MidCo applying for MN broadband grants for fiber from Randolph to Wanamingo

According to the Kenyon Leader

With Midco submitting an application to the Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Grant program, council passed a resolution of support. Boulton said Midco plans to run broadband fiber from Randolph to Wanamingo and is looking for 50 percent matching funds from the grant.

Broadband grants are catalyst for broadband in remote areas of Minnesota

The FedGazette has taken a deeper drive into broadband access in Minnesota. They recognize that it’s difficult to make a business case to service rural areas…

Such speeds often require an optical fiber connection, but it’s difficult for telecom firms to justify laying expensive fiber infrastructure in sparsely populated places. “There are areas where you just can’t make a business case to provide broadband,” said Brent Christensen, CEO of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance, a trade association.

And they recognize the need for government support…

Over the past two decades federal, state and local governments have intervened in telecom markets to bring high-speed internet service to unserved or underserved areas.

More than any other district state, Minnesota has striven to extend the reach of broadband. The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, administered by the state Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), has dispensed $65 million to internet providers over the past three years to support broadband projects across the state. By subsidizing the upfront cost of broadband infrastructure in areas still off the broadband map, the grants have helped to make high-speed internet service available to nearly 26,000 households and more than 3,100 businesses around the state.

But despite coverage gains under the program, a yawning urban-rural broadband gap remains. And this spring the Minnesota Legislature cut the Border-to-Border program by over 40 percent, allocating $20 million for the next round of grants (applications are due in September) and nothing for next year.

The cuts represent another swing of the pendulum in a national debate about the role of government in fostering broadband development. Are taxpayer-funded grants, loans and other subsidies the best way to ensure that rural residents aren’t bypassed by the information superhighway?

The Border-to-Border program is a case study of what can be accomplished with a modicum of state funding—and the challenges of overcoming long-standing barriers to broadband deployment in rural areas.

And detail the impact of state…

The Border-to-Border program has proved a catalyst for rolling out broadband in remote areas of Minnesota by covering part of the upfront cost and thus reducing the price paid by subscribers. Often a state grant is the capstone of a financing package drawn from multiple sources, public and private—the final piece that elevates a rural project from pipe dream to reality.

Without such support the price of broadband service in many rural areas would be “exponentially higher,” said Gary Johnson, CEO of Paul Bunyan Communications, a telecom cooperative in northern Minnesota.

Nobles County board approves $1 million gift for broadband

According to the Daily Globe

Commissioner Gene Metz stepped away from his seat on the Nobles County board Tuesday morning to wear his second hat — that of vice president of Lismore Cooperative Telephone Co. (LCTC) — to ask the board to financially support the completion of Nobles County’s broadband project, to the tune of nearly $1 million.

After some discussion, it passed on a 4-0 vote with Metz abstaining.

Earlier this year, LCTC was awarded a $2.94 million grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, but another $1 million in anticipated grant funding fell through. In need of additional funding to complete the project, representatives from the cooperative appeared before commissioners in April seeking a $3 million loan. Discussion later turned to bonding for the money.

The article details the reasons why the commissioners decided to support the work of the cooperative…

“If you feel strongly enough, it’s economic development for the county,” he added.

Commissioner Justin Ahlers said he wanted to go on record saying the broadband project is essentially “building a library.”

“We’re not investing in bricks and mortar, but it’s impacting everyone in the county,” Ahlers said. “Internet is the way it is now. I can’t see us going backwards.”

Kandiyohi County – the MN broadband grant project is off

West Central Tribune reports…

A $10 million project to bring broadband to rural northern Kandiyohi County is officially dead.

In a news release issued Tuesday afternoon, Consolidated Telecommunications Co. said it was pulling out of the project, citing financial considerations.

I’ve been following the story, so that isn’t news. The lessons learned (as reported by West Central Tribune) are interesting…

Kleindl and the County Commissioners think there were probably multiple factors that made the project an uphill battle.

The company’s rollout of the sign-up campaign was confusing, they said. Roger Imdieke, chairman of the County Board, called it “poorly designed and poorly executed.”

The slow pace of sign-ups and payments became especially frustrating, Kleindl said. “As gut-wrenching as this has been, the reality is this: We needed people to sign up and they did not sign up.”

CTC was so cautious in moving forward that it cost them time, which in turn led to higher interest rates, he said.

The County Commissioners also believe the project was seriously hampered by a new grant requirement that gave existing internet providers the right of first refusal. This was the first time that applicants to the state’s border-to-border program dealt with this provision, and it left Consolidated Telecommunications Co. with limited options for choosing a project area that would be both cost-effective and contain an adequate customer base. The majority of other grant-funded projects either were not in areas with an incumbent provider or consisted of upgrading an already existing service.

It’s an issue the county wants to share with the Minnesota Office of Broadband Technology during future discussions about lessons learned from the failure of the project.

The state also needs to take a look at budget expectations that can leave grant recipients vulnerable to changing conditions, Kleindl said.

“They can’t have their margins so thin that they can’t adjust,” he said.

They recognize that the need remains.

Broadband project in Kandiyohi County in precarious position

The West Central Tribune reports on the latest twist of the CTC-Kandiyohi County broadband project (and recipient of MN broadband grant)…

County Administrator Larry Kleindl received notice late Thursday afternoon from Consolidated Telecommunications Co. CEO Kevin Larson that the Brainerd company intends to pull out of the project.

In a signed letter sent via email, Larson said the “lack of sufficient future broadband subscribers financially committed to the project” led the company’s board of directors to decide not to accept a $4.9 million state grant that was a key piece of the $10 million project, which would also have included $5 million in county-backed tax abatement bonds.

“Proceeding with the project would not be financially responsible for our Cooperative,” Larson wrote.

Kleindl said he was caught off-guard by the company’s decision.

It sounds as if local folks are saying it’s not over ‘til it’s over…

Despite the bleak announcement from Consolidated Telecommunications Co., Kleindl and [Representative] Baker said they are not ready to give up and will pursue negotiations in hopes of still reaching a positive resolution.

Looks like Kandiyohi County residents are putting their hands up for fiber

The West Central Tribune posts an update on progress of the CTC-Kandiyohi County broadband project. They were awarded a MN broadband grant but needed community support to take the next step. It’s not a done deal yet, but it looks good…

Customer signups for a broadband project in north central Kandiyohi County appear to have reached the goal.

It may still be a few more days, however, until Kandiyohi County officials learn whether the project is officially moving ahead.

The county is partnering with Consolidated Telecommunications Co. of Brainerd to bring high-speed internet to approximately 1,600 households, businesses and institutions in the north central part of the county.

The unofficial count looks good; they are waiting to see if people put their money where their mouths are..

A deadline of July 21 had been set for eligible Kandiyohi County residents to sign up for CTC’s service and pay a $25 refundable deposit. The company has said it won’t go forward with construction of a fiber line until it has commitments from at least 50 percent of the homes and businesses in the project area.

As of Monday, the goal of 810 customers has apparently been met. County officials said Tuesday that deposit payments are still trickling in. It’s likely to be a few more days until all the payments are received and CTC makes a final decision on whether to proceed.

Minnesota Broadband Grant application reminder – pre-application deadline is July 31

Just got word from the Office of Broadband Development…

This coming Monday, July 31, is the deadline for potential broadband grant applicants to notify existing wireline broadband providers in their proposed grant project area of their intention to file a grant application.

Potential applicants are required, by statute, to do this a pre-application notification. And they must do so on or before July 31, 2017 (at least six weeks before the application filing deadline of September 11, 2017).

Templates and other info/instructions for notification letters are provided in the grant application document. Here’s are high level details from the Grant website.

Application Process

For the 2017 Border-to-Border Broadband Grant application, the legislature appropriated $20 million in funding. The application period for the 2017 grants program is July 3, 2017 through 4:00 p.m. on Monday, September 11, 2017.

I encourage folks to pre-apply! A grant is a game changer when you’re creating a business plan. Applications for funding are an indicator to legislators of interest and need for funding. The folks at the Office of Broadband Development could not be kinder! So if you have any questions you can contact them.