Lake Connections is looking for a buyer

Minnesota Watchdog reports on the status of the Lake County community broadband network… (The Watchdog looks at public funding for projects to “expose the facts about government mismanagement and overreach.”)

 Lake County is trying to find a private provider to buy its taxpayer-funded Lake Connections network in part because the county doesn’t want to sink any more money into the business and also in part because – irony alert – county leaders believe a private provider will better be able to quickly connect eager customers.

The project received $66 million in grants and loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) as part of President Barack Obama’s stimulus legislation. In total, more than $80 million has been sunk into Lake Connections, including federal and local tax money.

And here are some of the most recent numbers…

After seven years of operations, Lake Connections has 2,500 customers, with 750 more interested parties waiting for service. In addition to owing the federal government (taxpayers) $48.5 million, Lake County has put $17 million of local taxpayer money into the project.

Despite those heavy costs, the county is trying to sell Lake Connections for around $20 million. To get that value, bureaucrats assume $180 in revenue per month for each customer and a cash earnings margin of 50 percent.

But they recently announced the highest bid for the network was $3.5 million from Pinpoint Holdings, Inc. of Lincoln, Nebraska. Lake County will continue to accept bids, hoping to get a higher price. If $3.5 million is the final sale price, then federal taxpayers get to eat the $45 million difference between what’s still owed to RUS due to an agreement that the sale price will fulfill the balance of the loan.

The Lake County Board of Commissioners voted in April to approve a $7.24 million general obligation judgment bond to pay off contractors it still owed for the construction of Lake Connections.

We looked at Lake County as part of the case studies we did last year on the community return on public investment. We found that in seven years, the increase in household economic benefit would surpass the debt. That doesn’t necessarily mean the households pool that money to pay off the debt but there have been economic benefits.

 

Ely is looking at broadband as economic development tool with Blandin Foundation’s help

The Timberjay reports…

The city of Ely is continuing its efforts to spur smarter use of technology for improved and successful economic development and ultimately an improved quality of life throughout the community.

Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski told the Ely Economic Development Authority Tuesday night that the goal of establishing a reliable broadband network in the Ely area remains at the top of the list for many in the community and more funding is available to help reach that goal.

Similar to a program funded and facilitated two years ago by the Blandin Foundation, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and St. Louis County, Ely and five other communities in northern Minnesota will again share $50,000 in an effort to be more tech-savvy as better broadband is pursued and established throughout the Ely School District.

A Broadband Visioning Community Meeting will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 30, from 4-7 p.m. at Amici’s Events Center with the entire Ely community invited to join a coalition of local leaders to explore options and alternatives to improve broadband speed and availability. Representatives from the Blandin Foundation will again attend the meeting.

“Over the past two years we have enhanced Ely’s web presence, assisted businesses to be more tech-savvy, distributed refurbished computers to families and pursued better broadband throughout the area,” Langowski said. “If you have any project ideas or proposals, please bring them to this meeting,” Langowski said. “If Blandin approves them, they fund them, and small (community) groups carry the projects out. The last few projects went very well. This is a great program.”

Past projects of this initiative included the establishment of the “Elyite” website and the Ten Below co-working business development center. Project categories include, but are not limited to, broadband access, workforce innovation, digital equity and marketing. “The Ely Broadband Coalition continues to work toward completing these goal and needs community input to continue these efforts,” Langowski said.

“These projects, with leadership and support, can move forward to be considered for funding by our steering committee,” he added. New members are always welcome on the steering committee.

For more information, contact Langowski at elyod@ely.mn.us, or call 218-226-5449.

RS Fiber Renville County broadband grant project on track for June 2019 completion

The West Central Tribune reports…

A project to provide broadband service to underserved areas in Renville County is on track for a June 2019 completion.

Work should be getting underway this week to install an underground, fiber-optic cable along a leg of the network near Sacred Heart, Ben Ranft, general manager of Renville Sibley Fiber/Hiawatha Broadband Communications, told the Renville County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

RS Fiber/HBC is a cooperative that was formed to provide broadband service to Sibley County and rural portions of Renville County. Now in its third year, the cooperative serves 2,000 homes and businesses, most located in Sibley County, according to a report by Broadband Communities magazine.

The state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program awarded a $865,000 grant for the Renville County portion of the project. The grant calls for providing service to 193 underserved households, 99 underserved businesses and three community anchor institutions in portions of the townships of Preston Lake, Boon Lake, Brookfield, Osceola, Kingman, Winfield, Crooks, Erickson, Sacred Heart, Emmet, Flor, Henryville, Norfolk, Birch Cooley, Camp and Cairo.

The total project cost is estimated at $2 million or more, according to Ranft.

$43.7 Million in USDA Smart Grid Funding, Could Help Drive More Rural Broadband: 3 projects in MN

Telecompetitor reports…

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded $43.7 million in funding for rural smart grid projects. The USDA smart grid funding was part of a broader announcement of a total of $398.5 million to improve rural electric service in 13 states. The funding came in the form of low-interest loans.

The USDA smart grid funding could be good news for rural broadband providers, as smart grid projects rely on advanced communications infrastructure and rather than build that infrastructure themselves, some electric companies partner with broadband providers for that purpose. In some cases, this can help build a business case for fiber deployment to support broadband services in areas where it previously was not economically feasible.

At least one rural electric company in the latest group of funding recipients has partnered previously with a small rural broadband provider.  Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative partnered with Consolidated Telephone Company on a previous buildout.

The need to deploy communications infrastructure to support the smart grid also is spurring some rural electric cooperatives to become broadband service providers themselves.

They list the award recipients; here are the three from MN:

  • Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MN)
  • Red River Valley Cooperative Power Association (MN)
  • Federated Rural Electric Association (MN)

And more info on the MN projects

Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative received $15,000,000 loan.
This Rural Development investment will add 575 consumers, build 42 miles of line, improve 38 miles and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $2,961,860 for smart grid projects.  Mille Lacs Energy is headquartered in Aitkin. It serves about 15,150 consumers in Aitkin, Crow Wing and Mille Lacs counties.  The economy of the territory is principally based on tourism, recreational activities and light industry.

 

Red River Valley Cooperative Power Association received $8,000,000 loan.
This Rural Development investment will add 414 consumers, build 47 miles of line, improve 44 miles and make other system improvements.  The loan amount includes $1,545,000 for smart grid projects.  Red River Valley is headquartered in Halstad.  It serves 4,606 customers over 1,802 miles of line in Clay, Norman and Polk counties in northwestern Minnesota. The economy of the service area is primarily agricultural.

 

Federated Rural Electric Association received $4,500,000 loan.
This Rural Development investment will add 100 consumers, build 19 miles of line, improve 32 miles and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $1,798,500 for smart grid projects.  Federated is headquartered in Jackson. It provides electric service to 6,789 consumers in seven counties in southern Minnesota and four counties in northwestern Iowa.  The service territory is primarily agricultural.

 

CentraCare Health Awarded $324-K Grant For Rural Telehealth Services In Minnesota

According to KXRA...

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is awarding a 324-thousand-dollar grant to CentraCare Health in Saint Cloud to provide telehealth services in rural areas.

Congressman Tom Emmer says the grant will help make behavioral health care services more available for Minnesotans living in the Sixth District. CentraCare Senior Director Rachel Lesch called it “a great opportunity to deliver innovative mental health services in areas not possible before.” The funding will support telehealth networks to deliver 24-hour emergency department consultation services to rural providers.

USDA to Implement Regulatory Reforms to Increase Access to Capital in Rural Areas

News on funding from the USDA. They are holding a few listening sessions and many are available online…

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5, 2018 – Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett today announced that USDA is hosting listening sessions to solicit feedback on a plan to increase access to capital in rural areas by streamlining regulations for four Rural Development loan guarantee programs.

“At USDA, we know that for many rural communities the regulations that govern our programs can be outdated and difficult to navigate,” Hazlett said. “Under the leadership of Agriculture Secretary Perdue, USDA is committed to simplifying our regulations and streamlining our program resources so we can be a better partner to rural leaders in building prosperity.”

The changes will simplify the application process for four Rural Development loan guarantee programs that provide funding to start, improve and expand businesses and build critical infrastructure. They also will incorporate modern lending practices, accelerate the loan approval processes and increase the amount of capital available in rural communities. The programs are the Community Facilities Guaranteed Loan Program, the Water and Waste Disposal Guaranteed Loan Program, the Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program and the Rural Energy for America Program.

The Rural Development Innovation Center is hosting listening sessions this month to solicit comments on the reforms.

Listening sessions will be held:

  • Sept. 10 in Denver from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. MDT at the Denver Federal Center. To attend virtually, visit:  Attend virtually.
  • Sept. 10 in Lexington, Ky., from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. EDT at the USDA Rural Development State Office. To attend virtually, visit: Attend virtually.
  • Sept. 12 in Lake Ozark, Mo., from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. CDT at the Lodge of Four Seasons. To attend virtually, visit: Attend virtually.
  • Sept. 14 in East Stroudsburg, Pa., from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. EDT at East Stroudsburg University. To attend virtually, visit: Attend virtually.
  • Sept. 19 (virtually only, focus on Tribal areas) from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. EDT. To attend, visit: Attend virtually.
  • Sept. 20 in Washington, D.C., from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. EDT at USDA Whitten Building, Room 107-A. To attend virtually, visit: Attend virtually.

USDA’s new rural broadband resources page – asks for feedback & directs to funding

The USDA has created a webpage on rural broadband. I thought it was going to be a collection of facts and statistics on broadband but it is potentially more compelling than that. It does provide a shortcut to the USDA funding sources:

It also points to BroadbandUSA, which has gotten quite a facelift since I last visited. They now list upcoming events, such as a webinar in September on wireless broadband options.

The new USDA site also asks for visitor feedback – from customers and broadband providers. Here are two sample questions:

  • For users: What time-of-day (morning, afternoon or evening) do rural residents and businesses most need to use high-speed internet?
  • For providers: Which types of broadband technologies are most applicable for various types of rural areas such as cable, fiber, mobile wireless, fixed wireless, and satellite?

They are also inviting comments through the Federal Register before September 10 on the Broadband e-Connectivity Pilot Program.