Bemidji’s broadband leaves them poised to succeed – says Dave Hengel

Bemidji Pioneer posts a column from Dave Hengel, executive director of Greater Bemidji Economic Development, on the importance of technology and broadband for a thriving community…

The primary driver has been technology, which has created both incredible opportunities and challenges for communities worldwide. Since technology has allowed both businesses and people to locate virtually anywhere, geography (where we are located on a map) matters less, and place (a community’s character and quality of life) matters more. …

Thanks to technological innovations, none of these matters as much. We aren’t remote — we are connected via Zoom and other technology. We have access to metropolitan markets and resources all with the click of a mouse. While logistics have not reduced in importance, our largest “interstate” is our broadband network.

And let me remind everyone, the greater Bemidji region has the best all-fiber network in the nation. Thanks to the investment over the past decade by Paul Bunyan Communications, every home and business in our region has up to 10-gigabit service while other communities (including metropolitan areas) are struggling to gain basic broadband service.

In other words, Bemidji is ahead of the game.

Today, great communities are built, not born. The assets that bring prosperity and economic growth are not inherited. Like our all-fiber broadband network, key quality of life and economic development amenities can be identified and built.

Aurora Fiber Optic Networks Celebrates 20 years with expanded network partnership and new LLC

A press release from Aurora Fiber Optic Networks

After 20 years doing business under the brand, Aurora Fiber Optic
Networks, 702 Communications has formalized its partnership with Fiber Minnesota by creating Aurora
Fiber Optic Networks, LLC.
The partnership creates the largest and most robust statewide fiber network in Minnesota.
“For 20 years, 702 Communications has been the sales and marketing arm of the combined members of
Fiber Minnesota under the Aurora Fiber Optic Networks brand,” explains Brian Crommett, CEO of 702
Communications and now President of Aurora. “Formalizing the partnership and creating this amazing
statewide network really provides clarity to our Enterprise and Wholesale Carrier customers and opens
up huge opportunity for growth.”
Jason Dale, the CEO of Fiber Minnesota and Vice-President of Aurora agrees. “The Fiber Minnesota core
and partner networks stretch over 10,000 miles and interconnect our 30+ ISP members who have spent
decades building and upgrading their last-mile fiber networks. With 99% of the homes and businesses in
our markets enjoying fiber-optic access, we’ve brought opportunity to our local customers and created a
cohesive brand for carrier transport business in Minnesota. We cannot wait for the next 20 years to
unfold for Aurora.”
Aurora Fiber Optic Networks
Headquartered at 702 Main Avenue in downtown Moorhead, Aurora Fiber Optic Networks, LLC provides
a single point of contact for fiber optic connectivity to carrier, wholesale, ISPs and large enterprise
businesses. With member-owners based in five states in and around Minnesota complementing national
partner interconnections, Aurora can provide access to virtually anywhere in the nation. For more
information, visit www.aurorafonet.com

Litchfield gets fiber from Meeker Cooperative (Meeker County)

Litchfield Independent Review reports

Litchfield residents will soon have another broadband Internet access option. Meeker Cooperative is in the process of installing fiber optic cable throughout the city. Work began in the northeast quadrant late last month and is expected to continue through September.

Cooperative Director Tim Mergen and Luke Johnson appeared before the Litchfield City Council Monday evening to explain the project. Council members appeared most concerned about the disruption to city streets, alleys and front yards caused by laying the cable and installing access boxes.

I know regular readers who have been working tirelessly to get broadband to their area will envy the problem of the deployment process, but it’s good to see folks’ reactions…

City resident Connie Lies told the council that she and others object to not only the digging, which is temporary, but also to the inconvenience of having stakes and metal boxes in their yards. Mergen and Johnson reiterated that the cooperative would be repairing the excavation damage. Most of the main line work is being done within existing frontage easements, but the cooperative is using some rear yard and alley easements where available. “Our contractors are trying to clean up on a weekly basis, weather permitting,” Mergen told the council.

Meeker Cooperative, which supplies electricity to rural areas within and around Meeker County, has been laying fiber optic cable in rural areas within its service area, over the past few years. However, it has also made several other urban installations, including in Paynesville and Eden Valley, Mergen and Johnson said.

DEED Commissioner and Nuvera CEO talk about increased need for upload speeds in Hutchinson MN

The Hutchinson Leader reports

These days it seems that almost everyone is a content creator.

And that means it’s never been more important to have fast, reliable internet available to everyone, everywhere.

That was the message Glenn Zerbe, chief executive officer of Nuvera, shared with Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove during a roundtable discussion in mid-April.

“It’s not just Netflix creating and sending out content,” Zerbe said. “Content and creativity are coming from the home, and it’s changing everything.”

Grove agreed with the importance — and the urgency — of providing broadband internet access throughout the state. It’s been a priority at DEED and for Gov. Tim Walz’s administration for some time, including the governor’s proposal to invest $170 million — in addition to federal grant dollars — to fully connect the state.

The article also outlines what Nuvera is doing to provide better broadband…

Nuvera has been working to improve internet service in Hutchinson, connecting its fiber network to the southern half of the city’s downtown, two areas near State Highway 15 on the south side of Hutchinson, and an area around the 3M campus in 2021. In March, the company announced it is targeting several other areas, including the southwest side of the city west of Dale Street and south of the Crow River; the north half of Main Street; and the south end of Hutchinson, east of Highway 15 and north of Airport Road. Additional connections will continue in the future, with a goal of covering the entire city by 2024.

Nuvera also is working to extend its fiber network in Litchfield and Glencoe, with plans to invest at least 50% of its revenue into capital investments in 2023 in order to provide up to 1 gigabyte speeds.

Investments in internet access like those made by Nuvera are important to the state’s economy, Grove said, because of the amplified role connectivity plays during the pandemic and continues to play.

Duluth hires EntryPoint to look at fiber open access models

Duluth News Tribune reports…

City officials have retained the services of the same firm its neighbor used to explore its options as Superior contemplates a massive investment in broadband technology .

The Duluth Economic Development Authority voted Wednesday to spend up to $65,000 to have EntryPoint LLC, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, advise it on the prospects for a publicly owned fiber-optic system.

Chris Fleege, director of Duluth’s planning and economic development department, explained that the city is considering the possibility of building an open-access broadband system.

Fiber coming to Mankato, North Mankato and Eagle Lake (Blue Earth, Nicollet, and Le Sueur counties)

Mankato Free Press reports

A new gigabit broadband internet service is coming to Mankato, North Mankato and Eagle Lake.

Fidium Fiber, part of Consolidated Communications, will be available some time this year for more than 10,000 homes in the region.

The service has speeds 10 times faster than the national average, according to Consolidated. …

The cost is $70 per month for gig service that includes Wi-Fi equipment and installation, with no required bundles, no data caps and no contract.

Broadband over copper will not be retired before the end of the decade

Fierce Telecom reports

There’s no question operators are eager to move away from copper and for good reason. In a recap of its recent Fiber-to-the-Future Conference, New Street Research’s Jonathan Chaplin noted “All the ILECs we spoke to seemed to agree that there are significant opex and maintenance capex savings to be gleaned from either replacing copper with fiber or FWB [fixed wireless broadband].” But Chaplin added Verizon executives said the regulatory process around retirement “isn’t straightforward” and he concluded “mass copper retirement is not right around the corner.”

Part of the problem is the sheer scale of the transition. NSR’s Blair Levin pointed out in a separate note Verizon still has approximately 12 million locations served with copper. Meanwhile, the team at MoffettNathanson noted copper subscribers account for around 60% of AT&T’s consumer wireline business. AT&T’s copper footprint currently covers around 60 million locations and while the operator is looking to cut that figure to 30 million by 2025, that would still leave it with 30 million locations to go. Chaplin deemed AT&T’s plan “optimistic” given the short timeline and regulatory challenges Verizon has encountered.

Operators like AT&TFrontier CommunicationsLumen Technologies and Brightspeed (assuming their acquisition of assets from Lumen is approved later this year) have all unveiled plans for major fiber deployments. But Dell’Oro Group VP Jeff Heynen told Fierce these won’t come fast enough or cover enough ground to spell the end of copper before the decade is out. He noted Dell’Oro is forecasting that by 2026 there will still be 400,000 DSL CPE units and around 130,000 new ports shipped in North America, which will be used for copper network maintenance.

“All of these operators have plans to overbuild with fiber, but it’s going to be around until the end of the decade. The thing is you can’t build out fiber that fast,” he explained. “When you’re doing fiber you’ve got far more labor and permitting that can extend the timeline, so in the meantime you’ve got to continue to rely on copper.”

On the one hand this is a “we can only do what we can only do” circumstance. It’s a big job and it will take time. On the other hand, if you’re in a community with a lot of copper, now is a good time to start squeaking your wheel. The digital divide is going to deepen for those stuck in copper ghettos. So much money is going into broadband in the next few years – it’s a good time to get to the front of the line. Not only will your speeds likely not be getting faster but other households will and the assumption/expectation will be that most people have fiber. Suddenly telehealth, remote work and homework will rely on better broadband. We got a taste of that during the pandemic; so you know what it will be like.

Willmar City Council looking at fiber to industrial park with VIBRANT

The West Central Tribune reports

The Willmar City Council gave its Planning and Development staff the OK to continue working with VIBRANT Broadband on a project would bring fiber broadband into the city’s Industrial Park. The city could then build off that backbone to offer fiber to homes across the city.

The background…

The County Board and the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission have been working hard to bring high-speed broadband projects to areas in the county that are either underserved or unserved. Most of these projects will be fiber-to-home, the best internet technology available.

While Kandiyohi County is attempting to fill its broadband holes, some in Willmar are worried about being left behind. While residents and businesses in the city can get some version of high-speed internet, it might end up being of a lower quality than what rural areas might soon have.

“The plan being developed by the county was going to leave Willmar in a deficit. Willmar was going to have worse internet than the build-out in the rest of the county,” said Willmar Mayor Marv Calvin at Monday’s council meeting, adding that residential internet in Willmar is woefully under what it should and needs to be.

The plan to bring fiber to the city…

That response led Walker to VIBRANT Broadband, part of the Meeker Cooperative Light and Power Association, on a project that would bring a fiber internet line the 19 miles from Atwater to the Willmar Industrial Park. The city could then use that fiber line as the backbone for a city fiber network to expand fiber-to-home opportunities to residents, perhaps as early as next year. Walker said there were no projects currently being planned for Kandiyohi County that would bring fiber broadband to Willmar.

A draft letter of intent and contract with the company has Willmar paying approximately 80% of the estimated $1.25 million project, or no more than $1 million. Walker said that money could come from the city’s Industrial Park Fund, though discussions could be had about using the city’s American Rescue Plan Act money as well.

The council said move ahead…

The council gave its approval for Walker to continue working with VIBRANT on a project for Willmar. No contracts or projects were approved Monday night, just the OK to continue ironing out a potential agreement with the internet service provider.

Arvig to Upgrade parts of Redwood, Otter Tail and Becker Counties (MN)

The Grand Forks Herald reports…

Arvig says it will invest $19.9 million in construction projects to improve internet access and upgrade networks in seven rural Minnesota areas in 2022.

The company is entering the sixth year of a 10-year commitment to use its share of funding from the FCC’s Alternative Connect America Cost Model (ACAM) to build and improve internet networks in rural areas. This year, crews will service the rural areas of Audubon, Morgan, Parkers Prairie, Perham, Red Del, Vesta and Walnut Grove.

When construction is complete later this fall, residents in the affected areas will have access to internet speeds up to 1 gigabit per second, as well as television and phone service.

Fiber is lifting rural areas – such as Bemidji’s Locate218

Clearfield CEO Cheri Beranek has a letter in Entrepreneur on the impact of fiber in rural areas…

According to the data aggregation company BroadbandNow, an estimated 42 million Americans still have no access to broadband Internet service, most of them in rural areas. Without the speed, latency and reliability of the fiber-fed networks being deployed in cities, the rural economic divide will likely continue to widen. At the same time, a 2021 Deloitte study found that a 10% increase in broadband access in 2014 would have generated more than 875,000 additional jobs and $186 billion in economic output in the U.S. by 2019. Another 10 megabits-per-second (Mbps) faster average speeds in 2016 would have added 139,400 new jobs.

With broadband entering its largest investment cycle ever, a community’s economic survival will increasingly depend on its Internet, and only fiber optic-based solutions will be enough to compete.

She offers Bemidji’s Relocate218 as an example of what’s going right…

Other areas are using broadband to draw in new residents. Bemidji, Minnesota, with a population of 15,000, is attempting to capitalize on its fiber-optic network with Relocate 218, an incentive program to draw more remote workers that includes a free co-working space and a $2,500 reimbursement for moving expenses.

Frustration in Le Sueur County about being stalled as RDOF gives dibs to LTD – but so far no contract

I’ve written about the situation in Le Sueur County before. They have been working to get better broadband for years. Then a provider (LTD) was awarded the possibility of getting a big chunk of federal money (RDOF) to bring FTTH in several parts of Minnesota including parts of Le Sueur. Le Sueur County News has more – and frankly the fact that a local paper gets into such details about a complex issue speaks to the priority and urgency the community feels…

Many under-served and unserved areas of Le Sueur County are now ineligible for Border to Border grant dollars since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auctioned over $408 million in grants to internet service providers to construct fiber optic networks across northeastern and southern Minnesota.

Of all the companies competing for grants, the largest sum is expected to go to a little-known ISP: LTD Broadband. The telecom provider bid for over $311,000 in 102,000 locations across the state. LTD’s planned fiber optic network encompasses approximately two thirds of unserved and under-served areas in the county.

Gov. Tim Walz announced the state would reject broadband grant applications in places that federal auction grant winners plan to build. State officials have claimed it would be wasteful to invest state dollars in projects overlapping with projects that could receive funds from the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF).

But the RDOF grants are still preliminary, and many experts have raised concern that LTD Broadband can’t meet its goals. At this time, LTD is a smaller provider with over 2,100 wireless towers, but the company aims to use $1.3 billion in grant monies to rapidly expand its service area to bring high speed internet to 500,000 locations across the country within the six-year time frame required by RDOF.

At that scale, local broadband advocates doubted that the federal grant money would go far.

“For the whole county, it’s $1 million in federal dollars for what is a multi-million dollar project,” said Le Sueur County Broadband Consultant Barbara Droher-Kline. “How viable is it for LTD, with $1 million, to bring fiber to the door of every household?”

The County continues to work for better broadband, but this RDOF process is currently creating more barrier than opportunity…

With federal dollars from the CARES Act, Le Sueur County pursued an aggressive strategy to expand rural internet access. About 420 homes in Waterville, Kilkenny, Montgomery, Cordova, Sharon, Lexington, and Kasota townships were connected to a 49-mile fiber optic network built by Metronet in partnership with the county.

Le Sueur County hoped to continue to build out from those networks with Border-to-Border grant applications, proposing to connect high speed fiber optic cables in Lexington, Montgomery, Kilkenny, Cordova, Sharon, Ottawa and Kasota townships. Fiber was planned to be in the ground this past spring, and the network would have been fully operational by the end of next year.

But the county’s applications were rejected by the state, since the RDOF award to LTD Broadband overlapped with the project area.

“It’s a blockage of dollars. It’s not a resource for us,’ said Droher-Kline.

FTTP broadband providers MetroNet, Vexus merge

Light Wave reports

MetroNet says it has merged with fellow independent fiber broadband network provider Vexus Fiber. The combined companies will continue to operate under their current brands and with their current executive rosters. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Vexus, based in Lubbock, TX, deploys and operates FTTP networks in Texas and Louisiana, with plans for expansion into New Mexico. Markets currently served in those states include Lubbock, Amarillo, Wichita Falls, Abilene, and surrounding areas in Texas, as well as Hammond, Covington, and Mandeville in Louisiana. New FTTP networks are in various stages of deployment in the Rio Grande Valley (see “Vexus Fiber to build FTTH network in Rio Grande Valley Area of Texas”), Tyler, Nacogdoches, and San Angelo, TX; Lake Charles, LA; and Albuquerque and Santa Fe, NM. Investors in the company included Pamlico Capital and Oak Hill Capital.

MetroNet operates or is constructing FTTP networks in more than 120 communities across Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin, and Missouri. It received a cash infusion from KKR last April (see “KKR to take stake in MetroNet as part of new funding round”). Oak Hill Capital also is an investor.

Both companies offer gigabit or faster broadband services to their residential and business customers.

CTC to Expand Fiber Footprint in Northeast Minnesota (Carlton and St Louis Counties)

Great news from CTC

Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) recently secured a state-of-the-art, allfiber network spanning nearly 610 miles in northeast Minnesota, allowing them to provide high-speed, reliable internet services to businesses and residents throughout the area.

A newly established, long-term partnership agreement with the Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC) allowed for the growth. The network represents 3,160 route miles of fiber: a 20% increase in CTC’s service area. Most importantly, the move will boost the economic capacity of the region, more readily allowing for business growth and workforce development.

“Not only does this tie in with our strategic plan but it will spur business innovation and lead to more job opportunities,” said Kristi Westbrock, CEO/General Manager at CTC. “Plus, it will allow us to have a deeper connection with local cities and townships and more easily secure state and federal funding to get internet to those who need it most.”

“CTC has a proven track record serving Northern Minnesota with reliable telecommunications services and innovative business solutions”, said Paul Brinkman, Executive Director at NESC. “We are delighted to enter into a long-term partnership with CTC to expand high-capacity broadband access and job-creating business development in St. Louis and Carlton Counties.”

The fiber network spans the cities of Cloquet, Hibbing, Chisholm, Mountain Iron, Virginia, Eveleth, Gilbert, Biwabik, Tower, Ely, Aurora, and the surrounding areas and will provide broadband internet of up to 10 Gigabits. For more information and a map of the area visit http://www.goctc.com/NESC.

 

Sytek deploys 100 miles of fiber to server Morrison County and looks at the ReConnect Broadband grant to continue

Brainerd Dispatch reports

Sytek, a telephone and internet provider located in Upsala, was awarded a Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Grant in 2020 and has since placed 100 miles of fiber, extending service to 300 additional homes.

“I am thrilled to hear that Sytek is working hard with the resources available to provide broadband service to hundreds of additional homes in our community,” said grant supporter Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, in a news release. “I look forward to supporting their bid for additional grants to extend service to more rural homes in the future, and I thank them for doing hard work to ensure Central Minnesota residents have the resources they need to support local students, employees, and businesses.”

Sytek will be seeking an additional grant from the Reconnect Broadband program, which would allow them to serve up to 1,000 more homes in rural Minnesota.

Carver County Commissioner asks – What if county had 100% fiber broadband?

Carver County Commissioner Matt Uderman asks his neighbors to think about FTTH (via SW News Media)…

What if Carver County was the first county in Minnesota with 100% fiber broadband?

Nearly 15% of America (as of 2018), and an estimated 11% of Carver County don’t have high speed access. Compare that to 99.6% of U.S. households that have complete plumbing and effectively 100% with access to electricity.

Broadband access (or lack thereof) has created a digital divide that impacts economic, social, health and educational outcomes. Some call broadband fuel for ‘digital prosperity’ and the bridge of physical infrastructure and social infrastructure — others simply say access is necessary in today’s world.

‘Broadband For All’ undoubtedly would be a significant selling point for current and future residents, businesses, overall economic development, closing of educational connectivity and access gaps, reduced digital seclusion/loneliness and associated health implications, closing of rural/city digital divides, access to telehealth (think more convenient care for grandma and grandpa while living independently and a click away from medical assistance), the fostering of future competition (and eventually even better pricing), attracting top work from home talent free to work wherever they choose, and more.

What do you think? I invite your thoughts on pursuing bringing broadband fiber to the entire county and the overall impact personal, professional and social impact.