed for a week or so, and now has been modified to avoid areas near airports but that has not convinced everyone that it’s safe, as Bloomberg reports

Airlines around the world are adjusting their schedules and aircraft deployments for flights to the U.S. over fears that a 5G rollout by AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. near American airports could interfere with key safety systems.

Dubai’s Emirates said it will suspend flights to several U.S. cities, including Chicago, Newark and San Francisco, while Japan Airlines Co. and ANA Holdings Inc. said they won’t fly their 777 jets to and from the U.S. mainland after a warning from Boeing Co. about how the model’s altimeter will be affected.

OPPORTUNITY: Department of Commerce Seeks Internet of Things Experts for New Advisory Board

US Department of Commerce reports on an opportunity for anyone interested in  Internet of Things (IoT). It would be great to see some Minnesota names on the list…

The U.S. Department of Commerce seeks qualified nominations for a new Internet of Things Advisory Board to advise the recently established Internet of Things Federal Working Group. The advisory board will include a wide range of stakeholders outside of the federal government with expertise relating to the Internet of Things (IoT). …

Among other topics, the board will advise the federal working group on matters including the identification of any federal regulations, programs or policies that may inhibit or promote the development of IoT; situations in which IoT could deliver significant and scalable economic and societal benefits to the United States; IoT opportunities and challenges for small businesses; and any IoT-related international opportunities for the U.S. Full details on the board’s activities are provided in the Federal Register notice.

The board will consist of 16 members representing a wide range of stakeholders outside of the federal government with expertise relating to the Internet of Things. Board members will serve two-year terms.

Nominations should be made according to guidance provided in the Federal Register notice and are due by Feb. 28, 2022. The National Institute of Standards and Technology will provide administrative support to the advisory board, and information on board activities can be found on the NIST website.

FCC announce latest RDOF winners including Midcontinent and Windstream in Minnesota

The FCC announces

By this Public Notice, the Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB), in conjunction with the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force (RBATF) and the Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA), authorize Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (Auction 904) support for the winning bids identified in Attachment A of this Public Notice.

For each of the winning bids identified in Attachment A, we have reviewed the long-form application information, including the letter(s) of credit and Bankruptcy Code opinion letter(s) from the long-form applicant’s legal counsel.  Based on the representations and certifications in the relevant long-form application, we authorize and obligate support for the winning bids listed in Attachment A.

Here are the awards in Minnesota

Midcontinent Communications
Census blocks: 680
Locations: 5,978
Total Award: $4,327,175

Windstream Lakedale
Census blocks: 257
Locations: 2,909
Total Award: $6,548,974.10

Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC) partners with Aitkin County to expand better broadband

Aitkin Age reports

Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC) has announced that MLEC fiber internet will become available for more customers.

In partnership with Aitkin County, MLEC is bringing fast and reliable fiber internet service to 565 homes. The project area includes the townships of Idun, Pliny, Rice River, Seavey, White Pine, Williams and the city of McGrath. MLEC will, once again, work with Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC) on the construction of this project and expand the MLEC fiber internet network.

The $4,823,654 grant is a part of the Small Cities Coronavirus Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG-CV). The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) awarded $34,656,956 in grants to 15 Minnesota cities and counties across the state.

As part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), Minnesota received a special allocation to address community needs to prevent, prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the funding will be used for broadband improvement projects. Other uses will include housing assistance, food shelf assistance, retrofitting buildings and commercial rehabilitation projects.

Continue to watch for updated information on Facebook and MLEC’s website. For more information on MLEC fiber internet, call 218-429-0433 or visit www.mlecmn.net/fiber. Project area maps, internet plans and service agreements can all be found online.

Senator Klobuchar talks to mayors around Marshall MN about federal funding, including broadband (Lyon County)

The Marshall Independent reports

The mayors of area cities including Tyler, Slayton, Pipestone and Luverne spoke to Sen. Amy Klobuchar in a conference call Friday morning. The main topic of discussion was infrastructure.

“I want to find out what projects you have, and what your priorities are,” Klobuchar said.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed in November will give the opportunity to “repair and transform” highways, bridges, and other infrastructure in Minnesota, Klobuchar said.

On Friday, federal officials released the first award amounts that will come from the infrastructure spending, which included $60 million for Minnesota bridge repairs. Minnesota is set to receive a total of about $300 million for bridge repairs and $4.5 billion for highways, Klobuchar said.

Federal infrastructure spending will also include funding to improve water infrastructure and broadband access. Both are needs that southwestern Minnesota residents have been grappling with.

“We have 144,000 Minnesotans without access to high-speed internet,” Klobuchar said.

Area mayors spoke on all those topics.

ILSR combs through Treasury Department’s assessment of ARPA funding for broadband

The Institute for Local Self Reliance has combed through the Treasury Department’s rules for the State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF), which is a partial preview of what will be possible, likely and probably not going to work for folks interested in getting  American Rescue Plan Act funding…

The relevant broadband infrastructure sections of the final rule are on pages 260-264 and 294-313. Pages 85-90 focus on digital inclusion, which is relevant and overlapping depending on community plans.

In general, the SLFRF has simplified the rules to give more flexibility to state and local governments (across all of the eligible uses, not just broadband infrastructure). The original rule focused on areas lacking reliable 25/3 Mbps service – with a big focus on the word “reliable.” But there is no mention of 25/3 in the Final Rule.

Local governments do still have to make a determination that they are building the network to solve one of the problems that SLFRF uses as a trigger to allow broadband infrastructure investments, but they do not have to get approval from Treasury or any other entity. More detail below, but the triggers include lack of access to a reliable 100/100 connection or lack of access to affordable broadband service.

Any network built with SLFRF must be designed to deliver 100 Mbps download and upload, with the ability to do only 100/20 Mbps in some situations. That is the same as in the Interim Final Rule but now networks must also support the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) for as long as the program exists.

They go into greater detail…

MN & WI farm credit groups supports rural entrepreneurship – including broadband

The Brainerd Dispatch reports

Rural entrepreneurship in Wisconsin and Minnesota will get a boost from a newly created program in the Extension programs at the states’ land grant universities.

The rural entrepreneurship program was announced in a news release this week by University of Wisconsin Extension Dean Karl Martin and University of Minnesota Extension Dean Beverly Durgan. Two farm credit associations — Compeer Financial and AgCountry Farm Credit Services — contributed $400,000 across four years to make the joint program possible.

The new program will build upon research and outreach capabilities of Extension. The program will create and build linkages in entrepreneurial networks, improve the availability and use of resources to entrepreneurs, create opportunities for entrepreneurs and develop the skills necessary for success in the modern rural economy.

“There’s great energy around starting new businesses in our states, but in rural locations there are unique challenges, too, ranging from financing to broadband and child care,” said Durgan in a news release.

OPPORTUNITY: MN Broadband Task Force looking for one member

The Minnesota Secretary of State reports

The Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State today released the January 2022 notice of vacancies for various state boards, councils and committees that are accepting applications, due 1/22/2022. Minnesotans are encouraged to apply and serve in demonstration of public service. The full list of vacancies are listed below and here: Open Positions.

They are looking for a member for the MN Broadband Task Force…

Governor’s Task Force On Broadband
Vacancies: 1 Seat — Member
You can learn more and see who has applied online.

New rules mean broadband providers can’t upsell customers using government subsidies

Ars Technica reports

Less than a year after Verizon and other ISPs forced users to switch plans in order to get government-funded discounts, a new federal program will prevent such upselling by requiring ISPs to let customers obtain subsidies on any Internet plan.

With last year’s $50-per-month Emergency Broadband Benefit that was created by Congress, the Federal Communications Commission let ISPs participate in the program as long as they offered the discount on at least one service plan. The FCC said it did so to encourage participation by providers, but some major ISPs drastically limited the subsidy-eligible plans—forcing users to switch to plans that could be more expensive in order to get a temporary discount.

Congress subsequently created a replacement program that will offer $30 monthly subsidies to people with low incomes. The program also specified that ISPs “shall allow an eligible household to apply the affordable connectivity benefit to any Internet service offering of the participating provider at the same terms available to households that are not eligible households.” The FCC still has to make rules for implementing the new Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), but that requirement prevented the FCC from using the same one-plan rule that helped ISPs use the program as an upselling opportunity.

Dakota County libraries check out Chromebooks and Hotspots

The following is helpful if you’re in Dakota County or if you are in a different county and want a model to replicate to get Chromebooks and hotspots into the hands of their residents. The Dakota County newsletter reports

Dakota County Library is making is easier for you to do schoolwork, look for a job and connect with family and friends online.

Anyone with a Dakota County Library card can check out a Chromebook and a Wi-Fi hotspot from an of the none county library locations. Check out either a kit that includes a Chromebook and a Wi-Fi hotspot or just a hotspot for up to six weeks. Just like other library materials, there’s no charge ro check out and borrow devices.

Learn more.