Lake County MN decides to sell broadband business

According to Lake County New Chronicle

After seven years and millions of dollars spent, Lake County looks to be getting out of the broadband internet business.

The Lake County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to declare its intent to sell Lake Connections, the county’s broadband internet company, during its meeting Tuesday in Two Harbors.

The sale process will be a highly structured, collaborative process between the county and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS), the lender that provided the majority of the funding for the network’s construction. About 95 percent of the network’s construction is complete, with just small sections in Fall Lake Township and around Ely left to be finished. The county will try to get the best bid possible to continue quality service to Lake Connections customers and those customers will not see a change in service or pricing through the process of the sale, according to a press release from the county.

Here’s a very quick reminder/history of the project…

In 2010, the board received a $56 million loan and $10 million from RUS to construct the network and over three years more than 1,200 miles of a fiber network was built throughout Lake County and parts of eastern St. Louis County. Most of the network was completed in June 2015, and the focus shifted to connecting eligible customers to the network with the county pledging $15 million of its own money to fund “drops,” or home connections, that also included a $3.5 million grant from the Federal Communications Commission. Now the county hopes to sell the network to a private company that will continue to invest in the infrastructure to complete the portions of the network in Fall Lake.

And  glimpse at why local governments get into providing broadband – it’s not to make money, it’s to provide a needed service…

“Seven years ago when we did get involved in this, it wasn’t for the goal of owning a broadband network,” Commissioner Rick Goutermont said during the meeting. “The reason we got involved was that none of the incumbents would go after these funds and none of the incumbents were looking to provide our constituents with the service that we felt they needed, that’s why we got involved.”


Decision on Rochester broadband network is postponed

Earlier this month, Rochester (MN) city council was set to vote on moving forward with a detailed broadband feasibility study. Rochester 6 News reports that they have decided not to decide, yet…

For years, the city of Rochester has been debating possible city-wide broadband for the area.

Monday night, the Rochester City Council was supposed to vote on whether or not to conduct a study for the project. The study itself would cost more than $45,000.

However, the item was tabled for another meeting.

“The study that we would do would be about $45,000 to $50,000. If we went ahead with the project, it would be $65 million, plus,” Rochester City Councilmember Mark Bilderback said.

It sounds like community voices stepped up…

Small business owners, educators and other community members came forward at the beginning of the meeting to show their support for city-wide broadband.

“The entire point of sale system is internet based,” one community member said.

“I have many reasons to also support municipal broadband,” another small business owner said.

But council members were unsure…

But when the item came up in Monday’s meeting, Bilderback motioned to table it. He said there’s so much information surrounding city-wide broadband, and while he likes the idea, Bilderback wants to spend more time learning about it before casting his vote.

“I need to go out and I need to fund my own investigations, because I’m not getting any answers from the presentations that we’ve had,” Bilderback said.

Other council members, like President Randy Staver, followed by saying there are other city projects to consider when looking at the expensive costs it would take to initiate it.

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