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.

RDOF winner Resound Networks gets Gig via fixed wireless – will that change the rules?

Telecompetitor reports

RDOF winner Resound Networks says that it has successfully achieved gigabit speeds using fixed wireless access (FWA) in the 6 GHz band via an experimental license. The company said that it reached a distance of more than three miles using 160 MHz-wide channels that will become available in the band.

Resound is one of three top-ten winning bidders in the Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction that plan to use fixed wireless, along with fiber broadband, to deliver gigabit speeds.

And while several big winning bidders that plan to rely on gigabit fiber broadband for their deployments have had funding released to them, none of the big winning bidders planning to use gigabit fixed wireless have had funding released — apparently because the FCC wants to make sure that the technology can meet performance requirements.

This is something to watch in Minnesota. The biggest potential RDOF winner in Minnesota is LTD Broadband. They bid to deliver fiber but they have more experience with fixed wireless. So that’s a conundrum. Are there appreciable differences if they can get the same bandwidth? Does it matter if they bid for one technology but use another? Resound Networks’ success is sure to spark discussion.

Treasury Announces First Capital Projects Fund for Broadband – not in MN

US Treasury reports

Louisiana, New Hampshire, Virginia, and West Virginia are the first states to be approved to receive funds under the American Rescue Plan and will connect over 200,000 homes and businesses
WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced the first group of plans approved under the American Rescue Plan’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund (CPF). The CPF provides $10 billion to states, territories, freely associated states, and Tribal governments to fund critical capital projects that enable work, education, and health monitoring in response to the public health emergency. A key priority of the program is to make funding available for reliable, affordable broadband infrastructure and other digital connectivity technology projects. In addition to the $10 billion provided by the CPF, many governments are using a portion of their State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) toward meeting the Biden-Harris Administration’s goal of connecting every American household to affordable, reliable high-speed internet. Through these two programs, the American Rescue Plan is supplying among the first large waves of federal broadband funding under the Biden-Harris Administration and laying the groundwork for future funding provided in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

eNews: MN Monthly Recap June 2022: Legislative & funding updates

Blandin Community Broadband Program Update
While Minnesota plans for federal investments in digital equity and adoption, Blandin Foundation will be exploring the ways they can adapt to make sure rural community interests are centered and supported. As they grow into a new chapter of their work, they will be phasing out existing broadband programming and grantmaking.

Save the Date! 2022 Blandin Broadband Conference
Join the Blandin Foundation for the final Blandin broadband conference at Grand Casino Mille Lacs on October 11-13 to explore how to maximize public and private broadband investments in your community.

Call for MN Border-to-Border Broadband Applications
Applications are open for Border to Border Grants. The funding available is $95 million. As designated in the 2022 legislative session, $25 million has been appropriated from state general revenue funds as available funding for the next round of the Minnesota broadband grant program.

MTA and MREA ask PUC to relook at LTD’s status as ETC
Minnesota Telephone Alliance (MTA) and the Minnesota Rural Electric Association (MREA) filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, asking them to revoke the ETC status for LTD Broadband. LTD has qualified to apply for federal (RDOF) money. For more than a year, communities who might be served by LTD have been waiting to hear on their status. Many have concerns about LTD’s ability. LTD needs the ETC designation from the MN PUC to qualify for the funds. The PUC asked for community comments on the petition to look again at LTD; those comments have been filed and currently there is an opportunity for others to reply to the comments. Then the PUC will decide if they will look into the revoking the ETC designation.

MN Broadband Task Force Meeting May 2022: Cybersecurity
The Task Force heard from several experts from the field of cybersecurity. They talked about the Legislature including a letter the Task Force had sent to the policymakers asking them to consider a greater investment in broadband grants than had been on the table.

State Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Federal Policy

Vendor News

Local Broadband News

Appleton & Madison
Federal broadband funding lessons from 2010 help with funding today: Madison & Appleton MN finally getting fiber!

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

Ceylon
Ceylon approves broadband contract with FREA (Martin County)

Crosby & Ironton MN
CTC and Crow Wing County pursue CARES funds for Crosby and Ironton MN

Dawson
After 12 years the Computer Commuter (mobile computer lab) rides into the sunset (LqP County)

Duluth
Duluth resident skeptical of provider follow through with public funds

Grand Marais
Grand Marais broadband project nominated for national award

Hutchinson
DEED Commissioner and Nuvera CEO talk about increased need for upload speeds in Hutchinson MN

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

Le Sueur County
Le Sueur County Broadband Fair getting local attention to build greatest demand for better broadband

Litchfield
Litchfield gets fiber from Meeker Cooperative (Meeker County)

Little Falls
Little Falls and Morrison County making plans for better broadband

Madison
Madison Mercantile: When broadband makes community easier (LqP County)

Mankato
Mankato Clinic expands virtual care across 13 facilities (Blue Earth County)

Rural Minnesota
Being online helps older adults learn about and access some activities in rural Minnesota

St Louis County
St. Louis County says yes to Rice Lake broadband project

Upcoming Events, Opportunities and Resources

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

As my work with Blandin Foundation comes to a close, I want to pay tribute to all of the community leaders with whom I have worked with over the past 15 years.  Broadband development in rural places is never easy.  Community broadband initiatives can require hundreds of hours of staff and volunteer time with no guarantee of success.  Community leaders never asked for this role; they generally have their hands full with traditional community infrastructure like sewer, water and roads.  Insightful leaders recognized, some sooner than others, that the community needed to get engaged with energy and persistence to stimulate investment.  Minnesota is lucky to have leaders like those who have participated in the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition.  If not for those volunteers, the legislature might have never continued to fund the broadband program.

It has been very gratifying and lots of fun to work on broadband with all of you.  Thank you!

Americans for Responsible Technology promote FTTH over wireless solutions

Public News Service reports…

Groups that promote the responsible deployment of technology are celebrating the Biden administration’s new $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program because it favors fiberoptic technology over broadband communications technologies such as cable, satellite, DSL and wireless.
Gary Bolton – president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association – said fiberoptic connections are faster, more reliable, and can adapt easily to future technological advances.
“You’ll be able to do things like smart-grid modernization, public safety, and even advanced services like 5G,” said Bolton. “So having this near-limitless capacity is going to really close the digital divide once and for all.”

One reason for supporting fiber is the unintended impact of wireless…

Americans for Responsible Technology President and Founder Doug Wood said health groups favor fiber broadband over wireless because wireless cell towers emit radiofrequency radiation. And a 2018 study from the National Institutes of Health linked RF radiation to cancer in lab animals.

“We’re beginning to understand that it has biological impacts, even at levels far below what the government considers safe,” said Wood. “So, it seems like an unwise decision to start installing wireless antennas and wireless broadband and communities across the country.”

Being online helps learn about and access some activities for older adults in rural Minnesota

MinnPost reports

Social well-being is essential to good health. Yet, as the COVID-19 pandemic roiled the country and upended social routines, supporting social well-being became even more challenging, including in rural areas. Social well-being was impacted most directly by the need to socially distance and isolate, and many people moved some or all their social activity online. However, this proved more challenging in rural areas, where broadband connectivity is less available and devices are less omnipresent, and for older adults, who generally report lower use of online technology than their younger counterparts.

In an April, 2022 report released by AP and NORC at the University of Chicago, rural adults age 50 and older reported the lowest level of satisfaction with available social activities in their community (only 38% thought the area they lived in was doing a good job at providing social activities, compared with 52% in urban areas and 55% in suburban areas, despite the fact that older adults make up a disproportionate share of rural residents). The survey also showed that rural residents reported lower satisfaction with transportation and availability of services to help them age in their own homes, compared with their urban and suburban counterparts.

They looked at the impact of broadband access and info…

We researched social opportunities in all 60 non-metropolitan counties in Minnesota, focusing most on those geared toward older adults. We found ample opportunities, but also variation between counties. Most – but not all – counties offer some combination of social infrastructure, including public libraries, senior centers, farmer’s markets, faith-based organizations (notably mostly Christian churches), American Legions and/or VFWs, and public parks. For some, there were community arts centers and hobby groups (e.g., quiltingfitness classes, bee keepingcardsgardeningcommunity theatermovie nightsbingophotographyfishingart classeswine tastingbook clubs).

Some counties and communities made it easy to find opportunities online. For example, the Todd County website listed a variety of opportunities and social infrastructure resources in an accessible, user-friendly fashion. This is good for residents looking for new ways to connect with each other, but is also important for loved ones who live out of town and are trying to find opportunities for those they care about. Many counties also have local news sources through which activities and events can be shared, although the availability and independence of those has decreased nationally in recent years, potentially making it more difficult to share local social opportunities.

Other counties and communities were much more opaque about social opportunities for older adults. Either the opportunities don’t exist, or, more likely, they organize by word of mouth or other forums. That begs the question, who might that be leaving out? How would newcomers to communities learn about social opportunities and connections, and how can out-of-town loved ones help their family members find ways to connect?

A look at comments submitted on MN PUC petition to look at LTD Broadband’s eligibility for funding

I just wrote about Doug Dawson’s take on the situation for LTD and the PUC and RDOF. I thought about adding this info – but to make it easier to find this info later, I decided to do two posts. But I’m going to borrow from Doug’s post for a quick background for new readers.

Minnesota Telephone Alliance and the Minnesota Rural Electric Association jointly filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, asking to revoke the ETC status for LTD Broadband. … The petition stems from LTD being the winner in the RDOF auction in Minnesota to receive $311 million to bring broadband to 102,000 passing in the state. In the RDOF filings, LTD promises to build fiber-to-the-premise to all of these passings. The petition contends that LTD can’t make the financial commitments to fulfill the RDOF pledge.

The PUC invited comments on the petition until June 1, 2022; now the reply comment period is open until June 8. Here is an annotated list of folks who submitted comments (links below go to their full response):

  • Institute for Local Self Reliance (national nonprofit research/advocacy group) – they support a proceeding to revoke ETC status. They are joined by League of Rural Voters and AARP-Minnesota. They give a detailed history of LTD and broadband in Minnesota, including offering context that LTD may be standing in the way of MN communities getting a share of the unprecedented funding coming from federal sources.
  • Le Sueur County – they support a proceeding to revoke the ETC status. They provide a frontline perspective noting that before the RDOF was announced, the County estimated FTTH would cost $12 million to build; LTD has bid closer to $1 million. That seems like a significant difference. They had a grant application in for State Border to Border funding for a project but it was rejected once LTD was awarded the opportunity to apply for RDOF money.
  • MN Attorney General Keith Ellison – they support a proceeding to revoke ETC status. They also say that LTD should share their RDOF long form submissions with the MN PUC. IN fact they suggestion that all RDOF ETCs share their forms. They recognize that while MN may lose the federal funding designated for LTD if the ETC is revoked; if it is not revoked the designated areas may find it difficult to get other funding, which holds them in a funding limbo.
  • Pine County – they offer recommendations that may speak more to the role of the FCC. They also talk about the difficulty is working to get ubiquitous broadband in the county when an outside vendor has a claim to funding for portions of the community and those claims have a 10 year hold if funds are received.
  • Minnesota Department of Commerce – they took a wait and see approach. They have detailed information and recommendations for what the PUC should consider. They say, “In response to the current proceeding, LTD should share its position and address the troubling allegations filed in the petition. Commerce will make recommendations to the Commission on whether to hold a proceeding and the nature of any possible proceeding in Reply Comments.”
  • LTD Broadband – they oppose the proceeding and cite legal aspects of the moving forward saying there is no legal basis for the petition and assert that broadband expansion through LTD Broadband is in the public interest.

Another take on LTD Broadband, the MN PUC and RDOF

Doug Dawson  (Pots and Pans)  has a nice overview of what’s happening with LTD Broadband and the Minnesota PUC…

I read a lot of petitions and pleadings at regulatory commissions. But one of the most extraordinary filings I can remember was made recently in Minnesota, where the Minnesota Telephone Alliance and the Minnesota Rural Electric Association jointly filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, asking to revoke the ETC status for LTD Broadband. I call this extraordinary because I can’t recall ever seeing a big group of petitioners asking to decertify another carrier.

The petition stems from LTD being the winner in the RDOF auction in Minnesota to receive $311 million to bring broadband to 102,000 passing in the state. In the RDOF filings, LTD promises to build fiber-to-the-premise to all of these passings. The petition contends that LTD can’t make the financial commitments to fulfill the RDOF pledge.

You can visit the site for more detail. I’ve written about the situation a lot in the past but always interesting to hear it again. His conclusion seems likely…

When I first read this petition, my first thought was that the primary reason for the petition is to put pressure on the FCC to reject LTD Broadband. I’m not sure what else is happening at the MPUC, but this filing likely means it’s not going to have a quiet summer.

EVENT Jun 10: AT&T Policy Forum Connecting Communities to Internet for All

An invitation from AT&T…

Connecting Communities to Internet for All

Friday, June 10, 2022        9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. ET

Register Here!

With policymakers and broadband providers squarely focused on opportunities to deliver broadband for all across the US, please join us on June 10th for an online forum on Connecting Communities to Internet for All.

The event will begin with a fireside chat with Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and NTIA Administrator, and Jonathan Spalter, President & CEO, USTelecom. The discussion will highlight new guidance from NTIA to the states to ensure the successful distribution of funds through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program.

And as policymakers look to maximize this once in a generation opportunity to connect all Americans, a panel of experts will explore successful models to connect all communities.

Fireside Chat:

  • Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications & NTIA Administrator
  • Jonathan Spalter, President & CEO, USTelecom

Panel:

  • John Hendel, Technology Reporter, POLITICO (moderator)
  • Veneeth Iyengar, Executive Director, Connect LA
  • Jeff Luong, President, Broadband Access & Adoption Initiative, AT&T
  • Cheryl Musgrave, Commissioner, Vanderburgh County

Blandin Community Broadband Program Update

From the Blandin Foundation

As the rural broadband landscape transforms, so too is our broadband programming. While Minnesota plans for federal investments in digital equity and adoption, we will be exploring the ways we can adapt to make sure rural community interests are centered and supported. As we grow into a new chapter of our work, we will be phasing out existing broadband programming and grantmaking. Our October gathering will also mark the final broadband conference hosted by Blandin Foundation.

Big changes are on the horizon for broadband in rural Minnesota and Blandin Foundation remains committed. Digital access and literacy are essential to rural opportunity and prosperity, and we want to make sure our work is evolving with the needs of your community.

We look forward to celebrating at the October conference our big broadband milestones and dreaming together of a digitally equitable future as we reflect, recharge and inspire new generations of champions.

Save the Date! 2022 Blandin Broadband Conference

From the Blandin Foundation

It’s time to celebrate!

We’re excited to be back together, in-person with you for our 2022 broadband conference.

With robust public investments in both broadband access and use, the path forward for digitally connected and thriving rural Minnesota communities has never been clearer. Unprecedented resources are coming and communities with a plan will benefit the most.

Join us at Grand Casino Mille Lacs on October 11-13 to explore how to maximize public and private broadband investments in your community. Hear from communities who have forged the trail for better infrastructure and graduated from fighting for access to creating avenues for every community member to have the devices and skills they need.

We will be in touch soon with more details, registration, and lodging information. 

Call for MN Border-to-Border Broadband Applications

More detail from DEED on the grants that were announced earlier today…

Program Description and Background

In order to continue to promote broadband infrastructure expansion for areas of Minnesota that remain unserved or underserved, public sector investment is necessary. The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program was initially established by the 2014 legislature to assist with costly deployment projects that might not occur without public financial assistance. Pursuant to Minnesota Statutes §§ 116J.394-116J.398, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has the authority to award grants to assist broadband providers with eligible infrastructure installation costs.

Funding Availability for FY2022/23

The funding available to be awarded to selected grantees will be $95 million. As designated in the 2022 legislative session, $25 million has been appropriated from state general revenue funds as available funding for the next round of the Minnesota broadband grant program. In the 2021 Special Session, $70 million for FY2022 and 2023 was approved by the state legislature from the Federal American Rescue Plan Act Capital Projects Funds for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program. Priority consideration will be given to projects that leverage greater amounts of funding for a project from other private and public sources. The maximum individual grant amount is $5 million. The maximum grant funding award cannot exceed 50% of the eligible total project costs.

Eligible Applicants

Eligible applicants for this program are an incorporated business or partnership, a political subdivision, an Indian tribe, a Minnesota nonprofit organization organized under chapter 317A, a Minnesota cooperative association organized under chapter 308A or 308B, or a Minnesota limited liability corporation organized under chapter 322C for the purpose of expanding broadband access.

Eligible Project Areas

Broadband development projects located in unserved or underserved areas are eligible. An unserved area is an area of Minnesota in which households or businesses lack access to wire-line broadband service at speeds that meet the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) threshold of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 megabits per second (Mbps) upload. An underserved area is an area of Minnesota in which households or businesses do receive service at or above the FCC threshold of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up, but lack access to wire-line broadband service at speeds of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload.

Eligible Program Costs

The Broadband Development Grant Program can pay up to 50% of the total costs for a qualifying project. Eligible costs refer to the costs associated with the acquisition and installation of middle mile and/or last mile infrastructure that can support broadband service scalable to speeds of at least 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload.

Matching Funds Requirement

To obtain a broadband development grant, the applicant must provide for the funding not covered by the grant with matching funds. The match can come from any private and/or public sources that allow for such use and are available to the applicant. The state grant funding period begins after the grant application is received, evaluated, and officially approved by the DEED Commissioner with an award letter and executed contract.

Required Pre-Application Outreach to Other Providers

Minnesota law 116J.395, subd. 5(9) requires that an application include evidence that no later than six weeks before submission of the application the applicant contacted, in writing, all entities providing broadband service in the proposed project area to ask for each broadband service provider’s plan to upgrade broadband service in the project area to speeds that meet or exceed the state’s broadband speed goals in section 237.012, subd. 1, within the time frame specified in the proposed grant activities. The application is also to include the broadband providers written responses. This means that the required notification to other providers must be completed by June 23, 2022, for an application to be submitted by the last day of the filing window of August 4, 2022. This requirement is in statute and cannot be waived; an application that does not contain the necessary information will not be considered for funding.

Selection Criteria

Applications will be reviewed by Office of Broadband Development staff, are eligible for a maximum 120 reviewer scoring points, and will be ranked on the following categories:

  • Anticipated broadband improvements – up to 20 points
  • Grant funding request amount – up to 10 points
  • Critical need/Community participation – up to 15 points
  • Project readiness – up to 25 points
  • Project sustainability – up to 25 points
  • Economic development and community impact – up to 15 points
  • Broadband adoption assistance – up to 10 points

Application Window and Deadlines for FY2022/23 Grants

The Minnesota Broadband Grant Program is a competitive grant award cycle for this 2021 and 2022 legislative appropriation for fiscal years 2022 and 2023. The grant application for the FY2022/23 round will be available on June 2, 2022. A copy of the application packet can be found on DEED’s website and under the “2022 Application Process” tab.

All applications must be received at DEED on or before the application deadline of August 4, 2022, no later than 4:00 p.m. Central Time

Applications MUST be UPLOADED to DEED via Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) portal on or prior to 4:00 p.m. Central Time on August 4, 2022, to be deemed eligible for funding. The application portal to submit your completed application will open July 8, 2022. The instructions to submit your application via the SFTP portal will be located on the same Office of Broadband Development (OBD) web page as above.

Announcement of awards is anticipated in Fall 2022.

Contact Information

For more information and Grant Instructions and Application Packet, consult our website, under Broadband Grant Program – 2022 Application Process tab. OBD/DEED will be posting a series of webinars to provide potential Applicants with more information about the program. Details about the recorded webinars will be available soon. Questions may also be submitted to deed.broadband@state.mn.us and will be answered in FAQs posted to the website. Questions may be asked until the submission deadline of 4:00 p.m. central time on August 4, 2022.

Minnesota Government Data Practices Act

Under Minn. Stat. § 13.599:

  • Names and addresses of grant applicants and the amount requested will be public data once proposal responses are opened.
  • All remaining data in proposal responses (except trade secret data as defined and classified by § 13.37) will be public data once OBD has completed negotiating all grant agreements with the selected grantees.

All data created or maintained by OBD as part of the evaluation process (except trade secret data as defined and classified in § 13.37) will be public data once OBD has completed negotiating all grant agreements with the selected grantees.

DEED Announces Historic Funding for Broadband: Border to Border grant applications are open

Big news from DEED…

Today, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) launched a Request for Proposals (RFP) that will award $95 million in broadband grants across the state, applications must be submitted by August 4, 2022 at 4:00 p.m. Building on appropriations from both the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions, this grant round contains the highest-ever amount of funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure grant program. Funding from two sources – state and federal – can be used to reimburse for up to half the cost of the broadband infrastructure deployed. Funding for a single project is capped at $5 million.

“This historic level of broadband funding will increase opportunities for Minnesotans across the state, said Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, “Now, more than ever, broadband is what connects Minnesotans to their education, jobs and the rest of the world.”

On the state funding side, in May 2022 Governor Tim Walz signed legislation appropriating $50 million — $25M in FY23 and $25M in FY24 – from the state’s general fund for broadband. This bolsters the state’s practice since 2014 of providing state funds to build out broadband service in areas of the state where it is challenging to do so.

For federal broadband funding, the remaining $70 million available for grant awards in this round is federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Capital Projects Fund, administered by the U.S. Department of Treasury (Treasury).

“High-speed, high-quality broadband is central to modern life – from schools to business to healthcare and beyond,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove. “This historic round of funding will go a long way towards connecting the over 240,000 homes & businesses that remain without access to the “modern plumbing” of today’s economy.”

Requirements and application materials for this competitive grant program are available on DEED’s website.

CTC and Crow Wing County pursue CARES funds for Crosby and Ironton MN

The Brainerd Dispatch reports on Crow Wing County and CTC and their pursuit of CARES funding for broadband…

Combined Notice of Finding of No Significant Impact and Notice of Intent to Request Release of Funds State of Minnesota Community Development Block Grant Coronavirus (CDBG-CV) Program

Date of posting: June 1, 2022 or Date of publication: June 1, 2022

Responsibility Entity: Crow Wing County, Minnesota 326 Laurel Street Brainerd, MN 56401 218-824-1067

Preparer: Consolidated Telephone Company 1102 Madison Street Brainerd, MN 56401 218-454-1234

TO ALL INTERESTED PARTIES, GROUPS AND PERSONS: The purpose of this notice is to identify two separate but related actions to be taken by the Crow Wing County, Minnesota (hereinafter referred to as the Grantee). One, the Grantee has made a Finding of No Significant Impact on project activities described below and two, the Grantee intends to request the Business and Community Development Division, Small Cities Development Program, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED BCD) to release Community Development Block Grant Coronavirus (CDBG-CV) funds authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) (PL166-136) for the following project. Pursuant to HUD CPD Notice 20-07 “Guidance on conducting environmental reviews pursuant to 24 CFR Part 58 for activities undertaken in response to the public health emergency as a result of COVID-19” this notice combines the public comment and objection periods into one 18-day comment period. CARES Act funding is needed on an emergency basis as projects funded with CARES Act funds are designed to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the Presidentially declared coronavirus health emergency. Project title or name: Crow Wing County CDBG-CV Broadband Development Project (CWC Broadband Project)

Describe the project in detail: Crow Wing County’s will swiftly deploy a fiber optic to the premise (FTTP) network to hundreds of low to moderate income residents within an area which was economically distressed pre-pandemic and even more so as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as some residents in the area were finding new work because of an increase in local tourism and storefront openings in the nearby cities of Crosby and Ironton, the pandemic shut down business and tourism… resulting in greater economic hardship and financial loss to many of the residents in the Cuyuna region. A lack of broadband infrastructure made distance learning virtually impossible for Crosby-Ironton School District (ISD 182) students and teachers in the area. Additionally, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center was unable to offer telehealth services to many of the patients it serves due to a lack of broadband. This project better prepares the residents in the project area for distance learning, telehealth, and work from home opportunities State justification on why this can be covered under an expedited review: HUD notice CPD-20-07 issued on August 6, 2020 provides guidance on conducting environmental reviews pursuant to 24 CFR Part 58 for activities undertaken in response to the public health emergency as a result of COVID-19.

OPPORTUNITY: 2022 Digital Inclusion Trailblazers Applications Open!

An opportunity from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA)

Digital Inclusion Trailblazers is a public inventory of local government initiatives promoting digital literacy and broadband access for underserved residents. NDIA first launched this effort in 2016 as an advocacy tool for local, state and national digital inclusion leadership, and as a handy database of examples for communities interested in taking similar steps themselves. The list also serves as an honor roll of local government initiatives that promote digital literacy and broadband access for underserved residents. With support from Google Fiber and help from a Working Group of our affiliates, NDIA identifies local governments that are Digital Inclusion Trailblazers using six indicators, listed below, based on documentation submitted by the candidates. Trailblazers are models for other local governments to pursue digital inclusion efforts in their own communities.

Trailblazer Indicators:

  1. Your local government has, or directly funds, at least one full-time staff dedicated to digital  inclusion initiatives, policies and/or programs.
  2. Your local government has a digital inclusion plan or is in the process of developing a plan.
  3. Representatives of your local government participate in an open-access digital inclusion coalition.
  4. Your local government has conducted or plans to conduct and publish survey research on Internet access and use by your residents.
  5. Your local government directly funds community digital inclusion programming.
  6. Your local government is taking steps to increase affordability of home broadband service.

We invite any other local government that fits one or more of these indicators to apply to be a 2022 Digital Inclusion Trailblazer. The application form provides a check-list and documentation requirement for each indicator.

Updated Matrix of Blandin Broadband Community Projects

Every year Blandin updates a list of Blandin-funded projects. It’s a fun list if you’re trying to brainstorm ideas for your own community. Here’s an abridged list:

  • Austin Area – Focus Groups with Traditionally Underrepresented Populations – Better understand the technology needs of diverse groups in the Austin Area by hosting a series of focus groups with underrepresented groups, including but not limited to senior citizens, non-English language speakers, and individuals with disabilities and their caregivers.
  • Austin Area –  Translation Software – Bridge the communication gap in the Austin Area through the use of translation software. Austin Public Schools currently serves families representing 45 home languages, and nearly 50% of students identify as a member of an ethnic minority. Translation assistance is needed throughout the community.
  • Austin Area – Public Access Privacy Rooms – Facilitate access to and use of technology through the creation of at least three “Zoom Rooms” strategically placed around the city that people can use to conduct private business including job interviews, parent-teacher meetings, medical appointments, etc.
  • Austin Area – Digital Literacy Training – Build digital literacy skills around the community by hosting digital literacy training classes. Targeted populations include the elderly, ESL families, and people wanting to improve their work skills. Austin Area Development Corporation of Austin Small Business Resiliency Through Technology Help small businesses innovate, update, and flourish by promoting the availability of Mower County’s micro-grant program. Participating small businesses will receive a technology assessment to pinpoint resiliency gaps in operations, marketing, or online presence, and have access to matching grants to address issues.
  • Austin Area – Community Tree Nursery – Promote the creative application of technology and address environmental justice by designing and constructing a gravel bed tree nursery to grow trees to augment loss associated with aging and dying trees throughout the community. The nursery will be used as an educational tool through videos, photos, and articles shared online.
  • Austin Area – Affordable Connectivity Program Promotion – Connect qualifying families to affordable internet service by promoting the Affordable Connectivity Program through various community engagement efforts, including assisting them with the application process.
  • Big Stone County – Smart Rooms – Expand technology access around the county by creating four Smart Rooms in four communities that residents can use for remote meetings, trainings, and connect with friends and family.
  • Big Stone County – Lakeside Apartment – Broadband Access Improve educational and career opportunities by ensuring low-income residents in public housing have access to computers and the internet. The project will expand Wi-Fi to the common areas of Lakeside Apartments for both building residents and residents of other public housing units in Ortonville.
  • Big Stone County – Assistance for Veterans – Increase access to educational opportunities and support services among veterans by offering technical literacy training.
  • Big Stone County – Training for Small Businesses and Organizations – Increase the sophistication of use of broadband to help small businesses and organizations, with a special emphasis on artists, sell and market their products and services.
  • Lincoln County – “At Home in Lincoln County” Website – Promote and market Lincoln County to residents and visitors by expanding the current countywide website to include a comprehensive overview of the county’s communities, resources for residents and visitors, business information, and events and activities.
  • Lincoln County – Ivanhoe Broadband Community Survey – Determine Ivanhoe residents’ satisfaction with current broadband offerings and gauge interest in a potential fiber optic network by conducting a community broadband survey.
  • Lincoln County – Public Wi-Fi – Access Increase access to the internet by providing public Wi-Fi access at parks and other spots where people gather around the county.
  • Lincoln County – Internet Safety Programs – Educate parents, students, and community members on internet safety by conducting training programs on Social Media Safety and Internet Fraud and Scams.
  • Mahnomen County – Conference Room Tech Upgrades – Improve the effectiveness and efficiency of community meetings by upgrading technology in the Mahnomen City Hall conference room, allowing them to host virtual meetings. The room will continue to be available to various community organizations.
  • Mahnomen County – Youth Asset Map – Build new technology knowledge and skills among youth in 4-6 th grades by conducting workshops where students will create 3-5 informational QR spots around Mahnomen educating visitors about attractions and traditions.
  • Mahnomen County – Food Shelf Computers and Inventory Software – Improve the efficiency of Helping Hands Food Shelf and improve access to food for community members by providing a computer and implementing a software program to track inventory and use, including allowing clients to pre-order food.
  • Mahnomen County – Library Technology – Upgrade Increase library-users’ access to technology through the purchase of a new machine capable of color printing, copying, scanning, and faxing.
  • Mahnomen County – Co-Working Services Launch – Provide support and services for entrepreneurs and small business owners by providing free access for two years to the co-working space for White Earth Nation tribal members and other qualifying Mahnomen County entrepreneurs.