NTIA Workshop in Minneapolis: Building a Community Broadband Roadmap Full Notes

NTIA Workshop in Minneapolis: Building a Community Broadband Roadmap Full Notes

Last Week I attended the NTIA regional meeting on community broadband. It featured a number of ARRA-funded projects and others that have successfully promoted broadband expansion – deployment and adoption – in primarily rural areas. I have full notes and a few videos below but there were some general highlights for a quick take:

  • Two key ingredients mentioned especially by communities interested in broadband were communication and partnership. Successful communities spoke about the need to let folks know what was happening but also to tell your story. Finding the right partnership was also key.
  • A number of providers spoke about how they managed FTTH – from funding to construction to marketing. One tip – market and sell service as early as you can to build a customer base and start the cash flow!
  • The NTIA introduced their lessons learned – which is a great tool for anyone looking at community broadband.
  • Also it was really great to meet people in other states to hear what’s going on in other places. Right now Minnesota is not a leader in broadband. Depending on the source – we rank between 19-23 in the US. BUT it sounds like we’re doing a right now to catch up – with Blandin’s adoption work, the State funding, innovative providers – maybe we’ll leap frog into a leadership position!

Glenn Reynolds and Douglas Kinoph opened the meeting– you can read their remarks online: http://www.ntia.doc.gov/speechtestimony/2014/remarks-chief-staff-reynolds-building-community-broadband-roadmap-workshop

Here’s a snippet of his talk…

But I’d like to conclude by saying that, at NTIA, we see closing the digital divide as a multi-pronged challenge that demands a comprehensive approach. Addressing existing gaps requires not only extensive network availability and robust bandwidth at the community level, but also low-cost equipment, appropriate training, affordable monthly service and useful applications at the individual level. It also requires collaboration among many different stakeholders, including local, state and federal officials, community leaders, industry executives, private foundations and broadband activists. In other words, it requires a holistic approach to broadband – what we at NTIA call “community broadband.”

Last night at dinner, I had the pleasure of meeting several of you here today and hearing some of your tremendous success stories. But the overarching messages I heard, made particularly eloquently by Bernadine Jocelyn, were the critical importance of these efforts to communities and how essential it is for those who have been part of these efforts – and those just beginning – to come together to share the lessons learned to order to maintain the momentum.

Highlighting the State Role in Promoting Broadband – Minnesota’s Story

Margaret Anderson Kelliher – Broadband Task Force

Past Task Force recommended broadband speed goals. Current Task Force came up with a plan. They heard from businesses that the goal would not be met without intervention. Last year we recommended an Office of Broadband Development. This last year we recommended $100 million fund; $20 was funded. How? Bipartisan coalition, state surplus, vocal public.

Senator Matt Schmit

We hosted a series of meetings to talk with public about broadband. After that meeting more people got involved. That set up the momentum to go to the Legislature. We learned that the state was diverse so the local community had to help create the broadband path forward. People were tired of talk; they wanted action. The surplus made a fund possible. There was bipartisan support.

Rep Ron Kresha

I’m not a big government guy, but I am a supporter of rural. I want the work to be done by business and entrepreneurs. We wanted a solution that brought the money to the places where we needed. I wanted transparency and therefore supported the map. Reps Johnson and Simonson did much of the leg work.

Dan Dorman

We worked with the Chambers of Commerce. We surveyed them and they noted that broadband was one of the biggest concerns. We started using Connect MN maps and saw that there was a very uneven picture of broadband access. Competition is good but there’s no competition in many areas. That’s where government must come in. We put the information out – Annandale was a poster child of unserved, yet close to the Twin Cities.

Danna MacKenzie – Office of Broadband Development

We spoke to the Governor’s office to ensure him that we had the capacity to handle the task and funding at hand.

Advice Tips

  • How to advance tech-heavy policy? Keep the elected officials in the loop.
  • We had more broadband discussion at the Capitol. Lots of talk in the halls and in session. It’s important to build interest and coalition.
  • It was important to get the business perspective.
  • The economy turned around this year – that opens a door. You can’t cut human services and support rural broadband.
  • Having experts in place at the Office of Broadband Development has been helpful. We need to get out of their way and let them serve the areas needed – not pull strings to get the money in “our areas” during an election year.
  • We need to leverage resources at the federal and local level.
  • We are working on promoting public-private partnership.


What’s the role of anchor institutions?

We heard from many people at the listening tours. We need to make sure anchor institutions are well served. We need connections at every school – but people need access at home too if you want to talk full opportunity of technology and education.

Public Private partnership help reach remote areas – but how?

We want to get numbers from providers to find out much it would cost to serve all of Minnesota ($900 million to $3 billion). We have been trying to incentivize people to reach the unserved areas. The government can help with Rural Development funds and other funds to bridge the gaps.

How do you get legislators to pay attention?

The Federal Reserve learned to come up with an ROI for investing in quality Childcare. The Blandin Foundation funded a study that found that ROI of broadband is 10 to 1.

NTIA’s Lessons Learned About Broadband Imp

Then NTIA slides were so comprehensive, I decided to just link to them rather than try to recreate them:


The Community Broadband Roadmap: Ingredients for Successful Projects

Elwood Downing (Merit Network)

Managed the NSF Network – precursor to the Internet

The offered a range of new services based on BTOP funds. Key services include – Point to Point circuits, leased dark fiber, VoIP services. Michigan has unique challenges – 2 peninsulas joined by a 5-mle bridge

  • Two BTOP awards – $102.9 million
  • 2300 miles of middle mile
  • Communication was key – one size does not fit all
    • Lots of town hall meetings
    • Share town hall meeting minutes among communities
    • Start with bootcamps
  • 2.7% governments were connection before BTOP – now 27%
  • Get key stakeholders involved
  • Develop and market new services as early as possible
  • Encourage consortia engagement and aggregating services
  • Community outreach and education

Seth Arndorfer (Dakota Carrier)

On construction

DCN –owned by 15 ILECs in North Dakota. Target markets are government, commercial and mobile backhaul. They are an Open Access Network. They have 40,000 miles of mile in ND.

Implementation Strategy:

DCN jobs:

  • Communicate with CAIs
  • Communicate with partners
  • Procure equipment
  • Selling/upselling to CAIs
  • Installing core network equipment

KJL Engineering jobs:

  • Project management
  • Admin
  • Construction engineering/fiber deign
  • Coordination of rights of way/easements
  • City permitting

Best Practices

  • Communication
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses
  • Leverage state organization for streamlines communication, not individual CAIs
  • Procurement/RFP process
  • Identify clear transition from construction to operations processes

Alderman Rick Mervine

Financing – looking at layered financing

Aurora – wanted broadband; 200,000 people, built 43 mile network for government, looking at scalability. Looked at connecting anchors too: education, healthcare, social service agencies and economic development.

Core network is 144 fibers – looking at 288 fibers – looking at adding empty conduit. There’s a self-healing ring, it’s underground but the city also owns towers. We now have 3 large data centers (includingChicago Mercantile Exchange).

Strategic Plan

  1. Create a strategy plan
  2. Initial funding based on bonding; used TIF funding to expand
  3. We went forward with or without a phase 2
  4. We went with a non-for-profit, which allowed for grants and run lean


  • General obligation
  • TIP
  • Municipal genera fun
  • Grants
  • Proceeds from OLA
  • Customer construction funding

OnLight Aurora has attracted $1.5 million in grants

Best Practices

  • Stay focused
  • Use more than one source of funding and keep looking for others
  • Excess capacity has helped – expense is installation
  • Tell your story

Maria Alvarez-Stroud

Had about 80 partners – but some partners are no longer partners. It all comes down to partnerships. We have been working very hard to build relationships with providers.

Our mission is education and community engagement:

  • Economic development
  • Capacity building
  • Digital Inclusion
  • Leadership development

It’s not the technology that’s going to make it happen – it’s the people!

Communication is key! We do monthly webinars/conference calls. We have a listserv. We engage decision makers.

Tip for partnership – aiming for other peoples’ short term wins!

Marketing tips:

Use videos – create a series, make it available and let people use it to teach each other about benefits of broadband.

Advice for anchors: Use collaboration from a like user group – ID need, create an RFP and invite people to help you with #broadband solutions

Partner tips:

We offer tips on how partners can resell services. (Form network provider.)

You need to have principles in writing – people go away and institutional memory can be short.

Dive Deep into Business Models: The Upper Midwest Region as a Laboratory

  • Greg Flanagan – Enventis
  • Gary Shelton – Scott County
  • Essam El-Beik – IL Century Network
  • Kevin Beyer – Farmers/Federated

What are key lesson to finish on time and on budget?

We (Enventis) are large so we didn’t need to contract out much work. We worked with one large contractor. We had roles really well defined. The idea of a grant was new to us so we added a grants compliance and a government relations. Accountability was king.

Tell us about cost saving?

We (Scott County) saw disparity between cost and access. A T1 in SE Scott was about $5500/years; in NE Scott it was $900/year. This project means we now buy it for about $30/year.

Scott County Government now pays $35,000/year less for better broadband now.

How do you work with public and private?

We (Century IL) we put in 154 strands; we have a lot of flexibility. We save some for anchor institutions; others go to commercial providers. We can sell for long term or we will segment fiber.

What about collective buying?

We (Farmers/Federated) need to get from Western MN to the backbone in Minneapolis. So we got talking to a few other providers – for cost reduction and redundancy. We formed Stellar Association (4 coops) to aggregate need and budget. We now have 6 coops. We can buy larger capacity and less equipment.

Then Network Cooperative Services is a similar group and we work with them too.

What would have happened in Scott if partnership rules had been different?

Effective partnership with state, school and private providers, our project would not have happened. We had partners who helped to tell the story of need – partners such as the State, UMN and Mayo Clinic.

Medical takes a very long term view of infrastructure. The key is to establish relationships.

How critical is demand aggregation?

Not important to the business model. Public funding is part of our (Enventis) strategy moving forward? No. We are looking at the MN Broabdand Fund. We would be happy to partner with recipients of funds around us.

Who wants dark fiber? Only Verizon wireless is pursing dark fiber right now. Otherwise most want it for more content capacity.

How do you quantify economic development benefit?

What type of jobs will be created? Is it new dollars? Are we getting money from outside the state or country? What type of investment will the new business make? DO we have a private partner who might be able to share cost?

People need to be agile – when did you have to be agile?

Tapping into Funding Streams: Federal and Private Funding Options for Broadband Deployment and Adoption Projects

Carol Mattey (FCC)

Universal Service Fund:

Connect America Funds – Minnesota gets $100 million each year. Traditionally that went to smaller providers (85 percent) and to a much lesser degree to small providers (15 percent). With Phase II of funding the bigger providers (in MN that’s Windstream, AT&T and CenturyLink) will get first opportunity to apply for funding. If they don’t pursue funding – the smaller providers till get an opportunity to apply for funds.

E-Rates for schools provide up to 90 percent for broadband within elementary and secondary schools (public and private) and public libraries in rural and non-rural areas.

Keith Adams (USDA)

We understand the role of government in rural electrification. This year we have $690 million for telecom loans and $34 million for broadband loans. We hope to have that ready next year. We have $19 million for distance learning and $10 million for community connectivity grants $2 for public TV grants.


  • When you apply for loans – start early, find the USDA point people, especially for loans
  • Make sure every question is answered
  • Make sure it’s financially feasible.
  • Sep 30, 2015 is last day to provide funding through BIP – unless something changes.
  • We want to work with any partner
  • We are working on an online in-take system

Derrell Turner (Fed Highway Admin)

We have come into broadband more recently. We mainly fund state DOTs – $650 million in Minnesota. MNDOT selects all projects except in the TCs where they work with a local partner. Our role is to make sure federal laws are followed. We do look at highway projects on the ground.

We have a tenuous relationship with utilities. Interstate has been difficult for us but we’re looking at what works. Putting in fiber would not be a big expense for us – but the work may be piecemeal. There are tools available – such as state transportation improvement program (STIP). (Link to MN’s version http://www.dot.state.mn.us/planning/program/stip.html)

We don’t mind deploying fiber – we just don’t’ want to manage it. We own nothing.

If you’re planning broadband – look at the STIP http://www.dot.state.mn.us/planning/program/stip.html and make plans with MNDOT – they make 20 year plans.

Bernadine Joselyn (Blandin Foundation)

Funding follows vision. Foundations help convene, communicate, tell your story, and align visions, identify best practices.

Paul Weirtz (AT&T)

  • AT&T just released a deal to improve wireless access for Gopher games.
  • Wireless broadband (4G LTE) to more than 300 million people – in Minnesota
  • It’s important to have diversity and providers on the MN Broadband Task Force
  • Telecom sales tax is not permanent.
  • Minnesota is a good place to invest

For adoption – we work through our foundation and the aspire program http://about.att.com/content/csr/home/people/aspire.html Ultimately that leads to better adoption.

Patrick Haggerty (CenturyLink)

  • 98% of Americans have access to at least 6Mbps down
  • Communities should make it easy for providers to come to town.
    • We look at regulatory burdens on a community
    • We look at tax issues
    • We look at access to towers, easements, dig once.
    • Communities seems to be more open for discussion
  • We have not found a template of what this will look like.
  • Entering rural communities may continue to be a case by case decision
  • Does every community really require a Gig? DO we need to look at County deployment?
  • It is helpful to start with a goal. Then we can figure out cost and gap.
  • We have learned that “if you build it they will come” isn’t always true.
  • We offer an Internet Basics program for low income families – it can mean reduced rate access, computers and free training.


What makes a difference when looking at what community to enter?

  • Local cable franchising can be expensive and slow to get. That’s a roadblock.

I am in a low population density area. Are we setting up a Two-tier socity? When someone applies for a grant is a letter from a local elected official helpful?

The USDA gets several letters from elected officials. It helps but we mostly look at merits of proposals.

This entry was posted in Community Networks, Conferences, FCC, Funding, MN by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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