RAMS, Koochiching and Itasca Counties ask residents to take the broadband speed test and spread the word!

An announcement and invitation from the partners…

TAKE THE TEST and SHARE THE LINK https://expressoptimizer.net/public/

Koochiching and Itasca County in partnership with the Range Association of Municipalities & Schools (RAMS) is pleased to announce the formal public kickoff of a crowdsourcing project covering the entire areas of both counties. This broadband speed testing initiative is being conducted by GEO Partners, LLC during a time when more people are at home per the Governor’s “Stay at Home” directive. This includes over 10,000 students (K-12) as well as parents required to work from home and thus should provide the most comprehensive, accurate accumulation of actual broadband speeds ever conducted in these counties while demand on the system is highest.

The data collected via a one minute speed test can be conducted from any device connected to your broadband signal including cell phones and will result in statistically valid data and mapping. This data will then enable any locale in Koochiching or Itasca County to utilize the validated information for a broadband expansion project and seek grant funding from the FCC, USDA or Border to Border state program. We anticipate a higher than normal volume of participation, partially because of all the students who are struggling to stay connected to their E Learning while living in rural areas in the county.  Collecting data from cabin owners across our lake enhanced counties will also be vitally important data.

Representative Rob Ecklund a Koochiching County resident and the chief author of a bill for broadband funding praised both Itasca and Koochiching County boards for their support of this project as he knows all too well how living without quality high speed broadband makes life more challenging.  Representative Sandy Layman from Itasca County took the speed test this morning and expressed how simple and quick the test was.  “My results were interesting as my download speed was almost half as much as the upload speed, so I will take the test again”, she stated.

School districts in both counties have already been contacted and asked to send a message to their students to “Take the Test” and help jumpstart these projects.  Both counties will ask county employees to participate; local businesses and social media will play an important role in getting the message out throughout both counties.  Koochiching Technology Initiative and Blandin Broadband will both play important roles in keeping the momentum going as the speed tests will likely run for 8 to 12 weeks.

RAMS, as an organization has been a strong advocate for broadband expansion across Northeastern Minnesota.  RAMS’ and the Commissioners of your counties, recognize that high speed quality broadband is a critical utility to economic development, education, business and virtual healthcare.  RAMS is grateful for the partnership with Koochiching & Itasca County on this project and encourages everyone to TAKE THE TEST and SHARE THE LINK https://expressoptimizer.net/public/   TAKE IT NOW! Your participation is important and no personal information will be collected.

Maps of the County speed tests will be accessible on the RAMS website: https://expressoptimizer.net/projects/Koochiching/speedtestmap.php

https://expressoptimizer.net/projects/Itasca/speedtestmap.php

EVENT April 30: Broadband Leadership Webinar Series: Communicating to Achieve Your Community Broadband Vision

Community broadband advocates sometimes think that everyone shares their passion.  As a result, they may find their plans stymied due to lack of visible community support and/or reluctance by local officials to financially support a broadband project.  Join community broadband champions from across the state on Thursday, April 30 at 9 am CDT to learn about the strategic and timely use of communications strategies and tools from a communications specialist and from three community broadband leaders.

Alie McInerney of Blandin Foundation will illustrate how smart upfront thinking can prepare you to communicate most effectively throughout the broadband development process.  A consistent, but dynamic, message is required, but putting your communications emphasis on the right audience at the right time is essential.

Alie will host a panel discussion with Briana Mumme of Redwood County, Brenda Nyberg of Carlton County and Katie Malchow of the Chisago Lakes Chamber of Commerce.  All three are engaged in ongoing efforts to improve broadband in their area.  They will discuss critical issues of audience, message and outreach tools, such as newspapers, social media and key informants.  Our panelists will have done their homework to begin to create their messaging strategies using the available online worksheets that can be found below.

Register here This is the last of ten Blandin webinars on community broadband planning. Download worksheet.

Click here for more information on the Blandin Broadband Webinar Series including registration for upcoming webinars links to archived webinars.

MN PUC decides that Feds have jurisdiction over Fond du Lac broadband company

West Central Tribune reports…

Minnesota utility regulators on Thursday, April 16 agreed that their federal counterparts should be the ones to have jurisdiction over the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s community-owned broadband company.

The band had earlier pushed for federal oversight in filings with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Members of the commission unanimously ruled in the band’s favor during an online meeting Thursday morning, April 16.

The band is looking “eligible telecommunications carrier” for the reservation and three small adjacent areas – where there are apparently three households…

Attorneys for the band have argued that its broadband company, Fond du Lac Communications, should answer to the Federal Communications Commission on the basis of tribal sovereignty. Reservation officials have sought to deal directly with the FCC in their efforts to secure an “eligible telecommunications carrier” designation for the company, something the MPUC normally grants.

Doing so would open up the company to a stream of federal funding through the Lifeline, a benefit program that helps qualifying low-income households to save on their monthly phone and internet bills. Officials say the program could be crucial for the more than 20% of reservation households that fall below the poverty line.

While the program typically provides subscribers with discounts of up to $9.25 a month, those on tribal lands can save as much as $34.25. Only about 50,300 households use Lifeline in Minnesota, according to the most recent PUC data from 2018

It is unclear when or if the band expects its petition for Lifeline eligibility to be approved by the FCC. A spokesperson declined to comment.

Ownership Models and Provider Partnerships: Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar Archive

Thanks to the presenters and attendees for joining the latest Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar: Ownership Models and Provider Partnerships. Here we have the description, video archive, slides and chat transcript (get handouts)…

For many communities, turning a community broadband vision into a real project depends on their ability to determine if and how to partner with an existing broadband provider.  For many communities, identifying a quality partner speeds project deployment and reduces financial and political risk.  A partnership can range from active community endorsement, to financial contributions in the form of a grant or a loan, to actual community ownership of all or some of the network components with a lease agreement with the selected provider(s).

Community ownership of the physical network may provide long-term benefits that help a community achieve their vision.  Public network ownership can provide for enhanced choice of broadband providers, can enable deployment of Smart City applications around street lighting, public safety, and sewer and water utility operations as well as future 5G deployment.

CTC, a broadband cooperative in Brainerd, is active in multiple community broadband partnerships.  Joe Buttweiler, who leads CTC’s community partnership efforts, will showcase several public-private partnership examples joined by Rick Utecht of Todd County Development Corporation and Jon Rademacher of the City of Little Falls.  Each community has formed a unique partnership to bring fiber-based broadband to their communities.

CTC Lease Agreement & CTC Options

and chat:

EVENTS April 16 & 18:The UpTake’s Community Journalism E-Trainings

As we can be in fewer places at any time, I think the need for citizen journalists grows. And one of the silver linings of the Stay at Home mandate is that organizations are moving training online and now distance from training doesn’t matter, which means I can share info on classes that would normally be practical only for folks in the Twin Cities. The Update reports…

The UpTake’s Community Journalism E-Trainings

As many of you know, The UpTake has hosted regular community journalism trainings. Unfortunately, these in-person gatherings have been temporarily cancelled. However, we do have several e-trainings scheduled for April and May and you are invited!

The first digital training sessions are this week, April 16 and April 18, from 9am-11am.

These trainings are always FREE and they are always open to our community. However, they cost about $250 to host, between prep, staff hours, and follow-up. A $10 donation helps us keep these trainings free for those who attend and who may not be able to afford to make a donation themselves.

All of our current freelance journalists have gone through The UpTake’s community journalism training program. All of these individuals are paid and all of these individuals have received a professional-level community journalism education.

Donate today and help us keep our community journalism trainings free.

Center for Rural Assembly Hosts webinars on Rural Broadband in the Time of COVID19 April 14 & 22

From the Rural Assembly

We invite you to join us for two livestream conversations about the role of broadband access in rural areas and tribal lands in the time of COVID-19.

Description:
In response to COVID-19, local, state, federal and tribal governments have ordered the closing of schools and businesses, and non-essential employees have been instructed to work from home. These necessary changes in daily life require a necessary service – broadband.

Yet, according to the Federal Communications Commission, about 30 million people still do not have broadband access, with 35% of residents in rural areas and 40% of residents in tribal lands lacking service.

During a time when staying home is our collective duty, are rural and tribal residents able to rely on broadband access to continue to study, work, and obtain healthcare?

April 16, 4 PM ET
What is the rural and tribal broadband experience during COVID-19?

This panel conversation will feature the experiences of residents from rural and Native communities in accessing broadband service during a time when Internet access is necessary to work, study, and receive health care, safely. Panelists will represent the education, healthcare, business, and Opportunity Youth sectors. This conversation does not present solutions, instead, it seeks to learn about the impact that substandard or lack of Internet service has on the safety and wellbeing of rural and Native communities.

April 22, 4 PM ET
Has the government’s response been adequate?

The second conversation will feature analysis from broadband advocates about the recent actions from policymakers, including the Federal Communications Commission, in response to the challenge of broadband access in rural and Native communities. Panelists will discuss how these actions have helped, and what needs to improve to adequately address broadband access in rural communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Broadband Communities highlights Scott County’s history of broadband partners

We want community broadband projects to read like a short story. The community realizes a need, they meet a partner, the get married, I mean connected, and like happily ever after. And sometimes it can happen that way and sometimes there are a lot more chapters to the story. It read more like an epic journey – not ups and downs necessarily, just not linear.

Scott County has an epic story and it was recently featured in Broadband Communities through a lens of tracing the partnerships with the county. The article is informative and inspirational, particularly to anyone is a similar boat or starting on a journey. Rather than try to retell it, I thought I’d try to pull out a timeline with a strong recommendation that you check out the article

  • 2002: works with school district and the county seat of Shakopee to build a hub-and-spoke network connecting public facilities.
  • 2007: Minnesota Emergency Safety Board decided to upgrade the county 911 system – Scott goes fiber
  • 2008: Using public-safety grant money in combination with tax-levy dollars, Scott County implemented a countywide fiber ring with Zayo
  • 2009: expanded westward to join the Carver County network and swapped two fibers for two of Carver County’s fibers And in other directions with other providers
  • 2015: enters into a joint-build partnership with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community that saved hundreds of thousands of dollars for both parties

All of this and they are still working on plans for the future!

St Louis County – take a minute for a broadband speed test!

This is a great use of stay at home orders – get people to take a broadband speed test to help the county get a clear picture of what is currently available in the community…

St. Louis County in partnership with the Range Association of Municipalities & Schools (RAMS) is pleased to announce the formal public kickoff of a crowdsourcing project covering all of St. Louis County.  This broadband speed testing initiative is being conducted by GEO Partners, LLC during a time when more people are at home per the Governor’s “Stay at Home” directive. This includes over 30,000 students (K-12) as well as parents required to work from home and thus should provide the most comprehensive, accurate accumulation of actual broadband speeds ever conducted in the County while demand on the system is highest.

The data collected via a one minute speed test can be conducted from any device connected to your broadband signal including cell phones and will result in statistically valid data and mapping. This data will then enable any locale in St. Louis County to utilize the validated information for a broadband expansion project and seek grant funding from the FCC, USDA or Border to Border state program. We anticipate a higher than normal volume of participation, partially because of all the students who are struggling to stay connected to their E Learning while living in rural areas in the county.

RAMS, as an organization has been a strong advocate for broadband expansion across the region.  RAMS’ and St. Louis County Commissioners, recognize that high speed quality broadband is a critical utility to economic development, education, business and virtual healthcare.  RAMS is grateful to the partnership with St. Louis County on this project and encourages everyone to TAKE THE TEST and SHARE THE LINK https://expressoptimizer.net/public/   TAKE IT NOW! Your participation is important and no personal information will be collected.

For further comment Steve Giorgi – RAMS Executive Director is available via Zoom or by phone (sgiorgi@ramsmn.org 218.780.8877) or Matthew Johnson Director of Planning & Community Development  JohnsonM12@stlouiscountymn.gov  or phone (218) 725-5008
or County Board Chairman Michael Jugovich  jugovichm@stlouiscountymn.gov   218.969.4323

Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar – Broadband 101 Archive

Thanks to the presenters and attendees for joining the latest Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar: Broadband 101.  Here we have the description, video archive, slides when available and chat transcript (get handouts discussed in the webinar)…

The third of ten webinars – Broadband 101 – over the next five weeks is April 7 at 9 a.m. CDT.  Join Carl Meyerhoefer of Calix and Tim Johnson of MVTV Wireless as they share their expertise in helping to create and spread a shared broadband vision in their area.

And chat Continue reading

NEO becomes GEO and can help with strategic hotspot placements

I just got an update from GEOspatial Engineering & Optimization (GEO, formerly NEO) about how they can help schools and other pick the most strategic placement of hotpots based on surrounding households. I know many schools (and perhaps others) have been racing to use hotpots to get better broadband to those who need it as quickly as possible to help people keep learning and earning and living online during the coronavirus threat. Here’s what they offer…

When we do an RF design study, we have the option to locate optimum places for hotspots and identify the number of households that are covered by them.

 

This was originally designed around Ruckus equipment, but the Cisco Aironet series will work with this model.  We would recommend 2.5 and 5 ghz channels be set to the 200mw setting and using the 6 db antennas.

 

The base display shows, based on a cutoff, in this case, of 10 households within wifi range, where we should place the hotspots.  These are the purple dots.

We can see alternative locations for hotspots indicating the # of households and hotspots required to service them.  By placing the mouse over a dot, we see the number of hotspots required in that area, the square miles of that area, and the number of households served.

 

We then can come up with an optimal installation strategy – minimizing distance traveled between each installation, shown both as waypoints, and as a route map.

Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS) talks small rural towns and broadband

This week on the Community Networks podcast, Christopher Mitchell spoke with Travis Thies, General Manager at Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS) about how small towns can work together to create a market opportunity…

The network started with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and has continued to make improvements and upgrades to serve folks who were once stuck with antiquated Internet access. Before SMBS, several communities had been told by the incumbent Internet access provider that the best they could ever expect was dial-up service. Now, subscribers can sign-up for gigabit connections. With intelligent partnerships, they’re also able to provide service to farms and rural premises beyond town limits.

Travis and Christopher discuss the history of the project, the challenges that community leaders and network officials have faced and overcome, and how the area’s demographics have helped them determine the best ways to serve subscribers. They also discuss their partnership with a local fixed wireless Internet service provider and the how better connectivity has attracted people and businesses to the region.

Kandiyohi County doing feasibility study to investigate broadband grant options

Lakeland Broadcsting reports…

The Willmar and Kandiyohi County Economic Development Commission says a contract with Compass Consultants Inc. for an engineering study will determine fiber broadband feasibility in rural Kandiyohi County townships, including Dovre, Mamre and St. Johns townships. Pending the study outcomes and a positive response from the township constituents, the EDC will submit a Border-to-Border application to the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development (OBD) by August 2020.

They also provide a little history…

Kandiyohi County was granted a 4.9 million dollar Border-to-Border grant in 2017 to improve broadband in an area north of Willmar but the project fell through when the contractor, Consolidated Telephone, decided not to do the work out of fears there wasn’t enough interest.

More details on the previous grant – CTC was looking for 50 percent of potential customers to sign up for service. And competitor TDS announced plans to expand (using A-CAM funding) to parts of Kandiyohi County.

Sen Klobuchar team talks to Windom about broadband, housing, transportation and childcare (video included)

 There were about a dozen people at the meeting in Windom on Dec 17, in part because the meeting in Mankato went so well that they decided not to have a double header. The conversation extends beyond broadband. I only took notes on the broadband portions but they also discussed housing, transportation and childcare.

Intro on broadband from Chuck Ackman from Klobuchar’s Office:

Broadband was infrastructure (historically) until the Senator realized it’s a rural issue. So in 2016, it came to Chuck.

Working on Deployment, data and mapping – the details of broadband. We are working on getting the facts to make better decisions. Minnesota already does a good job with broadband data – we’re looking to bring that MN model to the rest of the country.

Farming has gotten very high tech. We toured a robotic dairy far. The internet got cut – which meant the cows weren’t going to get milked.

Notes from participants and questions:

Rumor has it there’s a online portal to get rights of way permission from Wisconsin’s version of MNDOT. It seems permits can be an issue. There’s a backlog and it depends on the location of the need for permit is determining the impact on slow down.

The FAA can be an issue for getting permits. We needed a permit to remove rock from a local airport and that was going to take 3-5 years if they approved it.

Local control of permits and control of local assets would be helpful.

Windomnet – business is still growing. We have worked with other providers in the area to help

Julie Foote:

MVTV covers 30,000 miles in southern MN with fixed wireless. We don’t go into areas that don’t need us. We are working ourselves out of a community. We bring fixed wireless into a community (25 Mbps for residential). That helps to build demand and we hope they get fiber. We will always be there for the folks outside of towns. And we have fiber to our towers.

We are a member-owned cooperative. So we strive for equal service for all. We are working on being LTE capable.

Mapping is one of our struggles.

Attendee

Rural Cottonwood County – the problem with wireless is that line of sight is tough there. I live near Westbrook. I can get services from Woodstock I get 10 Mbps from CenturyLink. I had 1.5 Mbps – I kept it because their brought fiber to the node. They serve 150 homes in the areas with the new fiber. I am 4400 ft from the node, so I get 10 Mbps. If I were 4000 I could get 20 Mbps. The wireless is usually faster but less reliable.

What would it take to get broadband to everyone?

We need funding to help serve the hard to serve areas. We’d nee dot partner up with a private entity to get state funding.

It’s hard for us because we are a municipality.

Continue reading

RS Fiber gets an international shout out for publicly supported broadband

Open Democracy is taking a look at the UK’s proposed takes on broadband…

T his week, the Labour Party announced a bold new policy proposal that has shaken up the election race – publicly owned broadband internet, free to all. In the words of Jeremy Corbyn, the party’s leader, it is “a taster of the kind of fresh, transformational policies that will change your life.”

Under the plan, the government would purchase Openreach, the digital network operator that is a subsidiary of BT Group, and form a new publicly owned British Broadband company to extend high-speed internet access to every household, business, and institution in the country.

They look at what’s happening in other places…

However, in reality, governments around the world are taking the lead on developing the digital infrastructure necessary to develop thriving 21st century economies (just as they did with the electricity networks, roads, bridges, railroads, airports, and other vital economic infrastructure of the 20th century). They are doing so because in many cases the private sector, and specifically a shrinking group of giant for-profit telecommunications corporations, are unable and unwilling to equitably provide the necessary investment and service – leaving whole towns, regions, and socio-economic groups shut out of the modern economy and society.

Their examples include Minnesota’s RS Fiber…

Success stories include larger cities like Chattanooga, Tennessee (which was the first location in the US to offer 1Gbps service) where the publicly owned network added around $1 billion to the local economy in just 4 years; smaller towns such as Thomasville, Georgia, where the publicly owned network is credited with saving small businesses and maintaining a vibrant downtown area; and rural areas like south central Minnesota where RS Fiber (a cooperative supported by a joint powers agreement between 10 small cities and 17 townships) has extended broadband access to 6,200 homes, farms, and businesses across a wide geographic area.

Publicly owned broadband is not only increasingly popular in the United States, it also has demonstrated economic and social benefits.

Southwest MN Broadband Services looks at closed meetings in the future

The Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS) Board of Directors will meet Thursday, Nov. 21, 6:15 pm at the SMBS Office to decide whether to close future meetings. The Lakefield Standard reports…

Future meetings of the Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services Board of Directors may be closed to the public, and financial reports of the multiple municipality-owned communications utility may be kept confidential.

Board members — in many cases, elected officials from member cities — may vote on the changes as early as next Thursday.

It sounds like a matter of business process…

“Over the course of the last 10 years, we’ve struggled with how to make decisions based on the type of entity we are,” said Travis Thies, SMBS general manager. “That led to us getting a legal opinion as to how we are supposed to be operating to help us make decisions at the board level.”

Formed through a joint powers agreement between a number of area municipalities, including the city of Jackson, SMBS was organized as a 317A nonprofit organization. Laws governing that type of organization allow board meetings to be closed to the public and financials to be kept confidential, Thies said.

Doing both would potentially benefit SMBS — and, by extension, member cities, local taxpayers and customers — in several different ways, Thies added. Closed meetings would allow SMBS to more effectively negotiate rates with vendors, he said, and keep competitors at arm’s length.

It also sounds as if they would be flexible about hearing from folks in the future, just want to keep business financials more closed…

“I totally expect the board to want as much transparency as possible and to always be open to answer questions,” Thies said. “Member cities would continue to have full access to all minutes and financials and, if someone wanted to address the board about something — even though meetings would not be completely open to them — I would think they could be put on the agenda.”