Is your community taking advantage of ACP? Benton has a tool to help figure that out?

The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)  provides 17 million households up to $30 per month in subsidies to offset the cost of broadband. In Minnesota, 193,678 have signed up. Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has created a tool to help determine whether that number is good or not, based on how many people qualify – down to the zip code level…

The Benton Institute’s ACP Performance Tool is a resource for any community that wants to answer the question: “How are ACP sign-ups going?” To answer, search a 5-digit zip code on the tool’s website. The ACP Performance Tool returns results that show two important numbers for the zip code area: 1) how many households have signed up for ACP (from government data) and 2) the expected number of households enrolled (the output from a statistical model discussed more below).

The difference between actual ACP enrollment and expected enrollment is a measure of performance. The tool places the zip code area into one of five performance categories:

  1. Highest: Where actual enrollments exceed expected enrollment by 40%
  2. High: Where actual enrollments are between 10% and 39% greater than expected
  3. Medium: Where actual enrollments fall between 9% and -9% of expectations
  4. Low: Where actual enrollments are between -10% and -39% of expectations
  5. Lowest: Where actual enrollments are below expected ones by 40% or less.


Three providers are seeking Border to Border grants in Douglas County (MN)

The Echo Press reports

Now that area is in an enviable position. Three internet providers are vying for state funding to provide residents with high-speed, top-notch fiber optic internet service. It’s unusual for three providers to target the same area of Douglas County.

Gardonville, Arvig-Tekstar, and Spectrum-Charter have all applied for grants from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, which will dispense up to $67 million dollars in 2023, about triple what has been appropriated in previous years. The money is awarded through a program called the Border-to-Border grants. …

Each company has targeted an area with slightly different borders, but they all include the Emerald neighborhood as well as areas north along the Lake Carlos shore and along Highway 29. Only Perham-based Arvig includes the city of Carlos, while Gardonville, based in Brandon, would go further south, scooping in Laura Lake, the Nordic Hills Golf Course, the area adjacent to the Belle River State Wildlife Management Area and north to sections of Viking Trail and Fairfield Creek Road. Charter, headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, would serve two areas west and east of Carlos.

Douglas County could use some help…

Douglas County is lagging much of the state in reaching broadband goals, according to the Grand Rapids-based Blandin Foundation, which ranks Douglas County 58th of 87 counties for broadband access. It says that 5,532 households in Douglas County do not have access to internet speeds of 100 megabits per second download and 20 megabits per second upload, and says it will cost about $51.4 million to extend that level of broadband to the entire county.

The most recent census data says that 92.9% of Douglas County households has a computer, and that 83.6% have a broadband internet connection, but it doesn’t specify the broadband speeds.

They have had good luck in getting grants in the past.

Martin County approves two ARPA broadband grants

The Fairmont Sentinel reports

The Martin County Economic Development Authority board held a meeting on Monday and approved two broadband development grants as well as measures which will provide event management training. The board also launched a new website.

The board approved two grant requests from its rural broadband development program. The first was submitted by Bevcomm and requested $71,879 which would fund 25 percent of $287,516 which would serve 128 households and 13 additional locations in the Granada area. The second project was a much larger project submitted by Federated REA which would connect much of rural Martin County.

Here’s a little bit more about the Martin County Broadband Partnership Project

The board approved two grant requests from its rural broadband development program. The first was submitted by Bevcomm and requested $71,879 which would fund 25 percent of $287,516 which would serve 128 households and 13 additional locations in the Granada area. The second project was a much larger project submitted by Federated REA which would connect much of rural Martin County.

The funding for the project comes from ARPA funds.

Minnesota Recognizes importance of broadband mapping

Telecompetitor writes about the less-than-perfect FCC maps…

Since its initial release last year, the FCC National Broadband Map has faced criticism from a variety of fronts, with complaints ranging from missing locations to doubts about the accuracy of the broadband availability data.

Most recently, a number of senators have proposed legislation to ‘fix’ the maps that would add 7 months to the challenge process for states and other parties.

They recognize Minnesota as one of the states that have taken on mapping…

In response, several states have created their own broadband availability maps to complement or improve upon the FCC’s data. Some examples of state maps include:

And it sounds like we’re ahead of the curve…

The upcoming phase of the BEAD timeline will force states to decide whether or not they will use the FCC’s national map or their own mapping data for distributing broadband funds -or a mix of both. This decision will have major implications for resource allocation and the effectiveness of broadband development in underserved communities.

Minnesota has done their own mapping for many years in part because the Border to Border grant eligibility has relied on the maps. The maps are not perfect, the data is supplied by the providers, tested by the mappers (more spot checked that thorough sweep) and I think the Office of Broadband Development does a good job following up with residents who challenge the map. Minnesota communities have also used crowdsourced maps created by Geo Partners, which is created by folks taking speed tests from their locations. In 2021, Blandin hosted an interesting conversation on mapping and speed tests with local experts: Glenn Fishbine (Geo Partners), Travis Carter (USI) Steve Howard (Paul Bunyan) and Diane Wells (Office of Broadband Development).

$80 million federal funds available to train workers to build and deploy infrastructure

The US Department of Labor announces

To maximize the impact of the Biden-Harris administration’s historic infrastructure, manufacturing and clean energy investments, the U.S. Department of Labor today announced the availability of $80 million in funding through its Building Pathways to Infrastructure Jobs Grant Program.

It sounds like this is funding to build the workforce to help deploy the infrastructure that federal funds will be buying over the next few years. It’s an opportunity to train workers and to build the workers we’ll need close to home. More info on the grants…

The grants will enable partners in the public and private sectors to develop or scale workforce training programs to prepare job seekers in advanced manufacturing; information technology; and professional, scientific, and technical service occupations that support renewable energy, transportation, and broadband infrastructure sectors. These include occupations in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors; broadband and transmission expansion; advanced manufacturing, including biomanufacturing; and electrical, industrial, and civil engineers and technicians who facilitate the design, construction, modernization, and maintenance of the nation’s infrastructure.

Nonprofits, labor organizations, public and state institutions of higher education, economic and workforce entities, and state, county and local governments may apply for grants ranging from $500,000 to $5 million. Applicants must choose one of the following tracks for this grant program:

  • Development track: Establishes local and regional partnerships that will implement new sector-based training programs across infrastructure-related sectors.

  • Scaling track: Expands an existing local or regional training partnership model, with demonstrated success in a specific infrastructure-related sector, to the state or national level.

With the Building Pathways to Infrastructure Jobs Grant Program, successful applicants will develop or scale strategies that provide the training and supportive services needed to build a talent pipeline for career pathways in infrastructure-related industries, with emphasis on programs serving people from rural or historically marginalized, underserved, and underrepresented communities. The funding will also support programs that align with the department’s Good Jobs Initiative and embed diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility into the project design.

Learn more about the funding opportunity announcement.

NTIA wants broadband permitting and continued low cost options from States

Statescoop reports

The NTIA is working with other federal agencies, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to streamline permit approval processes, but the agency is concerned that permitting at the state level could potentially be a “bigger issue,” Davidson said.

When states submit plans to the NTIA for how they plan to distribute their BEAD allocations, they will be required to include the steps they will take to ease their permitting processes, he said.

“It’s one of the homework assignments [that states will have to complete], and we’re going to take it pretty seriously,” he said.

As a steward for billions of dollars in federal funding to move the needle on broadband access and adoption, the NTIA “needs all hands on deck to make this work,” Davidson said.

He said the NTIA also wants to ensure that the Affordable Connectivity Program — a Federal Communications Commission program that subsidizes internet bills for low-income households — “continues to thrive.”

Census and NTIA unveil new broadband map – slick but only tracking to 25/3

The Census reports on their slick new broadband map

The U.S. Census Bureau, in partnership with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), today announced the launch of the ACCESS BROADBAND Dashboard. …

The dashboard includes a series of maps showing different broadband access measures, as well as economic characteristics that research suggests could be influenced by increased access to broadband. Maps display statistics on employment, small business establishments, wages and income, poverty, home values, population change and migration, educational attainment, and gross domestic product (GDP).

You can zoom into get data at the county level and the data will be updated annually. Here are items tracked:

  • Households with a broadband subscription:
  • Population with access to broadband services of at least 25/3 Mbps:
  • Employed:
  • Labor force participation:
  • Unemployed:
  • Annual change in employment:
  • Workers self-employed:
  • Workers that work from home:
  • Weekly wage:
  • Median household income:
  • Poverty (SAIPE):
  • Poverty (ACS):
  • Establishment entry rate:
  • Annual change in establishments with less than 20 employees:
  • Annual change in establishments with less than 500 employees:
  • Annual change in Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP):
  • Median home value:
  • Annual change in population:
  • Net migration rate (per 1,000 population):
  • Population with a bachelor’s degree or higher:
  • High school-aged population not enrolled, not a graduate:

It’s great to see the subscription rate. It’s frustrating to not see access to broadband at speeds of 100/20 or higher.

OPPORTUNITY: Broadband survey in Renville County

This is an opportunity for folks who live in Renville County and a good example for counties that need better broadband. A survey is a good step to figuring out where you are in terms of how many people feel like they are well served and where you want to go in terms of who wants more and what they are doing with it. Renville County posts

Much of Renville County is still under-served or unserved when it comes to broadband internet connectivity.  Renville County residents and businesses are invited to take this short Broadband Survey that will be open until March 31, 2023.  The more we know, the better positioned the county will be to partner with other entities to develop broadband solutions for our region.
Each household that completes the Renville County Broadband Internet Survey will be placed into a drawing to win a Renville County tourism prize package.
CLICK HERE to take the Broadband Survey.

Ribbon cutting in Hawick to celebrate ARPA funded broadband project (Kandiyohi)

KWLM radio in Willmar reports

The ribbon was cut Wednesday on another high-speed internet project in Kandiyohi County…

…Willmar and Kandiyohi County Economic Development Commission Director Aaron Backman says Hawick was able to use Federal ARPA funds for the project. Backman says The Kandiyohi County Board decided to use most of the ARPA funds for broadband projects, like the one they cut the ribbon on in Prinsburg earlier this month…

…The State of Minnesota this month announced 100 million dollars in Border to Border Broadband Grants, including a 4.9 million dollar grant to go toward a project that will be built by Federated Telephone starting this spring in Mamre, St. Johns, Arctander, Dovre and Lake Andrew Townships, which will provide or improve internet service to 640 homes, farms and businesses.

More details on City of Cloquet Broadband Border to Border Project

Yesterday I posted about the MN Border to Border awards, including the City of Cloquet Broadband project. Thanks to the City of Cloquet for more details…

The City of Cloquet Broadband Project Details The CTC Cloquet project will improve service in the northern part of the City in unserved or underserved areas. The project will pass by 246 homes at a cost of $984,790 funded by
$400,000 in Minnesota Border-To-Border funding, $300,000 in City of Cloquet America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA funding), and $300,000 from CTC to implement. Below is a map of the improvement area, the green and pink area is within the City of Cloquet and would serve 246
homes located north of North Road, and the blue area covers a portion of Thomson Township where the project would serve 92 homes at a cost of $531,000. CTC will be working with the state now to gain project approvals and will roll out their timeframe for construction in the
Northern Cloquet Broadband Improvement Area:

Community Engagement Process
With little expertise in broadband, the City of Cloquet EDA applied to be part of the Blandin Foundation’s Broadband Communities Program, leveraging broadband consultant technical assistance to help guide the City through discussions. After several months of discussions,
Blandin Foundation recommended that the City of Cloquet EDA needed to go through a formal community engagement process and form a committee of broadband stakeholders. Blandin recommended that Cloquet apply to be part of the Community Broadband Resources (CBR)
Program: Accelerate! which is a four-month process to spur community acquisition and deployment of federal and state broadband funds. This four-month intensive program is
designed to increase rural leaders’ ability to stimulate broadband infrastructure investments in their communities that support economic development and community vitality. CBR Accelerate! teams are formed locally to determine the best path forward to better broadband services through:
• Facilitated weekly Blandin meetings
• Leadership broadband education via archived webinars, expert presentations, and peer group discussions
• Information gathering including community surveys, broadband provider interviews, and community meetings
• Step by step broadband planning to:
o Develop a community broadband vision
o Understand the local marketplace
o Determine appropriate technologies
o Consider alternative broadband provider partnerships models and prospective broadband provider partners
o Identify and seek available funding resources
The Cloquet Broadband Steering Committee was comprised of collective information technology and community members representatives with expertise in broadband. Membership included: the business community, Carlton County, residents, the college (FDLTCC), the hospital (CMH), the School District, the City, and elected officials. The Steering Committee’s purpose was to create and launch a community broadband survey, create a community broadband vision, to interview current and potential providers, and recommend broadband directions for the City. The committee launched a July 2021 Cloquet Broadband survey yielding 192 responses. In
January 2022, Cloquet relaunched the same broadband survey and yielded another 491 surveys
bringing the total to 683 surveys. Survey findings for Cloquet were:
1. Broadband is not affordable
2. Broadband service has poor customer service and is unreliable
3. Broadband doesn’t have sufficient speeds to meet demands
4. There are a lack of broadband provider choices, service is a monopoly
With symmetrical fiber to the home projects, the Cloquet Broadband Committee concluded that the best partners for the City to partner with were CTC and FDL Reservation, with CTC being more ready to lead an immediate grant application process and analysis with the City. The Cloquet Broadband Committee shared their recommendations with the Cloquet City Council and the Cloquet EDA. Submitting this state grant application for Border-To-Border funding into unserved/underserved areas in northern Cloquet in partnership with CTC would implement their project recommendations aligned with the project vision. The Cloquet Broadband Vision: To ensure access to affordable, reliable, high-speed fiber internet delivered by a committed
capable community partner skilled in maintaining and operating a successful broadband network.
“We cannot thank the Blandin Foundation enough for their incredible leadership in assisting our community engagement process on broadband. We’d like to thank CTC for their collaboration with the City and we look forward to working with them on this project,” said City Administrator Tim Peterson.
“The Cloquet Broadband Committee was instrumental in the success of this project being funded, they are collectively incredible, and I can’t say enough about them nor the valuable process that we went through with the Blandin Foundation,” said Holly Hansen, City of Cloquet Community Development Director.
“We’re incredibly excited about this partnership,” said Joe Buttweiler, CTC’s Director of Business Development. “This project will be instrumental for families and businesses as well as for future economic growth in these communities. We look forward to providing everyone with fast, reliable internet and top-notch local customer service for years to
“The outcome of this process has been amazing. We all recognize the fundamental necessity of affordable, consistent broadband access in our community, and the grant is a major step toward achieving this goal. It’s great news for our taxpayers, and for our efforts to become
a technology-capable community for residents and businesses,” said City of Cloquet City Councilor At-Large Lara Wilkinson.

RESOURCE: NDIA Releases State Digital Equity Plan Toolkit

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance reports…

The Digital Equity Act (DEA) is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to design systems that will enable true digital equity. Congress and NTIA outlined specifics for states to include in their digital equity plans. The NDIA State Digital Equity Plan Toolkit provides guidance on how to compile the plans.

It is a nice step-by-step guide. It really is a gift to folks who need to be gathering the information to make a case for optimal federal funding from BEAD and any other federal resources. I’ve said it again and again but never hurts to remind folks that unprecedented amounts of funding will be invested in broadband over the next few years and now it the time to make the case that it should come to us in Minnesota. (Or wherever you live!)

What is the American Connection Corps? And what do they do?

The Farmer posted a nice article on the American Connection Corps (ACC). I have had an opportunity to work with ACC; they are impressive and energetic and doing great work in the community. The Farmer reports

ACC specifically focuses on supporting its fellowship program that places young adults in rural areas to work alongside local community leaders on broadband development, digital access and digital literacy.

ACC falls under the umbrella of Lead for America, co-founded in 2018 by four young college-educated adults interested in returning to and revitalizing their home communities. One of the cofounders, Benya Kraus Beacom, returned to her family’s sixth generation farm near Waseca, Minn., in 2019. Once considering a career in international relations, Beacom redirected her interests after her college junior year, when she spent the summer at home. …

Beacom reached out to Tina May, Land O’Lakes Inc. vice president of rural services, who shared similar interests in small community development. The co-op also had been working to improve digital connectivity in rural communities. They decided to pilot a cohort, and in August 2021, along with the Mayo Clinic, Midwest Dairy and Scoular, placed six ACC fellows in Redwood and Ottertail counties, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe community, the East Iron Range and the cities of Warroad and Fairmont.

Today, ACC has 250 fellows across 40 states.

What do they do?

When fellows start working in a community, their focus is threefold — on broadband development, digital access and digital literacy. They work at coordinating all providers in the area, obtain accurate digital maps, work with engineering firms to determine fiber needed, and engage with the community, Beacom explains.

What do they do in Redwood County? Led by Patrick Garry…

The county’s largest project currently underway, referred to as the “Cadillac Project,” looks to serve 30% of the county with fiber. The $4.4 million project pools the county’s American Rescue Plan funds, internet provider contributions and the state’s Border-to-Border Grant. Population-wise, it serves 1,870 structures making up eight cities.

What do they do in Ottertail Count? Led by Carter Grupp…

ACC fellow Carter Grupp, based in Fergus Falls, Otter Tail County, has an impressive resume of accomplishments in his first year, too. He has helped establish 10 Zoom conferencing rooms and built an app to use them. He developed STEM curriculum and kits for three county libraries. He promoted a speed testing campaign to get real data on how his community was being served by internet service providers.

And more…

Closest to his heart these days is promoting computer science as a potential career to high school students — his second pilot project. Grupp teamed with Luke Heine, who works for Microsoft and last year, held the first remote statewide youth computer science training program — the Northland Hackathon. The educational event teaches youth how to code, design their own apps and websites, and showcases career opportunities with companies such as Meta, TikTok or Microsoft. Last year, more than 30 high schools participated virtually. The event in 2023 is set for April 23.

Digital Equity Ecosystems Measurement Framework: A tool to help you assess your community digital equity resource level

The opportunity for Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) funding has communities wondering if they are well poised and doing the right things to maximize their opportunity to get funding. Colin Rhinesmith and Rafi Santo have come up with a tool (Digital Equity Ecosystems Measurement Framework) to help communities assess their preparedness. The tool looks at three things:

■ Coalition Health – The coalition health level speaks to the coalition’s structure and enactment: to what degree are members participating in coalition activities? Do they have strong relationships? Do they believe they can accomplish the goals they set out together? Is effective and equitable governance in place?

■ Member Strength – The member strength level speaks to the ability of coalition member organizations to carry out activities that promote community level outcomes: what issues are member organizations focused on? Where do they work, and with whom? How strong is their capacity in different areas?

■ Community Impact – Finally, the community impact level speaks to the on the ground issues that are of primary importance to the coalition: what is the nature of digital access issues in the community? Do community members have the digital skills they need to participate in society? Is the community collectively empowered in relation to the technological world?

The worker-be in me loves the worksheet-style information that includes aspects to measure and how to measure them. You can see a sample below:

There are recommendations for moving forward…

1. As coalitions move forward and aim to bring the ideas shared in this report into practice locally, there are several critical steps that we recommend: 1 Establish a collective process for determining why your coalition wants to engage in measurement, and what should be measured to achieve those ends. Questions of how and what data will be collected, how it will be analyzed and by whom, and many other important implementation issues around measurement in practice are downstream from these foundational questions. Establishing why a coalition wants to engage in measurement should serve to specify what kinds of indicators are important to collect data on, which can then help specify an overall approach to measurement. Critically, in coalitions, the process of answering these questions can be one that all stakeholders can be involved in in some way. While backbone organizations are often the natural stakeholder to lead such a process, as with other areas of governance, determining a high level measurement strategy is both more equitable and effective through the participation of members and other stakeholders. This is especially important if part of what will result from a new measurement strategy is members being asked to participate in things like surveys and coalition self-assessment activities, not to mention the creation and use of shared data collection mechanisms.

2 Articulate a coalition theory of change and associated logic model. As noted earlier in the report, if a coalition does not already have a developed theory of change and logic model, the process of developing a measurement strategy presents an important opportunity to do so. Articulating short term, medium term, and long term outcomes, as well as how specific coalition activities aim to “move the needle” on them, can provide an important localized model to guide measurement that can draw on the DEEM framework. With a logic model in hand, a coalition can then determine which areas of activity are most important to focus on within a data strategy based on the measurement uses it’s identified.

3 Develop data collection, analysis, and use plans. Having answered questions about why it wants to engage in measurement and what measurement should focus on, a coalition is then ready to begin determining how to go about measurement activities including data collection, analysis, and use. This includes matching indicators to potential data sources and measurement approaches such as tracking databases, surveys, publicly available data, etc. Plans around how these data will be analyzed, and then the contexts of data use and representation should be well envisioned as part of this stage of developing a coalition measurement strategy

4 Actively incorporate plans around data consent, privacy, harms, and security. As digital equity advocates know well, histories of harm are all too common when it comes to uses of data. A key element of a coalition measurement strategy should be a clear articulation of what data will be collected, how it will be stored securely, how it will (and will not) be used, how privacy will be protected, and how those providing data will have fully informed consent within data collection activities. Within this, questions of data de-identification, especially around data from vulnerable populations, should be paramount. 5 Engage in iterative development of measurement strategies. The process of developing and implementing a coalition measurement strategy is not a ‘one and done’ activity. As with all other work, measurement strategies require iteration in order to both improve existing approaches as well as to modify focus based on shifts in coalition activity. Creating mechanisms for reflection around a coalition data strategy can help articulate the utility and limitations of certain measurement approaches, as well as help identify new areas of need when it comes to measurement.

$4.8 M Aitkin County Broadband scheduled completion in fall 2023

Mille Lacs Messenger reports

The final engineering plans have been created and the project is moving forward and on schedule according to Aitkin County Economic Development. This $4.8 million project is scheduled to be completed by fall of 2023. The McGrath project is the purple shaded area above.

According to new FCC map Minnesota has ubiquitous broadband at 25/3 – hmm

I have good news and bad news. According to new FCC map, Minnesota has ubiquitous broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. It’s good news if it’s true. It’s bad news if it’s not true and we lose out on federal broadband funding because the maps were wrong. According to maps from the Office of Broadband Development, the FCC maps are wrong. The areas shown in pink in the map below (on the right) do not have broadband at 25/3.

If you live in one of these areas, check out the map and report a location challenge if you think they FCC map is wrong. Once you look up your address, you’ll see the where to make a location challenge on the website.

If you are a community leader or a (potential?) provider in the area, you might think about how to get your neighbors to report overrepresentation or think about attending the tutorial from the FCC on how to file bulk challenges to the FCC’s broadband map on November 30.