NTIA Launches Updated Federal Broadband Funding Guide

From BroadbandUSA…

Access the updated BroadbandUSA Federal Funding Guide here!

…NTIA released an updated database with information on more than 80 federal programs across 14 federal agencies whose funding can be used for broadband-related purposes. This comprehensive “one-stop shop” for broadband resources, created with the help of participating federal agencies, supports the Biden Administration’s push for universal high-speed internet access and focus on closing the digital divide. This site also fulfills an obligation in the ACCESS BROADBAND Act to provide a central website for potential applicants seeking federal broadband funding.

Funding opportunities include direct grants, loans, indirect support, and discounts for industry, state and local governments, schools, libraries, small businesses, and other community institutions that are interested in expanding and improving broadband access. Visitors to the website can search for programs by agency, program purpose, and eligible recipients. As agencies release new funding opportunities, NTIA will update the site. The information is also available as a downloadable spreadsheet to allow users to sort the material by selected criteria.

Notably, the current database features many new programs, including the Department of Commerce’s Connecting Minority Communities program, Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, and Broadband Infrastructure Program. Other new programs include the Department of Treasury’s Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, of which broadband is an eligible activity; the Department of Agriculture’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants; and the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Broadband Benefit programEmergency Connectivity FundCOVID-19 Telehealth program, and Connected Care Pilot program.

The launch of this latest round of federal broadband funding updates will help ensure that the public has easy access to the most up-to-date information possible to best facilitate broadband buildout and economic development. Feedback on the site is welcomed; please contact BroadbandUSA@ntia.doc.gov to provide input.

HBC Brings 5 Gbps FTTP Residential Service to Hastings

An update from HBC

Construction has begun on a new high-speed fiber broadband network in Hastings, MN that will provide residents and businesses with access to a next generation, all fiber-optic network.

Winona, MN based Hiawatha Broadband Communications (HBC) is building the high-speed fiber network that upon completion, will be capable of delivering speeds of up to 10 Gigabits. The company expects to be delivering its high-speed Internet and Phone services to approximately 1,500 homes on the city’s southwestern edge by the end of this year.

Hastings is the latest community that will receive access to HBC’s fiber network. The company recently completed Fiber-To-The-Premises (FTTP) projects in the cities of Chatfield and Cannon Falls, in addition to several smaller rural communities.

HBC’s relationship with Dakota County and Dakota Electric made expansion into the Hastings community a logical move.

“As a company, we have been working with those two entities for the past several years, running fiber to substations and for other applications,” said HBC president Dan Pecarina. “With the necessary infrastructure already in place, our decision to grow here was much easier to make.”

Jim Kronebusch, HBC VP of Technology said HBC will utilizing XGS-PON technology as part of this project. This new technology will allow delivery of the fastest broadband speeds in the area, up to 10 Gigabits.

“The best part about deploying fiber optic networks is light has far less limitations than any other medium, such as copper cable,” said Kronebusch. “We can deploy 10 Gigabit speeds for upload and download now, however the future is capable of hundreds of Gigabits in both directions with simple updates to the electronics.”

Leading-edge technology will also be deployed in customer homes allowing them to take full advantage of ultra-fast Internet speeds and management of their home WiFi network.

“The wireless routers that we deploy in customer’s homes are WiFi 6 capable, extremely powerful, highly reliable, and exceptionally versatile,” according to Kronebusch. “If needed, our Mesh WiFi extenders will fully cover any size and style of home. Our HBC GigaHome app puts customers in control of their home network, however if assistance is needed, HBC’s Wizards Technical Support group can remotely assist with any questions without the need to enter your home. We offer support in ways the Big Box store devices cannot.”

Many may wonder why expand into a city with an existing service provider when rural broadband access is needed?

Pecarina explains, “There are times that we need to build networks in higher density communities in order to help fund the extremely high cost of rural broadband expansion. HBC currently delivers services to customers in 30 rural communities in southeastern and central Minnesota, with average populations of about 1,500 people. HBC has completed several rural expansion projects over the last several years. Building the network in Hastings with bigger city density, will help us reinvest more funding into rural connectivity. This enables us to bring broadband services to more households allowing for remote learning and working,” he said. “We also have an extensive wireless broadband network that is providing a connection for families across southeastern and into central Minnesota and Western Wisconsin.”

With an emphasis on local service, HBC is currently remodeling an office location in the Hastings Marketplace with a planned opening date of July 1st. In addition to two customer care representatives, the office will also staff an in-house HBC Wizards Technical Support technician as well as local service technicians.

“When our customers call us with an issue or question, they will be not be talking with someone in a call center halfway across the world, they will be speaking with someone who is working in their community or in one of our seven other Southeast Minnesota offices,” Pecarina said.

HBC has completed several broadband projects over the past year in Dakota County including F-T-T-P networks to an area along Highway 46, and the homes and businesses in Nininger Township and Miesville.

HBC Expands Service Area in Miesville

Good news for Miesville from HBC

– Like many rural communities around the country, the town of Miesville has had limited access to broadband service. But this will soon change with a project currently underway by Hiawatha Broadband Communications (HBC) to expand its fiber-optic broadband network.
Once the project is completed this summer, an additional 65 homes and businesses in this rural community of 119 people will have access to symmetrical Internet speeds of up to 1 Gigabit. HBC will also offer high-definition Video service and crystal-clear Phone service.
Based in Winona, MN, HBC has been building high-speed fiber-optic networks and providing Internet, Video, and Phone services to residences and businesses since 1997. HBC currently serves customers in 30 communities across southeastern Minnesota. HBC also built and manages the RS Fiber Cooperative Network in Renville and Sibley counties in central Minnesota.
“Today, having access to a reliable high-speed broadband connection is as essential as having electricity in your home,” HBC’s president Dan Pecarina said. “Over the last year, the COVID pandemic exposed the dire need for communities to have solid broadband infrastructure to allow for at-home learning and working, telemedicine and other online applications. We are delighted that HBC is able to fill that need for the Miesville community.”
HBC Director of Technical Operations, Michael Barker indicated that construction is beginning to wrap up and that it won’t be long until services will be available. “We are on track to complete construction in the next 2-3 weeks,” according to Barker. “Once construction is finished, crews will begin connecting fiber to network distribution cabinets. If everything goes well, service could be available as soon as July.”
HBC’s Miesville customers will be served out of local offices in Cannon Falls and Hastings

Harmony Telephone to apply for broadband grant with City of Harmony

The Fillmore County Journal reports

A public hearing to discuss the application of a grant from the Small Cities Coronavirus Community Development Block Grant Program was held at the beginning of the May 11 Harmony City Council meeting. Harmony Telephone would like to apply for it in conjunction with the City of Harmony so that the every home in town would have access to broadband internet. The grant would pay for the buried fiber and Harmony Telephone would cover the cost of the electronics necessary for the project. No questions or comments were received from the public and the hearing was closed. The council approved a participation plan and Resolution 21-08 regarding the application for the grant.

Yellow Medicine County is getting more FTTH this Fall from Arvig

Always happy to share an update on more Minnesotans getting broadband. Here’s the latest map showing where Arvig will install fiber to customers – specifically the area that is red and inside the yellow boundary lines.  The two towns will not be built with fiber, as they can receive 50-60Mb and can be bonded to deliver around 100Mb.

This will serve 170 locations in the Wood Lake exchange and 162 in Echo exchange.  They are shooting for a late fall / early winter turnup time.

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.

EVENT May 11: Fiber Broadband Association: Fiber to the farmhouse – Strategies and methods for deploying rural fiber networks

Looks like an interesting event…

The Fiber Broadband Association invites you to join us for a webinar on Tuesday, May 11, at 3 PM EDT, with Mark Boxer, Technical Manager, Solutions and Applications Engineering, at OFS. The pandemic has laid bare what rural residents have known for a long time. Rural broadband in many places is lacking. However, help is on the way. Federal and state funding programs are providing much needed assistance for rural fiber builds, and there’s never been a better time for a rural fiber build than now. This webinar will discuss design and deployment for rural networks, reviewing strategies to take fiber to the farmhouse. We’ll review the tradeoffs for various parts of the network build, and discuss concepts that may challenge some pre-conceived notions of how to deploy networks. Panelist Bio: Mark Boxer is Technical Manager, Solutions and Applications Engineering, at OFS. In this role, he assists customers deploying fiber in a wide variety of network design scenarios around the world and analyzes trends in telecommunications markets that drive new product innovation. Mark has a BME degree from Georgia Tech, and has spent his 30+ year career in the fiber industry. His experience includes varied roles in manufacturing and applications engineering for fiber-based products and markets. Other activities include inventor of six US Patents, member and past Secretary of the IEEE Power Engineering Society Fiber Optic Working Group, contributing member to the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) (formerly FTTH Council) Technology Committee and Board of Directors member of the FBA and North Carolina Broadband Matters.

Register now!

CTC brings FTTH to Ely MN

Hometown Focus reports

A state-of-the-art fiber-optic network in Ely’s downtown area is being installed by CTC and will bring affordable, reliable high-speed broadband service to 206 business and residential locations. The network is scheduled for completion by April 30. Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation (IRRR) supported the project with a Community Infrastructure grant.

When completed, CTC customers in Ely will have access to: • Internet speed of up to 1 GB (1,000 Mbps), eliminating bandwidth limitations. • Customized packages to select from that include fiber internet, managed Wi-Fi and routing, and business voice.

“High-speed reliable internet is critical to Ely’s economy and quality of life,” said Harold Langowski, Ely city clerk/treasurer. “The new fiber-optic network will eliminate connectivity barriers for the city’s small businesses, current and future remote workers and residents, and our real estate market.”

EVENT April 15: Roundtable on Current, Ongoing Broadband Legislation

An invitation from the Fiber Broadband Association…

The Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) today announced a roundtable discussion planned for this Thursday, April 15 covering the ongoing legislative action aimed at expanding broadband across the United States. FBA President and CEO Gary Bolton will be joined by fiber broadband policy and industry experts to discuss recent activities within the current Administration including President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, the Accessible, Affordable Internet For All Act and more.

The webinar, scheduled for 1 p.m. ET on Thursday, April 15, is free and available to the public after registering at this link.

Panelists include:

Gary Bolton, President and CEO, Fiber Broadband Association

Kim Bayliss, Principal, Perry Bayliss

Steve Perry, Principal, Perry Bayliss

Tom Cohan, Corporate Counsel, Partner, Kelley Drye & Warren LLP

Joanne Hovis, President, CTC Technology & Energy

Ben Moncrief, Managing Director, C Spire

Stan Fendley, Director, Legislative & Regulatory Policy, Corning

Rural Broadband Association asks policymakers to invest in symmetrical broadband for the future

In a recent post from Shirley Bloomfield at the NTCA Rural Broadband Association, she asks policymakers and industry to think about investing in the future rather than short term fixes…

An infrastructure package is a chance to be bold and build something for a generation – not to fill potholes with patches.

I was particularly disappointed to read an industry posting recently that argued against the need for rural symmetrical fiber broadband and instead set a standard that is clearly aimed at little more than making sure fixed wireless can “play in the game” too. Does fixed wireless have a role to play in terms of closing the service gaps? Of course, but watching large national providers making this pitch so aggressively – and asking taxpayers to back their short-term network deployment plans – also clearly shows the intention of serving any of their remaining rural service territories with an inferior product instead of technology that will meet the needs of consumers not only today but well into the future. It’s all the more telling that some play loosely with discussions of broadband speeds, confusing what speeds will define unserved areas on the one hand with the very separate and distinct issue of what speeds will be required of new networks to be built in the areas that are currently unserved – those are two different questions, and conflating them does nothing other than cloud a meaningful debate over how to best address our infrastructure challenges.

MN Report on Automated Vehicles mentioned 10 year investment in fiber

Transportation Today reports on the Minnesota Gov’s Advisory Council on Connected and Automated Vehicles 2020 annual report…

The Minnesota Governor’s Advisory Council on Connected and Automated Vehicles said in its annual report Monday that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the state was able to move forward toward readiness for Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAV).

Also…

The report noted that the state was able to test new cellular vehicle communications technologies that connect snowplows and avoid collisions by preventing red-light running. Additionally, the Advisory Council completed a 10-year investment plan for fiberoptic cable that will support CAVs and broadband and conducted the nation’s largest CAV survey to determine the attitudes Minnesotans’ have about CAVs.

I was interested in the 10-year investment in fiber so I checked out the report. Here’s what I was able to find…

  • Fiber and broadband: MnDOT, MnIT and Department of Employment and Economic Development are completing a 10-year investment plan for fiber optic that supports CAVs and broadband. The state also met with the private telecommunications industry to understand their broadband expansion goals and learn how to partner in future pilots.
  • Connectivity & Work Zone Safety: The FHWA granted Minnesota funding to test connected vehicle work zone safety applications. With the FCC ruling, the state is also looking into new cellular connected vehicle technologies, including those being piloted in Ramsey County in Roseville. DEED, MnIT and MnDOT are also partnering to deploy fiber and broadband in key areas of the state to advance CAV and rural connectivity goals.

I remember that MnDOT, MnIT and DEED had a broadband commission a few years ago that, as far as I knew, did not have public meetings. I don’t know if they are still around and I think it only included the commissions of each department. I also don’t know much about the 10 year investment in fiber and I wonder why the MN Broadband Task Force doesn’t factor that into the plans to get everyone connected.

Broadband is happening around Ely with CTC, Midco and Treehouse Broadband expansions

There’s a lot of broadband activity happening in Ely these days between CTC, Midco and wireless options (Treehouse Broadband). Ely Timber Jay reports

Existing cable and internet customers who are frustrated with all-too-common service disruptions recently learned that Midco activated more than 200 additional miles of fiber to create a northern Minnesota fiber ring that adds diverse network paths for the Ely area.
The expansion and investment by the cable provider is an effort to reduce or eliminate service disruptions caused by fiber cuts and other sources of internet and business connections. Their recent investment announcement also appears to give the cable provider a bigger piece of the broadband pie in the immediate Ely area.

CTC is also building in the area…

CTC is in the midst of installing a state-of-the-art fiber-optic network in the city’s downtown corridor and is actively selling business services. In their first phase, CTC offers broadband technology to homes and businesses along Sheridan Street, and looks to offer business and residents internet, phone, and TV services along with business phone systems and IT services.
“We are scheduling a meeting with Midco at some point,” Langowski said. “We want to discuss where our project is and where their project is. I was a little concerned when I talked with (Midco’s) government affairs representative, who wasn’t aware of what we are doing or what our project is. I told him he must have been living under a rock. If he had read our local newspapers, he would have seen that we have been working on this for the last decade-plus.”
The first phase of the city of Ely’s CTC Broadband project is limited to the downtown area. “I don’t want it to sound like I’m not excited about (Midco’s) investment,” Langowski said. “I just want to make sure they don’t come in and overlay what we just did and cut us out of the market.”
Midco also announced that crews will begin installing FTTP (Fiber to the Premises) to homes and businesses in Ely and Winton in early 2022 capable of up to five Gbps. Connections can be upgraded to 10 Gbps, according to the cable provider.
The neighboring communities of Tower, Soudan and Babbitt will see similar construction activity with full FTTP network upgrades in 2023, company officials said.

Wireless is coming to the area too…

A wireless broadband project is also moving forward in the Town of Morse around the Ely area. Isaac Olson of Treehouse Broadband uses directional antennas operating on the radio frequency spectrum to provide high bandwidth internet service. With direct line of sight to their towers and repeater locations, they service customers in the Ely area. Unlike traditional satellite service, according to Olson, rain, snow and other weather has no impact on the frequencies and short-range transmissions he uses to deploy broadband.

Midco is expanding in other areas too…

In addition to the network redundancy and FTTP upgrades in the Ely area, the northern Minnesota communities of International Falls, Ranier and Littlefork will see faster data speeds from Midco in the coming year.
“All three communities will have access to Midco Gig in 2021. Midco Gig is 35 times faster than the average high-speed internet,” McAdaragh said.

Rural fiber penetration now stands at 23%

Telecompetitor reports

Rural fiber penetration now stands at 23%, according to a study conducted by Pivot Group (parent company of Telecompetitor) and sponsored by Innovative Systems.

In comparison to national numbers, market research firm RVA, LLC reported just over 20 million homes were connected to fiber in 2019, or 44% of homes passed.

Rural Broadband Access Technology Penetration (Source: 6th Annual Rural Video & Broadband Study)

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.”