Now is a good time for communities to prep for broadband upgrades

It was good to see local media write about the broadband meeting in St Louis County last week. The Hibbing Daily Tribune reports…

Now is a good time for communities to take the proper steps to prepare for grant applications, representatives said, especially because of the local, state and federal sources available to tap into and an Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and Blandin Foundation partnership.

“There are general fund dollars (state money) and local matching dollars this year … to grow connectivity in our area,” said Jason Metsa, deputy commissioner for the IRRRB.

An IRRRB infrastructure grant has up to $2 million dedicated for fiscal year 2020 to serve as a local match in leveraging other state and federal grants for broadband. The funds are available for unserved and underserved areas, with up to a 25% match.

St. Louis County has large areas considered unserved or underserved.

Local funding resources, which other rural parts of the state have employed, include local cash contributions, tax abatement bonds and dedication of special taxes.

Federal dollars are available through the United States Department of Agriculture ReConnect initiative and state funding from the Border to Border Broadband Grant Program.

I wrote about the meeting too so I won’t go into great detail – but it’s a reminder to all communities – act or be left behind. A lot is happening and that’s great. Some communities will be lucky enough to get grant funding – and luck favors the prepared.

St Louis County broadband meeting: make partners, help providers work with you – think feasibility studies

Today in St Louis a few dozen people met to talk and learn about broadband. A few themes emerged – people want broadband. In areas that aren’t yet served it’s going to take an effort – on the part of the local community. Partnership helps. Part of the game is courting a provider and often that means making yourself more attractive by knowing what infrastructure is already in your community and knowing the interest with local residents. Inherent in that idea is the opportunity to encourage local residents.

You can watch the archive or read notes below.

Welcome from Jason Metsa – Continue reading

Greenwood Township moving forward with fiber to townhall

Greenwood Township board members met last week to discuss a few issues related to technology. The Timberjay covered the meeting. There were a lot of unkowns, for example it seemed unclear whether the board knew if there was fiber connected to the town hall or not.

I’m trying to weed through the discussion to get to the actions and decisions:

The board decided to join an effort for a regional feasibility study…

[Joan] Bassing [chair of the local broadband committee] then asked the town board to consider making a donation to help fund the feasibility study. She said that if the township refused to participate in the feasibility study, it would eliminate the township from future broadband projects.

A coalition of three areas are jointly funding the study and need to raise approximately $75,000, which will be matched one-to-one by Blandin.

“Our standard donation is $100,” said [board member] DeLuca.

Bassing said she was not sure what level of donation would be considered for inclusion in the study but said there was a possibility of finding other donations in the township to count towards the township’s participation.

A feasibility study looks at existing infrastructure, community support/interest in broadband and recommendations to help infrastructure meet community need. (Often it has been the first step in a community pursuing and getting a MN state broadband grant.)

A donation of $100 may not be a ringing endorsement but it is a start to a local investment that will help them know if the city hall has fiber, if local residents want it and what they can do to make it happen. It will address many of the unknowns and I thin help the city board make more informed decisions.

The board decided to connect town hall computers to fiber and install hotspots…

The board did appear to agree on getting the town hall computers connected to the fiber.

A motion to have a new wifi hotspot installed at an estimated cost of $486, to give broadband access to users in the parking lot, passed unanimously. The town board tabled a motion to get the hard-wiring done, since they felt they needed more information on the cost, but said they would consider it at their July meeting.

Not to harp on a feasibility study – but that would help them decide about hard-wiring in the future.

The board decided not to move forward with a computer for the public in the town hall. It seems that they felt the recommended computer was too expensive for the public….

Initially, township officials balked at the cost of the computer included in the proposal, saying they would rather see a more economical model for public use rather than a model that cost about $3,200.

I used to do tech assessments for nonprofits. I’ve had this discussion with people in the past. How come we need to buy a computer more expensive than my home computer? It’s a little like asking why a commercial oven is more expensive. Because the public computer will be used more, will be used harder and will called upon to meet a wider variety of needs. The secondary issue was a question of need…

But DeLuca insisted there was no need for a public computer at the town hall.

“Everybody I talk to,” he said, “nobody says we need a computer here.”

A feasibility study may prove his point or suggest a different answer.

The feasibility study will help decision makers learn what the community wants and needs! Folks who are interested in this part of Minnesota, are invited to attend  a St Louis County broadband meeting happening June 25 (Tuesday) to hear more about local efforts to get and use better broadband for economic development and quality of life.

Interactive broadband map of MN based on speed tests

Last week I was all about the new MN county maps – created from data provided by the providers. This weekend, someone (from NEO Partners LLC) sent me their interactive map created from M-LAB speed tests.

The map shows served (faster than 25 Mbps download) and unserved (slower than 25 Mbps download) areas and tracks the following:

  • Number of tests: 4,373
  • average down: 46.64
  • median down: 26.08
  • pop: 16,361
  • house: 8,200

It also tracks the local providers, average speed, median and number of tests done in their area.

The maps obviously requires locals to run tests. So some areas have better reporting than others. I invite folks who have had issues with the county tests to check out these maps and see if they seem more reliable.

Kandiyohi County moves forward with broadband engineering study

West Central Tribune reports…

Kandiyohi County is taking fresh aim at a long-sought goal of widening the availability of high-speed internet service, especially to neighborhoods that remain unserved or underserved.

The County Board voted Tuesday to help fund an engineering study that will examine the feasibility of bringing broadband to rural homes and businesses in Dovre, Mamre and St. Johns townships.

The ultimate goal is another shot at grant dollars from the border-to-border program of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The article also give a little history…

The county and the Economic Development Commission had high hopes two years ago when the state Office of Broadband Technology awarded a $4.9 million grant to help develop broadband in rural northern Kandiyohi County. But the project struggled to reach fruition and was abandoned in the summer of 2017 after the county’s broadband partner, Consolidated Telecommunications Co., withdrew its participation, forcing the county to forfeit the grant money.

“It was so close and it didn’t happen,” said Larry Kleindl, county administrator.

It was a setback but advocates for local broadband never gave up, he said. “We agreed we weren’t going to quit. … We’re trying to find the tool and the mechanism to do this.”

What’s different this time is that the proposed project has multiple partners — the three townships, Kandiyohi County and telecommunications provider Arvig — willing to take the lead. The proposed service area is also more geographically compact.

AcenTek Improves Time to Revenue for New Services by Simplifying Operations with Calix AXOS

For the most technical in the crowd, or folks on the very front lines, Calix reports…

Calix, Inc. (CALX) today announced that AcenTek has deployed AXOS GPON as it expands gigabit broadband throughout its service area spanning Michigan, Minnesota, and Iowa. With AXOS, AcenTek has radically accelerated its deployment capabilities of next generation services while automating and simplifying operations to enable its network to scale. The AXOS E7-2 Intelligent Modular System and SMx Services Management Connector enable AcenTek to use a common operational service model, regardless of the physical technology layer supported or access network deployment location. AXOS SMx allows AcenTek to dynamically drive operational process automation, decreasing time to market for new service introductions, shortening OSS integration timelines and markedly improving subscriber experience. Additionally, with the real-time network troubleshooting capabilities of the AXOS Diagnostics Toolbox, AcenTek can maintain an always on network at a dramatically reduced operational cost.

A pre-feasibility study tool to help you understand your broadband options: CN QuickStart

Last week I met up with Chris Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self Reliance (Community Networks) to talk about a new service/tool they are offering – CN QuickStart. They have partnered with NEO Partners to create a tool that helps communities get a better understanding of what their broadband options are – from a high level. The tool will look at your community and sketch out options for three potential networks: fiber to the home, wireless and hybrid fiber and wireless network. It will include cost estimates and recommendations.

This isn’t meant to replace a feasibility study. It’s sort of a feasibility study precursor. A quick ballpark answer to get a conversation going. The cost for the service is $1,000 plus 40 cents per premise in the study.

I think it’s a great idea and I think you can learn a lot by getting with something like this. Networks can range greatly – but people still want to know how much it’ll be. I’ve often said it’s like asking how much a wedding is. So much depends on whether you’re going to serve brats, wear Vera Wang or fly everyone down to Las Vegas. But talking to someone who knows networks helps a community understand the types of decisions you need to make and the difference those decisions will make.