Blandin Broadband e-News August 2015: Funding deadlines, precision ag, CAF and prevailing wage

BBC MapEach month e-News provides updates from the Blandin on Broadband blog, Minnesota broadband news and event alerts to keep you abreast of the progress being made to increase the use of broadband based technologies to help our communities, residents and institutions to be more productive, efficient and competitive.

News from the Blandin on Broadband Blog

Minnesota Broadband Conference November 18-20

The Blandin Foundation and the Office of Broadband Development are working on the fall broadband conference, Better Together, to be held in Minneapolis on November 18-20.

Minnesota Broadband Fund Applications due Sept 15

Applications for Border to Border Broadband Grants from the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development are due September 15. The Office is also asking for Expressions of Interest from communities who are interested in future funding but not yet able to submit a proposal. Communities are strongly encouraged to demonstrate interest by applying for funds or submitting an Express of Interest.

Broadband at Farmfest

The Minnesota Broadband Task Force met at Farmfest. They heard about the importance of broadband in precision agriculture and other rural businesses as well as the need for better broadband for healthcare and education. Attendees asked what happened to broadband funding this year. Last year there was $20 million in state funding; this year only $10 million. People were clearly disappointed. Presenters told attendees to keep talking to policymakers about the importance of broadband. Folks must have listened at news sources and policymakers increased public discussion of broadband throughout the month.

Minnesota Policy, Policymakers and Public

Seemingly spurred by conversations started at FarmFest people are talking around the state about broadband and the role of state and local government. Below is a sample of some of the conversations:

  • Senator Klobuchar visits Willmar to hear about precision agriculture’s need for symmetrical broadband, as well as community needs for better broadband and digital inclusion support for potential teleworkers.
  • Representative Paul Marquartcalls out urban-rural broadband access divide.
  • Congressman Nolan Introduces New Rural Broadband Initiative Act (H.R. 3152) to lay the foundation for new funding and a coordinated federal strategy to bring better broadband to rural areas.
  • The DFL Caucus met with constituents in Willmar to talk about broadband. Many attendees were disappointed in the 2015 decrease in broadband funds.
  • The DFL Caucus met with constituents in Morris where they got feedback on the Minnesota broadband fund, specifically the difficulty of time constraints and prevailing wage issues. (More details on prevailing wage are provided in a guest post from Paul Bunyan Communications.
  • METN shares their talking points for legislators on technology for libraries and schools.
  • Various local newspapers have joined the conversation echoing reports already listed above.

Updates from/on Providers in Minnesota

  • CenturyLink accepts $54 million in CAF to improve service in Minnesota.
  • Windstream accepts $1.5 million in CEF for upgrades in Minnesota
  • Comcast is upgrading service, often doubling speeds for current customers in the Twin Cities.
  • US Internet is offering a faster wireless broadband option in Minneapolis
  • Minnesota customers of TerraCom’s Lifeline Phone Service may be eligible for one year of free credit monitoring after a security breech.

Broadband and Agriculture

On the other end of the spectrum from discussions at Farmfest in areas like Willmar and Morris on the leading edge of precision agriculture, the USDA recently released a report that showed an increasing use of the Internet of farms, but their survey missed the mark by asking about dialup connectivity and “which websites” the farms visisted.

Broadband News Around Minnesota

Dakota County
Dakota County shares RFPs for Fiber Deployment projects to serve as models for other counties looking for help.

Martin County
Martin County students create tourism app for the county

Rock County
There are concerns for the broadband project in Rock County that received Minnesota Broadband Fund award. The folks in Luverne note that prevailing wage requirements are having an impact on their broadband project plan.

Sherburne County
The Blandin Foundation awarded $35,000 to the Sherburne County Broadband Coalition: $10,000 will fund improvements to the network at the Sherburne History Center and $25,000 will fund a broadband feasibility study.

Twin Cities
AmeriCorps volunteers in the Twin Cities use technology to support efforts of local nonprofits, including an initiative to video tape all of the projects

With funding from the Blandin Foundation, Friendship Forever has been able to create a project that connects older folks in Winona through a virtual exercise class.

The Winona County Board approved a partnership with HBC on a grant process to propose for the Minnesota Broadband Funds that could expand access to broadband throughout the county.

Events & Opportunities:

Federal ConnectHome looking for staff to enhance broadband in HUD housing

Looking for more events? Check out TechDotMN’s calendar Many events are based in the Twin Cities but it is a comprehensive list. (If you have an upcoming event, consider submitting it.)

Stirring the Pot

Bill_ColemanThe Connect America Fund 2 (CAF2) is a significant federal commitment to broadband in rural Minnesota. CenturyLink, Frontier and Windstream have all agreed to accept CAF2 funds totaling almost $500 million dollars over six years. This amount is more than half of what the state broadband taskforce estimated as the minimum cost to meet the current state broadband goal and 20 percent of the way to 100% fiber to the home status. So the CAF2 funding is a big deal with great potential.

The broadband blogosphere is now abuzz with opinions as to whether CAF2 is a positive development. The Blandin on Broadband blog has the FCC CAF2 press releases. Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting has an intriguing post on his blog. I won’t rehash Doug’s column here except to note that his main question is “How well served will consumers feel in five years with networks that have been designed to deliver to the FCC CAF2 standard of 10 Mb down and 1 Mb up?, especially since the FCC has already moved to a broadband standard of 25 Mb/3 Mb?” The CAF2 standard does not meet Minnesota’s broadband goal, set in the Pawlenty administration of 10 to 20 Mb down and 5 – 10 Mb up. Our state goal is now in line for reconsideration.

These state and federal broadband goals have long been surpassed, by a factor of 10 or more, in our metro areas, within most rural community city limits, and in the rural countryside served by broadband cooperatives. Within communities, these service improvements have been driven primarily by competition; in the well-served rural countryside, these services are enabled through smart, consistent support mechanisms available to small providers. Through CAF2, investment will be stimulated by the larger carriers. Unfortunately, if these networks are only improved to deliver 10 Mb/1 Mb, many would say that it hardly seems worthwhile.

There is an opportunity for our Minnesota leadership – from the Office of Broadband Development to the Governor’s Office, with legislative leaders and industry. Together, they should find a way to steer this CAF2-funded network deployment to meet a new, world-class Minnesota broadband standard. By combining CAF2, provider capital, significant Border to Border Broadband funds (general fund or bonding), USDA broadband funds, Universal Service Funds and other sources, we would set Minnesota far ahead globally. The federal broadband plan calls for 100 Mb services; let’s aim for that as a minimum. That network would enable citizens access to any school, any hospital, any government service and unlimited job and entrepreneurial opportunities. Minnesota’s innovation culture would be unleashed. Picture a Time Magazine cover with a group photo of Minnesotans holding up fiber optic cable and devices like northerns on a stringer. Another Minnesota Miracle!

This entry was posted in Blandin Foundation, MN by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s