Duluth is looking at Open Access Fiber Options with the help of State funding

The Institue of Local Self Reliance reports on Duluth…

Last April, the Duluth Economic Development Authority signed a $65,000 contract with Entrypoint LLC to examine the possibility of building a community-owned fiber network in Duluth. The result: a new Digital Access Master Plan that proposes the city spend $7-9 million to build a pilot open access fiber network in Lincoln Park next year.

“Reliable high-speed internet is no longer a luxury,” Duluth Mayor Emily Larson proclaimed in a recent state of the city address. “It’s an essential utility no less important to our future success than our roads, water, and electricity.”

Under the proposal, 75 percent of the new network would be buried fiber and 25 percent would be microtrenched along public roads. The $7 to $9 million estimated price tag is based on a 60% take rate, short-term interest at 5 percent, and a long-term interest rate of 3 percent for 20 years. The initial pilot project would bring fiber to an estimated 1,900 Duluth residents next year.

“A 60% take-rate may seem aggressive given the strong market position of the incumbent cable operator,” the plan states. “However, the survey data suggests a strong desire among residents and businesses in Duluth to see competition, choice, better pricing, and the reliability of a fiber optic network.”

The plan moving forward…

Last June, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) announced that the state would be doling out $95 million in broadband expansion grants, with a maximum of $5 million for each potential target community. Another $68.5 million in funding for Minnesota communities is poised to arrive via the American Rescue Plan Act.

If the pilot goes well, the city will then decide whether to embrace a full, citywide fiber network at an estimated price tag of between $76 and $80 million.

Assuming the full network were to be built over a 48 month period, the plan predicts Duluth would need to subsidize the network for 14 months. Once the network reaches 21,709 premises, the investment will be paid back by operational surpluses. The plan assumes a $79.9 million network build cost would be funded with debt at a 3 percent interest rate over 20 years.

Scandia moving forward with broadband plans with MidCo and Frontier (Washington County)

Country Messenger reports

Scandia’s efforts to expand high speed broadband service continues in 2022 and 2023. This year’s construction will reach approximately 160 households provided by MidCO. The project is currently underway. The equipment, fiber and other materials are ready to be deployed this summer, completion is expected by late fall.

For 2023 Scandia has allocated $432,000 in local funding for another expansion and requested that MidCO provide a plan for the City’s approval, including outside grant money where possible. Additionally, Scandia has sent a letter supporting Frontier Communications’ grant application to the State of Minnesota. If approved, Frontier’s project would begin in 2023 and be completed by the end of 2024.

The project would provide high speed broadband via fiber to several hundred locations within Scandia that are currently served by slower DSL lines. Scandia’s Internet Action Committee (IAC) has been working since 2020 with the goal of bringing high speed broadband to all of Scandia within five years.

And there’s an event to learn more…

Scandia and MidCo will host the third annual MidCo Day event Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. The first part will take place from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. in conjunction with with Scandia’s Farmer’s Market at the Community Center.

Duluth gets $24.9 million through USDOT’s RAISE program in part for broadband

Senator Klobuchar reports

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN) announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has awarded $24.9 million in federal funding for infrastructure improvements in Duluth. Specifically, the grant, provided through USDOT’s RAISE program, will revitalize a two-mile section of West Superior Street by replacing outdated utilities systems, expanding broadband connectivity, and building electrical vehicle charging stations.

“Investments in our infrastructure serve as down payments on the long-term economic well-being of our state,” said Klobuchar. “This federal funding will make a real difference for communities in Duluth, enabling critical infrastructure improvements that will strengthen downtown, while helping to replace aging utilities and increasing broadband connectivity for local businesses and residents.” 

“Minnesota is paving the way to a clean energy future and this project exemplifies Duluth’s commitment to prioritizing the environment while upgrading the city’s infrastructure,” said Smith. “From installing electric vehicle charging stations to investing in green infrastructure and expanding access to broadband, this project will both make critical improvements to the city’s infrastructure while remaining committed to the future of our planet. I’m glad we’re able to be a partner at the federal level to ensure this project gets done.”

“I am deeply grateful to Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith for understanding the value of this enormous investment in our community,” said Duluth Mayor Emily Larson. “This is a highly competitive grant process – receiving this RAISE grant is a truly monumental achievement and speaks to the commitment our Senators have to Duluth and our residents. This grant will provide critical West Superior Street infrastructure upgrades in the Lincoln Park Business District, along with supporting multimodal transportation: including safer bike and pedestrian access, electric vehicles, and local bus transit. The project will also better connect residents, businesses and visitors via a broadband corridor. Thank you to our city staff and community partners like Ecolibrium3, and especially to Senators Klobuchar and Smith for securing these dollars which will go to work in support of business, residents and visitors.”

These resources will enable a complete reconstruction of the two-mile increment on West Superior Street to incorporate more resilient infrastructure while also modernizing underground utilities, including sewage and stormwater systems, and installing fiber optics to ensure stronger broadband connectivity in the neighborhood.

RAISE grants can be used by communities across the country for a wide variety of projects with significant local or regional impact. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Klobuchar and Smith supported and was signed into law last year, delivered a 50 percent increase in the amount of available funding for the RAISE grants, as well as resources for improving the state’s roads, bridges, public transportation, and water infrastructure.

Mainstream (MN) look at FCC’s rejection of LTD Broadband and Starlink RDOF applications

Yesterday, the FCC announced their rejection of LTD Broadband and Starlink RDOF applications.

A recap at the highest level: LTD Broadband and Starlink qualified for the opportunity to get millions of dollars in federal contracts for broadband. There were questions about their ability to deploy these networks. The communities where they might have deployed networks have been unable to some other funding because of this deal. They have been frustrated for a year and a half. The FCC rejection of these providers means a loss of funding (hundreds of millions) coming to Minnesota BUT it also means these communities are free to find other opportunities.

Mainstreet media in Minnesota has been following the story, that in fairness includes some seriously wonky details. Here are what some of those sources are saying today:

  • MinnPost: In an email to MinnPost, Corey Hauer, the CEO of LTD, said company officials are “extremely disappointed in the FCC staff decision.”
    “I don’t believe the FCC fully appreciated the benefits LTD Broadband would bring to hundreds of thousands of rural Americans,” Hauer said. “We are continuing to review the letter and are evaluating our next steps.”
    FCC spokeswoman Anne Veigle said LTD can file a petition for reconsideration or an “application for review to appeal.”
  • Star Tribune: The FCC’s ruling on LTD is “a big deal,” said Brent Christensen, president of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance.
    “This is all uncharted territory,” Christensen said. “A lot of us don’t know what is going to happen.”
    An FCC spokesman said the locations for LTD’s winning bids will be eligible for other state and federal rural broadband funding programs. The federal government is expected to conduct other subsidy auctions.
  • Rueters: The FCC noted that Starlink, a fast-growing constellation of internet-beaming satellites, relies on nascent low-earth orbit satellite technology and had sought funding to provide 100/20 Mbps service to 642,925 locations in 35 states.
    “We must put scarce universal service dollars to their best possible use as we move into a digital future that demands ever more powerful and faster networks,” Rosenworcel said. “We cannot afford to subsidize ventures that are not delivering the promised speeds or are not likely to meet program requirements.”
    The FCC said the two companies both provided inadequate responses to questions and are not capable of complying with commission requirements.

 

Duluth pursues Border to Border grant for Lincoln Park

The Duluth News Tribune reports

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson this summer proposed a pilot project to bring faster, more affordable broadband internet service first to Lincoln Park. And last month, as the News Tribune reported, the City Council gave the go-ahead for city administration to apply for a $3.2 million state Broadband Development Grant to help fund the proposal. Councilors expressed discomfort, however, with withdrawing $5 million from Duluth’s Community Investment Trust to help fund the project, which is expected to cost $7 million to $9 million total. If Duluth is successful in securing the requested state grant, there’s confidence in City Hall that there are other financial paths for the pilot project without having to dip into the Community Investment Fund.

135 Border-to-Border Broadband Applications Received—Challenge Process Begins

An update from the Office of Broadband Development…

One hundred and thirty-five (135) applications for the 2022 Border-to-Border Broadband Development grant program were received by the August 4th deadline. The Office of Broadband Development has initiated the challenge process required by Minnesota law (Minn. Stat. 116J.395 subd. 5a) concurrent with its review of the applications. A list of the applications filed and instructions on how to file a challenge, if necessary, are available on our website and under the “2022 Application Process” tab.  Any challenges must be submitted via email to deed.broadband@state.mn.us by 4:00 p.m. Thursday, September 8, 2022.

If you have any questions, please contact our office at 651-259-7610 or via email at deed.broadband@state.mn.us.

FCC Rejects RDOF applications of LTD broadband and Starlink

From the FCC

The Federal Communications Commission today announced that it is rejecting the long-form applications of LTD Broadband and Starlink to receive support through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program. The Commission determined that these applications failed to demonstrate that the providers could deliver the promised service. Funding these vast proposed networks would not be the best use of limited Universal Service Fund dollars to bring broadband to unserved areas across the United States, the Commission concluded.
“After careful legal, technical, and policy review, we are rejecting these applications. Consumers deserve reliable and affordable high-speed broadband,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel. “We must put scarce universal service dollars to their best possible use as we move into a digital future
that demands ever more powerful and faster networks. We cannot afford to subsidize ventures that are not delivering the promised speeds or are not likely to meet program requirements.”
“Starlink’s technology has real promise,” continued Chairwoman Rosenworcel. “But the question before us was whether to publicly subsidize its still developing technology for consumer broadband—which requires that users purchase a $600 dish—with nearly $900 million in
universal service funds until 2032.”
In the initial auction results announced December 7, 2020, LTD Broadband won $1,320,920,718.60, and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (Starlink) won $885,509,638.40.
Although LTD was a relatively small fixed wireless provider before the auction, it was the largest winning bidder in the auction, submitting winning bids in 15 states. Subsequently, it failed to timely receive eligible telecommunications carrier status in seven states, rendering it ineligible in
those states for support. Ultimately, the FCC review concluded that LTD was not reasonably capable of deploying a network of the scope, scale, and size required by LTD’s extensive winning bids.

Regular readers will know this is bittersweet news. LTD was awarded the opportunity to apply for $311 million to deploy fiber in Minnesota. On the one hand, this is $311 million that is unlikely to come back to Minnesota in the same way. On the other hand, many people were suspect with LTD’s ability to meet what they proposed. In Minnesota, the MN PUC recently agreed to look into revoking LTD’s credentials here; these credentials were required to get RDOF money. The FCC had previously proposed fining LTD for violating requirements.

 

Le Sueur County and Bevcomm are applying for Border to Border funds – again post-RDOF issues

Le Sueur County News posts an update of what’s happening with broadband plans in the county since they last applied for MN State Border to Border grants and were disqualified because they were in an area where LTD Broadband had subsequently been awarded an opportunity to apply for federal (RDOF)…

After two years of being walled off from state broadband dollars, Le Sueur County is reviving efforts to bring high speed internet to nearly 250 rural households.

At the July 26 Le Sueur County Board of Commissioners meeting, Broadband Initiative Coordinator Barbara Droher-Kline announced local internet service provider Bevcomm would be seeking a Border-to-Border grant to expand high speed internet service to 152 homes in Montgomery Township 89 homes in Lexington Township and 6 homes in Sharon Township.

Le Sueur County agreed to dedicate $350,000 toward the project with Montgomery, Lexington and Sharon townships compensating the county $1,500 per home in their respective territories.

The county has attempted to lift the project off the ground since September of 2020. Back then, Bevcomm requested $300,000 in matching funds from the county to build a $1.6 million fiber optic network providing 1 Gbps speeds to 239 homes.

The network was to build off of Bevcomm’s existing fiber optic network, constructed in partnership with Le Sueur County and a $2 million Border-to-Border grant in 2020.

Latest RDOF awards announced – none in MN and nothing to LTD

The FCC has announces the the latest rounds of RDOF funding.

By this Public Notice, the Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB), in conjunction with the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force (RBATF) and the Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA), authorizes Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (Auction 904) support for the winning bids identified in Attachment A of this Public Notice.

As in the previous round – none were based in Minnesota.

Telecompetitor offers a perspective, noting that many of the top winners have yet to receive money…

There were over 400 winning bidders in the RDOF auction, but the top 10 winning bidders represent more than three-quarters of the total $9.2 billion tentatively awarded.

Over the last 18 months or so, the FCC has authorized funding for many smaller winning bidders and for five of the top 10 winning bidders. But the other five of the top 10 have not yet been deemed ready to authorize and questions have begun to arise about whether those other five will ever be authorized.

Several sources closely involved in the RDOF program have noted that the FCC has no deadline for reviewing RDOF long-form applications and might never approve some or any of those five bidders.

One of them is SpaceX, which plans to use satellite broadband to meet its service commitments. Concerns have arisen about the company’s ability to meet those commitments and about the longevity of that service. Another is LTD Broadband, which has received criticism about its ability to deploy fiber broadband as quickly and extensively as required.

Morrison County Commissioner support Border to Border grant from Charter Communications

Hometown Source reports

Some residents of Green Prairie, Little Falls and Pike Creek townships may soon have another option for broadband internet service.

Tuesday, Morrison County Administrator Matt LeBlanc told the Board of Commissioners that he had recently been contracted by the director of government affairs with Charter Communications. She informed him that the company was looking to extend fiber optic broadband service to 474 locations within the county.

“That stretches from approximately midway up Camp Ripley — everything’s on the west side of the river — down to kind of the parallel line of Sobieski, but again, tight to the river through the county, skipping over Little Falls,” Le-Blanc said. “It’s a $3 million project that Charter would be looking to do.”

Her purpose for contacting LeBlanc was to ask for the County Board to provide a letter of support on Charter’s behalf. In order to do the project, the company is applying for a Border to Board Broadband grant from the Minnesota Department of Economic Development.

He said a timeframe on the potential project would likely be contingent on successful receipt of the grant for Charter.

The Board unanimously encouraged LeBlanc to send the letter of support in hopes of getting the project done.

Representative Angie Craig talks up broadband and federal funding

Brownfield Ag News reports

Minnesota Democrat Angie Craig tells Brownfield precision agriculture has made it critical that farmers have access to high-speed internet.

“That is one area where I am so proud we’re going to deliver $100 million to Minnesota in broadband funding on a bipartisan basis, which is pretty hard to come by in the town of Washington.”

USDA recently announced it will award up to $150 million in loans, up to $300 million in loan-grant combinations, and $700 million in grants to bring high-speed internet to rural America.

Craig says the dollars will enable rural communities to expand.

“People can live anywhere and work anywhere these days in a lot of different businesses, so having that in the ground gives these communities options (like) do I want to grow? Do I want to develop? Do I not?”

Sherburne County to invest $1.5 million from ARPA in better broadband

Patriot News reports...

Sherburne County Commissioners approved a $1.5 million grant program to expand broadband service to unserved and underserved areas of the county.

The money will help bring reliable, affordable high-speed internet to more Sherburne County households and businesses, with the funds coming from the America Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The grants will be awarded to service providers for eligible projects that provide service designed to reliably meet or exceed a symmetrical 100 Mbps download and upload speeds or, where symmetrical 100 Mbps speeds are not practicable, 100 Mbps download and at least 20 Mbps upload speeds.

They are looking for provider partners…

Sherburne County will accept applications for Broadband Access Grants through Sept. 30, 2022. Interested parties can find a link to the application at the county’s website: http://www.co.sherburne.mn.us.

USDA ReConnect Program Round 4 funding applications open Sep 6 to Nov 2

The USDA reports

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Under Secretary Xochitl Torres Small today announced that the Department will begin accepting applications on September 6 for funding to expand access to high-speed internet for millions of people in rural America nationwide, part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to investing in rural infrastructure and affordable high-speed internet for all. USDA is making the funding available under the ReConnect Program, which received new funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“High-speed internet connects people and businesses to new markets and helps people in rural America build brighter futures,” Torres Small said. “For too long, too many rural communities have been left out of the digital economy. This funding will help everyone in America – regardless of where they live – because rural people provide the everyday essentials our country depends on. Investments like the ones we are making through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help close the digital divide across rural America.”

USDA is making additional funding available for high-speed internet in Round 4 of the ReConnect Program. The Department will begin accepting applications on September 6 for up to $150 million in loans, up to $300 million in loan/grant combinations, and up to $700 million in grants. The Department will use funds appropriated under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides a historic $65 billion investment to expand affordable, high-speed internet to all communities across the U.S.

The application deadline is November 2.

Kandiyohi County Commissioners support three Border ro Border grant applications

The West Central Tribune reports…

At Tuesday’s Kandiyohi County Board meeting, the commissioners approved submitting three letters of support toward three broadband projects hoping to be awarded state Border-to-Border grant funds. An update on projects was also given at the meeting.

It took much longer than anyone wanted, but applications for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program through the state Department of Employment and Economic Development are finally being accepted. By the due date of Thursday, at least three of those applications will be coming from Kandiyohi County.

The County has also invested ARPA money…

When the county received its more than $8 million in American Rescue Plan Act coronavirus relief funds, the board made the commitment to earmark around 75% of those monies for broadband. So far, the board has approved allocations to several projects across the county.

Some details…

At Tuesday’s meeting of the County Board, the commissioners approved signing and sending three letters of support to DEED for three different broadband projects. Border-to-Border awards grants of up to $5 million or 50% of the project cost, whichever is less. This year, there is approximately $95 million in funds available, thanks to an influx of cash from both the state’s general fund and from the federal government.

The county’s primary project, which is made clear in the letters of support, is the Kandiyohi County West project, that would bring fiber broadband to 645 locations in Dovre, Mamre, St. Johns and Arctander townships. The project is estimated to cost more than $9.8 million, and the EDC Broadband Committee is asking for $4.5 million from the DEED program.

“We are asking for that full 50%,” said Sarah Swedburg, business development manager with the EDC. “We need every penny that the state can give us.”

Whitehouse reports in broadband investment through Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in Minnesota

The Whitehouse reports

Eight months following the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Biden-Harris Administration has made unprecedented investments in all 50 states and territories to build a better America that delivers for all communities. Since November 2021, President Biden and Vice President Harris have left no community behind in their efforts to rebuild America’s infrastructure.

Here’s what the Whitehouse says about broadband in Minnesota

Internet: High-speed internet is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, participate in school, access health care, and stay connected. Yet nearly 19% of Minnesotans do not have an internet subscription. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests $65 billion to provide affordable, high-speed internet to every American. Minnesota will receive a 2 minimum allocation of at least $100 million to help ensure high-speed internet coverage across the state. Additionally, experts estimate that as many as 860,000 households in Minnesota are eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which cuts internet bills by up to $30 per month, or $75 for households on Tribal lands, and provides a one-time $100 discount off a connected device. The Biden-Harris Administration is providing further cost savings by working with internet providers to offer high-speed internet plans that are fully covered by the Affordable Connectivity Program — meaning most eligible households can now get high-speed internet without paying a dime.

  • Progress to date: About 125,506 households in Minnesota are enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program, with more signing up every day. Households can check their eligibility, sign up, and find fully covered internet plans at GetInternet.gov.