Franconia hosts community meeting to learn more about broadband options

Last week, the Franconia Township Communications Committee on Broadband hosted a community meeting on broadband. By meeting I mean a BBQ in a gorgeous setting with people hanging around if you had any questions. There were dozens of people there. I was very impressed.

There were people from the Committee, folks from CTC and others.

They also had info on wind gardens. Apparently wind gardens were an issue in the area. A group of local citizens got involved. I don’t know the details but rumor has it when Franconia needed a group to push forward the broadband initiative, these guys fit the bill! I add that because I think it’s good advice for other communities – need help? Find helpers with a track record.

Also I want to share the PowerPoint the showed at the event, the info packet and survey results from a broadband survey done in Chisago County. These are good models for other communities and strong building blocks in Franconia.

Pro and Cons of a community network in Lakeland FLA: debate in editorials

An interesting debate happening in Lakeland -with commentary coming from locals and people far from the town. Here’s a run down of recent articles and editorials. It’s from Florida – but interesting to see what’s happening and sometimes more instructive when the players are far away:

From Aug 19 – Lakeland Commissioners look into broadband…

Lakeland commissioners want more information before making a decision on whether to move forward with launching a municipal-owned broadband service after reviewing a business plan provided by the city’s broadband consultant…

John Honker, CEO and president of Magellan, laid out a plan calling for Lakeland to borrow $17 million to begin building the necessary infrastructure and launch operations. The full estimate for a citywide network is $97.5 million.

“On Day 1, you won’t borrow $100 million, you will borrow as you go,” Mike Brossart, the city’s financial director, said. “You are not generating any revenue for the first 2 to 2½ years.”

If Lakeland can get 38% of city residents and 41% of businesses to sign up, Honker said it would receive approximately $9.5 million in revenue a year — $1 million less than his Aug. 5 estimate.

The city would need to get at least 27.5% of residents to sign up for service to break even

From Aug 24 – more on deciding whether to fund or not fund a network…

City leaders have to ask themselves one question on becoming a “Gig City”: What matters most when trying to determine if launching an internet service is the right move for Lakeland? …

“We would measure success by what we are able to provide through services and net as a contribution to pay off the debt and to provide revenue to the city,” Mayor Bill Mutz said.

Lakeland’s cost of building a fiber optic network capable of gigabit-speed internet can’t be stated without considering the city’s potential profit.

Magellan’s latest estimate states it would take 9-10 years for the city to begin seeing a net revenue if it chose to pay down its startup debt, or loans, as quickly as possible. Once the system is fully launched, Lakeland could make $9.5 million a year in revenue. That’s providing that 38% of residents and 41% of businesses sign up with suggested pricing for internet service starting at $20 a month.

Commissioner Justin Troller said he anticipates the city will see a higher take rate, possibly capturing 50% of the market, based on preliminary interest and community feedback.

“I don’t think it will be difficult for us to get our market share,” he said. “Our community is desperate for an alternative to the current providers.”

From Aug 27 – Editorial says broadband should be a priority…

It’s agreed that investment will need to be made, and one hopes the investment will be shouldered proportionately to the profits to be realized. As to profits, I believe our telephone company and our cable company are making far too much money, as they bombard innocent citizens with incessant direct mail and television advertising. If there is a chance of losing market share, this will ramp up exponentially.

Before I discuss the percent of households needed to buy into this program, let me comment that I was told that stock corporations have a “reasonable expectation” of profits for their investors. Funny that other investors have “risk.” I will go door-to-door to find supporters for municipal internet service, and remind the powers-that-be that affordable basic internet for seniors should be their priority.

From Aug 28 – editorial against broadband funding…

Lakeland leaders should cease potential plans to build their own broadband network and avoid being unduly influenced by Magellan Advisors, the “yes men” of the broadband study industry.

Although the plan would call for the estimated $80 million cost to be paid back by subscribers, a recent poll showed that only one-third of Lakeland internet customers are unsatisfied with their current provider. And the city is not an internet desert, as both Charter and Frontier service nearly all Lakeland residents with broadband-speed internet. Satellite providers cover anyone who doesn’t have fiber access….

Lakeland residents should insist their City Commission avoid the mistakes made by cities like Provo, Utah, and Bristol, Virginia, and not build this unnecessary network.

Johnny Kampis, Vinemont, Alabama (writes for Taxpayers Protection Alliance Foundation)

From Sep 6 – editorial supports the broadband network…

As explained by my colleagues at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in the report “Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies,” the analysis of the “expert” quoted in this article, Christopher Yoo, contained factual errors and questionable data. Notably, Yoo misunderstood the debt structure of three cities included in his analysis, calling into serious question the accuracy and competence of his conclusions. Though Yoo admitted his mistake, he failed to correct the report and has continued to repeat his flawed findings.

Also from Sep 6 – editorial doesn’t support a community network…

Taxpayer money has been spent for expert information on the pros and cons of Lakeland’s city-run broadband system, and they should listen to the experts. Cost overruns are not uncommon; think Tigertown.

With pensions already consuming a large portion of the city budget (at present more growth, more city employees, more pensions, longer life spans, more money), it would seem unwise to proceed with any projects that could potentially become very costly.

Le Sueur County helps Bevcomm prepare for MN broadband grant application

Le Sueur County News reports…

Le Sueur County Commissioners met with several cable providers July 16 to explore the possibility of installing fiber optic cable across the county to reach under-served rural areas. The internet service provider Bevcomm expressed interest in the project and the county commissioners voted to approve a new loan program to help the company with its grant application.

Here are more details…

However, these plans face a major obstacle: cost. To reach unserved areas, it could cost between $16.5 million and $19 million depending on how many households are serviced. In order to be able to pay for the project, Konechne said the county will need to find an ISP willing to contribute $3-4 million in equity and a grant of at least $1 million.

County Administrator Darrell Pettis came to the Board of Commissioners during a July 22 meeting to report the county’s progress in courting ISP partners. Several telephone, cable and internet service providers, including Bevcomm, Jaguar and the Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative (MVEC) expressed an interest in a partnership. Among the three providers who have expressed interest, Pettis stated that Bevcomm was the most intrigued.

Bevcomm has asked the county if they are willing to offer a loan within the range of $20,000 and $30,000. This would be used to apply for a $5 million state grant.

“The program is more of a points getter,” said Pettis. “If they can show some county or local government interest and support, then they can get some extra points to go toward their grant program.”

The county, however, did not have a loan program for this type of project, so Pettis asked if the commissioners would be interested in creating one. The program would need to be created before the July 31 grant application deadline.

Commissioner Steven Rohlfing asked what would happen if the Bevcomm refused to pay back the loan.

“We use the courts,” Pettis answered. “If we had a revolving loan program they would have a responsibility to pay us back.”

“They have no intention of actually using the dollars,” Pettis added. “The intention is to get points.”

The commissioners voted 4-0 to create a revolving loan program specifically for broadband economic development. Commissioner Lance Wetzel was absent.

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

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.

Broadband expansion happening in rural areas of Region Five

The Wadena Pioneer Journal reports…

Two area internet providers plan to hit the ground running this spring with expansion projects that will get folks in Todd and Wadena counties within reach of high-speed internet.

They’re able to lay fiber optic technology in these unserved and under-served areas thanks to millions of dollars in grant funding.

The projects are a cooperative effort involving regional telecommunications companies Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) and West Central Telephone Association (WCTA), with assistance from the Region Five Development Commission (R5DC) and Sourcewell.

CTC is involved in a $2.5 million project that will give about 500 residential homes the opportunity to tap into 1 gig speeds. This project area covers homes in the Sylvan Shores area south of Staples including homes around Philbrook, Fawn Lake, Moran Township and surrounding areas. It includes about 130 route miles of fiber.

WCTA is also working…

Meanwhile West Central Telephone Association is continuing work to the west and south of Wadena and southwest of Staples.

“We’ve completed the construction phase for the year, other than the final splicing crews,” WCTA marketing director Geri Salmela said of the Wadena project. “Our teams are following the splicing crews to connect customers now, and our office staff is busy scheduling installations for roughly 130 customers. When complete, these customers will have access to 1,000 Mbps broadband, also known as Gigabit service. …

The WCTA project comes at a cost of about $9,000 per premise or $26,000 a mile. It enters into areas that were not served before by high-speed internet.

Deployment started with a feasibility study…

Since 2015, Sourcewell has made a combined total of $500,000 of investments to complete feasibility and engineering for regional broadband projects. In partnership with CTC and WCTA, these substantial outlays have leveraged funding through the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Office of Broadband. R5DC’s Executive Director Cheryal Lee Hills stated in a news release, “Our region is extremely fortunate to have a partner like Sourcewell who offers unparalleled contract purchasing solutions, services to our schools; local units of government and communities, then continues above and beyond to invest in critical issues that make a difference in our quality of life.”

Lake County accepts $8.4M bid for Lake Connections from Pinpoint Holdings

Lake County News Chronicle reports…

The Lake County Board of Commissioners has awarded the highest bid, $8.4 million, for Lake Connections, the county’s municipal broadband project, during a meeting Tuesday, Dec. 18, in Two Harbors.

The highest successful bid was the best and final offer from Pinpoint Holdings Inc. in Cambridge, Neb. The board unanimously accepted the resolution to accept the bid; Commissioner Rick Hogenson was absent.

Pinpoint was selected from the final four bidders, which also included Mediacom Communications Corp., Cooperative Light and Power Association and Hanson Communications.

Mediacom’s best and final offer of $8.25 million was selected as the backup bid in the event Pinpoint doesn’t close the sale.

And a little background…

In 2010, the board received a $56 million loan and $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service to construct the network. Over three years, more than 1,200 miles of a fiber network was built in Lake County and parts of eastern St. Louis County. Most of the network was completed in June 2015.

In June 2017, the county entered into a deferral agreement with RUS for principal and interest on the condition the county sell the network to a private company or entity. Two months later, the county executed a memorandum of understanding with RUS in which RUS agreed to accept to the sale price of Lake Connections in full satisfaction of the county’s debt for construction of the network.

When the deferral agreement was executed, the county owed approximately $48.5 million on the RUS loan.

This means the federal government stands to lose approximately $40 million on the broadband project.

I wrote about Lake County and the impact of better broadband in the community a year ago. Using a pretty conversation formula, we figured out the annual economic benefit for broadband in the community was $13.7 million, which means in less than 3 years the community will have seen an economic benefit of more than $40 million. Now I recognize that that benefit won’t go to the federal government. BUT it does help realize the cost to the community of not investing.