Cloquet (MN) is asking residents to take broadband survey and speed test (Carlton County)

Pine Knot News reports…

Cloquet schools superintendent Michael Cary spoke about how important reliable and affordable high-speed internet is for today’s students. The Cloquet Broadband Committee is asking residents for a few minutes of their time to complete a survey about their internet service. Local business people and public officials gathered Wednesday morning to talk about the need for reliable high[1]speed internet in today’s world, and how the pandemic has exposed some of the deficits in the city of Cloquet

Here’s more info on the survey…

Thanks to the selection of the city of Cloquet as a Blandin Broadband community, the city has more resources now to evaluate needs and options to improve service within city limits. But they need more information from residents and businesses about their access to the internet: cost, reliability, speed and more. The information gained will help guide the city and community leaders on opportunities to explore ways to improve broadband services. That’s where the survey comes in. Through Jan. 31, the city is reopening its broadband survey at https://www.goctc.com/cloquet for individuals and businesses within the eastern Cloquet city limits. A map puts the borders of eastern Cloquet at Kinden and West St. Louis River roads to the north, Crosby Road to the east, Moorhead Road to the south and Pinewood Drive and the St. Louis River to the west. Scanlon is not included, nor is the Fond du Lac Reservation, which will be rolling out its broadband fiber to all residents within the FDL Reservation territory, including the western municipal city limits of Cloquet. Those without internet access can get assistance with completing the survey at the Cloquet Public Library. Anyone who completes the survey will be entered into a drawing to win an iPad. People can test upload speeds at this website: https://broadband.ramsmn.org/mn-rural-broadband-coallition%5B1%5Dinitiative.

Kandiyohi County and Willmar Economic Development Commission continues with broadband advocate Connie Schmoll

West Central Tribune reports

With broadband expansion opportunities continuing to be made available for communities in Kandiyohi County, Connie Schmoll, who has been working on a contract basis for the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission since May 2021, doesn’t want to leave her job undone.

“It has been my honor and privilege to continue working on broadband,” Schmoll said. “It is a necessary infrastructure and it is needed to continue economic development.”

The EDC’s Joint Operations Board agreed at its meeting Thursday to extend Schmoll’s contract for an additional three months, until the end of March. The contract extension will cost the EDC approximately $9,100.

“I think this is worth every dime,” said Aaron Backman, EDC executive director.

I’m sharing this for several reasons. First, to congratulate Connie, who does a great job. Second, because it’s important to recognize that being a broadband advocate can, and probably should be, a paid position. Some communities are lucky and they have engaged providers. Where that isn’t the case, the community benefits greatly from an engaged leader who looks into the options, who works with policymakers and educates the residents. An investment in a broadband leader is an investment in the community, especially as more funding is bring invested in broadband deployment.

Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC) partners with Aitkin County to expand better broadband

Aitkin Age reports

Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC) has announced that MLEC fiber internet will become available for more customers.

In partnership with Aitkin County, MLEC is bringing fast and reliable fiber internet service to 565 homes. The project area includes the townships of Idun, Pliny, Rice River, Seavey, White Pine, Williams and the city of McGrath. MLEC will, once again, work with Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC) on the construction of this project and expand the MLEC fiber internet network.

The $4,823,654 grant is a part of the Small Cities Coronavirus Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG-CV). The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) awarded $34,656,956 in grants to 15 Minnesota cities and counties across the state.

As part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), Minnesota received a special allocation to address community needs to prevent, prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the funding will be used for broadband improvement projects. Other uses will include housing assistance, food shelf assistance, retrofitting buildings and commercial rehabilitation projects.

Continue to watch for updated information on Facebook and MLEC’s website. For more information on MLEC fiber internet, call 218-429-0433 or visit www.mlecmn.net/fiber. Project area maps, internet plans and service agreements can all be found online.

OPPORTUNITY: In Cloquet MN, please take the broadband survey to help plan for better broadband (Carlton County)

Fox21 News reports

 A foundation is recognizing Cloquet as an area of rural Minnesota that could use some help boosting its access to broadband internet.

The Blandin Foundation offers $75,000 matching grants to help advance technology goals for communities that apply to be a part of the program, and Cloquet is one of the newest cities to receive funding from it.

Now, Cloquet is asking residents to fill out a survey so city leaders can better understand what the internet needs are in the area, so they can help more residents connect to broadband services.

Leaders say that these past two years have shown how reliant society is on internet access to be able to work or learn from home.

“We forget sometimes that there are people in our communities who don’t have that same access,” Dr. Michael Cary, the ISD 94 superintendent, said. “And it becomes extremely critical in situations where we have to deliver education or learning through that medium.”

Dr. Cary added that 25% of Cloquet students don’t have access to reliable high speed internet.

The survey runs until January 31st, and you’ll be entered to win an iPad if you take it.

BBC Cohort meeting – learning about what’s happening with broadband communities in Minnesota

Yesterday the Blandin Broadband Team met with incoming and outgoing Blandin Broadband Communities. The seasoned folks gave advice to the newbies, especially in how to make broadband planning possible in the pandemic world.

We also heard from each of the communities about some of their highlight projects for example, Ottertail spoke about their community smart room/zoom rooms and broadband availability mapping too, White Earth spoke about their elders initiative, Chisago Lakes talked about their community survey and broadband infrastructure work and the virtual manufacturing tours (for students looking at careers) and Le Sueur talked about their economic development summit and the Google Suite work.

Nuvera Communications Announces Plans for New Gig-Speed Fiber Internet Service Across Minnesota

Big news from Nuvera Communications especially for the following counties: Brown, McLeod, Goodhue, Meeker, Redwood Falls and Scott …

Nuvera Communications, Inc. (OTC: NUVR) a diversified communications company headquartered in New Ulm, Minnesota, announced today plans to build and deploy Gig-speed fiber internet across its network creating crucial access to the fastest speeds available for rural communities, small cities and suburban areas across Minnesota.
“This is a transformational moment for Nuvera as we make a future-focused investment in the communities we serve by providing the most reliable fiber-to-the-home access to
Gig-speed services,” said Glenn Zerbe, Chief Executive Officer, Nuvera Communications. “Our homes, businesses and communities need reliable and affordable connections to school, workplaces and entertainment, as an important and growing part of everyday life.”
“Nuvera’s investment in fiber-to-the-home network infrastructure will allow more underserved communities across Minnesota to leverage the quality of life and economic opportunity that access to a state-of-the-art network provides now and for years to come.” said, State Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato.
Nuvera’s Gig-speed end-to-end fiber network is building and rolling out now.
Service will be available for thousands of customers in 2022. The company will continue to build and deploy the Gig-speed service over the next few years.
“We’re excited to create ‘Nuvera Gig Cities’ in the communities we serve while also expanding access to fiber-based internet service at a range of speeds,” said Zerbe.
“Nuvera’s fiber network gives customers affordable access to a range of speeds from 100 Mbps to 1 Gigabit at prices that are the same whether you’re in rural Goodhue or
suburban Prior Lake.”
While Nuvera’s goal is to bring Gig-speed service to as many communities as possible, the initial buildout will focus on the following cities and surrounding communities:
• New Ulm
• Hutchinson
• Glencoe

• Goodhue
• Litchfield
• Redwood Falls
• Prior Lake
• Elko New Market
• Savage
• Sleepy Eye
• Springfield
• Aurelia, IA
Nuvera’s fiber internet prices range from $50 per month to $125 per month for Gig-speed services. Customers can choose the right speed at an affordable price, including low-income households through Federal programs.
Residential and business customers can find out more about Nuvera Gig-speed Internet and request notifications about when new service is available in their area by going to NuveraGigCities.com.

New FirstNet Cell Site Launches in Angle Inlet (Lake of the Woods County MN)

Here’s the latest from AT&T…

What’s the news? First responders in the Northwest Angle are getting a major boost in their wireless communications thanks to the FirstNet® network expansion currently underway by AT&T*. We’ve added a new, purpose-built cell site in Angle Inlet – the northernmost point of the contiguous 48 states.

This FirstNet site will serve those traveling along Inlet Road NW and Pine Creek Drive NW in Angle Inlet – a community in Lake of the Woods County – as well as those fishing or recreating on the nearby lake. This site will also give first responders on FirstNet – America’s public safety network – access to always-on, 24-hours-a-day priority and preemption across voice and data.

Angle Inlet is part of the Northwest Angle of Minnesota, the only place in the continental United States north of the 49th parallel. The community is the northernmost census-designated place in the contiguous 48 states. The Northwest Angle cannot be reached from the rest of the United States without either going through Canada or crossing water – specifically Lake of the Woods.

Jackson County looking at state broadband grant – outside of potential LTD-claimed RDOF areas

The Jackson Pilot reports

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday heard from Federated Rural Electric regarding plans to apply for a state grant to expand broadband in rural northwest Jackson County.

Federated General Manager Scott Reimer said the co-op wants to build out fiber to the home in rural Jackson County, adding the Heron Lake area is a good place to start because it was not put up for auction in the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auction.

The move comes on the heels of controversial behavior by two companies, Nextlink and LTD Broadband, which mopped up large swaths of territory at the auction, including most of Jackson County. LTD in particular has been accused of failing to acquire the proper licensing in states it has bid to build in, resulting in it being kicked out from those states and being unable to build out commitments in those areas.

“They’ve been denied in several states because of that,” said engineer Chris Konechne, who is working with Federated on the grant. “Minnesota will be the last shoe to drop because they were founded here.”

Surveys have indicated an interest among the roughly 201 people who might be served by the project and Reimer said the application is the next step in Federated’s broader goal of building out fiber Internet service in all areas of Jackson County that lack it.

Up to $520,000 could be funded through the grant.

We need to work on access and adoption to close digital divide

Governing reports on lessons learned during the pandemic and how we can help with the recently promised federal funding…

Now, with the economy seemingly on the rebound from the most severe economic effects of the pandemic, it’s easy to assume that the overlapping interest will grow between those who have long advocated for increased broadband access and those newer to the issue — and that this increased access will create even more economic growth. The Richmond Federal Reserve found that “the long-run benefits of broadband access could grow exponentially, given the potential for innovation and productivity gains it provides.” A Purdue University study estimated that for every dollar invested in broadband deployment and adoption in Indiana, nearly four dollars went back into the state’s economy.
But these outcomes aren’t guaranteed. In fact, one in three workers still lack foundational digital skills: Nearly 90 percent of executives and managers report that they see employee skills gaps now or expect them in the next five years, but only about one-third of their organizations have active efforts to retrain employees. And a recent McKinsey study found that the pandemic opened the door to fundamental shifts in the health-care marketplace — with up to $250 billion of U.S. health-care spending potentially moving to a form of virtual care — but warned that it’s “not a foregone conclusion” that the shifts will happen without the industry changing its methods of providing care.
One thing is certain: The shifts — whether training clinicians on new technology, wiring households to fiber or retraining workers — won’t happen without partnerships. That’s why the timing of the state five-year action plans is so critical. Research from The Pew Charitable Trusts has found that states have already used planning processes to evaluate need, drive stakeholder engagement and map out a plan for achieving broadband expansion goals.

Now is the time for businesses, research organizations, community partners and others to participate in the continuing state planning efforts, helping to shape state strategies for using federal dollars and developing plans that meet the needs of the state and its communities in ways such as sharing information on skills gaps in the labor force, identifying evidence-based solutions for increasing telehealth usage, or elevating how living on a fixed income may influence aging Americans’ ability to access digital resources.

Minnesota is in a strong position but we need to be working together.

Austin MN Leadership team working with Blandin Foundation to get better broadband

The Austin Daily Herald reports

An effort to bring stronger broadband internet service to Austin and the surrounding area is gaining momentum following a meeting Thursday, led by the Blandin Foundation.

Featuring leaders and citizens throughout the area, the effort is working toward the end result of improving internet infrastructure using grant funding from the new Blandin Broadband Community Vision program. Austin is one of six Minnesota communities taking part.

The grant funding maxs out at $100,000, and while not enough to answer every question, it is enough to get the wheels rolling on a process that once in motion can feed itself and help grow the community and answer a common question.

“Expanding access to technology, whether it’s the internet connectivity, whether it’s the devices, whether it’s digital literacy,” said Jayne Gibson, executive director of Austin Aspires, to the over 40 people taking part over Zoom Thursday. “It’s not a new conversation in our community.”

The meeting took participants through key areas important in reaching this goal, and included city leaders speaking directly to some of the smaller goals as well as many of the challenges.

The time was followed by breakout sessions where people looked at current resources, challenges and opportunities.

Increasing broadband access to the area has been a goal for a number of years, dating back to the 10-year period of Vision 2020. But it’s also been at the core of funding challenges.

Blandin Foundation called out as Best Practice in Hull Fellows Capstone white paper

Blandin’s broadband work has been called out as best practice (page 5) in White Paper from Hull Fellows Capstone: Bridge to Everywhere: Practical Considerations for Philanthropy for Expanding Broadband Access in Rural Communities  – a guide for philanthropic organizations interested in narrowing the digital divide, or the gap between those with internet access and those without, in rural communities…

Several positive examples of philanthropic organizations doing highly effective work to help close the digital divide in rural communities stand out. The Blandin Foundation and the Benedum Foundation have funded notable work in rural Minnesota and West Virginia, respectively. Because broadband infrastructure is so expensive and ISPs require federal subsidies, the core of both foundations’ approach is helping communities access federal funding for locally driven initiatives. There are many potential options philanthropic organizations can pursue:

  • Convening support for community stakeholders – Creating and executing locally driven initiatives at the community level. Helping communities pull the right people and groups together to come up with a plan is often the right starting point. Providing funding for a community or region to hire a broadband coordinator is another opportunity for support.

  • Funding for feasibility studies, engineering assessments and creating accurate coverage maps – These are all necessary steps that must be taken prior to accessing federal funding for broadband and they can often carry significant costs.

  • Support for grant writing and other technical assistance – Federal funding is spread across multiple agencies and application processes are extremely complicated. Foundations can provide assistance by hiring grant writers experienced with federal broadband funding if that capacity doesn’t exist locally.

  • Matching funds – Many federal grant opportunities require a cash match of up to 20 percent of the total project cost. Funds committed prior to an application being submitted are especially valuable as they make the applicant seeking federal funding more attractive to reviewers.

  • Policy & advocacy – Even with unprecedented funding proposed through a federal infrastructure bill, strong advocacy is needed to ensure resources reach rural places. Likewise, advocacy efforts at the state level can ensure that funds appropriated are deployed effectively and equitably.

In addition to funds, philanthropic organizations have social capital that can assist communities as they develop their approaches to expanding broadband access. Funders can host regional meetings to integrate local communities, governments and key stakeholders to learn about and identify potentially synergistic opportunities. Funders can also leverage their extensive networks to make connections to people or organizations with technical expertise (engineering, mapping etc.), grant writers experienced with federal broadband funding mechanisms, ISPs that could participate in public/private partnerships, other private funders, and authorities able to combine local, state, federal and private resources.

Bernadine Joselyn is also quoted…

“It’s not about broadband. It’s about what broadband can do. Broadband is the means to the end… internet access is fundamental to everything philanthropy cares about.”

Aitkin County gets $4.8 million block grant to expand broadband

Aitkin Age reports

Broadband and bridges topped the agenda of the Nov. 9 meeting of the Aitkin County Board.

Seven townships will benefit from a $4.8 million block grant to expand and improve broadband service. According to Mark Jeffers, economic development coordinator, Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative plans to reach about 300 homes with internet access and the block grant will add 850 more homes. Aitkin County has been awarded $4,823,654 from the state of Minnesota, acting through the Department of Employment and Economic Development, Business and Community Development Division.

Townships that are targeted in the project are ldun, Pliny, Rice River, Seavey, White Pine, Williams and the city of McGrath. The project is required to be completed by April 2024.

Fillmore County gets pitches from several broadband providers to invest ARPA funds

Fillmore County Journal reports

Three broadband providers outlined their proposals at the Fillmore County board’s November 9 meeting.

The county has received $4.2 million in American Recovery Act funding. Broadband providers are looking for a portion of this funding to support broadband projects within the county. Much of Fillmore County is still underserved.

Corey Hauer, LTD Broadband, said they have been a provider in the county for nine years. Fixed wireless is limited by hills and trees. He said we have been successful getting federal funding for fiber optic cable. Recovery Act funding could allow us to add additional unserved and underserved areas in one or two years. He estimated it takes $5,000 per household to bring fiber to areas with a low density of households. County dollars could allow them to build quicker in rural areas.

Jill Huffman, CEO of Harmony Telephone/MiBroadband, said they are a cooperative partnership dedicated to the expansion of broadband. There is a significant need in Fillmore County for residents and businesses. Build-outs in rural areas are expensive with return on investment being very long term. Step one is to build it, and then to support it and make it run smoothly. Northern and western portions of the county have very limited household density. She detailed two project areas that could be expanded with the support of state and county dollars. Huffman made it clear she welcomes ideas and is willing to consider all funding options to expand project areas. They are looking at all future funding options at federal, state, and local levels. She suggested projects could be completed in two construction seasons. Huffman expects it will cost more than $5,000 per household in low density areas. She concluded stressing that the installation of fiber will greatly impact the future economic growth in the county.

Zachary Raskovich, Mediacom Communications, has been with Mediacom for 15 years. The Mediacom system makes service available to 6,200 homes and businesses. Mediacom recently built out broadband in the city of Fountain, sharing project costs about 50-50 with a Minnesota DEED Grant. Mediacom is now constructing 4.3 miles of fiber to bring service to 246 homes and businesses in Wykoff. The total investment is 100% paid for by Mediacom and is expected to launch in March 2022. Mediacom is prepared to invest in the city of Ostrander to serve 155 homes and businesses, roughly 3.5 miles of construction. Raskovich requested a county grant in the amount of $50,000 (using American Recovery Act funds) for this project or roughly 16 percent of the total project cost.

AcenTek is expected to present their proposal at the next board meeting on November 23.

RAMS to sponsor MN statewide speed test

Big news for folks who like crowd source mapping – Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) is picking up the Statewide speed test mapping project. RAMS reports…

Today we are pleased to announce that the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) will be the new host of the Minnesota statewide speedtest project. This map and initiative was previously hosted by the MN Rural Broadband Coalition. This crowdsourcing speed test will allow local governments, area partners, communities and providers to better identify underserved and unserved areas as well as help consumers see for themselves if they are actually getting the service (broadband speed) that they are playing for. RAMS is able to host this test with the help of one of our corporate members, GEO Partners, LLC who will be helping analyze the data and create usable maps and information. RAMS is also pleased that retired director, Steve Giorgi, has remained on Minnesota’s state broadband task force and is continuing to volunteer and help Minnesota communities gain access to affordable, high-speed internet. RAMS helped to start this testing process in April of 2020 and the information gathered directly from the end users (you) will be used is extremely important to further the development of high school internet for citizens of Minnesota.

Check your speed!

City of Prinsburg Takes Next Step for Broadband Project – $330,000 in ARPA funding (Kandiyohi County)

The news from Prinsburg…

On Tuesday, November 2nd, the Prinsburg City Council held a community broadband meeting at the Prinsburg Community Center to complete the next step towards a fiber-to-the home broadband project in partnership with Arvig. Over 40 people were in attendance, including community members and business owners, City representatives, Arvig Enterprises, Inc., and Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission Broadband Committee members.

Access to high-speed broadband internet is an important issue for attracting and retaining community members and businesses alike. As many have experienced firsthand over the past 18 months, broadband has become a critical infrastructure for people to work from home, attend online classes, and participate in telemedicine appointments; not to mention staying connected with loved ones.

“I was considering moving out of town,” Alex Calvin told the City Council on Tuesday. “This project will help attract more young adults to Prinsburg.”

The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners approved an allocation of $330,000 from their American Rescue Plan Act funds on September 21st. Additional funding for this $1 million project will come from Arvig ($450,000) and the City of Prinsburg. Thanks to the overwhelming support for this project at Tuesday’s community meeting, the Prinsburg City Council adopted a Resolution Approving Property Tax Abatements. This resolution allows the City to issue general obligation taxable tax abatement bonds not to exceed $275,000, with a tax abatement term of up to ten years.

As part of the agreement between Arvig and the City of Prinsburg, construction will begin no later than August 1, 2022, with substantial completion by December 31, 2022.