Pine Island learns all about the Border to Border Broadband Grants with Senator Schmit

dodge coYesterday I attended a broadband meetings hosted by Senator Schmit in Pine Island. It was a conversation about how local communities might take advantage of the current round of Border to Border broadband grants. Presenters included Bernadine Joselyn from Blandin Foundation, Danna MacKenzie from Office of Broadband Development, Monty Morrow from NU-Telecom, Bill Eckles from Bevcomm and Stephanie Nuttall from Winona County. Both of the providers and Winona County have received past grants so it was a pretty practical discussion about what has worked in the past, while Danna and Senator Schmit spoke about the priorities for this year.

I suspect that the Office of Broadband Development will get a lot of applications this year. Danna brought a number of new maps with her. I’ll just include one (to the right) from Dodge County. The unserved area is pink. The new definition for unserved (no access to 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up) and underserved (no access to 100/20) has opened up a lot of areas to qualify for the grants. I’ll include the full notes and videos below but I think the best piece of advice I heard was for community and providers to talk about potential projects and choose one plan for each areas. DO as much work as possible – paint a picture of success – have a definite plan. And I heard at this meet as I’ve heard at every other I’ve attended that the Office of Broadband Development is very helpful. They may be your first call for help or and the last call for loose strings.

The application is out now. The deadline is October 2. Good luck!

(There’s also a bonus video on the upcoming education broadband grants – more will b released on those grants in the next.)

Senator Schmit – lots of people have been contributing to the discussion of broadband – for the last 15 years. We have some recommendations from the MN Broadband of Task Force.

Blandin has a set of programs that will help support rural efforts to get focused and get further with broadband. We have grants for feasibility studies.

Senator Schmit:

We have been having listening sessions for a couple years. It started in Park Rapids on a very cold day with 50 people who were interested in the conversation. After many conversations, we learned:

Broadband is important in our day to day lives

Minnesota is diverse – a one-size-fits-all solution won’t work

People are sick of talking, they want action.

 

Danna MacKenzie:

Danna gave a nice introduction to the grant program. I have the PPT from a previous presentation:
DEED BOrder o BOrder

 

Questions:

Are you interested in seed money or pilot projects?

We knew we didn’t have  a lot of money so we added a $5 million cap. We know more is needed. The state role is to help correct  a market failure. We are looking to make a ROI easier for providers. We want to encourage investment in rural areas.

Monty Morrow from NU-Telecom

Each provider has areas with unserved areas. We are working on serving those holes. We got a Border to Border grant to provide fiber to the farm in Goodhue County. We applied for three projects; we got one. We worked with OBD was great! We had questions – we got answers.

Bill Eckles from Bevcomm

We have been working with upgrades but we also have pockets of area that are underserved. Last year we got 2 Border to Border grants (Freeborn & Faribault Counties). We got a lot of location support. We identified customers who would be better served. We asked for less than full 50 percent match. We added 80 homes to our customer based (FTTH) between two projects.

Funds are being used to augment what we are doing. It helps us build broadband faster. But we have plans.

Stephanie Nuttall from Winona County

We got two grants – one through Winona and one through HBC. We are partnering and each. Both projects were about $900,000 and we asked for a third from the State. HBC is going to repay Winona County port in about six years but that was a decision made by HBC. Homes in the areas will be upgrades but this will also improve cell coverages. The beautiful bluffs of Winona are a challenge for wireless service.

Questions:

 

There two approaches – provider or local government end. Does one sound better to DEED.

The Legislature really wanted to serve areas that wanted to get served. There is no preference in this scoring metric for one lead or another. You just want to think about the fiscal host – that will lend to sustainability. It seems like a good idea to get genuine community involvement.

People moving looking to move used to ask first about quality of schools. Now they ask about broadband access.

What makes a good application?

Detailed scoring is available online  but an application that seems to have genuine collaboration between providers and community helps.

 

I live in an unserved areas. The local providers aren’t interested in upgrades. We have a lot of development lots available. A few weeks ago someone was trying to sell their house – but couldn’t. I know I could get my neighbors to sign up (20 homes) what else would need to happen to attract a provider?

You could start a coalition to demonstrate interest.

OBD can talk to us about any potential provider in your area. She will often reach out providers in the areas to get more info for you. We also have some idea of who is working in your area. We could try to connect.

From provider: If you could get your neighbors to help pay for deployment – maybe just by committing to be customers in the future – that would help.

Other communities have been successful

From provider: one grant we got started with a person like you.

Would the providers like to work with underserved, low-incomes areas via schools?

We do offer a low income services for those who qualify.
OBD have heard from school districts. We have a grant for schools to do wireless pilots. It will run next years. Schools can wire buses and/or get hotspots for students to check out to use at home.

Info on Education Broadband Grants – more info out in next two weeks

What are the costs to get FTTH?

A city like Pine Island is about $4000 per home. Outside is more like $10,000 per home Rural areas are more like $20,000.

Those costs vary greatly so it’s really difficult to give an answer.

 

As I try to solicit providers I see two problems: providers don’t want to put in more than one application per county. The model of having the county loan the matching funds – does that sound attractive to a provider?

When we applied, we didn’t look at where other people were applying. We haven’t seen or been looking for financial support from a county. But if you’re willing to take some of the risk off the table that will sweeten the deal.

One caution – don’t support multiple efforts in the same area. That is confusing to the grant readers.

In Winona, we have talked to local providers to get the conversation going.

Some communities do put out RPI/RFP.

What is the vision of mobile versus stationary access?

We want investments that will be there for the long-term. Wireless relies on fiber connections to towers – so it’s not an either/or.

The grants are technology agnostic. We do see where fiber enhances access from a tower.

This entry was posted in Conferences, Funding, MN, MN Office of Broadband Development by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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