How do you start a community conversation on broadband? A sneak peek into Chisago County

Today I was an interloper in Chisago County as the local EDA (Nancy Hoffman) held meetings (I attended one at noon; the other is at 5:00) to get community members to talk about what to do to improve broadband for everyone and could they do anything fast enough to apply for state grants. (Deadline to let the Office of Broadband know if you’re planning to apply is the end of July!) There were about 40 people – including two legislators – both with dire home broadband access.

I don’t want to give away any major community secrets here – but they were kind enough to let me take notes, a video and share the PPT. They are working with Bill Coleman from Community Technology Advisors (whose name may also be familiar from Blandin projects).

First everyone introduced themselves. Many were happy with their broadband service; many were not. Turns out if you’re in town, the odds are better that you’re happy. Several people worked in town where the access was good but went home to bad service. One name mentioned often – and with representation at the meeting was MidCo. People were happy but even the guy from MidCo was quick to say they provided good service in town but haven’t found a way to enter the rural market.

A couple attendees admitted using a combination of satellite and mobile (hotspot) service based on their absolute needs for speed, kids’ needs, data caps and costs. Some didn’t even have mobile and had only satellite, which was not reliable – on windy, rainy or snowy days.

Then they got an introduction from Bill and a PPT presentation.

The goal was to gauge interest – and attendees were invited to sign up if they wanted to peruse a grant application. As Nancy said, it’s a lot of hard work but she was willing to help. To put context to the opportunity – Sunrise Township is in Chisago County. They received funding in the last grant award round and are working with CenturyLink on a FTTH solutions. They learned a ton in the process but a lot of folks are watching – because it’s a great example of using local state funding to leverage federal CAF funding. The inherent issue with CAF is that (as the PPT shows) the required upgrade there is only 10 Mbps down and 1 up.

Here are some loose notes on the conversation and questions.

To meet the 2026 speed goals (100/20) we need fiber. It’s important to focus on that speed goal. Already 70 percent of MN has 100/20.

That being said – It seems likely that unserved areas will be the focus of the bulk of the grants because as we’re seen in this room equity and parity are important to people. If we had more funding those unserved areas would probably have a better chance.

On CAF2 Improvements

Last year Frontier built a lot of infrastructure – the fact that Chisago Lakes was a contender in America’s Best Communities contest last year was possibly/probably a factor. (Frontier was a sponsor of the contest.)

And the state funding helped the community work with CenturyLInk to improve access to FTTH

Senator Mark Koran –

Broadband is as important as roads. If we don’t take action today – it’s never going to happen. Unserved, underserved – it’s irrelevant. We need to plan for the future.

This meeting is the result of previous meeting. We need to lead. We need to understand the opportunities? Who is interested? How can we get everyone to MidCo speeds?

I have no access. I have very expensive satellite service. I have very expensive mobile access.

Mayor Kristin Kennedy –

Lack of broadband is a barrier. We’ve been working hard we need to move forward. People in town are OK but not folks in rural areas. That’s unfair to farmers. That’s unfair to students in those homes. That’s unfair to entrepreneurs.

Question

A basic problem is that the Internet is not regulated. The providers only care about profit. That only serves urban areas. We need policy changes that support rural expansion.

The new head of the FCC does not promote more regulation.

Cooperatives

We are seeing local cooperatives going into providing service – but with cooperative telephone. Cooperative electricity is different – in part because their customer base may be fixed in terms of broadband access.

Next Steps

Sign up – let us know if you want to be part of the plan.

The townships may be most ready to jump into the action. Although it would be nice to come up with a countywide plan. The county board has shown much interest broadband but maybe there’s a way to push from within.

The residents and grassroots are required to get a project like this going. One volunteer talks about why he got involved

  • his data plans were prohibitively expensive so it was worth the cut in his budget
  • He sold something related to real estate in the area and no one was interested in buying real estate without broadband.

Issues:

  • Providers would not give clear customer broadband (to petition for subordinate service district)
  • Very specific rules for petitions meant the petitions were very arduous
  • The rules are different for cable vs teleco
  • The rules for general obligation bonds are different for special

But we’ve learned some lessons.

This entry was posted in Building Broadband Tools, Community Networks, MN, MN Broadband Fund Awards 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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