Navigating Challenging Broadband Decisions

A  panel moderated by Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors. As more modern broadband networks are deployed across Minnesota, elected officials in counties without high-quality, ubiquitous broadband are feeling the pressure from residents and businesses to make it happen. At the same time, the availability of DEED grants and CAF2 funding and changes in technology are making the landscape all the more uncertain.
Bill will be talking with local broadband champions to illuminate their decision making process around key questions in a dynamic broadband deployment landscape. Panelists:

  • Valerie Halvorson, City of Madison
  • Scott Higgins, Martin County
  • Nancy Hoffman, Chisago County HRA-EDA
  • Tom Johnson, Nobles County

Notes (I am posting with limited proofing as I take notes on the next session:

Martin County – They have done a feasibility study and are looking for options for a border to border grant.

Madison – The only unserved city in LqP County. LqP got ARRA funding for all areas except Madison. They were “served” at the time. But that has left them behind.

Chisago County – Just north of Twin Cities – we don’t have good service. We did a survey to all county residents (900 responses) about their broadband and we mapped the results. We learned about the providers and how satisfied they were. “If you had better broadband what would you do?”  About 70-80 percent of the people currently travel to the TCs for work. People really want to telecommute. We don’t have a college – many people (45%) would do. 31% would start a business. “Gaming may not a higher use of broadband – but it matters when people want to buy a home.”

Nobles County – We formed a meeting with government folks (schools, local government). We met first in March 2014. Broadband became a hot topic among all users. Lismore is applying for funds for Border to Border grant. We are supporting their effort – although they haven’ asked us for financial support.

What is good enough for broadband?

For Madison – only FTTP. Everyone around us has FTTP to compete we need it. I don’t want to spend public dollars on anything less. The speed goals and definitions keep changing; we want to build for the future. Broadband should not be a barrier. We


For Nobles County – know what’s not good enough. Back in the day – any connection would be have been good. But now we knew we need to go for a Gig.


For Martin – what are your people willing to pay for? We began with the goals that are established and are building from there.


For Chisago – We’re building for the future. We need a gig. Every year people increase broadband use by 30%.

How does CAF 2 play in your planning?

For Martin – Frontier came to our meetings. Early on the offered to be a partner with CAF 2 funding. The challenge is that they don’t go to all areas. We are trying to add dollars to get them to go faster than the CAF 2 requirement of 10/1

For Chisago – we were talking about a feasible study when we found that Frontier is upgrading in our areas. We want FTTP but any upgrade is worth it. We don’t want to invest in it but we’ll take what we can get. Will 253 going to be good enough. We don’t feel like it will be. We don’t know what CenturyLink’s plans are in our county. One town is talking about a shared grant for OBD funds.

For Nobles – the county is eligible for some CAF 2 funding but we don’t know what the providers are going to do. The coop is willing to talk to us. CAF 2 required speeds are a bridge.

How do you select a partner?

Chisago – we keep in communication and we are trying to form relationships with the incumbent providers and cooperatives in other parts of the state. Although it’s difficult to start a conversation before you have a project.

Nobles  – the partners selected us. We met with several providers. One committee member talked to a lot of the townships. Hard for bigger providers to come up with an ROI but the cooperative could.

Martin – We’ve had a lot of providers so me to the meeting. Frontier is a major player.

Madison – I sent letters and contacted local providers. I was honest with them about our needs and they let me know that they don’t have the engineer staff now to look at it.

Wired vs Wireless?

Nobles – we want both. We’ve had good experience with MVTV helping us get people online. And some people will be OK with slower speeds – at least for now.

Martin – wireless continues to improve but not fiber.

What is role with local financing?

Madison – local financing allows us to be partners. We are looking at tax abatement – and a grant to the provider. Having financing gets you a seat at the table.

We are looking at subordinate service district model where only the people getting the upgrade would pay the taxes in Sunrise Township

We did some ancillary funding. But there’s a role to provide some investment  – from feasibility studies and more. There’s a growing interest

How do you get started?

The visioning meeting was key to the activities we’ve done. The survey was very helpful.

Closing Advice:

  • Outreach
  • Educating local officials
  • Find the people who are passionate
  • Have conversation with communities who aren’t unserved. Are there underserved communities that will be leapfrogged
  • Need champions
  • Need to keep it on the forefront
  • Build relationships
  • Look at the risks of not doing it.
This entry was posted in Blandin Broadband Summit 2016 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.

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