Free broadband planning and funding application help for your school

Rural School Collaborative posts a good reminder about Education SuperHighway – they offer free broadband planning and help with funding forms. It’s free. So if your school needs help, it would be worth a call…

EducationSuperHighway is the leading nonprofit that is working to ensure every school across the country has access to high-speed broadband. There is no catch. Everything they do for school districts is free of charge, and they have worked extensively with rural schools and in rural communities in over 30 states.

If you have any questions or would like to receive support, contact Alyssa Cubello (alyssa@educationsuperhighway.org) or visit www.educationsuperhighway.org/accelerate to get in touch. EducationSuperHighway can help you:

  • Plan your broadband network upgrade
  • Research technology and provider options
  • Develop your E-rate Form 470 / RFP strategy
  • Evaluate bids and select the best provider solution

Additionally, you can watch their free webinars here to help you understand more about your available E-rate Category 2 budget, make best use of these funds, and run a successful procurement.

MN 2018 Tekne Awards – Nominate a neighbor by Aug 3

It’s nice to see a lot of rural businesses, leaders and projects make the list…

The Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) announced categories for our 19th Annual Tekne Awards. Applications will be accepted until August 3, with the Tekne Awards ceremony to be held November 29.

Tekne Awards recognize the leaders in Minnesota’s innovation economy and cutting-edge innovators in science and technology. The awards celebrate the individuals and organizations that play a significant role in discovering new technologies that educate and improve the lives of Minnesotans and people around the world.

Learn more.  Also, on June 20 at 9 a.m. there is a Tekne Award Webinar.  MHTA will be hosting a webinar to provide advice and answer your questions on award categories, eligibility, important dates and more. A past award recipient and Tekne judge will also provide their perspectives. Register here for the webinar.

Possible increase in funds for the Rural Health Care Program

Looks like there may be more funds for the Rural Health Care Program – FCC Chair Ajit Pai is interested in making that happen…

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced today that he has circulated a draft order to his colleagues that would take immediate action to significantly increase funding for the Universal Service Fund’s Rural Health Care Program.

The program’s current annual funding cap is $400 million. The cap was set in 1997 and was never indexed for inflation. Recently, demand for funding under the program has outpaced the budget, creating uncertainty for patients, health care providers, and communications companies alike.

The Chairman’s order would increase the annual cap to $571 million.

USDA has funding for social disadvantaged groups for projects that could include broadband

From the Minnesota Office of USDA Rural Development

ST PAUL, May 30, 2018 – USDA Rural Development State Director Brad Finstad today announced that USDA is seeking applications for grants under the Socially-Disadvantaged Groups Grant program.

The purpose of this program is to provide technical assistance to socially-disadvantaged groups in rural areas. Eligible applicants include cooperatives, groups of cooperatives and cooperative development centers. This program supports Rural Development’s mission of improving the quality of life for rural Americans and commitment to direct agency resources to those who most need them. A socially-disadvantaged group is one whose members have been subjected to racial, ethnic or gender prejudice because of their identity as members of a group without regard to their individual qualities. A majority of the applicant’s board of directors or governing board must be comprised of individuals who are members of socially-disadvantaged groups.

For FY 2018, USDA plans to award up to $3 million in grants. The maximum grant award is $175,000. Grants may be used to develop and operate a Rural Cooperative Development Center that could provide the following technical assistance and other services to rural businesses:

 

  • Conducting feasibility studies
  • Developing business plans
  • Providing leadership and operational improvement training

Paper applications are due July 30, 2018. Electronic applications are due July 24, 2018. Questions about the application process may be directed to your local Rural Development Area Office.  For more information, see page 24719 of the May 30 Federal Register or visit www.rd.usda.gov/mn.

USDA encourages applications that will support recommendations made in the report to the President from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to help improve life in rural America. Applicants are encouraged to consider projects that provide measurable results in helping rural communities build robust and sustainable economies through strategic investments in infrastructure, partnerships and innovation. Key strategies include:

  • Achieving e-Connectivity for Rural America
  • Developing the Rural Economy
  • Harnessing Technological Innovation
  • Supporting a Rural Workforce
  • Improving Quality of Life

 

Pickwick MN getting online thanks to MN State Funds and HBC

The Winona Post reports on the progress of a Border to Border grant project in the Pickwick area…

The promise of high-speed Internet has been a long time coming for Pickwick area residents. When HBC won a $561,000 state grant in 2015 to cover half the cost of extending fiberoptic Internet cables to Trout Creek Valley, Cedar Valley, and Whitewater State Park, the company expected the cables to be laid and the broadband internet flowing by 2017. HBC has completed work to bring broadband to those other areas, but it has yet to begin laying wires in Trout Creek Valley. CEO Dan Pecarina said that work should begin this summer.

It turns out Pickwick was a more difficult area to serve…

Remote and sparsely populated, it is very expensive to extend new fiberoptic cable to rural homes and businesses. “It is anywhere from four to 10 times what it costs to build out a network in town,” Pecarina said. With state grants covering half the cost, some rural projects make financial sense, but the most expensive rural projects are still a difficult business proposition with a long wait for return on investment, he stated.
Pickwick turned out such a project, Pecarina stated. HBC has plans to run fiberoptic cable along County Road 7 the length of the valley, but connecting the mouth of the valley to HBC’s larger distribution network on Highway 61 is the problem, he explained. HBC has existing fiberoptic cable just over a mile upriver, but there is a tight bend where Highway 61 is squeezed between a bluff, the railroad, and the river, where laying fiberoptic cable would require boring through rock, Pecarina explained. That is very expensive.
Once HBC realized how difficult connecting to the head of Trout Creek Valley would be, the company looked for alternatives. Pecarina said the company spent most of 2017 analyzing other options. HBC was also purchased by Indiana-based Schurz Communications that year. After looking at all the options, Pecarina said his firm has come up with a workable solution for Pickwick.
HBC plans to beam wireless Internet across the Mississippi River to Trout Creek Valley from two locations in Wisconsin: one downriver in Trempealeau and one upriver near the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge. It is not ideal, Pecarina admitted. State officials and companies prefer fiberoptic cable because it has the capacity to provide even higher speeds in the future, but Pecarina said that the Pickwick project’s point-to-point wireless connection will still be able to provide the DEED-mandated broadband speeds. “They’re still going to get the speed an all-fiberoptic network would have … we just can’t build fiberoptic into the valley at a feasible price,” he stated. “We’ll have enough bandwidth pumped into the valley to serve everyone with one-gigabit service if they want to go to that.” In the future, HBC would like to extend fiberoptic cable from Ridgeway to the head of the valley, he added.

Unfortunately the funding for rural broadband was not renewed through the 2018 Legislature.

Federal bill introduced to spend e-rate funds on wifi on buses

According to a press release from Senator Udall (New Mexico)…

Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) introduced a bill to put wireless internet on school buses in order to help students without broadband access at home get online to study and do homework. The legislation would allow the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-Rate program to reimburse schools that place wi-fi technology on school buses carrying students to school or school related extracurricular activities.

Looks like Minnesota might be a leader here too – the Minnesota Legislature decided to invest in wifi on the buses last year.

Minnesota Border to Border Broadband grant is model to Missouri broadband grant program

News Press Now (of Missouri) reports…

Two St. Joseph area lawmakers can’t take credit for inventing the internet, but they hope recently passed legislation will speed up broadband usage in Northwest Missouri.

A bill, authored by Rep. Delus Johnson, R-St. Joseph, creates a broadband grants fund for rural areas. The bill was passed on the final day of the legislative session.

They used Minnesota’s grant programs as a model. (Minnesota’s grant model was unfortunately not funded after the last legislative session.)

State Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, said telephone companies, rural electric cooperatives, the Missouri Farm Bureau, and other groups offered support and advice for the grants. Minnesota’s broadband model also served as inspiration.

Constituents often speak with him on the need for broadband improvements throughout his Senate 12th District. He promoted Johnson’s bill in the chamber and also supplied a companion bill.

“It’s a big issue,” Hegeman said. “Our small communities know they need broadband to retain the young folks. Otherwise, we’ll continue to see a loss of population.”