Need help creating your digital equity plan? Here’s an option

This isn’t the only handbook and I don’t know that it’s the best but we can all use more help with the funding opportunities that are coming to the communities…

This Handbook offers key principles and best practices that state and local governments should follow in structuring their digital equity plans and establishing and supporting digital equity programs. States, territories, and Tribes are currently developing digital equity plans to meet the funding requirements of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). 1 County, municipal, and local governments also are developing more localized digital equity plans, recognizing the importance of home broadband connectivity and online services to social, civic, and economic participation, and leveraging funding provided under available federal and state programs.

This Handbook focuses on the importance of building “digital equity” into broadband availability and adoption programs. Digital equity requires acknowledging that different individuals and groups of individuals will require different skills, resources, and opportunities to successfully participate in an increasingly digital world, and empowering them to do so.

Broadband availability and adoption programs should be equitable by design, meaning programs should seek to address underlying social and economic inequalities and should focus, as appropriate, on groups, areas, and characteristics of greatest need: low-income groups; rural areas; communities with low rates of literacy and digital skills; aging individuals; persons with disabilities; and minority groups with low adoption rates.

eNews: MN Monthly Recap Feb 2023: MN State broadband funding in question

Internet for All Conference
The Office of Broadband Development hosted a daylong conference to get folks on the same page for preparing for federal funding for infrastructure and digital equity. They also followed up with opportunities to get more involved.

MN Broadband Task Force
Early in January, the Minnesota Broadband Task Force released their annual broadband report recommending that the State invests in broadband. Later, they met to get updates from the Office of Broadband Development. They talked about the $276 million that Governor Walz has in his budget for broadband. The current Task Force is slated to sunset in April 2023.

State News    

Federal News

Vendor News

Local Broadband News

ISP changes in Alexandria MN when ALP Utilities sells its fiber to Arvig

Arvig buys network to serve 130 businesses in Alexandria MN

Apple Valley
More info on Apple Valley Border to Border grant (Dakota County)

Carver County
Carver County continues its long history of planning and building FTTH

Dakota County
More on Border to Border grants in Dakota County

Houston and Winona Counties
More on Border to Border grants in in Houston and Winona Counties

Independence will be seeking a Border to Border grant (Hennepin County)

Iron Range
61 Iron Range small businesses receive “Tech Boosts”

Kandiyohi County
Kandiyohi County is looking at $400,000 ARPA funding for broadband

Leech Lake Reservation
Leech Lake gets $18.7 million from Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program

Martin County
Martin County Commissioners are looking at better broadband options

More info on Gardonville’s border to border award in Nelson (Douglas County)

Otter Tail County
More on Border to Border grant in Otter Tail County

Polk County
Beltrami Electric Cooperative gets $22.7 million USDA loan for smart grid technology (Polk County)

Scandia is working on their 5 year broadband plan (Washington County)

Upcoming Events, Opportunities and Resources

The business end of digital skills: everybody wins – households can gain $1,363 to $2,879 per year

The National Skills Coalition took a look at the impact of digital skills training on workers, the word force and businesses…

The findings in this analysis are unequivocal:

There is overwhelming demand for digital skills in the labor market, with 92 percent of all job ads requiring definitely digital or likely digital2 skills. This demand is robust across all industries, and small businesses are just as likely as their larger peers to seek workers with technology skills.

Yet many workers have not had sufficient opportunity to build such skills; earlier research found that nearly one-third of U.S. workers do not have foundational digital skills, and workers of color fall disproportionately into this category due to structural inequities.3

Equipping workers with necessary skills requires action by both private employers and public policy[1]makers. Notably, public investments in workforce development and education are especially vital given the unevenness of private investments and the prevalence of digital skill demands among smaller businesses, which depend on publicly funded work[1]force and education partners to upskill employees.

Closing the digital skill divide has major payoffs for businesses. Prior research has shown that workers value upskilling opportunities and prefer working for employers who offer clear, well-defined path[1]ways to advancement.4 Because turnover has heavy costs for businesses – with estimates ranging from $25,000 for workers who leave within the first year to over $78,000 for workers who leave after five years,5 averting or delaying turnover by ensuring that workers have upskilling opportunities can be economically significant.

Public investments in closing the digital skill divide can also generate economic benefits for individual workers and the broader economy. People who qualify for jobs that require even one digital skill can earn an average of 23 percent more than those working in jobs requiring no digital skills — an increase of $8,000 per year for an individual worker.6 These increased earnings could result in more state and federal tax revenue generated by each worker. Depending on the household size and composition, this could range from $1,363 to $2,879 per year.7

Lumen (CenturyLink) is looking at intercity fiber upgrades not much mention of rural

Always thankful when Doug Dawson does a deep dive into broadband news that impacts us in Minnesota. Last week he reported on Lumen (aka CenturyLink)…

Lumen is taking a different path forward than the other big telcos. AT&T continues to build fiber in selected clusters, mostly in cities, rather than concentrate on building entire markets. Frontier, Windstream, and Consolidated are all concentrating on upgrading existing telco DSL networks to fiber.

Lumen has a different path forward. In a recent press release, the company announced a major upgrade to its long-haul fiber routes that cross the country. The company’s main fiber strategy is to beef up the intercity network with plans to add six million miles of fiber to existing fiber routes by 2026. In case you are wondering how there can possibly be six million route miles of fiber in the country – that count is miles of individual fibers. This is a marketing trick that long-haul fiber providers have been using for years to make networks seem gigantic.

The existing Lumen long-haul fiber network came to the company in two acquisitions. The original network came when CenturyLink bought US West, which had earlier merged with Qwest, a major builder of long-haul networks. The network was strengthened when CenturyLink purchased Level 3 Communications.

Maybe good news in Minneapolis…

Lumen is also pursuing a last-mile fiber expansion. In August, the company announced fiber expansion plans in Denver, Minneapolis, and Seattle. The company had a target for this year to pass one million locations with fiber but has fallen a little behind due to supply chain and logistics.

Not as much good news being presented for rural areas…

Unlike the other telcos, Lumen hasn’t been talking much about the upcoming rural grant funding. This doesn’t mean the company might not pursue those opportunities since rural fiber expansion creates monopolies. But major residential expansion does not seem to be a key part of the Lumen plan, at least compared to plans for companies like Frontier, which says it plans to pass 12 million homes with fiber.

Another big unknown is if the company is still trying to sell any of its remaining copper networks like it did with sale of the twenty easternmost states to Apollo Global Management. It would be a more drastic affair to liquidate last-mile customers in the states where US West was formally the Bell company incumbent provider.

USDA announces funding (loans) to support rural electric grid: 6 in MN

The USDA reports

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the Department is investing $2.7 billion to help 64 electric cooperatives and utilities (PDF, 175 KB) expand and modernize the nation’s rural electric grid and increase grid security.

The implication is that infrastructure could be broadband improvements too – certainly means more infrastructure. There were six awards in Minnesota:

  1. McLeod Cooperative Power Association
    This Rural Development investment will be used to connect 288 consumers, and build and improve 74 miles of line. This loan includes $2,039,629 in smart grid technologies. McLeod is headquartered in Glencoe, Minnesota, and serves 6,975 consumers over 1,921 miles of line in seven counties in central Minnesota.
  2. Beltrami Electric Cooperative
    This Rural Development investment will be used to connect 1,480 consumers and build and improve 225 miles of line. This loan includes $1,317,000 in smart grid technologies. Beltrami Electric is headquartered in Bemidji, Minnesota serving portions of Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Hubbard, Itasca, and Koochiching counties. The area is served through over 3,500 miles of distribution line and covers approximately 3,000 square miles with 21,772 consumers.
  3. Red Lake Electric Cooperative
    This Rural Development investment will be used to connect 299 consumers and build and improve 54 miles of line. This loan includes $104,000 in smart grid technologies. Red Lake Electric is headquartered in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota and provides service to 5,704 consumers over 2,642 miles of energized line through six counties in northern Minnesota.
  4. PKM Electric Cooperative Inc.
    This Rural Development investment will be used to connect 342 consumers and build and improve 119 miles of line. This loan includes $1,074,000 in smart grid technologies. PKM Electric is headquartered in Warren, Minnesota and serves 3,955 consumers through 2,298 miles in three central Minnesota counties.
  5. Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative
    This Rural Development investment will be used to connect 1,846 consumers and build and improve 1,631 miles of line. This loan includes $3,628,271 in smart grid technologies. Minnesota Valley Electric is headquartered in Jordan, Minnesota and serves 44,411 consumers across a 968-square-mile service area, encompassing nine counties: Blue Earth, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Le Sueur, Rice, Scott, Sibley, and Waseca.
  6. South Central Electric Association
    This Rural Development investment will be used to connect 188 consumers, and build and improve 76 miles of line. This loan includes $1,679,250 in smart grid technologies. South Central Electric is headquartered in St. James, Minnesota, and serves 5,928 members through 2,467 miles of line in eight counties in Minnesota.

Minnesota needs $276M state funding and federal funds to meet broadband goals

MinnPost reports

Renewed interest in public funding to subsidize construction of high-speed internet infrastructure in rural areas since the COVID-19 pandemic began has resulted in gobs of broadband money in Minnesota — at least compared to what used to be spent on the issue.

But the oodles of cash, mostly approved by the federal government over the last few years, is still not enough for Minnesota to meet its latest broadband goals, according to state officials. So Gov. Tim Walz’s administration has proposed spending another $276 million in the two-year budget.

The money would propel the state toward its goal of having universal access to high-speed internet by 2026, which might cost $426 million in the next four years, according to one estimate by the state’s broadband task force.

The $276 million would be a huge amount of state money for internet infrastructure, if it’s approved by lawmakers. But the total is a proverbial drop in the bucket of Minnesota’s $17.6 billion budget surplus, underscoring just how much cash lawmakers have at their disposal.

More details…

There are also a slew of federal broadband programs that will help Minnesota cover the remaining $1.38 billion. The broadband task force estimated the state is in line for $968 million from the federal government, most of which is from the infrastructure bill that passed Congress in 2021.

What’s left for Minnesota, according to the task force report, is roughly $426 million, a price tag that factors in administrative costs and is based on a 50% match. (Minnesota almost had an additional $311 million grant from the feds to cover much of it, but the FCC stripped the award from embattled LTD Broadband last year over concerns the company couldn’t deliver.)


Kandiyohi County is looking at $400,000 ARPA funding for broadband

West Central Tribune reports

The Kandiyohi County push to extend high-speed broadband across the county continues. At Tuesday’s meeting of the Kandiyohi County Board , the Kandiyohi County Broadband Committee will be requesting additional American Rescue Plan Act dollars to help fund a two-part, three-township project.

The project would expand high-speed broadband through Harrision, Lake Elizabeth and East Lake Lillian townships. The ARPA request is for $399,725. The committee is also asking for a letter of support from the county board to go with the project’s state Border to Border grant application. The county hopes to be awarded 75% of the project total, or $1.49 million.

Martin County Commissioners are looking at better broadband options

The Fairmont Sentinel reports

During its meeting on Jan. 17, the Martin County Board of Commissioners moved forward with plans for a grant program to help fund broadband development in rural Martin County. The program would use federal funding from the American Rescue Plan, passed in 2021, to help cover the cost of last mile broadband installation in parts of the county that are currently unserved or underserved by existing broadband infrastructure.

“Our goal is to make sure every household in Martin County has access to high speed broadband,” said Joshua Shuetz, a community and business development specialist who works with the county.

In the current form of the proposal the county would commit $1.5 million to cover up to half the cost of broadband improvements in parts of the county where wired download speeds are less than 100 mbps and upload speeds are less than 20 mbps. Because the program would cover up to half the cost of broadband projects, it’s expected to stimulate at least twice this amount in broadband improvements.

The goal is to serve everyone, not just in towns…

While most cities in Martin County such as Fairmont, Sherburn, Granada, Truman and Trimont already have broadband, access rapidly drops off outside of city limits. Many people may have an internet cable that runs near their homes but have not yet been connected to their service providers.

“There might be someone out in the country who has fiber running close to them but it could be as little as a half mile or a quarter mile and it’s not to their house so they got nothing. Last mile tends to be the most expensive so that’s why we’re so laser focused on that,” said Schuetz.

While a future state or federal program could provide more assistance to the remainder of the county Schuetz highlighted the importance of local entities taking the first steps towards improving broadband access.

Currently Martin County ranks 71 (our of 87) for broadband access in Minnesota. This step might help them climb the ranks, especially if they are ready to move forward even before the upcoming federal funds are available.

ISP changes in Alexandria MN as ALP Utilities sells its fiber to Arvig

The Institute for Local Self Reliance (Muninetworks) reports

In an announcement last week, Alexandria, Minnesota’s (pop. 15,000) electric and water utility (ALP Utilities) announced it would be selling its business-facing fiber network to Arvig, a 40-percent employee-owned Internet Service Provider (ISP) that has 54,000 subscribers across urban and rural Minnesota. The deal was for 130 business accounts, including 77 routes miles of fiber and 13 additional miles of conduit, for a total of $3.25 million. Consideration of the move goes at least back to October of last year.

The move sunsets the last of the city’s retail municipal network infrastructure, which began as a joint project with Runestone Electric Association in the 1990s that offered DSL service to homes and businesses before expanding to include some fiber offered to local businesses in the early 2000s, and continued today with some additional dark fiber offerings as part of its portfolio. The goal, then as now, was to see how the utility could intervene to improve connectivity options for residents in the area. Christopher spoke with General Manager Al Cowser in 2016 about the efforts’ origins and progress in its first two decades of life.

So what does that mean?

The sale to Arvig allows ALP Utilities to continue to focus on its core services (electric and water), while doing what it can to use its assets to partner with a provider with a good track record of working in the area. Business subscribers should see no interruption of service, and Arvig has indicated plans to expand in the area, including out beyond town limits where options are considerably fewer. Arvig and the utility, Cash shared, also plan joint trenching projects as the utility continues to underground its electric services over the coming years. Arvig also provides some network services to the city at present.

What is the Broadband Line Extension Program in Minnesota?

Sharing information from the Office of Broadband Development…

Line Extension Connection

What is the Minnesota Broadband Line Extension Connection?

The Line Extension Connection program goal is to connect residents and businesses that lack access to broadband internet service to service providers, and then assist in the expense of extending broadband to those locations.

How the Program Works

Residential and business locations that are unserved (lack access to speeds of at least 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload) can apply by entering their information into the Line Extension Connection portal.* This will initiate their interest in receiving broadband internet service and make their location available for consideration.

By submitting your address into the Line Extension Connection portal, internet service providers will have the opportunity to review the location and submit a bid based on the cost to bring service to your location.

The Office of Broadband Development will evaluate these bids and required provider documentation and make awards to the providers whose bid proposes the lowest cost to the State for extension of the service.

*Submitting location information into the Line Extension Connection portal does not guarantee extension of service.

*If a resident or business cannot access the online portal, the Office of Broadband Development can assist in this process. Please call 651-259-7610.

Who Can Apply

Locations that currently lack broadband service or have actual broadband speeds of less than 25/3Mbps.


The Minnesota Broadband Line Extension Connection Program has been allocated $15 million in total funding.

Limits per line extension are set by Minnesota law. These limits are:

  • A per line extension amount cannot exceed $25,000.
  • The Office of Broadband Development must ensure the bid is a cost-effective use of state funds.


The Minnesota Broadband Line Extension Connection online portal is accepting applications.

The bidding and review processes must take place before awards can be made. Once made, projects must be completed within 12 months of the contract date.

  • At least every six months, OBD will provide Internet Service Providers the listing of addresses requesting service
  • Service providers will have 10 days to notify OBD of service availability at those locations
  • Service Providers have 60 days to submit bids on locations they would like to extend service to
  • OBD will evaluate all bids within 60 days and select the provider whose bid requests the lowest amount of financial support from the state.

More information is available on our website. Need help applying or need to request a paper form? Call 651-259-7610 or email

Independence will be seeking a Border to Border grant (Hennepin County)

Lake Pioneer reports

For years, the city of Independence has looked at ways to expand broadband access to more of its residents.

At the city council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 17, city administrator Mark Kaltsas asked the council to support a plan to seek grant money to help expand broadband services to 434 additional homes in the area. The council unanimously approved the motion.

Kaltsas told the council that Midco Communications has the potential to expand services to Independence residents. Midco would like to apply in March for the state’s Border to Border grant funds though the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to expand broadband services by 2025. The proposed expansion would be fiber-to-the-home and capable of 5 gb symmetrical speeds.

In addition to that grant, the city of Independence would also apply for a grant through the Hennepin County Broadband grant program that is accepting applications through Jan. 31. Kaltsas said that the city would apply for a $250,000 grant with Hennepin County.

Here are some of the details…

Kaltas also provided some numbers behind the project: Total homes covered would 434 (considered currently unserved by MN DEED), with the total cost of $2.9 million. Midco would contribute $1.49 million with an addition $1.49 million from the Border to Border grant. The Hennepin County Broadband grant would be applied to reduce the DEED request.

“There really is no risk or cost to the city to do it, other than staff time,” Kaltsas said of applying for the grants. “It really is that western area which we’ve so badly tried to get served with broadband, I think this is a good opportunity.”

Carver County continues its long history of planning and building FTTH

SW News Media reports

In the midst of conversations about broadband funding at every level of government, Carver County officials are weighing their options as they move toward their goal of becoming the first county in Minnesota to have fiber broadband accessible to every resident, businesses and organization

For over a decade, the county has been making an effort to expand residents’ access to high-speed internet, said CarverLink Fiber Manager Randy Lehs. The county hopes to become the first in Minnesota to be able to provide fiber broadband to anyone in the county who wants it.

They have been working steadily for years…

The county’s fiber broadband efforts began in 2008 and construction began in 2011 with the help of a federal grant awarded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The fiber broadband network went live in 2013.

Last August, the county launched its Connect Up Carver initiative to expand its fiber broadband network and help provide high-speed internet to over 2,000 unserved or underserved rural locations. The $10.5 million dollar project was funded by $6.5 million from Carver County and $4 million from Metronet. The project is set for completion by December 2024.

They have plans for the future…

But, there are remaining rural addresses that are not covered by Connect Up Carver. According to Lehs, these addresses are the hardest to reach and therefore the most costly.

The county has worked to facilitate agreements between Metronet and the cities in Carver County for fiber buildouts. Currently, the construction associated with these agreements is complete in Hamburg, Mayer, New Germany, Cologne and Norwood Young America, according to Lehs. Carver is still under construction, and Chanhassen, Watertown and Waconia are to follow. Chaska and Victoria do not currently have agreements for construction.

State and federal initiatives are available to assist people in gaining access to adequate internet speeds including the Broadband Line Extension Connection Program and the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program.

For the county to achieve its goal of becoming the first in Minnesota with 100 percent fiber broadband access, it could cost as much as another $5 million, according to Lehs.

Coincidentally, $5 million is exactly what they can request from a Border to Border grant.

Office of Broadband Development urges MN to play role in Digital Equity Plan

The Office of Broadband Development is reaching out to folks to join the effort to get better broadband…

Lack of affordable internet access, lack of an internet-enabled device, and limited digital skills aren’t just an inconvenience. They hold people back from educational and employment opportunities, civic engagement, timely and affordable health care, and staying connected with friends and family. 

Some communities and individuals may be more likely to lack digital access and may have a greater need for digital skills training, including older Minnesotans, people who live in rural communities, Black Minnesotans, Indigenous people, people of color, and others. Digital access and skills are needed to engage with school and education, find employment, access health care resources and more. That’s why efforts to achieve digital equity are so important.  

DEED’s Office of Broadband Development (OBD) is developing a digital equity plan to create improvements in internet affordability, access to internet-enabled devices, and ways to provide digital skills training. We want to hear from Minnesotans most impacted by the digital access and skills gap to ensure our digital equity plan reflects the goals and needs of all Minnesotans. This plan will help us determine how to spend federal funding coming in 2024 aimed at increasing digital access and skills. 

Cities, counties, schools, libraries, faith communities, businesses, internet providers, nonprofits, and other organizations are encouraged to form Digital Connection Committees and partner with us to share these critical insights. We’re hoping these committees can gather information about local digital inclusion strengths, needs, and goals, and then share summaries with OBD. Information can be gathered however it works best for a community or organization. It could be a conversation circle, a survey, an asset inventory of existing digital inclusion resources – or some other way. The workload is flexible, and we look forward to working with Digital Connection Committees to bring creative ideas to life. 

Committees are especially encouraged to include members who are: 

  • 60 or older 
  • Currently or formerly incarcerated 
  • Current or former members of the U.S. military 
  • Black, Indigenous, and People of Color 
  • People with disabilities 
  • Low-income households 
  • Learning to speak or read English 
  • Living in rural communities. 

To help support the work of Digital Connection Committees, OBD will provide resources, templates, and general guidance. OBD is also offering optional, non-competitive mini-grants to eligible Digital Connection Committees. To receive a mini-grant, committees can apply by filling out a short application by March 3, 2023.  

In addition, Digital Connection Committees need to complete this form to register with our office by March 15, 2023, and complete their work by June 30 of this year. 

Find more details on DEED’s OBD website

State of Digital Inequity: we need to understand and remember it to build equity

Connect Humanity published the State of Digital Inequity: Civil Society Perspectives on Barriers to Progress in our Digitizing World, a global look at barriers that prevent people from fully participating in the world that most of us take for granted. I always love a report like this but I was wondering if there was a place for it in blog given the global scope and well, it’s kind of librarian-nerdy. Then I went to the Capitol where Senator Kunesch asked a good question about digital equity with communities of color. (The quick answer is that Minnesota is working on a digital equity plan – and you can help!) And last week several Representatives asked questions that indicated they were so far away from folks who are unserved that they didn’t know what to ask.

And then I saw the banner at the right and I remembered that most of the world takes technology for granted. It’s a tool that we have and use because we have broadband, a device (or two) and the skills to use it. Then there’s another part of the world who doesn’t have access and because of it, they can’t even speak up about the need. They can’t send emails or TikToks to get the attention they need. To close the gap, we have to remember it and understand it. The report is full of good info and statistics but here are their key findings:

  • Infrastructure & Access: Inadequate or unavailable internet access affects everyone, but the people CSOs serve are more likely to be impacted by a lack of connectivity due to poor infrastructure and issues with their internet providers.
  • Policy: While CSOs view access to both information and the internet as basic rights, many CSOs feel their governments do not have policies that support this.
  • Content: When it comes to the resources that motivate people to use the internet, email and chat services are by far the most important to CSOs and the people they serve. It is important that these services are available in local languages, which, the survey shows, they mostly are.
  • Affordability: The high cost of both devices and internet access remains a significant barrier for both CSOs and the people they serve and prevents them from participating meaning-fully in our digital world.
  • Digital Skills: Though CSOs agree that digital skills are important, a lack of training on how to use the internet and digital devices is a major issue for both CSOs and the people they serve. Few feel their employees are well trained on the devices and software they use

EVENT Feb 16: ILSR’s Building for Digital Equity Returns

The Institute for Local Self Reliance reports

Save the date! ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks team is back for a second season of our Building for Digital Equity series.

You can register now here.

The free online live stream will be held on Feb. 16 from 2-3 pm CST/3-4 pm ET.

We will unpack how local communities are working with their states to challenge the FCC’s broadband maps, bringing together local stakeholders, policy advocates, and GIS and Data Visualization Specialists in one place. We will also cover local organizing for better broadband and the latest on the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).