How can your community help/attract a broadband provider?

I am updating the MN County broadband profiles this week – to be released soon. I’m doing something a little different by giving each a code – red, yellow or green – based on progress toward the MN speed goals of 25/3 (by 2022) and 100/20 (by 2026). Green counties are often metro counties where a market case for broadband helps them or they have a provider or two that are engaging. Yellow counties may be moderately close (in population covered) to the goals, they may have an engaged provider or they may be building momentum. Red counties are often way behind in number and/or are lacking an engaged provider. So this recent article in Broadband Communities caught my eye – Six Ways Communities Can Help Providers Build Networks.

I’ve read these tips before, I’ve heard providers and community partners talk about them in conferences – but still good info:

  1. Information:
  2. Permitting and rights of way:
  3. Provider-friendly comprehensive plans:
  4. Forecasting growth:
  5. Marketing assistance and take rate:
  6. Matching investment:

You can check out the article for more details. Each community will be different in what they can/will offer and each provider will want/need different things – but as a community these are some of the tools you have in your toolbox.

Franconia is working on getting better broadband – with an impressive community input proposal

Franconia has been working on getting better broadband. They have a Franconia Township Communications Committee on Broadband. They got funding from Blandin (combined with County and Township investment) to do a feasibility study, where the surveyed community members and looked at options for better broadband. They used that to create a broadband proposal that they shared earlier this month at the monthly Franconia town hall meeting where the township supervisors voted 3-0 on moving forward to partner with CTC to apply for the state boarder to boarder broadband grant.  If approved, this will bring rural Franconia Township residents fiber.

Chisago County Press reports…

People who live in Franconia Township are all about getting more fiber into their lives– fiber optic that is.

About 50 citizens attending a townhall supervisor meeting August 13 were able to exit happy,  after Franconia Township supervisors passed a resolution 3-0 expressing official support to applying for state Border to Border grants earmarked for upgrading Internet services.

An Internet citizens group represented at last week’s meeting by Angel Phillips Permaloff, Wade Vitalis, Dan Omdahl and Aaron Froberg–is working with a Minnesota telecommunications cooperative, CTC.  The company has been around since 1950 and is motivated to add high capacity and high speed service territory covering both Chisago Lake Township and Franconia.

Franconia’s current sole Internet provider is Frontier Communications of MN.  In a just-completed survey, township property owners registered little satisfaction with Frontier Internet.  Even more disheartening is Frontier doesn’t seem to care, according to anecdotes shared during last week’s meeting.

Now their citizen lead communications committee is hosting a township broadband dinner at Bloom Lake Barn on September 5th from 6pm-8pm. It’s an opportunity for community members to come, ask questions and learn more. I think it’s a great way to build community support. I plan to attend and will report back.

Le Sueur County helps Bevcomm prepare for MN broadband grant application

Le Sueur County News reports…

Le Sueur County Commissioners met with several cable providers July 16 to explore the possibility of installing fiber optic cable across the county to reach under-served rural areas. The internet service provider Bevcomm expressed interest in the project and the county commissioners voted to approve a new loan program to help the company with its grant application.

Here are more details…

However, these plans face a major obstacle: cost. To reach unserved areas, it could cost between $16.5 million and $19 million depending on how many households are serviced. In order to be able to pay for the project, Konechne said the county will need to find an ISP willing to contribute $3-4 million in equity and a grant of at least $1 million.

County Administrator Darrell Pettis came to the Board of Commissioners during a July 22 meeting to report the county’s progress in courting ISP partners. Several telephone, cable and internet service providers, including Bevcomm, Jaguar and the Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative (MVEC) expressed an interest in a partnership. Among the three providers who have expressed interest, Pettis stated that Bevcomm was the most intrigued.

Bevcomm has asked the county if they are willing to offer a loan within the range of $20,000 and $30,000. This would be used to apply for a $5 million state grant.

“The program is more of a points getter,” said Pettis. “If they can show some county or local government interest and support, then they can get some extra points to go toward their grant program.”

The county, however, did not have a loan program for this type of project, so Pettis asked if the commissioners would be interested in creating one. The program would need to be created before the July 31 grant application deadline.

Commissioner Steven Rohlfing asked what would happen if the Bevcomm refused to pay back the loan.

“We use the courts,” Pettis answered. “If we had a revolving loan program they would have a responsibility to pay us back.”

“They have no intention of actually using the dollars,” Pettis added. “The intention is to get points.”

The commissioners voted 4-0 to create a revolving loan program specifically for broadband economic development. Commissioner Lance Wetzel was absent.

Guess your broadband speed – and other tools to help promote better broadband

The Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP) AmeriCorps bridges the “digital divide” for new Immigrants and low-income communities in Minneapolis and St. Paul. CTEP AmeriCorps members help youth and adults use technology to better access social, civic, educational and economic opportunities. (OK I borrowed that from their website.)

They are folks who tackle social tech issues in small groups. In the last two years, one group has tackled broadband access, primarily in Minneapolis, but they broadened much of their work to result in tools that will help rural and urban areas.

If you came to the fall broadband conference last year and noticed anyone that wasn’t me livestreaming a session – it was either Katie or Gus. They both have been great about helping out Blandin and soaking up as much broadband knowledge as they can.

In July, I attended an information session they held in Minneapolis drumming up interest in digital equity through improved access.

In Minneapolis, it’s more about affordability or in the case of some apartments – making sure that the landlord has not locked residents into a single provider without considering their needs.

Below is a fun video they created to help attendees of the meeting (and other meetings) understand the gradations of broadband. It was a big hit at an Open Streets fest and could draw a crowd at a county fair. There are some other tools they have created too – and are sharing with anyone tasked with explaining and promoting better broadband.

Here are some of the other tools they have made available:

 

Pew Trust new tool tracks broadband by state and compares

Pew are created a cool tool that compiles and organizes broadband policy by state. They look at

  • Broadband Programs (such as is there a Office of Broadband Development)
  • Competition and regulation (are there policies that support/hinder municipal broadband)
  • Definitions (speeds)
  • Funding and financing
  • Infrastructure access
  • Other (Such as legislative intent)

As you peruse the tool you can see how many states have legislation or other things to support broadband. For example, Minnesota is only one of 12 states to have a state broadband goal. They list 21 features or characteristics for Minnesota. Too much to copy it all here but I check out just a few things. Like state goals they list two:

It is a goal of the state that by 2022 and thereafter, the state be in: (1) the top five states of the United States for broadband speed universally accessible to residents and businesses; (2) the top five states for broadband access; and (3) the top 15 when compared to countries globally for broadband penetration.

And

It is a state goal that: (1) no later than 2022, all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to high-speed broadband that provides minimum download Speed of at least 25 megabits per second and minimum upload Speed of at least three megabits per second; and (2) no later than 2026, all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to at least one provider of broadband with download Speed of at least 100 megabits per second and upload Speed of at least 20 megabits per second.

Each taken from the legislation. It seems like a slick tool – especially helpful for practitioners or anyone having to understand practitioner.

 

Lake County Broadband sold to Zito Media

Business North reports…

Lake Connections, the broadband company established by Lake County, Minn., is being sold to Zito Media.

“We are just waiting on our franchise permits. At that point, the Lake County fiber network will be 100 percent Zito owned,” said Zito President Jim Rigas said.

Zito, a small cable and data operator based in Pennsylvania with operations in 17 states, intends to maintain the Two Harbors office and local staff.

The article does a nice job outlining the trials and tribulations of Lake County Broadband and recognizes the people who forged ahead to make broadband happen for their county…

Lake County Commissioner Rich Sve has the unique perspective of watching the journey of county-owned broadband from the beginning. Sve had just been elected as commissioner for the first time in 2009, and midway through that year, the county began its grant application to introduce a fiber network reaching into rural Lake County.

With a couple of options already available for high-speed internet service within the cities of Lake County, Sve said, it was the rural regions that were neglected and no incumbent service would step up.

“There was no one else who would do it, and we recognized that to be part of the world we live in requires that type of bandwidth.”

The county board in 2010 foresaw a future with many basic needs, such as healthcare, elders aging in place and education, that would rely on all county residents having access to high-speed internet. For the county to thrive, attract companies and entrepreneurs and develop economically, it was a must, the board decided.

“I’m most proud of bringing broadband infrastructure to so many people,” Sve said, “and in the same breath, I regret that we did not get to every corner of the county as we had hoped to.”

And…

Lake County Administrator Matt Huddleston had also just begun in that position at the start of the broadband project.

“It felt like it was uphill the whole way, but the board stepped out on a limb for something it believed in even with the risk involved,” he said, “and without that, I’m not sure such a big portion of the county would have been reached.”

Huddleston expressed disappointment that the last miles of fiber were not yet laid to the farthest reaches of the county, however, he feels confident that the county board’s perseverance brought the project through obstacles that a private entity might not have managed.

Huddleston said he is hopeful those final connections and more fiber placement will continue under new ownership, and added that the county intends to work cooperatively with the new owners to advocate for grant opportunities.

It sounds like Zito is looking at moving forward…

Going forward, Rigas said, Zito Media’s focus is to connect as many customers as possible. He noted a significant number of people live next to fiber that has already been placed, but their homes are not yet connected to the network.

“The county has collected 600 or more expressions of interest in being served by us,” said Rigas, adding that the company would first like to connect customers already next to the fiber lines.

The second step for Zito will be looking at the areas where deployed conduit is only partially complete, with evaluation taking place over the course of the next year, according to  Rigas.

Now is a good time for communities to prep for broadband upgrades

It was good to see local media write about the broadband meeting in St Louis County last week. The Hibbing Daily Tribune reports…

Now is a good time for communities to take the proper steps to prepare for grant applications, representatives said, especially because of the local, state and federal sources available to tap into and an Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and Blandin Foundation partnership.

“There are general fund dollars (state money) and local matching dollars this year … to grow connectivity in our area,” said Jason Metsa, deputy commissioner for the IRRRB.

An IRRRB infrastructure grant has up to $2 million dedicated for fiscal year 2020 to serve as a local match in leveraging other state and federal grants for broadband. The funds are available for unserved and underserved areas, with up to a 25% match.

St. Louis County has large areas considered unserved or underserved.

Local funding resources, which other rural parts of the state have employed, include local cash contributions, tax abatement bonds and dedication of special taxes.

Federal dollars are available through the United States Department of Agriculture ReConnect initiative and state funding from the Border to Border Broadband Grant Program.

I wrote about the meeting too so I won’t go into great detail – but it’s a reminder to all communities – act or be left behind. A lot is happening and that’s great. Some communities will be lucky enough to get grant funding – and luck favors the prepared.