Wright County reveals Broadband Survey results: 86 percent want better broadband

A big thanks to Wright County for livestreaming and archiving their recent broadband meeting – makes my job so easy.

Last night (Sept. 22), a public informational meeting was moderated by Jack Maytum of the consulting firm Design Nine, which was retained by Wright County earlier this year to conduct an extensive broadband survey. Among the survey results were that 86 percent of respondents are interested in faster and more reliable internet service, 41 percent were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their current internet speeds and 44 percent saying that the availability of broadband internet affects where they choose to live.

Maytum presented the full results of the survey, which can be found here: Wright_County_Survey_Report_v02. The 90-minute meeting was also livestreamed and can be seen in its entirety here:

Catch up with Blandin Broadband Communities: Chisago, Otter Tail and Le Sueur Counties

The Blandin Foundation strives to check in with the Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) members to see what’s happening with broadband on the ground. It’s a fun glimpse of broadband projects.

A big part of the conversation is funding and trying to figure out what funds can go to broadband, especially with the deluge of COVID-recovery-related funds. As someone noted, it’s been nice to see people who weren’t interested in broadband pre-2020 era. Otherwise this is just a nice survey of projects and things that are going well.

Fiber Minnesota creates statewide fiber network in MN

News from Fiber Minnesota…

Fiber Minnesota, LLC, a Minnesota fiber-optic transport carrier announced it has merged with fiber transport providers Broadband Visions (BBV) and SM Broadband (SMB) to create one of MN’s largest fiber transport networks.
The deal increases the Fiber Minnesota backbone network by more than 60% to a total of 3,900 route miles of fiber. The merged networks will operate under the Fiber Minnesota brand.
Combining the assets of these networks will enable MN’s rural telecom and broadband providers to deliver increasingly advanced services to consumers and carriers, faster and more efficiently.
“This merger is the culmination of 18 months of work, resulting in one of the largest and most robust fiber networks in the state, providing significant benefits for
consumers, enterprise customers, carriers, major wireless providers, the owners and the entire State,” said Jason Dale, Fiber Minnesota CEO. “As technology and rural
transport economics have changed, it’s clear that a unified state-wide network is a key ingredient to remaining relevant in the transport world. By combining these
complementary networks, we’ve taken another huge step forward. We are extremely excited for the opportunities this new combined network provides.”
The expanded Fiber Minnesota footprint connects nearly all corners of the state with multiple redundant routes, including rural areas often bypassed by other players.
This merger comes after the successful 2020 acquisition by Cooperative Network Services (CNS) of the WCTG fiber network, its integration with the original CNS network, and the subsequent launch of subsidiary Fiber Minnesota for all CNS network operations. The members of BBV and SMB join CNS as shareholders of Fiber Minnesota, together representing 33 different owners or ownership groups, most of which are operating companies / ISPs serving rural Minnesota and neighboring areas. BBV continues
to operate its video headend and Internet services divisions, while SMB has completely merged into Fiber Minnesota.
According to Glenn Zerbe, Board Chair of BBV / President of Nuvera Communications, “The broad ownership base is an advantage for Fiber Minnesota as it partners with its own shareholders for the connectivity of its core network to a staggering network of last-mile fiber throughout the
state. Consumers and institutions, especially those in rural areas, will experience a higher degree of reliability for broadband and related services. All three of these networks complement each other, and their combination removes redundancies and offers greater scale. The ability to keep
more traffic on-net is imperative as the transport network industry evolves.”
The motivation to combine these networks was clear with BBV, CNS and SMB all having multiple shareholders in common, and each network having significant overlapping segments with the others. However, it was still a tall order to rally all the companies involved.
“There have been multiple efforts over the years to put our statewide independent network back together here in Minnesota. We were fortunate this time around with the right people, the right model, and the right time for it all to come together. The benefits of this merger would not have
been possible without the fantastic leadership of the BBV, SMB, CNS, and FM management teams and shareholders,” said Bill Eckles, President of SMB / CEO of Bevcomm. “The merged network fits strategically for the long term provision of critical broadband services.”
Similar to surrounding states Minnesota’s fiber transport landscape has long been made up of smaller regional networks, but as technology and the industry have evolved, so too has the need for a larger, unified network. For years, Minnesota has differed from neighboring states, where the independent telecommunications / broadband providers joined forces decades ago to create statewide networks – enjoying robust facilities and advanced centralized solutions.
“This is a big win for the independent telecom providers in MN and for the customers they serve,” said Dean Bahls, Fiber Minnesota’s Network Operations Manager.
“Minnesota has now achieved the ‘statewide fiber network’ many other surrounding states have enjoyed for years.
The increased footprint will provide direct connectivity to nearly all of the independent ISPs in the state as well as connectivity to many more on-net customers throughout the state. Additionally, adding diverse connections to wholesale Internet providers and peering exchanges will be more cost-effective now and help contain
costs in the future — a key ingredient to a sustainable business model for rural
broadband providers in serving their customers, especially those in Greater
Minnesota and neighboring areas.”
Integration of the three networks will be phased over the next 24 to 36 months.
Streamlined quoting and turn-up With the increase of on-net route miles, quoting circuits will be faster, and pricing will be more competitive. Customers will enjoy highly available services, with faster resolution times.
Network of Networks
As with the current Fiber Minnesota network, through partnership with 702 Communications, the combined network will participate in the Aurora Fiber Optic Networks brand (aurorafonet.com), and through that partnership will continue to be a part of the INDATEL nationwide “network of networks”.

EVENT Sep 22: Wright County is looking at better broadband

Patch reports

 

Wright County is in the process of gathering information and public input on improving the county’s broadband capability and part of that process will include a public informational meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22 in the Wright County Board Room at the Government Center in downtown Buffalo (10 Second St. NW).

The county has contracted with the firm Design Nine out of Blacksburg, Virginia to complete a broadband study which included a public survey that was mailed out to all county residents in August. Jack Maytum, a senior broadband analyst with Design Nine, will be making a presentation of the results and will answer questions residents might have concerning the project.

The goal is to connect the underserved areas of Wright County with high-speed internet. The study will serve as a guide for the implementation of an expanded and improved broadband network and provide strategies to address rural high-speed internet deficiencies. The study will also provide the standards required for the county to seek out funding for state and federal grant programs designed to improve broadband connectivity.

New FirstNet Cell Site Launches Near Baudette to Support First Responders in Northern Minnesota

Latest news on FirstNet from AT&T

Northern Minnesota’s first responders 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 located just south of Baudette near the North Branch Rapid River in Lake of the Woods County.

This FirstNet site will provide coverage when traveling along County Highway 84 and County Highway 1 near the Town of Carp in northern Minnesota. It 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.

Why is this important? We look at FirstNet as the most important wireless network in the country because it’s serving our first responders. And unlike commercial networks, FirstNet provides dedicated mobile broadband. To ensure AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) are putting coverage and capacity where first responders need it most, the FirstNet build is being done with direct feedback from state and public safety officials. This helps ensure Minnesota first responders connect to the critical information they need – every day and in every emergency. Other FirstNet sites already launched in Minnesota include Bagley, Blackduck, Cloquet, Echo Trail (northwest of Ely), Finlayson, Graceville, Grygla, Hovland, Isabella, Kellogg (Hwy 42), Kjostad Lake, Lewiston and Williams.

What are the benefits to first responders? Building upon AT&T’s current and planned investments in Minnesota, we’re actively extending the reach of FirstNet to give agencies large and small the reliable, unthrottled connectivity and modern communications tools they need. These sites were constructed using Band 14 spectrum, as well as AT&T commercial spectrum. Band 14 is nationwide, high quality spectrum set aside by the government specifically for FirstNet. We look at Band 14 as public safety’s VIP lane. In an emergency, this band – or lane – can be cleared and locked just for FirstNet subscribers. That means only those on the FirstNet network will be able to access Band 14 spectrum, further elevating their connected experience and emergency response. Band 14 has been added on more than 600 existing sites across Minnesota, including markets such as the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester, the Iron Range, St. Cloud and the Brainerd/Baxter area.

How does this help Minnesota residents? This new infrastructure will also help improve the overall coverage experience for AT&T wireless customers in the area. Residents, visitors and businesses can take advantage of the AT&T spectrum bands, as well as Band 14 when capacity is available.

Help flesh out MuniNetworks’ Big List of American Rescue Plan Community Broadband Projects

From the Institute for Local Self Reliance

With the first traunch of American Rescue Plan funds going out to counties and cities earlier this summer, many local leaders have begun to propose projects and seek input from citizens about how they should be used. The American Rescue Plan (ARP) represents an unprecedented amount of money flowing to local governments, but the consequences of operating for more than a year and a half under the burden of the Covid-19 pandemic are such that there seems to be so many things that need attention.

Access to universal, affordable, fast Internet access is among them, but the road from recognizing the need and implementing thoughtful policies is not an equally smooth one for all. Sometimes, a little inspiration is all it takes.

That’s where this page comes in. This is our ongoing list of projects which are under consideration, have been announced, or are under way. Arranged alphabetically by state and organized by whether they are under consideration or are planned, the below are those broadband expansion projects being pursued by cities and counties as they look to expand access via telephone and electric cooperatives, nonprofits, community-owned solutions, or private providers.

This page will be updated in the coming weeks and months, but if you have any corrections, additions, or updates, please email ry@ilsr.org

I am thankful to them for doing this – if you have something to add, please send it their way or send it to me atreacy@treacyinfo.com and I’ll add it here and send it to them.

Here’s what they have for Minnesota…

Planned

The Duluth City Council has approved a plan to spend $12.8 million of the $58.1 million it will receive on infrastructure, including $1 million on broadband. There are no additional details, excepting a line item in a recent press release which says the money could be used to “incentivize broadband providers to the City.”

St. Louis County, Minnesota has earmarked a total of $2 million so far in broadband grant programs aimed at boosting connectivity efforts led by communities in the region. By committing a match, the latter can apply for funds in pursuit of a wide range of planning and development activities. Those grant applications are due in September.

One township already taking advantage of St. Louis County’s grant program is Greenwood, which is pursuing upcoming federal infrastructure dollars along with county funds and considering using some of its own $50,000 in Rescue Plan funds for the local match. Broadband continues to be a primary concern to local leaders, with the township running a broadband survey for residents and businesses right now.

ARPA County and Township Support Amounts Mapped by CNS

CNS has created a new map

As discussions with counties, townships, and cities ramp up, we mapped the ARPA funding amounts for MN’s Counties, Townships and Small Cities so you can see how much each entity is receiving in ARPA funding.

Layers include:

  • County Allocated funding
  • Estimated Township funding amounts
  • Disbursed Township and Small City funds
  • RDOF funded census block groups

Zooming in on the map will show more granular data.

We’ll continue to update the map as more data is released. According the state, not all Township and Small Cities have received their first-round funding yet due to incomplete applications. Note that two rounds of disbursements will be sent, one in 2021, one in 2022 – disbursed funds shown in the map are 50% of their total allocation.

Redwood County gets Lead for Minnesota Fellow to work on broadband

Redwood Falls Gazette reports

Lead For America, Land O’Lakes, Inc., the Mayo Clinic, Midwest Dairy and Scoular recently announced the placement of six American Connection Corps (ACC) Fellows in Minnesota, part of a group of 50 individuals placed in communities across the country. These Fellows will work to increase broadband access and digital literacy as well as contribute to critical community development initiatives in communities across Minnesota. Lead for Minnesota Fellow Patrick Garry was chosen for placement in Redwood County to work with the county EDA on broadband access throughout the county.

Garry arrived in Redwood Falls on Aug. 9 to begin his work as Redwood County EDA Broadband Coordinator. He is not a county employee, rather his position is a contract for service, with Redwood County Economic Development Coordinator Briana Mumme as his host.

Blandin plays a role…

The Fellow position in Redwood County is also funded through the Lead for America program, Americorps, the Blandin Foundation and the Southwest Initiative Foundation.

He’s hitting the ground running…

Garry said his first initiative is a “listening tour” of the county’s communities, businesses, farmers, healthcare providers, schools and any residents interested in access to broadband, to learn more about the needs and impact in the area.

Mumme and Garry agreed that recent federal legislation to fund broadband access throughout the United States will be a valuable tool for the goals of their program. They will be working with the Redwood area internet providers to learn their vision and goals for how best to fill the gaps in broadband access.

“What motivates our group is a shared vision for what rural America can be,” said Garry. “We hope to curate collaborative environments that foster innovation and build upon our past. We realize we can only complete this goal with community support and advocacy.”

Zayo Announces 400Gig-Enabled Network – passes through MN

Businesswire reports

Zayo Group Holdings, Inc., a leading global provider of fiber-based communications solutions, today announced the planned deployment of thirty-one high capacity, 400G-enabled long haul routes across North America and Western Europe.

The availability of 400G client-side wave capabilities will allow Zayo to deliver multi-terabit capacity across its underlying global network, enabling higher transmission rates, reduced cost per bit, increased data transfer speeds and significantly greater bandwidth capacity — key features that support enterprises on their digital transformation journeys. Up to 800G transmission will be available in select areas as Zayo deploys significant speed enhancements in anticipation of future network needs.

This optimized wavelength network is designed to provide a direct route for multi-cloud and multi-market connectivity, ideal for content providers, hyperscalers, carriers and data centers. The upgrade will also enable reduced physical space requirements as well as reduced operation and maintenance costs resulting from a 40% reduction in power consumption.

The race to 400Gb/s has accelerated in recent years, with an increasing number of users, applications and devices driving exponential demand for increased bandwidth. Exceeding the current standard of 100G, Zayo’s new routes will provide a fourfold increase in maximum data transfer speed, supporting 5G technologies including Internet of Things, cloud-based computing, edge computing, virtual reality, high-definition video streaming and artificial intelligence.

Big news for Minnesota? The network will pass through Minnesota. (See map below, which might misplace Minneapolis in MN but gets the network here.)

DLF Chair talks about broadband and other topics in Park Rapids (Hubbard County)

Park Rapids Enterprise reports

When DFL Chairman Ken Martin visited the Park Rapids area Tuesday, he discussed issues relevant to Hubbard County and the surrounding area in an interview with the Enterprise.

There were two questions on broadband…

What infrastructure needs will be addressed in this region?

We’re excited about the bi-partisan deal. It’s the largest infrastructure bill ever to pass in our country’s history. It is investing in the infrastructure of tomorrow while repairing the infrastructure of yesterday. It’s going to invest in bridges and roads, wastewater treatment plants, clean energy, electric vehicles, upgrading public transportation options and broadband.

I think of this through the lens of rural electrification that happened in the 1920s and 1930s in this country. It helped rejuvenate small town America and main streets. Without that, a lot of parts of the country would have been left behind.

Thanks to this infrastructure package, high-speed internet is going to be provided to every corner of our state. That’s an exciting development that should bring more jobs to communities here and that will allow people who work in different industries to stay in greater Minnesota.

Because more people are able to work remotely, there’s an opportunity to reimagine the workforce. But that requires good broadband access. We need to build that infrastructure that will result in economic development in places like Hubbard County and help diversify and expand the tax base.

When will better broadband reach this region?

As soon as this infrastructure bill is signed into law I think the money is going to start flowing out to communities. I don’t know the exact timeline for that but I think money will move quickly like with the American Rescue Plan. There is a great disparity in internet services in greater Minnesota because some internet providers have invested their own money in fiber optics and high speed internet capacities and others have not. This funding will help equalize that by providing money to companies who can then access it through grants to provide higher speeds and have the capability to do that, whether fiber optics or cell service. There are a lot of pockets in the state where you go five miles in one direction or the other and you are getting high-speed internet or not. That’s what we have to fix right now so it’s not this patchwork but wherever you live you will get the same level of service. This is an equity issue as well. A lot of people are being left behind. Their job or their schooling is being impacted by the fact that they don’t have access to high speed internet. We have a responsibility to address that. It’s a huge part of the infrastructure plan and will allow people in rural America to start to prosper again.

EVENT Sep 22: Northeast Minnesota Regional Broadband Summit

Another invitation to a regional broadband meeting, which is being held as a precursor to the MN Broadband Conference in October…

The Blandin Foundation, Dept. of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation, Arrowhead Regional Development Commission, Northland Foundation, and Northspan are set to co-host a virtual summit highlighting the challenges and opportunities related to broadband.

The summit, scheduled for Wednesday, September 22nd will be held on Zoom from 9:00-11:00 AM. It is free for all attendees, and participants will learn how other communities across the region are responding to this challenge and how an innovative, connected economy can create a dynamic future.

REGISTER HERE

The summit includes information about:

  • Community broadband and innovative economy projects
  • Successful regional infrastructure projects
  • Arrowhead Intelligent Region grant recipients and their plans

Agenda includes:

  • Welcome & Introductions
  • State of Minnesota Office of Broadband Development
  • Intelligent Communities Framework and Community Projects and Project Panel Speed Round
  • Providers and Communities on Successful and Planned Infrastructure Projects
  • Arrowhead Intelligent Region Grant Recipients

Attendees can register for the Northeast Regional Broadband Summit HERE.

The regional summit is a part of Blandin’s annual statewide broadband conference, Building on Broadband: Inspiring Progress. This year’s statewide conference is virtual and will take place October 12-14. Visit the conference webpage for more information.

EVENT Sep 16: South Central & Southeast Regional Broadband Conference

An invitation to a regional broadband meeting, which is being held as a precursor to the MN Broadband Conference in October…

South Central & Southeast Regional Broadband Conference is being hosted by Region Nine Development CommissionSouthern Minnesota Initiative FoundationSE MN TogetherSoutheastern Minnesota League of Municipalitieswith support from Blandin Foundation and the MN Office of Broadband Development as part of the annual broadband conference, Building on Broadband: Inspiring Progress. This year’s statewide conference is virtual, and will take place October 12-14, with the 12th being dedicated to regional updates. You’re invited! Visit the conference webpage for more information.

Join us Thursday, September 16, for a regional broadband conference at the Owatonna Arts Center. This will be a hybrid conference allowing for in-person and virtual attendance. Hosts are actively monitoring the COVID-19 infectious rates and will notify attendees if a virtual only format is necessary. See the draft agenda .

As counties and statewide Regional Development Commissions (RDCs) consider how to use American Recovery Act funds for broadband investments, now is a good time to ask:

  • Who is being served?
  • Who is being left behind?
  • What are our opportunities to collaborate or stretch dollars?
  • How will we maximize these investments to spur equitable economic recovery?
  • What action steps are needed at the local level to support successful implementation?

Feedback gathered during the conference will be compiled with other RDC findings and rolled up to the Blandin Foundation’s statewide conference (virtual), and taking place October 12-14, with the 12th being dedicated to regional updates. You’re invited! Visit the conference webpage for more information.

Be Prepared for Opportunity!

Blandin Foundation is seeking communities/counties to participate in their Community Broadband Resources: Accelerate! program beginning in September.  Blandin decided to launch a 2nd cohort of communities due to the enthusiastic response from our first cohort that completed the program in June.  We hope to have a group of 3 – 5 communities participating as a cohort and would like to start in late September as soon as we have our community cohort on board.

In essence, we ask that each community form a steering team with at least 8 people.  In our first cohort, teams ranged from 8 – 16 members that committed to participating in weekly meetings, each Friday morning from 9 – 11 am.  We do not keep attendance and ask only that people make a good faith commitment.

Each week has a theme.    From 9-10, all of the communities meet together to: 1) learn from experts; 2) hear from Blandin members; 3) learn from each other.  The second hour is devoted to each community’s steering team meeting where the teams plan their upcoming work.  We also ask that members watch an archived video webinar some time during the week on that week’s topic.

Through the process, each community will conduct a community survey using a standardized survey.  MN Extension will assist on data reporting.  In our last cohort, communities combined online and paper surveys.  Local communities are responsible for doing any data entry with the paper surveys and for any mailing or publicity costs.  In the first cohort, we used the statewide speed test web site to gather that data.  I am uncertain as to the availability of that site for our purposes.

Provider interviews are also a part of the process.  Several community-friendly providers participated on community teams in the first cohort.

We spend quite a bit of time on mapping, public private partnerships, public finance, etc.

The last two weeks of the program are devoted to the creation of a community broadband plan where Blandin staff works with each community to finalize their plan and a presentation that they can bring back to local elected officials, community groups and members, and broadband providers.

The application process is quite easy and informal.  The list of steering team members is the key element.

If you would like to know more, contact Bill Coleman at 651-491-2551 or bill@communitytechnologyadvisors.com.  He would be happy to do a quick webinar to ensure there is clear understanding of the process.

Will supply chain issues hinder fiber deployment? AT&T say yes. Frontier, Lumen, Windstream say no.

Fierce Telecom reports

AT&T CFO Pascal Desroches warned investors supply chain issues would likely prevent the operator from reaching its goal of delivering fiber to 3 million new locations in 2021.

Speaking during an Oppenheimer conference, Desroches said that up through the second quarter AT&T “hadn’t really experienced any impact” from global supply chain disruptions, thanks in part to its status as a “preferred” customer. But he noted “since the start of the third quarter we are seeing dislocation across the board, including in fiber supply.”

Desroches estimated that as a result “we’re probably going to come in a little bit light” of the 3 million target set earlier this year, “probably around 2.5 [million].” He added AT&T doesn’t expect the shortages to impact it over the long term, but said highlighting its struggle was “really important for context because if we’re feeling the pain of this, I can only imagine what others in the industry are experiencing.”

From Frontier (new article)…

Last week, Frontier increased its deployment targets, stating it plans to rollout fiber to 600,000 new locations in 2021, up from an original goal of 495,000. Speaking at a Cowen investor conference on Thursday, Frontier’s chief network officer Veronica Bloodworth stated it is “not experiencing supply chain issues” and has taken several steps to protect itself from labor and materials shortages as its build progresses.

“Materials and supply is one area you could run into a constraint, we don’t have that currently,” she said. “We have diversified our supplier base, we’ve put commitment contracts in place…and we’ve changed our inventory on hand appropriately to make sure that we are insulated against supply chain issues.”

From Lumen (CenturyLink), Windstream and Consolidated…

Lumen’s Head of Mass Markets Maxine Moreaux made similar comments in an earlier Cowen session. “We have not seen any issues,” she said, adding “we have diversification not only in equipment and fiber but also in labor.” Like Frontier, Lumen recently said it plans to accelerate its fiber investments.

Likewise, a Windstream representative told Fierce it has “secured all of the supplies necessary to meet our current build plans.”

Jennifer Spaude, SVP of investor relations and corporate communications at Consolidated, told Fierce it remains on track to achieve a target of upgrading 300,000 passings to fiber in 2021, adding “our partners are confident they can supply us with sufficient equipment to maintain our operational pace.” However, she acknowledged “inventory is limited on next-generation chips that deliver multi-gigabit speeds” and it is “evaluating alternative CPE” which can be used if necessary.

A third party gives some perspective on the differences…

Asked to weigh in on AT&T’s predicament, Dell’Oro VP and optical transport market analyst Jimmy Yu noted some players locked in supply agreements long ago. “Verizon (luckily) had a supply agreement in place a few years ago that assured supply with Corning. I don’t think AT&T did. Hence, AT&T doesn’t have a secured supply like Verizon,” he told Fierce.

Yu added neither Lumen nor Frontier “are investing in access (fixed and mobile) at the same pace as AT&T and Verizon. So, those two operators will not have the same demand level as AT&T.”

MLEC is expanding FTTH in Aitkin County (MN)

Aitkin Age reports…

Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC) has announced that MLEC Fiber Internet will become available for more customers in 2022.

More detail…

The Phase 5 project will pass approximately 300 homes and businesses and will provide up to 1 gigabyte per second symmetrical Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet service. FTTH is the fastest and most reliable Internet available.

MLEC will partner with Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC) on the construction of this project and expand its MLEC Fiber Internet network. The project area includes the west side of Farm Island Lake, runs east to Sunset Lake, then along Tame Fish Lake Road all the way to Highway 6.

The Phase 5 project will create a redundant link to CTC’s existing infrastructure. This will make the company’s fiber network stronger and prevent internet outages.

“In addition to Phase 5, MLEC Fiber has continued construction on our Phase 3, Phase 4, and East Lake projects,” said the release. “If you live in one of the project areas, there is still time to sign up. Crews are working hard to get as many customers connected as possible before winter comes.”