Willmar City Council looking at fiber to industrial park with VIBRANT

The West Central Tribune reports

The Willmar City Council gave its Planning and Development staff the OK to continue working with VIBRANT Broadband on a project would bring fiber broadband into the city’s Industrial Park. The city could then build off that backbone to offer fiber to homes across the city.

The background…

The County Board and the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission have been working hard to bring high-speed broadband projects to areas in the county that are either underserved or unserved. Most of these projects will be fiber-to-home, the best internet technology available.

While Kandiyohi County is attempting to fill its broadband holes, some in Willmar are worried about being left behind. While residents and businesses in the city can get some version of high-speed internet, it might end up being of a lower quality than what rural areas might soon have.

“The plan being developed by the county was going to leave Willmar in a deficit. Willmar was going to have worse internet than the build-out in the rest of the county,” said Willmar Mayor Marv Calvin at Monday’s council meeting, adding that residential internet in Willmar is woefully under what it should and needs to be.

The plan to bring fiber to the city…

That response led Walker to VIBRANT Broadband, part of the Meeker Cooperative Light and Power Association, on a project that would bring a fiber internet line the 19 miles from Atwater to the Willmar Industrial Park. The city could then use that fiber line as the backbone for a city fiber network to expand fiber-to-home opportunities to residents, perhaps as early as next year. Walker said there were no projects currently being planned for Kandiyohi County that would bring fiber broadband to Willmar.

A draft letter of intent and contract with the company has Willmar paying approximately 80% of the estimated $1.25 million project, or no more than $1 million. Walker said that money could come from the city’s Industrial Park Fund, though discussions could be had about using the city’s American Rescue Plan Act money as well.

The council said move ahead…

The council gave its approval for Walker to continue working with VIBRANT on a project for Willmar. No contracts or projects were approved Monday night, just the OK to continue ironing out a potential agreement with the internet service provider.

Cloquet Broadband Committee recommends partnership with CTC

The Pine Journal reports

During a Cloquet City Council work session Tuesday, April 5, the Cloquet Broadband Committee provided an update to the council about the responses to its broadband survey and the next steps the committee will be taking.

Holly Hansen, the city’s community development director and a member of the broadband committee, said the county at large struggles with broadband issues.

After receiving survey responses and continuing to research solutions, the next steps for the committee include finding a partner to help plan and work with the city to develop a better broadband infrastructure.

After interviewing companies in the area, Hansen said the committee recommends moving forward with a possible partnership with Consolidated Telephone Company.

Hennepin County and Minnetrista partner for Midco Broadband Expansion

Great news for folks in Minnetrista…

Hennepin County and the City of Minnetrista partner to build out broadband infrastructure and provide high-quality internet service to nearly 500 unserved and underserved homes in Minnetrista.
There has been a gap in the availability of reliable high speed internet service in the City of Minnetrista and other communities which has been exacerbated by the COIVD-19 pandemic. The City of Minnetrista established a subcommittee of Mayor Lisa Whalen, Councilmember Ann MacGregor, and City staff to prioritize the need for reliable high-speed internet in unserved areas of the community.
On February 7, 2022, the City Council approved a cost share agreement with Midcontinent Communications (Midco) for the build out of fiber to the home internet to bridge this gap and provide reliable internet service to nearly 500 unserved and underserved homes in Minnetrista.
With Hennepin County’s commitment to eliminate the digital divide, and financial support in the partnership, the City of Minnetrista is able to further bridge the gap in high-speed internet service in the community.
“Hennepin County is committed to supporting connectivity for all residents. I believe that public-private partnerships are key to eliminating the digital divide, and the project in
Minnetrista is a shining example. An investment in broadband infrastructure is more than web browsers and streaming services – it’s an investment in regional prosperity,” Commissioner Kevin Anderson stated.
“The City of Minnetrista Council, staff and community are so grateful for this partnership with Hennepin County. Their support allows our unserved and underserved residents to have access to reliable internet services, as it has become an essential part of life for us all. Thank you to Hennepin County for helping us address connectivity challenges and providing support to one of the City’s major challenges,” stated Minnetrista Mayor Lisa Whalen.

Federal funding promotes municipal networks which clashes with some state policies (including MN)

Route Fifty reports…

President Biden’s transformative push to expand internet service by treating broadband more like a public utility is on a collision course with laws in 17 states.

And, the potential conflict is raising questions about whether his administration is willing to use federal infrastructure dollars to twist the arms of mostly Republican-run states to change laws they have on the books restricting municipal broadband projects.

The states argue that these types of laws are needed to protect taxpayers and prevent government overreach.

The Biden administration’s view is that one way to lower broadband prices around the country and to expand service into areas where it’s lacking is to get more municipalities and public utilities to begin offering high-speed internet—similar to electricity or water.

Minnesota is one of the states that will be impacted…

Minnesota allows municipalities to acquire or construct telephone exchanges upon obtaining a majority vote in a referendum on that issue. But if an exchange already exists in an area, a municipality can construct a new one only upon obtaining a 65% super-majority of the votes. (Minn. Stat. Ann. § 237.19). Also, Chapter 429 of the Minnesota Statutes, which applies to “Local Improvements, Special Assessments,” states in Minn. Stat. Ann. § 429.021(19) that the council of a municipality is empowered to improve, construct, extend, and maintain facilities for Internet access and other communications purposes if the council finds that: (i) the facilities are necessary to make available Internet access or other communications services that are not and will not be available through other providers or the private market in the reasonably foreseeable future; and (ii) the service to be provided by the facilities will not compete with service provided by private entities. (Minn. Stat. Ann. § 429.021(19))

HBC and Winona County Announce $2.6 Million Rural Broadband Expansion Project

Good news from HBC

Hundreds of rural Winona County homes currently struggling with broadband access, will soon be connected to high-speed broadband. Hiawatha Broadband Communications, Inc. (HBC) and Winona County (MN) are working together again to bring broadband service to some of the most rural areas of the county.

Construction of the $2.6 million project will begin this spring with fiber-optic broadband services being brought to the Sylvan Heights, Saratoga, Big Trout Drive, Spillway Drive, and the Arches areas in Winona County. The project will bring high-speed fiber-optic broadband to 200 homes, many with school aged children, that have been severely challenged by the lack of broadband service.

“Broadband is a major key to education, economic, and life-style requirements going forward,” HBC president Dan Pecarina said. “Providing the opportunity for children to fully participate on a level playing field is the number one challenge for those in rural parts of the country. In addition, more and more job opportunities are becoming flexible which allows people to work from home.”

This is not the first time HBC and Winona County have collaborated to expand broadband in the county. Since 2016, the two entities have worked together to bring broadband to eight rural areas, including East Burns Valley, Cedar Valley, Pickwick, Ridgeway, Wilson, Witoka, Whitewater, and Elba. These projects have brought broadband to nearly 3,000 rural homes in Winona County that previously lacked broadband service.

This new fiber optic network is expected to be completed in the second half of the year. Gigabit broadband speeds will start being activated by the end of August. All areas will have access before the end of the year.

 

 

Kandiyohi County and Meeker County working with Vibrant on ReConnect grant

The West Central reports

Over the past year, Kandiyohi County has been concentrating on bringing high-speed broadband to all corners of the county. The County Board has even pledged to use up to 75% of its American Rescue Plan Act coronavirus relief money to fund various broadband projects.

At the Feb. 15 County Board meeting, the commissioners approved a letter of support for a grant application being pursued by a party outside of Kandiyohi County. Vibrant Broadband from Litchfield is applying for a USDA ReConnect grant, which, if awarded, would bring high-speed broadband to nine townships in eastern Kandiyohi County, along with nine townships in western Meeker County.

Both the Kandiyohi County and Meeker County boards of commissioners approved resolutions supporting the application at their Feb. 15 meetings. …

The project would include laying fiber-optic cable. If the grant is awarded, there is no county match, meaning Kandiyohi County would not have to put any money toward the project.

East Central Minnesota may get new broadband options from East Central Energy

Every year, I take a look at how each county in Minnesota is doing with broadband. I’ve learned that counties with an engaged provider are the luckiest counties. They may partner with the community or not, but the provider can make the difference. I’ve also seen some counties remain at the bottom of the ranking for years. Here’s the bottom ranking at last measure (Oct 2021) (below). There’s almost no ranking change from the previous year, despite the fact that several of these counties have been working for years to get better service. They have been stuck for various reasons often because competition was not encouraged but new federal funding can change that.

County percent Ranking last year ranking
Murray 54.37 78 77
Aitkin 52.77 79 78
Carlton 52.04 80 79
Traverse 50.97 81 80
Isanti 50.43 82 81
Todd 48.38 83 82
Yellow Medicine 48.07 84 83
Redwood 45.21 85 85
Pine 39.72 86 86
Kanabec 25.81 87 87

I heard some potential good news for at least half of the counties on this list. There’s a new provider looking at entering the market in East Central Minnesota –  East Central Energy (ECE). I got a chance to speak with Justin Jahnz and Ty Houglum at ECE about their plans.

ECE is an electric cooperative covering 11 counties in East Central MN (and 3 in WI). In 2019, they did a feasibility study looking at what it might take to offer broadband to their members. It didn’t seem prudent at the time but 2019 was a different world. There is more money available to deploy broadband now and their members need it more than ever. On November 19, 2021, the ECE Board of Directors voted to move forward with developing a plan for a full fiber to the home project and so they are diving in, starting with a $50 million ReConnect application, which would help get them started. (They are not alone in their industry, recently the MN Rural Electric Association made broadband a top legislative priority.)

They estimate that the cost to bring fiber to their members is between $250-320 million; they have 123,000 residents (in MN and WI). They are expecting a 10-12 year return on investment with 35-40 percent financing. That patient investment is what helps a cooperative invest in something like this as long as it’s also an investment in the community.

Along with patient financing, ECE has a few other advantages:

  • The broadband network will help deploy an even smarter smart grid – so the network has multiple purposes
  • They have network specialists on staff already
  • They have an established customer-base and good relationship with them and that will make them more accountable
  • They serve some of the poorest counties in the state, which may help when writing grants

We also talked about some of the roadblocks:

  • They are looking at State Border to Border grants, but the $5 million cap on awards will mean multiple applications, which takes longer to write and manage
  • LTD Broadband may receive federal funding (RDOF) for some parts of their coverage areas, which may make it difficult to receive other funding. (We have talked about the situation with RDOF money in other posts.)

It’s exciting news for folks in the area. For policymakers, it’s an opportunity to see what it might take to encourage public-private partnership in broadband expansion. For other communities, a potential model to follow.

You can learn more from this new video from ECE…

Broadband Technology Options: Mini video lessons for communities

The University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality educators help communities navigate their futures. They have been working with our colleague Bill Coleman to create short micro-learning videos that highlight economic and community development emerging ideas, new research, best practices and lessons learned.

Le Sueur County is working on better broadband with local champion Barbara Dröher Kline

After a broadband provider that will meet the needs, the strongest tool for a community that needs better broadband is a local champion. It was fun to see the New Prague Times give a nod to a strong champion in Le Sueur County – Barbara Dröher Kline…

“If you’re looking for a silver lining in this pandemic, improved broadband service in Le Sueur County is one.”
– Barbara Dröher Kline

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Le Sueur County has spent $1.7 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to improve the speed and reliability of internet service throughout the county.

It might seem like a cause-and-effect situation, as stay-at-home orders and mandated distance learning highlighted the need—or lack of—good, quality internet access. However, the groundwork, which made the county’s large-scale improvement projects possible during 2020, was laid by a small citizen task force, years prior to the pandemic.

The movement began in early 2018 when Barbara Dröher Kline of Union Hill was running for the Minnesota House of Representatives District 20A seat. She and her husband had moved to the area in 2016 and were frustrated with their slow, unreliable internet service. Their frustration grew after learning their neighbor had a fiber internet connection (built with a state grant), which allows for better, more reliable internet service—a service the Dröher Kline household was not eligible for because of the telephone area in which it is located.

After attending a regional summit on broadband, Dröher Kline met with her county commissioner, John King, and County Administrator Darrell Pettis about the opportunity to work with the Blandin Foundation, a rural foundation that supports local broadband planning.

The article goes on to give a brief history of broadband in Le Sueur, which Barbara is still working on.

RAMS to sponsor MN statewide speed test

Big news for folks who like crowd source mapping – Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) is picking up the Statewide speed test mapping project. RAMS reports…

Today we are pleased to announce that the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) will be the new host of the Minnesota statewide speedtest project. This map and initiative was previously hosted by the MN Rural Broadband Coalition. This crowdsourcing speed test will allow local governments, area partners, communities and providers to better identify underserved and unserved areas as well as help consumers see for themselves if they are actually getting the service (broadband speed) that they are playing for. RAMS is able to host this test with the help of one of our corporate members, GEO Partners, LLC who will be helping analyze the data and create usable maps and information. RAMS is also pleased that retired director, Steve Giorgi, has remained on Minnesota’s state broadband task force and is continuing to volunteer and help Minnesota communities gain access to affordable, high-speed internet. RAMS helped to start this testing process in April of 2020 and the information gathered directly from the end users (you) will be used is extremely important to further the development of high school internet for citizens of Minnesota.

Check your speed!

Chippewa County looks at broadband options as from RDOF-LTD lens

Montevideo American News reports

Chippewa County Commissioners are discussing the various funding sources and policies that are impacting the county. Numerous state and federal funding programs have resulted in plans that will provide new options to many in rural parts of the County.

LTD Broadband was recently awarded $1.3 billion in federal funds to provide a combination of fiber and fixed wireless broadband service to customers across 15 states including large portions of rural Chippewa County. This could mean new opportunities for many rural residents that are currently considered “unserved” by the Minnesota Office of Broadband Map. This investment must be rolled out in the County by 2027 according to the FCC rules. Chippewa County representatives will be actively monitoring the roll out of this broadband improvement.

Meanwhile, this federal grant renders these “unserved” areas of the County ineligible for other grant funds until the company builds their network. This means Chippewa County is limited on how it can apply for and use other state and federal funds dedicated to improving broadband service.

County leaders are getting into national discussions…

County staff are also engaging in important broadband development policy discussions on a national scale. Terry Ocaña, Chippewa County’s IT Director, is an active member on the National Association of Counties Broadband Task Force, participating and staying up to date on broadband issues and policies and bringing that knowledge and information back to Chippewa County to guide conversations about local options. This taskforce recently released a national report on the importance of broadband throughout the country.

Faribault County one step closer to using CARES money for better broadband

The Fairmont Sentinel reports

The cities of Bricelyn, Delavan, Elmore and Frost moved another step closer in being able to begin a broadband project to install fiber optic cable in their cities, courtesy of a grant program.

Faribault County Economic Development Authority (EDA) specialist Annie Nichols attended the Faribault County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday to give an update on the project.

“The first step was to complete an environmental review,” Nichols told the commissioners. “This has been completed and we are waiting for the go ahead from DEED (Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development) to post it for review from other government agencies.”

Nichols asked the commissioners to set Dec. 21, during their regularly scheduled meeting, for a public hearing on the matter.

“This grant is money from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and. Economic Security) Act,” Nichols reminded the board. “I would also ask you to consider contracting with CCG Consulting to prepare the necessary documentation according to state and federal regulations. CCG Consulting is a full-service telecom consulting company and they have extensive knowledge on the grant programs.”

The board passed a motion to hire CCG Consulting to develop a RFP (Request for Proposal) and contract for an ISP (Internet Service Provider) and engineer for the project.

Wabasha County to invest $1 million American Rescue Plan funds on broadband

Post Bulletin reports

Wabasha County Administrator Michael Plante said the county board voted to commit $1 million of its $4.2 million American Rescue Plan money to expanding rural broadband access. While counties across the country still have questions on the federal guidelines for spending those funds – Plante said the county will hire a consultant to ensure it follows those guidelines to the letter once their hammered out – he envisions a grant program where internet providers can apply through a request for proposals, letting the county know what projects they prioritize in rural areas for their clients.

“Land-wise, a significant portion of the county is either unserved or underserved,” Plante said. “Primarily, we’re good in the cities. Population-wise, a substantial portion does have those internet capabilities. But businesses and families in the more rural areas need access to that.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, underserved areas are places with wireline broadband of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload, but less than 100/20 Mbps. Unserved areas are places with no wireline broadband of at least 25/3 Mbps.

Not everyone pushed for broadband…

Not everyone was supportive of the plan to spent $1 million on rural broadband. Wabasha County Commissioner Brian Goihl said that between the lack of guidance from the federal government, the fact that the county has until Dec. 31, 2023, to put plans in place and another three years for project completion, and other pressing spending needs in the county, he’d prefer to spend the $1 million on other projects.

EVENT Sep 22: Broadband Informational Meeting Coming In Wright County

From Wright County

Wright County is in the process of gathering information and public input on improving the county’s broadband capability and part of that process will include a public informational meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22 in the Wright County Board Room at the Government Center in downtown Buffalo (10 Second St. NW).

The county has contracted with the firm Design Nine out of Blacksburg, Virginia to complete a broadband study which included a public survey that was mailed out to all county residents in August. Jack Maytum, a senior broadband analyst with Design Nine, will be making a presentation of the results and will answer questions residents might have concerning the project.

The goal is to connect the underserved areas of Wright County with high-speed internet. The study will serve as a guide for the implementation of an expanded and improved broadband network and provide strategies to address rural high-speed internet deficiencies. The study will also provide the standards required for the county to seek out funding for state and federal grant programs designed to improve broadband connectivity.

For more information or for those with questions about the process or the informational meeting, contact Wright County Project Administrator Elizabeth Karels at elizabeth.karels@co.wright.mn.us or by calling (763) 684-8604.

 

EVENT Sep 22: Wright County is looking at better broadband

Patch reports

 

Wright County is in the process of gathering information and public input on improving the county’s broadband capability and part of that process will include a public informational meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22 in the Wright County Board Room at the Government Center in downtown Buffalo (10 Second St. NW).

The county has contracted with the firm Design Nine out of Blacksburg, Virginia to complete a broadband study which included a public survey that was mailed out to all county residents in August. Jack Maytum, a senior broadband analyst with Design Nine, will be making a presentation of the results and will answer questions residents might have concerning the project.

The goal is to connect the underserved areas of Wright County with high-speed internet. The study will serve as a guide for the implementation of an expanded and improved broadband network and provide strategies to address rural high-speed internet deficiencies. The study will also provide the standards required for the county to seek out funding for state and federal grant programs designed to improve broadband connectivity.