Posted by: Ann Treacy | September 24, 2016

Kandiyohi County moves forward with broadband grant plans with CTC

According to Willmar Radio

Kandiyohi County is going ahead with plans to apply for a five million dollar grant to expand high speed internet in underserved or un-served areas of the county. County Commissioner Harlan Madsen says they are seeking a grant through the State of Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband fund, and if they get it, Madsen says the county will borrow 5 million dollars to match it…

…Consolidated Telephone Company of Baxter-Brainerd will use the 10 million dollars to install high-speed internet to around 1700 homes in an area north of Willmar, in the Lake Florida-Norway Lake region…

Posted by: Ann Treacy | September 22, 2016

Annandale gets fiber ahead of schedule from Midco

Good news for Annandale from Midco

Advanced internet, cable TV and phone services are now available to more than 2,600 homes and businesses in Annandale. Today, Midco announced that infrastructure construction is complete, bringing fiber-optic broadband to the city five weeks ahead of schedule. And last week, the company welcomed its 500th customer in Annandale.

Based on their website here are the services they are offering…

Midco built approximately 292,000 feet – more than 55 miles – of infrastructure in Annandale. The resulting high-capacity network delivers the technology backbone to support the people and businesses of Annandale for years to come.

Midco’s standard service speeds run as high as 200 megabits per second – faster than what’s traditionally been available in Annandale. By the end of 2017, Midco will upgrade its system to offer 1 gigabit speeds across its entire service area.

And a reminder on the history of broadband in the area…

Midco’s entry in the Annandale market ends the city’s multiyear attempt to provide a broadband alternative for the small Minnesota community. Annandale’s efforts to improve its broadband service became statewide news during the 2014 and 2015 legislative sessions, as city officials and businesses testified about the crippling effect that unreliable service had on local businesses.

In August 2015, Midco announced it would build out services in Annandale. Construction began in April 2016. In June, the first services were turned on for the first neighborhoods.

Last night I combed through the agenda for the Broadband Properties conference on Broadband and Economic Development scheduled for October 18-20. It’s in Minneapolis this year and I was pleased to see a lot of Minnesota projects and people on the lineup. bbc-main

The conference is for folks involved or interested in Public Private Partnerships to deploy or use broadband networks – so planners such as policymakers, community leaders, broadband providers (especially local and independent), cooperatives and users such as folks in administration of schools, healthcare and economic development. There are three tracts: two focus on economic development and one on community toolkits, which are tools to help engage the community in a broadband effort.

It’ll be a fun chance to hear what’s happening in the region – but I’m especially proud that we get to showcase what’s happening in Minnesota. There are a couple of Minnesota-only sessions:

The Role of Government Networks in Economic Development
In this session, members of the MN Public Broadband Alliance will share their local economic development best practices and successes that they have acquired from years of experience. The Alliance shares resources and expertise to help every interested community with effectively leveraging public dollars in broadband networks into effective engines for both community and economic development.

  • JoAnne Johnson – Executive Director, MN Public Broadband Alliance
  • Gary Shelton – County Administrator, Scott County, MN
  • David Asp – Network Collaborative Engineer, Dakota County, MN
  • Jeff Dahna – General Manager, WindomNet, MN

Highly Effective Digital Literacy and Training Programs

Young people inherently understand the fun side of technology; a really effective digital literacy program helps digital natives go beyond using technology as toy to using technology as tool. Learn how to make technology useful and keep it fun through creative internships, summer app camps, virtual reality and letting kids take the lead in closing the digital divide.

  • Charles Hilliard – Fond du Lac Reservation Ojibwe School
  • Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva  Community Technology Empowerment Project
  • Randy Johnson – Red Wing Ignite Rural Intern Program
  • Chuck Olsen – Visual (Virtual Reality) Minneapolis MN

And a number of Minnesota speakers peppered throughout…

  • Kevin Beyer, General Manager, ACIRA (Advanced Communications in Rural America) – talking about Public-Private Partnerships
  • Brian Bissonette at Paul Bunyan Communications – talking about how to Market the Value of fiber and Unlocking the Investment
  • Don Boeder, Mayor, City of Gaylord, MN – on the Mayor’s panel, perhaps to talk about the Medical school looking to move to Gaylord with their fiber plans
  • Bill Coleman at – leading a talk on Working With The Economic Development Community
  • Neela Mollgaard Executive Director, Red Wing Ignite – joining Bill to talk about promoting innovation with rural fiber
  • Eric Lampland at Lookout Point Communications – leading a talk on Case Histories of Successful Local Fiber-based Economic Development
  • Mark Erickson, EDA Director , City of Winthrop, MN – joining Eric to talk about the success of RS Fiber
  • Erik Gronvall from Commscope – leading a discussion on If At First You Don’t Succeed: Managing Expectations and Ensuring Persistence
  • Travis Carter from US Internet – joining Erik to talk about customer engagement and support in Minneapolis
  • Bernard Gulachek, CIO at University of Minnesota – talking about How Higher Education is Driving Economic and Workforce Development
  • Jim Hickle at Velocity Telephone, Inc./Gigabit Minnesota – talking about Why Fiber Matters and Why Velocity Chose All-Fiber
  • Dan Pecarina at, Hiawatha Broadband Communications will also talk about Why HBC Chose All-Fiber
  • Matthew Huddleston at Lake County, MN – talking about Developing the Business Case by Organizing the Community
  • Danna MacKenzie at MN Office of Broadband Development – talking about Successful State and Regional Efforts to Foster Fiber-Driven Economic Development
  • Christopher Mitchell Director, Community Broadband Networks, Institute for Local Self-Reliance – talking about How Far Have We Come, and What Must We Do Next? and joining the experts panel
  • Kevin Morgan Chief Marketing Officer, Clearfield – talking about Developing the Business Case: Part 3 – Demand Aggregation: Justifying the Investment
  • Senator Matt Schmit – talking about Making Your Legislature an Ally
  • Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith – welcoming the crowd
  • Shannon Sweeney, Associate, David Drown Associates, Inc. – talking about What You Really Need to Know About Financing
  • Jim Baller, President, The Baller Herbst Law Group – we’re going to claim Jim, one of the organizers of the event even though I think DC would like to claim him too
Posted by: Ann Treacy | September 21, 2016

St Louis Park slowly but surely builds a fiber network

St Louis Park was recently featured on the Community Broadband Network Podcast. It’s interesting to hear how they have moved forward to build a fiber network that is sure to make buying a place in new buildings in town an easier call. Here’s an intro from Community Broadband Networks – but it’s worth the listen to the podcast too…

In one of our longest episodes, we discuss how Saint Louis Park started by partnering with other key entities to start its own fiber network, connecting key anchor institutions. Years later, it partnered with a firm for citywide solar-powered Wi-Fi but that partner failed to perform, leaving the community a bit disheartened, but in no way cowed.

They continued to place conduit in the ground wherever possible and began striking deals with ISPs and landlords that began using the fiber and conduit to improve access for local businesses and residents. And they so impressed our previous podcast guest Travis Carter of US Internet, that he suggested we interview them for this show.

Clint Pires has learned many lessons over the years and now we hope other communities will take his wisdom to heart. Well-managed communities can make smart investments that will save taxpayer dollars and drive investment in better networks.

Good news from the USDA

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that USDA is investing in 18 projects in 16 states to use communications technology to expand access to health care, substance misuse treatment and advanced educational opportunities.

And that includes one project from Minnesota

Grand Meadow Independent School District 495 receives $115,692 to replace telecommunications equipment to enhance academic services available to rural students. More than 2,700 students are expected to benefit from this interactive video conferencing project.

Doug Dawson (POTs and PANs) recently wrote about AT&T’s plans to spend CAF 2 funding on extending its current network. I nearly said “upgrading” but the point is that they aren’t upgrading, they are extending the network to areas that didn’t have it before but not upgrading…

So it looks like AT&T will use the CAF II money to upgrade cell sites to LTE (something they were certainly going to do anyway). They also might build a few new rural cell sites and build some fiber to feed them. Finally, they will buy the customers the LTE receivers. My guess is that they are going to have a very hard time showing that they spent all of the CAF II money and so I expect some overinflated reporting of CAF II costs to the FCC. But these upgrades are far less costly than the rural DSL upgrades being contemplated by CenturyLink and Frontier.

AT&T promises that the bandwidth will meet the 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up speeds required by the FCC’s CAF II order. They also promise that there will be no monthly data caps smaller than 150 gigabits, also a threshold set by the CAF II rules. They have not yet specified specific prices, but say that prices will be at ‘market rate’ for broadband.

Even though we’ve seen this coming, this is a giant disappointment. Already today a 10/1 Mbps connection is inadequate for a large percentage of households. Cisco recently published statistics showing that the average home in the US today wants 24 Mbps to meet their needs, just a hair under the FCC definition of broadband. Cisco predicts that by 2020 that the average household demand is going to grow to 54 Mbps. That means the 10/1 speeds are going to feel really slow even by the end of the CAF II period ending in 2021.

I’ve heard worry about this sort of incremental improvement in communities. People in the impacted areas are happy to see better speeds than they have – but for how long? Doug points out that these changes may stick around for a long time…

These upgrades will improve broadband in the affected areas, but only by a small amount. Some residents in these areas today can get very slow DSL, under 1 Mbps. There are also numerous WISPs operating in the area offering speeds under 5 Mbps. And everybody always has the option of satellite broadband, which is universally disliked due to the latency and data caps.

The really bad news for these areas is that this upgrade is going to be in place for a long time. The FCC is probably not going to think about the CAF II areas again until well past the end of the CAF timeline, perhaps not until 2025.

It’s kind of like buying the crappy dishwasher for the home you thought you were going to leave and then having to use it for 10 years. It seems better than washing by hand, except after a while you really have to wash the dishes pretty well before you run the cycle. So it’s really not that much better.

Sometimes rural broadband policy gets a little wonky. So I find it’s helpful to start with the consequences policy or the why should I care. Telecompetitor recently ran a story on the potential impact of the FCC’s ruling on business data services. Here’s a glimpse of why you might care based on comments from others…

  • The Ad Hoc Telecommunications Users Committee estimates that BDS prices would have been 22% lower in markets that were de-regulated prematurely if de-regulation had not occurred. A compromise proposal from Verizon and competitive carrier association Incompass calls for a 15% reduction in BDS costs in those areas.

  • Colleen Boothby, a representative for The Ad Hoc Telecommunications Users Committee, cited what she called a “stunning” study of the e-rate program that covers some of a school’s broadband costs. The study, conducted by an e-rate consulting firm, found that often schools received only one very high bid in response to broadband proposals and that those bids often came from competitive carriers. Digging into it, however, the study found that prices sometimes were high because the competitive carrier was buying the underlying access from the incumbent which represented 95% of the total price quoted.

And here’s a little bit on the question at hand…

The FCC is considering whether to impose price controls on BDS providers in areas that the commission previously deemed to be competitive, but which BDS purchasers say are not competitive. BDS purchasers include business and government users of data services, including schools and libraries, as well as carriers and others. The FCC business data services decision could call for decreasing BDS pricing in markets where costs have increased since the markets were deregulated.

And the details…

Although wireless carriers sometimes build their own backhaul networks, Katz estimates that at least 50% of the time they lease connectivity from another carrier – and in the majority of cases, it’s the incumbent local carrier. According to an analysis of BDS data collected by the FCC, 73% of locations are served by a monopoly BDS provider and 97% by no more than two providers, Katz said. When there are only two providers, the cost of BDS services drops only about 10%, according to Katz.

Backhaul costs represent almost 30% of a rural wireless carrier’s total network costs and 6% of a wireless carrier’s opex, according to the Telecom Advisory Services study. Analyzing historical data, the Telecom Advisory Services study found that 85% of regulator-mandated cost reduction in carrier operational expenditures (opex) could instead be used for capital expenditures (capex).

The study looked at the impact of various levels of price reduction under three different scenarios – one in which a carrier spends 2.25% of opex on backhaul, another in which that number is 4.3% and another in which that number is 6%. Levels of price reduction studied included 10%, 20% and 30%. Results showed that a carrier spending a relatively low 2.25% of its opex on backhaul and getting just a 10% reduction in BDS costs could have an additional $40,000 for its capex budget.

Last night I attended the township meeting in Sunrise Township to discuss the next steps for their better broadband plan. Spoiler alert – the residents are going to work on a petition to get 50 percent of the 532 households in CenturyLink territory to say they are interested in bonding for $500,000. That money along with CenturyLink using CAF 2 funding will be used as match for a Minnesota Border to Border grant application.

They are interested in using a subordinate service district bond, which means only the houses that qualify for the service will play back the bond. The payback will be around $100/year for each household.

The town board agreed to continue with the grant application.

CenturyLink says they are excited to work on the project. If the funding doesn’t come through they still will use CAF 2 funds in the area to do fiber to the node – but with fiber to the node they will also coil fiber at intervals (650 ft) to streamline a FTTH upgrade in the future or to allow someone to upgrade themselves – although the cost of the individual upgrade will be on the customer. (That seems like a step to scalability to me. Although there wasn’t a promise of that next step without grant funding.)

Good news – the partnership seems strong, the local residents are invested (there were at least 50 people at the meeting, not bad for community of 532 homes) and they are willing to work to demonstrate public interest in the project. Also – with CenturyLink as a partner, it seems they will fly by the challenge process.

Bad news – CenturyLink doesn’t serve the whole township; Frontier is the other local provider they apparently did not respond to invitations to discuss such a partnership.

Lessons – The subordinate service district bond seems like a good way to have only households that experience the upgrade pay back the loan. The petition cannot be internet-based.

Read on or watch the videos for more info…

Read More…

Posted by: Ann Treacy | September 15, 2016

2016 Minnesota Broadband Conference Recap

Posted by: Ann Treacy | September 15, 2016

Local Providers – Wired to Empower Rural Communities

A keynote address by Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications

Posted by: Ann Treacy | September 15, 2016

The Role of Co-ops in Advancing the Broadband Vision

A panel moderated by Bernadine Joselyn of Blandin Foundation. When rural Minnesotans first needed electricity and then telephones, cooperatives formed to meet the challenge. Today, we are seeing an expansion in the role that cooperatives are playing in meeting rural broadband needs. Leaders from four rural cooperatives will share how they are dealing with the demand for better broadband from their current members and neighboring communities. Learn how these cooperatives make their decisions about partnerships and new markets:

  • Stacy Cluff, Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative
  • Robin Doege, Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative
  • Kent Hedstrom, Runestone Telecom Association
  • Kristi Westbrock, CTC-Consolidated Telecommunications Company

Todd-Wadena Elelctric Coop – only have 3.5 members per square mile. So population density is an issue. Deploying a smartgrid was a driver as well. We’ve been tlakign about broadband for 5-6 years and nothing has change. Last year we started to really look into broadband. We’ve been working with WCTA and Blandin. We did a feasibility study. We learned that a fiber build-out would be $48 billion. The costs are so high and ROI to hard that a 50 percent match doesn’t help much. We need 75 percent. So we are supporting others that are building out local broadband – we are working WCTA.

Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative – Half of our members are seasonal. We have been providing internet access since 1997. We realized that the incumbents were not going to come into our area. We’ve applied for grants and been unsuccessful. We are talking with CTC to form a partnership for FTTH. Aitkin County is least served. We’ve seen more people move to our satellite rather than keep incumbent DSL

CTC – post broadband surveys to gauge impact of grants. Served 468 customers – many seniors, few children, very rural. Sent surveys out 9 months after they got broadband. Reliability and tech services is more important than price. Home have multiple devices. Only 2 percent did not use the Internet – despite the average age. 36% found that having broadband helped their businesses.

Runestone – biggest community is 1300 people.

How do you decide about partners and new market?

  • We have three people approach us about going into their area. We told them what we needed. They got it – it being letter of support for a grant application. That drive helps.
  • We look for community drivers and champions. The community seems to think that someone is making big money with the rural networks and that’s not the case. If it were the big providers would offer service.
  • The payback models are over 9 years, which means we have to go slower. City and counties need to be able to help pay or the State needs to look at 70-80 percent match.
  • We can’t take unnecessary risks.
  • We look for experts.
  • Projects need to be realistic and
  • We look at areas that really need our help – those who won’t be served by an incumbent in 2 years

Advice to share:

  • The 50/50 grant model doesn’t work
  • If we really want border to border we need to rethink 50/50 model
  • The challenge from the incumbents need to be revisited.
  • Wireless might be helpful in low population density areas.
  • Our legislators don’t know what the technology should be. They don’t understand the technology.

At Assn of MN Counties – we talk about projects that are in process. We sometimes need funding too. We’re looking at a pocket of money for partial projects.

Federally they had ongoing funding – recognizing that there was a need for continued support. But that is no longer the case. We need to let the Feds know it’s a problem. If Minnesota wants to stay progressive they want to look at continued funding too.

Metro legislators don’t know why they might support rural projects.

Advice for really unserved communities

  • Have skin in the game – maybe even getting funding from some of the subscribers.
  • Community champions
  • There isn’t a cookie cutter solution

mrnetMRNet was formed in 1987 as an association of members interested in getting the Internet, which, at that time, was a 56K connection to the NSFNet at the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana. In 1991 (25 years ago!) MRNet incorporated as a non-profit. And we are pleased to celebrate MRNet and its role in bringing the Internet to Minnesota with an award.

Here’s the inscription:

Advancing the Vision Award – MRNet

In recognition of the Minnesotans who, 25 years ago, had a vision of creating a network of networks to enhance research and education and to increase the productivity and competitiveness of businesses throughout our state.
September 14, 2016
Border to Border Broadband Conference
Duluth, MN


Dave Bergum accepted the award on behalf of the team. Dennis Fazio – the first employee of MRNet was unable to make the event – but also sent his comments:

Posted by: Ann Treacy | September 14, 2016

Navigating Challenging Broadband Decisions

A  panel moderated by Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors. As more modern broadband networks are deployed across Minnesota, elected officials in counties without high-quality, ubiquitous broadband are feeling the pressure from residents and businesses to make it happen. At the same time, the availability of DEED grants and CAF2 funding and changes in technology are making the landscape all the more uncertain.
Bill will be talking with local broadband champions to illuminate their decision making process around key questions in a dynamic broadband deployment landscape. Panelists:

  • Valerie Halvorson, City of Madison
  • Scott Higgins, Martin County
  • Nancy Hoffman, Chisago County HRA-EDA
  • Tom Johnson, Nobles County

Notes (I am posting with limited proofing as I take notes on the next session:

Martin County – They have done a feasibility study and are looking for options for a border to border grant.

Madison – The only unserved city in LqP County. LqP got ARRA funding for all areas except Madison. They were “served” at the time. But that has left them behind.

Chisago County – Just north of Twin Cities – we don’t have good service. We did a survey to all county residents (900 responses) about their broadband and we mapped the results. We learned about the providers and how satisfied they were. “If you had better broadband what would you do?”  About 70-80 percent of the people currently travel to the TCs for work. People really want to telecommute. We don’t have a college – many people (45%) would do. 31% would start a business. “Gaming may not a higher use of broadband – but it matters when people want to buy a home.”

Nobles County – We formed a meeting with government folks (schools, local government). We met first in March 2014. Broadband became a hot topic among all users. Lismore is applying for funds for Border to Border grant. We are supporting their effort – although they haven’ asked us for financial support.

What is good enough for broadband?

For Madison – only FTTP. Everyone around us has FTTP to compete we need it. I don’t want to spend public dollars on anything less. The speed goals and definitions keep changing; we want to build for the future. Broadband should not be a barrier. We


For Nobles County – know what’s not good enough. Back in the day – any connection would be have been good. But now we knew we need to go for a Gig.


For Martin – what are your people willing to pay for? We began with the goals that are established and are building from there.


For Chisago – We’re building for the future. We need a gig. Every year people increase broadband use by 30%.

How does CAF 2 play in your planning?

For Martin – Frontier came to our meetings. Early on the offered to be a partner with CAF 2 funding. The challenge is that they don’t go to all areas. We are trying to add dollars to get them to go faster than the CAF 2 requirement of 10/1

For Chisago – we were talking about a feasible study when we found that Frontier is upgrading in our areas. We want FTTP but any upgrade is worth it. We don’t want to invest in it but we’ll take what we can get. Will 253 going to be good enough. We don’t feel like it will be. We don’t know what CenturyLink’s plans are in our county. One town is talking about a shared grant for OBD funds.

For Nobles – the county is eligible for some CAF 2 funding but we don’t know what the providers are going to do. The coop is willing to talk to us. CAF 2 required speeds are a bridge.

How do you select a partner?

Chisago – we keep in communication and we are trying to form relationships with the incumbent providers and cooperatives in other parts of the state. Although it’s difficult to start a conversation before you have a project.

Nobles  – the partners selected us. We met with several providers. One committee member talked to a lot of the townships. Hard for bigger providers to come up with an ROI but the cooperative could.

Martin – We’ve had a lot of providers so me to the meeting. Frontier is a major player.

Madison – I sent letters and contacted local providers. I was honest with them about our needs and they let me know that they don’t have the engineer staff now to look at it.

Wired vs Wireless?

Nobles – we want both. We’ve had good experience with MVTV helping us get people online. And some people will be OK with slower speeds – at least for now.

Martin – wireless continues to improve but not fiber.

What is role with local financing?

Madison – local financing allows us to be partners. We are looking at tax abatement – and a grant to the provider. Having financing gets you a seat at the table.

We are looking at subordinate service district model where only the people getting the upgrade would pay the taxes in Sunrise Township

We did some ancillary funding. But there’s a role to provide some investment  – from feasibility studies and more. There’s a growing interest

How do you get started?

The visioning meeting was key to the activities we’ve done. The survey was very helpful.

Closing Advice:

  • Outreach
  • Educating local officials
  • Find the people who are passionate
  • Have conversation with communities who aren’t unserved. Are there underserved communities that will be leapfrogged
  • Need champions
  • Need to keep it on the forefront
  • Build relationships
  • Look at the risks of not doing it.

The sessions includes Learning Stations featuring projects funded through the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program. Station presenters:

  • Border to Border Phase I (St. Louis County), Northeast Service Cooperative (invited)
  • Central Itasca County Fiber, Paul Bunyan Communications
  • FTTH Project (Renville and Sibley Counties), RS Fiber
  • FTTP Project, Rock County Broadband Alliance
  • Middle Mile (in 20 southwestern MN counties), MVTV Wireless
  • Winona County Whitewater Area, Hiawatha Broadband Communications

(videos will be added as they are uploaded)

Posted by: Ann Treacy | September 14, 2016

Welcome to the 2016 Broadband Conference

We were pleased to be welcomed to the event, first by Mayor Emily Larson, City of Duluth

Senator Klobuchar offers her well wishes:


And Bernadine Joselyn welcomes us too


And a look at the presentation that is looping between sessions:

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