About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

Recommendations for digital equity planning from EveryoneOn

Last week, EveryoneOn released their final report from a three-part series on the digital divide during the pandemic. he report, State of Digital Equity, highlights lessons from surveys and focus groups with income insecure households and digital inclusion practitioners, and offers recommendations for digital equity planning. The report is interesting and well timed given the need for states and communities to come together with a plan to invest in a better technology future. Below are their recommendations for digital equity planning…

  1. Lead with an equity framework: As a digital inclusion practitioner highlighted, “Equity needs to be in the center.” With billions of dollars directed to states and local communities in the coming years, it is imperative that policymakers and decision makers ensure funds are used to reach and benefit all communities, in particular those who are underserved and have been disproportionately affected by the digital divide. It is equally important to be explicit about equity and inclusion goals while also including digital inclusion practitioners and community voices in coalitions, planning activities and advocacy efforts.
  2. Facilitate community-driven messaging: Focus group participants and especially practitioners underscored the importance of the local dimension of digital inclusion. Not only do circumstances differ across communities, but reaching target populations who need help getting and staying online happens best when community members connect with one another, which is where trust is strong. This makes the notion of digital navigators highly relevant. These are ambassadors from the community who are trained to help others find the resources, e.g., discount plans and free computers, to start and sustain their internet journeys. In recent months, many communities have piloted digital navigator models, including the organizations that participated in the focus groups. The practitioners highlighted the important role digital navigators have played in recent months to promote the Affordable Connectivity Program, the new federal internet subsidy program.
  3. Localize and centralize digital resources: Not only are community-driven initiatives key, but having a trusted and accessible place in the community for digital resources is crucial. People need a one-stop shop that gives them access in one place to the digital assistance they may need. The data shows that local nonprofits, public libraries and other community anchor institutions are far more trusted than internet service providers and the government. For enrolling in discount or free internet plans, it is also important that people be able to complete that transaction in one visit. Complicated processes for determining eligibility for such programs inhibits participation. If people have to leave a place that they have gone to sign up to retrieve a document to demonstrate eligibility, they often do not return. Easy-to-use enrollment processes at trusted community places are foundational to promoting digital equity. In addition, as devices become more prevalent in households and new adopters come into play, people require hands-on technical support. A one-stop shop or community space that offers technical support, coupled with internet enrollment assistance and digital skills training opportunities, addresses the multiple barriers that new adopters, in particular, face. As documented in the focus groups, people are eager to return to in-person activities, including digital skills training, as the pandemic eases.
  4. Prioritize people over networks: Practitioners emphasized that closing the digital divide requires people as much (if not more than) networks. The digital divide is not primarily a technological problem, but instead a social problem. Yet practitioners worried about a tendency among some stakeholders to equate fixing the digital divide with building more networks. The social nature of the digital divide means people-driven solutions have to be the main part of the equation, and this entails having people in the community, i.e., boots on the ground to address the problem. This puts the notion of scaling solutions in another light. Scaling a solution, in the business sense, connotes finding the easily replicable digital solution that can go viral quickly and reach the masses. That is not as relevant for a social problem. Rather, “seed” is more appropriate. Fostering digital equity requires seeding initiatives in places where community members are cultivating solutions. This requires patience and clear thinking about “seed versus scale” to address digital equity. It may be possible to scale digital equity solutions, but only after models have been cultivated in and for specific communities.
  5. Engage and fund organizations doing the work: In the last two years, many organizations across the country have become digital inclusion experts in order to ensure their communities are connected and have the devices needed to participate in various online activities. At the same time, organizations that have been focused on digital equity since before the pandemic, including those that participated in the focus groups, have expanded their services exponentially to meet the demand. These are the organizations that states and local jurisdictions should engage to both inform the design and implementation of initiatives and fund to drive the work locally. Nonprofits, workforce development agencies, libraries and others are trusted voices across diverse communities and also know how to reach the hardest[1]to-reach populations. And to ensure digital inclusion efforts are successful, community partners need to be funded appropriately. Whether building out new infrastructure or a community wireless network, launching an awareness campaign to drive adoption of the Affordable Connectivity Program, or creating a computer refurbishment program, sufficient funding should be allocated to cover all costs associated with a successful implementation, including all personnel costs. As we heard from the organizations that participated in the focus groups, without appropriate funding, digital inclusion initiatives fall short of meeting goals

Doug Dawson’s tips for BEAD (Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment) applicants

Doug Dawson (CCG) is one of the smartest broadband guys I know. Doug is going to be working on a series of blog posts on BEAD (Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment) funding the applications. If you are thinking about BEAD funding, or you want to keep an eye on things, I recommend following his blog. I might not post about each edition in her series but today he starts with an outline of the issues he may be diving into soon… (my quote below is abridged)

  • The Grants Draw a Firm Technology Line.
    This includes only fiber-optics, cable company hybrid-fiber coaxial technology, DSL, and fixed wireless service supported by licensed spectrum. Every other technology does not count as broadband in terms of defining areas eligible for the grants. The NOFO means that grants can be used to overbuild areas served by satellite broadband or by WISPs using unlicensed spectrum – regardless of the speeds being provided.
  • The Grants Are Complicated.
    These are going to be the most complicated broadband grants ever – more complicated even than ReConnect grants.
  • The Grants Add a Lot of Cost to Projects.
    Some of the big ones include environmental and historical preservation studies; prevailing wages for grants over $5 million; bank letters of credit and a legal opinion on the lines of credit; construction contractors must certify commitments to workforce development, including participation in apprenticeship programs; buy America requirements that will drive up the cost of materials; heavy-duty reporting requirements that layer on work after taking the grant.
  • The Grants Are Clearly Stacked Against New ISPs.
    This is ironic because the rules as written by Congress and alluded to throughout the NOFO talk about favoring what the NOFO calls non-traditional broadband providers like non-profits, electric cooperatives, local governments, public utility districts, and Tribes.
  • The Grants Want to See Skin in the Game.
    While grants can be as high as 75%, the NTIA expects States to award grants to applicants that ask for the lowest amount of grant funding.
  • There are Some Gotchas In the Financial Requirements.
    [To start] an applicant must get a bank letter of credit just to apply for the grant – something that’s expensive and not easy for many entities to get.
  • This is Going to Overwhelm State Broadband Offices.
    The complexity of the grant rules will overwhelm most state grant offices, which are often newly staffed.
  • Penalties for Non-performance.
    Penalties against non-performing grant recipients can include the imposition of additional award conditions, payment suspension, award suspension, grant termination, de-obligation/clawback of funds, and debarment of organizations and/or personnel from using future federal funds.

Kandiyohi County, Charter Communications partner on $800,000 broadband project to serve 170 customers with ARPA funds

West Central Tribune reports…

Elected officials from Kandiyohi County and representatives from Charter Communications symbolically broke ground Monday on an $800,000 project that Charter said will bring broadband internet service to more than 170 rural, unserved homes and small businesses.

The event in New London Township was also a celebration of the partnerships between local elected officials and Charter Communications that made the project possible.

The agreement between Kandiyohi County and Charter Communications includes nearly $240,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding that was secured by the county, along with more than $563,000 in private investment from Charter.

MN Legislators still working on broadband but feel it’s a point of agreement

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Lawmakers set the state’s two-year budget last session and there are no requirements for them to do anything this year, but Republicans remain steadfast in pushing for permanent tax cuts to give some of the surplus back to Minnesotans. Democrats have favored smaller one-time tax rebates and credits.

“While we’re open to finding common ground in public safety and education, maybe broadband and some other areas, we also remain focused on putting money back in the pockets of Minnesotans,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona.

The governor and top legislative leadership shuttled in and out of meetings all last week, tight-lipped about what they were discussing behind closed doors. Most of the public discussion took place in joint committee meetings between the House and Senate, where the two parties aired the differences in their plans.

I have been out of town but scanning the Conference Committee last Thursday and trying to catch up on the MN Leg notes, it’s looks like broadband is still in discussion. Right now the Senate has $110 million in federal funds to broadband, while the House is looking at $25 from General Funds. So it will be interesting where the common ground will be.

Bemidji’s broadband leaves them poised to succeed – says Dave Hengel

Bemidji Pioneer posts a column from Dave Hengel, executive director of Greater Bemidji Economic Development, on the importance of technology and broadband for a thriving community…

The primary driver has been technology, which has created both incredible opportunities and challenges for communities worldwide. Since technology has allowed both businesses and people to locate virtually anywhere, geography (where we are located on a map) matters less, and place (a community’s character and quality of life) matters more. …

Thanks to technological innovations, none of these matters as much. We aren’t remote — we are connected via Zoom and other technology. We have access to metropolitan markets and resources all with the click of a mouse. While logistics have not reduced in importance, our largest “interstate” is our broadband network.

And let me remind everyone, the greater Bemidji region has the best all-fiber network in the nation. Thanks to the investment over the past decade by Paul Bunyan Communications, every home and business in our region has up to 10-gigabit service while other communities (including metropolitan areas) are struggling to gain basic broadband service.

In other words, Bemidji is ahead of the game.

Today, great communities are built, not born. The assets that bring prosperity and economic growth are not inherited. Like our all-fiber broadband network, key quality of life and economic development amenities can be identified and built.

Duluth resident skeptical of provider follow through with public funds

The Duluth News Tribune posts a letter to the editor…

I read with interest the May 9 News Tribune article “ St. Louis County signs on to Rice Lake broadband project .” I hope that included in the $3,800-per-household cost is a requirement for internet providers serving the area to hook up interested homeowners. Otherwise the county will have wasted taxpayer dollars to decorate telephone poles with expensive black cable for the residents to admire from across the road.

Almost two years ago a similar project in the rural, far east end of Duluth resulted in just that. Fiber optic cable strung from telephone poles ready to connect to homes. However, two years later, the only internet provider “servicing” this part of Duluth has yet to even contact residents about connecting their internet service to this fiber optic line — tantalizingly close, yet impossibly far away. Were taxpayer dollars used for this project as well? Who knows, as our local elected politicians have shown no interest in exploring this issue. Getting fiber optic cable into rural communities is a great political talking point. However, it seems that politicians really don’t care if the cable is actually used.

Many of us living in rural areas, in frustration, have abandoned the promise of fiber optic internet and turned instead to Starlink high-speed satellite internet for a fraction of the $3,800-per-household cost our county just approved for the Rice Lake project. I hope that the county commissioners were smart enough to make sure this massive amount of money promised for this project will have the intended result of gaining high-speed internet access for our rural friends and neighbors. But from my experience, I am skeptical.

I understand the frustration – but I think it rest more in the follow though and follow up than on the investment.

North Country’s take on the LTD Broadband predicament

LTD Broadband, the largest potential recipient of federal (RDOF) funding for broadband, has been in the news a lot because they (and the communities where they applied to provide service) are in limbo as they wait to hear if they do indeed get the funding. I’m trying not to duplicate the story too much – but did want to add the local respective from the Timbejay

LTD was a moderately-sized internet provider going into the 2020 FCC auction, with about 100 employees serving about 18,000 customers in six states, mostly in Minnesota.
But LTD walked away from that auction as the largest awardee in the nation, winning service area development bids worth $1.32 billion in federal funding to build broadband infrastructure for nearly 530,000 residents in 15 states.
That winning bid included nearly all of the federally eligible tracts in the North Country outside of already established broadband providers such as Midco and Frontier Communications. Because the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Development initiative will not give state subsidies for development in FCC-designated tracts, LTD’s FCC funding gives them a virtual lock on otherwise unprofitable development in these areas.
Paul Bunyan Communications was forced to eliminate numerous potential service locations from its broadband project for Cook because they were in FCC tracts awarded to LTD, and PBC could not use its Border-to-Border grant to pay for extending its service to those areas.
Greenwood Township is an area awarded to LTD in the FCC auction and an example of how the award can affect future development. The township has the option to wait for LTD to build its broadband network there, and the FCC monies make it a viable economic venture for LTD. Township officials have been working with another company to explore possibilities for getting service faster than they might through LTD, but cost is a serious issue. Greenwood is like all of the other tracts in the FCC auction in that companies have found the expense of serving them to be cost prohibitive without government subsidies. LTD is the only company qualified to receive subsidies for a project in Greenwood right now.
However, if the ETC designation for LTD is revoked by the PUC, they would be declared in default of their agreement with the FCC and lose access to those funds. Other companies could then step up to compete for alternative funding to build out service, according to information provided to the Timberjay on Tuesday by FCC spokesperson Anne Veigle.

NOFOs are out for NTIA Broadband programs

Here’s a shortlist of opportunities:

Biden-Harris Administration Launches $45 Billion “Internet for All” Initiative

The NTIA reports…

Today, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo will visit Durham, N.C., to announce the launch of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Internet for All initiative, which will invest $45 billion to provide affordable, reliable, high-speed internet for everyone in America by the end of the decade. The initiative will be administered and implemented by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
The Internet for All initiative will build internet infrastructure, teach digital skills, and provide necessary technology to ensure that everyone in America – including communities of color, rural communities, and older Americans – has the access and skills they need to fully participate in today’s society.

The Internet for All programs launched today with three Notices of Funding Opportunity:

  • Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program ($42.5 billion)
  • Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program ($1 billion)
  • State Digital Equity Act program ($1.5 billion)

They are hosting a series of webinars on the funds, starting May 16.

RESOURCE: Stronger Together: Federal funding and planning strategies

There’s not much to say about the resource (Stronger Together: Federal funding and planning strategies designed to promote sustainable economic development in rural America) so I’ll borrow from the document itself…

Together, the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA RD) are pleased to offer this joint planning resource guide, designed to help you eliminate barriers and encourage collaboration among your stakeholders.

It is a series of super useful tables. More of a reference work than a coffee top (or even night stand) book. It would be easy to spur conversation based on the info or get follow up information.

NEW Tribal Broadband Planning Toolkit Now Available

BroadbandUSA reports…

A successful broadband project begins with a broadband plan, one that lays out the goals and path forward to enhance internet access and meaningful use within a target area or community. But there are many moving pieces involved in creating a broadband plan. BroadbandUSA’s Tribal Broadband Planning Toolkit  aims to simplify the process for tribes. It provides the guidance, knowledge, and resources to design, implement, and then execute a broadband plan in tribal communities.
While this toolkit can be used at any time and for any broadband planning purpose – for NTIA or other programs – it comes at an especially opportune time: The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) allocated an additional $2 billion and relaxed some of the program requirements to the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.
Made up of seven worksheets, this Toolkit offers insights, interactive tools, and links to technical assistance resources for every stage of the broadband planning journey. While we understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to crafting a broadband plan, we hope that this Toolkit provides foundational resources to get you started.

Ceylon approves broadband contract with FREA (Martin County)

The Fairmont Sentinel reports

Ceylon City Council held its May meeting on Tuesday. It began with a phone message from CEDA’s Kelly Wilken which discussed the responses to the broadband project. The council had read the sealed bids that had been opened at a previous meeting. The LTD Company was one of the bidders and discussion was held about the FCC questioning their capabilities to do broadband to more than 100,000 in Minnesota. The Federated REA bid was also discussed. The council liked the fact that the FREA has been reliable in the town and that they are a more local company with a good business reputation. The council approved beginning contract negotiations with FREA concerning the broadband in Ceylon. They scheduled a meeting for negotiations for May 26th. This will give FREA a time to round out their contract proposal.

I assume the funding is coming from their Small Cities Coronavirus Community Development Block Grant Program award.

Wi-Fi On School Buses Eligible For E-Rate Funding

From a speech from FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel to the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training as summarized by the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society...

For more than two decades, E-Rate has provided vital support to help connect schools and libraries to high-speed, modern communications all across the country. It got its start as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Over 25 million children take the bus to school every day. In rural areas that ride can be long. It can easily be an hour to school and an hour to return home at the end of the day. It’s good for young people to spend some time daydreaming, decompressing, and talking to friends, but wouldn’t it be nice if kids had the option of using this time to connect for homework? The good news is we have a workable, common-sense solution. We can connect our school buses and make them Wi-Fi-enabled—think of it as Wi-Fi on wheels. I am proposing a plan to my colleagues to make Wi-Fi on school buses eligible for E-Rate support. This is not a far leap to make. It’s both consistent with the law and the history of the program. After all, for many years E-Rate supported the use of communications for school buses—like wireless phones used by drivers—when shepherding students to and from school.

Should MN PUC look at revoking LTD Broadband’s expanded ETC? They are asking you!

Last week I noted that MN industry associations (MTA and MREA) are asking the MN PUC (Public Utilities Commission) to revoke LTD Broadband’s ETC designation. If you have an opinion, especially if you have firsthand experience as a customer or otherwise, the PUC would like to know what you think. Should they initiate proceedings to look into it?

Why is it happening? Because a year ago, LTD qualified to apply for large amounts of federal funding (RDOF) to deploy fiber to the home in Minnesota (and other states) and many are wary of their ability to successfully deploy a FTTH network. And right now, the areas where they have applied are stuck in a limbo of dibs; because they might get this RDOF federal funding, they are disqualified for other options.

What does this mean? An entity must have ETC designation to qualify for RDOF. Therefore, a revoked ETC designation would impact RDOF eligibility. That would mean, LTD may no longer qualify for the RDOF funding.

Again the PUC is asking Minnesota residents what they think – especially if you have (or might have in the future) firsthand experience with LTD Broadband.

Here’s the info on the comment period and process (There’s more in the PDF.)…

NOTICE OF COMMENT PERIOD
Issued: May 11, 2022

In the Matter of the Petition of LTD Broadband, LLC to Expand its Designation as an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier

In the Matter of a Petition to Initiate a Proceeding to Revoke the Expanded Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (“ETC”) Designation of LTD Broadband, LLC (“LTD”) and Deny LTD’s Funding Certification for 2023

PUC Docket Number(s): P-6995/M-21-133

P-558, P-6995/M-22-221

Comment Period:
Initial comment period closes June 1, 2022 at 4:30pm
Reply comment period closes June 8, 2022 at 4:30pm
Comments received after the close of the comment period may or may not be considered by the Commission.

Issue: Should the Commission initiate a proceeding to develop a record to determine whether LTD Broadband’s expanded ETC designation should be revoked?

Topic(s) Open for Comment:
• Should the Commission initiate a proceeding to consider revoking LTD Broadband LLC expanded ETC designation, which was granted in the Commission’s June 3, 2021, Order Approving Petition for ETC Designation in Certain Census Blocks, and address LTD’s certification for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) funding in 2023?
• If the Commission initiates a proceeding: – Should the proceeding be conducted as an expedited proceeding under Minn. Stat. §237.61? – Should the matter be referred to the Office of Administrative Hearing (OAH) for a contested case proceeding pursuant to Minn. Rule 7829.1000? or – Some other procedure?
• If the Commission uses an expedited proceeding, should the Commission designate a lead Commissioner or a sub-committee of Commissioners under Minn. Stat. §216A.03 subd. 8 or 9? And should this proceeding include a cross-examination of parties?
• Should the Commission adopt one of the schedules proposed by the petitioners? Or a schedule proposed by one of the other parties? Or delegate scheduling to the designated lead commissioner, subcommittee of commissioners, or administrative law judge (ALJ)?
• Should the Commission order LTD to submit its FCC RDOF long form application to the Commission?
• Are there other issues or concerns related to this matter?

Background
On June 3, 2021, the Commission issued an Order that expanded LTD Broadband’s (LTD) ETC designation to include approximately 102,000 additional locations in Minnesota (“LTD Expansion Order”). LTD sought that designation to qualify for $311 million in support under the federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (“RDOF”) to build and operate a fiber-to-the-premise (“FTTP”) broadband network in Minnesota.

On May 6, 2022, the Minnesota Telecom Alliance (MTA) and Minnesota Rural Electric Association (MREA) jointly submitted a petition under Minn. Stat. § 216A.05 subd. 5 to initiate a proceeding to revoke the expanded eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) designation of LTD and deny LTD’s certification for 2023. The petitioners believe that newly available facts show that LTD cannot meet the extensive commitments it made to qualify for RDOF funding for approximately 102,000 locations in Minnesota.

Filing Requirements: Utilities, telecommunications carriers, official parties, and state agencies are required to efile documents using the Commission’s electronic filing system (eFiling). All parties, participants, and interested persons are encouraged to use eFiling at: https://www.edockets.state.mn.us/EFiling

Full Case Record: See all documents filed in this matter on the Commission’s website at: mn.gov/puc/edockets, select Go to eDockets Project Database, enter the year (21) and the docket number (133), and select Search.

Subscribe: To receive email notification when new documents are filed in this matter visit: https://www.edockets.state.mn.us/EFiling and select Subscribe to Dockets. Questions about this docket or Commission process and procedure?

Contact Commission staff, Marc Fournier, at Marc.Fournier@state.mn.us or 651-201-2214 or Sally Anne McShane, at Sally.Anne.McShane@state.mn.us or 651-201-2224.

EVENT May 11 (2:45pm): Conference Committee on HF4366 – Omnibus Agriculture, Housing & Broadband

A quick note for folks who want to watch in real time – the Conference Committee is meeting this afternoon and the event will be livestreamed. I will try to watch and capture the broadband discussions; the schedule is subject to change with little warning.

Here’s the info from the MN Leg site…

Location: Remote Hearing
Chair: Rep. Mike Sundin

Agenda:

I. Review of agriculture-related funding provisions that are contained in both bills
II. Review of selected House only agriculture provisions
– MDA IT
– Beginning Farmer Tax Credit
– Bioincentives language
– Hunger relief initiative
– Farm down payment initiative
III. Review of selected Senate only agriculture items (if time allows)
– ACRRA maximum reimbursement/payment increase
– Regulated animal exemptions modified
– Compensation to Certain White-tailed Deer Farmers
– Certain solar energy systems allowed in agricultural preserves
IV. Adoption of same agriculture language items (if time allows)

*House holds the gavel.

HF4366 / SF4019 Omnibus agriculture, housing and broadband bill.

House conferees: Sundin, Hausman, Howard, Vang, Theis
Senate conferees: Westrom, Draheim, Dornink, Pratt, Dziedzic

Meeting material will be posted on the House Agriculture Committee page https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/committees/home/92001

This remote hearing may be viewed via the House webcast schedule page: https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/htv/schedule.asp All events are closed-captioned.

To provide feedback on digital accessibility of meeting information, please submit comments through the Minnesota Legislature Accessibility & Usability Comment Form. If you require an accommodation, please contact John Howe at: John.Howe@house.mn or by leaving a message at 651-296-3208. Please do not contact him with questions about the substance of the meeting agenda. To learn more about requesting an accommodation, please visit the FAQs for Disability Access.

Written comment (PDF file format) submitted to nancy.conley@house.mn and joel.hanson@senate.mn by noon on May 11, 2022 will be posted and shared with members.

Committee Documents:
CC spreadsheet comparison.pdf
Ag appropriations articles side-by-side.pdf
Ag Articles side-by-side.pdf
MN Realtors Written Comment on Housing.pdf
HF4366 SameSimDiff (AgOnly).pdf
HOM Written Comment on Housing.pdf
AARP Written Comment on Broadband .pdf