Iron Range Broadband Communities survey – good model for others

I just wrote about the IRBCs (Iron Range Broadband Communities) yesterday. I wanted to follow up by sharing their broadband feasibility study survey – and the email invitation they used to share it. If you are in a target community – please take the time to fill it out. (Only 21 questions!) If you aren’t in the community, you still might check it out as a model for your own area…

Take the Iron Range Broadband Communities survey

Survey targeted to residents of Hibbing, Mountain Iron–Buhl, and Chisholm school districts and Cherry Township
Not everyone on the Iron Range has access to high-speed internet, and local communities are working together to improve that access and to provide faster speeds. The Iron Range Broadband Communities project area includes all residents that live within the Hibbing, Mountain Iron–Buhl, and Chisholm school districts and Cherry Township.

The group has been supported by a grant from the Blandin Foundation, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation, and Saint Louis County to work toward improving internet access for everyone in the area. Additional funding partners include: Hibbing School District, Hibbing EDA, Cherry Township, French Township, Chisholm School District, Chisholm EDA, Balkan Township, Mountain Iron-Buhl School District, City of Mountain Iron, City of Buhl, City of Kinney, and Great Scott Township.
The first step in that effort is to determine what areas of the project area are lacking access and speed and what residents would like to see improved. To measure the current level of interest in higher speed internet access, the team is conducting a survey, which is available to every household in the project area.
The survey is designed to get opinions on current and needed internet access and seeks responses. By pinpointing clusters where rural residents have a strong desire for broadband, we will be better positioned to attract partners to invest in infrastructure. Your voice matters! The survey deadline is Aug. 31, 2017.
Residents have two ways to complete this brief survey:
• Stop by the Cherry Town Hall or the Hibbing, Chisholm, Mountain Iron, Buhl or Kinney public libraries to fill out a paper copy
Complete the survey online
The group would like to get a high percentage of residents within the project area to complete the survey. The survey will help the Iron Range Broadband Communities in its efforts to ultimately seek state or federal funding to increase access and internet speeds for the entire project area.

Southwest MN Counties get Blandin grant for broadband feasibility study

The Granite Falls News reports

Blandin Foundation announced recently that it has awarded 11 grants totaling $483,090 that assist rural Minnesota communities in advancing high-speed Internet access and use in their communities. Among these, the Southwest Regional Development Commission (SRDC), in partnership with Chippewa, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Pipestone and Yellow Medicine counties, will benefit from grant funding to map existing Internet technologies and explore possibilities for increasing Internet access.

The six participating counties have elected to collaborate for not only economic benefits pertaining to the cost of the study, but also to ensure that county lines do not limit any projects that result. “We like to say at the Foundation, ‘Change follows relationship lines at the speed of trust,’” said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement. “It’s fantastic that so many partners in southwest Minnesota have come together to explore what they can do together that they couldn’t do alone.”

To prepare for the feasibility study, Chippewa and Yellow Medicine Counties engaged the Upper Minnesota River Valley Regional Development Commission to conduct several listening meetings to hear stories and concerns about existing broadband access. Based on expressed needs, an engineering firm will study three different scenarios for bringing fiber to the counties: 1) build fiber to every part of each county that is not covered adequately, 2) build a fiber-fed wireless network, and 3) look to see if there are any public/private partnership options that add value to the project.

The grants funds received from the Blandin Foundation will provide the impetus to get the project going in Chippewa County. This is a very important project for Chippewa County. There will be a need for many volunteers moving forward to assist in the implementation of this project. For each scenario, the cost of the network will be quantified, revenue streams will be identified and an implementation plan will be created. “Today’s rural leaders know that for their communities to reach their fullest potential, they need a strong Internet connection,” said Blandin Foundation President and CEO Dr. Kathleen Annette. “We are thrilled to see six counties in southwest Minnesota collaborating to bring the promise of the Internet to their residents. We are honored to stand with them as they pave the way to a broadband-enabled future.”

How do you start a community conversation on broadband? A sneak peek into Chisago County

Today I was an interloper in Chisago County as the local EDA (Nancy Hoffman) held meetings (I attended one at noon; the other is at 5:00) to get community members to talk about what to do to improve broadband for everyone and could they do anything fast enough to apply for state grants. (Deadline to let the Office of Broadband know if you’re planning to apply is the end of July!) There were about 40 people – including two legislators – both with dire home broadband access.

I don’t want to give away any major community secrets here – but they were kind enough to let me take notes, a video and share the PPT. They are working with Bill Coleman from Community Technology Advisors (whose name may also be familiar from Blandin projects).

First everyone introduced themselves. Many were happy with their broadband service; many were not. Turns out if you’re in town, the odds are better that you’re happy. Several people worked in town where the access was good but went home to bad service. One name mentioned often – and with representation at the meeting was MidCo. People were happy but even the guy from MidCo was quick to say they provided good service in town but haven’t found a way to enter the rural market.

A couple attendees admitted using a combination of satellite and mobile (hotspot) service based on their absolute needs for speed, kids’ needs, data caps and costs. Some didn’t even have mobile and had only satellite, which was not reliable – on windy, rainy or snowy days.

Then they got an introduction from Bill and a PPT presentation.

The goal was to gauge interest – and attendees were invited to sign up if they wanted to peruse a grant application. As Nancy said, it’s a lot of hard work but she was willing to help. To put context to the opportunity – Sunrise Township is in Chisago County. They received funding in the last grant award round and are working with CenturyLink on a FTTH solutions. They learned a ton in the process but a lot of folks are watching – because it’s a great example of using local state funding to leverage federal CAF funding. The inherent issue with CAF is that (as the PPT shows) the required upgrade there is only 10 Mbps down and 1 up.

Here are some loose notes on the conversation and questions.

To meet the 2026 speed goals (100/20) we need fiber. It’s important to focus on that speed goal. Already 70 percent of MN has 100/20. Continue reading

How much is a broadband network? The Feds have some help with that

BroadbandUSA recently released a tool that outlines costs of fiber and wireless networks. Here’s a description of the tool (including the graphic)…

The graphic below depicts four of the most common types of network deployments: Buried Fiber Deployment, Coaxial Cable Deployment, Aerial Fiber Deployment, and Microwave Deployment. Costs associated with these four types of networks are outlined in the tables below and are color-coded to match the graphic. Please note that network costs can have significant variance, even greater than the cost ranges shown. The costs included in this tool are not comprehensive and each network’s expenses will vary based on a number of factors, including community needs, geography and network deployment type.

There’s a lot of room for greater variance even shown above but at least it’s someplace to start and it’s helpful, if you’re not a network builder, to even see the components of what’s involved. Although what’s not involved is ongoing costs.

Now available – Model Broadband Feasibility Study Request for Proposal

Good information is required for good decision-making, especially when the consequences of those decisions are important and expensive. For community leaders working to improve local broadband services, good information is usually acquired by hiring a consultant to conduct a feasibility study.

Study elements generally include the following: a review of existing networks and services; a market study; technology options; legal structures and/or partnership agreements; operations; and financial projections. The study process should drive decision-making so that on completion, the community has a strategy with committed leadership that leads to the desired goal – better broadband services.

Selecting the right consultant is critical. They need the right mix of technical and financial expertise, plus know how to work with community clients. While private sector providers have a well-defined decision criteria and decision makers, these things are more fluid and complex in a community broadband initiative.

Over the years, Blandin Foundation has funded many broadband feasibility studies. In fact, the demand for grant funds for this purpose has never been higher. We have created a model RFP for communities to use as a base document that should be customized to meet specific community objectives. A focused study scope will yield detailed analysis critical to good decision-making.

You can find the sample RFP and a list of possible consultants on the Blandin Foundation site. 

Decision on Rochester broadband network is postponed

Earlier this month, Rochester (MN) city council was set to vote on moving forward with a detailed broadband feasibility study. Rochester 6 News reports that they have decided not to decide, yet…

For years, the city of Rochester has been debating possible city-wide broadband for the area.

Monday night, the Rochester City Council was supposed to vote on whether or not to conduct a study for the project. The study itself would cost more than $45,000.

However, the item was tabled for another meeting.

“The study that we would do would be about $45,000 to $50,000. If we went ahead with the project, it would be $65 million, plus,” Rochester City Councilmember Mark Bilderback said.

It sounds like community voices stepped up…

Small business owners, educators and other community members came forward at the beginning of the meeting to show their support for city-wide broadband.

“The entire point of sale system is internet based,” one community member said.

“I have many reasons to also support municipal broadband,” another small business owner said.

But council members were unsure…

But when the item came up in Monday’s meeting, Bilderback motioned to table it. He said there’s so much information surrounding city-wide broadband, and while he likes the idea, Bilderback wants to spend more time learning about it before casting his vote.

“I need to go out and I need to fund my own investigations, because I’m not getting any answers from the presentations that we’ve had,” Bilderback said.

Other council members, like President Randy Staver, followed by saying there are other city projects to consider when looking at the expensive costs it would take to initiate it.

Blandin Webinar Archive: Broadband Finance Strategies

Webinar April 2017 Broadband Finance Strategies
April 27, 2017 03:00 PM

Financing public sector investment in broadband projects can be complex, requiring both financial and political accountability. Learn from finance and local economic experts about how these deals are put together.

Speakers include:

  • Shannon Sweeney, David Drown Associates
  • Paul Donna, Robert W. Baird & Co.
  • Nancy Hoffman, Chisago County HRA-EDA
  • Mark Erickson, City of Winthrop