Blandin on Broabdand eNews Feb 2017: Grant awards and broadband policy updates

A recap of news from December…heat-map

Broadband Day on the Hill – March 15, 2017
Members of Minnesota Broadband Coalition are organizing Broadband Day on the Hill on March 15 to bring legislators the rural perspectives on the critical role that broadband plays in Minnesota rural communities’ economic vitality and quality of life. Please register to join the effort. Can’t attend? Tell policymakers you care about broadband through social media.

Border to Border Grant Awards Announced
Lt. Governor Tina Smith and DEED announced the recipients of the Border to Border Broadband Grants. Awards included $34 Million for 42 Broadband Projects across Greater Minnesota and will expand high-speed internet access to 16,627 households, 2,240 businesses, and 71 community institutions in Greater Minnesota. Recipients include:

  • Mediacom, Fayal Township – $263,345
  • Mediacom, Harris Township – $224,369
  • Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative FTTP Project – $1.76 million
  • Paul Bunyan Communications, Hubbard, Becker and Itasca Counties
  • CenturyLink, Thief River Middle Mile – $1.32 million
  • Garden Valley Telephone Co., Rural Thief River Falls East
  • Halstad Telephone Co., Kertsonville Area – $296,665
  • Sjoberg’s Inc., Roseau and Lake of the Woods Counties – $354,740
  • Wikstrom Telephone Co. (with Beamco Inc.), Rural Alvarado – $43,481
  • Wikstrom Telephone Co., Wiktel NW MN – $950,823
  • Consolidated Telecommunications Co., Kandiyohi County – $4.94 million
  • Frontier, Kandiyohi Initiative – $1.02 million
  • Gardonville Cooperative Telephone, Douglas County Lake Louise – $68,240
  • Otter Tail Telcom, Battle Lake – $238,170
  • Otter Tail Telcom, Fergus Falls Area – $279,271
  • Runestone Telephone, Holmes City 2 – $700,674
  • West Central Telephone Association, Wadena Rural North – $718,850
  • Albany Mutual Telephone Association, Big Watab Lake – $726,185
  • Benton Cooperative Telephone Co., Bock – $510,000
  • Benton Cooperative Telephone Co., Buckman – $276,230
  • Benton Cooperative Telephone Co., Ramey – $225,100
  • Mediacom, Medina – $170,868
  • Palmer Wireless, Big Lake Industrial Park – $90,988
  • Palmer Wireless, Del Tone Road and St. Cloud Airport – $179,400
  • Sunrise Township (CenturyLink), Fiber to the Home – $1.07 million
  • TDS Telecom, Cass and Crow Wing Counties – $3 million
  • Arvig-Redwood County Telephone, Middle Mile Fiber Extension – $27,998
  • Granada Telephone Co. (dba BEVCOMM), South Rural Granada – $157,920
  • Lismore Cooperative Telephone Co., Nobles County Broadband – $2.94 million
  • Martin County (with Frontier), Rural Broadband Initiative – $1.68 million
  • Midco, Canby to Marshall Middle Mile and Last Mile in Porter-Taunton-Minneota-Ghent – $623,000
  • New Ulm Telecom Inc., Hanska – $200,397
  • Renville County, Hiawatha Broadband Communications & RS Fiber – $807,966
  • Woodstock Telephone, Westbrook – $412,391
  • Acentek, Rural Lanesboro Fiber Build – $1.78 million
  • Blue Earth Valley Telephone Co. (dba BEVCOMM), Rural Winnebago – $152,828
  • Cannon Valley Telecom Inc. (dba BEVCOMM), Rural Freeborn – $150,700
  • Eckles Telephone Co. (dba BEVCOMM), Rural Heidelberg – $188,000
  • KMTelecom, Rural Mantorville – $764,663
  • New Ulm Telecom Inc., Goodhue-Bellechester – $332,328
  • New Ulm Telecom Inc., Mazeppa – $317,761
  • Winona County, Pickwick Area – $416,640

State Grants to Help Greater MN Students
Twelve school districts across Minnesota received grant funding to expand wireless internet access. School districts include: Deer River School District, Fertile-Beltrami School District, Lake of the Woods School District, Lake Superior School District, McGregor School District, Pine City School District, Princeton School District, Rothsay School District, Shakopee School District, St. Cloud School District, Thief River Falls School District and Tracy School District.

Broadband Investment in Minnesota
The Legislative Session is going strong. Bills have been introduced and people are reacting. Here’s a recap of what is happening locally:


Notes from legislative meetings:

  • MN House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Broadband Industry Intro: VoIP, 5G, growth and frustration
  • Industry speaks to MN Senate Committee on Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy
  • Office of Broadband Development update to House Committee on Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance
  • Rep Johnson and Rep Baker speak to the Minnesota Broadband Task Force

Media on Legislation:

Federal Legislations/Policy Items

5G Wireless as Rural Solution
5G is a new technology standard in the making. The standard has not yet been finalized but it will offer very fast speeds. Because it requires a lot of infrastructure and has distance limitations, it will not be a good solution for rural areas any time soon.

Broadband access to Rural areas: What does that mean?
The MN State Demographic Office has redefined areas based on four options urban, large town, small town, and rural. See which areas have broadband based on their definitions and hypothesize which areas will in the future.

Broadband for Civic Engagement
Facebook Live is an easy tool to help broadcast public meetings – even if you are just an observer of the meeting. You can broadcast live and save as an archive for folks to view later.

Local Broadband News

A voice from the frontlines of Aitkin County MN says, “We need better broadband.”

Brainerd Dispatch article highlights businesses that credit the local workforce and the network for their decision to build satellite offices in the Brainerd area.

Brown and Watonwan Counties
New Ulm Telecom receives a $850,486 Border to Border grant to build fiber connections to homes and businesses in the rural areas of Hanska and Mazeppa and in and around Bellechester.

Carlton County
A recent Carlton County broadband feasibility study estimates $46-70 million to get better broadband to the county.

The Pine Journal outlines broadband served, underserved and unserved areas and tells the story of a new resident in Carlton County that is left without access.

Crow Wing and Cass Counties
TDS Telecom announce a $3 million Border to Border grant to expand and improve rural broadband services in parts of Crow Wing and Cass Counties.

Douglas County
Runestone Telecom Association receives a Border to Border grant of $700,674 to bring high-speed Internet service to 267 households and 32 businesses in the Holmes City area.

Hibbing is an IRBC community, working with the IRRRB and Blandin Foundation to expand broadband use. They are holding a community meeting on Feb 7.

Itasca County
Paul Bunyan Communications is bringing GigaZone access to Deer River, Squaw Lake, Ball Club, Dora Lake, Inger, Wirt, Max, and Spring Lake.

Itasca and Hubbard Counties Paul Bunyan Communications receives a $1.74 million Border to Border Broadband Grant for portions of Itasca County, Hubbard County.

Kandiyohi County
Broadband service will be expanded in Kandiyohi County thanks to nearly $6 million in Border to Border grant funding to Consolidated Telecommunications Co. (CTC) and Frontier.

Kelliher and Northome
Paul Bunyan Communications is bringing GigaZone access to Kelliher and Northome

AcenTek receives nearly $1.8 million in Border to Border grant funding for Lanesboro.

Le Sueur County
Eckles Telephone Co. receives $188,000 in Border to Border grants to serve rural Heidelberg.

KMTelecom receives a Border to Border grant of $764,663 to expand high-speed internet access in rural Mantorville.

Monticello, Southwest Minnesota and Windom
A new map tracks municipal FTTH networks, including the networks from Monticello Fibernet, Southwest Minnesota Broadband Systems (SMBS) and WindomNet.

Nobles County
Nobles County celebrates broadband work done with Blandin Foundation support

Otter Tail County
Otter Tail Telcom receives a $517,441 Border to Border grant to improve broadband access in the Fergus Falls and Battle Lake areas.

Pipestone County
Pipestone County is looking at regional broadband options

Pope County
Pope County is working on broadband survey to measure broadband need and interest

Redwood County
Arvig receives a Border to Border grant to serve 15 unserved households and 20 unserved businesses near Morgan.

Renville County
Hiawatha Broadband Communications & RS Fiber receive $807,966 in Border to Border grant funding.

Sunrise Township
Sunrise Township receives a Border to Border grant to upgrade the part of the community served by CenturyLink.

Wadena and Otter Tail Counties
West Central Telephone Association receives $718,850  to expand broadband to 174 unserved homes and 13 unserved businesses in Bluffton and Blowers townships in Otter Tail County and portions of Rockwood, Leaf River, North Germany and Wing River townships in Wadena County.

Winona County
Working with HBC, Winona County receives $416,000 in Border to Border grant funding to continue broadband expansion into areas of Wilson, Homer, Richmond, Pleasant Hill and Wiscoy townships.

Upcoming Events

  • May 16-17 – Net Inclusion (St Paul)
  • June 21 – MACTA Annual Conference U of MN Continuing Education Center

Looking for more events? Check out TechDotMN’s calendar Many events are based in the Twin Cities but it is a comprehensive list. (If you have an upcoming event, consider submitting it.)


  • Broadband Innovation and Robust Network Feasibility Fund grant award amounts range from $1,000 to $25,000, and matching funds are required. Grant application deadlines for 2017 are January 6, April 7, June 23 and September 22.
  • Grants are available to help digitize cultural documents through Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). Deadline is April 3.
  • The FCC is looking for applications for the newly formed FCC Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee
  • RUS Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee announce two application periods in 2017 for its Broadband Loan program: the first application window March 1-31, 2017 and the second application window from September 1-30, 2017.
  • Google announces grants to promote professional development for Computer Science teachers. Deadline March 19.

Stirring the Potbill right

Those readers that know me know that I can go on about broadband for a long time.  I can talk about broadband demand, technologies, economic impact, private-public partnerships and just about any other broadband topic.  So, I am facing a considerable challenge when I consider how to best use my allotted three minutes before a legislative committee this week.

My key points will be:

1)      The pain felt by unserved rural Minnesotans is real.  From lower property values to increased costs of high priced satellite and cellular services or too frequent trips into town to get online, the lack of broadband hurts students, small business owners, farmers and all who live in the countryside.  For a better understanding of how important broadband is to rural Minnesotans, I suggest that you read some of the posts on some of our broadband providers’ Facebook pages.  You will share the excitement of those just hooked up to real broadband services and feel the pain of those left behind with little or no broadband or unreliable broadband.

2)      Please know that rural elected officials are hungry for real and effective public private partnerships.  While every project is different, creating legal and smart pathways to public-private partnerships that minimize legal expense and maximize broadband investment would be of high value and low cost.  Every community or county should not have to create their own unique way to partner and finance projects, often by bending existing tools to fit broadband investment.  In addition, broadband providers willing to engage in real partnerships should be rewarded for their commitment to rural Minnesota.  A real partnership means that providers have some skin in the game.

3)      We cannot solve rural Minnesota’s broadband problems one township at a time.  We need countywide and multi-county projects that address large geographic areas and that do not leave pockets of people behind.  These larger projects will probably require multi-year funding commitments and, in some cases, more than 50% public funding.

4)      We need broadband infrastructure that will support rural Minnesotans for a generation.  We should not fund marginally upgraded networks that will require additional upgrades to meet the 2026 state goal of 100 Mb/20 Mb.  Remember, the future business case to upgrade these networks will be no better than the current business case that requires subsidy.  Dig once and do it right.

5)      Finally, going beyond “served and unserved”, communities need providers that are responsive to existing and prospective economic development opportunities and community needs; communities need real broadband partners.  Current and prospective businesses, health care providers and schools need providers ready to make the necessary investments and provide the services that allow these organizations to survive and thrive.

Pipestone County is looking at regional broadband options

According to the Pipestone County Star

Pipestone County Commissioners are considering working with Lincoln, Murray, Lyon, Yellow Medicine and Chippewa counties to find out what it would take to provide broadband service to under-served areas of the counties and gauge interest in the availability of such service. …

Pipestone County Commissioners are considering working with Lincoln, Murray, Lyon, Yellow Medicine and Chippewa counties to find out what it would take to provide broadband service to under-served areas of the counties and gauge interest in the availability of such service.

They are hoping that they can have the same success as Nobles County…

Nobles County is one nearby example of how a study and provision of service could be conducted and funded.

Tom Johnson, Nobles County administrator, said the Nobles Economic Opportunities Network (NEON), received a $25,000 Blandin grant to study broadband needs in the county. The county contributed another $25,000 to cover the 50 percent match requirement of the grant.

The study, conducted by Finley Engineering, estimated that it would cost $20 million to provide service to the under-served areas of the county using 100 percent fiber. It also found a strong desire for service and the likelihood of a high participation rate among rural residents .

Johnson said Frontier and the Lismore Telephone Company reviewed the study. Lismore used the information to develop a plan to provide service to the under-served areas using a fiber/wireless hybrid system that includes a fiber loop throughout the county and several towers. The company received a $2.94 million Minnesota Broadband Grant
and will contribute an equal amount to complete the roughly $6 million project.

Be careful where you choose to move for broadband in Carlton County

The Pine Journal recently wrote about the unequal broadband access in Northern Minnesota…

John Bergman went from working as a telecommunications analyst for St. Louis County where he could easily access 100 megabytes of data from his work computer to retirement in rural Carlton County, where he uses a dial-up service to get to the internet. He can’t even email a photograph from his home without spending up to an hour.

“Sometimes it can take up to a half hour just to get connections,” Bergman said. “And photos use a lot of data so it might take another half hour to send. And, because of the slow speed of the telephone line, fairly often the connection gets interrupted and you have to start all over again. So I just don’t do it.”

But Bergman isn’t alone and that is why Carlton County (with help from the Blandin Foundation) has been working on a broadband feasibility study with Cooperative Network Services (CNS). Here’ what they found…

The cities of Cloquet and Carlton are in the best shape in terms of broadband, CNS CEO Jason Dale told the Carlton County Board of Commissioners at its Jan. 3 meeting, when Dale and Paul Solsrud presented the results of the study. He noted that “relatively speaking,” services are available which are adequate for most users’ needs in those cities. Other towns along the Interstate corridor also have reasonable options for broadband services.

The report noted, however, that broadband options reduce dramatically just beyond the city limits of the county’s town, and throughout almost all of the rural areas of the county, areas that have very, very low population densities.

“Carlton County is pretty well connected,” said Dale, noting the lines showing existing fiber networks (needed for high speed internet) appear “like interstate highways” on a map of the county. “But you don’t have driveways, or access points, coming off those connections between the towns, schools, hospitals, cell towers and more.”

The issue, of course, is that internet access is not a public service, it is a service provided by for-profit companies who don’t make a good return on their investments in less populated areas. Rural Carlton County is mostly served by CenturyLink and Frontier, both large nationwide corporate entities. Both those companies are taking federal Connect American Funds (CAF II) that will help with the costs of extending their networks within rural Carlton County. Those upgrades must meet a 10 Mb download/1 Mb upload speed, under the terms of the grant money. Neither company wanted to share its exact plans for expansion, so Dale was unable to report which parts of the county will be getting better internet access this year.

Webinar Feb 9: How to be Effective at the Capitol

Free Blandin Webinar: How to be Effective at the Capitol
Thursday, February 9, 2017 03:00 PM

A growing rural coalition puts broadband near the top of their legislative priorities.  We are striving to make broadband the top priority for all of the many different rural stakeholders – schools, cities, townships, counties, economic developers, health care providers – the list goes on – because broadband is essential for all of these groups to be successful in accomplishing their mission.

How can all of rural Minnesota join together to push adequate broadband funding through the legislative process?  Listen to the advice from our panel of experts that have been successful with other rural initiatives, whether on education, trails, agricultural issues or bicycles.

Our panel:

  • Judy Erickson – Trails and Tourism
  • Dorian Grilley – Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota
  • Joe Gould – Minnesota Rural Education Association
  • Thom Peterson – Minnesota Farmers Union

Hibbing is making a broadband plan – they want community input on Feb 7

Partially I share this to get folks in Hibbing informed and excited about an upcoming community meeting on broadband; partially I think it’s a great model for other communities. Hibbing is part of the IRBC cohort (described below) but that doesn’t mean communities outside the cohort can’t emulate what they are doing to get citizens engaged and moving on broadband.

The Hibbing Daily Tribune outlines the story…

Hibbing is among six communities in Blandin Foundation’s current cohort of Iron Range Broadband Communities. The intensive, two-year partnership with the foundation is based on advancing local broadband initiatives.

The communities’ efforts are also being backed by the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) and St. Louis County, both of which have committed additional resources and funding.

With this designation, the communities will have the opportunity to access up to $75,000 for training, planning and programs, as well as access up to $20,000 for broadband infrastructure planning.

The opportunity…

The Hibbing cohort will do that at a Broadband Community Vision Session from 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7, in the Hibbing Community College (HCC) dining room. The session is open to the public, but an RSVP is required. …

The vision session will include a short presentation on the overall project and its current state. After gathering feedback, attendees will be broken down into smaller groups based on areas of interest.

“We have about 50 people planning to attend so far,” said Fedo, while highly encouraging RSVPing. “We really want the various sectors of the community to be represented.”

Once priorities and potential projects are identified, the cohort will have a handful of opportunities over an 18-month time period to apply for grants that help meet those priorities.

Regional Broadband Study being discussed for Murray, Pipestone, Lincoln, Lyon, Yellow Medicine and Chippewa counties

According to the West Central Tribune

Concerned that rural areas of the county could be left behind, the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners informally expressed interest this week in being part of a six-county broadband feasibility study. …

Finley Engineering of Slayton has offered to undertake a study to determine the feasibility of bringing broadband service to unserved rural areas in the six counties. The information will be developed for the individual counties, but by participating as a larger group, the costs for the study will be lower, according to information from Peg Heglund, Yellow Medicine County administrator.

Yellow Medicine and Chippewa counties are looking at joining Murray, Pipestone, Lincoln and Lyon counties in the study.

The counties do not know what the study will cost at this point. The commissioners will need to formally approve being part of the study once the cost is known. The county is also seeking a possible Blandin Foundation grant toward its cost, according to Antony.

The commissioners noted that some neighboring counties, including Lac qui Parle, Swift and Kandiyohi, have recently seen success in obtaining grant funds toward projects to bring broadband service to unserved rural areas.

The article include a comment from a Commissioner that I thought was particularly astute…

“If we drop this thing, guys, we’re going to be an island in 10 years and (people will) look back on this thing and say what were they doing?” said Commissioner Ron Antony during discussions at the board’s meeting Tuesday in Granite Falls.

Nobles County celebrates their Broadband work

According to the Daily Globe

Nobles County has received an award from the Blandin Broadband Community to commemorate the work of the county and its partners to accomplish several projects to improve broadband access and provide opportunities for residents to learn about broadband.

Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson announced the award Thursday, noting that the county is nearing the end of its two-year collaboration with the Blandin Foundation as a Blandin Broadband Community.