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.

Blandin Foundation Offers Candidates Insights on Rural Broadband Needs

In a letter sent today from Blandin Foundation President Kathy Annette, a set of insights on rural Minnesota’s broadband needs, developed by the Blandin Broadband Strategy Board, were offered as a resource to candidates running for office…

On behalf of Blandin Foundation I am writing to thank you for undertaking the hard work of running for office and to call attention to an issue critical to the vitality of the community you seek to serve: broadband.

Blandin Foundation works for vibrant rural Minnesota communities by investing in community leaders and working with partners to expand opportunity for all residents. It is one of only a handful of foundations in the U.S. focused exclusively on rural communities and the largest rural-based private foundation in Minnesota.

In 75 years working with rural leaders, we’ve learned that thriving communities are built on hard work. On the hard work of leadership, of reaching across differences to build lasting connections and of listening.

We’ve listened to leaders across rural Minnesota who say — broadband access is necessary for our communities to survive and thrive.

We agree and that’s why since 2003 Blandin Foundation has partnered with countless communities to get the affordable broadband access they need and the skills to use it. We offer technical and financial resources to support community leaders as they tap the power of broadband to create resilient, connected futures.

To guide our work, we formed a statewide advisory group – the Blandin Broadband Strategy Board – made up of telecommunications providers, community economic developers, elected officials and technology experts. In 2005 the Strategy Board adopted a set of principles for decision-makers. These principles, endorsed by the Foundation, offer a guidepost for navigating complex technology policy challenges while keeping the public good at the center of public discourse.

Ubiquity
Ultra high-speed broadband needs to be available to everyone in Minnesota, including businesses, institutions, and individuals. While ultimately all Minnesotans will need this service, this goal will necessarily be achieved in stages.

Symmetry
Ultra high-speed broadband needs to provide symmetric speeds and facilitate source-to-source communication. Download speeds support consumption; upload speeds support economic development and wealth creation.

Affordable
Ultra high-speed broadband needs to be available at rates people can afford. It also needs to be affordable to build. Where the market does not reward private investment, the public sector must step up.

Competition
Competition among service providers should be encouraged. Competition increases customer choice and promotes innovation.

World Class
We must achieve world-class state-of-the-art service based on global standards. We cannot afford just to be better than our neighboring states.

Collaboration
The deployment and use of ultra high-speed broadband is a challenging goal that can benefit from public and private entities working together.

Neutrality
Ultra high-speed broadband policy should be promoted regardless of the technology platform that delivers it. The best technology for delivering ultra high-speed broadband may not have even been invented yet.

Interoperability
Regardless of the technology used for ultra high-speed delivery, all systems must seamlessly interoperate with all other technologies.

The 2005 work of the Blandin Broadband Strategy Board was prescient, as has been the work of the various state broadband task forces created and supported by Governors Pawlenty and Dayton. Recent task forces have upgraded the state broadband goals and supported the creation and funding of the Border-to-Border Broadband grant program. This program has directly funded deployment of robust broadband in many areas of greater Minnesota. Still there is much more to do and the consequences of inaction will be harsh for those left behind.

In service to our mission of being a trusted partner and advocate for healthy rural Minnesota communities, Blandin Foundation is aware of broadband’s critical role in their vitality. And as you prepare to serve, working hard to understand the challenges facing your constituents, the Blandin Broadband Strategy Board offers as a resource a set of insights related to Minnesota’s broadband goals.

This knowledge is informed by the Foundation’s 15 years’ experience working on broadband access and adoption in communities across the state and by the personal knowledge and expertise of board members, individually and collectively. As a whole, they represent the perspectives of rural people, rather than of any service provider.

As the election season approaches, we are reaching out to all candidates running for public office this fall to share these recommendations geared at creating and supporting the most effective broadband deployment and technology adoption programs possible

  1. Continue the Governor’s Broadband Task Force
    The Task Force provides an opportunity for community members, advocates, providers, consumers, and others to have input and make recommendations on broadband policy in Minnesota. It recommended to the legislature our state’s current broadband goals and reports annually on progress, including in digital literacy, cyber security, innovation and broadband-enabled economic development.

    To ensure that the Task Force fulfills its public mission, the next Governor should conduct a membership and representation review. The Strategy Board believes that, in its current form, those within the broadband industry (service providers, vendors and trade associations) have outsized representation compared to elected officials, consumers, business owners, agriculture, and people living in unserved and underserved areas.

  2. Optimize the Border-to-Border Broadband Fund
    Significant portions of Minnesota, especially rural areas, still lack adequate broadband services. Recognizing that rural broadband subsidies are required for successful deployments that meet state goals, we recommend that appropriate tools and programs be created by the legislature. The existing grant program gives providers the financial incentives they need to extend and improve networks in the hardest places to reach in Minnesota. The total grant amount requested by all applicants far exceeds the money allocated to the fund to date, demonstrating strong continued interest in the program. The lack of 2018 funding was a serious blow to those preparing to seek funds for 2019 construction.

    Project partners have expressed concern with the single-year funding model currently used by the Legislature. The application timeframe to complete the complex task of blending engineering, finance, partnership agreements, and community support into a competitive application is not conducive for larger, long-term projects. Stable, biennial funding – incorporated into DEED’s base funding – would give confidence to providers and communities alike to continue to plan and build the partnerships required to prepare effective project proposals. Including the Grant Program as part of the base budget in FY 2020/21 is of highest priority.

    Public leaders committed to maximizing the public benefit from the fund should be aware of opportunities to improve some details of its administration. For example, the $5 million grant cap per project hinder projects of larger geographic scale, whole counties or multi-county network builds. Scale matters when building infrastructure. In some cases, larger projects allow for more cost-efficient network planning and construction. They also can offer ubiquitous coverage across rural counties.

    Finally, the Fund’s challenge process remains an obstacle to building the best network possible to communities. Under the current rules the challenge process is overprotective of incumbent provider interests – the company already serving the area where the project is proposed – and discourages non-incumbent providers from participating. Incumbents are not required to install the same or better service as proposed by the non-incumbent applicant; rather the process allows the incumbent challenger to prevail as long as they commit to improve service ‒ not to 2026 speed goals ‒ but just enough to prevent a grant, to the long-term detriment of the community.

  3. Continue the Office of Broadband Development
    The Office of Broadband Development (OBD) is testimony to the fact that improving broadband networks and services across the state is a shared, non-partisan priority for all Minnesotans. The OBD provides a critical link between communities and providers and administers the Broadband Fund while documenting successful infrastructure project design and management. The Strategy Board believes the Office also should be resourced to promote the adoption and use of broadband, including broadband-based economic development, so that the highest possible value is gained from broadband infrastructure investments.
  4. Address Digital Equity
    A growing digital divide threatens Minnesota’s future prosperity. Every Minnesotan, regardless of their ZIP code, should have a device, a network connection and the skills to meet their online needs, including access to health care and education resources, employment and training and tele-work opportunities. Access denied is opportunity denied. The Office of Broadband Development should be funded to support digital equity efforts statewide.
  5. Commitment to State Speed Goals Using Scalable Technology
    State policies should prioritize strategies that lead to achieving the state’s 2026 speed goals of 100 megabytes per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload. The Strategy Board strongly endorses the current requirement that projects funded with state dollars must meet scalability requirements. State investment in broadband should prepare the state for the future. At a minimum, this requires funding projects that meet the current scalability standards.
  6. Continue Mapping While Reviewing Processes
    Accurate broadband maps are essential for sound investment and development policy and for addressing the needs of Minnesota’s un- and underserved communities. The Office of Broadband Development should continue to have resources to map Minnesota’s broadband networks. Advancements in technology, such as fixed wireless services, should be carefully and accurately accounted for in mapping of unserved and underserved. Broadband service providers should be encouraged to cooperate responsibly with OBD in this process.
  7. Evaluate New Broadband Solutions
    Policy leaders should review and highlight opportunities for creative technology, financing and partnership solutions to meeting the state’s broadband goals. Removing statutory and administrative policy barriers is a good place to start.
  8. Ensure Rural Business Connectivity
    For rural business development, broadband connections must be redundant, reliable and symmetrical. All communities need to be able to support tech-dependent businesses, whether in downtown areas or industrial parks.
  9. Support Rural Business Tech Transformation
    Advanced broadband networks are necessary, but not sufficient to help emerging and established small and medium-size firms make effective use of connectivity. Quality tech support and strategic business planning and implementation resources are necessary for cost-efficient and effective technology adoption. In addition, rural schools, health care providers, governments and non-profits would benefit from similar tech support.

I hope you find these insights from the Blandin Broadband Strategy Board helpful as you delve into the broadband issue and begin to think about the broadband policies that you will support.

Strong rural communities need broadband access to thrive and its going to take leadership, investment and cooperation at all levels to make it happen.

Our Blandin broadband staff is available to connect you with people and knowledge should you like to explore any of these insights in greater detail; Bernadine Joselyn can be reached at brjoselyn@blandinfoundation.org or (218) 327-8728. You will also find significant information about rural broadband and other perspectives in two places:

www.broadband.blandinfoundation.org
www.ruralpulse.org

With appreciation for your public service, and on behalf of the rural Minnesota communities we serve,

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Kathleen Annette, President & CEO
on behalf of the Blandin Broadband Strategy Board

Joe Buttweiler, CTC – Consolidated Telecommunications Company
Stacy Cluff, Mille Lacs Energy
Nancy Hoffman, Chisago County HRA EDA
Steve Kelley, U of MN Humphrey School Public Affairs
Jon Linnell, North Region Health Alliance
Scott Marquardt, Southwest Initiative Foundation
Dan Pecarina, Hiawatha Broadband Communications
Rich Sve, Lake County Commissioner
Fred Underwood, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
Madonna Yawakie, Turtle Island Communications

Blandin makes Broadband Communities Mag FTTH Top 100

Broadband Communities Mag has an annual list of the top 100 organizations that make Fiber to the Home possible for communities. Here’s what they look for:

In selecting the FTTH Top 100, the editors looked for organizations that advance the cause of fiber-based broadband by

* Deploying networks that are large or ambitious, have innovative business plans or are intended to transform local economies or improve communities’ quality of life

*Supplying key hardware, software or services to deployers

Introducing innovative technologies with game-changing potential, even if they have not yet been commercially deployed

*Providing key conditions for fiber builds, such as early-stage support or demand aggregation.

They include a nice quote from Kathy Annette…

“Rural leaders know that to have strong economies, quality education and health care, and lifestyle options, broadband is necessary. After years of hard work, Minnesota is seeing the impact of partnerships among community leaders, state funders and community-minded providers. This winning combination is the way forward to connected communities that work for all.” – Dr. Kathleen Annette, President and CEO, Blandin Foundation

And here is what they say about Blandin…

Blandin Foundation www.blandinfoundation.org 877-882-2257 Key Products: Grant making, community leadership development, public policy programs Summary: Since 1941, the Blandin Foundation, a private foundation based in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, has been dedicated to strengthening rural Minnesota communities. Its Broadband Initiative, launched in 2003, helps communities educate citizens about the need for ultra-high-speed broadband and plan and execute broadband projects. The foundation has published informational guides, sponsored conferences and educational events, and supported many feasibility studies for the development of robust, high-speed broadband networks. It has supported implementation of broadband applications in schools, health care facilities and other institutions and for home-based users and has promoted broadband adoption in rural communities. In 2018, Blandin will select eight rural Minnesota communities for two-year partnerships with the foundation to advance local broadband initiatives.

The list includes a few Minnesota entities. You can check them out.

Blandin Broadband eNews: Broadband in the community, in research and campaigns

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

Impact of Competition on Investment
The Institute for Local Self Reliance latest research finds that big cable and telecom companies fight over urban customers, not rural customers. They recommend that rural communities find their own way to bridge the digital divide. https://wp.me/p3if7-4FU

MN County Ranking are out. How did you do?
The Office of Broadband Development released the Minnesota County maps and data. Here are the top served counties in MN (based on speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up)  https://wp.me/p3if7-4Fq

  1. Red Lake – 99.99% ranks 1
  2. Rock – 99.93% ranks 2
  3. Ramsey – 99.84% ranks 3
  4. Swift – 99.64% ranks 4
  5. Clearwater – 99.58% ranks 5
  6. Beltrami – 99.40 % ranks 6
  7. Stevens – 99.22% ranks 7
  8. Hennepin – 99.18% ranks 8
  9. Big Stone – 98.91% ranks 9
  10. Anoka – 98.87% ranks 10

Broadband Task Force hears from Broadband Champions
The MN Broadband Task Force heard from the MN Broadband Coalition on their recommendations for the Legislature. They also heard from Bill Coleman on recent study on the limitations of CAF II funded networks and from Ann Treacy on the community return on public investment in broadband. https://wp.me/p3if7-4EG

A New Blandin Broadband Communities Cohort Begins
Swift County, Cannon Falls and Rock County are the latest groups to form a BBC cohort. They met with the Blandin Broadband Team to talk about how they are going to focus on broadband expansion in their communities in the next 18 months. https://wp.me/p3if7-4Gd

Broadband in the Elections

Local Broadband News

Aitkin
A look at broadband projects in Aitkin MN, including hotspots that have encouraged private investment in FTTH, a community landing page and training. https://wp.me/p3if7-4Fd

Chisago County
Lack of internet access was listed as a potential problem to attracting people to Chisago County in their most recent Comprehensive Housing Needs Analysis. https://wp.me/p3if7-4Fn

Chisholm
A look at broadband projects in Chisholm MN, including hotspots everywhere, connected Discovery Center, portal and hopes for the schools https://wp.me/p3if7-4F9

Cook
A look at broadband projects in Cook MN, including classes, hotspot checkout and library programming https://wp.me/p3if7-4EM

Ely
A look at broadband projects in Ely MN: Feasibility study, digital marketing, coworking and Elyite website. https://wp.me/p3if7-4EO
A recent business broadband survey in Ely shows that selling is top benefit to local businesses. https://wp.me/p3if7-4Ft

Hibbing
A look at broadband projects in Hibbing MN, including digital marketing and connectivity through the libraries and community center. https://wp.me/p3if7-4EY

Iron Range & Red Wing
Minnesota Monthly highlights communities experiencing a Rural Renaissance and credits broadband technology with helping the Iron Range and Red Wing. https://wp.me/p3if7-4Gf

Kandiyohi County
LTD Broadband expanded wireless service to the lakes area of Kandiyohi County with new equipment on water towers in Spicer, on Green Lake, in New London and a tower site by Long Lake. https://wp.me/p3if7-4Ez

Lake County
Lake County gets first bid for Lake Connections broadband. https://wp.me/p3if7-4FP Lake County network might cost locals money, but it has opened economic opportunity. https://wp.me/p3if7-4G5

Mountain Iron/Buhl
A look at broadband projects in Mountain Iron/Buhl MN, including cool forest education program, new school equipment and feasibility study. https://wp.me/p3if7-4FR

Polk, Clearwater, Pennington, Marshall and Red Lake counties
Garden Valley Telephone Company received a $20 million loan from the USDA to construct 295 miles of fiber and FTTP facilities. https://wp.me/p3if7-4G1

Southeast Minnesota
Mabel Cooperative Telephone, MiEnergy Cooperative and Spring Grove Communications will create a new company, MiBroadband to provide fixed, wireless broadband to areas of Southeast Minnesota and Northeast Iowa. https://wp.me/p3if7-4FD

Southern Minnesota
Consolidated Communications will boost broadband speeds in Mankato, North Mankato, Amboy, Cambria, Eagle Lake, Ellendale, Faribault, Garden City, Good Thunder, Janesville, Lake Crystal, Madison Lake, Mapleton, New Richland, Nicollet, Pemberton, St. Clair, St. Peter, Vernon Center and Waseca. https://wp.me/p3if7-4EQ

Twin Cities
CTEP members present on digital Inclusion projects in the Twin Cities, including a look at broadband equity. https://wp.me/p3if7-4G3

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

It is exciting to work with three new communities in the Blandin Broadband Communities Program.  This group of communities is unique in our Blandin team experience of working with 36  communities in four previous cohorts.  Each of these three communities is or is in the process of being very well-served.  Swift and Rock Counties have county-wide broadband service, mostly over FTTH, via new competitors Acira and Alliance Communications; both companies are cooperatives.  While HBC is now completing its Fiber to the Home network within the City of Cannon Falls, this area still has some broadband challenges in the rural area.  The strong connectivity in these communities puts the opportunity in front of community leaders to begin the effort to transform their communities, making full use of these advanced telecommunications networks.

Which of these communities, and other communities that are well-served, will invest in their own future to make their communities competitive for attracting people and investment?  This will take vision and commitment, demonstrated by new equipment and tech services purchases.  Employees will need training.  The Blandin Broadband Communities Program is designed to spur cross-sector community collaboration to ease tech investment decision-making and enable community-wide training for current and future workforce.  Over the next several months, these communities will be convening stakeholders and planning their future, designing projects that meet community needs, led by community champions.  With their information highway installed, their future is firmly in their hands!  BBCs, start your engines!

Many people are aware that Blandin Foundation uses the Intelligent Community framework in its work with community broadband and vitality initiatives.  Each year the Intelligent Community Forum (www.intelligentcommunity.org) conducts a competition to name the most intelligent communities in the world.  I encourage you to consider applying for this competition.  The initial application, available online at is not challenging and each participating community receives a benchmarking report on how it compares to other participating communities in the areas of broadband, knowledge workforce, innovation, digital equity, sustainability and advocacy.  I recommend this as a good use of time and as a way to educate local policy makers on what it takes to compete for people and investment in the global economy.