Dakota County looks at Rights of Way and Broadband Joint Powers

This afternoon’s post is unapologetically wonky. I attended a Dakota County Commissioner’s meeting where they discussed changes to their Management of Public Rights of Way due to changes in state statute to accommodate small cell equipment placement and an agreement to create the Dakota Broadband Board Joint Powers. You can find minutes of the meeting online.

I thought this might be helpful for other communities that may need to make similar changes and/or are looking at Joint Powers agreements for shared broadband management. (Dakota County is always good about sharing their broadband related notes and templates!)

First notes from the Public Hearing To Receive Comments And To Amend Ordinance 126, Management Of Public Right Of Way are on pages 43-45. And you can see the proposed ordinance changes to the Ordinance on pages 46-75.

I was tempted to paste sections here – but frankly it’s easier to read the PDF with changes in red. It is interesting to see how they balance wanting to give utility access to citizens with community safety and aesthetics.

There are sections that I found of particular interest:

  • 103.49 Special Event Permit (pg 55)
  • 103.52 Small Wireless Facility. (pg 55) – gets into the size of equipment
  • Subd. 3. Small Wireless Facility Conditions. (pg 62)
  • Mapping – it would be nice to have public access to where the facilities were located for planning

Next – the Authorization To Execute Joint Powers Agreement To Create Dakota Broadband Board Joint Powers Organization (pages 327-329 ). At the October 31, 2017 County Board Meeting, the County Board authorized the County Board Chair to execute a joint powers agreement to create the Dakota Broadband Board (DBB) joint powers entity to manage the Dakota County Institutional Network (I-Net). After the County Board adopted that resolution, some cities that have indicated they wish to participate in the DBB raised questions about various terms in the joint powers agreement. After numerous discussions between the DBB consultant, Craig Ebeling, city attorneys and the County Attorney’s Office, the questions and proposed modifications to certain terms in the joint powers agreement have been resolved.

The revised Joint Powers Agreement is found on pages 331-356. Here’s the Table of Contents

  1. Statement of Purpose and Powers to be Exercised ………….1
  2. Manner of Exercising Powers; Creation of Dakota County Broadband Board ……1
  3. Defined Terms …………………………..1
  4. Participant ……………………3
  5. Board……………………………………………….4
  6. Acquisition of Interests in System Components……………….7
  7. Ownership of System Components……………………..7
  8. Expansion of System……………………………………..8
  9. Operating and Maintenance Cost Sharing……………..8
  10. Financing Initial I-Net and Initial C-Net Capital Improvements …….8
  11. Revenue Generation…………………..9
  12. Establishment of a Relocation Pool; Submission of Capital Plans……9
  13. Default; Remedies…………..10
  14. Limitation of Liability; Indemnification …10
  15. Termination of Board; Disposition of Assets……..11
  16. Amendments………………………………11

 

 

 

 

Humphrey School recognizes innovative local government broadband projects

The University of Minnesota reports…

Across the state of Minnesota, local governments are finding creative ways to deliver services to their residents with greater impact and at lower cost. Examples include expanding broadband access in rural Minnesota communities, improving educational outcomes for American Indian students, and enhancing emergency response to people with mental health issues.

Those projects and nearly two dozen others are being recognized by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, as recipients of its 11th annual Local Government Innovation Awards (LGIA).

Sunrise Township was recognized for their work getting better broadband through CenturyLink and a State Border to Border Broadband grant…

Township Category: Sunrise Township—Broadband Initiative
Sunrise Township in Chisago County spearheaded an extensive effort consisting of community meetings, required notices, and securing approval from 50 percent of property owners, to bring broadband infrastructure to its residents. A collaborative effort between residents and the township board led to creation of a Subordinate Service District (SSD) to help facilitate the installation and financing of high-speed internet through Century Link. The township received a grant and began acquiring a bond, while Century Link assists with funding and works to install fiber optics to SDD area residents by December 2018.

Traverse County also got a nice nod for their work on a wireless project at the county level.

$2.57 million in tax abatement bonds proposed for broadband in Nobles County

The Worthington Globe reports…

After months of discussing funding options for Lismore Cooperative Telephone Company (LCTC) to cash-flow the construction of a multi-million dollar broadband project in Nobles County, commissioners on Tuesday authorized the issuance of $2.57 million in taxable general obligation tax abatement bonds.

Under state law, notification to owners of property included in the tax abatement project isn’t required. Property owners will not see any difference in their tax statements compared to those who don’t have property listed in the abatement.

Mark Loosbrock, representing LCTC, said the sale of the tax abatement bonds will “work in our cash flow very well.”

The resolution authorizing the bonds was approved on a 4-0 vote, with Commissioner Gene Metz abstaining because of his position on the board of LCTC.

The projected interest rate on the bonds is slightly less than 3 percent, said Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson, and will be repaid over a 15-year period by LCTC.

Ely is doing a broadband feasibility – if you’re in Ely you can help

Ely is looking to get input from local residents and businesses about their broadband use and need. I wanted to share to help spread the word to folks in Ely. But also it’s a good model for any community that might be looking to do the same.

 

The Ely Echo reports…

Ely area residents and business owners, your input is needed.
In the quest to create a broadband fiber loop downtown and improve high-speed internet service in the city limits and into the surrounding townships, area leaders have commissioned a pair of public surveys.
One is for residents and the other is for business owners, and both come as part of an ongoing area broadband feasibility study that encompasses the boundaries of the Ely School District.

A little background on the project…

Earlier in the year, Ely was named one of six Blandin Broadband Communities in northeastern Minnesota, and a $25,000 grant from the Grand Rapids-based foundation will help fund the feasibility study.
The study is the next step in what could be an effort to improve internet service in the Ely area.
City officials have talked about establishing a fiber loop downtown and expanding the network outward, and Langowski said efforts aren’t limited to the city limits.
In a nod to those who live outside of town and have wrestled with slow internet speeds, Langowski said the project could involve towers for improved wireless service in the outlying areas.

And a link to the survey…

The survey is already up on the city’s website (www.ely.mn.us) and has been distributed via e-mail to some interested parties.
The residential survey includes questions about demographics, satisfaction with and the level of current internet service, current internet speed, how respondents use the internet, reliability of current internet service. Respondents are also asked how much they’d be willing to pay for faster, higher quality internet service.
Business owners are asked similar questions, as well as specific questions about how their business might use faster service and the importance of redundancy – which provides additional protection and network availability in case of technical failure.

Case study of Cook County MN – building a case, building partnerships, building broadband

CoBank recently published a helpful (and inspiring!) report on Making the Move to Broadband: Rural Electric Co-ops Detail Their Experience. The whole report is worth a read if you’re looking at tackling rural broadband and even you’re not an electric cooperative. One of the communities they highlight is Cook County and old ARRA project deployed by Arrowhead Electric Cooperative.

A little bit of background on the project. IN 2009, Cook County was listed as least served counties in Minnesota; last I looked they had 94 percent coverage for speeds of 25/3 and 100/20. ARRA Funding is the impetus for the jump. (Although they were also part of Blandin’s MIRC program, which certainly helped boost use of the network.)

The case study is in the form of an interview – Jenny Kartes from Arrowhead talking to Mark Doyle from CoBank. I am just going to pull out the section (pg 43-44) that I think will have the most value for the greatest number of reader – so folks with and without a relationship to a cooperative – although I have to say the ethos for the cooperative certainly seems like a good fit for getting rural broadband done…

MD: Did you partner with anyone?

JK: We did. At the beginning of our project, we had a number of options as to how we were going to do this. Were we going to be the retail provider or the wholesale provider? We found quickly that there is a large learning curve especially related to phone and the assets you need for providing phone service. We wanted a partner with our same values and good industry knowledge. We found Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC) out of Brainerd, Minnesota, which as a cooperative really had our same values and has been doing this for a very long time. They were a good fit for us, and they were very excited to work with us as well. It was a good partnership as a small entity. There was a lot more on the front end than we had originally realized. We did indeed need that partnership and rely heavily on it.

MD: How are you funding the project?

JK: We funded this project through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the broadband initiative program. It was funded through a $16.1 million federal grant and loan: $11.3 million in grant and $4.8 million in federal loan. After our application, we realized that due to our terrain and the seasonality of our customers, it was going to cost a bit more than that. We then went to our county, and they

provided $4 million more in grant funds to us. It was a $20 million project in total, roughly 75 percent grant funded.

MD: Did you collect contributions in aid to construction from your subscribers?

JK: On the initial rollout of our project we did not. We had a window of a few years, as we were rolling out our construction, when we allowed people to essentially sign up for free construction to the home. It did not require them to take service. Once that window closed, and if you did not sign up within that window, then we do require 100 percent aid to construction from the subscriber. Since our subscribers are not necessarily members of our cooperative, we do require them to fund that construction.

MD: Was the project on time and on budget?

JK: Based on our original projections, it was not. As I mentioned earlier, our original budget was significantly short and we required an additional $4 million to complete the project. We then reworked our budget a few times, and we did stay very close to our second budget that included the additional $4 million.

 

However, that did create a timing issue as far as securing the additional funds to complete the project. The project was initially to be done at the end of 2013, and we finalized the project in 2015. Construction delays were mainly due to the terrain. We have a lot of rock, and construction is slow going in our service area. Additionally, the very short construction season in northern Minnesota

slowed us down.

MD: Did you encounter any surprises or challenges along the way?

JK: Yes. I could talk for quite a while on that. Having detailed maps and accurate plant records would have saved us a lot of frustration and a lot of time as the project began. We also did not realize the importance of on-site engineering, on-site contractor management and constant quality assurance throughout the project, at every point. We ended the project with those elements in place. We also ended up changing some of our contractors/vendors mid-project. Many of our contract crews were a bit surprised by our service territory and the time it took to complete work, never doing work up here before.

MD: What is your long-term measurement for the success of this project?

JK: The long-term measurement for success, being that our goal was to just get our community connected, is that the broadband project and division can be financially self-sustaining. We do not want the project to have any risk for our electric members. We’re not looking to make large profits off of it. If it can stand on its own financially, and provide good customer service and good broadband service to our community, we will call it a success.

Feasibility study in Pipestone County find wireless more affordable broadband option

The Pipestone County Star reports…

The most viable way to provide broadband internet service to under-served parts of Pipestone County is with a wireless system, and even that is not feasible without a grant.

Those were the findings of a broadband internet study Pipestone County commissioned earlier this year to find out what it would take to provide broadband access to the under-served parts of the county. Doug Dawson, President of CCG Consulting, and Mark Mrla, business unit manager with Finley Engineering, presented the results of the study Sept. 12 to the Pipestone County Board.

The study examined three scenarios to bring broadband to 1,747 homes where it is not currently available: Build a complete fiber system; build a hybrid fiber and wireless system; or an all wireless system. An all-fiber system requiring 458 miles of fiber was estimated to cost $12,359,445, a hybrid system $5,327,253, and an all wireless system $1,002,809.

A factor on the table…

Meanwhile, Woodstock Communications expects to find out before the end of the year if it will receive a $363,000 Minnesota Border to Border Broadband grant to build a hybrid fiber/wireless system estimated to cost $967,000.

The company’s plan differs from the $5,327,253 hybrid plan in the feasibility study because Woodstock would use existing infrastructure and less fiber, relying more heavily on wireless service.

So they are waiting to figure out what to do…

Sharon Hanson, Pipestone County administrator, said the county plans to wait and see if Woodstock Communications receives the grant it has applied for and will share the broadband study with other internet providers if requested.

Pipestone County undertook the study in collaboration with five other counties. Its share of the $252,500 total cost of the study was $39,798, half of which was paid by a grant.

But the feasibility study contractors think that info will remain pertinent…

Dawson said the cost of fiber construction has remained steady over the last decade, so the costs in the report will probably be reliable for quite a while.

Fond du Lac Break ground on $8.2 million FTTH Project

This summer, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa broke ground on their fiber to the home project. Yay! Sadly, I wasn’t able to make the event. Thankfully Zachary N. Dunaiski from the Fond du Lac newspaper was willing to share notes and a picture with me.

I have done training on Fond du Lac. I have worked with entrepreneurs who run their businesses from their smartphone. I’ve worked with Elders on how to use Facebook to share (and tag) historical photos to help put names to faces. I’ve worked with people who want to use broadband to help their kids learn and help themselves earn a living. Earning a living may come from setting up an eBay shop or putting a profile on LinkedIn. In fact, one of my favorite teaching stories is the father and son duo who came to class. In class they decided to join LinkedIn – mostly on the premise that the father’s connections could be good for the son’s job search. BUT before the end of the class, the father (a pipe fitter) had a hit on his profile and a likely job lead!

In other words – this is a community that has built up demand. And now broadband supply is in the making.

The network cost is projected at $8.2 million. Two $3 million grants were secured from the USDA, Rural Development – Community Connect program. Fond du Lac Band is contributing $2.2 million to match.

Construction began last month (July 2017) and is expected to end October 2018. The project covers most of the Fond du Lac Reservation. The installation will include 160 miles of the main line fiber and 78 miles of drops or connections to the home. Also, there will be two Central offices located in Sawyer and Brookston. The project can provide connectivity to 1000 homes for both Band and Non-Band members.

Fond do Lac will benefit from this project with more than just business; it will also open up many opportunities such as Telemedicine, home health care, electronic health records, online schooling, and more. Additionally, the system is designed for voice, video, and data.