Blandin Webinar: 2017 Legislative Preview Jan 12

It’s going to be a good session:cropped-bob_header.jpg

2017 Legislative Preview
January 12 from 3 – 4 pm

Join us for our inaugural 2017 webinar to learn what broadband issues will be discussed at the Legislature this year. We will hear from both industry and community perspectives about the grant funds, the Office of Broadband and various niche considerations that impact the availability and affordability of broadband, especially in rural Minnesota.

Brent Christensen, president of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance, will provide the telephone industry perspective.  Laura Ziegler of League of Minnesota Cities, Steve Fenske of the MN Association of Townships and Mark Erickson from the City of Winthrop (and other hats) will discuss what they hope to see accomplished over the next several months.

Blandin Broadband enews: Task Force report is out, preparing for the 2017 legislative session

A recap of news from December…heat-map

Minnesota Broadband Task Force Report
After their final meeting in 2016, the Task Force released their annual broadband report, recommending ongoing annual funding of $50 million for broadband grants and $10 million for the Office of Broadband Development. Local newspapers have been covering the report. Discussions are happening on MPR and AM950 too.

Broadband predictions for MN Legislature
Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith says the administration is interested in continued support for broadband. Representative Garofalo says technology changes and market forces will improve broadband more than government investment. Senator Simonson recognizes the importance of broadband support. Many legislators say broadband needs funding but feel it’s less of a priority than previous years. There are tips for broadband advocates who want to engage legislators.

New Minnesota Broadband Maps
The Office of Broadband Development published a heat map of broadband availability in Minnesota. The map indicates that Statewide availability of broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up is 90.15%, while rural availability within the state is 78.04%.

Changes at the Minnesota PUC
Governor Dayton Appoints Senator Katie Sieben to Public Utilities Commission, Appoints Commissioner Nancy Lange as Chair.

Broadband is Different Market in Urban than Rural Markets
A recent report from the FCC indicates that cable is the dominant broadband in urban areas and DSL is dominant in rural areas. Optimistic predictions for wireless technologies, such as 5G, say faster speeds may be available as early as 2020 in urban areas but with increased cost and limited reach, 5G will not be a major player in rural areas.

Local Broadband News

Arrowhead Region
Arrowhead Region is using telepresence to serve mental health needs

Paul Bunyan Communications CEO Gary Johnson included in Twin Cities Business 100 People to Know

Kanabec County
Kanabec is expecting improvements from CenturyLink but there is some concern about increased speed based on location; Midcontinent has faster speeds in town but not outside city limits.

Lake County
FCC authorizes $3.49 million for Lake County broadband

Mankato Free Press compares Minnesota and Wisconsin broadband policy – to Minnesota’s favor.

Minnesota company makes websites and apps accessible to people with disabilities

Pipestone County
Community leaders in Pipestone meet to talk about the future of broadband in their area.

Region Five
Region Five recently published a 5 year study, including information on $7.72 million invested in Region Five broadband.

St Cloud
An entrepreneur outside of St Cloud cannot get the broadband he needs for his home-based business.

Various Minnesota Communities
Most Mediacom communities in Minnesota will soon have access to 60+ Mbps as they fully deploy DOCSIS 3.1

Upcoming Events

  • Jan 11 – Digital Inclusion Policies and Programs of Local Governments Webinar
  • Jan 26 – MN Broadband Task Force monthly meeting
  • Feb 23 – MN Broadband Industry Conference with MN Telecom Alliance & MN Cable Communications Association
  • March 6 – deadline for Vodafone Wireless Innovation Project grants applications due
  • May 16-17 – Net Inclusion 2017: The National Digital Inclusion Summit (St Paul)

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.)


  • Blandin Foundation Broadband Grants: 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.
  • Minnesota Office of Broadband Development is looking for a company to do broadband mapping. Proposals due Jan 9.
  • Microsoft offers grants to organizations working to improve affordable internet access. Applications due Jan 31.
  • Minnesota Council of Nonprofits is accepting nominations for the Dot.Org awards

Stirring the Potbill right

This week we have a new year, legislature and MN Broadband Task Force Report.  It will be interesting to see how this report is received by key legislators, especially those charged with determining the future of the broadband fund.  A review of recent newspaper clips is not encouraging.

One legislator stated that broadband is not an important issue in rural Minnesota and “people don’t even know what they are missing.”  This contradicts what I am hearing at community meetings and broadband committees in almost every un- and underserved county.  Increasingly, county commissioners are leading these committees, after recognizing the negative impact of poor broadband service on economic development, housing values and agriculture.  You would not believe that broadband is unimportant to rural people if you read the Paul Bunyan Itasca broadband project Facebook page as new customers sign up for newly available FTTH service.

I also read a comment from a legislative leader about “the future is wireless.”  I readily acknowledge big improvements in fiber-fed fixed wireless services that already meet the 2022 state broadband goal, especially for customers out on the prairie-lands of Minnesota.  Affordable backhaul and long line of sight distances are both required.  Discussions of ubiquitous 5G rural service seems optimistic when some parts of rural Minnesota, especially those far off state highways, lack even 3G service today.

If the future is wireless, the state broadband report is strangely quiet on the topic despite the presence of two wireless providers on the task force.  Clearly the task force strongly supports immediate and long term continuing funding of technologies that can, today, deliver broadband services in rural areas that meet the 2026 100/20 Mb broadband goal.  I strongly agree!

$7.72 million invested in Region Five broadband – more info from their 5 year study

Region Five (aka the Resilient Region) recently released a 5 year study. Very interesting to see the rise and impact of broadband. (Spoiler alert: they raised $7.72 million for broadband in the area.)

I think things got serious when they expanded their vision to explicitly include broadband (and several other topics). If you want it to get done, I think you have to name it – explicitly…

Theme areas include:

  1. housing and affordable housing
  2. connectivity/broadband
  3. energy
  4. natural resources & development patterns
  5. education & workforce development
  6. transportation
  7. economic engines
  8. health care
  9. changing population
  10. government efficiency and effectiveness

The report goes on to outline the broadband work…

Broadband Adoption and Connectivity Initiatives In 2011, R5DC was invited to participate as a Minnesota Intelligent Rural Community (MIRC) and to partner with the Blandin Foundation to provide public engagement and outreach for the Foundation’s $4.7 million Broadband grant, intended to increase levels of adoption and connectivity in rural Minnesota.  As a MIRC member, R5DC launched broadband initiatives such as

PC’s for People  is a 501C3 that recycles and refurbishes used computers and donates them to low income individuals and families throughout Minnesota.   These services are located in both Crow Wing and Cass counties.

Lightspeed Grant  – As a result of a Blandin Lightspeed grant, R5DC was able to equip 11  rural fire departments with the technology to live stream training events resulting in increased efficiency and cost savings for rural fire departments in administering training.

And detail one story…

Expanding Broadband Access to the Last Rural Mile

The Resilient Region Plan prioritized the need for increased connectivity to adequate, affordable broadband as crucial for retaining and attracting both businesses and residents, improving efficiencies and quality in education and health care, and alleviating problems of workforce shortage.

“People are interested in staying and/or moving to the rural communities in the region. This includes millennials staying in their hometowns or moving in for the small-town way of life for themselves and their children, and baby boomers making their lake homes permanent residences. A crucial factor is that they need to have broadband,” echoed Brainerd hometown millennial, Staci Headley, R5DC Transportation Planner.

Many R5DC’s residents live in “last rural mile” communities and farming communities that are “underserved” and “unserved” due to factors that go into making broadband both technically and economically feasible for those who provide it and those who buy it. Multiple organizations have supported broadband expansion. The Blandin Foundation supported the Resilient Region’s Virtual Highway Task Force as a Blandin Broadband Community. National Joint Powers Alliance (NJPA) regional purchasing alliance cooperative invested over $200,000 in the past years in engineering needed for grant applications and coordination of other activities by the Virtual Highway Task Force, a subgroup within the Resilient Region Connectivity theme area.

With the initial $4.2 million investments (2014 – 2015) from grants R5DC co-wrote with CTC and West Central Telephone Association (WCTA), along with the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development Investment of $3 million, a total of $7.72 million has been invested in the region to expand broadband infrastructure.  Connectivity to the last rural mile initiatives (January, 2016) have expanded broadband high speed access to 891 households, giving residents the ability to connect for telework, telehealth, and online learning, and strengthening broadband infrastructure for future growth. One hundred twenty-two low income families also have improved computer and internet skills.

2017 deadlines for Blandin Foundation Broadband Innovation and Robust Network Feasibility Fund grants

Blandin Foundation has announced 2017 deadlines for Broadband Innovation and Robust Network Feasibility Fund grants

Blandin Foundation has a long history of supporting the active engagement of communities to ensure their telecommunications and technology vitality. To this end, the Blandin Community Broadband Program supports work that increases:

  • Awareness about the value of broadband
  • Business and residential use of broadband in rural communities
  • Public and private investment in rural broadband capacity.

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.

Community Broadband Resources program applications are accepted on an ongoing basis.

Blandin Broadband e-News December 2016: Community broadband moves forward

A recap of posts from November…BBC Map

Broadband 101: Bits vs Byte and A-CAM

With new communities and new policymakers, BoB will be focusing on some expository pieces, such as the difference between bits and bytes and A-CAM, the smaller providers’ CAF (Connection America Fund) options.

Broadband saves $11,000 a year

The Internet Innovation Alliance releases annual research indicating that households with broadband can save $11,219 annually; that includes the average cost of broadband.

Telecom Industry in MN has $900 million impact

The Hudson Report looks at economic impact of the rural broadband industry. They found the impact in Minnesota was $911.3 million; of that $279.1 million went to rural areas and $632.2 million to urban.

MN Border to Border Grants

Communities sent in their applications for broadband funds. The Office of Broadband Development received $70 million in requests, which is twice the allocated $35 million. Incumbent providers had until November 7 to lodge any challenges to the requests in their area (or nearby area).

Minnesota is Number One for Internet Usage

According the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 83.1 percent of Minnesotans, or 4,307,850 households, used the internet. That makes us number one.

Minnesota Broadband Task Force to recommend $100 million

The Task Force met to comb through the latest iteration of their annual report. After a heated debate they agreed to recommend $10 million for the OBD and $100 million ($50 million per year) for grants.

Local Broadband News

Carlton County
Carlton County recognizes Blandin investment to support local broadband expansion.

Central Woodlands
Central Woodlands (a self-defined community that spans portions of Mille Lacs, Kanabec, Pine and Aitkin counties) recognize Blandin investment to support local broadband expansion.

Chisago County
Chisago County recognizes Blandin investment to support local broadband expansion.

Local news covers Blandin Foundation’s recent trip to Chisago County to learn more about broadband projects.

Dakota County
Whitetail Woods Park in Dakota County has wifi at speeds of 40-60Mbps – for many good reasons.

Iron Range
The IRRRB and Blandin Foundation work together to support six Iron Range communities expand broadband. The new communities met at the end of November. Local news sources covered the good news.

Laporte, Becida and Solway
Fiber comes to Laporte, Becida, and Solway through Paul Bunyan Communications.

Lake County
CTC to manage Lake Connections Broadband

Martin County celebrates BBC participation
Martin County recognizes $86,600 of Blandin investment to support local broadband expansion

The University of Minnesota is home to a nonprofit that helps gamers get into the business of gaming.

AT&T deploys mmWave to Uptown apartment buildings, bringing fast connections via fixed wireless from building to building.

Nobles County
Nobles County recognizes Blandin investment to support local broadband expansion

Red Lake Nation
Red Lake Nation one of the first reservations to get a Gig; thanks to Paul Bunyan

Redwood County
Redwood County recognizes $90,848 of Blandin investment to support local broadband expansion

Sibley County
Sibley County’s Mark Erickson talks about how to promote community broadband in a Trump Era.

Southern Minnesota
Hurricane Electric and Neutral Path Communications are collaborating to bring dark fiber to light in Rochester, Minneapolis, Mankato Belle Plaine, LaSalle and Windom.

Southwestern Minnesota
Lincoln, Murray and Pipestone Counties are working together to improve broadband. Broadband coach Bill Coleman spoke to each community in November.

Spring Grove
Spring Grove gets a nod for their work in telemedicine in a report from Foundation for Rural Service and the Rural Telephone Finance Cooperative

Upcoming Events

  • Nov 10 –Webinar Archive: Census 2020: The Count Starts Now
  • Dec 13- Webinar on how to Nominate a Digital Inclusion Leader for Next Century Cities and Google Fiber Award
  • Dec 15 – Minnesota Broadband Task Force meeting
  • March 6, 2017 – deadline for Vodafone Wireless Innovation Project grants applications due

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.)

Stirring the Potbill right

Recently I read Doug Dawson’s blog post ( on the branding efforts of rural broadband providers. At the same time,  I was doing presentations on the Intelligent Community framework which includes Advocacy as one of six elements. In this framework, Advocacy deals with a community’s messaging to its own residents and to the outside world – in essence, a community brand.

What is your community’s brand?  Is it tied to the past or the future?  What assets are you promoting? How do you differentiate your community from other Minnesota communities or the countless other communities around our country and the world.  After all, all communities are competing for talent and investment. Why stay?  Why choose to come?

Dawson makes a very important point in his blog…a brand must be true or it will ring hollow.  It seems to me that as communities pursue new brands based on broadband, technology and innovation, these brands must have a future orientation that emphasizes the pursuit of progress with ready examples of strategies and projects.

So, my advice… if your community is in the midst or considering a branding initiative, consider an emphasis on people power, rather than the more standard geographic feature or heritage.

Hibbing and Chisholm are new Iron Range Blandin Broadband Communities

I’ve written about the Iron Range Blandin Broadband Communities a few times – especially since we all met up last week. It’s nice to see the Hibbing Daily Tribune pick up the good news too…

Hibbing and Chisholm were among the six selected for an intensive, two-year partnership with the foundation to advance local broadband initiatives.

Aitkin County, Bois Forte Reservation/Orr/Cook, Ely and the Mountain Iron-Buhl area also became Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC).

“We are excited about this partnership and the chance to help both businesses and residents with their technology and broadband needs,” said Lory Fedo, president/CEO of the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce. The chamber made the application to Blandin and will lead the effort in Hibbing.

They note challenges in the area and ways that broadband might help in HIbbing…

In the application, the chamber identifies three main challenges, with the first being leveraging broadband to improve the business community. …

A second challenge is education. A number of small business owners are not utilizing basic and accessible tools, which could enhance customer experience, assist them in gaining new customers and increase customer retention. …

And like most rural areas, broadband access in underserved areas and underrepresented populations continues to be a major challenge.

And Chisholm…

Each of the partners identified a struggle with communicating to larger segments of the population, at times, needing to reach the entire community and surrounding area.

The committee also pointed out the connection between broadband infrastructure and creating, attracting and support of “knowledge workers.” At present, the community relies on the school district, HCC and its larger businesses for workforce training.

Minnesota Iron Range Communities gear up for better broadband adoption

Yesterday six new Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) – all from the Iron Range (so now they are IRBCs) – met to get started on their path to greater community broadband engagement.

The project born is of a partnership between Blandin, IRRRB (Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and St. Louis County). Yesterday they met to learn more about the IRBC program, the process and each other.

It’s a great group with a healthy competitive collaboration among them. Several communities have joined together as teams for the first time. It will be exciting to see what gets done in the area.

Below are videos from each community on their hopes and expectations for their projects.