HBC Expands Broadband in Rural Winona and Dakota Counties

Big news for HBC as well as Rural Winona and Dakota Counties …

Construction is underway in parts of rural Winona and Dakota county to expand rural broadband Internet through monies provided by the CARES Act.
Hiawatha Broadband Communications, Inc. (HBC) president, Dan Pecarina, announced HBC is expanding existing networks near Pickwick and Rollingstone in Winona County. And in Dakota County, construction is underway in Nininger Township and an area near Highway 46 and 160th Street.
“HBC is proud to be partnering with Winona and Dakota counties on these projects. Each project helps us in our commitment to expand broadband to the underserved and unserved areas of our region,” said Pecarina. “The COVID-19 pandemic has really underscored how important a broadband connection is in today’s world. When completed, these projects will help provide services that will not only help students learn from home but allow their parents to work remotely.”
Construction in the Pickwick area and Nininger township is currently underway. Michael Barker, Director of Technical Operations at HBC, said the plan is to finish all construction by year’s end.
“Right now, crews are actively working near Pickwick and Nininger (township),” he said. “If the weather holds, we should complete construction operations by the end of the year.”
In addition to the fiber-optic network expansion, HBC has already activated a broadband fixed wireless tower near Nodine in Winona County. HBC will also be activating five broadband fixed wireless towers in Dakota County.
Winona County has allotted $1 million in CARES funding to pay for rural broadband expansion projects. Dakota County has earmarked $800,000 for its broadband expansion projects.
“When work is completed,” Pecarina said, “more than 800 homes that previously had no highspeed broadband access will now have the access they need for learning and working from home.”

EVENT Nov 20: Minnesota Broadband Coalition Strategy Session

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

Save the Date!
Minnesota Broadband Coalition Strategy Session

Friday, November 20, 2020
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Via Zoom
This meeting will  include a professional facilitator to help us develop a cohesive strategy for the organization moving forward.  Agenda coming soon!
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 974 7436 8831
Passcode: 564934
Join by phone:
Meeting ID: 974 7436 8831
Passcode: 564934
Find your local number: https://zoom.us/u/abeMvqZnAp

Please RSVP by replying to this email or Emily Murray to indicate attendance or absence.

CTC proposes better broadband in Greenwood Township for $6.3 million

The Ely Timber Jay reports…

A preliminary proposal from CTC, a broadband (high speed internet) supplier, puts the cost of bringing broadband-level service to as many as 1,370 residences in the Greenwood Township area at around $6.3 million dollars. The project would include the installation of almost 106 miles of fiber optic cable, which would be buried underground.
Greenwood is currently served by Frontier Communications, offering a lower-speed DSL service, which is not sufficient for those wishing to telecommute. The company is also unreliable, often requiring long wait times for repairs.
Chairman Mike Ralston said costs for similar projects in northeastern Minnesota were in the same ballpark. One recent project, he said, was funded almost entirely with grant dollars, with a cost of just $100,000 to the township.
The cost estimate, Ralston said, is preliminary, and would change once actual groundwork and mapping is done.
Ralston said estimates of monthly costs for broadband customers would be between $60 and $100, depending on the speed of service.
The project would be done in conjunction with expansion of broadband service to the Vermilion Reservation.
The board, at Tuesday’s meeting, passed a motion to continue working with CTC. They also passed a motion to search for and hire a grant writer to work with the township to apply for available federal, state, and local grant programs.
The proposal would not include bringing broadband service to island properties.
“This is a starting point,” said Ralston. “We can use these numbers in our grant application to move forward….this is a good first step.”
The township had initially been soliciting proposals from a second company, Paul Bunyan from Bemidji, but they hadn’t yet responded to township requests for preliminary cost estimates, Ralston said.
Byron Beihoffer pushed back against reports that he was against broadband.
At last month’s meeting, Beihoffer said he wasn’t hearing any enthusiasm for broadband, and he speculated that the community wasn’t “gung-ho” on proceeding, and that “a lot of people…are happy with the internet they have.”
Beihoffer called the reporting that he was against broadband “fake news.”
“I was in support of the $50,000 proposed in the levy for broadband,” he said. “The people who voted against the $50,000 are against it.”
“I will continue to work for it,” he said.

Fall Lake Township is getting broadband from Zito Media (Lake County)

Ely Echo reports on a Fall Lake Township meeting earlier this week…

Fall Lake Township residents, broadband is coming. That is what T.C. Leveille with Zito Media told the supervisors and the 10 citizens attending the township meeting Tuesday night.
“The main roads will be worked on first,” said Leveille, “and then branch out from there. Year-round residents would be first, then seasonal places.”
Hopefully more residents will have broadband connection by spring. Leveille said Zito is looking for a building to store equipment. He said there may be a possibility for free services in exchange for a storage area.
He said Fall Lake has areas that are more inaccessible because of ledge rock and a pole attachment agreement would have to be reached with Lake Country Power and Minnesota Power.
Leveille was asked if there is a possibility of going under Fall Lake to access the north side of the lake. He said he would have to check into that, but Supervisor Eric Hart said it is hard to get approval from the DNR.
Sheila Gruba asked if Zito could have an article in the Ely Echo about the broadband progress for Fall Lake and have contact information for Zito so residents who are interested in connecting to broadband could get on a list.
Gruba said Town of Morse has received funds from IRRRB for broadband, and maybe Fall Lake could get funding also.
Supervisor Craig Seliskar said Ulland Brothers received the big for the Cloquet Line project, and the bid came in under the estimated cost. Seliskar had a scheduled meeting with Ulland and TKDA Engineering Thursday morning and said work would be starting on Monday, October 12. The work would include clearing, widening and culvert replacement. Ulland hopes to keep one lane of traffic open with a pilot car or flagmen.

I didn’t know Zito Media; it looks like they provide wireless and cable options.

IRRR Board supports broadband deployment projects in St Louis County

Business North reports

Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation is investing $1.5 million to improve broadband within two rural areas of northeastern Minnesota.

The IRRR Board on Tuesday recommended funding broadband projects in Pequaywan Township in the Cloquet Valley area, and in Wuori, Sandy and Pike Townships north of Virginia.

Here are some of the details…

The $4 million Pequaywan Township project, supported by a $750,000 IRRR grant, will construct fiber to 266 unserved and underserved households. Cooperative Light and Power, which will invest $3.2 million in the project, will construct, operate and provide service.

The $3.1 million Wuori, Sandy and Pike Township project, backed by a $750,000 IRRR grant, will construct fiber to 616 unserved and underserved households. Paul Bunyan Communications, which will invest $1.2 million in the project, will construct, operate and provide service.

The two projects are the latest in a number of high-speed broadband projects the IRRR has in recent supported in its service area in partnership with other funding sources.

“We’re excited about these projects,” said Phillips. “Every time we complete one of these projects, another 500 to 600 people are served. It’s significant.”

Monticello’s municipal network FiberNet is 15 years old – catch up with them via ILSR

From the unique pronunciation of Monticello (think “sello” not “chello”), the town has never been afraid to stand out. Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Chris Mitchell talks to City Planner Jeff O’Neill about FiberNet, Monticello’s municipal network. It has been the subject of talk since it started 15 years ago. Spoiler alert, it’s going well, especially in the time of COVID. Here’s the description of the conversation from ILSR -and know that it’s a fun quick listen…

Christopher and Jeff delve into the history and development of the network over the last fifteen years. They discuss how business leaders began calling for the city to look for a solution to poor Internet speeds all the way back in 2005, why the city ultimately decided to build its own network, and how FiberNet persevered in the face of an early lawsuit so that incumbent provider TDS could slow competition as it began its own fiber buildout. Jeff and Chris then talk about the network subsequently weathering a vicious price war with Charter Spectrum which contributed to the fracturing of its relationship with early partner Hiawatha Broadband, but which also brought significant savings and better customer service from incumbent providers to everyone in town.

They end by discussing the multitude of community benefits realized today by having three competing providers in Monticello — two offering Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in the city of 14,000 — and what it means for community savings and economic development for the city moving forward. Jeff ends by sharing some of the work he’s most proud of being involved in and what he sees as important for FiberNet in the years ahead.

Dakota County plans for CARES and Broadband (Meeting Aug 4)

If you have an interest in what’s happening in Dakota County or you just want to hear/see what another county is doing, you might consider attending the discussion (online and in person) in Dakota County

WHEREAS, Dakota County is committed to be a high-performing organization for the citizens of the County; and

WHEREAS, the Workshop will be an opportunity for the County Board to discuss Broadband; and

WHEREAS, staff recommends holding a workshop to allow staff to receive direction from the County Board on Broadband.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the Dakota County Board of Commissioners hereby schedules a County Board Workshop for Tuesday, August 4, 2020, following the General Government and Policy Committee, in the Boardroom, Administration Center, 1590 Highway 55, Hastings, MN, or via telephone or other electronic means if necessary due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to receive comments on staff direction for Broadband.

You can learn a little more about their plan (easier to read on their site)

Update On Process And Timeline For Potential COVID-19 Related Broadband Expansion Using CARES Act Funding

PURPOSE/ACTION REQUESTED
Provide an update on the process and timeline in developing COVID-19 related Broadband Expansion in Dakota County.
SUMMARY
The County is interested in learning about potential opportunities to invest CARES Act funds to better support our residents to engage in remote learning, work from home, and other activities that require a robust network of connectivity and to better meet the public service needs revealed by the pandemic. Dakota County requires broadband infrastructure built out to serve the unserved and underserved. The County is interested in exploring all technologies available to address the unserved and underserved areas of the County (Attachment A). These areas can be large or small geographically or in population.
The County will mail letters of interest (Attachment B) to all service providers (Attachment C) in the County asking them to respond with project areas that can be built out to better serve the residents of the County. Submissions must specify the unserved or underserved area(s) to be addressed, the total cost and funds requested from the County, and the timeline including the firm completion date. The Information Technology (IT) Department will review and recommend the best potential projects and setup meetings to fully develop project plans.
Proposed Time Line:
July 28, 2020 – send Letters of Interest to all service providers
August 12, 2020 – deadline for receipt of responses
Week ending August 21, 2020 reviewing responses
Request Board approval in September
Contracts for approved projects executed September
October/November buildout
Payment before December 1st
County IT will update the board with specific project locations, cost and project schedules.
RECOMMENDATION
Information only; no action requested.
EXPLANATION OF FISCAL/FTE IMPACTS
Funding for any projects, if approved, would be expected to use CARES Act funds with an amount to be
determined.

And a look at the letter that is going out…

DATE: July 28, 2020
TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Dan Cater, Chief Information Officer
SUBJECT: Broadband Connectivity within Dakota County borders
Dakota County Government has an interest in expanding high speed internet throughout Dakota County as the COVID-19 situation has illustrated the need for faster more reliable connectivity for our citizens, business, and other agencies.
The County is interested in learning about potential opportunities to invest CARES Act funds to better support our residents to engage in remote learning, work from home, and other activities that require a robust network of connectivity and to better meet the public service needs revealed by the pandemic.
Dakota County requires broadband infrastructure built out to serve the unserved and underserved. The County is interested in exploring all technologies available to address the unserved and underserved areas of the County. These areas can be large or small geographically or in population.
Attached is the most recent service inventory map produced by the State of Minnesota Deed Office of Broadband. CARES Act requires an aggressive timeline. Submissions must specify the unserved or underserved area(s) to be addressed, the total cost and funds requested from the County, and the timeline including the firm completion date. Work and payment need to be completed before
December 1st of this year. A high-level timeline is below:
– July 28th – letter soliciting proposals/plans
– August 12
th – deadline for receipt of responses
– Week ending August 21st review responses, setting up zoom meetings
– Request Board approval in September
– Contracts executed in September
– October/November buildout
– Payment before December 1st
Please let us know if you have an interest in discussing in providing a solution by contacting
Dan.Ferber@co.dakota.mn.us or Dan.Cater@co.dakota.mn.us.

Dakota County is always generous with public access to documents, which I think can be a gift to counties with fewer staff working on broadband.

Broadband Life in Little Falls – when the maps say you’re served and you know you aren’t! (Morrison County)

Broadband Communities recently featured Little Falls Minnesota and their broadband story…

Despite being unable to handle bandwidth-intensive activities for city offices and local businesses, the speeds the incumbents do offer, which met the FCC broadband definition of “served,” mean Little Falls is ineligible for federal funds.

“The city didn’t qualify for FCC funding because the maps said the city was served,” said Jon Radermacher, city administrator of Little Falls, during the Broadband Communities webinar, “Fiber Networks – Critical Municipal Infrastructure to Support the ‘New Normal.’” “However, the networks in our city weren’t robust or reliable for the needs of our business, the industrial districts and our schools.”

When a software company set up a location in one of the city’s business parks in 2013, it provided a catalyst to build out a fiber network for businesses. The company strongly demanded a fiber-based network. That prompted Little Falls to strike a network agreement with Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC), a Minnesota telephone cooperative that works with utilities, municipalities and government entities to build fiber networks outside its traditional service area.

With support from various partners, the network was built to provide high-speed broadband to local businesses and city services. The hope is that soon it will provide broadband for local residents.

Driving Economic Development

Little Falls partnered with area economic development agencies (EDAs) to fund the build, which cost $530,000. “We came to a construction and lease agreement with CTC to build out a fiber ring that would serve all of that business park, connect another industrial park, build a fiber network throughout our downtown area, and connect over to our school district,” Radermacher said.

The city also is served by a private nonprofit called Morrison County Community Development and local EDAs. “We split up the financing for this network between the partners,” Radermacher said. “We then leased it back with the buyout clause similar to the agreement CTC had with Long Prairie, Minnesota.” After the fiber network went live in 2014, CTC executed the buyout agreement and now owns the fiber network.

The story goes on to point out what’s frustrating (maps), what helps (public-private partnerships) , the benefits and the difference is made in ability to respond to COVID19.

Toolkit from Institute for Local Self Reliance for communities wanting to support community broadband

The Institute for Local Self Reliance has a new toolkit to “States and Cities Can Beat Back Corporate Control and Build Thriving Communities“…

Across the country, local and state officials and citizens are struggling to overcome a set of deep and challenging problems, which have been further revealed, and exacerbated, by Covid. These include stark inequality, persistent poverty, disappearing small businesses, racial oppression, failing family farms, fraying community institutions, and entire cities and towns that have been marginalized and left behind.

There are many drivers of these trends. But there is one phenomenon in particular that has profoundly shaped all of these dynamics, and every single sector of our economy — the consolidation of corporate power.

They look at a number of facets:

  • Banking
  • Broadband
  • Electricity
  • Food and Farming
  • Pharmacy
  • Small Business
  • State Attorneys General
  • Waste

Clearly the ILSR (Muninetworks) is all about community self-reliance. They look at the infrastructure and adoption and offer the following policy recommendations:

  • Give Local Governments the Freedom to Connect
  • Allow Cities to Issue Bonds for Broadband Infrastructure
  • Support and Guide Smaller Communities
  • Collect ISP Data
  • Build Municipal Networks and Partnerships
  • Procurement Policies
  • Establish a Broadband Grant Program
  • Create “One-Touch Make-Ready” Rules
  • Organize a Listening Tour

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.