Practical instructions for getting a community invested in BEAD from Benton

Benton Institute for Broadband and Society has a great article on Getting a BEAD on Community Asset Mapping How Community Development Can Aid Your State’s Broadband Planning. They include what and whom to gather…

The six buckets are individual residents, voluntary associations, formal institutions and agencies, physical assets, local economy and exchange, and culture and stories.

 

And even details on the nitty gritty…

Asset mapping is the process of identifying, engaging and mobilizing these assets. A community asset mapping is entirely distinct from a resource directory which simply lists assets and provides contact information. This distinction is around purpose and rooted in its creation process. Asset mapping is done by gathering community residents and stakeholders and facilitating discussions about what and where the assets are and how they might be engaged and activated towards a community goal. There are a variety of ways to do this and the ABCD Institute at DePaul University has numerous worksheets and templates available. The most effective process I have used goes as follows:

First, gather community residents, leaders and connectors in person or online (if that can be done in an equitable way). Include some key non-resident stakeholders but keep residents, of different ages, in the majority. Nonresident stakeholders who can be very useful in this process include teachers, small business owners, chambers of commerce staff, clergy, school social workers, library staff, and municipal/county/tribal employees such as park and recreation workers, planners and utility workers. This process works especially well with 35-55 people but can be adapted for larger groups. Once gathered, follow these steps:

  1. Randomly divide the large group into six sub-groups.
  2. Assign each group to an asset bucket or category (usually posted on walls around the room)
  3. Give the groups 5-6 minutes to brainstorm and write all the assets in that category that can be found in the defined community (neighborhood, town, county).
  4. After 5-6 minutes ring a bell and have the groups rotate to a new asset category. Give them 4-5 minutes at the new station.
  5. Repeat until all sub-groups have added their input to all asset categories.
  6. Ask each group to rotate one last time to return to the asset category they started with and have them read what was added by other subgroups.
  7. Ask a representative from each area to read the assets from that category to the whole room. Often some discussion will result in recategorization of assets and many assets will appropriately appear in more than one area (e.g. a church is an association that often has physical assets and resident leaders). This will feel long and redundant for the facilitator – but the process creates a cumulative effect on participants. Hearing all the strengths of one’s community for 20 minutes is empowering and energizing and prepares the participants for the next steps.
  8. Seat participants at tables (or send to new breakout rooms if virtual) and ask groups at tables to look at all the assets and answer three questions:
    1. “What can we do with what we have to ________?” The blank would be the purpose of the convening. It could be as broad as “… to make our community stronger.” It can also be specific like “to make our community heart healthy” or “to achieve digital equity.” (Have a definition handy to help focus the discussion.)
    2. What can we do with what we have and some help from others outside the community?
    3. What do we need others outside the community to do?
  9. After 10-15 minutes ask each table to identify 1-2 ideas that they are particularly excited about.
  10. Have each table present their best ideas, using some descriptor words written on paper then taped to the wall.
  11. Ask everyone in the room to think about actions that they want to work on and to which they want to contribute their time or talents. Then invite participants to stand next to the piece of paper with the action idea they want to work on. (Remind participants “It is OK to not stand – honor your limits.”)
  12. Give each group a flip chart sheet to use to identify the assets they might use to implement their action and make the change they want to make. Also, have them write down when and where their action group is meeting next to plan/implement.
  13. Have each action team share out and give participants an opportunity to ‘change teams’ or add their name to a team.
  14. Celebrate and let everyone know when and how follow-up will happen.

 

EVENT Sep 12: Affordable Connectivity Program Sign Up Day in Inger

An announcement from Paul Bunyan…

Paul Bunyan Communications, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and the Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) are holding a sign-up day for the Affordable Connectivity Program, on Monday, September 12 from 2-7 p.m. at the Inger Community Center.

This new long-term benefit will help to lower the cost of broadband service for eligible households struggling to afford internet service and provides a discount of up to a $30 per month toward broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for qualifying households on qualifying Tribal lands.

A household is eligible if one member of the household meets at least one of the criteria below:

  • Has an income that is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines;
  • Participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, SSI, WIC, or Lifeline;
  • Participates in one of several Tribal specific programs, such as Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal Head Start (only households meeting the relevant income qualifying standard) Tribal TANF, or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations;
  • Is approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating broadband provider’s existing low-income program.

Eligible households can enroll at the sign-up event, through a participating broadband provider, or by going to ACPBenefit.org to submit an online application or print a mail-in application and contacting their preferred participating broadband provider and selecting a plan.  Additional information about the Emergency Broadband Benefit is available at www.fcc.gov/ACP, or by calling 877-384-2575 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET any day of the week.

About Paul Bunyan Communications

Paul Bunyan Communications has the region’s largest and fastest all fiber optic network with over 6,000 square miles throughout most of Beltrami County and portions of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties.  The Cooperative provides fiber optic fast Internet speeds up to 10 Gig powered by the GigaZone, television services, digital voice services, Residential and Business IT services, and is also the home of northern Minnesota’s certified Apple Service Center.

About Itasca Economic Development Corporation

The Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) formed in 1981 as a non-profit corporation dedicated to the creation of high-quality jobs in and around Itasca County. Throughout its history, IEDC has established itself as a go-to resource for business retention, growth, and expansion. Their mission is to grow the Itasca County economy through education, research and outreach that creates business opportunities.

How are the National Providers looking at BEAD – according to Doug Dawson

Today I’m thankful for Doug Dawson and that he follows broadband from all heights. Interesting to hear what the providers are thinking about any and all of the federal funding, especially coming off the cusp of the LTD Broadband RDOF snafu. (LTD won the opportunity to bid on $311 million in broadband projects, leaving target areas in limbo until the bid was accepted or not. In the end, their applications were rejected and the communities got nothing.)

Generally, some communities are lucky and they have providers who are invested in getting funding and building better broadband. Some communities work hard to build partnership with providers to get them invested to serve the community. And some communities have providers step in with plans that may be more ambitious than their experience or with plans that are more mediocre than a community wants.

Here’s a take on what Doug is seeing the providers do…

We’re finally starting to gain a picture of the plans of the big telcos for the upcoming BEAD grants. The bottom line is that some of the big telcos seem to be prepared to pursue the upcoming grants in a major way. Consider the following:

  • At a recent industry conference, Frontier’s CFO said that Frontier has ambitious plans to pursue grants for all of the three to four million rural homes that it serves today with DSL.
  • When the BEAD grants were first announced, AT&T added five million new passings to its goal for 2025, all due to pursuing rural grants. AT&T hasn’t said much about grants since that early announcement.
  • Brightspeed, which purchased twenty states of copper networks from CenturyLink, has made it clear that it will be seeking state and federal grants to build as much fiber as possible. CenturyLink has been aggressively pursuing grants in the states sold to Brightspeed, for the obvious benefit of the new company.
  • Windstream was a big winner in the RDOF reverse auction and has been aggressively pursuing ARPA funding. It seems obvious that the company will also pursue BEAD grants.

The two big telcos that have not said much about grants are CenturyLink and Verizon. There are rumors that CenturyLink is seeking somebody to buy the rest of its copper lines, but it also would not be surprising to see the company come out swinging for grant funding if a sale isn’t forthcoming. Verizon abandoned a rural strategy years ago, and it would be surprising but not impossible to see the company tackle grant funding if the math is good.

The other big ISP that has aggressively been pursuing grant funding is Charter. It would make sense for the company to pursue BEAD grants to fill in around where it has already won the RDOF auctions.

Kandiyohi County supports three Border to Border grants

The West Central Tribune reports on three projects Kandiyohi Board of Commissioners decided to support for Border to Border grants…

A motion by Nissen 2nd Anderson to authorize a Letter of Support from the Board to be included in Charter Communications. lnc.’s application to the Border-to-Border application was on vote unanimously adopted. A motion by Imdieke 2nd Gardner to authorize a Letter of Support from the Board for Federated Telephone’s Cooperative’s application as the Primary project application for the Kandiyohi Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program was on vote unanimously adopted. A motion by Anderson 2nd Berg to authorize a Letter of Support from the Board to be included in Frontier Communications of Minnesota’s application to the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program was on vote unanimously adopted.

FCC fines providers for RDOF defaults including $2.3M to LTD for defaults in KS and OK

Fierce Telecom reports

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is cracking down on operators who have backed out of their Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) commitments, fining 73 auction participants a total of $4.3 million for defaulting on their winning bids. One operator, LTD Broadband, alone accounted for more than half of the overall assessment.

In an order released late last week, the FCC slapped LTD Broadband with a $2.3 million fine for defaulting on 768 census block groups in Kansas and Oklahoma. The FCC last year denied the company’s request for more time to prove its eligibility to receive funding in those states.

MN may see $650M for broadband but expected cost to deploy is $1.3B

MinnPost reports

Minnesota could be in line for an unprecedented windfall of money to help build high-speed internet in rural areas.

Every state was promised a minimum of $100 million for broadband development from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress late last year. But some states could get more, based on need.

Now, Minnesota officials have an estimate of that extra cash: $550 million. That would bring Minnesota up to $650 million for broadband from the infrastructure bill, a sum that would far eclipse any government spending in the state for developing high-speed internet in recent memory.

There’s federal funding…

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill — passed with some bipartisan support under President Joe Biden — contained $65 billion for broadband across the country. Of that, $42.5 billion was earmarked for states to distribute. But so far each state has known only that they would get a minimum of $100 million. …

The feds have previously outlined several potential purposes for the money, including allowing states to install Wi-Fi in multi-unit residential buildings. But Wells said Minnesota’s money is expected to be spent entirely on “deployment” of internet, primarily subsidizing the development of infrastructure — traditionally, fiber-optic cable — in places where it would be too expensive for internet providers to otherwise justify.

And State (directed) funding…

Legislators this year directed the state to use $110 million from the American Rescue Plan stimulus program passed under Biden for broadband infrastructure. In 2021, the Legislature approved $70 million from the plan for broadband development. That was already a large sum compared to historic spending on broadband.

How much would it cost to get broadband to all Minnesotans?

In October, the state estimated about 88.5 percent of Minnesotans have access to wireline internet like DSL, cable and fiber at speeds of 100/20 Mbps. And in March, before the Legislature approved $110 million for broadband, DEED officials said they would conservatively estimate the cost of meeting the 2026 goal for adequate broadband at $1.3 billion.

Sherburne County Board approved $600k for 3 broadband grants to Midco

The News Patriot reports

The Sherburne County Board Tuesday approved over $600k for three grants for Midco projects to expand broadband within the county.

The project in Livonia Twp. would provide service (passings) to 169 households, with an additional 72 homes that would also be connected. The total project cost is $580,000, with the township contributing $5,000. The county’s contribution is $68,000.

The second is a $497,000 project in Santiago Twp. with 72 passings, plus another 121 additional homes that would be connected. After the township’s $5,000 contribution, the county’s cost is $276,000.

The third is a project in Becker Twp. with 42 passings and an additional 72 homes that would be connected. The total project cost is $404,000. The county’s cost is $252,000. All three projects would be funded with ARPA money provided to the county through the federal allocation.

You can see the approval in action at the County Board meeting, which is conveniently archived on YouTube:

Mille Lacs County support SCI’s Border to Border grant application

Mille Lacs Messenger reports

The Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners signed a letter in support of broadening the county’s broadband options at their regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 9.

SCI Broadband has put in a grant application to the Office of Broadband Development, which has a Border-to-Border Broadband Development program. According to the letter signed by County Chair Genny Reynolds, “SCI Broadband is proposing to build out a Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) to rural residents, businesses, and farms in South Harbor, Isle Harbor, Lewis, and Eastside townships in Mille Lacs County.”

The State of Minnesota has broadband goals in place, which state two goals: The first, that “no later than 2022, all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to high-speed broadband … [with] minimum download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second …” The second is, by 2026, for businesses and homes to “have access to at least one provider of broadband with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second …”

Reynolds’ letter says the proposed project from SCI Broadband would “exceed” those state goals. Currently, “nearly 40 percent of households in Mille Lacs County lack access” to broadband that would meet the state’s goals for 2026.

Rogers City Council approves Border o Border grant application (Hennepin County)

Hometown Source reports on applications to the Border to Border program. One caveat, the reporter seems to think that applying implies immediately funding. I love the optimism but what it really means is they may get funding to upgrade 165 rural Rogers households…

Broadband capabilities will come to 165 rural Rogers households, as a result of action taken by the Rogers City Council on Aug. 10.

The council approved a $40,191 matching grant for Minnesota DEED (Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development) Broadband grant application in partnership with Comcast Communications and Hennepin County Supporting Broadband Grant.

City Administrator Steve Stahmer said the staff and council “have worked for years with our local cable companies and county and state representatives in an effort to facilitate the expansion of broadband internet access to unserved/underserved areas of Rogers.”

The city agreed to provide 2.5% of the total project cost of $1.6 million.

The city of Corcoran currently is working with Hennepin County and Comcast on a similar project, Stahmer said

“This came to light during the pandemic,” Mayor Rick Ihli said. “It became a big issue for a lot of families. We need to get the project going. It’s quite needed.”

Cook might benefit from FCC rejection of LTD RDOF application

The Timberjay reports on the FCC rejection of LTD Broadband’s application for RDOF money…

The Federal Communications Commission last week rejected troubled LTD Communication’s $1.3 billion application to build high-speed broadband internet networks in Minnesota and across the nation, a move that should open the door for other companies to provide more timely broadband solutions across a wide swath of the North Country.

I’ve written about this rejection earlier and plenty of local media have covered it so I won’t recap the general information but here’s the local impact…

An example of a North Country location that could benefit from new funding opportunities is Cook. Installation of a state-assisted broadband network by Paul Bunyan Communications for the community may get underway in the next few weeks, but the company had to remove some locations from its plans because they fell just inside of federal tracts awarded to LTD. Given that the news is fresh, Paul Bunyan officials have yet to issue any formal statements about future possibilities for LTD-forfeited tracts, and no such plan for Cook is known to be in the works. But new options are now available for numerous Minnesota communities now that they are no longer blocked from them by LTD.

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.