ILSR Muninetworks – fourth video in the rural broadband saga

Happy to share Muninetwork’s latest video…

The setting in this episode is a bustling town council meeting, in which locals are gathered to discuss what to do about poor Internet access in Villageville. The special speaker tonight is an attorney from the incumbent Internet access company. Citizens are ready to ask him why, for corn’s sake, his employer still hasn’t updated the services they provide.

Feasibility study is first step to better broadband in Greenwood MN (St Louis County)

The Timber Jay does a nice job detailing a recent (Oct 29) meeting in Greenwood Township to discuss bringing better broadband to the community. I wasn’t there but it sounds like meetings I have attended in the past. If you live in an area with good broadband and you have any interest in knowing how the other half lives and/or if you’re a policymaker, this article strikes me as a good example of what people deal with in some rural areas….

[From Frontier] Bohler was one of over a half dozen local elected officials and representatives of telecommunications companies and state agencies who came to speak at a roundtable-style meeting here on Tuesday to discuss telephone and internet issues in the township. About 50 area residents filled the town hall at the Oct. 29 meeting.
Frontier currently supplies DSL level service in many areas of the township. “Most homes can get 10 mbps service,” said Bohler, “or a little higher if they are near a terminal node.”
For rural telecommunications providers, it comes down to numbers.
“Folks here are spread out,” said Bohler, noting that raises the cost per household for providing upgraded service. “State funding is vital in making the projects economically viable,” he said.
Fiber optic cable has already been installed in several of the more populated areas of the township, but at present, only the town hall has been connected to the broadband-level service. This fiber, installed by the Northeast Service Coop, stretches down Echo Point as far as the Bois Forte Reservation, down Birch Point, Moccasin Point, and toward Frazer Bay. But whether that fiber could be used to connect to individual homes and businesses in those areas is still an open question.
Audience members stressed the need for reliable service at speeds that would allow residents to work from home, having the township apply for state or federal grant funding to get a project started, and making sure the quality of internet service is sufficient for the needs of area businesses.

So much to unpack here – and I do this for readers who don’t live in these areas. First, he says “most homes can get 10 Mbps service” – I assume this means 10 Mbps down and likely 1 Mbps up. For federal funding that 10/1 speed is a benchmark. For comparison, the MN state speed goal for 2026 is 100/20.

Second, “State funding is vital in making the projects economically viable” – no explanation required but worth highlighting.

Third, “Fiber optic cable has already been installed in several of the more populated areas of the township, but at present, only the town hall has been connected to the broadband-level service.” How can a community thrive when they are looking at 10/1 access and their neighbors have fiber? Where do you buy a house, start a business or plan your vacation? Rural broadband may be expensive but the cost of not getting it may be higher in the long run.

In Greenwood, the commitment to move forward has been made…

Speakers all agreed that conducting a feasibility study was the most important first step. That study helps to determine how many residences and businesses desire high-speed service, how much they can afford to pay, and exactly where they are all located in the township. The study is also a prerequisite for any request for any kind of funding application.
Such a study is about to begin, thanks to the efforts of the local Blandin Broadband Committee, which is being led in large part by Greenwood residents Joanne, John, and Kate Bassing. The township has committed to help fund the feasibility study, which ensures that data on Greenwood’s needs and residents will be part of the study. The Blandin Foundation is providing matching funds for this study and will host a kickoff event for the feasibility study on Nov. 8 in Aurora.

The article goes on to detail potential pricing or at least factors that might impact pricing and talks about what broadband leaders are doing in communities in the area to make this happen. The costs are staggering (“$20,000 – $25,000 per mile to bury fiber optic cable, but that cost could double if the ground has bedrock”) and the volunteer hours are long. But the plan moves forward!

New Broadband Availability Map Pilot for Policymakers includes MN

NTIA announces…

Last year, Congress asked NTIA to develop a National Broadband Availability Map to address this problem. Working with an initial group of eight states, we’ve released a pilot version of the map, a geographic information system platform that allows for the visualization of federal, state, and commercially available data sets. The map will be made available exclusively to state and federal partners, as it includes non-public data that may be business sensitive or have licensing restrictions.

The eight partner states include California, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Utah. These states participate in NTIA’s State Broadband Leaders Network, and have active broadband plans or programs. As the pilot moves forward, NTIA will test the map’s functionality and expand it to other states, and add data from additional partners, federal agencies, industry and accessible commercial datasets.

I’m glad this resource is available. BUT I wish it were open to more people.  We’re to a point where public private partnerships are needed to make deployment possible in unserved areas. That partnership often includes a provider, the possibility of state (or federal) funding and community support through some form of local tax. I’ve seen successful efforts start from the providers but also from community leaders – it might be helpful for them to see the maps too.

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: