Blandin Broadband eNews: Broadband activity throughout Minnesota

Border to Border Broadband: Transforming Minnesota Oct 23-24
Join policymakers, economic and community development professionals and community broadband champions from across the state for this annual opportunity to learn, connect and engage. https://wp.me/p3if7-4E8

Is your county ready for 2026? Broadband ranking is out
The Office of Broadband Development recently released a map of county progress toward 2026 speed goals (100 Mbps down and 20 up). https://wp.me/p3if7-4HC Here are the top-ranking counties:

  1. Rock (99.93% covered)
  2. Ramsey (99.82 % covered)
  3. Hennepin (98.97% covered)
  4. Big Stone (98.91% covered)
  5. Anoka (97.86% covered)
  6. Lac qui Parle (97.35% covered)
  7. Stevens (96.747% covered)
  8. Beltrami (96.30% covered)
  9. Washington (96.10% covered)
  10. Cook (94.50% covered)

And the bottom-ranking:

  1. Otter Tail (2.36% covered)
  2. Kandiyohi (10.64% covered)
  3. Becker (12.95% covered)
  4. Mahnomen (13.53% covered)
  5. Blue Earth (14.13% covered)
  6. Aitkin (17.55% covered)
  7. Todd (17.58% covered)
  8. Norman (20.55% covered)
  9. Mower (23.31% covered)
  10. Pope (23.67% covered)

Blandin Foundation Makes Broadband Insights
Blandin Foundation sent a letter to candidates running for office in Minnesota with the following insights for improving ubiquitous broadband in the state:

  1. Continue the Governor’s Broadband Task Force
  2. Optimize the Border to Border Broadband Fund
  3. Continue the Office of Broadband Development
  4. Address Digital Equity
  5. Commit to State Speed Goals Using Scalable Technology
  6. Continue Mapping While Reviewing the Process
  7. Evaluate New Broadband Solutions
  8. Ensure Rural Business Connectivity
  9. Support Rural Business Tech Transfer

CAF II auctions in MN: 16 winners of $38.3M for 12,000 locations
The FCC releases the list of providers, award amounts and number of locations for CAF II auction winners, which includes 16 providers serving Minnesota. https://wp.me/p3if7-4HK To help visualize the locations served, CNS has created a map of winners. https://wp.me/p3if7-4HM

Broadband in the Elections/Policy

Local Broadband News

Ada
Weave Got Maille in Ada is credited for better broadband and jobs https://wp.me/p3if7-4GO

Farmfest
Farmfest attendees offer views of rural broadband from the frontlines https://wp.me/p3if7-4Gt

Litchfield, Mora & Pine City
Litchfield, Mora and Pine City are the only three cities located outside a metropolitan to have never lost population https://wp.me/p3if7-4GX

Renville & Sibley Counties
RS Fiber is hitting a crossroads, where loan guarantees may need to be paid. Or at least the parties involved need to know a time is coming. https://wp.me/p3if7-4Hm Deciphering what this means depends on where you stand. RS Fiber https://wp.me/p3if7-4HG has comments and so does Minnesota Telecom Alliance https://wp.me/p3if7-4Ho and Mark Erickson, former Winthrop EDA Director. https://wp.me/p3if7-4HZ

St Cloud
After a fire causes damage in a high school in St Cloud, the school decides to hold classes online to minimize impact on students https://wp.me/p3if7-4GT

Southeast Minnesota
A fixed wireless project will start later this summer in Southeast Minnesota https://wp.me/p3if7-4GL

Spring Grove
Broadband provider Spring Grove Communications gets rave review in local paper https://wp.me/p3if7-4Hc

Wilkin County
Red River Communications speaks up for rural communities with good broadband, including their service area in Wilkin County https://wp.me/p3if7-4HW

Upcoming Events & Opportunities

  • Sep 6: MN Broadband Task Force Monthly Meeting
  • Sep 12 (Wyoming) MN PUC hearing with unhappy Frontier Customers https://wp.me/p3if7-4H6

We are looking to add MN broadband-related events to the Blandin on Broadband blog calendar. https://wp.me/P3if7-4yG If you have an event you’d like to add please send it to atreacy@treacyinfo.com

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

We live in interesting times and that is not always for the best.  It is, at best, a chaotic broadband scene in the rural countryside. We have a host of emerging and improving technologies (many of which are highly touted, but unable to meet Minnesota’s 2026 state broadband goal).  We have existing and emerging broadband funding programs (funded, unfunded and promised) that spur community hope.  And we now have many projects to compare to look for models that meet goals of speed, coverage area, economic development and financial stability.

For those active in trying to spur quality broadband deployment (for me, that is a minimum of the 2026 state broadband goal of 100 Mb/20 Mb), it is so important to have and share accurate information.  For those actively seeking better broadband in their county, city or township, it is critical that you be prepared with questions that require real answers for your local candidates.   “Yes, I support rural broadband” is not an informative answer.  You should also be knowledgeable to be able to respond to their questions, especially about projects that are facing financial challenges.

As we compare projects, consider the following:

  • In northeastern Minnesota along the North Shore, the Arrowhead Electric Cooperative project in Cook County is considered a success while the Lake County project is facing significant financial challenges and is up for sale at deep discount.  You should know that the Cook County project was financed primarily through a federal grant while the Lake County was financed primarily through federal government debt.  If the financial packages were reversed, I suspect that the success aspects of the projects would follow.
  • In southwestern Minnesota, the Rock County project is considered a success while long-time critics call the RS Fiber Cooperative a failure since communities are likely to contribute relatively small sums of local tax dollars to make bond payments.   Yet in Rock County, $7 million of the $12 million project costs were public grants (almost 60%), including a $2 million county grant to the project.  In comparison, less than one-third of the RS Fiber project was financed with a state grants while all local government contributions have been repaid.
  • A widely-touted fiber to the home project in Sunrise Township deployed by CenturyLink was financed with approximately 80% public grant funding combining state, FCC CAF II and township bonding.

What these stories show is that rural broadband projects require public subsidy if the deployed networks are going to meet state goals.  More than one rural broadband provider has told me that the areas left unserved at this point will all require at least 50% public funding and long ROI hurdles to be feasible.

I am sure that leaders in Lake County and in the RS Fiber project area wish that they had received more in grants and assumed less debt.  While it’s a current struggle, the benefits of the network are now emerging.  Recent research projects continue to demonstrate the current and projected community benefits from broadband availability (https://blandinfoundation.org/learn/research-rural/broadband-resources/broadband-initiative/measuring-impact-broadband-5-rural-mn-communities/ and https://www.pcrd.purdue.edu/files/media/006-RPINsights-Indiana-Broadband-Study.pdf ).  Local leaders might rather deal with some debt issues than with declining population and economic viability.  Places with ubiquitous fiber broadband networks have a long term economic asset on which to build their future.

Those places without at least one quality broadband option are feeling the real pain of being left behind – economically, educationally and socially.  I have heard many specific examples of these negative effects in my work with community broadband teams across the state.  I am sure that each of the thousands of Minnesota households lacking adequate broadband access has such a story.

Adding to this pain suffered by rural communities is the mixed message that they receive about broadband from national Internet Service Providers.  Through the advertising media – online, mailings, television commercials – consumers hear from providers how important broadband is for business and family life.  Recognizing that they are just an asterisk to these providers (*Service may not be available in all areas) is incredibly irritating!  After all, no one wants to be an asterisk!

This entry was posted in Blandin Foundation, MN 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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