EVENT Mar 28: City of Jenkins looks at subsidizing broadband

Pine and Lakes Echo Journal reports

CITY OF JENKINS CROW WING COUNTY STATE OF MINNSOTA NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING ON PROPOSED BUSINESS SUBSIDY CRITERIA AND AGREEMENT NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that City Council of Jenkins, Crow Wing County, Minnesota will meet at or after 4:30 p.m. on March 28, 2023 at Jenkins City Hall located at 33861 Cottage Ave, Jenkins, Minnesota 56474 to conduct a public hearing to consider adopting criteria for the granting of business subsidies and also to consider granting a business subsidy to Emily Consolidated Telephone Company dba ECTC under Minnesota Statutes, Sections 116J.993 through 116J.995, as amended, to assist in expanding rural broadband capacity within the Township. A draft copy of the business subsidy criteria and Broadband Development Agreement are available for public inspection on and after the date of this notice by contacting or submitting a written request to the City Clerk.

EVENT March 27: Ramset County Connectivity Blueprint Community Report-Back

From the Connectivity Blueprint Team…

The final Connectivity Blueprint report will be released Mar. 27. You’re invited to attend the Community Report-Back on Monday, Mar. 27 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. over Zoom. Click here to register. 

We want you to hear what community members shared throughout the process, and how that has contributed to the final Connectivity Blueprint. We hope you’ll join us for this important community event. 

Today, Online Life is Woven into Daily Life for Many. 

Digital equity is at the foundation of an equitable future and an inclusive economy. The pandemic has accelerated the movement of opportunities in jobs, education, health, services, social connection and more online.

Across Ramsey County and Saint Paul, people rely on their connection to the internet for their daily lives. Every day or every week, Ramsey residents are going online to:

  • Connect with family and friends (85%)
  • Work (69%)
  • Shop (73%)
  • Go to School (45%)

Others are relying on internet access for occasional (monthly or rare) activities like:

  • Doctor appointments (67%)
  • Access public services (46%)
  • Access legal services (38%)

Update on Faribault County Border to Border grant

The Fairmont Sentinel reports

Faribault County continues to make great strides in getting its residents connected to the fiber optic network.

This was part of the message Economic Development Authority specialists Annie Nichols and Jennifer Howard shared with the Faribault County Commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday.

“The county received a grant in the amount of $2,886,206 from the State of Minnesota in 2021 to deploy fiber to Bricelyn, Delavan, Elmore and Frost,” Nichols said. “In 2022, Faribault County partnered with Bevcomm to begin the installation process.”

Nichols shared some of the accomplishments which have taken place in the last year.

“Over 17.7 miles of fiber lines have been laid. This has impacted 700 homes and 110 businesses,” she shared. “This year the construction process will continue by splicing the lines up to the dwellings and connecting to Bevcomm’s fiber network. Through this partnership, our county’s residents have more access to broadband which will provide a future-proof technology for successful telehealth, telework and school from home capabilities.”

Goodhue County Board chooses not to move forward with broadband plan at this time

I’m so used to posting news about counties investing in broadband in their community, it’s unusual to see a county choose not to invest but it looks like that’s what Goodhue is choosing. As the Kenyon Leader reports

Concerned by the sizable price tag, the Goodhue County Board of Commissioners has pumped the brakes on a proposed expansion of broadband internet backed by Dennison Mayor Jeffrey Flaten.

The proposal from Twin Cities-based OurTech Co-Op, a recently launched Technology Services Cooperative, would provide broadband to 125 households and 80 businesses, farms or “community anchor institutions” which are currently considered to be underserved.

While the project would be OurTech’s first broadband project, the co-op is planning to partner with Quest Technology Services to complete the project’s construction. California-based Quest is among the largest and most experienced firms on the market, with four decades of experience.

It sounds like project included Dennison in Goodhue County, and Northfield and Wheeling townships in rural Rice County as well as surrounding rural area. It also sounds like the issue was the fact that Commissioners felt the towns were adequately served and the cost was too expensive to serve rural locations…

The project is pricey no matter how you cut it, with a cost of over $6.1 million. That’s a cost of roughly $30,000 per property covered. Almost all broadband projects recently funded by the board have had costs of $10,000 per property or less.

OurTech is seeking state grant dollars for about $4.6 million, but is asking both Rice and Goodhue counties to split the remainder. The city of Dennison hasn’t provided funding. The company says it has spent $18,500 on the project but didn’t commit to spending more.

They explain the cost, although I must admit I’m not sure I understand because I’m not sure if they are talking about strands of fiber of conduit…

The biggest reason for the exorbitant price tag is that the broadband would offer three lines to each household, setting the stage for a competitive market which OurTech Executive Director Jared Petersen would lower costs and increase product quality in the long run.

“Providers worry that if they have an open access model, it reduces their ability to command a higher price for their services,” Petersen told the commissioners at their Feb. 21 meeting. “By injecting an anti-trust model into the way we’re doing things, we’re returning power to the homeowner.”

They must have been looking to use ARPA funds…

At nearly $771,000, the proposed county share exceeds the less than $614,000 the county has in remaining funds for broadband expansion provided by the federal government’s American Rescue Plan. And it would cost more than any other project approved using that funding.

It sounds like a spirited discussion followed with some folks wanting better broadband despite the cost and others feeling like what they had was adequate. Red Wing is in Goodhue County and home to Red Wing Ignite, which is an economic development organization that promotes investment and use of fiber technology. So it seems ironic to have a discussion on the value of better broadband, especially at a time when many other counties are looking to invest.


Benton County Commissioner willing to invest $1.5 million in broadband project with Benton Communications

KSNI radio reports

Benton County residents will get high-speed fiber broadband internet after the Board of Commissioners approved an agreement with Benton Communications.

The county awarded the company $1.5 million to 483 rural addresses in unserved and underserved areas north of Highway 23. Packages will be offered in speeds ranging from 100Mbps upload/download up to one gigabyte upload/download.

The money comes from Benton Communications, the State of Minnesota Border to Border grants, and Benton County contributing $1.1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Benton Communications expects to begin work on laying the 148 miles of fiber in the fall and complete the project by June 2025.

Residents interested in broadband service should contact Benton Communications General Manager Cheryl Scapanski at 320-393-1112.

However, I think that the announcement of service may be premature. The agenda from the last Benton County Commissioners meeting (Feb 21 2023) indicates that the county discussed the opportunity to invest and support Benton County’s Border to Border proposal but they need to apply before knowing that it will happen. But fingers crossed for Benton County!

Fairmount County to invest $1.5M in ARPA funds in broadband – looking for proposals

The Fairmont Sentinel reports

The Martin County Board of Commissioners has authorized a historic $1.5 million of funding for rural broadband development assistance. The partnership program would help cover up to half the cost of expanding fiber internet to people’s homes in areas currently underserved by existing internet infrastructure and is expected to generate at least $3 million worth of infrastructure improvements.

While larger cities in Martin County such as Fairmont, Sherburn and Truman already have easy access to broadband, a diminishing economy of scale means speeds quickly decrease for people living outside of these areas. In rural areas the increased distance between homes means fewer customers per mile of fiber cable installation and higher costs installation for internet service providers. Subsidizing rural broadband development can help reduce inequalities in access.

They are using ARPA funds…

The program is financed by federal funds disbursed as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed in 2021 and would help pay for the last mile of fiber installation to the premises capable of reaching download and upload speeds of at least 500 megabytes per second. In order to qualify a project must serve an area which is classified as underserved or unserved by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Office of Broadband. These areas have download speeds that don’t exceed 25 megabits per second and upload speeds that don’t exceed three megabits per second.

They are looking for proposals to get the work done…

Program funds will be dispersed in the form of a competitive grant application wherein projects are scored on a variety of criteria. The application provided by the county emphasizes providing the largest degree of improvement to the largest number of people as well as the project’s readiness and sustainability. Community participation, economic impact, broadband adoption assistance and the percent of public funds used in the project are scoring criteria on the application but are weighted to a less extent.

Applications for the program opened on Feb. 21 and applications must be submitted ahead of March 31 in order to be included in the initial review. After the initial review has been concluded the county will continue to disburse funds until all $1.5 million has been depleted. Because the county has yet to review project proposals estimates regarding the number of households the program will serve and the bandwidth improvements it would provide are currently unavailable.

Willmar MN is looking at Open Access Model with Home Town Fiber

I wrote about this project a week ago, but more info might be helpful, especially if the concept of open access network is new. Willmar Radio reports

A Maple Grove company wants to build a fiber optic network to provide high-speed broadband internet service to every home and business in the city of Willmar. Willmar Planning and Development Director Justice Walker says it would not cost city taxpayers one cent, and the company, Home Town Fiber, would share their profits with the city, profits they would generate by renting the network to any Internet Service Provider, or ISP, that wants to use it.

Justice Walker answers a series of questions about the open access model, which is a great way to get folks interested. I’ll share the abbreviated answers that the radio station shared in writing. Check out the website for full answers

…Walker says in communities in others states where an Open Access Fiber Broadband Network exists, they are popular with ISPs…

…Home Town Fiber would bond, with the city’s help, to pay for the project and pay off the bonds through the profits they generate. The initial proposal was for 19.3 million dollars, but Walker says by working with the city to install the fiber as the city works on street projects, the costs will go down…

…Right now city officials are working on creating a contract with Home Town Fiber. If successful, Willmar would have some of the fastest internet in the state.

Broadband expanding in Cuyuna Range area (Crow Wing County)

The Iron Range Resources & rehabilitation enewsetter, The Ranger, reports

Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) is expanding its broadband fiber optic network to approximately 500 unserved or underserved homes, businesses and community institutions within the Cuyuna Lakes area. All locations will have a minimum service of 250mbps download and upload, with service of 1Gbps download and upload available. Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation supported the project with a $742,850 Broadband Infrastructure grant to CTC. The total project investment is over $5.7 million.
“The existing communications infrastructure throughout the Cuyuna Range is outdated and does not meet the needs and demands of families, schools or businesses,” said Joe Buttweiler, CTC’s chief strategy officer. “This became very apparent with the onset of the pandemic and during the past three years when education, health care and the overall economy became incredibly reliant on broadband.”
The three largest employers in the area are Cuyuna Regional Medical Center, Crosby-Ironton School District and Graphic Packaging International. They represent industries that have come to depend on fast, reliable broadband for daily operations as well as providing online services such as telehealth and distance learning.
Buttweiler explained that access to broadband is as imperative today as electricity was 75 years ago. A reliable fiber optic network is the backbone necessary to provide rural residents, businesses, schools, community centers, remote workers, farmers and visitors with access to the benefits of unlimited bandwidth, cost efficiency and reliability. Residents in the Cuyuna Lakes service area do not currently have access to quality or affordable internet service for everyday needs and essential services.
CTC’s network infrastructure is anticipated to evolve into the future. The newly serviced locations from the project will have the capability to be upgraded and grow with CTC as it works toward broadband services of 2, 5 or even 10Gb.
Other project partners include the State of Minnesota’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)-CV Broadband Grant, Crow Wing County and CTC.
CTC is a member-owned cooperative established in 1952 and based in Brainerd, with additional offices in Baxter and Crosby. It has 16,000 residential and business members and 75 employees that serve as local support teams across northern Minnesota. It originated as a telephone service provider and has since added television and internet services for homes, businesses, cabins and apartment buildings throughout the state.
Email Whitney Ridlon for Broadband Infrastructure grant information, or call her at 218-735-3004.

OPPORTUNITY: Broadband survey in Renville County

This is an opportunity for folks who live in Renville County and a good example for counties that need better broadband. A survey is a good step to figuring out where you are in terms of how many people feel like they are well served and where you want to go in terms of who wants more and what they are doing with it. Renville County posts

Much of Renville County is still under-served or unserved when it comes to broadband internet connectivity.  Renville County residents and businesses are invited to take this short Broadband Survey that will be open until March 31, 2023.  The more we know, the better positioned the county will be to partner with other entities to develop broadband solutions for our region.
Each household that completes the Renville County Broadband Internet Survey will be placed into a drawing to win a Renville County tourism prize package.
CLICK HERE to take the Broadband Survey.

Willmar City building an open access fiber network with Hometown Fiber

West Central Tribune reports…

Willmar City Council authorized staff to move forward with drafting a contract with Hometown Fiber to build out a $19.3 million open-access fiber network with a speed of up to 10 gigabytes per second.

If all goes as planned, the city of Willmar will have a $19.3 million open-access fiber broadband network with coverage throughout the city and speeds from one to 10 gigabytes per second in the next three years — all at no cost to taxpayers.

Here are the details…

Along with installing the infrastructure at no cost to the city, Hometown Fiber will maintain the network for the foreseeable future and has agreed to revenue sharing with the city of at least $250,000 per year, according to Walker.

Revenue bonds would be issued to pay for the construction of the network, which would be paid by the revenue generated by the network.

“As far as why the city of Willmar is getting such a good deal from Hometown Fiber is they need proof of concept,” Walker said. “(Open-access fiber networks do) not exist in the state of Minnesota and, right now, we’re just in a really good situation — a lot of coincidences have really just kind of come together to work out for us that we have such a great deal and that it’s an open access fiber network opportunity.”

Info on the options they didn’t select…

The broadband RFP selection committee was formed several months ago to review the requests for proposals from broadband internet service providers to increase access to broadband internet service in Willmar.

The city also received proposals from two other internet providers — Vibrant and Windstream.

The committee immediately set aside the Vibrant proposal due to only offering a partial build-out more focused on the industrial park and being very noncommittal on a timeline for a complete build-out or how much it would cost the city.

The other proposal was from Windstream, which is currently building out a fiber network that will provide coverage for about 50% of Willmar at no cost to the city, according to Walker. Its proposal to partner with the city for a complete build-out was still only a partial build-out, focusing only on the main part of the city.

For complete coverage of the city north of the railroad tracks, into the industrial park, and south of Willmar Avenue, Windstream wanted the city to provide $4.7 million. The city would have to issue general obligation bonds, meaning taxpayers would foot the bill, according to Walker.

Bois Forte Band of Chippewa expands broadband on the Iron Range

The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board reports in their e-newsletter…

Bois Forte Band of Chippewa is constructing a fiber-to-the-home buildout to bring high speed broadband to its reservation. The original project began three years ago and included about 440 homes within the reservation boundaries. Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation supported the initial project with a $579,272 Broadband Infrastructure grant. Other funding partners included Shakopee Mdewakanton Community ($600,000) and Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development ($1,158,545).
Bois Forte recently received a $19.8 million grant from National Telecommunications and Information Administrations (NTIA) Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. The funding will enable Bois Forte to continue its commitment to broadband and build out reservation areas surrounding Lake Vermilion, city of Orr and Pelican Lake, connecting an additional 3,200 homes.
When both projects are complete, a combined total of more than 3,600 homes, numerous businesses and several community facilities will be connected.
Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) will oversee the project design, engineering and construction of 375 miles of new fiber optic cable. In its assessment process, CTC concluded that 98% of the locations within the project area are unserved meaning they lack broadband speeds of less than 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. When the project is complete, the locations will have access to speeds of over 1 Gigabit per second.
“Bois Forte is continually working to improve the economic viability and quality of life for our bandmembers,” said Bois Forte Information Technology Director Randy Long. “Broadband service is one of the key areas we are focusing on. Currently, it is the largest barrier limiting us from competing and attracting jobs within the reservation area. It will also help our families be better connected to schools, medical facilities and cultural activities.”
Bois Forte Band of Chippewa (also referred to as Ojibwe) is a sovereign, federally recognized Native American Tribal Nation whose people have lived in northeastern Minnesota for centuries. Their reservation land is located within the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation service area. In addition to the residential homes, there are approximately 25 businesses that are either tribal government-owned or privately-owned.
Email Whitney Ridlon for Broadband Infrastructure grant information, or call her at 218-735-3004.

Kandiyohi County is looking at $400,000 ARPA funding for broadband

West Central Tribune reports

The Kandiyohi County push to extend high-speed broadband across the county continues. At Tuesday’s meeting of the Kandiyohi County Board , the Kandiyohi County Broadband Committee will be requesting additional American Rescue Plan Act dollars to help fund a two-part, three-township project.

The project would expand high-speed broadband through Harrision, Lake Elizabeth and East Lake Lillian townships. The ARPA request is for $399,725. The committee is also asking for a letter of support from the county board to go with the project’s state Border to Border grant application. The county hopes to be awarded 75% of the project total, or $1.49 million.

Martin County Commissioners are looking at better broadband options

The Fairmont Sentinel reports

During its meeting on Jan. 17, the Martin County Board of Commissioners moved forward with plans for a grant program to help fund broadband development in rural Martin County. The program would use federal funding from the American Rescue Plan, passed in 2021, to help cover the cost of last mile broadband installation in parts of the county that are currently unserved or underserved by existing broadband infrastructure.

“Our goal is to make sure every household in Martin County has access to high speed broadband,” said Joshua Shuetz, a community and business development specialist who works with the county.

In the current form of the proposal the county would commit $1.5 million to cover up to half the cost of broadband improvements in parts of the county where wired download speeds are less than 100 mbps and upload speeds are less than 20 mbps. Because the program would cover up to half the cost of broadband projects, it’s expected to stimulate at least twice this amount in broadband improvements.

The goal is to serve everyone, not just in towns…

While most cities in Martin County such as Fairmont, Sherburn, Granada, Truman and Trimont already have broadband, access rapidly drops off outside of city limits. Many people may have an internet cable that runs near their homes but have not yet been connected to their service providers.

“There might be someone out in the country who has fiber running close to them but it could be as little as a half mile or a quarter mile and it’s not to their house so they got nothing. Last mile tends to be the most expensive so that’s why we’re so laser focused on that,” said Schuetz.

While a future state or federal program could provide more assistance to the remainder of the county Schuetz highlighted the importance of local entities taking the first steps towards improving broadband access.

Currently Martin County ranks 71 (our of 87) for broadband access in Minnesota. This step might help them climb the ranks, especially if they are ready to move forward even before the upcoming federal funds are available.

ISP changes in Alexandria MN as ALP Utilities sells its fiber to Arvig

The Institute for Local Self Reliance (Muninetworks) reports

In an announcement last week, Alexandria, Minnesota’s (pop. 15,000) electric and water utility (ALP Utilities) announced it would be selling its business-facing fiber network to Arvig, a 40-percent employee-owned Internet Service Provider (ISP) that has 54,000 subscribers across urban and rural Minnesota. The deal was for 130 business accounts, including 77 routes miles of fiber and 13 additional miles of conduit, for a total of $3.25 million. Consideration of the move goes at least back to October of last year.

The move sunsets the last of the city’s retail municipal network infrastructure, which began as a joint project with Runestone Electric Association in the 1990s that offered DSL service to homes and businesses before expanding to include some fiber offered to local businesses in the early 2000s, and continued today with some additional dark fiber offerings as part of its portfolio. The goal, then as now, was to see how the utility could intervene to improve connectivity options for residents in the area. Christopher spoke with General Manager Al Cowser in 2016 about the efforts’ origins and progress in its first two decades of life.

So what does that mean?

The sale to Arvig allows ALP Utilities to continue to focus on its core services (electric and water), while doing what it can to use its assets to partner with a provider with a good track record of working in the area. Business subscribers should see no interruption of service, and Arvig has indicated plans to expand in the area, including out beyond town limits where options are considerably fewer. Arvig and the utility, Cash shared, also plan joint trenching projects as the utility continues to underground its electric services over the coming years. Arvig also provides some network services to the city at present.

Independence will be seeking a Border to Border grant (Hennepin County)

Lake Pioneer reports

For years, the city of Independence has looked at ways to expand broadband access to more of its residents.

At the city council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 17, city administrator Mark Kaltsas asked the council to support a plan to seek grant money to help expand broadband services to 434 additional homes in the area. The council unanimously approved the motion.

Kaltsas told the council that Midco Communications has the potential to expand services to Independence residents. Midco would like to apply in March for the state’s Border to Border grant funds though the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to expand broadband services by 2025. The proposed expansion would be fiber-to-the-home and capable of 5 gb symmetrical speeds.

In addition to that grant, the city of Independence would also apply for a grant through the Hennepin County Broadband grant program that is accepting applications through Jan. 31. Kaltsas said that the city would apply for a $250,000 grant with Hennepin County.

Here are some of the details…

Kaltas also provided some numbers behind the project: Total homes covered would 434 (considered currently unserved by MN DEED), with the total cost of $2.9 million. Midco would contribute $1.49 million with an addition $1.49 million from the Border to Border grant. The Hennepin County Broadband grant would be applied to reduce the DEED request.

“There really is no risk or cost to the city to do it, other than staff time,” Kaltsas said of applying for the grants. “It really is that western area which we’ve so badly tried to get served with broadband, I think this is a good opportunity.”