Crow Wing Power on broadband updates in Crow Wing, Morrison, Cass and Aitkin Counties

In their most recent newsletter, Crow Wing Power spoke with local providers about broadband upgrades and expansion in the area, often spurred by great need in COVID.

From CTC…

  • Kristi [Westbrock, CTC CEO] explained that in mid-March, the company scrambled to extend finer to where it was needed and where they could reasonably expand, so students could have access to Internet for distance learning. It’s estimated that their efforts in the Brainerd ISD 101 school district provided broadband access to approximately 200 families in the region and set up 50 hot spots where kid cluster could go to study.
  • In 2019, CTC received an $830,587 MN Border to Border grant from the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to expand services to build to Ft. Ripley, and other areas in Crow Wing and Morrison Counties. This allowed CTC to build to 399 homes in portions of St. Mathias and Fort Ripley Townships, as well.
  • “Most recently, CTC received CARES Act funding from both Crow Wing and Cass County to build broadband to unserved areas of Welton Road, County Rd 10, Border Lake, Little Pine Road and unserved areas in Lake Edward Township. The funds must be used by December 1 so these locations will have access to fiber Internet.

From Emily Cooperative Telephone Company…

  • Five hot spots were also installed throughout the communities, which are still available. Josh [ECTC CEO] said they are updating 100 homes in the Crosslake area to finer services and reviewing other areas for 2021. ECTC also received a MN DEED grant of $376,000 to build fiber services to the Esquagamah and Round Lake area in Aitkin County.

COVID-inspired free tutoring for Minnesota kids preK-8 through AmeriCorps Serve Minnesota

There’s a story behind this initiative –based on students’ need and AmeriCorps talented team and infrastructure. For busy parents who are juggling working and trying to facilitate teaching from home, I have something that might help. Remote tutoring that’s free. You don’t have to drive a kid anywhere or worry about exposure to COVID. You don’t have to pretend to understand how new math works. All you need is sufficient broadband…

Do you want to learn more about this new initiative to bring Reading Corps and Math Corps directly to families? Here’s how to works:

If you are a Minnesota family with a child in PreK – 8th grade, it’s easy to get started:

  1. Visit Reading Corps/Math Corps online for a personal consultation – it’s FREE! —
  2. Meet with a literacy or math expert to discuss the needs of your learner(s)

Based on the identified needs of your student, you’ll either:

  • Be matched with a reading/math specialist who will work with your learner(s)directly
    to provide skill building and practice (likely in a virtual setting) and/or
  • Receive resources and activities you can do at home to support learning

Schools across the country rely on Reading Corps and Math Corps to support students who need extra help. Our highly trained specialists focus on skill building and use research-based activities proven to work. For homework help and other assistance, please contact your child’s school.

Le Sueur County uses CARES funding for wireless towers in Tyrone Township

Le Sueur County News reports…

One of Le Sueur County’s top priorities for the year is to expand broadband into under-served areas. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in planned and proposed broadband projects are scheduled to be completed by the end of the year through federal funds from the CARES Act.

Le Sueur County received $3.4 million from the federal government. One of the first projects approved with that money is a $140,000 proposal to bring high speed wireless internet to Tyrone Township in partnership with Netwave Broadband.

Netwave, a subsidiary of Access Networks Inc., brought a proposal to set up a 5G 900 Mhz wireless tower. The tower would provide 100 mb speeds for up to 218 homes in a 7-mile coverage radius from a tower off Hwy. 169 near the Cambria Processing Facility.

And here’s what it will look like to customers and the provider…

On the customer side, it would cost $299 for a basic one-time installation fee. Customers would be charged $99.99 per month for 100 mb of service in a three year contract. The $99 would only cover internet, but NetWave also has a phone service and is in the process of setting up television services.

In the deal, NetWave Broadband would take on most of the risk for keeping the wireless tower operational.

“All the risk as far as the tower maintenance, keeping everything afloat as far as tower rent, power, the responsibility is all on us,” said Steve Herman with NetWave Broadband. “We’re just asking for capital investment to provide service in the area and then we’ll take all management and everything over from that point.”

NDIA looks at worst connected mid-large cities 2019 – includes some Minnesota cities

National Digital Inclusion Alliance reports on the worst served medium and larger cities. Some Minnesota cities are listed – but none are in the top 100 list. St Cloud is close at 102 but the list is long. Maple Grove makes the list but it’s ranking is in the 600s.

So I share this information more to let folks know what’s out there and because it’s nice to have specific data on cities. Here’s the background from the NDIA…

According to the latest data from the U.S. Census, at least 30% of households in 185 large and medium-size U.S. cities still lack a wireline broadband connection in 2019.

These are NDIA’s Worst Connected Cities of 2019.

Released by the U.S. Census Bureau in September 2020, the 2019 American Community Survey (ACS) One-Year Estimates includes household Internet access data for a total of 625 U.S. cities or Census designated places with populations of 65,000 or more.

NDIA has ranked all 625 of these communities by two categories:

  • the percentage of households without Wireline broadband subscriptions, defined by the ACS as “Broadband such as cable, fiber optic or DSL,” and

  • the percentage of each community’s households that lacked broadband Internet subscriptions of any type, including mobile data plans.

And here are details on MN cities…

MN college students donate devices to help senior connect with doctorsKSTP TV reports… The pandemic has left many people feeling lonely and often, it’s our seniors who are especially isolated. Now a group of Minnesota college students is providing technology to keep them connected to their doctors. “It’s just really fulfilling,” said Saketh Kollipara, Sophomore at Emory University. On Friday the students made a special delivery dropping off used iPads, smartphones and laptops. “A lot of our patients don’t have access to these types of devices,” said Abbie Zahler, director of Community Health and Grants Management at the Neighborhood Healthsource Fremont Clinic. It’s all part of the student run, national non-profit called Telehealth Access For Seniors, and local students raised money to make sure local patients at the Neighborhood Healthsource Freemont Clinic and Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis have the resources to better connect with their doctors.

KSTP TV reports…

The pandemic has left many people feeling lonely and often, it’s our seniors who are especially isolated.

Now a group of Minnesota college students is providing technology to keep them connected to their doctors.

“It’s just really fulfilling,” said Saketh Kollipara, Sophomore at Emory University.

On Friday the students made a special delivery dropping off used iPads, smartphones and laptops.

“A lot of our patients don’t have access to these types of devices,” said Abbie Zahler, director of Community Health and Grants Management at the Neighborhood Healthsource Fremont Clinic.

It’s all part of the student run, national non-profit called Telehealth Access For Seniors, and local students raised money to make sure local patients at the Neighborhood Healthsource Freemont Clinic and Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis have the resources to better connect with their doctors.

Biden visits Duluth and mentions broadband as tool to put people to work

Duluth News Tribune reports on a recent visit from presidential candidate Joe Biden to Hermantown, outside of Duluth…

Biden’s economic plan called for a now-familiar tax increase for people making over $400,000 per year. Money raised would go toward putting tradespeople to work by modernizing infrastructure, bringing broadband internet to all homes, and reinforcing existing homes and structures.

Minnesota House, District 3A campaign: Rep Ecklund lists broadband as a priority

The Internation Falls Journal looks at various political races, including Minnesota House, District 3A: Rob Ecklund and Thomas Manninen. They ask basic questions to help provide a snapshot of each candidate. Representative Ecklund mentions broadband as a priority for economic growth…

In addition to short term investments to create jobs, we need a comprehensive strategy to attract and retain families and businesses. The biggest barrier to this is a lack of dependable high-speed broadband internet across Greater Minnesota. The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded these challenges. I’ve successfully carried legislation to invest $40 million in the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program, but major coverage gaps remain. If students can’t get online to do homework, or businesses can’t get online to bring their products to the global marketplace, people will move to where they can get this access. Regions like ours can’t afford to lose out on the opportunities presented by internet access, which in the year 2020 should be a basic necessity rather than a luxury for rural families.

Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking: Finances and COVID

Since 2013, the Federal Reserve Board has conducted the Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED), which measures the economic well-being of U.S. households and identifies potential risks to their finances. Recognizing the unprecedented financial disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Reserve conducted a supplemental survey in April and July 2020 to monitor changes in the financial well-being of Americans.

The survey is conducting entirely online. So folks are the very far end of the digital divide are likely not included. It would interesting to know the impact of online only. It would also be interested in know the impact of having sufficient broadband among people who have gone back to work, hope to go back and those who aren’t likely to go back to the same job.

EVENT: Broadband Communities Summit goes virtual Sep 22-24; and we have a few golden tickets

The Broadband Communities Summit is the leading event for Broadband Systems Operators. That means it’s a great place to learn about new technologies, deployments and policies from the folks on the ground. There are multiple tracks including a few that really speak to most Blandin on Broadband readers: a special track dedicate to rural broadband with an emphasis on funding and an economic development track full of case studies and good ideas.

You can check out the agenda online. Here are a few of my person highlights:

  • Models for Successful Public-Private and Public-Public Partnerships
  • The ‘Sausage Making’ of Fiber Financing – How it Really Works
  • The Great Reset: Community-Based Ecosystems in the COVID-19 Era
  • Apps for Rural America: Putting Better Broadband to Better Uses

Check out the agenda – you may have your own favorites. And if you do, please let us know. Broadband Communities has been kind enough to share a few VIP tickets with us to share. Contact me and I’ll hook you up. (While supplies last.)

Growth & Justice’s Equity Blueprint Breakfast on Broadband Notes

Earlier this week, I attended a Growth and Justice webinar on broadband. I suspected they would share they notes and they have…

As part of our Recipes for Success series, Growth & Justice hosted a virtual Broadband Breakfast yesterday, where we were joined by Diane Wells of the MN Department of Broadband Development. Diane gave us a detailed update on the state of broadband in Minnesota; you can look at her slideshow and data here. If you missed the event and would like to watch the recording, you can access it here. If you are interested in registering for our next Blueprint Breakfast on September 30th focused on healthcare, you can register for it here! Additionally, the Blandin Foundation’s Annual Broadband Conference is happening over Zoom from October 6—29. Talk about broadband access, participate in sessions with experts, hear from keynote speakers and network and collaborate with others interested in broadband! You can read more and register on their event’s page. In related news, don’t forget to take the MN Rural Broadband Coalition’s Speed Test! You can access the test here

Senators Smith and Klobuchar join others to ask FCC to use E-Rate to connect students now

Senator Smith and Senator Klobuchar join a list of 30 senators sending a letter to ask the FCC to use e-rate to get students the broadband they need to distance learn if and when they need to do so…

As a new school year begins, students across the country are increasingly returning to virtual classrooms due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, studies indicate that as many as 16 million children in the United States lack internet access at home and are unable to participate in online learning. 1 These students are disproportionally from communities of color, low-income households, and rural areas. 2 Without urgent action by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), we are deeply concerned that they will fall further behind in their studies. The current emergency demands that you take immediate action to help our nation’s most vulnerable children.

We specifically call on you to utilize the E-Rate program to close this “homework gap” without further delay. The FCC has clear authority and available funding under the E-Rate program to start connecting students immediately.

Red the full letter

Lac qui Parle (LqP) County Chat: Broadband made COVID easier, and boosted interest in adoption

Looking at the map from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD), Lac qui Parle (LqP) County is served. They rank third in terms of county coverage (99.57 percent)  at speeds of at least 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up.

The county is well served because the County and Farmers were awarded a $9.6 million ARRA award in August 2010. Pam Lehmann was the Director of the Economic Development Authority at the time and instrumental in that project. At the same time, they outfitted a small commuter van with computer and internet access. The Computer Commuter. Ten years ago it was all the rage and folks may remember it. It is still making the rounds, mostly helping seniors make better use of technology.

So it was fun to talk to her today about whether broadband has been help or hindrance in dealing with COVID. It’s a help!

Pam works with small businesses and does recruitment for healthcare. The effort to move businesses online has not been difficult. For some businesses it was a matter of choosing a higher tier service than they currently use but is fiber installed so the upgrade is easy.

Having broadband has made it possible for Pam to connect with state and federal funders quickly, which in turn has allowed the community to get COVID funding. What took a few hours to download and process would have taken days before the upgrade. Although as Pam says, it’s hard to remember because they take the connection for granted now.

Many businesses have allowed people to work from home. Business owners note greater productivity this year over last! For Mainstreet businesses, it’s been a matter of getting creative with offering new services – like a lunch to pick up instead of a meal at the café. Knowing that the business and the customer have great broadband has made that easier.

Great broadband has helped with recruitment too. The healthcare facilities have been hiring and have been holding all of the interviews online. It’s not the same as having someone come to town but, especially in the healthcare industry, you don’t want people coming from their hospital to fly to LqP to local hospitals; so adequate broadband for video interactions have been a potential life saver. And one of the big questions is recruitment is how to make the family and partners of employees happy. Increasingly they are finding that the partner of the healthcare professional can keep their old job and work online.

The schools has planned on in-person classes this year but when the middle school had a case of COVID and the high school flooded due to a construction incident, they are now (temporarily) online. They send no paper packs home. They all sign on. At Pam’s place, which is a farm, she has two adults working on laptops, two kids working on Chromebooks and half a dozen devices all going at the same time. No hiccups or slowdowns.

For healthcare it’s the change in reimbursement and other waivers that have made life easier. That and the impetus for many people to just start using Zoom and other technologies. The comfort level for using technology has increased since COVID but the means to use it has not.

Blandin funded computers help school (in Brainerd) transition to online when needed

I’ve been talking to counties about broadband and COVID. Most rural counties seem to be sending kids to school at least on a hybrid basis. (Often teaching online too for families who opted for that choice.) But they are all preparing for a quick change. The Brainerd Dispatch reports on what happened at Discovery Woods in Brainerd when they had to make a quick change…

Students at Discovery Woods in Brainerd will spend the next four weeks learning from home following confirmed diagnoses of two cases of COVID-19.

Leaders of the Montessori-inspired public charter school informed parents of the decision Tuesday, Sept. 15, to transition from a hybrid learning model to distance learning. Executive Director Kristi Crocker confirmed the cases and change to the learning model in an email Wednesday.

That transition was made a little easier with support from the Blandin Foundation

“We have even had TheShop (Brainerd Baxter’s Youth Center) reach out to let us know that through funding from the Blandin Foundation they are able to offer free desktop computer systems complete with mouse, keyboard, and monitor to families in need,” Crocker wrote. “It is that type of support that makes you realize why you live in the community you do.

Broadband prices in the US decreased from 2015 to 2020

The 2020 Broadband Pricing Index reports…

Using Federal Communications Commission and other public data sources, this report assesses recent trends in residential fixed broadband pricing between 2015 and 2020 in the United States. The key findings:

  • The most popular tier of broadband service in 2015 (BPI-Consumer Choice) is now priced 20.2% lower and offers 15.7% faster speeds in 2020 on an average-subscriber-weighted basis.
  • The highest speed offerings in 2015 (BPI-Speed) are now priced 37.7% lower and offer 27.7% faster speeds in 2020 on an averaged subscriber-weighted basis.
  • Further, these price reductions run counter to inflation, which has increased consumer costs for overall goods and services by 9.3% over the same five-year period analyzed in this report. When inflation is considered, the real price of the most popular tier of broadband service has dropped by 28.1% since 2015; and the real price of the highest speed broadband service has dropped by 43.9%.
  • This combination of declining prices and rising speeds delivers even greater value to consumers—as shown by a declining cost per megabit of connection speed (Mbps) of 37.9% for the most popular service and 56.1% for the highest speed service.

This data shows that broadband is becoming more affordable—thereby reducing, but certainly not eliminating, an obstacle to adoption. For instance, we know that 30% of K-12 students do not have access to high-speed internet and/or the devices needed to learn from home. More work, understanding, and concrete data is needed around the vital issue of affordability and this report seeks to contribute to that discourse.

Mille Lacs County looks at CARES funding for wireless broadband

Mille Lacs Messenger reports…

Talks of potential broadband expansion in the southern portion of Mille Lacs County have taken place over the last month among county board members and county administration. The county is pursuing CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funding for this expansion.

During a special meeting in late August, the County outlined a proposal to implement broadband infrastructure using the CARES Act funding available to counties and local government.

The proposal stated that Advantenon, a broadband wireless internet provider servicing Minnesota and South Dakota, will complete the building of towers that provide broadband internet service, beginning with the southern border of Mille Lac County and working northward. Coverage in the unserved and underserved areas would extend to an east/west line three miles north of Page to the southern border of the County.

Advantenon’s responsibilities would include confirming suitable tower locations for internet backbone connectivity and for hub and spoke antenna host sites, creating construction plans for all sites, installing and configuring network infrastructure to support Internet connectivity and inter-tower connectivity, installing end users (a residential, business, institutional, or government entity that uses services for its own purposes and does not resell such services to other entities) as time permits until Dec. 31, 2020, and installing end users as requested after Dec. 31, 2020.

The County’s responsibilities were outlined as assisting Advantenon in identifying antenna host sites in smaller towns, particularly when water towers are good candidate locations, identifying antenna hosting at suitable county-owned premises and assisting in permitting process for county permits.

Advantenon will utilize the feasibility study and a past State of Minnesota grant proposal, which has been denied twice for Mille Lacs County, to confirm tower locations within the southern portion of Mille Lacs County. Once tower locations have been confirmed, the towers will be utilized to install and configure end use connectivity.

The estimated project cost, which would include six completed towers and direct internet access, is $1 million. Individual Internet plans through Advantenon would range from $39 to $109 per month or a discounted year-in-advance rate.