Tower area to join Blandin broadband initiative

The Timberjay reports

The Tower-Soudan area is the newest member of the Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) on the Iron Range program. The program is an intensive, two-year partnership between rural Minnesota communities and the foundation.

The Tower Economic Development Association submitted the successful application to be one of the four new communities in this year’s program. They are hoping to attract other area communities to be part of the process, including surrounding townships, Bois Forte, area schools, medical providers and assisted living facilities, DNR offices, and the state park.

“Our area has been anxiously awaiting more technological growth for quite some time,” wrote Joan Broten, TEDA Vice-Chair. “To be able to entice more businesses, families and tourism with world-class internet access would give us the edge we need to grow and sustain our local economies.”

“We have some amazing, well-educated, hard-working, fun-loving individuals ready to help with promoting and developing our area,” she wrote. “The Iron Range BBC would provide us with the stepping stone we have needed to promote our area.”

Selected communities work through a proven process to define their technology goals, measure current levels of broadband access and use, and seek technical assistance and resources to meet their goals.

 

Ely is looking at broadband as economic development tool with Blandin Foundation’s help

The Timberjay reports…

The city of Ely is continuing its efforts to spur smarter use of technology for improved and successful economic development and ultimately an improved quality of life throughout the community.

Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski told the Ely Economic Development Authority Tuesday night that the goal of establishing a reliable broadband network in the Ely area remains at the top of the list for many in the community and more funding is available to help reach that goal.

Similar to a program funded and facilitated two years ago by the Blandin Foundation, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and St. Louis County, Ely and five other communities in northern Minnesota will again share $50,000 in an effort to be more tech-savvy as better broadband is pursued and established throughout the Ely School District.

A Broadband Visioning Community Meeting will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 30, from 4-7 p.m. at Amici’s Events Center with the entire Ely community invited to join a coalition of local leaders to explore options and alternatives to improve broadband speed and availability. Representatives from the Blandin Foundation will again attend the meeting.

“Over the past two years we have enhanced Ely’s web presence, assisted businesses to be more tech-savvy, distributed refurbished computers to families and pursued better broadband throughout the area,” Langowski said. “If you have any project ideas or proposals, please bring them to this meeting,” Langowski said. “If Blandin approves them, they fund them, and small (community) groups carry the projects out. The last few projects went very well. This is a great program.”

Past projects of this initiative included the establishment of the “Elyite” website and the Ten Below co-working business development center. Project categories include, but are not limited to, broadband access, workforce innovation, digital equity and marketing. “The Ely Broadband Coalition continues to work toward completing these goal and needs community input to continue these efforts,” Langowski said.

“These projects, with leadership and support, can move forward to be considered for funding by our steering committee,” he added. New members are always welcome on the steering committee.

For more information, contact Langowski at elyod@ely.mn.us, or call 218-226-5449.

Will Morse township strike out on their own for broadband without Ely-Area Join Powers?

The Ely-area Community Economic Development Joint Powers Board met last month to discuss a numb of issues. The Joint Powers Board is a collection of local communities working together to expand economic opportunities in the area. But as a recent article in the Timberjay points out, there are times when the members have to balance community with regional goals and needs. That came up with broadband…

Morse Township representatives dropped a bombshell on the Joint Powers Board by announcing they could be stepping away from an area-wide broadband project and going with their own plan.

The recently-completed broadband feasibility study, partially funded through the Blandin Foundation, is moving into the next phase, according to Novak, to determine costs and coverage area.

“We are looking at getting this off the ground quickly and offering a basic core of fiber optic service tied to the Northeast Service Co-op, and run the fiber to some poles and provide wireless broadband across the lake to Burntside and within the school district, and later on, as revenues come in, to start reinvesting and running fiber all over,” he said.

“As we were all participants in that study, it is upon us as leaders to make a decision if you are going to continue to be in (the co-op) or not be in,” Novak said.

Morse Supervisor Len Cersine announced that the township is planning to move forward on broadband alone. “We are going to try and run some broadband into the township, because right now we have nothing, absolutely nothing,” he said.

“The whole feasibility study was completed to lay out the best way to put broadband in,” Novak said.

“They have it running from Babbitt to Ely,” Berrini said, “but it doesn’t go to anybody’s house.”

Novak clarified that the project Berrini was referring to was the defunct Lake Connections plan that ran out of funding several years ago. “This is a totally different project,” he said.

“So is ours,” Berrini shot back. “We have six different poles. We put in for a grant. It will cost about $36,000 per pole, and they cover something like two miles. We can make a circle completely around Ely with ours.”

Novak pushed for a confirmation that Morse Township is going with their own broadband plan.

“We’re going to check on it. We’ll see what happens. We can’t wait. We can’t just have one part and the rest get nothing,” Berrini said.

Cersine said the “high-speed” internet project under consideration by Morse officials is through Frontier Communications.

“I wouldn’t put any faith in Frontier,” Novak said.

Cersine asserted, “Chuck, we are not abandoning your project, but we are checking on what we can do.”

Blandin Broadband eNews: Broadband activity throughout Minnesota Monthly Recap

Border to Border Broadband: Transforming Minnesota Oct 23-24
Join policymakers, economic and community development professionals and community broadband champions from across the state for this annual opportunity to learn, connect and engage. https://wp.me/p3if7-4E8

Different Approaches to Rural Broadband in MN
The City Pages features RS Fiber, Windomnet, Paul Bunyan and Lake Connections as rural broadband providers that have come up with innovative ways to get local residents the bandwidth they need. https://wp.me/p3if7-4Jh

Minnesota Providers Get Funding for Smart Grid Projects
USDA awards $43.7 million in funding for rural smart grid projects. Three Minnesota providers receive loans through the project. https://wp.me/p3if7-4J2

Broadband Connects America Shares Five Rural Broadband Principles

  1. Funding should be simple and allocated directly to infrastructure needs, not directly to last-mile carriers.
  2. Closing the rural digital divide will require a combination of approaches that reflects the complexity of the challenges of deploying broadband to rural America.
  3. Deployment should be focused on achieving tangible, affordable universal service to all rural Americans rather than allocated based on profit per population density.
  4. Restoring net neutrality is essential to closing the rural digital divide.
  5. Rural Americans’ access to high-speed internet should not be disadvantaged because of geography. https://wp.me/p3if7-4IR

Minnesota PUC Favors Charter by Calling VoIP an Info Service
A new court ruling found that Minnesota’s state government cannot regulate VoIP phone services offered by Charter and other cable companies because VoIP is an “information service” under federal law. https://wp.me/p3if7-4Iw

Minnesota Broadband Task Force Approves Penultimate Report
The Task Force put the final touches on their annual reports. Here are their policy recommendations:

  1. Fund the Office of Broadband Development through the base budget at levels sufficient for it to meet its statutory mandates and create an OBD operating fund to advance and promote programs and projects to promote broadband adoption and use.
  2. Provide on-going biennial funding of the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grants Program at $69.7 million per biennia until the state achieve its broadband speeds goals
  3. Continue to understand the advances in the technology that will drive both the demand for better broadband access and that will enable the delivery if the broadband access to its citizens
  4. Provide direct funding to the DEED for broadband mapping.
  5. Establish a legislative cybersecurity commission, whose scope of work includes: information -sharing between policy-makers, state agencies, and private industry related to Minnesota’s cybersecurity infrastructure, cybersecurity workforce issues and emerging technology to: (a) develop legislative to support and strengthen Minnesota’s cybersecurity infrastructure, and (b) provide input or recommendations related to developing a multi-year strategic plan to secure Minnesota’s IT Environments.
  6. Adequately fund the Telecommunications Access Equity Aid and Regional Library Telecommunications Aid.
  7. Continue a MN Broadband Task Force as a resource to the Governor and the Legislature on the broadband policy with a broad representation of perspectives and experiences, including provider, community business and labor interests. https://wp.me/p3if7-4Il

Local Broadband News

Cass Lake and Leech Lake Reservation
Areas of the Leech Lake reservation and Cass Lake served by Paul Bunyan Communications now have access to Gigabit Internet speeds via fiber network. https://wp.me/p3if7-4I6

Delano
A family in Delano learns that Xbox works much better with faster broadband from CenturyLink https://wp.me/p3if7-4Ie

Fond du Lac
Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa start a broadband provider https://wp.me/p3if7-4Jjhttps://wp.me/p3if7-4IP

Iron Range
Iron Range’s Aaron Brown speaks on the promise of broadband, including some upcoming meeting dates to help the dream come true https://wp.me/p3if7-4J8

McGregor
Becky Lourey speaks to Frontier service at PUC meeting in McGregor https://wp.me/p3if7-4J0

Minnesota
AT&T invests over $1 billion in Minnesota since 2010 https://wp.me/p3if7-4Ir

Pipestone County
Woodstock Communications expands coverage in Pipestone County https://wp.me/p3if7-4IC

St. Cloud
CentraCare Health Awards $324,000 grant for rural telehealth services in Minnesota https://wp.me/p3if7-4It

Sibley & Renville Counties
RS Fiber Renville County broadband grant project on track for June 2019 completion https://wp.me/p3if7-4J4

Worthington
MVTV Wireless helps out Frontier customer after PUC meeting https://wp.me/p3if7-4IV

Wyoming
PUC public hearing on Frontier showcases the frustration of a community held hostage by a broadband provider https://wp.me/p3if7-4IE

Upcoming Events & Opportunities

We are looking to add MN broadband-related events to the Blandin on Broadband blog calendar. https://wp.me/P3if7-4yG If you have an event you’d like to add please send it to atreacy@treacyinfo.com

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

The toughest decisions that rural places have often come early in the broadband discussion process.  They are not technical questions, but rather policy choices around balancing the business case with equity considerations.  Sometimes these decisions are made with little or no discussion or even recognition of the long term impact.

The first decision is: “Are we determined to provide everyone in our area with quality broadband services?  If the answer is “yes”, the next decision is “Will everyone have the same level of service?” and finally deciding, “How soon?”  These decisions are generally based on the average cost per passing or service connection.  Where costs in town are somewhere in the $3000 per household range, the cost per rural household can be over $10,000.

When public good and economic development are the primary objectives and the local leadership is deeply committed to broadband, decision-makers are more likely to push for fast and widespread network deployment.  This is best illustrated in places like Rock and Swift Counties where leaders made decisions to get new fiber connectivity to all unserved areas fast.  The RS Fiber project built fiber to the cities and deployed rural wireless services with plans to deploy ubiquitous fiber to the farm.  Pope County stimulated countywide wireless deployment for immediate broadband improvement.

The alternative is to consider partial solutions and expand broadband in an opportunistic fashion.  We see this strategy as either pure private sector development or sometimes supported by public-private partnerships.  Areas around lakes or golf courses, clusters of homes around country crossroads, and homes and businesses along existing fiber routes are the most likely areas most likely to see this deployment.  While this progress can be celebrated by those newly served, the remaining unserved areas become less and less attractive as the cost per passing skyrockets and the low ROI discourages both private and public sector funders.

I strongly encourage community broadband leaders to have this discussion early in the process with key leaders as you determine your strategies.  Quick easy wins based on partial deployment can be welcome, but may leave the most financially challenging parts of your community permanently behind.  Is that OK?

Blandin Broadband eNews: Broadband activity throughout Minnesota

Border to Border Broadband: Transforming Minnesota Oct 23-24
Join policymakers, economic and community development professionals and community broadband champions from across the state for this annual opportunity to learn, connect and engage. https://wp.me/p3if7-4E8

Is your county ready for 2026? Broadband ranking is out
The Office of Broadband Development recently released a map of county progress toward 2026 speed goals (100 Mbps down and 20 up). https://wp.me/p3if7-4HC Here are the top-ranking counties:

  1. Rock (99.93% covered)
  2. Ramsey (99.82 % covered)
  3. Hennepin (98.97% covered)
  4. Big Stone (98.91% covered)
  5. Anoka (97.86% covered)
  6. Lac qui Parle (97.35% covered)
  7. Stevens (96.747% covered)
  8. Beltrami (96.30% covered)
  9. Washington (96.10% covered)
  10. Cook (94.50% covered)

And the bottom-ranking:

  1. Otter Tail (2.36% covered)
  2. Kandiyohi (10.64% covered)
  3. Becker (12.95% covered)
  4. Mahnomen (13.53% covered)
  5. Blue Earth (14.13% covered)
  6. Aitkin (17.55% covered)
  7. Todd (17.58% covered)
  8. Norman (20.55% covered)
  9. Mower (23.31% covered)
  10. Pope (23.67% covered)

Blandin Foundation Makes Broadband Insights
Blandin Foundation sent a letter to candidates running for office in Minnesota with the following insights for improving ubiquitous broadband in the state:

  1. Continue the Governor’s Broadband Task Force
  2. Optimize the Border to Border Broadband Fund
  3. Continue the Office of Broadband Development
  4. Address Digital Equity
  5. Commit to State Speed Goals Using Scalable Technology
  6. Continue Mapping While Reviewing the Process
  7. Evaluate New Broadband Solutions
  8. Ensure Rural Business Connectivity
  9. Support Rural Business Tech Transfer

CAF II auctions in MN: 16 winners of $38.3M for 12,000 locations
The FCC releases the list of providers, award amounts and number of locations for CAF II auction winners, which includes 16 providers serving Minnesota. https://wp.me/p3if7-4HK To help visualize the locations served, CNS has created a map of winners. https://wp.me/p3if7-4HM

Broadband in the Elections/Policy

Local Broadband News

Ada
Weave Got Maille in Ada is credited for better broadband and jobs https://wp.me/p3if7-4GO

Farmfest
Farmfest attendees offer views of rural broadband from the frontlines https://wp.me/p3if7-4Gt

Litchfield, Mora & Pine City
Litchfield, Mora and Pine City are the only three cities located outside a metropolitan to have never lost population https://wp.me/p3if7-4GX

Renville & Sibley Counties
RS Fiber is hitting a crossroads, where loan guarantees may need to be paid. Or at least the parties involved need to know a time is coming. https://wp.me/p3if7-4Hm Deciphering what this means depends on where you stand. RS Fiber https://wp.me/p3if7-4HG has comments and so does Minnesota Telecom Alliance https://wp.me/p3if7-4Ho and Mark Erickson, former Winthrop EDA Director. https://wp.me/p3if7-4HZ

St Cloud
After a fire causes damage in a high school in St Cloud, the school decides to hold classes online to minimize impact on students https://wp.me/p3if7-4GT

Southeast Minnesota
A fixed wireless project will start later this summer in Southeast Minnesota https://wp.me/p3if7-4GL

Spring Grove
Broadband provider Spring Grove Communications gets rave review in local paper https://wp.me/p3if7-4Hc

Wilkin County
Red River Communications speaks up for rural communities with good broadband, including their service area in Wilkin County https://wp.me/p3if7-4HW

Upcoming Events & Opportunities

  • Sep 6: MN Broadband Task Force Monthly Meeting
  • Sep 12 (Wyoming) MN PUC hearing with unhappy Frontier Customers https://wp.me/p3if7-4H6

We are looking to add MN broadband-related events to the Blandin on Broadband blog calendar. https://wp.me/P3if7-4yG If you have an event you’d like to add please send it to atreacy@treacyinfo.com

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

We live in interesting times and that is not always for the best.  It is, at best, a chaotic broadband scene in the rural countryside. We have a host of emerging and improving technologies (many of which are highly touted, but unable to meet Minnesota’s 2026 state broadband goal).  We have existing and emerging broadband funding programs (funded, unfunded and promised) that spur community hope.  And we now have many projects to compare to look for models that meet goals of speed, coverage area, economic development and financial stability.

For those active in trying to spur quality broadband deployment (for me, that is a minimum of the 2026 state broadband goal of 100 Mb/20 Mb), it is so important to have and share accurate information.  For those actively seeking better broadband in their county, city or township, it is critical that you be prepared with questions that require real answers for your local candidates.   “Yes, I support rural broadband” is not an informative answer.  You should also be knowledgeable to be able to respond to their questions, especially about projects that are facing financial challenges.

As we compare projects, consider the following:

  • In northeastern Minnesota along the North Shore, the Arrowhead Electric Cooperative project in Cook County is considered a success while the Lake County project is facing significant financial challenges and is up for sale at deep discount.  You should know that the Cook County project was financed primarily through a federal grant while the Lake County was financed primarily through federal government debt.  If the financial packages were reversed, I suspect that the success aspects of the projects would follow.
  • In southwestern Minnesota, the Rock County project is considered a success while long-time critics call the RS Fiber Cooperative a failure since communities are likely to contribute relatively small sums of local tax dollars to make bond payments.   Yet in Rock County, $7 million of the $12 million project costs were public grants (almost 60%), including a $2 million county grant to the project.  In comparison, less than one-third of the RS Fiber project was financed with a state grants while all local government contributions have been repaid.
  • A widely-touted fiber to the home project in Sunrise Township deployed by CenturyLink was financed with approximately 80% public grant funding combining state, FCC CAF II and township bonding.

What these stories show is that rural broadband projects require public subsidy if the deployed networks are going to meet state goals.  More than one rural broadband provider has told me that the areas left unserved at this point will all require at least 50% public funding and long ROI hurdles to be feasible.

I am sure that leaders in Lake County and in the RS Fiber project area wish that they had received more in grants and assumed less debt.  While it’s a current struggle, the benefits of the network are now emerging.  Recent research projects continue to demonstrate the current and projected community benefits from broadband availability (https://blandinfoundation.org/learn/research-rural/broadband-resources/broadband-initiative/measuring-impact-broadband-5-rural-mn-communities/ and https://www.pcrd.purdue.edu/files/media/006-RPINsights-Indiana-Broadband-Study.pdf ).  Local leaders might rather deal with some debt issues than with declining population and economic viability.  Places with ubiquitous fiber broadband networks have a long term economic asset on which to build their future.

Those places without at least one quality broadband option are feeling the real pain of being left behind – economically, educationally and socially.  I have heard many specific examples of these negative effects in my work with community broadband teams across the state.  I am sure that each of the thousands of Minnesota households lacking adequate broadband access has such a story.

Adding to this pain suffered by rural communities is the mixed message that they receive about broadband from national Internet Service Providers.  Through the advertising media – online, mailings, television commercials – consumers hear from providers how important broadband is for business and family life.  Recognizing that they are just an asterisk to these providers (*Service may not be available in all areas) is incredibly irritating!  After all, no one wants to be an asterisk!

Border to Border Broadband Conference Oct 23-24: Learn from the Feasibility Charrettes

An invitation to the upcoming Broadband conference from the Blandin Foundation…

We hope to see you at Border to Border Broadband: Transforming Minnesota, our annual broadband conference, October 23-24 at Madden’s on Gull Lake in Brainerd. This year’s event will showcase and celebrate the transformative power of community passion fueled by high-speed broadband networks.

But not every community has access to high-speed, future-proof Internet… yet.

This year’s conference will feature something never attempted before – completion of a feasibility study in 30 hours! Three community teams will work with world-class community broadband consultants to consider technology choices, partnership options, finance tools and marketing considerations for their community.

The teams have already been selected but you have the option to learn alongside them, as a free agent, and take the information, tools and knowledge back to your own community.

Check out the conference webpage for more details about the “Feasibility Charrette” and the other session options we’re offering this year, including broadband advocacy, calculating the ROI of broadband networks, and demand building and tracking tools. Register today!

Bill Coleman and Chris Mitchell ask – Are CAF II Investments Helping Rural Minnesota?

The podcast is a good listen. Here’s the intro from Community Networks

In the most recent report from the Blandin Foundation, Researcher Bill Coleman from Community Technology Advisors and his crew put boots to the ground to examine the results of Connect America Fund (CAF II) investments. Bill recently visited our office in Minneapolis to discuss the report with Christopher for episode 318 of the  podcast.

You can download the report, Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons From Two Rural Minnesota Exchanges here.

Bill and Christopher discuss the challenges Bill and his team encountered when they initially decided to gather documentation on what services CAF II funded projects brought to rural Minnesota. In order to get past those challenges, the researchers devised a methodology that other communities can reproduce.

Once the team had answered the technical questions about infrastructure, they analyzed the results and applied them to Minnesota’s statewide goals for broadband access. They determined that, in addition to lack of transparency regarding CAF II network plans, the tendency to invest in slower speeds, including DSL, will not help Minnesota achieve its goals.

For people living in urban areas who have grown accustomed to broadband within reach, it’s hard to imagine the situation in rural Minnesota, where there are still homes that have no access to the Internet at all. The disparity in speeds and availability complicate the idea that rural folks should have access to high-quality connectivity at the same levels as people living in urban centers.