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
future.
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
come.”
“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.

RESOURCE: Asset Mapping for Digital Inclusion

Have you ever had to do asset mapping? I can tell you from experience it’s easier and more efficient to have tools in front of you and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) could not have made it easier. And as folks are creating digital inclusion plans, digital inclusion asset mapping will help make informed decisions. Check it out…

Below, we have made our Asset Inventory Template available as a Google Sheet and as an Excel (xlsm) file, as well as our Survey Template available as a Google Form. Please see NDIA’s Creative Commons policy – you are free to use, replicate, and alter materials, we just ask that you credit NDIA when sharing.

You will find a full explanation of each field in the “Data Dictionary” sheet on the Asset Mapping Inventory Template. Once you have an understanding of what each field is for, feel free to edit, delete, or create fields as you need. These tools are fully customizable. No changes you make will affect the original version, so please make them your own!

Willmar to invest $42,000 in broadband mapping

West Central Tribune reports

The city of Willmar will soon have a detailed map of the current internet infrastructure throughout the entire city after the Willmar City Council on Monday approved contracting with Hometown Fiber to conduct an audit of those services.

The cost of the audit is $42,486 and will be paid from the Industrial Park Fund, since the industrial park will also be mapped, according to Willmar Planning and Development Director Justice Walker.

The recommendation to conduct such an audit came from the Broadband RFP Selection Committee after it reviewed three broadband proposals and conducted interviews with the respondents.

The Broadband RFP Selection Committee was established by the Willmar City Council in July to review requests for proposals for internet providers interested in expanding broadband services to Willmar households.

Duluth Fiber Lincoln Park Project testing waters for larger municipal roll out

WDIO reports

The City of Duluth is taking the first steps to making internet accessible for all with the Duluth Fiber Lincoln Park Project. In the first phase of Duluth Fiber, the pilot project will connect an estimated 1,900 customers, both residential and business, with high-speed internet in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. After a year of success, the City will look to deploy fiber citywide.

“So this is a fiber project, it would be utilizing some connected fiber that is already in this community through other services and then expanding on it. And so what’s really exciting is that council last year passed a policy. This policy would make it that whenever the city is doing road maintenance within the pilot project there could be a potential future fiber build out to somebody’s home or business,” says Emily Nygren, Economic developer for the planning division of Duluth.

City staff and Council have been working towards broadband resolutions for the last year. A recent survey of over 1, 7000 residents, found the vast majority of respondents believed the costs were unaffordable. When considering options for City investment, a substantial 97 percent chose the option to back a City-sponsored broadband resolution.

“So right now we’re doing the network design for what that would look like duplexes, triplexes, multi-family housing development as well as for businesses. It’s an opportunity for the city to own the actual fiber infrastructure, so the fiber optic cable and the network and then allow for other companies to come in and be able to compete for your service to your door. So similar to a cable TV provider of selection of channels, you can decide really what is your menu, what type of service, what types of speeds,” continues Nygren.

To sign up and find out more about the project, click here: https://www.connectingduluth.com/

BBC chat on digital equity projects in Big Stone, Lincoln and Pine Counties, Austin and Warroad

Last week the BBC (Blandin Broadband Communities) final cohort met to catch up with what was happening in each community.

Here’s a very high level list of what happening:

  • Big Stone has smart rooms and training through PioneerTV. The are trying to get local government folks to join via streaming versus travel unnecessarily.
  • Lincoln is adding hotspots, adding an Internet safety class and an at-home at Lincoln County program and is getting fiber to some of the last areas.
  • Austin has hosted a PCs for People event (refurbished computer distribution), working on privacy internet kiosks so that people can privately get public access to the Internet, working on getting seniors more comfortable with technology with an online trivia event and digital literacy training.
  • Pine County held come “Going Google” classes, working with a provider to build towers for fixed wireless and working in another areas on deploying fiber.
  • Warroad is working on Wi-Fi on sporting fields to aid in livestreaming, completed Wi-Fi on school buses and enhancing backbone coming into Warroad.

 

Le Sueur Broadband Fair: well attended and raising awareness

Le Sueur County does a great job getting the word out about broadband. Tonight they hosted a Broadband Fair with folks from the Attorney General’s, from Office of Broadband Development and several providers including NetWave Broadband, Bevcomm, Xtream (Mediacom) and Xtratyme. Approximately two dozen people were there while I was there. Most were coming in to see if they could get better service. The options in the room were fiber and fixed wireless.

It’s as fun to hear the questions as the answers. I overheard someone mention that they have dialup. Can you imagine how long the pandemic shutdown must have felt to them?! Providers talked about expansion based on upcoming grant announcements and gauging interest in new areas. This is an area that was impacted by LTD Broadband’s RDOF situation. So you hear their name comes up.

It’s also fun to hear about the very practical questions. Can we pause our connection in the winter when we’re in Florida? How fast can we get it installed? How can I convince you to come to my area? One interesting answer to that question was hearing a provider encourage attendees to apply for the line extension grant as a way to help fund a new connection.

East Central Energy (ECE) officially enters the broadband business

Big news from  East Central Energy (ECE)

During their October 27 meeting, East Central Energy’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a resolution for the cooperative to enter the broadband business.
Vice President/Chief Information Officer Ty Houglum shares, “The board’s decision comes after nearly a year of hard work, including grant applications, a feasibility study, meetings with local entities, additional research, and learning from other co-ops that offer broadband.”
The cooperative urges patience since there are still many details to consider—as well as supply chain issues and multiple grants waiting to be awarded. ECE’s 14-county service area is roughly the size of Connecticut, and because some areas already have internet, the co-op plans to
prioritize unserved and underserved locations.
Houglum cautions, “While the co-op is excited the board approved our efforts to invest in continued growth and economic development for generations to come, this next chapter will take time. Changing the landscape of rural America is not an overnight task.”
Additional updates will be shared as ECE solidifies its broadband plan. Members are encouraged to regularly visit eastcentralenergy.com.

I spoke to Justin Jahnz and Ty Houglum at ECE about their plans in February. They had clearly done their work…

They estimate that the cost to bring fiber to their members is between $250-320 million; they have 123,000 residents (in MN and WI). They are expecting a 10-12 year return on investment with 35-40 percent financing. That patient investment is what helps a cooperative invest in something like this as long as it’s also an investment in the community.

TDS deploying fiber to 3,700 properties in Kandiyohi, Stearns, Renville and Swift Counties

The West Central Tribune reports…

 Residents and businesses in Brooten, Danube, Kerkhoven, New London, Pennock and Spicer will soon be gaining access to 1-gigabit broadband connections, thanks to a project by TDS Telecommunications.

The telecommunications service provider broke ground on a fiber network expansion project this month.

According to a news release, it will connect more than 3,700 properties to fiber broadband service, with the first people being able to connect by next summer. The launches will continue through the construction period as phases are completed. …

Construction will include the burying of conduit and fiber cable underground in utility easement areas.

IRRR invests in Mediacom broadband in Hibbing

According to an email newsletter update from IRRR, Mediacom is getting $128,500 from IRRR to help bring broadband to the city of Hibbing…

Broadband Infrastructure Grants: $128,500

Agency Investment $128,500 | Total Project Investment $4,282,269 | Leverage: 32.3 : 1

  • City of Hibbing, Mediacom Communications: $128,500 to expand Mediacom fiber optic to serve up to 573 unserved households in the Hibbing and adjacent areas.