Connect Rural Broadband Summit in Region 9 – notes and archive

More than 80 people gathered today to talk about broadband in Region Nine. There were policymakers, providers, government officials, economic developers and others. The progression of the day included:

  1. Meet each other
  2. Learn about Broadband 101
  3. Hear from providers about what they have and what they need
  4. Talk to broadband users in the community (healthcare, education, economic development)
  5. Broadband success stories

Then everyone took the lessons they learned and created group priorities for efforts they would be ready, willing and able to take to encourage better broadband.

My notes are pretty complete and include the PPT from the 101 session.


Broadband is a big topic in Region Nine. There are many ways to get better broadband – we wanted to gather folks to come up with solutions for our area.

Introductions by table.

I won’t add names and places but I will add interesting comments from the folks I met. It’s a nice collection of the impact of broadband (or lack thereof) in a rural community:

  • People are concerned about Local businesses
  • People are concerned about students access to broadband at home – esp since local school have devices for all kids
  • People are concerned about need broadband need Ottawa township – kids can’t do their homework without broadband.
  • I moved from Shakopee to Jordan – it didn’t occur to me that we couldn’t get broadband. We had conduit but no fiber/wire.
  • It shouldn’t be this hard to get connected – it’s part of our jobs, it’s our schools education…
  • How much would it cost to get broadband in one part of Region Nine? Infrastructure (“set up”) would be $40,000 and $300/month.
  • We have police officers are sitting near public wifi spots because that’s better connection
  • I’m running for office and I’m here because this is the issue that people really want to talk about!


  • How do we protect the public rights of way? We are having issues with the current provider.
  • SO should government own the infrastructure – then you are in control of the asset and the rights of way. Government could own it and rent it.
  • You will never build a tax base if you don’t have broadband!
  • We have a farmer who rents an apartment in town so that he can homeschool his kids there. They can’t get broadband on the farm.
  • Why is it up to the provider when a community gets broadband?
  • What if no one was to blame and everyone was responsible?

If we could do ONE thing – what are your ideas?

  • Get the state to force companies to serve the whole state.
  • Get a strategic plan for Le Sueur County
  • Get a group of stakeholders to community to understand the needs and create a plan
  • Stop pointing fingers and start working together.

The piecemeal plan that seems to be working for broadband expansion now costs more money – we need a statewide plan.

We need to address the territorial nature of broadband access/deployment.

How can we all work together?

  • Money isn’t the only factor preventing broadband. We need to recognize the other barriers.
  • Money is the biggest issue to deploying broadband – from $4,000 per passing in town to $12,000 in rural areas. Add tough terrain and it gets more expensive.
  • Catch 22 – we need to work together to get broadband BUT we need broadband to work together!

Broadband 101

Leadership determines what broadband is good enough – it’s matter of what you will accept. Build partnerships locally or find a better partner.

Provider Response Panel on Tech Trends & Community Partnerships

Deploying broadband in rural areas the cost per passing can be up to $30,000.
When we move people to fiber, our ongoing costs go down. We have provided DSL since 1998.

We use fiber when possible – and especially for new. But we have had a network for 100 years – we still have some copper. There are factors that impact DSL speeds – we pair bonding and use higher gauge cables to increase speeds to extend the geographic limit of DSL – close to 2 miles.
We need to know the customer’s experience.

We provider fiber. Our lines are fully monitored. Fiber is more work up front – but ongoing expenses benefit. We don’t focus on maintenance – which lets us build new.
Population density makes a difference in cost. Moderately populated areas are easiest places to serve. Bigger areas have curbs, alley and other barriers.
Cost is $800-$4000 per passing. Cost to get customers can be up to $1800.

More info on Wireless:
Beauty of fixed wireless – we can deploy easily to people who can’t get fiber or aren’t within DSL limitations. We need fiber backhaul. We’re here to extend fiber.
Broadband challenge is what’s sustainable, reliable, flexible – fixed wireless is. We extend fiber.

About partnerships

As providers we tend to talk and try to work with each other. We may compete in one community and collaborate with another.
Partnerships with communities come with need in the community and our ability to expand.
CAF 2 – federal funding has helped us expand. We’ve been getting ready to serve more areas. We will be increasing speeds up to 60-80 Mbps. CAF 2 has given us the ability to expand.
We had a lake community. One resident championed his neighbors to understand why they would want fiber. He helped coordinate the effort to work with us – he explained costs and construction process (digging up a garden). Now we serve that area and have almost everyone signed up.
We could have a whole conference on broadband reliability. Reliability of the network, of tech staff, understanding when it’s network and when it’s user error.

Question –

Do we still have copper and fiber?
If we do new we do fiber. But we still do some copper to the home.

Key Drivers of Broadband Use Panel

Kris Luhman – Mayo Health System

We support rural healthcare with telemedicine. Half of our MN lives in rural areas and only one sixth of the providers are in rural areas. Access and transportation is listed as top concerns for our patients.
Fax, phone call – that isn’t telemedicine.
Interactive video – that’s telemedicine that can save lives but you need to have sufficient, reliable broadband to the homes.

Jim Grabowska – MNSCU, Commissioner on Region 9, School board

In two years 78 percent of jobs will require some college education. Broadband is as important as textbooks or the lab. Classrooms are ubiquitous. The elimination of Net Neutrality has the potential to compound the problem of affordability and digital divide.
Students need broadband to take advantage of blended classes. Our school provides mobile WiFi – those access points are checked out every day.
Higher Ed – kids in high school take college classes; those classes are online. In online environment – we are creating open educational resources (cheaper than textbook!).

Sam DiMaggio – City of Le Sueur

I lived in Bemidji – they have great broadband access. I worked for DEED and while in St Paul I never thought about broadband. But now I understand it and see the lure of broadband. Then I went to Scott County – they have great broadband (county owned fiber) – it was an easy sell to get businesses to move to the area. Now I’m in Le Sueur – we don’t have ubiquitous broadband. Without we can’t get businesses and residents. It shouldn’t be that hard to get broadband. We need to start by talking to the local providers.
When we moved to this area we couldn’t get online for months. My husband sat in the Lowe’s parking lot and used their WiFI to work!

What are your expectations?

I expect to able to do all of my healthcare from my smartphone. I should not have to go into a healthcare facility unless someone has to touch me.
I expect students to be able to attend classes anywhere from their home.
I expect the house I buy – wherever that is – to have broadband

Broadband was always marketed with entertainment – but it’s so much more than that.

Brad Finstad

  • Is broadband a right or a privilege? It’s a right!
  • The public and private sectors have to work together. We need to thank the providers – for their investment, blood, sweat and tears.
  • We focus on programs, projects and people.

Diane Wells

  • Reliable and affordable broadband is not available everywhere. If you don’t have it you need to get organized.
  • We are waiting to hear about future broadband grant funding. There are two bi-partisan bills (For $51M) in the legislature and the Governor recently recommended $30M.
  • We have broadband maps – they will be updated soon. Hopefully mid April. There is an interactive map to use – you can layer information.
  • We try to keep tabs on federal resources and activity. We can talk to you about what we know.

Infrastructure Success Stories

Kyle Oldre, Rock County

We had an opportunity to be part of an ARRA grant a few years ago – that didn’t work out but we did get a MN grant working with Alliance Broadband. They wrote the grant. We had good partners. We easily got support in the community who wanted better broadband. Prevailing wage was a big issue both time. It increase the cost.
Once built – the provider got 85% take rate.
Telemedicine was a big reason for FTTH in Rock County. It meets the needs of older residents.
Advice – Talk to everyone. Be persistence.

Jacob Rieke, RS Fiber

A farmer in the county and on the board of RS Fiber. A public-private partnership and cooperative. We are in Sibley and some areas of Renville. We are working on FTTH – to reach everyone now we are used fixed wireless connections but plan to built out fiber to those areas. Every three years household demand doubles.
There’s a lot of broadband need on farms today. I bring a ipad on the tractor and it tells me what is getting planted and others can follow my work remotely.
I’m a fifth generation farmer. I wanted to stay on the farm but I have kids. I could only stay if they could get online to have education advantage of their counterparts in other areas.
You don’t have to build FTTH to everywhere right away – just have a plan.
We have about 1800 customers.

Monty Morrow, NU-Telecom

We are investor owned. We are all over the area. We got a MN grant program. We didn’t apply the first year, we wanted to see what happened. We got great legislative report. Our legislators really got involved in our project.
Most residential areas in the country are also businesses. They all need enough broadband to run those businesses!

Scott Higgins – Martin County

We are just getting out project completed. We were one of the least served counties. We have home and barns that need to get service. We have 5 main provider exchange services. We started with a group of IT folks. Then the Commissioners got involved. We became a Blandin Broadband Community – we got stakeholder from around the community to meet and create a plan. Becoming a Blandin Broadband Community was a big step to getting us closer to better broadband. It helped understand the options (feasibility study) and develop demand. Frontier was a partner and they provided the community match.
We have champions on the Commission and many others.

How do you decide where to build out?

We decided to meet the needs of the whole county because we serve the whole county.
Money – it’s not the only driver, but it’s a big one. We create maps that show us where the need is, where we have existing facilities. It’s not an all of nothing deal.
Depended on willing partners.

What was total cost

RS Fiber – $20M for phase one (10 cities and wireless overlay)
The Minnesota Broadband Grants have made a big difference in getting better broadband. Surrounding states are not investing. Minnesota is poised to do well in the future

How do you get to a critical mass?

Tell people again and again that it’s a good idea. We had to explain that wireless will not solve everything. We did a pledge drive – to get as many households as we could to say they would want broadband – and we got to 55 percent.

Embracing the Technology Panel

Dave Hengel – Greater Bemidji

For workforce: Right now the workforce issue is building and drawing skills workers – not the companies. Companies will follow good workers. We are working with local colleges.
New business formation: We have a lot of millennials and they have led us into the creation of the Launchpad – a local coworking space. We have some retired folks who voluntarily mentor businesses and we meet weekly. We just published 1, 2, 3 Startup as a tool to help new businesses.
Digital Adoption: We have Paul Bunyan in the area – they provide FTTH to everyone in the region. The price is reasonable because they are a coop. We go coding camps, hackfests and Paul Bunyan has a Giga Game Championship.
Marketing community: We have had a good year in term of publicity. Many folks remember Bemidji as a place they may have vacationed at a kid. SO our job is to reintroduce people to new Bemidji – we promote our business, our Gig access. We have a leadership council that meets regularly (Bemidji Leads). They have no funding, no staff but they meet to lead.

Neela Mollgard – Red Wing Ignite

For workforce: We have brought Entrepreneurship programs to the area – for all ages. We in the schools. We do Coder Dojos. We are working with high school students to get experiential education opportunities. We did a tech college internship program – most interns have stayed on with the companies in some capacity.
New business formation: We have a new business incubator. We connect them with things they need – advisers, customer base and trials. We launched a new angel fund. We have a lot of mentorship. We got funding from Ignite – to extend our networks in the state and nationally.
Digital Adoption: We get gigabit from HBC. We are located near them. We worked with PCs for People to give out computers. We have done surveys through the schools. We have interviewed teenagers.
Marketing community: We market through collaboration. We have local initiatives to promote Main Street and local collaboration. We work with all sectors and different communities to use collaboration to promote out area.  We have create a Red Wing Ignite Cup to feed our good ideas into the MN Cop competition.

Marketplace of Ideas and Action Planning

Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin Foundation
Jane Leonard, Growth & Justice

Three goals of the #mnbroadband discussion day:

  1. Have a shared understanding of broadband
  2. Get excited to act for better broadband
  3. Develop a framework to get better broadband


  • Initiate Countywide Planning
  • How can we solve this for our whole community
  • How can increase public awareness and understanding?
  • How can we replicate the success in other communities?
  • How to leverage school and library connections?
  • How can providers work together?
  • How do we solve for deep rural? (limited interest)
  • How to promote adoption and use (such as telecommuting)? (limited interest)
  • How to fund a bill
  • ILEC regulatory reform
  • How can partners find one another

Senator Smith –

Read a letter to the Editor in Star Tribune a few years ago. It wondered why the public sector would get involved in broadband – when that people really just used it for Facebook.
Seems like that person clearly had access. Because broadband helps business, education, healthcare, recruiting businesses.
I’m working hard on this issue in DC – I tell them MN has a great example of how public-private works. Maybe it’s a model. Also – we need broadband affordable everywhere. And fast enough – not 10/1 Mbps


What can we do as citizens to regain Net Neutrality?
We’re one vote away from overturning what has been done in the Senate. Go online – and contact Senators.
Pay attention when you vote.
Please continue to give support to rural areas.
Broadband is about having the freedom to do what you want – where you want to do it.

Where is broadband in the priorities of colleagues?
Most Senators represent some rural areas – so they have people who need it for economic opportunity. But it does take money. We need public-private partnerships.

What can we do to help better broadband happen?
Make sure you talk to policymakers – tell them the stories.
Help legislators understand that there is a ROI for broadband funding.
The Senator is the ranking member on Ag Committees that talks broadband. We’re talking about partnership. We need to talk to elected officials.
Help legislators understand broadband speeds. Ask speeds they have at home and compare it to the 10 Mbps down and 1 up connectivity that federal funding is currently buying via CAF 2.
Broadband is a great equalizer. It helps rural businesses be anywhere. It helps small business appear larger.

Report outs –

Providers working with providers

  • Providers working with providers
  • Often not a fit for larger providers
  • Smaller providers may be a better fit
  • You don’t know what you don’t know – so mentoring could be helpful
  • Champions are essential
  • Finding funding sources is helpful

Regional Approach to Broadband

  • It is a good opportunities
  • Nice to have high population density offset cost of low population density areas
  • There’s movement in the legislature now – we could contact them
  • We need to come up with matching funds.
  • There’s a Region Nine bus tour on June 20

Increase public awareness

  • Good idea to spread the knowledge in this room to the community
  • What scares a provider? Cost –
  • Nice representation at the event but we need to talk to others who weren’t here.
  • It would be good to have panel discussion in various local events
  • Ground work talking to residents help too – keep the door open

Regional Planning

  • We have a plan!

Keep the Effort going in Blue Earth County

  • Become a BBC (Blandin Broadband Community)
  • Get help writing the grant
  • Understand that just getting in line for funding costs money

Promoting Provider Collaboration

  • We need communication and networking
  • Know where there are opportunities to collaborate

Observations from priority setting session

  • Everything is important
  • Now is the time for action
  • We don’t want to be a digital rust belt
This entry was posted in Conferences, Rural 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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