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.

Blue Earth County Board talks about expanding broadband

The Mankato Free Press reports

The Blue Earth County Board already has a New Year’s Resolution: kickstart efforts to bring more broadband options and data fiber connections to the area.

Commissioner Vance Stuehrenberg called on county officials Tuesday to lay the groundwork for a future public-private data fiber partnership as recent data show Blue Earth County is lagging in internet connectivity.

Stuehrenberg said during a board meeting Tuesday he was concerned only about 14 percent of the county was equipped to handle at least 100 mpbs download speeds and 20 mbps upload speeds. While almost all of Blue Earth County’s internet options meet the state’s immediate high-speed goals — at least 25 mbps downloads and 3 mbps uploads by 2022 — Stuehrenberg and other commissioners believe the county needs to have better internet access if it wants to continue growing and attracting more economic development.

“It’s kind of disheartening to hear that in Mankato and Blue Earth County, we don’t have the same ability to get internet service as some of those smaller communities,” Stuehrenberg said.

I applaud the forward-looking vision. They are brainstorming some ways to make it happen…

Stuehrenberg suggested future highway reconstruction projects include installing fiber to help offset connection costs in rural areas. Yet he and other commissioners said it will ultimately be up to area internet providers to use and maintain fiber networks.

The county finished installing fiber infrastructure around Mankato and nearby cities over the last two years, according to County Administrator Bob Meyer. He said county officials have been in preliminary talks with internet providers to expand broadband access throughout the county.

Yellow Medicine County decides to focus on broadband

The Marshall Independent reports…

At Tuesday’s meeting, the board also voiced support for a stepped up effort to expand broadband Internet service to rural counties.

Yellow Medicine County ranks near the bottom of the list among Minnesota counties for access to broadband. It provides a much more convenient access to the Internet than dial-up alternatives.

The county includes two large areas without any towns that have a population of more than 500 people. One is the southeast side of the county with Hanley Falls, Wood Lake and Echo. The other lies between Clarkfield and Canby with the towns of St. Leo and Porter.

Those and other rural locations are likely to be among the last areas to acquire broadband service.

Commissioner Ron Antony said he’s encouraged by a news release issued last week by Minnesota Sen.-elect Tina Smith which advocated including funds for broadband expansions in the upcoming federal Farm Bill.

Commissioner John Berends said it could be helpful this winter to organize local and regional meetings that allow opportunities to express points of view to federal lawmakers, state legislators, and their staff.

“There might be some interest in meeting with the public,” Berends said. “People would have a chance to explain our service needs.”

Heglund told the board that another key part of broadband expansion will be to encourage Internet providers to find ways of reaching out to potential rural customers.

“It would help if more providers approached us to express interest,” she said. “There are telecommincations investments being made in Minnesota. We just don’t have any control over where that money is spent.”

Lake County gets 4 bids for their fiber network

The Lake County News Chronicle reports

The Lake County Board of Commissioners learned four entities submitted bids for Lake Connections, the county’s municipal broadband project.

The initial bidding period ended Nov. 2 with Lake Partners, Hanson Communications, Mediacom Communications Corp. and Cooperative Light and Power (CLP) in Two Harbors submitting bids, along with a $100,000 deposit, for the network. They will have the opportunity to submit a “best and final offer,” according to the terms of the sale set by the county and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS).

The County received federal ARRA funding (loan ($56M) and grant ($10)) to build the network in 2010. After ups and downs that network was mostly completed in 2015. IN 2015, the County invested another $15 million and the FCC awarded a grant of $3.5 million.

The article continues…

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.

The county board is reviewing the bids, according to County Administrator Matt Huddleston, and specific bid information was not provided. Since there were fewer than five bids, Pinpoint Holdings Inc. in Cambridge, Neb., will also have a chance to make a final bid for the network.

In late July, Pinpoint offered $3.5 million for the network in an initial bid that set the baseline price for the network.

Two bidders, Mediacom and CLP, have conflicted with the network in the past.

The deadline for bids is Nov 29; the County is scheduled to make a decision on Dec 11.