Blandin Webinar Archive March 9: Broadband at the County Level

Here’s the archive …

Community broadband planning in rural Minnesota has shifted from individual communities to counties and regions.  This webinar will highlight examples of the paths that several rural counties are taking to improve broadband.

Presenters include:

  • Vince Robinson, Development Services, Inc.
  • Donna Martin, Pope County
  • Marc Johnson, East Central MN Educational Cable Cooperative
  • Whitney Ridlon, IRRRB
  • Rick West, Otter Tail County

Blandin on Broadband eNews March 2017: Legislative news and county broadband profiles

A recap of news from March…

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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3TO Show your support by telling policymakers you care about broadband through social media. http://wp.me/p3if7-3Nt Learn how to hone your message by checking out the archive of the latest Blandin webinar, How to be Effective at the Capitol. http://wp.me/p3if7-3UL

Rural Broadband is Happening in Parts of MN
There’s a myth that it’s too expensive to bring high speed broadband to rural areas. There are several providers in Minnesota proving that isn’t the case. Two of them (Hiawatha Broadband and Paul Bunyan) share the secrets to their success bringing fiber to rural Minnesota. http://wp.me/p3if7-3VJ and http://wp.me/p3if7-3VH

MN is number three Best State
Reporting by US News and World Reports has Minnesota ranking number three for best state and ranking tenth for Internet access. http://wp.me/p3if7-40L

Broadband Networks Conference Notes
At the Minnesota broadband provider associations’ conference, local legislators talked about the importance of broadband to rural communities. Several mentioned reticence to invest in technology because technology changes so quickly. National experts allowed that the federal landscape will have an impact on local politics. They also felt 5G (wireless broadband) would be good for downtown areas and campuses but not rural regions. http://wp.me/p3if7-3Ye

Minnesota Broadband Task Force
The Task Force learned about the Border to Border grant challenge process where an incumbent provider can challenge a grant proposal in their area. Communities are discouraged that the penalty for challenging is minimal – especially for projects that are modified due to challenge. The Office of Broadband Development will soon begin mapping broadband access through a contact with Connected Nation. The PUC explained the growing limitations of the Minnesota Telephone Assistance Program. http://wp.me/p3if7-3XH

Notes from MN legislative session:

  • Broadband Introduction at Senate Committee on Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy http://wp.me/p3if7-3UG
  • MN Senate Committee meeting notes: Small wireless facilities collocation authorization discussion http://wp.me/p3if7-40I
  • MN Senate Committee meeting notes: Senator Westrom on S.F. 980 (border-to-border broadband grant program modification and appropriation) and Senator Simonson on S.F. 234 (broadband grant program appropriation) http://wp.me/p3if7-40q
  • K-12 Broadband Equity Aid (SF 936) is introduced http://wp.me/p3if7-3XV

Media coverage of MN legislative session:

Federal Legislation/Policy Items

  • Mayors and elected officials from 60 cities and counties send a letter to President and Congress on the importance of broadband http://wp.me/p3if7-40A
  • Connected Nation releases a brief saying the following may be hot topics for federal broadband policymakers: New Direction at the FCC, Net Neutrality, AT&T and Time Warner Merger, interests on Capitol Hill such as wireless and infrastructure funding. http://wp.me/p3if7-3Xa
  • The new FCC Chair has already made changes http://wp.me/p3if7-3W2; some were outlined in a plan for rural broadband he released last fall (2016) http://wp.me/p3if7-3WE
  • FCC is planning a reverse auction to expand rural broadband access; includes parts of MN http://wp.me/p3if7-3Zb
  • Senators ask new FCC Chair to make rural broadband a priority http://wp.me/p3if7-3Uk
  • Klobuchar keeps an emphasis on improving broadband infrastructure http://wp.me/p3if7-3WA

Local Broadband News

In February, we created county broadband profiles using data from the Office of Broadband Development and news stories from the past several years. It is beneficial to see what is working in different communities especially when trying to figure out what might lead to continual expansion.

Find links to each individual profile: http://wp.me/p3if7-40F

Upcoming Events & Opportunities

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

Opportunities

  • Broadband Innovation and Robust Network Feasibility Fund grant award amounts range from $1,000 to $25,000; matching funds are required. Grant application deadlines for 2017 are April 7, June 23 and September 22.http://wp.me/p3if7-3M7
  • Grants are available to help digitize cultural documents through Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). Deadline is April 3. http://wp.me/p3if7-3TX
  • 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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3R1
  • Google announces grants to promote professional development for Computer Science teachers. Deadline March 19. http://wp.me/p3if7-3PP
  • The Blue Cross Foundation announces a funding opportunity of up to a total of $1M to further health equity in communities across Minnesota http://wp.me/p3if7-3XZ Applications are due March 30, 2017

Stirring the Pot

While on vacation and reading randomly on Facebook and Twitter, I read an excellent article about someone retiring from the US Department of State after a long career.  The article is long gone from my news feed.

His career distilled to its essence – “Never underestimate your ability to accomplish great things based on vision and values.”  As a specialist in European affairs, he marveled at the falling of the Berlin Wall and other eastern European government transformations in the 1980’s without a shot being fired.  He believed that the USA had significant and positive influence by leading with our long and widely held vision and values summarized by “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Similarly, communities need to decide, “What are our broadband vision and values?”  Hard questions about ubiquity, affordability, capacity, ownership and management need to be asked, discussed and determined through engagement processes that include both leaders and citizens. Failure to do this hard work allows communities to pursue projects lead to dead-ends or off of a cliff, or to nowhere at all. Vision and values can remain consistent in a dynamic broadband environment of technologies, providers, government programs and community leadership. With shared broadband vision and values, it is far easier to set the course, know if you are making progress and when you have reached your destination.

Blandin Webinar March 9: Broadband at the County Level

Community broadband planning in rural Minnesota has shifted from individual communities to counties and regions.  This webinar will highlight examples of the paths that several rural counties are taking to improve broadband.

Presenters include:

  • Vince Robinson, Development Services, Inc.
  • Donna Martin, Pope County
  • Marc Johnson, East Central MN Educational Cable Cooperative
  • Julie Rath, Redwood County
  • Whitney Ridlon, IRRRB
  • Rick West, Otter Tail County

Thursday, March 9, 2017 03:00 PM America/Chicago

Please Register

How does Northern MN get broadband? Cooperatives, community and government support

Business North recently ran an article outlining some of the reasons Northern Minnesota needs broadband and some parts of do not have it.

Broadband is good for the economy…

In a recent opinion piece penned by Jordan Feyerherm of the Center for Rural Affairs, the author notes that rural regions with one to three broadband providers experience employment growth that’s more than 6 percent higher than areas that lack broadband access.

Rural broadband is expensive…

The primary driver behind the lack of broadband infrastructure in rural areas is simple economics – it costs more per customer to deliver. Broadband companies can see a rapid return on hardwire investment on a high-density street in Duluth. In a rural township, that same company might not see a profit for their efforts for decades – if ever.

Cooperatives make a difference…

“Where there are co-ops there’s broadband. Where there are incumbent providers, there’s not,” said Bernadine Joselyn, the Blandin Foundation’s director of public policy and engagement.

The Foundation has been a strong advocate for high-speed Internet expansion to rural areas through its Blandin Community Broadband Program. Now, however, Joselyn said the work has become more difficult. “What was easy to do has been done,” she said.

One of the most aggressive co-ops when it comes to broadband expansion has been Paul Bunyan. Based in Bemidji, the co-op has expanded broadband availability to a number of townships in northeastern Minnesota. Just last year, 1,200 residents of Balsam Township, a rural township in Itasca County, had broadband access for the first time.

The community needs to be ready…

Proximity to a co-op or company planning expansion is certainly key, but some communities have been more prepared to jump on board.

In a column analyzing the recently unveiled list of Border-to-Border projects, Brown noted a lack of funded projects in rural St. Louis County.

“The only project in St. Louis County is a small Mediacom expansion in Fayal Township south of Eveleth. Why was there only one small project in St. Louis County? In short, there were few projects to fund… Localities in rural St. Louis County haven’t organized the way they have in Itasca County and other places in Minnesota,” wrote Brown.

[I might step in and say that actually the Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative has been active in St Louis County.)

Government support…

Programs like the state’s Border-to-Border grant initiative, for now at least, seem to be the best shot rural residents have for broadband connection. …

In late January, northern Minnesota legislators joined forces to promote an expansion of the Border-to-Border program. They’re proposing a $100 million appropriation for the broadband program. The bill’s chief authors are Rep. Julie Sandstede, DFL – Hibbing, in the House and Sen. Erik Simonson, DFL – Duluth, in the Senate.

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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3TO Can’t attend? Tell policymakers you care about broadband through social media. http://wp.me/p3if7-3Nt

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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3Pw 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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3PI

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:

Proposals:

Notes from legislative meetings:

  • MN House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Broadband Industry Intro: VoIP, 5G, growth and frustration http://wp.me/p3if7-3Ts
  • Industry speaks to MN Senate Committee on Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy http://wp.me/p3if7-3Rm
  • Office of Broadband Development update to House Committee on Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance http://wp.me/p3if7-3Rh
  • Rep Johnson and Rep Baker speak to the Minnesota Broadband Task Force http://wp.me/p3if7-3Rk

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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3TC

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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3SE

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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3TA

Local Broadband News

Aitkin
A voice from the frontlines of Aitkin County MN says, “We need better broadband.” http://wp.me/p3if7-3Pu

Brainerd
Brainerd Dispatch article highlights businesses that credit the local workforce and the network for their decision to build satellite offices in the Brainerd area. http://wp.me/p3if7-3R9

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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3QK http://wp.me/p3if7-3Q8

Carlton County
A recent Carlton County broadband feasibility study estimates $46-70 million to get better broadband to the county. http://wp.me/p3if7-3Rq

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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3TZ

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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3QM

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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3Qh

Hibbing
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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3Ty

Itasca County
Paul Bunyan Communications is bringing GigaZone access to Deer River, Squaw Lake, Ball Club, Dora Lake, Inger, Wirt, Max, and Spring Lake. http://wp.me/p3if7-3TF

Itasca and Hubbard Counties Paul Bunyan Communications receives a $1.74 million Border to Border Broadband Grant for portions of Itasca County, Hubbard County. http://wp.me/p3if7-3QB

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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3PQ

Kelliher and Northome
Paul Bunyan Communications is bringing GigaZone access to Kelliher and Northome http://wp.me/p3if7-3NA

Lanesboro
AcenTek receives nearly $1.8 million in Border to Border grant funding for Lanesboro. http://wp.me/p3if7-3PU

Le Sueur County
Eckles Telephone Co. receives $188,000 in Border to Border grants to serve rural Heidelberg. http://wp.me/p3if7-3Qf

Mantorville
KMTelecom receives a Border to Border grant of $764,663 to expand high-speed internet access in rural Mantorville. http://wp.me/p3if7-3PU

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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3Py

Nobles County
Nobles County celebrates broadband work done with Blandin Foundation support http://wp.me/p3if7-3QV

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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3Qd

Pipestone County
Pipestone County is looking at regional broadband options http://wp.me/p3if7-3U5

Pope County
Pope County is working on broadband survey to measure broadband need and interest http://wp.me/p3if7-3PF

Redwood County
Arvig receives a Border to Border grant to serve 15 unserved households and 20 unserved businesses near Morgan. http://wp.me/p3if7-3QK

Renville County
Hiawatha Broadband Communications & RS Fiber receive $807,966 in Border to Border grant funding. http://wp.me/p3if7-3QK

Sunrise Township
Sunrise Township receives a Border to Border grant to upgrade the part of the community served by CenturyLink. http://wp.me/p3if7-3QQ

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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3Qd

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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3PN

Upcoming Events

  • May 16-17 – Net Inclusion (St Paul)http://wp.me/p3if7-3MN
  • June 21 – MACTA Annual Conference U of MN Continuing Education Center

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

Opportunities

  • 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.http://wp.me/p3if7-3M7
  • Grants are available to help digitize cultural documents through Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). Deadline is April 3. http://wp.me/p3if7-3TX
  • The FCC is looking for applications for the newly formed FCC Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee http://wp.me/p3if7-3Tu
  • 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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3R1
  • Google announces grants to promote professional development for Computer Science teachers. Deadline March 19. http://wp.me/p3if7-3PP

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. http://wp.me/p3if7-3U9

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.