Friday is the deadline for Kandiyohi County community network resident buy-in

I’ve written about this a few times in the last month, so I’ll just give the alert from the West Central Tribune

Kandiyohi County officials issued an 11th-hour appeal Tuesday to potential broadband customers in the rural northern portion of the county: If you want the service, sign up and pay your deposit now, otherwise Consolidated Telecommunication Company will be forced to scrap the project.

The deadline is Friday for homeowners and businesses in the proposed service area.

As of Tuesday, customer commitments were just under the goal, said Connie Schmoll, business development specialist for the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.

“We only need another 70 or so to sign up,” she said.

Pope County public meeting on broadband options today (Tuesday) at 2:00

According to the Pope County Tribune

Faster and better internet access in Pope County will be the topic of discussion from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. this Tuesday at a public meeting in the community room in the courthouse in Glenwood. …

The meeting Tuesday will shed some light on those needs and what the county is doing to meet those needs.

Thanks to the county committee, headed by commissioners Paul Gerde and Larry Lindor, and Donna Martin, Pope County’s Information Technology director, for working on this important economic development issue.

I suspect they will talk about opportunities to apply for a Minnesota state broadband grant but it sound like they might also talk about the need to remind legislators of the importance of continued funding for the program…

The Republican Party campaigned in the last election how outstate Minnesota was left behind and the Twin Cities was somehow the recipient of the state’s largesse.  Despite that, the Republican-controlled Legislature ignored its own rhetoric and came up short on broadband funding.

Greater Minnesota needs more, as the demand for dollars for broadband already shows.

We need support from both sides of the aisle at the Legislature, and that support should mean more funds committed to outstate Minnesota to expand broadband across the state.

TDS expands service in Minnesota using federal funds for speeds ranging from 25/3 to 4/1

According to Telecompetitor

The FCC A-CAM program is helping fund TDS broadband expansion in Minnesota, the carrier announced. Engineering and design work is beginning, that will set the stage to bring broadband to more than 2,200 locations throughout western Minnesota. Construction is expected to begin this Fall or in 2018, according to TDS.

The A-CAM program, part of the FCC’s Connect America Fund program, will provide $5.1 million for this particular project and TDS says hundreds of additional nearby locations not covered by this funding will also benefit. Depending on location, most of these residents will see speeds of 25/3 Mbps, with others getting 10/1 Mbps or 4/1 Mbps. TDS owns four telephone companies in Minnesota and employs about 225 people in the state.

One the one hand it will be a good thing for folks who see faster speeds, on the other hand it’s federal funding being spent on expansion on speeds ranging from 25/3 to 4/1 speeds. That is a far cry from state goal of 100/20 by 2026.

I noticed in Telecomparer that the expansion is specifically noted Kandiyohi County (in the headline and) …

TDS Telecom (TDS) began design work earlier in 2017 in the Mid-State Telephone service area that includes part of Kandiyohi County as well as portions of Pope, Swift, Stearns and Chippewa counties.

The mentione of Kandiyohi caught my eye because Kandiyohi County and CTC have partnered on a $10 million broadband project to construct a fiber line to bring high-speed access to north central Kandiyohi County. They were awarded a Minnesota state broadband grant and are looking for residents to sign up for the service now to ensure that the project moves forward.

How do we define success of a community network? Is Lake County a model or cautionary tale?

In 2010, the MN Broadband Task Force report ranked Minnesota Counties broadband access; Lake County was #16 on the least served list with an average download speed of 3.2 Mbps. Speed wasn’t their only issue, they also had problems with reliability. Prior to July 2012, there had been two incidents where flooding left parts of the county without service – no broadband, no 911. (And Lake County is a US border county! Imagine the Homeland Security concerns!)

Lake County had Internet service providers but the service they offered didn’t meet the county’s needs and providers were talking about 10-15 years to build out a fiber network (back in 2009). So, when Congress responded to the Great Recession of 2010 by passing the America Recovery and Reconstruction Act, which included funding for rural broadband networks, Lake County applied for funding and was awarded $66 million in ARRA stimulus funds; about $10 million of the award was an outright grant; the rest was a low-interest loan.

Lake County’s journey to better broadband has been a bumpy one. (I’ve listed all of the ups and downs I could remember below.)

The good news? Lake County is now well served. As of last reporting, 94.3 percent of Lake County had access to broadband at speeds of 100 Mbps down and 20 up (100/20), which is the MN 2026 state goal, making them the #11 top ranked county in Minnesota. Quite a leap from #72 in 2010.

The bad news? The network is now on the market. And as Annette Meeks (from Freedom Foundation of Minnesota) points out, there are bills to be paid.

So is it a success? Or is a better question, is it a success yet?

They have a network – and a recent Lake County News article points out, that was the goal…

“Seven years ago when we did get involved in this, it wasn’t for the goal of owning a broadband network,” Commissioner Rick Goutermont said during the meeting. “The reason we got involved was that none of the incumbents would go after these funds and none of the incumbents were looking to provide our constituents with the service that we felt they needed, that’s why we got involved.”

An article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune seems to second that sentiment…

But it seems clear that even if the county doesn’t get back all or much of the more than $17 million it has put into the project, county officials won’t see much to apologize to the voters for.  …. what the county decided more than seven years ago still seems to be true — that had the county not stepped in, they would still be waiting for reliable broadband service in Lake County.

There is debt as Meeks points out…

Currently, Lake County taxpayer funding for the project totals $17 million.

To put this in perspective, remember that many of the state funded broadband projects involve local match often through the County Boards (Itasca, Fillmore and others). Sunrise Township project’s state grant match includes CenturyLink’s CAF 2 money and public funding. (Total cost of the project is $2.39 million, the grant is for $1.07 million, the rest is split evenly between CAF 2 and public money.)

A quick reminder of their story: Sunrise held meetings because they wanted better broadband. One provider showed up; one didn’t. At public meetings, CenturyLink said they would use CAF 2 money to upgrade to “at least” 10/1, but the township wanted world class broadband instead.

So they talked. About getting a grant. About how much CenturyLink needed. About how much (and how) residents could chip in.

Turns out the project would be $2.39. In public meetings they talked about getting $500,000 from taxpayers – to be divvied up between 532 households in CenturyLink’s territory – roughly $1000/household. They are looking at paying that back over 10-15 years and the number bandied around was $100/year/household.

With this additional community investment, and state broadband grant, CenturyLink agreed to use their awarded CAF2 dollars to build a world-class fiber-to-the-home network capable of delivering speeds that exceed state broadband goals.

The Sunrise Township residents said yes because they felt the increase in taxes would be offset with a myriad of benefits, from the ability to operate a home-based business, to access to distance learning, to increased home values.

I don’t know that Lake County residents are any different. There was some back and forth on rumors that they wouldn’t have to pay back the loan but seemed like more smoke than fire. They signed onto a loan and folks know what that means. Sounds like the remaining cost is $17 million – there are 5000 households in Lake County. I know this is very sloppy math but that sounds like $3400/household. It’s 3.4 times the cost in Sunrise – but paid back over time I wonder if residents feel broadband was worth it. (Also in this scenario taxpayers investment should be offset by subscription proceeds.)

One very big difference is competition. Because Sunrise is working with the incumbent provider they are unlikely to run into legal issues and negative campaigns that challenged Lake County. (See examples on timeline below.) Perhaps that what Meeks means when she says…

Market-based forces will always come into play when municipalities decide to compete against private telecom providers.

Few communities want to become the broadband provider. Most rural communities are open to a partnership – such as Sunrise Township – where community investment is made with an incumbent or other provider. But for communities where the local provider is uninterested in providing service the community wants, there needs to be alternatives and part of that alternative is recognizing that money spent on broadband is an investment that pays different dividends for a community than it does a provider.

A provider doesn’t have to offer services where it’s not profitable to do so.  If profit is your definition of success it would be crazy to go into some areas. But a provider should not be able to hold a community hostage to slower, unreliable broadband. We need room for public investment or those communities will be choked out of existence. And we need room for alternate definition of success – one that includes community vitality.

Lake County abridged timeline* Continue reading

Possible broadband grants – a list of MN and US opportunities

twOne of the fun things I do when I’m not writing about broadband is posting the Minnesota Rural Partners monthly newsletter. This month there were a few good options – well and some long shots – for folks looking for funding for broadband planning, deployment or adoption. I’ve mentioned a few but I thought I’d add them all of the list.

–USDA is offering grants through the Community Facilities Technical Assistance and Training Grant Program. Public bodies, non-profit organizations and federally recognized Tribes are eligible to apply for this funding. The maximum grant is $150,000. Deadline: 7/24/2017. Click here for application guidelines. –The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is inviting applications for grants to support economic development in rural communities through the Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI). These grants support partnerships between community development groups and rural communities to develop essential facilities and create jobs and business opportunities. Deadline: 7/25/2017. Click here to visit the RCDI website for more information on applying.

— The State of Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program is up and running for a fourth round, with $20 million allocated by the state legislature and an application deadline of September 11, 2017.  The grant application is available for review now (click here for grant info and access to the application). The deadline for submitting applications is September 11, 2017 at 4 p.m.  However, please note, if you are considering submitting a broadband grant application, you must contact wireline broadband providers in your proposed project area by July 31 to comply with the pre-application notification portion of the application process (or six weeks before you file your application, if you file before September 11).

–The Walmart Foundation State Giving Program awards grants to nonprofit organizations throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico for programs that give individuals access to a better life. There are three funding cycles per year; the first two funding cycles are targeted to specific states. For the final funding cycle of the year, requests are accepted from organizations nationwide in the following two categories: Hunger Relief supporting programs such as food pantries, backpack programs, and SNAP outreach; and Community Engagement supporting other programs that focus on the unmet needs of underserved low-income populations. Examples of eligible programs include career opportunity, disaster preparedness, education programs, healthcare access, shelters, etc. Grants range from $25,000 to $250,000; the average grant size is $40,000. Deadline: applications for the final funding cycle will be accepted from 8/7/2017 through 8/11/2017. Visit the Foundation’s website here to learn more about the State Giving Program.

–The Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation is offering grants through the Foundation’s Community Partners grant program to nonprofit organizations and local municipalities undertaking high-need projects such as building renovations and upgrades, grounds improvements, technology upgrades and safety improvements. Grants range from $2,001 to $100,000. Applications for the fall funding cycle will be accepted until 8/25/2017. Visit the company’s website here to review the giving guidelines and to take the eligibility quiz.

–Foundation for Rural Service is offering grants to nonprofits seeking to create programs that promote business development, community development, education or telecommunications in rural communities served by National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA) members. Awards range from $250 to $5,000. Preference will be given to proposals that foster collaboration among and community engagement, and that can be fully funded by the grant or have 75 percent or more of the project currently funded. Deadline: 9/15/2017. To learn more and apply, click here.

–Blandin Foundation Broadband Grants: Broadband Innovation and Robust Network Feasibility Fund grant award amounts range from $1,000 to $25,000, and matching funds are required. Grant application deadline September 22. http://wp.me/p3if7-3M7

SBA Certified Development Company (504) Loan Program provides small businesses with long-term, fixed-rate financing for major fixed assets, such as land and buildings. 504 Loans are good options for healthcare practitioners who want to build a new office, or expand or renovate an existing medical building.

Want broadband in Kandiyohi? Tell them now!

The West Central Tribune posts a letter from a Kandiyohi County Commissioner…

Residents of Kandiyohi County, who have the opportunity to receive broadband need to act now in order for this project to proceed.

A deadline of July 21, 2017, has been set. CTC will be forced to return the $5 million grant to the state broadband office if our goal is not met by July 21!

Having broadband service (defined by Minnesota office of broadband as 25 meg. download and 3 meg. upload) will increase your home value by 3 percent. On a $250,000 home, that is $7,500. That is similar to adding a fireplace to your home.

More importantly, when it comes time to sell your property, you will be at a severe disadvantage when compared to those homes on the market that do have broadband to the premise.

You may be thinking that you can always add broadband later. You might be able to do that, but it will cost you thousands of dollars more to do it at a later date.

To get more information, watch for opportunities to attend an information meeting, or call 320-235-7370.

Time is of the essence.

Roger Imdieke
Kandiyohi County Commissioner

Fillmore County creates a Broadband Development Fund

According to the Fillmore County Journal

In support of the [Minnesota Border to Border broadband] grant applications to rural Lanesboro and rural Rushford, the county board agreed to provide $75,000 to support each application. This day the board formalized the establishment of a Broadband Development Fund in the amount of $150,000. This will be a revolving loan fund that will be paid back and used to support future applications for broadband grants. The fund will be used to support grant applications for any provider of services within the county.

The board approved an agreement with AcenTek to loan them $75,000, which will be repaid to the county over three years, pending county attorney approval of the agreement. Smith noted the provision of monetary support by a local government entity for an application is important; it adds points for an application when the application is reviewed by the office of Broadband Development. This is a competitive process for limited grant funding. The state grant in the Lanesboro area project provides about 25% of the total project cost.

Smith said it is our intention to resubmit an application for the Rushford project this year.