Rochester MN looks at municipal network – next decision to be made April 17 (today)

Rochester has been looking into a municipal network for a while. Back in 2010, the City Council thought about and then decided against a municipal network feasibility study. Then in 2015, Alcatel-Lucent has offered to do a broadband feasibility study for Rochester – for free. That report came out in 2016

The report included a capital investment of about $53 million on the city’s behalf, a cost that would have to be issued in bonds, raising the total investment to near $67 million.

And started a community-wide conversation. Now Gov Technology reports that another report is needed to help the community leaders makes a decision. And the price tag for that study is $47,000…

The further study would investigate whether a city-owned internet service could be sustained in the current market and what options exist for operating the service, which could include adding it to RPU’s lineup, creating a new department or seeking a private entity to provide oversight. …

The additional study discussed Monday would seek to determine whether the local market makes the effort feasible.

Council Member Ed Hruska said he was hoping to have more answers before spending additional city funds on the prospect of municipal broadband.

“I guess I was expecting a little bit more detail,” he said.

The council is expected to consider the funding request during its April 17 meeting [today].


Mark Erickson (RS Fiber) on the NPR Rural Life on how fiber retains youth (or calls them back)

The Call In: Rural Life is a NPR show based on phone calls from folks in rural areas. The host mentioned that challenges that come up on a regular basis include: broadband, healthcare and education. Last weekend they spoke to a retired teacher to Minnesota’s own Mark Erickson from RS Fiber.

The teacher spoke about the difficulty of keeping students in a rural area once they graduate. Mark chimed in with Renville and Sibley Counties’ use of fiber to encourage students to stay. He offers an explanation of how or why people in the area can afford to invest in broadband…

ERICKSON: We formed a cooperative, and the subscribers to our network are the owners. So let me give you an example. To build a fiber-optic network and connect people in towns, the cost per home or per business is about $2,500. To build that network and connect the farms, it’s about $10,000, about the cost of a used pickup.

Now, the people in this area felt that those kinds of per home, per farm investments are OK because what the Internet can do for education and health care is amazing. We just feel it’s an investment that the phone companies and cable companies are unable to make. So the folks in this very conservative part of Minnesota decided that they wanted to put their tax dollars on the line and enable this network.

And he mentions the reward of investment…

ERICKSON: Well, it helps the present businesses. We’ve had several here say that hooking up to the fiber network has increased their ability to do business greatly. But we also saw this as something for the future, like you allude to. We expect our children to leave our communities when they graduate from high school and go to college and learn about life. But they have to have a reason to return. And the millennials today, and those who follow, will find it difficult to come back to a community that doesn’t offer the kind of Internet connection that they want. What we have our fingers crossed for, and it looks pretty good, we believe we’ve attracted a four-year medical school to our area, which will change the face of our communities in a very positive way for a long, long time, if it happens. And that was a direct result of the fiber network.

How does one Minnesota farmer use broadband?

Recently the Daily Yonder published an article from Craig Settles on RS Fiber and the impact their wireless (25 Mbps symmetrical) service has had on one local farmer…

“I can download the maps from a cloud-based app to my iPad and desktop or access data on the cloud through a web browser that lets me determine the state of our planting and monitoring crops harvesting,” Rieke says. “Using a second iPad, we can log into the planter or combine and view a live stream of what’s happening at that moment.”

Broadband is also part of the automated security system at Rieke’s hog barns. And broadband allows him to collect and transmit planting and harvest data to improve productivity and get the most out of his inputs like fertilizer.  …

Besides mapping data with his on-the-ground machinery, Rieke says he can rent drones and cameras capable of providing general crop health.

“On a 40-acre field, I will pull about 20 grid points, which equates to about 300 soil cores,” he said. “I then input the data from these 20 grid points in an app that program creates soil maps. The harvest maps are created using GPS and sensors in the combine.”

For additional vital data, Rieke’s crop consultant flies over the fields to take pictures or videos, and uploads the content to a cloud storage system for Rieke to access later.

As Settles points out – it makes a case for rural broadband, even in farming areas that tend to have low population densities.


Kandiyohi County works on bond sale for Border to Border broadband network

Last month, I wrote about progress on the Kandiyohi-CTC Border to Border funded fiber upgrades. CTC was holding meetings to talk about the upgrades in the impacted and nearby areas. This week the community took another big step in their project.

According to the West Central Tribune

One more step was completed Tuesday as Kandiyohi County prepares to sell $5 million in tax abatement bonds to help fund the development of rural broadband.

The County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution Tuesday for property tax abatements totaling $5 million over 20 years. The move will have no impact on actual property taxes paid but is a requirement for the county to use tax abatement bonds as a financing mechanism.

Shelly Eldridge, senior municipal adviser with Ehlers, said it’s “the backup that supports the general obligation.”

This is the first time Kandiyohi County has sought this type of financing for an infrastructure project. Proceeds from the sale of the bonds will supply the local share of a $10 million broadband expansion in north central Kandiyohi County by Consolidated Telecommunications Co. of Brainerd.

MN Senate: Small wireless facilities collocation authorization discussion

Today I attended the Senate Committee meeting where they discussion small cell equipment collocation authorization. I’ll include my notes below. If you want the details, the video probably catches more than I did in my notes.

Spoiler alert: they voted to move this onto the Jobs Committee – but it wasn’t nor do I think it will be a slam dunk. They will continue the discussion there – although the Committee really asked all side to work on the issue before the next hearing and it seemed like the implication was that they should with a united approach if they wanted action.

The bill is an attempt to streamline deployment of small cell equipment throughout Minnesota to prepare for 5G wireless. Wireless providers (AT&T was there) are proponents. Cable providers do not support it. Local governments do not support the bill asis because they are the keepers of public property and would like more control over what is going to happen on it. They have concerns with size of equipment, safety of equipment and that one-size solution doesn’t fit all cities.

The Committee wondered if this bill was necessary – because wireless companies are already working with cities to get this done. A bill that created a state-level solution or at least standards would make it easier for the wireless companies.

All sides were happy to continue to work toward a solution – although not universally optimistic given the timeline. And all seemed to feel that if they come up with a solution that makes everyone happy that Minnesota might be the first in the nation to do it.

There was some discussion about moving this to Jobs Committee because jobs and broadband came up and that is the committee where other broadband and job discussions are happening.

I think that will be helpful as a few legislators seemed to think that 5G might be a solution for rural broadband. But I have heard clearly that while 5G will be a great solution for heavily populated areas (being tested in Uptown Mpls now) and downtown areas or a campus that it is not a solution for rural areas.

S.F. 561-Osmek: Small wireless facilities collocation authorization. (Handouts) Continue reading

Pipestone County is looking at regional broadband options

According to the Pipestone County Star

Pipestone County Commissioners are considering working with Lincoln, Murray, Lyon, Yellow Medicine and Chippewa counties to find out what it would take to provide broadband service to under-served areas of the counties and gauge interest in the availability of such service. …

Pipestone County Commissioners are considering working with Lincoln, Murray, Lyon, Yellow Medicine and Chippewa counties to find out what it would take to provide broadband service to under-served areas of the counties and gauge interest in the availability of such service.

They are hoping that they can have the same success as Nobles County…

Nobles County is one nearby example of how a study and provision of service could be conducted and funded.

Tom Johnson, Nobles County administrator, said the Nobles Economic Opportunities Network (NEON), received a $25,000 Blandin grant to study broadband needs in the county. The county contributed another $25,000 to cover the 50 percent match requirement of the grant.

The study, conducted by Finley Engineering, estimated that it would cost $20 million to provide service to the under-served areas of the county using 100 percent fiber. It also found a strong desire for service and the likelihood of a high participation rate among rural residents .

Johnson said Frontier and the Lismore Telephone Company reviewed the study. Lismore used the information to develop a plan to provide service to the under-served areas using a fiber/wireless hybrid system that includes a fiber loop throughout the county and several towers. The company received a $2.94 million Minnesota Broadband Grant
and will contribute an equal amount to complete the roughly $6 million project.

Hibbing is making a broadband plan – they want community input on Feb 7

Partially I share this to get folks in Hibbing informed and excited about an upcoming community meeting on broadband; partially I think it’s a great model for other communities. Hibbing is part of the IRBC cohort (described below) but that doesn’t mean communities outside the cohort can’t emulate what they are doing to get citizens engaged and moving on broadband.

The Hibbing Daily Tribune outlines the story…

Hibbing is among six communities in Blandin Foundation’s current cohort of Iron Range Broadband Communities. The intensive, two-year partnership with the foundation is based on advancing local broadband initiatives.

The communities’ efforts are also being backed by the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) and St. Louis County, both of which have committed additional resources and funding.

With this designation, the communities will have the opportunity to access up to $75,000 for training, planning and programs, as well as access up to $20,000 for broadband infrastructure planning.

The opportunity…

The Hibbing cohort will do that at a Broadband Community Vision Session from 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7, in the Hibbing Community College (HCC) dining room. The session is open to the public, but an RSVP is required. …

The vision session will include a short presentation on the overall project and its current state. After gathering feedback, attendees will be broken down into smaller groups based on areas of interest.

“We have about 50 people planning to attend so far,” said Fedo, while highly encouraging RSVPing. “We really want the various sectors of the community to be represented.”

Once priorities and potential projects are identified, the cohort will have a handful of opportunities over an 18-month time period to apply for grants that help meet those priorities.