Long Prairie (MN) partners with CTC for FTTH

The Institute for Local Self Reliance reports on Long Prairie…

In embarking on its journey to improve local Internet access six years ago, Long Prairie (pop. 3,300) ended up partnering with one of the most aggressive fiber network builders in the state – Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) – on a solution that meets local needs. The two finished a ubiquitous Fiber-to-the-Home build in 2018, with CTC now owning and operating the network.

They ran into issues, including uncooperative incumbents…

In 2015, Long Prairie tried to qualify for the Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program to solve connectivity issues. Part of the grant included doing speed tests to show the incumbents were not providing 25/3 service locally, but less than half that speed. Unfortunately for the community, those tests and the application were challenged by the incumbents and thrown out – another funding wave went by with no luck.

This remains a huge barrier for a lot of communities working to bring the connectivity in their communities up to or beyond the federal definition of 25/3. Incumbents report that they are providing 25/3 when they aren’t, but won’t make updates to improve their network. This takes communities out of the running for state and federal dollars to build networks that work for them.

They found a solution that included a city issued bond and cooperative provider…

The city issued a bond to finance the project and CTC and Long Prairie entered into a series of agreements beginning in 2016, the first of which was that CTC would assume responsibility for the construction of a citywide Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network and make payments on the $3.7 million loan over the course of 10 years.

The second agreement was that CTC would lease the network from the city over those 10 years to provide services to businesses and residents. The final agreement was the right of first refusal to purchase the network. At the end of 10 years, CTC would automatically take ownership, or at any time during the lease agreement once the loan was paid off.

CTC was able to build the 111-mile network from 2017-2018, passing 1,303 locations.

Electric Coops could help close broadband gaps – esp with eased easement policies

The Worthington Globe posts a letter from Darrick Moe, Minnesota Rural Electric Association…

Surprisingly, even a full year after the pandemic’s onset, 440,000 Minnesotans still do not have access to a wired broadband connection with 25 Mbps or faster speeds. Another 125,000 do not have any wired internet providers with services available at their place of residence, according to the organization BroadbandNow.

Just like water and electricity, broadband has quickly emerged as an essential service, and border-to-border broadband access is a state priority.

Historically, when large companies win state and federal grants to expand broadband access, they often cherry-pick a path serving larger population centers to enhance profits. This approach, while beneficial for investors, results in islands of unserved and underserved communities that become even more difficult and expensive to reach. Without a financial incentive to serve the smaller and more rural areas, they are bypassed time and time again for larger, more profitable service areas.

In the 1930s, a similar situation unfolded in rural Minnesota. For-profit utilities had the opportunity to bring electricity to rural communities, but many of those companies chose not to build power lines in the areas. Fast forward 90 years, and profitability is now preventing deployment of broadband in rural communities.

With a primary mission of serving the needs of the communities they serve, not-for-profit electric cooperatives came to the rescue for rural America by stringing power lines in smaller, less populated areas. Today, electric co-ops can be an asset in making broadband accessible to all Minnesotans.

He mentions one way the State could make it easier for electric cooperatives to serve broadband…

Currently, if an electric co-op wants to deploy broadband or partner with a telecommunications company to deploy broadband, they must first get a newly signed easement agreement from every landowner that gives the co-op express permission to use the easement for broadband purposes. However, obtaining new easements is an extremely time-intensive and expensive task.

To address this legal challenge, the Minnesota Rural Electric Association has worked with state legislators to draft HF 686/SF 1304. This bill would allow co-ops to use their current electric service easements to also deploy broadband, providing they give easement holders six months’ notice in a bill insert or via first-class mail and recognize a landowner’s right to commence legal action or seek damages for a fair market decrease in property value.

Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch Digital Ready Communities Notes and Video

Thanks so much to everyone who came to the Lunch Bunch today and especially to Annie Cruz-Porter, Calla Jarvie and Emily Del Real for coming to talk about the Digital Ready Communities program. One fun offshoot of the Fall Broadband conference was that three Minnesota communities were able to work as pilots with the program at Purdue University. Today we got to loop back with the program and partners.

This is a fascinating program that helps communities focus on how folks in a community are connecting with each other and the outside world, especially online. It includes a assessment, a survey and creating a team to be more purposeful about building local, trusted channels for communication as well as creating a message that promotes the community to the outside world.

Register for future Lunches: Upcoming May 12 and May 26

And here’s the chat Continue reading

EVENT Apr 23: MN Small Cities Coronavirus Funding Info Session

From the Mn Department of Employment and Economic Development

As part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), Minnesota received a $37.6M special allocation to address community needs to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. After an open community input process on how to use the money, and an approval from the Housing and Urban Development agency (HUD), we’ve received clearance to open up this grant program and are excited to receive applications.

DEED is administering this Small Cities Coronavirus Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program, and we encourage cities and counties across Minnesota to consider applying. Cities and counties of all sizes in Minnesota – including both entitlement and non-entitlement jurisdictions – are eligible for funding.

Eligible activities include $5M for COVID-19 emergency assistance, $4.5M in rehabilitation of buildings critical to pandemic response, and $25.5M in broadband infrastructure.

Grant applications are now being accepted and the deadline to apply is 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 1, 2021. DEED is hosting a webinar at 1:00 p.m. this Friday, April 23 to provide potential applicants with an overview of the process and program and to answer any questions.

Applications in this competitive grant process will be rated according to need, impact and cost effectiveness. Funds are intended for projects that are focused on the locality and that will be used primarily for low-and-moderate income residents.

Here’s more on the program:

In the public service category, funding is earmarked for projects that provide a new or increased level of public service in specific areas:

  • $3M will be available for subsistence assistance to income-eligible residents economically impacted by the pandemic for rent payments, mortgage assistance, or utility payments.
  • $1M will be available for testing kits, personal protective equipment and other related items to help reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
  • $1M will be available to support food shelves/pantries that provide increased access to food and delivery support to those impacted by COVID-19.

In the retrofitting buildings and commercial rehabilitation category, $4.5M has been allocated for projects that would address a wide range of improvements and rehabilitation activities related to food shelves, social distancing requirements, HVAC systems, patient treatment centers, existing shelters or other facilities used for emergency shelters.

The state has earmarked about $25.5 million for broadband infrastructure to support increased connectivity for telework, telemedicine, telelearning and televisits. See the program page for more about what broadband projects would qualify.

Call for Applications and Webinar

  • Here is information on the Call for Applications.
  • DEED will host a webinar to provide potential applicants with an overview of the program and to answer any questions. This Microsoft Teams meeting will be held at 1:00 p.m. Friday, April 23.
  • You can Join on your computer or mobile app or call in (audio only): 1- 651-395-7448 (Phone Conference ID: 687 187 744#).

Electric cooperatives want to use easements for broadband as well as electricity

Minnesota legislature is looking at a bill that would extend electric cooperative easements to include use broadband and electricity. The Albert Lea Tribune posts a guest post from Darrick Moe, president and CEO of the Minnesota Rural Electric Association about easements….

With a primary mission of serving the needs of the communities they serve, not-for-profit electric cooperatives came to the rescue for rural America by stringing power lines in smaller, less populated areas. Today, electric co-ops can be an asset in making broadband accessible to all Minnesotans.

Unlike any for-profit business or governmental entity, electric cooperatives already have the critical infrastructure in place that is needed to bring broadband to every corner of the state. Minnesota’s 44 distribution cooperatives serve 1.7 million Minnesotans in all 87 counties and operate the largest distribution network in the state with more than 135,000 miles of electric lines.

Minnesota’s electric cooperatives can be part of the solution to bridge the digital divide. The cooperative business model, existing infrastructure and proven history make electric co-ops natural champions for deploying broadband to rural America. However, there is a legal challenge that must be addressed first.

Currently, if an electric co-op wants to deploy broadband or partner with a telecommunications company to deploy broadband, they must first get a newly signed easement agreement from every landowner that gives the co-op express permission to use the easement for broadband purposes. However, obtaining new easements is an extremely time-intensive and expensive task.

To address this legal challenge, the Minnesota Rural Electric Association has worked with state legislators to draft HF 686/SF 1304. This bill would allow co-ops to use their current electric service easements to also deploy broadband, providing they give easement holders six months’ notice in a bill insert or via first-class mail and recognize a landowner’s right to commence legal action or seek damages for a fair market decrease in property value.

This legislative bill supports Governor Walz’s initiatives to develop strategies to unlock the benefits of universal access to broadband for all communities in Minnesota while supporting inclusion, equity and children’s initiatives. High-speed internet services are essential to community development, economic growth and prosperity, and educational attainment across the state.

MN Bill aims to expand broadband in rural MN by expending easements for electric coops

KTOE reports

A bill at the State Capitol would allow rural electric cooperatives to use existing and future held easements for broadband. Brian Krambeer is President and Ceo of My Energy Cooperative and he says the bill could help cities, especially those in Greater Minnesota, improve access to broadband.

“Electric co-ops are non-profit organizations. we’re looking for an opportunity to help and benefit our members, we want all of our members to be able to have broadband because it’s an important quality of life thing just like electrification was in the 1930s.”

U.S. Senators Tina Smith, John Hoeven Reintroduce Bill to Improve Financial Stability of Electric Coops, Small Rural Broadband Providers

From the office of Senator Tina Smith (the bill is supported by Senator Klobuchar)…

U.S. Senators Tina Smith, John Hoeven Reintroduce Bill to Improve Financial Stability of Electric Coops, Small Rural Broadband Providers Legislation Enables Rural Electric Coops, Telecom Providers to Refinance RUS Debt, Support Stronger COVID-19 Recovery

WASHINGTON, D.C. [03/26/21]—U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) reintroduced a bipartisan bill to help stabilize the finances of the nation’s rural electric cooperatives and rural broadband providers. The Flexible Financing for Rural America Act would make it possible for rural electric cooperatives and telecommunications providers to refinance their Rural Utilities Service (RUS) debt at lower interest rates. A House companion was introduced by Reps. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.) and Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.).

Sens. Smith and Hoeven said that this could help rural cooperatives and businesses better manage cash-flow, invest in rural communities, and pass savings on to customers.

“Rural electric cooperatives are critical to economic success in small towns and rural areas across Minnesota,” said Sen. Smith. “We ought to support them so they can continue to boost our infrastructure, all while supporting jobs and improving Minnesotans’ quality of life. I successfully pushed to make rural electric cooperatives eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program during the pandemic. And my bipartisan RURAL Act was signed into law to fix a mistake in the 2017 tax law that put the tax-exempt status of cooperatives at risk if they received government grants to expand broadband or recover from a disaster. Now, I’m focused on making sure electric cooperatives are able to refinance their Rural Utilities Service debt at lower interest rates.”

“Our legislation provides the opportunity for electric and telecommunication cooperatives to refinance their Rural Utilities Service debt at current market rates without penalty,” said Sen. Hoeven. “This is about reinvesting in our rural communities, passing savings on to consumers and further supporting efforts to continue overcoming challenges from COVID-19. Families and businesses living and working in rural communities across North Dakota and the country depend on these cooperatives and the critical services they provide.”

“It’s crucial that we address the needs of our long-overlooked rural communities, who too often encounter barriers in accessing quality, affordable utilities,” said Rep. O’Halleran. “Our Flexible Financing for Rural America Act will extend a lifeline to hundreds of electric cooperatives serving rural families and businesses.”

“In our ever-growing connected society, the need to expand rural broadband in Missouri and across America continues to be one of my top priorities in Congress,” said Rep. Hartzler. “Nearly 30 percent of rural Missourians still lack vital access to highspeed internet. The bipartisan Flexible Financing for Rural America Act will jumpstart these communities, allowing them the same essential telecommunications resources urban areas routinely enjoy in our digital age. I am proud to see strong support for our legislation and its potential benefits for Fourth District families, schools, farms, healthcare providers, and businesses.”

“Rural electric cooperatives provide vital electricity service across Minnesota,” said Darrick Moe, CEO of the Minnesota Rural Electric Association. “They loan funds from the federal Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to make that happen, and pay those loans back with interest.  Typically loans can be adjusted when interest rates fall, but the interest rates on these RUS loans are effectively frozen due to penalties that get imposed for refinancing.  Senator Smith is introducing a bill, with broad bipartisan support, to remove this barrier. This is a common sense fix that will help keep power bills affordable and help cooperatives as they support their local communities. Senator Smith’s leadership in this area is appreciated.”  Darrick Moe, Minnesota Rural Electric Association, CEO.

“Small, community-based broadband providers have answered the call to keep their neighbors connected in the face of a global pandemic and the economic challenges that have followed,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association. “Allowing providers who use RUS loans to take advantage of low interest rates is a commonsense step that will make a big impact and give providers the flexibility to continue to support their communities as they recover from the pandemic. On behalf of NTCA’s members, I thank Senators Smith and Hoeven and Representatives O’Halleran and Hartzler for reintroducing the Flexible Financing for Rural America Act.”

In addition to Sens. Smith and Hoeven, the Flexible Financing for Rural America Act is supported by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.).

MN Legislators look at extends easements to rural electric cooperatives (HF686/SF1304)

The legislature is working on a bill that would make it easier for electric cooperatives to bring broadband to their customers and maybe beyond by allowing them to use existing easements – and rather than gather opt-in permission door to door to use easements for broadband, they could use the opt-out method by announcing it to customers in their newsletters with a deadline for customers to voice concerns. Thanks to MREA (MN Rural Electric Association) for sharing a recent article from a recent report with more details…

MINNESOTA’S ELECTRIC COOPERATIVES CAN BE A GREAT PARTNER IN BRIDGING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE – BUT ONLY WITH A CHANGE IN STATE STATUTE

By Joyce Peppin, director, government affairs & general counsel

The COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges in the past year, including forcing school districts and business owners to figure out how to conduct operations on virtual platforms. That problem is exasperated in rural areas of the state that don’t have access to high-speed internet. Surprisingly, even a full year after the onset of the pandemic, 440,000 Minnesotans still do not have access to a wired broadband connection with speeds of 25 Mbps or faster, and another 125,000 do not have any wired internet providers with services available at their place of residence, according to the organization BroadbandNow.

Electric cooperatives could be a big part of the solution to bridge the digital divide – the technological gap between those with access to up-to-date technologies and those without access. Electric co-ops are located throughout Minnesota, and unlike any other for-profit business or governmental entity, they already have the infrastructure in place. They are uniquely positioned to bring broadband to corners of the state that are currently not served or underserved, but there is a legal challenge that must be addressed first.

The problem is that for an electric co-op to deploy broadband (or partner with a telecommunications company to deploy broadband), they must first get a new signed easement agreement from every landowner that gives the co-op express permission to use the easement for broadband purposes. However, obtaining new easements is an extremely time-intensive and expensive task.

To address this legal change, MREA worked with state legislators to draft HF 686/SF 1304. This bill would allow co-ops to use their current easements for deploying broadband, so long as they give easement holders six months notice in a bill insert or via first-class mail and recognize a landowner’s right to commence legal action or seek damages for a fair market decrease in property value. If the bill passes, co-ops would have more legal certainty that they would prevail in a lawsuit against trespass claims by landowner rights’ groups and would be more likely to help bring high-speed internet to the unserved or underserved.

While not every co-op will participate in deploying broadband, the passage of this bill will provide the state with another tool in the toolbox to bridge the digital divide. Please contact your legislators and ask them to support HF 686/SF 1304!

Minnesota cooperatives West Central and CTC on steady path of expansion (Todd, Cass and Wadena Counties)

The Wadena Pioneer Journal reports…

The focus on broadband is a commitment West Central Telephone, Consolidated Telephone Company and area leaders and organizations have been in, and will continue, for the long-term.

Both cooperatives encourage new projects in unserved areas, as West Central CEO and general manager Chad Bullock and CTC director of business development Joe Buttweiler shared on March 12. During the Todd Wadena Development Summit, attendees thanked the providers for working on broadband issues.

“Our focus has been to the unserved areas,” Bullock said. “But it’s been a steady crawl.”

West Central got a state grant for a project in Wadena and Cass Counties…

While CTC is searching for new Todd and Wadena county projects, West Central will begin their rural Staples phase two project this year. They received a $465,050 grant from the state for 56 unserved locations in Wadena and Cass counties.

Wadena County district 2 commissioner Mike Weyer is excited about this project being completed in the Thomastown area. He said the project last year came about 2 miles from his home and is expectant of this one to finish providing service.

The second phase is expected to start as soon as possible and have fiber in the ground by this upcoming winter, according to Bullock. The service will include 1 Gbps download and upload speeds when completed.

Bill extending Rural Electric Coops easements to broadband introduced in MN House (HF686

The MN House Chief Clerk’s Office reports

H. F. 686, A bill for an act relating to rural broadband; allowing existing easements held by rural electric cooperatives to be used to provide broadband service; amending Minnesota Statutes 2020, section 308A.201, subdivision 12.

The bill was read for the first time and referred to the Committee on Commerce Finance and Policy.

Here’s the full bill as introduced (new part highlighted)…

A bill for an act
relating to rural broadband; allowing existing easements held by rural electric
cooperatives to be used to provide broadband service; amending Minnesota Statutes
2020, section 308A.201, subdivision 12.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA:

Section 1.

Minnesota Statutes 2020, section 308A.201, subdivision 12, is amended to
read:

Subd. 12.

Electric cooperative powers.

(a) An electric cooperative has the power and
authority to:

(1) make loans to its members;

(2) prerefund debt;

(3) obtain funds through negotiated financing or public sale;

(4) borrow money and issue its bonds, debentures, notes, or other evidence of
indebtedness;

(5) mortgage, pledge, or otherwise hypothecate its assets as may be necessary;

(6) invest its resources;

(7) deposit money in state and national banks and trust companies authorized to receive
deposits; and

(8) exercise all other powers and authorities granted to cooperatives.

(b) A cooperative organized to provide rural electric power may enter agreements and
contracts with other electric power cooperatives or with a cooperative constituted of electric
power cooperatives to share losses and risk of losses to their transmission and distribution
lines, transformers, substations, and related appurtenances from storm, sleet, hail, tornado,
cyclone, hurricane, or windstorm. An agreement or contract or a cooperative formed to
share losses under this paragraph is not subject to the laws of this state relating to insurance
and insurance companies.

(c) A cooperative organized to provide rural electric power may, on behalf of itself, its
subsidiary, or a business partner, provide broadband service by using an easement owned,
held, or used by the electric cooperative. An existing easement does not limit the type, size,
or amount of broadband infrastructure that may be used to provide broadband service, nor
is an electric cooperative required to obtain additional easements or pay additional
compensation to a property owner who is a party to an existing easement agreement in order
to provide broadband service.

(d) For the purposes of paragraph (c):

(1) “broadband service” means any service that provides advanced telecommunications
capability and Internet access; and

(2) “broadband infrastructure” has the meaning given in section 116J.394.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective the day following final enactment.

EVENT Oct 21: Digital Inclusion and K-12 Education: The Impact of COVID-19 on Students and Educators

From BroadbandUSA…

You are invited to join NTIA’s BroadbandUSA Practical Broadband Conversations Webinar 

 

Topic: Digital Inclusion and K-12 Education: The Impact of COVID-19 on Students and Educators

Date:   Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Time:  2:00 to 3:00 p.m. ET

Overview: The rapid shift to online learning can be a challenge for students, families, and educators – particularly in low-income, rural, and tribal communities. As the new school year begins, the longstanding issue of digital inclusion stands in sharp relief. Join BroadbandUSA on October 21st to learn how communities are helping students get connected, assisting parents and caregivers gain the skills to help their children navigate online learning environments, and transitioning educators to online teaching. This panel will explore the challenges that communities and schools are facing, their innovative solutions to keep students connected, and their plans to transition from short-term solutions to long-term sustainable programs.

Speakers:

  • Dr. Christine Diggs, Chief Technology Officer, Albemarle County Public Schools, VA
  • Michael Culp, Director of Information Technology Department, Albemarle County, VA
  • Kimball Sekaquaptewa, Chief Technology Director, Santa Fe Indian School, Santa Fe, NM
  • Joshua Edmonds, Director of Digital Inclusion, City of Detroit, MI

Moderators:

  • Emy Tseng, Senior Program Specialist, BroadbandUSA, National Telecommunications and Information Administration

Please pre-register for the webinar using this registration link. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Want to access past Practical Broadband Conversations webinars? Visit our webinar archives for past presentations, transcripts and audio recordings.

Senators Tina Smith, Amy Klobuchar push bipartisan effort to improve financial stability of Electric Coops, Small Rural Broadband Providers in Next COVID Relief Package

From Senator Smith’s office…

U.S. Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) are pushing Senate leaders to add their bipartisan plan to help stabilize the finances of the nation’s rural electric cooperatives and rural broadband providers in the next coronavirus relief package.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senators pressed their Flexible Financing for Rural America Act, which would make it possible for rural electric cooperatives and telecommunications providers to refinance their Rural Utilities Service (RUS) debt at lower interest rates. By taking advantage of current lower interest rates, these rural cooperatives and businesses would be able to better manage cash-flow, invest in rural communities, and pass savings on to customers. The letter was signed by a bipartisan group of Senators who back the measure.

Sens. Smith and Hoeven say that this bill would also spur stronger recovery from the economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rural cooperatives and businesses have struggled due to a decline in electrical consumption from industrial sources and an increase in unpaid bills from customers who have faced financial hardship.

“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has reached every corner of our country, creating financial hardship for communities and businesses in almost every sector of our economy,” wrote the Senators. “Rural areas have not been spared, and the crisis has highlighted existing disparities in things like broadband that have made recovery an even larger challenge. At the same time, many member-owned cooperatives and broadband providers have struggled financially as a result of the economic downturn related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Allowing borrowers to refinance their RUS loans at the current lower interest rates would enable a stronger recovery by providing rural cooperatives and businesses flexibility in managing their cash flow. Some estimates have predicted that this move could save businesses millions per year in debt payments, allowing these companies to invest in electric infrastructure or rural broadband networks in their communities, and pass savings on directly to customers. These investments would be especially vital as rural communities work to recover from the COVID-19 crisis.”

In addition to Sens. Smith and Hoeven, the letter was signed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Sen. Smith has been working to get relief to rural electric coops during the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, Sens. Smith and Hoeven led a bipartisan group of Senators in urging the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Small Business Administration (SBA) to support rural electric cooperatives and ensure their access to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).  When Sen. Smith heard that Minnesota cooperatives were at risk of losing their tax-exempt status if they received grants to expand broadband or recover from a disaster, she wanted to reverse that. The key government spending package that was signed into law last year included her bipartisan bill with Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to ensure co-ops can retain their tax exemptions when they receive government grants.

You can read a copy of the letter here.

Paul Bunyan Communications Returns Capital Credits Early; Over $4.1 Million Distributed, Largest in Cooperative Histor

I don’t usually share such business-focused press releases, but it’s a good time for good news and it seems like a sign that you can make a business case for rural broadband at Gig speeds…

Instead of the regular fall distribution, Paul Bunyan Communications has sent out the 2020 Capital Credit return early to its members and it is the largest return in the cooperative’s history, over $4.1 million.
Paul Bunyan Communications is a not for profit company that strives to provide the highest quality service at the most affordable rates. As a cooperative, membership in Paul Bunyan Communications includes sharing in the financial success of the company. Profits are allocated to the members based on their proportional share of the allocable revenues. These allocations may then be returned to the individual members through capital credit retirements.
The 2020 distribution includes 20% of credits earned in 2019 and the remaining credits earned in 2002. For current members with a distribution amount of $100 or less, a credit has been applied to your June bill. Checks have been mailed out to members receiving more than $100. “The state of the cooperative is strong and our all-fiber optic network, the GigaZone, is one of the largest rural gigabit networks in the country. This enables our members to keep connected to work from home, distance learn, use telehealth services, watch streaming video, and much more. To help our members in these current circumstances, our Board of Directors felt strongly about paying out capital credits as aggressively and as quickly as possible” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.
“Our cooperative member-owned structure and rural focus allows us to provide technologies and a level of service to our members unlike other providers. We are well prepared and committed to provide our members the critical communication services they need with the local customer service they deserve now and well into the future. Thank you to all of our members for being a part of Minnesota’s largest broadband cooperative!” added Randy Frisk, Board President.
“Our cooperative provides the latest in technology at cost. There is no membership fee to join Paul Bunyan Communications and there are no annual membership dues. To become a member of the cooperative, all you need to do is subscribe to either local phone or broadband Internet service. You get the latest in technology backed up by our talented team of over 130 local employees that all live and work here” added Dave Schultz, Paul Bunyan Communications Chief Financial Officer.

MN Cooperative Fiber Coverage up 1,000 square miles from 2019

The Institute for Local Self Reliance has updated their 2017 report on how Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America; they update it on a regular basis. The quick take from the Minnesota perspective – coverage in Minnesota has increased by 1,000 square miles – or percentage wise from 21.6 to 22.3 percent in the last year.

2020 Coverage

2019 Coverage

And here are recommendations…

Federal and state governments must recognize that cooperatives are one of the best tools for ubiquitous, rural, high-speed Internet access.

  1. Design funding programs with cooperatives in mind.
    1. Letters of credit from the largest banks may be hard to come by for smaller cooperatives.
    2. Make applications as simple and easy as possible. Staff time is limited at small cooperatives.
    3. Develop grant and loan programs rather than create incentives in the tax code for infrastructure investment.
  2. Encourage cooperatives by removing barriers and encouraging partnerships.
    1. Remove barriers to electric cooperatives exploring the possibility of fiber network. Cooperatives should not be prevented from applying to federal grants that they are eligible for because of hindersome state laws.
    2. Encourage partnerships, including with existing muni networks.
  3. If you live in a rural area, talk to your neighbors, co-op manager, and board members about the potential for Internet networks. Successful cooperative projects are community-led projects. About 70 percent of electric cooperatives have less than 10 percent average turnout for their board member elections.25
    1. Co-Mo Electric Cooperative in Missouri had excited members go door-to-door and gave out yard signs to encourage folks to get involved with the project. Many community members also wrote letters of support for the project.
    2. In New Mexico, the local business community voiced their needs at Kit Carson Electric Cooperative board meetings to encourage the co-op to build a fiber network.
    3. Delta Montrose Electric Association in Colorado overcame an initial reluctance to develop an Internet access project after overwhelming demand from its members.26
  4. Make it clear that rural connectivity is about more than entertainment. Farmers, programmers, and entrepreneurs all need high-speed Internet access. Rural connectivity also supports needed research.
    1. Allband Communications Cooperative started a non-profit called ACEWR, which collaborates with universities and research institutions across the United States. It is a prime spot for research on local wildlife, endangered species, and conservation projects. The nonprofit also has an online workforce development program to train locals in new skills, empowering them to succeed in the 21st century economy