US Ignite, Inc. Adds Red Wing Ignite in Minnesota to Growing Smart Gigabit Communities (SGC) Program

Good news from Red Wing…

Today, US Ignite, Inc. announced that Red Wing Ignite, located in southern Minnesota, is the newest participant in the US Ignite Smart Gigabit Communities (SGC) program. US Ignite is a nonprofit that spurs the creation of next-generation applications and services that leverage advanced networking technologies to build the foundation for smart communities. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2015, US Ignite’s Smart Gigabit Communities program is creating “living lab” environments for the next generation of gigabit applications. Red Wing Ignite joins 24 other national and international communities participating in the SGC program.

“Building a diverse set of communities has been important to us since the start of the SGC program,” said William Wallace, Executive Director of US Ignite. “We are excited to have Red Wing on board to provide the unique perspective of a rural community. As an original member of US Ignite in 2013, the community has already succeeded in becoming a regional hub for digital innovation and business development. Joining the program is its next step in continuing this path of success.”

“We value the partnership we have built with US Ignite over the past four years, and we are honored to receive this new opportunity for our region,” said Neela Mollgaard, Executive Director of Red Wing Ignite and Community Leader of the SGC program. “The added resources and connections throughout the country will elevate our efforts in Minnesota.”

Smart Gigabit Communities is a collaboration among US Ignite, universities, municipalities, community anchor institutions like hospitals and schools, nonprofits, network carriers and ISPs.  Together, these organizations are focused on developing smart gigabit applications that address local community needs, such as education, workforce development, public safety, community health, smart energy and transportation. Each member of the program has committed to develop two gigabit applications or gigabit services per year that provide advanced technology solutions to issues faced by that community. They also agree to share those applications with other participants in the program.

According to US Ignite, it is essential for rural communities to be connected to other communities so that they don’t fall behind in the rapidly changing digital space. Access to a national network is critical in developing, launching and scaling new applications. The SGC program provides the infrastructure that allows Red Wing Ignite to a be a “tech hub” for greater Minnesota and serve students, entrepreneurs and businesses.
For example, Red Wing Ignite has expressed an interest in creating gigabit agricultural applications, as well as clean energy, healthcare, educational, and advanced manufacturing applications. One potential smart agricultural application uses thermal imagery from infrared cameras to measure temperatures and crop water stress during critical crop growth stages. Advanced networks enable local farmers to receive massive amounts of data from these cameras, analyze that data, and make informed decisions.

Hiawatha Broadband Communications (HBC) is a key technology partner for Red Wing Ignite, providing gigabit Internet speeds over FTTP networks reaching Red Wing Ignite users in nine Minnesota counties. HBC’s fiber optic transport ring connects more than twenty southern Minnesota cities with multiple 10 GB and 100 GB backbones. HBC will dedicate a team responsible for the networking and connectivity to partners in the Red Wing Ignite community, led by HBC president Dan Pecarina.

Many other organizations partner within the Red Wing Ignite community, including:  3M, Xcel Energy, City of Red Wing, Blandin Broadband Foundation, and Winona State University.

Paul Bunyan awarded Minnesota Broadband Grant for portions of Itasca County, St. Louis County, and Hubbard County

DEED made the grant announcements on Tuesday. I suspect there will be a few follow up notes from the various communities, which I will be sharing as I get them.

Paul Bunyan Communications has been awarded a Border to Border Broadband Grant from the state of Minnesota to expand its fiber optic services to portions of St Louis, Hubbard and Itasca Counties.
As a result, the cooperative will begin expansion construction next spring that will pass a minimum of 830 locations. The areas include the Hwy 34 corridor between Nevis and Park Rapids in Hubbard County, portions of the Side Lake Area that include locations in both Itasca County and St. Louis County, and an area Southeast of Bigfork and North of Scenic Highway. The project is estimated to cost $1.78 million, with Paul Bunyan Communications contributing $980,990, and the State of Minnesota
Border to Border grant contributing $802,620.
“We are excited to continue our efforts to bring broadband Internet speeds and services to those currently without it in our region. Our cooperative has a long history of expanding our network to unserved areas but it has become more difficult to go it alone without grant support. Thanks to the State of Minnesota Border to Border Grant Program we will be able to reach even more homes and businesses with speeds of up to a Gigabit per second further extending one of the largest rural Gigabit networks in the country!,” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.
Paul Bunyan Communications expects to finalize the expansion plans by early spring and will contact locations along the upcoming expansion routes shortly thereafter. Construction will start in the summer and will be completed by June 30, 2020.
Those in the region interested in keeping up to date on the project can look for updates on the Paul Bunyan website at
http://paulbunyan.net. Those in Itasca County can also join the Paul Bunyan Communications Itasca County Fiber Projects group on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/PBC.Itasca/
“This is a big deal to those in our project areas. I am excited about the opportunities that Paul Bunyan’s technology will bring to these locations. Employees will be able to work from home, students will have access to vast educational resources at incredible speeds, and seniors will be able to stay in their homes longer with telemedicine.” added Steve Howard, Paul Bunyan Communications Information Technology and Development Manager. “Access to high quality affordable Internet has been our focus at the cooperative since 1999. Our team has built a world class all-fiber optic network that has made it happen.” said
Howard.
“I must salute the hard work of our elected officials who have championed the Border to Border Broadband Grant Program. I want to thank all of them and also the Office of Broadband Development that oversees the program. This makes a world of difference in so many ways to a lot of people right here in northern Minnesota!” said Johnson.
All of the cooperative’s services will become available once the network is operational including GigaZone service options like unprecedented Broadband Internet speeds of up to 1000 Mbps – a Gigabit, PBTV Fusion and low cost unlimited local and long distance GigaZone voice telephone service. There is no membership fee to join Paul Bunyan Communications, membership is included by subscribing to either local phone service or GigaZone Internet service.
Paul Bunyan Communications has the region’s largest and fastest all fiber optic network with over 5,100 square miles throughout most of Beltrami County and portions of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties. The Cooperative provides Broadband High Speed Internet Services including the GigaZone, digital and high definition television services, Smart Home services, digital voice services, Residential and Business IT services, and is also northern Minnesota’s certified Apple Service Center.

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.