Kandiyohi is frustrated with broadband flurries but moving forward where they can

West Central Tribune reports…

Frustrations about broadband boiled over recently during a meeting of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission ‘s joint powers board.

Opportunity seems to be drawing more attention than action…

The EDC is currently working with cooperatives from neighboring counties to build out the broadband network in order to get fiber to homes everywhere. Two major projects the broadband committee was able to secure will have ribbon-cutting ceremonies in December, according to EDC Executive Director Aaron Backman.

The main frustration among members of the EDC joint powers board is that private entities — which have promised in the past to increase broadband access to rural areas and then not followed through — are suddenly commencing projects during a time when government funding is available due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This has created problems with the planning of grant-funded, cooperative projects on which the EDC staff and broadband committee are actively working, and has wasted the time and energy of EDC staff and the broadband committee.

A little background on Kandiyohi might help explain why they are concerned. Back in 2017, they (with CTC) were awarded a Border to Border grant to deploy fiber but in the end, the project never happened. The quick version was that CTC needed community support in the form of subscriptions with a down payment. They didn’t get the support they needed, although it was very close. One factor is that an incumbent provider (TDS) campaigned heavily against the project. They have been frustrated by provider intervention in the past.

Some of the projects are going…

Updating his fellow joint powers board members about the progress of border-to-border broadband in the county, Kandiyohi County Commissioner Rollie Nissen noted there is a lot of activity happening for broadband, especially around Nest Lake in New London.

He also noted that additional broadband projects for Arctander, Mamre and Dovre townships have been submitted to Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, which funds the expansion of broadband service to areas of Minnesota that are unserved or underserved.

Some are not…

Another project the broadband committee had been working on that was all ready to go was in Lake Andrew and Norway Lake townships. That work turned out to have been wasted effort with the announcement of a project by TDS.

“TDS came along with a plan and kind of blew that apart, I’ll put it that way,” Nissen said, noting TDS had put out a news release regarding that project.

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/

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.

Pipestone County is working with Hometown Fiber on better broadband plan

Pipestone County Star reports…

Pipestone County Commissioners during their Oct. 11 meeting approved paying Hometown Fiber up to $99,900 to see what it would take to build a fiber optic internet network that would provide access to quality internet throughout the county. …

According to DEED, much of Pipestone County does not meet that criteria (see map). Pipestone County Administrator Steve Ewing said that’s why he thought it was worth considering the proposal from Hometown Fiber.

More on the project…

According to the proposal from Hometown Fiber, workers will go out into the field to document fiber optic and other broadband assets that exist in the county now, evaluate the technology’s capacity and condition, and identify potential fiber optic lease or partnership opportunities. It will develop economic projections and pre-engineering costs using a per property estimate formula. The estimate will account for population density, geology and topology. The financial analysis will project revenue and expenses to build and operate the network in each city and township.

The next step includes generating network designs, technical drawings, maps of fiber routes, a bill of materials and a technical plan needed for grant applications and other funding sources. The financial plan will include bonding options, terms, return on investment and recurring revenue. It will also identify internet service providers interested in serving the communities and provide information on the type of services and their costs.

Moving forward…

She [Hometown Fiber broadband consultant, Marlena Pfeiffer] said it can cost up to $15,000 to complete an application for a Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant. If some of that information can be used for other grant applications, she said the costs to apply for those grants could be around to $5,000 to $10,000. She said there are also federal loan programs with low interest rates that some projects qualify for.
Pfeiffer said the county could also bond for some of the cost of the project and the bonds could be paid off through internet service providers paying to use the network.

“We’re using your credit, but we’re paying your bills, so in the end this costs you nothing,” she said.

“We’re using your credit, but we’re paying your bills, so in the end this costs you nothing,” she said.

Smith [Hometown vice president] said what usually happens is that the county, township or city they work with owns the conduit that protects the fiber optics and Hometown Fiber owns the fiber, internet exchange and other equipment and is responsible for all operations and maintenance. The county could also decide not to own any of it.

Workforce Planning Guide: Guidance for BEAD Program Eligible Entities

A helpful summary from the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society about a helpful tool from NTIA…

Research  |  National Telecommunications and Information Administration

A guide for states and territories to use when planning high-speed Internet deployment projects. The high-speed Internet deployment and digital equity projects funded through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program will create over 150,000 of good-paying jobs. This guide lays out strategies and examples for meeting funding requirements and ensuring a skilled, competitive, and diverse workforce.

  • Components of a Workforce Plan: Highlights the requirements and guidance related to workforce development and fair labor standards in the BEAD NOFO.
  • Developing a Workforce Plan: Provides suggested planning steps and pacing for completing grant submissions and key integration points with the Digital Equity Act programs.
  • Strategies and Examples: Offers a range of approaches to meet the workforce needs and offers examples of existing programs at the Federal, state, or local level.
  • Additional Resources: Provides additional resources, including a list of Federal and state agencies that can help answer questions, guiding questions and resources that help conduct landscape analysis, and a checklist of best practices that eligible entities can use when evaluating different workforce programs.

In addition to the Workforce Planning Guide, NTIA is providing technical assistance to states and grantees on workforce requirements through public, open webinars and one-on-one meetings.

Nobles County invests $4 million in broadband with local and ARPA funds

The Worthington Globe reports

The Nobles County Board of Commissioners boosted the local “Fiber to Home” broadband effort by reaffirming its $2 million commitment and kicking in another $2 million after a grant application for USDA funding was denied.

“We’re dumbfounded,” said Mark Loosbrock, secretary/treasurer of Lismore Cooperative Telephone Company, which spearheaded the project. “They had maps that our engineers, that nobody had. That’s why that money got denied.”

Loosbrock explained that in applying for the grant, engineers and consultants used maps to assess the area already served by broadband, and given that information had believed they would be given a high number of points on the grant’s scoring rubric. However, those assessing the application had maps not available to the co-op’s engineers, Loosbrock said.

However, the co-op was told it could apply for a grant in the next round of funding — which has a November deadline, driving co-op representatives to return to the county board to ask for direction and potentially, enough local matching funding to reapply for the grant.

They decided to double down on their investment…

In the end, commissioners reaffirmed their prior commitment of $2 million, once again contingent on the grant being accepted, and then voted to put $1 million of its federal American Rescue Plan Act money to the project.

Following those board actions, Commissioner Justin Ahlers proposed directing $250,000 of the county’s wind energy production money per year for four years toward the project — after calling Metz back to the commission to answer a few questions about the wind production funds. Metz said he anticipated better wind energy production gains this year, and then returned to his place in the audience.

Ahlers’ motion passed 3-0.

County Administrator Bruce Heitkamp praised the broadband initiative for its economic development potential, and Ahlers emphasized how important it is for education.

 

Kandiyohi County supports three Border to Border grants

The West Central Tribune reports on three projects Kandiyohi Board of Commissioners decided to support for Border to Border grants…

A motion by Nissen 2nd Anderson to authorize a Letter of Support from the Board to be included in Charter Communications. lnc.’s application to the Border-to-Border application was on vote unanimously adopted. A motion by Imdieke 2nd Gardner to authorize a Letter of Support from the Board for Federated Telephone’s Cooperative’s application as the Primary project application for the Kandiyohi Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program was on vote unanimously adopted. A motion by Anderson 2nd Berg to authorize a Letter of Support from the Board to be included in Frontier Communications of Minnesota’s application to the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program was on vote unanimously adopted.

“So I started my own ISP…” everything old is new again

I worked for Minnesota Regional Network (MRNet) in the mid 1990s. They were the first Internet service providers in Minnesota. They partnered with big folks (3M, UofM and more) to bring the Internet (backbone then was three T1s) to the state. They sold subscriptions to home users and they were upstream connections to other ISPs. Everything was new and there were very few rules.

We’d get calls from all over the state of someone who wanted a dialup connection to MRNet. Dialup only made sense if you were within the local service market – or your long distance bill would break you. So sometimes we’d get very entrepreneurial folks who would decide they’d get a difference connection to their house (maybe with a 56k or T1 Frame Relay connection) and sell to their neighbors to offset the cost. Sometimes that grew like a garage punk band on their way to CBGBs. Sometimes it imploded. But I always love the ingenuity and I was reminded of it listening to a story on NPR

Long before the pandemic forced many office workers to depend on their home internet, Jared Mauch had been working from home for about two decades.

When he moved to Scio Township in 2002, an area in rural Michigan not far from Ann Arbor, his employer set him up with a great home internet connection — many of his neighbors at the time were still stuck with sluggish dial-up.

After a while, though, his bandwidth couldn’t keep up with his tech job and his growing family.

But when he started shopping around, he wasn’t happy with his options. The internet speeds from AT&T were painfully slow. Comcast wanted to charge him an up-front fee of $50,000 to expand service to his home. He opted for a third route.

Rather than shell out that kind of money only to depend on the whims of an internet service provider, the 46-year-old decided to create his own fiber ISP.

“I had every reason to believe that I would be able to execute and perform a lot of these pieces of it, and most likely be more able to bring the service to the community than, you know, a large company,” he told NPR. “I saw it as an excellent opportunity both to expand service and something I’m passionate about.”

He created the company in 2017 and secured permits in 2019 to start construction the following year. In August of 2020, he was officially in business. Just in time for his kids to start virtual school during the pandemic.

“It was great,” he recalled. “I had a home fiber that I controlled, and the ability to kind of control my own fate in the future.”

Sherburne County Board approved $600k for 3 broadband grants to Midco

The News Patriot reports

The Sherburne County Board Tuesday approved over $600k for three grants for Midco projects to expand broadband within the county.

The project in Livonia Twp. would provide service (passings) to 169 households, with an additional 72 homes that would also be connected. The total project cost is $580,000, with the township contributing $5,000. The county’s contribution is $68,000.

The second is a $497,000 project in Santiago Twp. with 72 passings, plus another 121 additional homes that would be connected. After the township’s $5,000 contribution, the county’s cost is $276,000.

The third is a project in Becker Twp. with 42 passings and an additional 72 homes that would be connected. The total project cost is $404,000. The county’s cost is $252,000. All three projects would be funded with ARPA money provided to the county through the federal allocation.

You can see the approval in action at the County Board meeting, which is conveniently archived on YouTube:

Institute of Local Self Reliance announce training to help communities manage broadband deployment

The Institute of Local Self Reliance announce two training opportunities to help community leaders manage broadband deployment. The sessions are well times as investment in broadband is coming in fast and furious. Now is the time to be ready. Here’s a quick look at them:

Announcing the Urban Digital Equity Bootcamp

The program is designed to:

  • Increase knowledge and confidence of participants to allow them to better take action in their communities to achieve digital equity. This includes developing familiarity with key jargon and technologies related to Internet access.
  • Develop diverse cohorts and a larger human network of people sharing local strategies, challenges, and solutions.
  • Demystify Internet technology through hands-on applications and small group learning

Attendees will include a diverse group of stakeholders, from local leaders to activists to the philanthropic community. A key group of attendees would include organizations that already have the trust of frontline communities – groups that understand the importance of digital equity but haven’t had the capacity to address it. In larger communities, multiple events can be tailored to fit the different needs of different neighborhoods.

The primary objective will be building knowledge and trust among local organizations so they can engage in strategic campaigns of digital inclusion. These events will need significant local coordination to be effective.

Announcing the Let’s Get Going Broadband Program

The first Let’s Get Going Broadband Program cohort is scheduled to begin in September. The cost per community is $15,000, and we recommend each community will select 3-5 participants to attend.

See the full program flyer with schedule here [pdf], or below.

It includes:

  • Cohort Building – An opportunity for a local broadband team to join a eight-week cohort with other communities in a customized curriculum to develop expertise in solving broadband challenges and taking advantage of funding opportunities.
  • Trainings – 90-minute interactive webinars  focused on understanding – in a commonly accessible manner – broadband technologies, challenges, and how similarly situated communities have addressed these problems.
  • Technical Assistance – Eight, 2-hour technical assistance sessions rooted in local needs
  • Community Progress Reports and Research – Help in developing an information-gathering project with diverse community stakeholders to define digital inclusion problems.

Contact Community Broadband Networks Outreach Team Lead DeAnne Cuellar at deanne@ilsr.org for more details.

Duluth New Tribune opinion piece say government involvement is needed to get broadband to some communities

In an opinion piece in the Duluth News Tribune, Kyle Moorhead, the founder and CEO of Hometown Fiber, counters an earlier opinion piece that didn’t believe the government should be involved with broadband access…

The Progressive Policy Institute’s Lindsay Mark Lewis claimed in an Aug. 10 column in the News Tribune that the government has no place building or operating broadband networks.

His information was outdated.

In fact, the only way many communities will get the internet service they need is through local government involvement.

He gets into the details…

There are good reasons for government to consider ownership.

Fiber optic networks do not need to be complex and expensive to operate, as Lewis asserted. I have municipal networks running successfully for more than 12 years with 99.995% uptime. It costs little to operate these networks.

Fiber itself is inexpensive. Prices have dropped so much in recent years that it is affordable for residential service.

If you design and construct the network as critical infrastructure and not for a quick return on investment, you automatically get a reliable and fast network. Digging and directional drilling are the most expensive parts of a project. That cost is the same whether you’re building infrastructure to last 50 years or 10. Do it once correctly, and it pays for itself.

Networks can meet the business needs of ISPs and their communities. It’s not either/or.

An almost instant response to any new approach is, “But ISPs won’t like it.” Incumbent providers often resist offering customers choice, because it means their geographic dominance in the area could end. On the other hand, an incumbent ISP with failing infrastructure quickly understands this new approach is more profitable than maintaining its own infrastructure. It’s possible to meet an ISP’s needs for an almost instant return on investment and complete control over its internet office technology and operations while ensuring no equipment sharing or outside interference.

Duluth is looking at Open Access Fiber Options with the help of State funding

The Institue of Local Self Reliance reports on Duluth…

Last April, the Duluth Economic Development Authority signed a $65,000 contract with Entrypoint LLC to examine the possibility of building a community-owned fiber network in Duluth. The result: a new Digital Access Master Plan that proposes the city spend $7-9 million to build a pilot open access fiber network in Lincoln Park next year.

“Reliable high-speed internet is no longer a luxury,” Duluth Mayor Emily Larson proclaimed in a recent state of the city address. “It’s an essential utility no less important to our future success than our roads, water, and electricity.”

Under the proposal, 75 percent of the new network would be buried fiber and 25 percent would be microtrenched along public roads. The $7 to $9 million estimated price tag is based on a 60% take rate, short-term interest at 5 percent, and a long-term interest rate of 3 percent for 20 years. The initial pilot project would bring fiber to an estimated 1,900 Duluth residents next year.

“A 60% take-rate may seem aggressive given the strong market position of the incumbent cable operator,” the plan states. “However, the survey data suggests a strong desire among residents and businesses in Duluth to see competition, choice, better pricing, and the reliability of a fiber optic network.”

The plan moving forward…

Last June, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) announced that the state would be doling out $95 million in broadband expansion grants, with a maximum of $5 million for each potential target community. Another $68.5 million in funding for Minnesota communities is poised to arrive via the American Rescue Plan Act.

If the pilot goes well, the city will then decide whether to embrace a full, citywide fiber network at an estimated price tag of between $76 and $80 million.

Assuming the full network were to be built over a 48 month period, the plan predicts Duluth would need to subsidize the network for 14 months. Once the network reaches 21,709 premises, the investment will be paid back by operational surpluses. The plan assumes a $79.9 million network build cost would be funded with debt at a 3 percent interest rate over 20 years.

Duluth pursues Border to Border grant for Lincoln Park

The Duluth News Tribune reports

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson this summer proposed a pilot project to bring faster, more affordable broadband internet service first to Lincoln Park. And last month, as the News Tribune reported, the City Council gave the go-ahead for city administration to apply for a $3.2 million state Broadband Development Grant to help fund the proposal. Councilors expressed discomfort, however, with withdrawing $5 million from Duluth’s Community Investment Trust to help fund the project, which is expected to cost $7 million to $9 million total. If Duluth is successful in securing the requested state grant, there’s confidence in City Hall that there are other financial paths for the pilot project without having to dip into the Community Investment Fund.

Kandiyohi County Commissioners support three Border ro Border grant applications

The West Central Tribune reports…

At Tuesday’s Kandiyohi County Board meeting, the commissioners approved submitting three letters of support toward three broadband projects hoping to be awarded state Border-to-Border grant funds. An update on projects was also given at the meeting.

It took much longer than anyone wanted, but applications for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program through the state Department of Employment and Economic Development are finally being accepted. By the due date of Thursday, at least three of those applications will be coming from Kandiyohi County.

The County has also invested ARPA money…

When the county received its more than $8 million in American Rescue Plan Act coronavirus relief funds, the board made the commitment to earmark around 75% of those monies for broadband. So far, the board has approved allocations to several projects across the county.

Some details…

At Tuesday’s meeting of the County Board, the commissioners approved signing and sending three letters of support to DEED for three different broadband projects. Border-to-Border awards grants of up to $5 million or 50% of the project cost, whichever is less. This year, there is approximately $95 million in funds available, thanks to an influx of cash from both the state’s general fund and from the federal government.

The county’s primary project, which is made clear in the letters of support, is the Kandiyohi County West project, that would bring fiber broadband to 645 locations in Dovre, Mamre, St. Johns and Arctander townships. The project is estimated to cost more than $9.8 million, and the EDC Broadband Committee is asking for $4.5 million from the DEED program.

“We are asking for that full 50%,” said Sarah Swedburg, business development manager with the EDC. “We need every penny that the state can give us.”