Blandin makes Broadband Communities Mag FTTH Top 100

Broadband Communities Mag has an annual list of the top 100 organizations that make Fiber to the Home possible for communities. Here’s what they look for:

In selecting the FTTH Top 100, the editors looked for organizations that advance the cause of fiber-based broadband by

* Deploying networks that are large or ambitious, have innovative business plans or are intended to transform local economies or improve communities’ quality of life

*Supplying key hardware, software or services to deployers

Introducing innovative technologies with game-changing potential, even if they have not yet been commercially deployed

*Providing key conditions for fiber builds, such as early-stage support or demand aggregation.

They include a nice quote from Kathy Annette…

“Rural leaders know that to have strong economies, quality education and health care, and lifestyle options, broadband is necessary. After years of hard work, Minnesota is seeing the impact of partnerships among community leaders, state funders and community-minded providers. This winning combination is the way forward to connected communities that work for all.” – Dr. Kathleen Annette, President and CEO, Blandin Foundation

And here is what they say about Blandin…

Blandin Foundation www.blandinfoundation.org 877-882-2257 Key Products: Grant making, community leadership development, public policy programs Summary: Since 1941, the Blandin Foundation, a private foundation based in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, has been dedicated to strengthening rural Minnesota communities. Its Broadband Initiative, launched in 2003, helps communities educate citizens about the need for ultra-high-speed broadband and plan and execute broadband projects. The foundation has published informational guides, sponsored conferences and educational events, and supported many feasibility studies for the development of robust, high-speed broadband networks. It has supported implementation of broadband applications in schools, health care facilities and other institutions and for home-based users and has promoted broadband adoption in rural communities. In 2018, Blandin will select eight rural Minnesota communities for two-year partnerships with the foundation to advance local broadband initiatives.

The list includes a few Minnesota entities. You can check them out.

USDA Invests $97 Million in Rural Broadband Infrastructure – $20 million loan coming to MN

USDA reports…

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $97 million in 12 projects (PDF, 104 KB) to provide or improve rural broadband service in 11 states.

“A person’s location should not determine whether he or she has access to modern communications infrastructure,” Secretary Perdue said. “That is why USDA is partnering with businesses and communities by investing in state-of-the-art broadband e-connectivity to remote and rural areas. These investments will expand access to educational, social and business opportunities for 22,000 subscribers to help grow their rural communities and America’s economy.”

USDA is making the investments through the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan Program and the Community Connect Grant Program.

Good news – one project is based in Minnesota. Here’s more info on that project…

Recipient: Garden Valley Telephone Company
Loan amount: $20,360,000
Project description: This Rural Development investment will be used to make system improvements in Polk, Clearwater, Pennington, Marshall and Red Lake counties, and in the vacation resort areas of Maple Lake and Union Lake. The borrower proposes to construct 295.1 miles of fiber-optic facilities and construct fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) facilities. These improvements will enable Garden Valley to enhance services and provide voice, video and higher broadband speeds for subscribers.

Catching up with broadband projects in Aitkin MN: Hotspots that have encouraged private investment in FTTH, landing page, training

Today we’re in Aitkin talking with people about their broadband projects.  They have been part of a project (IRBC) with the Blandin Foundation and IRRRB focused on increasing use of broadband in the area. I’ll include full notes below – but a couple of highlights…

We learned that when people don’t have broadband, that’s all they want to talk about. The broadband expansions in the area have made a huge difference. This was an area that lacked access so effort has been spent on increasing access with hotspots in the library, buses, for checkout and in community centers. It’s been nice to se private investment follow the interest in the hotspots. There have also been efforts, such as remote training and a landing page that encourage use.

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Forget dig once – what about gluing fiber to the road

I think this is a fascinating idea – using super sonic glue to “lay fiber” to save money. It’s being piloted now…

The city’s pilot project, which began in May 2017, is one of the first for a startup based in the greater Washington, D.C., area called Traxyl (stylized as TRAXyL). The company has patented methods to adhere fiber cables to hard surfaces using substances that should protect them from basically anything, from weather to 50-ton excavators.

The company’s still working out the exact formula it will use for the resin coatings, but central to the process is methyl methacrylate. Usually called MMA, road-managing agencies — more in Europe than the U.S. — typically use the stuff as a hardier version of paint for traffic markings. Sellers market it as an alternative that can stand up to abuse in colder climes. Some use it as a quick option for installing new floors.

They have a video on how it works…

How much is it?

“Our costs aren’t identified yet because we’re not at scale, we’re still a small startup, but we’re thinking about costs of $5 a foot and even lower with scale,” said Daniel Turner, Traxyl’s founder and CEO. “Trenching can be anywhere from $15 to $300 per foot, depending on what obstacles you’re getting into.”

I look forward to hearing how it goes. I live in St Paul. We have pot holes. Not sure how that factors in. Again – look forward to hearing more.

How do you get a business to rural Main Street? Broadband!

Minn Post recently ran an article on a new 3D printer business in Gibbon. It’s a great example of what happens in a rural area when they have broadband. (Gibbon is in Sibley County – one of the areas we featured in our report about the Community ROI of public investment in broadband.)…

“Our downtown is really struggling and has been for a while,” she [City Administrator Dana Lietzau] said. “The question is: ‘How do you find businesses to come here?’ ”

The answer that landed one entrepreneur is clear: high-speed internet access.

Like many rural towns in Minnesota, this village of 750 people in Sibley County has the standard fare of small businesses: a hardware store, a bank, an auto repair shop, an insurance agency, two bars. Also, like many small towns, it has few retail outlets. The grocery store closed years ago.

So when Adam Stegeman, an engineer with a background in 3D printing technology – a growing form of manufacturing – opened a 3D printing business in an old bank building here, residents took notice. “Any employment in this city is huge,” Lietzau said.

They talk about how they got broadband…

In 2015, Gibbon joined nine other cities and 17 townships in creating a cooperative that promised to bring broadband Internet access to 6,200 residents across both Renville and Sibley counties. RS Fiber Cooperative laid fiber optic cable through Gibbon in 2016 – about the time Stegeman began thinking seriously about striking out on his own. Each of the cities involved in the cooperative now has fiber optic cable, with speeds of up to 1 gigabyte; the second phase of the project – to bring broadband to the countryside – should begin in 2020, according to a spokesman for RS Fiber.

The cost to bring broadband to the cities involved in the project was about $15 million; Gibbon sold bonds to raise its share, which was $813,000. Lietzau, the city manager, said civic leaders pitched broadband access as at least one way to encourage businesses to locate in Gibbon. The Stegeman venture has helped to validate that hope.

And details the need for high speed broadband…

To fill orders, Stegeman must download large files of designs over his broadband connection. He can download 10 gigabytes in an afternoon, which he said was a major factor in his decision to locate in Gibbon.

“It really speeds things up,” he said. Without a connection that can transport huge digital files, he would need thumb drives sent through the mail – a much slower and more inefficient way to do business, he said.

Stegeman hopes his business will grow so that he can eventually employ some people who live in the area. He looks 10 years ahead and sees stability, three or four employees and profits. That is the plan, anyway.

Lack of rural broadband is hurting business – reprinted letter from Inter-County Leader

Thank you to the Inter-County Leader for permission to re-post a letter to the editor from someone who had experience with fiber in Minnesota and is talking about what life is like without broadband…

Rural Internet service

When I recently volunteered at Forts Folle Avoine during a fundraising event, their credit card machine stopped working. This was eventually fixed but staff said it happens quite often, especially when they have events where there are lots of people wanting to charge. The staff indicated that internet service in that area was poor.

The previous year, during Gandy Dancer Days, the credit card machine in the coffee shop in Webster did not work. They lost business as people didn’t have cash and most don’t use checks. On a recent visit to the coffee shop, the credit card machine was working but they had no internet. A customer said she was looking for a job and relies on using the internet at places like the coffee shop to apply for jobs. She stated that the school where she previously worked had iPads for students, but they often couldn’t connect due to slow internet speed. So she used her cell phone hot spot which cost her around $200 a month for unlimited data.She stated that this lack of access to the internet does not give local students an equal opportunity in education when compared with other locations in more populated areas.

About two years ago the school where I worked in rural Minnesota, a small town of 500, was getting up-to-date fiber optic cable for better internet access. I believe this was partly funded by the state of Minnesota.

With a population of 15,000 for the whole county of Burnett, the internet provider doesn’t seem to be concerned about the poor internet service. What the company doesn’t realize is that many “lakers,” some coming from the Twin Cities, want good internet service and they are at their cabins regularly. I would recommend that people interested in improving the internet connection in Northwest Wisconsin contact their legislators and their internet service providers asking for better up-to-date internet.

Pam Girtz

Frederic

Unfortunately the state funding she mentions above was not funded in the last legislative session – it was part of the Supplemental Budget that was vetoed.

 

Ely uses first fiber connection to connect a coworking space

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Just off the main drag in the North Woods town of Ely, often described as the “end of the road,” a side door to a brick building offers locals and visitors a little haven of modern technology.

The new Ten Below Coworking space — a basement office with desk seats for a dozen people — boasts the city’s first fiber-optic broadband-connection available to the public.

The city and the nonprofit group Incredible Ely used a $15,000 grant from the Blandin Foundation to create the open floor plan office as well as a couple of meeting rooms in the Klun Law Firm building. The money was used to furnish the space and should be enough to keep the lights on and the internet working for a year, officials said.

The coworking space is just a first step…

Ely Mayor Chuck Novak said he’s enthused about the energetic people who are working to make the space viable, including advertising it so people are aware of it. It’s part of a larger plan to bring internet fiber to the rest of downtown and get high-speed internet out to the entire school district, in some places using wireless access points, Novak said.

“We’re tired of legislators at the state and federal level always talking about broadband and not providing a sufficient amount of support for it. … It’s one of the most important things for economic development in greater Minnesota,” Novak said. “We’re going to have to take care of this ourselves. … We’re going to start getting creative here. We will find a way.”

The space in Ely will serve as a pilot project for getting local people exposed to working with truly high speed internet, officials said.