It’s time for the MN Broadband Model to bring broadband to communities without ability to ask

The Duluth News Tribune posts a letter to the editor from David Beard, who teaches writing and communication at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He outlines some projects that have done a great job bringing broadband to some parts of the northland but the letter is a reminder that we are not all there and until we are, we need to keep working…

Imagine if you had to drive to your local library to virtually visit with a therapist about your increasing anxiety during the pandemic. Or imagine if you had to drive to the community center to ask your doctor to take a look at the mole that appeared on your forearm. It sounds inconvenient, invasive, and awkward.

And yet, for as long as one in 10 Minnesotans lacks access to broadband internet, we are telling our (mostly rural) neighbors that we don’t care how inconvenient, invasive, and awkward it can be for them to see their doctor.

Broadband internet access is a health care equity issue, and we need to do more.

FCC announces some RDOF winners – in MN that’s Farmers Mutual Telephone Company

FCC announced 466 RDOF winning bids. The only winner announced in Minnesota was Farmers Mutual Telephone Company. Here’s the announcement

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 support for the winning bids listed in Attachment A.

We will also soon post a state-level summary under the “Results” tab on the Auction 904 webpage at https://www.fcc.gov/auction/904/round-results.  The summary will provide for each long-form applicant included in this Public Notice:  1) the total support amount over 10 years and total number of locations that the long-form applicant is being authorized for in each state, 2) the total number of locations to which the authorized support recipient must offer the required voice and broadband services for each performance tier and latency in each state, and 3) the eligible census blocks included in the winning bids that are being authorized in each state.

Here are some of the details for the Farmers Mutual bids:

Winning bid MN-073-1801002

  • 26 locations
  • $21,054.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1801001

  • 2 locations
  • $ 7,626.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1801003

  • 6 locations
  • $ 2,294.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1802001

  • 119 locations
  • $ 216,152.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1802002

  • 37 locations
  • $ 166,258.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1803001

  • 39 locations
  • $ 152,096.00

Winning bid MN-073-1803002

  • 78 locations
  • $ 177,172.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1803003

  • 25 locations
  • $ 17,170.00 over 10 years

No word on LTD.

South Central & Southeast Regional Broadband Conference Notes & Video

It’s been a great day of broadband conversations around the state. Three regional broadband conferences happened today and I’ll post on each separately. (There will be eight regional meetings leading up to statewide fall conference Oct 12-14.)

There were 40-50 people in attendance. The run of the day:

  • A panel on Mapping the Broadband Challenge looked at broadband maps and data collected by DEED’s Office of Broadband Development, the South East Minnesota League of Municipalities and the Minnesota Broadband Coalition.
  • Two regional initiatives talked about how to advance broadband-fueled economic and community development in the region: Red Wing Ignite and the Le Sueur County Broadband Initiative.
  • Ended with an exercise to prioritize broadband opportunities in this region, and talk about next steps.

Here are the presentations:

And chat from the day. The chat includes attendee introductions but also any resources share or questions… Continue reading

US Senator introduce Legislation for device vouchers program to close the digital divide

An interesting proposal to help get devices into the hands that need them; Sen McEachin reports

Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) and Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA) introduced the Device Access for Every American Act to ensure more Americans can afford connected devices. The bicameral legislation would authorize the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a program to administer up to $400 vouchers for low-income Americans to purchase laptops, tablets, and desktop computers.

Millions of households across the nation lack access to connected devices. While computer access is nearly ubiquitous amongst high-income households, 40% of low-income adults lack a desktop or laptop computer. Additionally, 4.4 million households with students lack consistent access to a computer.

“Laptops, tablets, and other connected devices are indispensable in our increasingly digital world. Many students’ homework assignments now require laptops, more employers are exploring telework models, and more doctors’ offices are migrating toward telehealth services as the new standard of care,” said Rep. McEachin (VA-04). “The COVID-19 pandemic has further demonstrated this need and underscored the stark disparities that currently exist in our country. For too many low-income Americans, prohibitive costs pose unnecessary challenges and hardships for them and their families. I am proud to introduce the Device Access for Every American Act, along with my colleague, Senator Warnock, to improve access to these vital devices, connect millions of American households, and help close the digital divide once and for all.”

“It is nearly impossible to get by without access to a laptop or tablet—especially after a year of adjusting to virtual learning, working, and more,” said Sen. Warnock (D-GA). “For that, I am incredibly proud to introduce the Device Access for Every American Act, which ensures that every American – regardless of income or zip code – has the ability to participate and thrive in our increasingly digital economy. This legislation also ensures students stay on track, especially following a year of learning loss, with the necessary devices at their disposal.”

Tool Template: Finding the Broadband Internet Service That Works for Your Family

There is a great template for schools (or others) to help you help your students or other folks get the broadband they need. It’s called Finding the Broadband Internet Service That Works for Your Family. My colleague Bill Coleman created it with feedback from Marc Johnson at ECMECC walks folks through better understanding the technology and who to call to get better service or help. You can customize it based on what is available in your community or through your school. So it’ll take a little time to make it most useful but it seems like that there’s someone at your school or office already answering these questions on a regular basis so it might be an easy way to quit reinventing the wheel!

EVENT Sep 16: Regional Broadband Summit

From the Land

A regional broadband summit will be offered as a virtual event 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday.

Conference speakers include representatives from Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, Red Wing Ignite and Le Sueur County’s Broadband Initiative. Participants will discuss access and adoption, regional prioritization and how to use American Recovery Act funds for broadband investments.

Register at: https://bit.ly/3AgekKI.

This is a regional event, leading up to the Fall Broadband Conference.

EVENT Sep 22: Broadband Informational Meeting Coming In Wright County

From Wright County

Wright County is in the process of gathering information and public input on improving the county’s broadband capability and part of that process will include a public informational meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22 in the Wright County Board Room at the Government Center in downtown Buffalo (10 Second St. NW).

The county has contracted with the firm Design Nine out of Blacksburg, Virginia to complete a broadband study which included a public survey that was mailed out to all county residents in August. Jack Maytum, a senior broadband analyst with Design Nine, will be making a presentation of the results and will answer questions residents might have concerning the project.

The goal is to connect the underserved areas of Wright County with high-speed internet. The study will serve as a guide for the implementation of an expanded and improved broadband network and provide strategies to address rural high-speed internet deficiencies. The study will also provide the standards required for the county to seek out funding for state and federal grant programs designed to improve broadband connectivity.

For more information or for those with questions about the process or the informational meeting, contact Wright County Project Administrator Elizabeth Karels at elizabeth.karels@co.wright.mn.us or by calling (763) 684-8604.

 

MN Broadband Task Force Sep Meeting: Education acerbated needs and creative tech solutions during pandemic

Today the MN Broadband Task Force heard from folks who work to help families and children get and use the technology they need – especially in these times of distance and hybrid learning. They also heard from folks involved with Blandin Foundation Accelerate!, a program that supported and recharged some of the least served communities in Minnesota. (Blandin in looking for a new cohort of Accelerate communities!)

Hand outs from the day:

TF Connected MN MN Broadband Task Force_09.15.21 Final
TF MilleLacs slides broadband task force 9.15.21
TF Online Learning Update – 9-2021

10:00 a.m. – 10:10 a.m. Welcome, Task Force Introductions, Attendee Introductions and Approval of Minutes from July 28, 2021 Meeting Continue reading

Recommendations for reforming universal service to keep it around longer!

SHLB Coalition, INCOMPAS, and NTCA, with support from Public Knowledge recently released a report on Reforming Universal Service Contributions Mechanism, which could also be called – how to save Universal Service and help keep more online at all incomes. They look at some options…

To ensure the enduring value of the USF program and America’s connectivity goals, we must have a smart and substantive conversation about the pro[1]gram’s future. At the request of INCOMPAS, NTCA – the Rural Broadband Association, and the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, this report analyzes several options for FCC reform of the current status quo that have been pending in FCC rulemakings dating back to the early 2000’s: (1) modifying the current revenues-based contribution methodology to assess broadband internet access service revenues, (2) assessing connections, or (3) assessing telephone numbers.

They make recommendations…

Reforming the current revenues-based system to include broadband internet access service revenues is the preferred approach, both as a matter of policy and ease of implementation. Doing so would reduce the contribution factor to less than 4%.

First, it is appropriate as a matter of public policy to assess broadband internet access service revenues because all four programs in the USF promote universal broadband. The revenues from broadband internet access services that are increasingly used by Americans today should contribute to the USF programs that support the expansion of such services to all. This will better reflect the value of broadband internet access service in today’s marketplace for both consumers and businesses.

Second, broadband internet access service revenues are expected to be stable in the future, with the potential for some modest growth. This would stabilize the funding mechanism and stop the death spiral in the current USF contribution methodology.

Third, it is a solution that can be implemented more quickly than the alternatives. It would be far less uncertain than seeking congressional intervention and can be done by the FCC pursuant to its current statutory mandate. FCC reform of the USF contribution mechanism now is an important first step in stabilizing the current system.

Fourth, there is a significant advantage to retaining the current revenues-based system because most of the revenues reported to the FCC for USF purposes come from publicly traded companies that are audited and subject to stringent financial

reporting standards for their revenues. This external financial scrutiny would provide an additional level of assurance that the metric used to assess USF contributions is accurately reported.

Fifth, assessing both broadband internet access service and voice services removes the incentives of providers to arbitrarily allocate revenues from bundled services to one service and not the other. This creates an inequitable situation where some end users continue to pay into USF, while others do not, yet everyone benefits from the positive network externalities of universal connectivity made possible from the four USF programs that support broad[1]band-capable networks and service.

Reform of the current system of financing universal service is long overdue. The FCC has sought comment multiple times on various permutations of the options analyzed in this report and has the ability to move forward to assess broadband internet access service revenues without congressional action. The rapid increase in the contribution factor over the last decade and potentially in the future puts the stability of the entire USF at risk. While other proposals to help finance universal broadband may warrant further examination, the FCC should reform the current contribution methodology now to assess broadband internet access service revenues.

FCC expands Emergency Broadband Benefit Program eligibility for another year

The FCC reports

By this Public Notice, the Wireline Competition Bureau (Bureau) announces that it will expand the school years that will be acceptable for eligibility determination purposes for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB Program).  As a result of this change, households that can demonstrate participation in the free and reduced price school lunch program or school breakfast program for the 2021-2022 school year will now be eligible for the benefit.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (CAA or Act)[1] provides that households with members who are approved to participate in the free and reduced price school lunch program or school breakfast program are eligible for the EBB Program,[2] and the Commission’s rules adopted this eligibility criteria.[3]  In the EBB Program Order, the Commission clarified that, in addition to households that apply for and are approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced price school lunch program or school breakfast program, households with students that are enrolled in schools that participate in the USDA Community Eligibility Provision will also be eligible for the EBB Program under the school lunch program or school breakfast program eligibility criteria.[4]  The Commission further agreed with commenters that proposed that the Commission allow proof of enrollment in these programs for either the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year, “given that many schools have been closed since mid-March 2020 due to the pandemic and students may not be enrolled in the programs” in the 2020-2021 school year.[5]  Based on the EBB Program Order, the EBB Program application and other EBB program guidance specifically identify the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years as eligible school years for purposes of qualifying for the EBB Program, but do not discuss any subsequent school years.

 

EVENT Sep 15: MN Broadband Task Force monthly meeting (topic: education)

The meeting is virtual; I plan to attend and will livestream – although the meeting is open to the public and you too can join directly…

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband

September 15, 2021

10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Microsoft Teams meeting

Join on your computer or mobile app

Click here to join the meeting

Join with a video conferencing device

mn@m.webex.com

Video Conference ID: 111 512 968 3

Alternate VTC instructions

10:00 a.m. – 10:10 a.m. Welcome, Task Force Introductions, Attendee Introductions and Approval of Minutes from July 28, 2021 Meeting

10:10 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Office of Broadband Development Update

10:15 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. MN Department of Education Online/Distance Learning Presentation
Jeff Plaman, Online and Digital Learning Specialist

10:45 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.  East Central MN Rural Broadband Panel
Heidi Steinmetz, Kanabec County Economic Development Director;
Lezlie Sauter, Pine County Economic Development Coordinator;
Beth Gruber, Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures Director of Planning & Community Engagement

11:15 a.m. – 11:20 a.m. Break

11:20 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. Partnership for a ConnectedMN (Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation)
Anne Hoyt Taff, Associate Vice President of Community Impact
Dustin Moretz, Community Initiatives Program Manager

11:45 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. ECMECC Digital Navigator Project
Marc Johnson, ECMECC
Dihanna Fedder, Digital Navigator, Pine City Public Schools

12:00 p.m. – 12:20 p.m.  Subgroup Reports

12:20 p.m. – 12:30 p.m.  Public Comment, Other Business, October Meeting Plans, Wrap-up

Fiber Minnesota creates statewide fiber network in MN

News from Fiber Minnesota…

Fiber Minnesota, LLC, a Minnesota fiber-optic transport carrier announced it has merged with fiber transport providers Broadband Visions (BBV) and SM Broadband (SMB) to create one of MN’s largest fiber transport networks.
The deal increases the Fiber Minnesota backbone network by more than 60% to a total of 3,900 route miles of fiber. The merged networks will operate under the Fiber Minnesota brand.
Combining the assets of these networks will enable MN’s rural telecom and broadband providers to deliver increasingly advanced services to consumers and carriers, faster and more efficiently.
“This merger is the culmination of 18 months of work, resulting in one of the largest and most robust fiber networks in the state, providing significant benefits for
consumers, enterprise customers, carriers, major wireless providers, the owners and the entire State,” said Jason Dale, Fiber Minnesota CEO. “As technology and rural
transport economics have changed, it’s clear that a unified state-wide network is a key ingredient to remaining relevant in the transport world. By combining these
complementary networks, we’ve taken another huge step forward. We are extremely excited for the opportunities this new combined network provides.”
The expanded Fiber Minnesota footprint connects nearly all corners of the state with multiple redundant routes, including rural areas often bypassed by other players.
This merger comes after the successful 2020 acquisition by Cooperative Network Services (CNS) of the WCTG fiber network, its integration with the original CNS network, and the subsequent launch of subsidiary Fiber Minnesota for all CNS network operations. The members of BBV and SMB join CNS as shareholders of Fiber Minnesota, together representing 33 different owners or ownership groups, most of which are operating companies / ISPs serving rural Minnesota and neighboring areas. BBV continues
to operate its video headend and Internet services divisions, while SMB has completely merged into Fiber Minnesota.
According to Glenn Zerbe, Board Chair of BBV / President of Nuvera Communications, “The broad ownership base is an advantage for Fiber Minnesota as it partners with its own shareholders for the connectivity of its core network to a staggering network of last-mile fiber throughout the
state. Consumers and institutions, especially those in rural areas, will experience a higher degree of reliability for broadband and related services. All three of these networks complement each other, and their combination removes redundancies and offers greater scale. The ability to keep
more traffic on-net is imperative as the transport network industry evolves.”
The motivation to combine these networks was clear with BBV, CNS and SMB all having multiple shareholders in common, and each network having significant overlapping segments with the others. However, it was still a tall order to rally all the companies involved.
“There have been multiple efforts over the years to put our statewide independent network back together here in Minnesota. We were fortunate this time around with the right people, the right model, and the right time for it all to come together. The benefits of this merger would not have
been possible without the fantastic leadership of the BBV, SMB, CNS, and FM management teams and shareholders,” said Bill Eckles, President of SMB / CEO of Bevcomm. “The merged network fits strategically for the long term provision of critical broadband services.”
Similar to surrounding states Minnesota’s fiber transport landscape has long been made up of smaller regional networks, but as technology and the industry have evolved, so too has the need for a larger, unified network. For years, Minnesota has differed from neighboring states, where the independent telecommunications / broadband providers joined forces decades ago to create statewide networks – enjoying robust facilities and advanced centralized solutions.
“This is a big win for the independent telecom providers in MN and for the customers they serve,” said Dean Bahls, Fiber Minnesota’s Network Operations Manager.
“Minnesota has now achieved the ‘statewide fiber network’ many other surrounding states have enjoyed for years.
The increased footprint will provide direct connectivity to nearly all of the independent ISPs in the state as well as connectivity to many more on-net customers throughout the state. Additionally, adding diverse connections to wholesale Internet providers and peering exchanges will be more cost-effective now and help contain
costs in the future — a key ingredient to a sustainable business model for rural
broadband providers in serving their customers, especially those in Greater
Minnesota and neighboring areas.”
Integration of the three networks will be phased over the next 24 to 36 months.
Streamlined quoting and turn-up With the increase of on-net route miles, quoting circuits will be faster, and pricing will be more competitive. Customers will enjoy highly available services, with faster resolution times.
Network of Networks
As with the current Fiber Minnesota network, through partnership with 702 Communications, the combined network will participate in the Aurora Fiber Optic Networks brand (aurorafonet.com), and through that partnership will continue to be a part of the INDATEL nationwide “network of networks”.

EVENT Sep 22: Wright County is looking at better broadband

Patch reports

 

Wright County is in the process of gathering information and public input on improving the county’s broadband capability and part of that process will include a public informational meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22 in the Wright County Board Room at the Government Center in downtown Buffalo (10 Second St. NW).

The county has contracted with the firm Design Nine out of Blacksburg, Virginia to complete a broadband study which included a public survey that was mailed out to all county residents in August. Jack Maytum, a senior broadband analyst with Design Nine, will be making a presentation of the results and will answer questions residents might have concerning the project.

The goal is to connect the underserved areas of Wright County with high-speed internet. The study will serve as a guide for the implementation of an expanded and improved broadband network and provide strategies to address rural high-speed internet deficiencies. The study will also provide the standards required for the county to seek out funding for state and federal grant programs designed to improve broadband connectivity.

EVENT Sep 16: West Central Initiative’s Broadening Our Broadband

More info from the Perham Focus on West Central Initiative’s Broadening Our Broadband Regional event, which is part of a series of regional events happening before the Fall (online) Broadband Conference…

West Central Initiative will host Broadening Our Broadband, a discussion featuring a panel of rural broadband industry professionals and policy experts, on Thursday, Sept. 16, at 11 a.m. via Zoom.

The panel will focus on imagining new possibilities that come with enhanced broadband access, learning how communities can prepare for potential future funding opportunities and hearing how the region can leverage broadband access to better support students, businesses and communities. You can register for the event at wcif.org/events.

“High-speed internet access is fundamental to vibrant rural communities,” said Anna Wasescha, West Central Initiative president. “It supports economic development, high-quality health care, equitable education, and more. Broadband discussions … are particularly important in helping to form our region’s long-term, comprehensive broadband implementation strategy. Broadband is no longer a want—it’s a need.”

The panel will feature:

  • Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement at Blandin Foundation;
  • Greg Wagner, director of business and economic development at West Central Initiative;
  • Diane Wells, deputy director of the Office of Broadband Development at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development;
  • Amy Baldwin, community development director for Otter Tail County;
  • Todd Johnson, Traverse County Commissioner;
  • Ann Treacy, owner and founder of Treacy Information Services and researcher and contributor to the Blandin on Broadband blog

EVENT Sep 18: National Day of Civic Hacking

An invitation from the Code for America Team…

Whether you’ve attended one Code for America Brigade meetup, or you’re a regular attendee, we wanted to make sure you knew about our upcoming National Day of Civic Hacking event on September 18. This is an opportunity to use your time and skills to help transform our 911 emergency system. Right now, our 911 system often deploys an armed law enforcement response as a one-size-fits-all solution regardless of the caller’s needs.

But what if our country’s emergency response system were “people-first”? There is a growing movement to reimagine this system, starting by understanding its levers for change. That’s where the Code for America community comes in.

Register now to join National Day of Civic Hacking 2021. On Saturday, September 18, join fellow civic leaders, public servants, designers, coders, data scientists, and activists for our 9th annual National Day of Civic Hacking—a day of action to partner with local communities and tackle some of our toughest challenges.

This year our theme is “Reimagining 911.” We’ve partnered with Transform 911 to understand, evaluate, and reimagine a human-centered approach to the emergency response system.

This virtual event kicks off with a panel at 9 a.m. PT / 12 p.m. ET followed by working time, an optional lunch-and-learn, and closing remarks. Participants have the option to work independently or with their local Brigade, community group, or assigned volunteer group.

During working time, our coordinated action teams will participate in the following actions:

– Open Data: Research & Scorecard

– Data Analysis

– Prototyping: Case Studies & exploring “How Might We” Statements

We welcome people of all skill levels as well as new and returning volunteers alike. While “hacking” is in the name, you don’t need to know how to code to participate. There will be actions available to leverage different skills, technical and nontechnical. Check out our FAQs to learn more about National Day of Civic Hacking.

See you on the 18th,

The Code for America Team

To reply to this message, please contact brigade-info@codeforamerica.org