Humphrey School recognizes innovative local government broadband projects

The University of Minnesota reports…

Across the state of Minnesota, local governments are finding creative ways to deliver services to their residents with greater impact and at lower cost. Examples include expanding broadband access in rural Minnesota communities, improving educational outcomes for American Indian students, and enhancing emergency response to people with mental health issues.

Those projects and nearly two dozen others are being recognized by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, as recipients of its 11th annual Local Government Innovation Awards (LGIA).

Sunrise Township was recognized for their work getting better broadband through CenturyLink and a State Border to Border Broadband grant…

Township Category: Sunrise Township—Broadband Initiative
Sunrise Township in Chisago County spearheaded an extensive effort consisting of community meetings, required notices, and securing approval from 50 percent of property owners, to bring broadband infrastructure to its residents. A collaborative effort between residents and the township board led to creation of a Subordinate Service District (SSD) to help facilitate the installation and financing of high-speed internet through Century Link. The township received a grant and began acquiring a bond, while Century Link assists with funding and works to install fiber optics to SDD area residents by December 2018.

Traverse County also got a nice nod for their work on a wireless project at the county level.

Main Street Gibbon is getting a 3D printer – that’s what happens with FTTP

I love to share stories about what works when good broadband and innovation meet to the advantage of rural development. Today’s happy story comes from Gibbon, MN.

Winthrop News reports…

The Gibbon City Council has agreed to sell the State Bank of Gibbon building to Corey Theis of Gibbon. The Council asked $14,000 for the building, the amount of expenses that I has in the building.

Theis will pay 25 percent down with the balance on a four year contract for deed at zero percent interest.

Plans for the building is to create a home for a startup 3D printing service shop that will be owned and operative by a local resident of the community. Theis stated that to start with the building will be capable of making various types of plastic parts for jigs, and fixtures, manufacturing tooling, prototypes, product development and engineering consulting.

Gibbon has FTTP through RS Fiber. That makes is possible to download, upload, transfer large design files that would likely be used in 3D printing.

Fond du Lac gets $2 Million from USDA for FTTH

Congrats to Fond du Lac recipient of a USDA Rural Development Community Connect Grants.

N Fond du Lac Band of Lake
Superior Chippewa
$2,109,007
To construct an FTTP system to provide state-of-the-art
broadband services to unserved residents and businesses in
the Big Lake area of the Fond du Lac Reservation. A
community center will be established where residents may
have access to computer terminals and free internet for at
least two years

Case study of Cook County MN – building a case, building partnerships, building broadband

CoBank recently published a helpful (and inspiring!) report on Making the Move to Broadband: Rural Electric Co-ops Detail Their Experience. The whole report is worth a read if you’re looking at tackling rural broadband and even you’re not an electric cooperative. One of the communities they highlight is Cook County and old ARRA project deployed by Arrowhead Electric Cooperative.

A little bit of background on the project. IN 2009, Cook County was listed as least served counties in Minnesota; last I looked they had 94 percent coverage for speeds of 25/3 and 100/20. ARRA Funding is the impetus for the jump. (Although they were also part of Blandin’s MIRC program, which certainly helped boost use of the network.)

The case study is in the form of an interview – Jenny Kartes from Arrowhead talking to Mark Doyle from CoBank. I am just going to pull out the section (pg 43-44) that I think will have the most value for the greatest number of reader – so folks with and without a relationship to a cooperative – although I have to say the ethos for the cooperative certainly seems like a good fit for getting rural broadband done…

MD: Did you partner with anyone?

JK: We did. At the beginning of our project, we had a number of options as to how we were going to do this. Were we going to be the retail provider or the wholesale provider? We found quickly that there is a large learning curve especially related to phone and the assets you need for providing phone service. We wanted a partner with our same values and good industry knowledge. We found Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC) out of Brainerd, Minnesota, which as a cooperative really had our same values and has been doing this for a very long time. They were a good fit for us, and they were very excited to work with us as well. It was a good partnership as a small entity. There was a lot more on the front end than we had originally realized. We did indeed need that partnership and rely heavily on it.

MD: How are you funding the project?

JK: We funded this project through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the broadband initiative program. It was funded through a $16.1 million federal grant and loan: $11.3 million in grant and $4.8 million in federal loan. After our application, we realized that due to our terrain and the seasonality of our customers, it was going to cost a bit more than that. We then went to our county, and they

provided $4 million more in grant funds to us. It was a $20 million project in total, roughly 75 percent grant funded.

MD: Did you collect contributions in aid to construction from your subscribers?

JK: On the initial rollout of our project we did not. We had a window of a few years, as we were rolling out our construction, when we allowed people to essentially sign up for free construction to the home. It did not require them to take service. Once that window closed, and if you did not sign up within that window, then we do require 100 percent aid to construction from the subscriber. Since our subscribers are not necessarily members of our cooperative, we do require them to fund that construction.

MD: Was the project on time and on budget?

JK: Based on our original projections, it was not. As I mentioned earlier, our original budget was significantly short and we required an additional $4 million to complete the project. We then reworked our budget a few times, and we did stay very close to our second budget that included the additional $4 million.

 

However, that did create a timing issue as far as securing the additional funds to complete the project. The project was initially to be done at the end of 2013, and we finalized the project in 2015. Construction delays were mainly due to the terrain. We have a lot of rock, and construction is slow going in our service area. Additionally, the very short construction season in northern Minnesota

slowed us down.

MD: Did you encounter any surprises or challenges along the way?

JK: Yes. I could talk for quite a while on that. Having detailed maps and accurate plant records would have saved us a lot of frustration and a lot of time as the project began. We also did not realize the importance of on-site engineering, on-site contractor management and constant quality assurance throughout the project, at every point. We ended the project with those elements in place. We also ended up changing some of our contractors/vendors mid-project. Many of our contract crews were a bit surprised by our service territory and the time it took to complete work, never doing work up here before.

MD: What is your long-term measurement for the success of this project?

JK: The long-term measurement for success, being that our goal was to just get our community connected, is that the broadband project and division can be financially self-sustaining. We do not want the project to have any risk for our electric members. We’re not looking to make large profits off of it. If it can stand on its own financially, and provide good customer service and good broadband service to our community, we will call it a success.

HBC Services Now Available in Cannon Falls

Good news for Cannon Falls from Hiawatha Broadband

Hiawatha Broadband Communications, Inc. (HBC) has announced that residents and businesses can begin signing up for its Internet, Video, and Phone services in Cannon Falls.

HBC officials said approximately 400 homes and businesses located in the area from the fairgrounds to Highway 9 and U.S. Highway 52 to 6th Street can now begin signing up to be connected to the state-of-the-art fiber-optic network and the full range of HBC services. Services are currently available to a select number of homes and businesses with services to be made available to the entire area by mid-October.

HBC President and CEO, Dan Pecarina, said new customers will have access to the fastest Internet in the region.

“Our Cannon Falls customers are going to have access to our super-fast Internet with speeds of up to one Gigabit. In addition, they can enjoy vivid high-definition Video, and crystal-clear Phone service. We believe customers will be very pleased with the quality of our services and our superior, local, customer service.” he said.

HBC Internet service features speeds up to one Gigabit. HBC Video offers up to 350 channels including nearly 130 HD channels and local programming produced by HBC Studios. Phone service options include Unlimited Local and Long Distance Calling and other home phone options. Customers will be able to keep their current phone number upon switching services.

Anyone interested in HBC services is encouraged to call (888) 474-9995 to speak with a Customer Care Representative.

New Cannon Falls residential customers will be eligible for HBC’s Cornerstone program. Any customer choosing 100 Mbps Internet service will have the option of upgrading to Gigabit speeds with no increase to their monthly bill.

Company officials say a local HBC office in Cannon Falls will be open by the end of October.

Fond du Lac Break ground on $8.2 million FTTH Project

This summer, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa broke ground on their fiber to the home project. Yay! Sadly, I wasn’t able to make the event. Thankfully Zachary N. Dunaiski from the Fond du Lac newspaper was willing to share notes and a picture with me.

I have done training on Fond du Lac. I have worked with entrepreneurs who run their businesses from their smartphone. I’ve worked with Elders on how to use Facebook to share (and tag) historical photos to help put names to faces. I’ve worked with people who want to use broadband to help their kids learn and help themselves earn a living. Earning a living may come from setting up an eBay shop or putting a profile on LinkedIn. In fact, one of my favorite teaching stories is the father and son duo who came to class. In class they decided to join LinkedIn – mostly on the premise that the father’s connections could be good for the son’s job search. BUT before the end of the class, the father (a pipe fitter) had a hit on his profile and a likely job lead!

In other words – this is a community that has built up demand. And now broadband supply is in the making.

The network cost is projected at $8.2 million. Two $3 million grants were secured from the USDA, Rural Development – Community Connect program. Fond du Lac Band is contributing $2.2 million to match.

Construction began last month (July 2017) and is expected to end October 2018. The project covers most of the Fond du Lac Reservation. The installation will include 160 miles of the main line fiber and 78 miles of drops or connections to the home. Also, there will be two Central offices located in Sawyer and Brookston. The project can provide connectivity to 1000 homes for both Band and Non-Band members.

Fond do Lac will benefit from this project with more than just business; it will also open up many opportunities such as Telemedicine, home health care, electronic health records, online schooling, and more. Additionally, the system is designed for voice, video, and data.

Nobles County board approves $1 million gift for broadband

According to the Daily Globe

Commissioner Gene Metz stepped away from his seat on the Nobles County board Tuesday morning to wear his second hat — that of vice president of Lismore Cooperative Telephone Co. (LCTC) — to ask the board to financially support the completion of Nobles County’s broadband project, to the tune of nearly $1 million.

After some discussion, it passed on a 4-0 vote with Metz abstaining.

Earlier this year, LCTC was awarded a $2.94 million grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, but another $1 million in anticipated grant funding fell through. In need of additional funding to complete the project, representatives from the cooperative appeared before commissioners in April seeking a $3 million loan. Discussion later turned to bonding for the money.

The article details the reasons why the commissioners decided to support the work of the cooperative…

“If you feel strongly enough, it’s economic development for the county,” he added.

Commissioner Justin Ahlers said he wanted to go on record saying the broadband project is essentially “building a library.”

“We’re not investing in bricks and mortar, but it’s impacting everyone in the county,” Ahlers said. “Internet is the way it is now. I can’t see us going backwards.”