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.

Kandiyohi County is poising to use American Rescue Plan funding for broadband

West Central Tribune reports…

Kandiyohi County is gearing up to complete broadband projects in the county, with the hope it will be able to use money from the American Rescue Plan to help fund those projects.

The County Commissioners are poising to take advantage of any opportunity…

With the passage of the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package enacted by the federal government in March, the county could find itself with an influx of federal funding, an estimated $8.38 million, which early guidance says can be used for broadband projects.

The County Board work session was scheduled Tuesday to make sure the commissioners were up to date on county broadband challenges and opportunities.

“So when we get the federal American Rescue dollars, hopefully we can use some of those dollars for broadband, we can hit the ground running,” Kleindl said. “We want to be ready. Today we are at the starting blocks. We are putting our foot on the race and we are going to kick it off.”

They are already working…

Officials are now working on a new project with Federated Telephone Cooperative, to bring high-speed broadband access to Arctander, Dovre, Mamre and St. Johns townships. The project is estimated to cost between $6,818,656 and $7,626,906 depending on the size of the service area to be included in the new project. The plan would provide broadband to nearly 600 properties.

The county has already approved a $25,000 grant to each of the townships for broadband expansion and Federated has said it will provide 25 percent of the project costs. All four of the townships are also on board, estimating to pay around $1,945,597 in total.

“Everybody will need to have some skin in the game,” said Commissioner Corky Berg.

The EDC is also applying for a state Border-to-Border broadband grant for about 50 percent of the project costs. Without the state grant, which is very competitive, the project will not be possible, Schmoll said.

They are asking residents to take the speed test to help the State recognize the need…

We know how important it is to get broadband out. We need citizens’help to do that,” Kleindl said.

This could mean writing letters to legislators, providing letters of support to the EDC and participating in the state internet speed test. In 2020, residents were urged to take the speed test. And while some did, more is needed.

“It is important for us to know where the underserved, unserved people are,” Kleindl said. “Do your part.”

MN Senate Ag Committee (Chair Den Westrom) pass omnibus with $40 million for broadband

Minnesota State Senate Republicans report

Senator Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, passed the committee’s omnibus bill on Wednesday to fund agriculture, rural development, and rural COVID recovery.

The bill includes some funding for broadband…

Further, this bill funds the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program at $40 million over the next two fiscal years. Rural Minnesota has faced the brunt of lack of Internet access, and this funding will develop permanent broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas. Minnesota contains large segments of the state that fall into the categories of unserved and underserved. This significant funding from the legislature matches the critical need that has become apparent this year.

“Broadband is essential to our way of life. This has become even more clear over the past year as Minnesotans have struggled to work remotely and navigate Covid-19. If students can only access school online, it is imperative that accessibility to an internet connection is widely available. Funding broadband is addressing the issue head-on and will help rural Minnesotans flourish,” Westrom remarked.

Senator Klobuchar appreciates FTTH network in SE Minnesota built by Harmony and MiEnergy Coop

Ag Week reports

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar held a call on April 6 with the co-owners of Harmony Telephone Co. and MiEnergy Cooperative. The company has been a leader in the Midwest when it comes to using federal funding to expand broadband infrastructure at a fast pace.

She has good things to say about the team…

Klobuchar held a call to discuss efforts to expand internet access on April 6 with the co-owners of Harmony Telephone Co. and MiEnergy Cooperative. Last winter, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development awarded Harmony Telephone a $2.7 million grant and a $2.7 million loan to construct a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network.

Federal resources to boost broadband capability have been given out in the past to companies who have “not used them correctly,” said Klobuchar. She said that’s not the case in southeast Minnesota.

“I think sometimes people don’t understand how much you do, as small companies, and how you’re on the ground and able, if given the resources, to get things done for your subscribers,” Klobuchar said to the group.

BroadbandUSA Announcements – April Webinars – NTIA Grants Webinar Series Home

The NTIA is hosting a series of webinars

Join NTIA for a webinar series starting in April 2021 focused on the three new broadband grant programs authorized and funded by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021: the Broadband Infrastructure Program, the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, and the Connecting Minority Communities Program. These webinars are designed to help prospective applicants understand the grant programs and to assist applicants to prepare high quality grant applications.

Please visit the BroadbandUSA website for more information, registration, and updates.

NTIA Grans Webinar Series Schedule

April:

Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grants Program (Tribal)

Register here for April 21st Webinar

Register here for April 22nd Webinar

Tribal

Register Here for May 19th Webinar

Register Here for May 20th Webinar

Infrastructure bill will boost broadband in MN

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

… President Joe Biden rolled out his sweeping $2.3 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan. The money will not only repair aging roads, bridges and school buildings, but also invest in broadband, clean water and the electric grid. There’s $20 billion in the plan to address racial disparities exacerbated when communities like Rondo were torn apart by past infrastructure projects.

The article outlines a number of varied projects that could benefit from the funding, including broadband…

Sen. Amy Klobuchar emphasized the $100 billion in the bill dedicated to broadband infrastructure, as well as job training opportunities as the economy recovers from the pandemic.

“We’re not going to have a shortage of sports marketing degrees; we’re going to have a shortage of electricians and plumbers and construction workers,” Klobuchar said. “So contained in this bill is training and retraining workers for the jobs that will be created, and I think that should not be lost.”

FCC announces Initial List of Emergency Broadband Benefit Providers (incl MN List)

The FCC has announced the list of providers participating in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program…

The broadband providers listed below have elected to participate in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB Program). The list will be updated as more providers join the program.  Learn more about the Emergency Broadband Benefit, including eligibility details, by visiting: fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit

Definitions: Fixed broadband services are provided to your home, or a single location. These include cable, fiber optic, DSL, and fixed wireless services.

Mobile broadband services are device-based and available throughout the service provider’s cellular coverage area, similar to cell phone services. To view participating providers in your state or territory, click on the name of your state or territory below.

I am going to list the providers in Minnesota – but this list might change (after April 1, 2021) so you’ll want to double check with the FCC list.Continue reading

Is MN a broadband winner or loser? A look at Federal Funding RDOF and CAF

Telecompetitor reports on the RDOF ranking by state. Turns out Minnesota ranks highly for funding per rural resident…

The states with the most funding per rural resident, in descending order, were California ($830), West Virginia ($530), Arkansas ($377), Minnesota ($328), Massachusetts ($327), Mississippi ($313), Pennsylvania ($254), Wisconsin ($248), Illinois ($205) and Michigan ($201).

You’d think that would make Minnesotans feel like winners but it doesn’t because there is great concern over what that money is going to buy and when. The biggest concern is about LTD, undeniably a big winner with an opportunity to bid for almost $312 million project to build FTTH (fiber to the home) to 102,005 homes. This is especially surprising because they are a small company that always has focused on fixed wireless not fiber.

I’ve written a lot about this – so a quick rundown:

This story may sound familiar. It reads an awful lot like what I posted about CAF II awards in 2015

If I’ve learned nothing else from the TV show Toddlers in Tiaras, I learned that sometimes you don’t want to win the first crown. Winning the first crown is better than winning nothing, but it usually puts you out of the running for Best in Show. Getting access at speeds of 10/1 is better than what the communities receiving CAF 2 funding have now. And any improvement is an improvement. BUT those speeds are slower than the Minnesota speed goals of 10/5 (The MN Broadband Task Force is looking to update those speeds.) and they seem even slower when you compare them to rural areas that have Gig access, such as Grand RapidsRed WingLac qui Parle CountyNew PragueRogersMelrose and others.

Five years later, CAF II winners CenturyLink (Lumen) and Frontier report that they “may not have met” CAF II deployment deadlines for 2020. Here’s what I said when that announcement was made in January…

The frustration is that this leaves many people without broadband – again. The goal is to build to 25/3 (even lower in some areas) and they haven’t done that. To put that in perspective, it does not get them closer to the MN State speed goal of 100/20 by 2026. In Minnesota we are used to the State MN border to border broadband grant rules where project must build networks that are scalable to 100/100. That is not the case with these networks and getting to 25/3 does not mean getting to 100/20 will be easier.

Also there is the concern for customers that the promise or threat of building has kept competitors out of their market. The promise of a CAF II network has made it more difficult for the communities to get funding from other sources. CAF II funding focused on the providers only – communities didn’t not sign up or on to the program.

Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Frustration is watching from the sideline as decision makers make the same decision again and again, especially when you are the community that suffers the consequence.

Broadband providers need sustained funding

Mankato Free Press reports

Industry leaders say Minnesota’s broadband access is growing on its own — a combination of federal, state and community funds has spurred projects throughout the state over the past 10 years — but federal action could mean better access far quicker than what internet service providers could normally accomplish.

“If nothing else, the pandemic showed us how much we need rural broadband,” said Brent Christensen, president and CEO of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance.

Folks are working on fiber…

Christensen and other advocates say providers are working to address those disparities during the next few years by planning more wired fiber-optic networks. While those projects are more expensive than installing wireless broadband options, industry experts say wired connections are more reliable and better prepared for future technology.

In Madelia, where Christensen runs the local communications company, the community is set to build a fiber optic network to every home.

Bill Eckles, the CEO of Blue Earth-based BEVCOMM, said the south-central Minnesota internet provider has about half of its customers served through a fiber optic network. The company plans to have all of its customers served through wired broadband connections in seven years, and all of the farms BEVCOMM serves in the next three years.

Those projects need sustained funding, Christensen said. Broadband providers in Minnesota have a short construction season each year and many building supplies for broadband networks are in high demand, making them difficult to find.

“Whatever we do needs to be spread out over a longer term, over a couple years, so we have a chance to plan and order and get stuff in,” he said.

President Biden’s $100 billion broadband plan is customer-focused

Ars Technica reports…

President Biden’s plan to connect all Americans with high-speed broadband includes proposals to boost competition, build more publicly owned networks, lower prices, and prioritize “future-proof” networks instead of ones that would quickly become outdated. In other words, the plan includes some of the broadband industry’s least-favorite ideas and is sure to meet fierce resistance from cable and telecom lobby groups and Republicans.

Biden’s $100 billion broadband proposal is part of the American Jobs Plan described by the White House in a fact sheet released today. The broadband details released so far are a bit vague, and the plan could be changed in Congress, but there’s a lot to like for Internet users.

He’s big on local connections…

Municipally owned networks, nonprofits, and co-operatives would play a major role in the expansion pitched by Biden. The broadband industry and Republicans have been fighting city-owned networks for years, and nearly 20 states have laws that restrict the growth of municipal broadband. While Democrats have proposed eliminating those state laws, congressional Republicans last month proposed a nationwide ban on municipal broadband.

Biden’s plan “prioritizes support for broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives—providers with less pressure to turn profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities,” the White House fact sheet said.

And he’s looking at doing this once…

Biden’s fact sheet didn’t specify any minimum speeds for broadband networks built under the plan. But the fact sheet said, “The president’s plan prioritizes building ‘future-proof’ broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas so that we finally reach 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage.”

Future-proof could mean fiber broadband with symmetrical upload and download speeds, or at least networks that provide higher upload speeds than today’s cable and fixed-wireless networks. If Biden wants to prioritize symmetrical speeds, he will have support from at least some high-ranking congressional Democrats.

FCC Creates Consumer FAQ for Emergency Broadband Benefit

Yesterday the FCC updated their site with more info on the Emergency Broadband Benefit. Here are the questions…

When can I sign up for the Emergency Broadband Benefit?

The program has been authorized by the FCC, but the start date has not yet been established.  The FCC is working to make the benefit available as quickly as possible, and you should be able to sign up by the end of April, 2021.  Please check our website, www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit, regularly for the latest information.

Do I receive the funds directly each month?

No, the Emergency Broadband Benefit provides a monthly discount on broadband service of up to $50 per eligible household (or up to $75 per eligible household on Tribal lands).  The participating broadband service provider will receive the funds directly from the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

Which broadband providers are participating in the Emergency Broadband Benefit?

Various broadband providers, including those offering landline and wireless broadband, will be participating in the Emergency Broadband Benefit.  Depending on where you live, you may have a choice of providers.  Check with the broadband providers in your area to learn about their plans for program participation and eligible service offerings.  You can also use the Companies Near Me tool found here.

sort byWhat is the enhanced benefit amount for residents of Tribal Lands?

Eligible households on Tribal lands can receive a total monthly discount of up to $75.  You can find out more about which areas are eligible Tribal lands by visiting this site: www.lifelinesupport.org/additional-support-for-tribal-land.

How to prepare for NTIA’s new broadband grant programs

CTC Technology and Energy recent posted Four Strategic Steps Your Community Can Take Now to Prepare for NTIA’s New Broadband Grant Programs. Here is an abridged version…

  • Understand and document your community’s broadband needs
    Define your project area and evaluate your market. We know the Promote Broadband Expansion Grant Program will favor applicants who can serve the greatest number of households in an eligible service area. The other programs’ applications will include questions about the communities to be served, too. .. Watch out for existing federal funding.
  • Develop a technical analysis and cost estimates for construction, equipment, and operations
    Once you have the outlines of a project that will address your community’s broadband needs, start developing your technical and programmatic approaches—and, most importantly, the estimated capital and operating costs for implementing your plan.
  • Develop a business strategy
    Build partnerships. For localities that do not have experience operating their own networks, partnerships with established ISPs are a way to demonstrate operational capabilities. (NTIA will be specifically looking for public-private partnerships for the Promote Broadband Expansion Grant Program.) … Start talking to potential partners now. … Develop a sustainable business model.
  • Create a grant checklist and start marking off the basics
    We expect NTIA’s grant application windows to be relatively short—so the more you can do to get ready now, the better off you’ll be. Start with the basics. For example, do you have Sam.gov and Grants.gov accounts? You’ll need both to apply to any of NTIA’s programs—and you can imagine how many other entities will be applying for credentials when the application rules are released. Do not wait until the last minute to set up these accounts.

COVID19 opens the doors for continued legislative support for telehealth

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

The use of electronic devices in patient care, known as telehealth, has long held promise as the next big thing in the industry, but not until the coronavirus hit, raising a host of safety concerns, did it become commonplace.

Nearly 30% of health care visits are now conducted electronically, much of it made possible because federal and state regulators, as well as insurance providers, responding to the pandemic emergency, relaxed some of the rules and requirements that made it more difficult to use telehealth.

For example, under Minnesota law, some patients had to drive to a clinic or hospital to use that facility’s secure telecommunications equipment if they wanted to talk with a doctor located at another site. In the past year, that rule has been waived.

As the number of COVID-19 cases begins to rise once again in Minnesota, there is bipartisan support at the Legislature to make permanent many of the changes that have driven the increase in telehealth, with both chambers advancing bills to rewrite the state’s telehealth laws.

That’s quite an increase…

Before the pandemic, telehealth accounted for 3% of patient visits, according to a Minnesota Medical Association survey.

And there are benefits…

“The addition of virtual care clearly was a benefit to the patient, their satisfaction went up, quality went up and overall costs went down because we really architected our system to take advantage of virtual care,” he said.

The virtual visits worked best with patients who already had an established relationship with the physician and clinic and where hands-on care, such physical exams or blood draws, were not needed.

Telehealth also has been extremely popular in mental health and substance use treatment, with many health care systems reporting high volumes of therapy visits.

But providers need the reimbursement to make it happen…

Providers say it is important that they get the same insurance reimbursement payments as in-person visits because overhead costs are the same for virtual visits.

“It is not bricks and mortar costs as much as the infrastructure and all the people behind it to do that work,” said Ingham. “You can’t have virtual visits without those foundational costs.”

MN to get $5 billion for COVID relief – broadband would be a good fit

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Billions of dollars for public construction projects would come raining down on Minnesota in the coming years if President Joe Biden’s push for a massive infrastructure package is successful.

Fresh off passing $1.9 trillion in COVID relief, the new Democratic White House is turning next to an even more ambitious spending proposal. The Biden administration is briefing congressional allies and interest groups on hopes for at least $3 trillion in new federal money for a range of domestic priorities, including $1 trillion for roads, bridges and other transportation projects nationwide.

Minnesota will get a slide of it…

Almost $5 billion is now bound for Minnesota state and local governments from the COVID relief bill, intended to ease a pandemic-driven strain on public services. The administration has not yet detailed an infrastructure plan, but the size of spending under discussion carries the potential to transform the state’s economy and physical landscape.

Broadband is a part of it…

An expansive definition of infrastructure is likely in whatever Biden proposes, encompassing not just transportation systems but also power grids, broadband networks, wastewater treatment facilities and affordable housing projects. Progressive policy goals will influence project lists and construction standards.

Easy on ramp to understanding Emergency Broadband Benefit? Chris Mitchell’s Connect This! Video

Someone suggested I watch the Institute for Local Self Reliance Connect This! video on Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), a $3.2 billion program designed to get families connected to available service that they otherwise might not be able to afford. Chris Mitchell is the host and he has three guests: Travis Carter (USI Fiber) Angela Siefer (National Digital Inclusion Alliance) and Olivia Wein (National Consumer Law Center).

These are three people who deal with different parts of the EBB and together they give a well rounded view. It’s a genius approach because they go in depth but not into the weeds. They want to share with each other information that practical and useful because that’s what each of them need to do. This isn’t academic to them, it’s their work. They are all going off the cuff, which make it easy to listen to and again keeps anyone from going into the weeds. They are asking each other real world questions.

Being honest, I thought I’d listen to a few minutes, then when I run into Chris at the grocery store I could say something – but I never turned it off.