Bridging the Gaps – Expanding the Impact through Community-Provider Partnerships: #MNBroadband Conference 2017

Broadband Learning Stations featuring stories of partnerships and perseverance that define the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program participants. All sessions highlight what it takes for community success.

Here are descriptions of each session:

“Cooperatives Cooperating”
Grantee: Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC)
Project: MLEC Phase I Fiber to the Premise in Aitkin County
Grant Award: $1,757,640                               Total project cost: $3,515,280
Description: MLEC has partnered with CTC to bring fiber optic service to a significantly underserved area in Aitkin County.  Not a typical partnership, but a unique arrangement to bring much need broadband to MLEC members.
Key Partners:  CTC
50 percent local match provided by MLEC
Community and Economic Development Impact: This project is the first phase of what MLEC hopes to be a growing project to bring fiber optics to many of our members in Aitkin and Mille Lacs Counties. The project area is unserved rural areas primarily around lakes. The population is comprised of year round residential and a significant seasonal population. MLEC hopes benefits of providing connectivity will improve the lives of those in the area through increased access for education, workforce development and lead to increased time seasonal residents spend in the region resulting in increased spending locally on goods and services.
Advice for people preparing a project application: Start the conversations early with your partners. Don’t under estimate all the details which need to be discussed and clearly understood, along with the time to develop a healthy working team.  Have a business plan in place or started and be open to changes.  Having people say they want the service and getting commitment requires a lot of marketing.  Develop a marketing plan which includes how and when you will reach out to potential customers. As a new fiber provider MLEC has relied on CTC for guidance in marketing but also has had to get creative with how to market to the area. The best piece we had were yard signs that stated Fiber was coming to a signed customer’s home.
Key Learnings: Communication needs to be open. Keep asking questions, never assume the others knows something about the business or what you understand.
Work together to find solutions that work for each party, as in our case nothing was cookie cutter about our partnership.
For more information:
Name & Title: Stacy Cluff, Information Systems & Technology Administrator
Phone number: 218.927.8227
Organization name: Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative
Mailing Address: PO Box 230, Aitkin MN 56431
Name & Title: Joe Buttweiler
Phone number: 218.454.1275
Organization name: CTC

“Persistence and local marketing pay off”
Grantee: Woodstock Communications
Project: Westbrook FTTP
Grant award: $412,319                                   Total project cost: $916,424
Description: This is a complete fiber to the home project including the entire city limits of Westbrook.  The city has 404 passings with 368 households, 29 businesses and 7 anchor institutions.  Westbrook is a town that is currently served by Century Link with DSL.
Key Partners: Woodstock Communications asked for 45% grant from the State.   The remainder of the funding (55%) will be provided by Woodstock Communications.
Community and Economic Development Impact:  The community of Westbrook sent in numerous letters of support asking for better service for their town.  Westbrook is a very aggressive community with great people and businesses, and offers a great place to raise a family.  The only thing they lacked was adequate broadband to attract new businesses and families, and keep from losing the ones they have.  Westbrook has a public school, assisted living, city hall, nursing home, public library, police station, community center, fire hall, ambulance department, and is the smallest city in Minnesota with a full hospital.  The hospital is a division of Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls and needed faster speeds and better reliability to stay competitive.  The public school will now be able to hold the South West Regional Schools quarterly meeting in Westbrook because of the fiber build.
Advice for people preparing a project application:  Working with and having the support of the community leaders is critical.  Support is needed not only for the application but also to make the project a financial success.  We attended city council meetings, Kiwanis meetings, ran articles in the local paper weekly and opened an office on Main Street for customers to come in and learn about us.
Key Learnings: We learned how critical broadband is to a community.   Also, not only did this build bring fiber to the home to the town, it also enabled us to provide a wireless service to the rural community as well.  We also have a better take rate than we had anticipated.
For more information:
Name & Title: Terry Nelson—General Manager
Phone number:  507-658-3211
Organization name: Woodstock Communications
Mailing Address: 337 Aetna St., Ruthton, MN 56170

“Truly inspiring — businesses & neighbors working together”
Grantee: Wikstrom Telephone
Project: Rural Alvarado Broadband
Grant Award: $43,481                        Total project cost: $95,240
Description: BEAMCO and Wikstrom Telephone partnered to build a Fiber to the Home network for farms and businesses in rural Alvarado, extending a new route to 12 customers over 6 miles. BEAMCO took the lead to sign up customers and get financial contributions from those in the project.
Wikstrom Telephone is the ISP and was responsible for the engineering, construction and operations of the network.
Key Partners:     BEAMCO      16% percent local match provided by Beamco/customers
Wikstrom    34% percent local match by Wikstrom Telephone
OBD/DEED  50% Grant
Community and Economic Development Impact: The goal of Beamco was to bring Broadband to his rural Engineering and manufacturing facility, and connect all of the farmers and residents along the way. It provided the necessary infrastructure to keep employment at the Beamco plant and enhance the education and business needs of other farms. A key use for many rural farms is security, and process monitoring of agricultural operations.
Advice for people preparing a project application:

  • Find a good partner with similar culture and goals
  • Split up the work equitably and get commitments early
  • Take the time to meet with people face to face

Key Learning’s:

  • Anything is possible with persistence and people with common goals.
  • Having OBD/DEED available to connect partners should be utilized more!

For more information:
Name & Title: Alan Lundeen, P. Manager
Phone number: 218-436-5214
Organization name: Wikstrom Telephone Co.
Mailing Address: 212 S Main, Box 217 Karlstad, MN 56732

“Government and local companies making great things happen”
Grantee: Palmer Wireless
Project: Big Lake Industrial Park
Grant Award: $90,988                                    Total Project Cost: $211,600
Description:  Palmer Wireless built a fiber network to approximately 18 businesses in the Big Lake Industrial Park.  The businesses in the park were only receiving 25 mbps or less speeds downloads and uploads of less than 5 mbps with their current internet provider through Ethernet lines.  Palmer Wireless has given the businesses a symmetrical fiber connection with options of 1 gigabit speeds.
Key Partners:  Palmer Wireless, Sherburne County and the City of Big Lake and with a 43% match provided by the State of MN Border-to-Border Grant.
Community and Economic Development Impact: The City of Big Lake and Sherburne County were asking for broadband/internet providers to come to their aid and provide the desperately needed broadband in the Industrial Park.  The current businesses were threatening to leave and they were not able to attract any new businesses to their community with the lack of broadband to the 79 acre park.  There are 25 acres still available for sale.  The size and cost of the project in relation to the number of businesses wasn’t financially possible for any provider to bring cost effective fiber to the park.  The Broadband Grant from the State of Minnesota made it possible.  Palmer Wireless was also able to bring fiber on our own to the schools and the police department, who also were thirsty for a fiber connection and were lacking viable broadband outside of the Industrial Park.
Advice for people preparing a project application: Palmer Wireless was able to meet with all of the businesses before applying for the grant to see what their needs were.  Palmer worked directly with the City of Big Lake’s Community Development Director to make sure all of the businesses in the park were contacted.  Palmer Wireless also has developed a relationship with Sherburne County in bringing better broadband to our community.  Palmer Wireless was one of a few providers to participate in Sherburne County’s Sherband group and also in the Blandin Broadband Community group. It is important to get buy in from all the participants including the businesses, local government and the contractors that are performing the work.  We used a local contractor that knew many of the businesses and that helped with the coordination of the installations.
Key Learnings: Fiber networks are vital to business growth and development in underserved areas.  Broadband Providers need to work directly with our communities, city and government leaders to ensure these state of the art broadband networks get built.
For more information:
Name & Title:  Laura Kangas, CFO & Albert Kangas, COO
Phone number:  320-743-5110
Organization name:  Palmer Wireless
Mailing Address:  2848 2nd St. S., Suite 105, St. Cloud, MN  56303

“Reality Rocks!”
Grantee: Rock County Broadband Alliance, LLC (RCBA)
Project: Rock County, MN
Grant Award: $4.9 million                             Total project cost: $12.64 million
Description:  Build out of fiber to Rock County in extreme southwest corner of MN.  Project included all rural areas of the county and the rural towns of Jasper, Hardwick, Kenneth, Beaver Creek, Magnolia and Kanaranzi. The project passed just over 1100 locations with connected customers at the culmination of the grant period of just under 900.  RCBA, LLC is a wholly owned commercial subsidiary of Alliance Communications Cooperative, Inc., a South Dakota company that serves 13,000 customers in the tristate area of SD-IA-MN.
Key Partners:  Local match of $1,000,000 from the county of Rock, MN.
Community and Economic Development Impact:  The rural areas of Rock County were extremely underserved in the past. The grant application included testimonials from businesses, families, schools, etc. regarding how the lack of affordable, reliable broadband service in the areas affect family life, restrict educational opportunities, prohibit rural telemedicine opportunities, among many other examples. Following the project completion, a tour was put together by the Rock County administrators to show the broadband board how much the addition of broadband service had already affected Rock County, MN. The tour included the local radio station, a confinement system builder, a feed mill operation and the rural consolidated school system. Testimonials were read to the group as well from local physicians that live in the rural areas of the county regarding their experience with the enhanced services. News of future economic development in the county already has leaders excited.  A recent announcement of planned construction of a shrimp hatchery that will generate 330 construction jobs, $14.5M of labor income, and long-term impact of $23M annually and 124 new long term jobs is great news for the county. Other economic development in the county is also under way.
Advice for people preparing a project application:  Collaborating with county leaders has been a great experience for staff of RCBA, LLC. They have helped with everything from day one of the project and have been the projects biggest cheerleaders and advocates.
Key Learnings:  This was RCBA’s first experience of building outside our current service area where we do not already know our customers that we will be serving with the new technology. Although people were excited for the new service, the company also had to not only bring the services to them, but also gain their trust before they would become our customers. Much of the work was contracted, but RCBA employees were also very involved in the process making sure the new customers were treated well and any issues were quickly resolved. The key to the success of the project was to have local support and to treat the customer right from day one.
For more information:
Name & Title: Kari J. Flanagan, CFO
Phone number  (605)594-8228
Organization name:        Rock County Broadband Alliance, LLC dba Alliance Communications
Mailing Address:              PO Box 349, Garretson, SD  57030-0349

“County commitment, building on neighboring success”
Grantee: Renville County
Project: Renville County Broadband
Grant Award: $807,966                                 Total project cost: $2,071,709
Description: Construct a fiber ring in Renville County and connect it to RS Fiber Cooperative’s existing system in Sibley County to provide broadband service to 193 households, and 102 businesses and community institutions.  Without this initial fiber ring, extending broadband service to serve additional unserved and underserved areas in the county would not be feasible.
Key Partners: Hiawatha Broadband Communications (HBC), Renville-Sibley (RS) Fiber Cooperative, and Renville County. 61% local match provided by Renville County and HBC.
Community and Economic Development Impact:  This project will benefit many unserved home and farm businesses, and it will help attract new businesses and compete for people and economic opportunities along the Minnesota River basin.  Area farmers will be supplied with reliable, scalable surveillance and automation solutions, children will be able to complete homework from their homes, and healthcare institutions will be able to transmit electronic medical information faster than before – resulting in an improved quality of life for rural residents.  Renville County has experienced a 25% reduction in population over the past 30 years.  Broadband service will stimulate health outreach, educational attainment, business, and job and population growth.
 Advice for people preparing a project application: Partnering on an application strengthens the impact on underserved rural areas. This project required collaboration amongst public sector, non-profit, and for-profit organizations, which resulted in greater resources and capacity.
Key Learnings: The expansion of fiber networks into unserved and underserved areas always creates more opportunity. Quality of life improvements through fiber optic broadband availability always creates demand from the areas contiguous with existing fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks.
For more information:
Toby Brummer, General Manager for RS Fiber and Business Development Director for HBC
Direct 507-450-7757

“Cable provider and township partnerships”
Grantee: Mediacom Minnesota LLC
Project: Harris Township Broadband Build
Grant Award: $224,369    Total project cost: $773,686
Description: Build out broadband infrastructure in Harris Township including the University of Minnesota Research Farm to provide speeds that surpass the broadband service goal of 25/3 to 262 households and 6 businesses/community anchor institutions.
Key Partners: Mediacom Minnesota LLC and Harris Township together received numerous letters of support for this project along with many survey responses in favor of the proposed broadband project.
Community and Economic Development Impact: Harris Township is a large area with an estimated 3,400 residents. As a growing community Harris Township needs better internet service as some of the areas have no internet services currently being offered.  Resident’s need internet to work, and to help draw new business to the area. Children need internet to do their homework. The school system (ISD318) has issued iPads to students in grades 7-12 to bring home, and most have homework to turn in online. With the slow and/or no service, a lot of students are falling behind.
Advice for people preparing a project application:  Mediacom has found that working together with the cities/counties/townships, etc., on an application strengthens the impact on all unserved/underserved rural areas.
Key Learnings: Broadband is important to improve quality of life for residents and make businesses more competitive. Without grants and partnerships with the community, projects like Harris Township may not be possible.
For more information:
Jason Janesich, Senior Manager – Area Operations
Direct 218-262-0005
Mediacom Communications
3105 E Beltline Suite 2
Hibbing, MN 55746

“Fixed Wireless: Key Part of Comprehensive Broadband Solutions for MN Vitality”
Presenters: InvisiMax, Nextera Communications and MVTV Wireless
Description: Fixed Wireless is a broadband solution used by several current and past broadband grant awardees, as both a hybrid solution alongside wireline technologies and as a stand-alone solution, for improving broadband access, speeds, and capacity, especially in low population density rural areas of Minnesota.  It’s also a solution in metro locations, especially for business needs. Learn more about this technology and how it is applied to community and business development opportunities.
Community and Economic Development Impact: Minnesota is home to a diversity of population densities, landscape features (rock, prairie, forests, lakes, and bluff country…), and diverse business and community development opportunities and challenges, for rural and metro areas alike. Fixed wireless broadband is a key part of the comprehensive package of broadband technologies that help meet those varied development environments, and in doing so, helps drive Minnesota’s economic and community vitality.
Advice for people preparing a project grant application that includes and/or features fixed wireless: Fixed wireless is a complimentary broadband technology implemented in whole or in part as a solution to meet the diverse needs of both consumers (business and residential) and providers. Considerations should be given to economic and social impacts as well as the viability of the services offered.
Fixed wireless technologies currently exceed multi-Gigabit speeds and are already being deployed in both metro and rural settings. Fixed wireless as a technology is reliable, mature, readily available and evolving more rapidly than any other broadband technology.
Key Learnings about Fixed Wireless:  A snapshot of technologies from WiFi, WiMAX, 4G LTE and 5G; implementation, adaptation and viability.
For more information:
Tim Johnson, Operations Manager
MVTV Wireless
1790 Hwy 212 W
Granite Falls, MN 56241
Greg Arvig, President
Nextera Communications
7115 Forthun Rd, Suite 100
Baxter, MN 56425
David Giles, President
126 W. Johnson Ave.
Warren, MN 56762


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 )

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