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.

USDA Invests $11 Million in Broadband for Rural Minnesota and Iowa Communities

I already posted details on the CTC project, but here’s the general info on the USDA money coming into Minnesota (and Iowa)…

Today, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky announced USDA has invested $11 million in three, high-speed broadband infrastructure projects that will create or improve rural e-Connectivity for more than 1,395 rural households and nearly 120 businesses throughout several counties in Minnesota and northern Iowa. This is one of many funding announcements in the first round of USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program investments.

“When Americans are connected to high-speed internet, productivity and prosperity skyrocket,” Censky said. “This task of providing rural Americans with broadband is of the highest importance for President Trump and his Administration. We cannot leave millions of Americans out of the successes of this booming economy simply because they do not have access to the internet.”

Harmony Telephone Company will use a $2.7 million ReConnect Program loan and a $2.7 million ReConnect Program grant to construct a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network to connect 577 households, a health care center and a critical community facility spread over 143 square miles in several counties bordering southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.

Osage Municipal Utilities (OMU) in northern Iowa will use a $397,749 ReConnect Program grant to provide broadband service to underserved households, farms and businesses in Mitchell County. This will be accomplished by directly accessing a fiber trunk line that runs through the heart of Mitchell, Iowa, and up to the border of Minnesota, allowing OMU to increase its service area bandwidth. The funded service area includes 151 households spread over 20 square miles.

Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) will use a $5.2 million ReConnect Program grant to construct a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network of up to one gigabit of symmetrical high-speed internet to nearly 700 homes and public facilities in portions of Cherry and Great Scott townships in Minnesota’s famed ‘Iron Range.’ CTC will leverage existing middle-mile infrastructure, in partnership with Northeast Service Cooperative, and require only an additional 157.1 miles of new FTTP construction. The funded service area includes 667 households, two educational facilities and two critical community facilities in St. Louis County.

Background:

In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On Dec. 13, 2018, Secretary Perdue announced the rules of the program, called “ReConnect,” including how the loans and grants will be awarded to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America. USDA received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in funding across all three ReConnect Program funding products: 100 percent loan, 100 percent grant, and loan-grant combinations. USDA is reviewing applications and announcing approved projects on a rolling basis. Additional investments in all three categories will be made in the coming weeks.

These grants, loans and combination funds enable the federal government to partner with the private sector and rural communities to build modern broadband infrastructure in areas with insufficient internet service. Insufficient service is defined as connection speeds of less than 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload.

In December 2019, Agriculture Secretary Perdue announced USDA will be making available an additional $550 million in ReConnect funding in 2020. USDA will make available up to $200 million for grants, up to $200 million for 50/50 grant/loan combinations, and up to $200 million for low-interest loans. The application window for this round of funding will open Jan. 31, 2020. Applications for all funding products will be accepted in the same application window, which will close no later than March 16, 2020.

A full description of 2020 ReConnect Pilot Program funding is available on page 67913 of the Dec. 12, 2019, Federal Register (PDF, 336 KB). To learn more about eligibility, technical assistance and recent announcements, visit www.usda.gov/reconnect.

In April 2017, President Donald J. Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. In January 2018, Secretary Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to President Trump. These findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America. Increasing investments in rural infrastructure is a key recommendation of the task force. To view the report in its entirety, please view the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity (PDF, 5.4 MB). In addition, to view the categories of the recommendations, please view the Rural Prosperity infographic (PDF, 190 KB).

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.

CTC Receives $5.2 million from USDA to serve Cherry and Great Scott townships on the Iron Range

Big news from CTC for parts of the Iron Range…

Today, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky announced that USDA has invested $11 million in three, high-speed broadband infrastructure projects that will create or improve rural e-Connectivity for more than 1,395 rural households and nearly 120 businesses throughout several counties in Minnesota and northern Iowa. This is one of many funding announcements in the first round of USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program investments. CTC was awarded a $5.2 million ReConnect Program grant to construct a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network of up to one gigabit of symmetrical high-speed internet to nearly 700 homes and public facilities in portions of Cherry and Great Scott townships in northeastern Minnesota’s Iron Range area. CTC will leverage existing middle-mile infrastructure, in partnership with Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC), and require only an additional 157.1 miles of new FTTP construction. The funded service area includes 667 households, two educational facilities and two critical community facilities in St. Louis County. CTC will invest $1,743,169 in the project; a 25% match. “We’re thrilled to receive this award,” said Kristi Westbrock, CEO and General Manager at CTC. “Residents and business owners in the Cherry Township area have made it very clear that they need high-speed internet in order to thrive. We look forward to partnering with NESC and to serving this area for years to come.”

As part of this round of funding, Harmony Telephone Company was also awarded a $2.7 million ReConnect Program loan and a $2.7 million ReConnect Program grant, while Osage Municipal Utilities in northern Iowa was awarded a $397,749 ReConnect Program grant. “When Americans are connected to high-speed internet, productivity and prosperity skyrocket,” Censky said. “This task of providing rural Americans with broadband is of the highest importance for President Trump and his Administration. We cannot leave millions of Americans out of the successes of this booming economy simply because they do not have access to the internet.” In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On Dec. 13, 2018, Secretary Perdue announced the rules of the program, called “ReConnect,” including how the loans and grants will be awarded to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America. USDA received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in funding across all three ReConnect Program funding products: 100 percent loan, 100 percent grant, and loan-grant combinations. USDA is reviewing applications and announcing approved projects on a rolling basis. Additional investments in all three categories will be made in the coming weeks. More information about the ReConnect Pilot Program is available at http://www.usda.gov/reconnect. CTC is a technology advisor and full service telecommunications company based in Brainerd, MN. Formed in 1952, CTC has grown into a complete communications provider offering telephone, high-speed internet, digital television, and IT services to businesses and individuals throughout central and northern Minnesota. More information about CTC can be found at http://www.goctc.com.

MN Broadband County profiles including comparative map and PDFs

The snow is coming to most of us in Minnesota today. Good news though – I have something fun for you to check out online. Remember the 2019 County Broadband Profiles I did September? Blandin Foundation took that information and made is prettier and more accessible and each profile is now available in a PDF format, making it easier to print out and share with the Minnesota Broadband County Profiles.

I love the map because it does a nice job showing of which areas are on track to meet 2026 broadband speed goals (in green) and which ones aren’t (in red). The intention is that local communities and policymakers can use this information to access local and statewide need. Maybe it’s something you can share with your community and/or policymakers. They’re probably sitting at a desk watching for snow today too.

Telehealth in Cambridge MN brings tech solutions to the neonatal ward

Isanti-Chisago Country Star reports…

Through a new virtual care partnership, physicians at Cambridge Medical Center now have enhanced 24/7 access to Children’s neonatal care specialists. Using audio/video technology, Cambridge Medical Center physicians can hold a virtual consultation with a neonatal clinician from Children’s Minnesota.

From there, clinicians from both systems collaborate on the care management of newborns requiring acute stabilization after birth and determine whether the baby needs to be transferred to another facility for further care.

When deemed appropriate, the Cambridge Medical Center physician places a call to Children’s Minnesota and requests a virtual consultation. Within minutes, a neonatal specialist from Children’s will connect via an audio/ video conference with the Cambridge Medical Center provider and care team. There is no extra cost to the patient’s family.

For Cambridge Medical Center physicians, the virtual care partnership is a way to better serve area families.

“This virtual care relationship between Children’s and Cambridge Medical Center provides an enhanced level of safety for newborn care at the hospital,” said Dawn Dingman, RN, manager of Cambridge Medical Center’s Family Birthing Center. “By allowing the Children’s neonatal specialists to actually see the baby, we’re confident that we’ll be able to keep and serve more families here, in their own community. We take excellent care of these babies and will send them to another facility for even more specialized care if necessary.”

Partnerships like these also support Children’s vision to be every family’s essential partner in raising healthier children.

It’s a great solution for areas with sufficient broadband to make it work.

Minnesota has 134,000 locations eligible for FCC Phase I Rural Digital Opportunity Fund funding

The FCC reports on how many locations (homes and businesses) are eligible for Phase I funding later this year. There are 134,000 locations in Minnesota that are eligible. More info from FCC

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced initial estimates of how many homes and businesses in each state could benefit from Phase I of the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. In total, about 6 million rural homes and businesses could be eligible for bidding in an auction slated for later this year to receive funding for high-speed broadband. This state-by-state list is for Phase I funding, which would target a total of $16 billion to census blocks with no broadband service at all meeting the Commission’s minimum speed standards. The remainder of the funding would be disbursed during Phase II. As recently announced, the FCC will vote January 30 on launching the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

“The digital divide affects many people in many rural communities. I’ve said that the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund would be our boldest step yet to bridge this divide, and today we get a glimpse of the broad impact this investment in rural America would have across the country,” said Chairman Pai. “Our staff’s initial estimate shows that in 25 states there would be more than 100,000 locations that would be eligible for Phase I of the Fund, and the benefits would be felt from the Pacific Coast to the Great Plains, and from Appalachia to the Gulf Coast. The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is critical to bridging the digital divide. I hope that my colleagues will join me in voting for it on January 30.”

Democrat Presidential candidates’ view on rural broadband

Agri Pulse reports…

The leading Democratic presidential candidates are all calling for major increases in spending for roads, bridges, rural broadband and other infrastructure needs, but they’ll need large increases in tax revenue to pay for their plans.

The Democrats’ plans rely far less heavily than private investment than President Donald Trump would. Trump’s 2018 budget proposed spending $200 billion “to spur at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments with partners at the State, local, Tribal, and private level.” Trump hasn’t pursued the plan with Congress.

The article outlines the increase priority level for broadband…

Just a few years ago, the American Farm Bureau Federation said transportation facilities were its clear top priority for rural infrastructure. Now, broadband has joined transportation as the organization’s two priorities for infrastructure spending, says R.J. Carney, an AFBF congressional relations director.

Fortunately, “we’ve seen a lot of bipartisanship in regards to broadband infrastructure,” he said. He points to USDA’s ReConnect Program, launched with $600 million in 2018 to provide grants and loans to extend broadband to unserved and underserved rural areas. It was plussed up in December with another $555 million.

And a summary of views from candidates who qualified for this week’s debate in Iowa…

Former Vice President Joe Biden wants to spend $1.3 trillion over the next ten years, leveraging private, state and local investments to complete $5 trillion in infrastructure projects. His climate plan calls for “rebuilding our roads, bridges, buildings, the electric grid, and our water infrastructure,” and all “to prevent, reduce, and withstand a changing climate.”

Separately, Biden’s Plan for Rural America aims to “modernize the lock and dam system vital to getting rural products to markets (and) … roads to give farms and small-town businesses access to markets.”

Biden says the federal spending would be “paid for by rolling back the Trump tax incentives … reducing incentives for tax havens, evasion, and outsourcing, ensuring corporations pay their fair share … and ending subsidies for fossil fuels.”

He wants to spend over $20 billion to expand broadband in rural America, and says he’ll direct agencies to help cities and towns set up their own high-speed internet networks.

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., proposes boosting investment in national infrastructure as part of his goal to “create good jobs and combat climate change through smart infrastructure investments.”

Buttigieg recently expanded on his infrastructure agenda, which now calls for spending $1 trillion on a wide range of infrastructure investments in transportation, clean water and environment. For example, his initial proposal for an American Clean Energy Bank, with capitalization of $250 billion, now calls for spending “$6 billion in grants and loans through the (bank) for states and cities to partner with private companies and unions on installing publicly available charging infrastructure powered by clean energy.”

Buttigieg would add $165 billion to the highway trust fund to ensure it remains solvent through 2029. He wants to “repair half of roads in poor condition and structurally deficient bridges by 2030,” including a “$50 billion grant program for states to repair bridges.”

He also proposes spending $5 billion to repair and modernize inland waterways.

He proposes spending $80 billion to expand rural broadband.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar says her infrastructure plan will be her “top budget priority” as president. She would strive to get it funded in her first year, if elected, and it begins with repairing, roads and bridges.

Klobuchar proposes $650 billion in federal funding for infrastructure. Like Buttigieg, she wants to create a new government bank to finance projects, a proposal she has pushed in the Senate for years. It would be primed with $25 billion in seed money to help state and local governments leverage private funds to build and maintain the nation’s infrastructure. Plus, she wants several initiatives to issue federally backed bonds, similar to the Obama administration’s Build America Bonds, issued in 2009 and 2010.

Her plan includes expanding broadband to “every household by 2022.”

Klobuchar would pay for her infrastructure proposals with “a number of corporate tax reforms, including adjusting the corporate tax rate to 25% … establishing a financial risk fee on our largest banks, and increasing efforts for tax enforcement.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ infrastructure plan starts with his Senate bill that would provide $75 billion to the Highway Trust Fund and money for freight and passenger rail facilities.

His plan focuses heavily on advancing efficiency of cars, trucks and trains on the nation’s roads and rails, and he wants to fund a dramatic shift to electric vehicles. His plan calls for developing electric vehicle charging infrastructure and providing $2 trillion in grants for people to buy electric-powered vehicles and spending $216 billion to help trucking companies replace diesel trucks with electric ones.

Sanders wants $150 billion in federal grants and technical support for communities lacking good broadband service to build their own “publicly owned and democratically controlled, cooperative, or open-access broadband networks.”

Tom Steyer, a billionaire businessman who was the sixth and last candidate to qualify for Tuesday’s presidential debate, wants $2 trillion invested in an array of climate-resilient infrastructure projects, including $450 billion for highways, bridges and levees, plus $775 billion for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, freight rail and transit systems, and $500 billion more for clean water systems, public lands, parks, and waterways, among other things.

His proposal for $755 billion in “community resilience” projects includes a goal for “universal broadband access to every community in America not currently served.”

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s infrastructure plans are similar to Sanders’, and her green jobs plan is aimed at creating jobs and addressing climate change. “With $10.7 trillion in federal and private investments, we can turn these opportunities into 10.6 million new, union jobs rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure and transitioning to the new clean energy economy,” her website declares. Her priorities are to “rebuild our crumbling transportation infrastructure … build in climate resiliency, and create a transportation system powered by electricity rather than fossil fuels.”

Warren advocates a Green Bank idea described in a Senate bill that she cosponsors. The bank would “mobilize $1 trillion in climate and green infrastructure investments across the country over 30 years.” It would finance “large-scale infrastructure projects that serve the public interest but might not otherwise attract private capital due to risk-return thresholds.”

For rural broadband buildout, Warren’s goals are again similar to Sanders’ and others who allege that giant internet service providers have been “running away with taxpayer dollars” but not getting service to rural areas. She would create an Office of Broadband Access, supplied with $85 billion in grant funds for communities to set up their own public networks.

Comcast agrees to pay MN customers $1.14 million in refunds

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office said Wednesday that it has settled a deceptive advertising practices lawsuit against Comcast/Xfinity that will lead to several million dollars in relief to over 30,000 customers.

The settlement includes $1.14 million in refunds for a 15,600 Minnesota customers and “debt relief” worth “millions of dollars” for another roughly 16,000 former Comcast patrons, according to the Attorney General’s Office. The debt involves early termination fees that Comcast charged customers after they downgraded or canceled services. …

In a statement, Comcast said that the settlement “reflects our ongoing efforts to improve the customer experience. While we disagree with the allegations initially made in the lawsuit — which do not reflect our policies and practices — we agreed to settle because we are committed to partnering with Attorney General Ellison and others who share our commitment to improving the experience of our customers in all respects.”