Crow Wing Power on broadband updates in Crow Wing, Morrison, Cass and Aitkin Counties

In their most recent newsletter, Crow Wing Power spoke with local providers about broadband upgrades and expansion in the area, often spurred by great need in COVID.

From CTC…

  • Kristi [Westbrock, CTC CEO] explained that in mid-March, the company scrambled to extend finer to where it was needed and where they could reasonably expand, so students could have access to Internet for distance learning. It’s estimated that their efforts in the Brainerd ISD 101 school district provided broadband access to approximately 200 families in the region and set up 50 hot spots where kid cluster could go to study.
  • In 2019, CTC received an $830,587 MN Border to Border grant from the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to expand services to build to Ft. Ripley, and other areas in Crow Wing and Morrison Counties. This allowed CTC to build to 399 homes in portions of St. Mathias and Fort Ripley Townships, as well.
  • “Most recently, CTC received CARES Act funding from both Crow Wing and Cass County to build broadband to unserved areas of Welton Road, County Rd 10, Border Lake, Little Pine Road and unserved areas in Lake Edward Township. The funds must be used by December 1 so these locations will have access to fiber Internet.

From Emily Cooperative Telephone Company…

  • Five hot spots were also installed throughout the communities, which are still available. Josh [ECTC CEO] said they are updating 100 homes in the Crosslake area to finer services and reviewing other areas for 2021. ECTC also received a MN DEED grant of $376,000 to build fiber services to the Esquagamah and Round Lake area in Aitkin County.

Waukenabo Township Is upgrading to 100 Mbps (Aitkin County)

The Aitkin Age reports…

On Aug. 27, residents of Waukenabo Township and nearby areas gathered at the Waukenabo Town Hall to celebrate the beginning of a new broadband project.

The project was delayed because of COVID but it’s on track now and they are looking at some serious speeds in the near future…

Midwest Utilities is installing the main line, and Zenergy, Inc. will be doing the drops to individual homes, starting on the west side of Equagamah Lake. Future expansion is anticipated.

“Right now, ECTC is only offering a 100 MB service,” said [Crosslake Communications/ECTC General Manager] Netland. “We expect to have 100 drops installed within three weeks.”

Co-op board members Norman (Rusty) Hawley, Ken Hersey, Kathy Hachey, Phil Yetzer and Randy Moritz were present at the groundbreaking ceremony. Netland and project team members Tyson Kincaid (plant supervisor), Kirsten Peterson (accounts) and Debby Floerchinger responded to questions from stakeholders.

Dickinson talked about the $375,000 Border to Border Broadband grant that ECTC received to help with the project.

MN Broadband Grant Application – Due Date for Pre-Application Outreach is August 19, 2020

The Office of Broadband Development sent out a reminder…

The Office of Broadband Development (OBD) wishes to remind all potential broadband grant applicants for this year’s 2020 grant round that – prior to submitting a broadband grant application – every applicant must contact all existing wireline broadband providers in the proposed project area.  This pre-application outreach requires each applicant to include a description of the proposed project and a map of the project area with the written outreach.

Under current law, this must be completed no later than six weeks prior to the grant application deadline of September 30, 2020.  That makes the last allowable date for written (email) outreach to all existing providers in the project area to be August 19, 2020.

Detailed information regarding suggested format and informational details for this mandatory outreach is included in the 2020 Grant Instructions and Application at pages 27 – 30 and located on our website.

For a more detailed overview of the Border to-Border Broadband Grant process, we encourage potential applicants to view a recorded webinar – 2020 Border to Border Broadband Grant Overview.

For questions regarding this required pre-application outreach or other grant submittal questions, please contact OBD Staff at 651-259-7610 or deed.broadband@state.mn.us.

Good luck!!

OPPORTUNITY! MN Border to Border Broadband Grant Applications Available

Big, much anticipated, news from the Office of Broadband Development…

The Office of Broadband Development (OBD) is soliciting applications for Border to Border Broadband grant funding of broadband infrastructure projects.

Submission Deadlines and Requirements

The deadline for the applications is 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 30, 2020.

Application proposals must be mailed to:
Office of Broadband Development
MN Department of Employment and Economic Development
First National Bank Building
332 Minnesota Street, Suite E200
St. Paul, MN 55101-1351

No paper copies of the application are required for this grant round.  Application submittals must be via electronic documents in Microsoft Word and PDF formats on a USB drive. Applications must be received by the deadline to be considered for funding.

Contact Information

For questions regarding this application process, please contact OBD Staff at 651-259-7610 or deed.broadband@state.mn.us

Aitkin County is moving forward with broadband in some areas – get the low down

Thank you to Ross Wagner and Aitken Age for making my job so easy today with a editorial from Ross…

The one thing I get the most questions, comments and complaints on is the broadband situation in Aitkin County. And understandably so, we are nearly at the point where the internet affects every aspect of our lives. Folks in rural communities sometimes wonder if the world will pass them by if they are not connected to the internet with broadband. Broadband is actually more of a concept with no set measures. The State of Minnesota defines broadband as minimum download speeds of at least 25 megabits/second and minimum upload speeds of at least 3 megabits/ second. Broadband is delivered through fiber optic lines. Aitkin County is not in the business of being an Internet Provider. However, we have initiated the Aitkin County Broadband Grant Program, with $450,000 from the economic development fund. We feel the most effective long-term solution is to work with existing internet providers by providing the financial assistance needed to bring broadband to Aitkin County.

Here’s what they are working on…

Aitkin County is very fortunate to have local providers who are willing to invest in Aitkin County, they operate here and are willing to look long term. They are Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC), SCI Broadband (SCI) and Emily Cooperative Telephone Company (ECTC). All received State Border to Border grants in 2019 and $5,000 from Aitkin County as a local contributing partner to the grants. In 2020 the State of Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Grant will again be offered. Aitkin County is currently soliciting proposals for two $75,000 grants from the Aitkin County Grant fund and will be offering $15,000 for local contributing partner matches for local providers applying for the State Grant. Both MLEC and SCI have previously received Aitkin County grants.

And here’s what they hope to see soon, thanks what they were working on last year…

So just which areas of Aitkin County have been awarded grants to internet providers for 2020? Esquagamah and Round Lake areas will see broadband brought to approximately 242 unserved and 103 underserved locations by ECTC. The MLEC has a grant that will serve 282 unserved and 225 underserved households in areas of Farm Island and Nordland Townships. MLEC was awarded a Community Connect Grant from the USDA, for a project in Rice River and Spaulding Townships and areas of the East Lake Community. The project will pass 235 homes and businesses. SCI has a project that will serve 269 unserved homes, in areas of Glen Township. In addition to the Glen Township area, SCI will be finishing up previous project areas around Big Sandy Lake and Clear Lake.

So what does the end of MN special session mean for broadband funding?

Most of what I learned about the legislative process, I learned from Schoolhouse Rock – I’m just a Bill. Maybe the part of special sessions was in the second verse.

But here we are waiting for word on a special session. The broadband bill had passed in the Senate but was left on the table when the Senate adjourned in the early morning of June 20. What do we know? MinnPost recently posted Five Things we Learned

  1. There were actually two sessions. Neither was successful.
  2. Everything at the Legislature is connected
  3. Negotiating bills has come to resemble the settling a lawsuit — or the bargaining of a union contract
  4. 4. Legislators continue to tell time differently from other people
    (I’ll add the explanation here; I’ve witnessed it but reading it helped me realize it wasn’t me…) The legislative day in Minnesota runs not from midnight to midnight but from 7 a.m. to 7 a.m. Lawmakers state that fact as though it is the most logical way of looking at time — and something that everyone knows and accepts.
  5. There are two different scenarios for the next special session

It’s the fifth point that I think it most helpful…

There remains plenty of work to be done at the Legislature this year: police accountability; a bonding bill; money to help counties, cities and townships respond to COVID-19; tax changes; and a supplemental budget.

All of it was left on the table Saturday morning. Walz can either call a special session if and when a deal is reached on those issues. Or everyone can wait until his likely extension of the peacetime emergency, on or around July 12, at which point he’ll be forced to call the Legislature back in order to give them a chance, once again, to rescind the emergency powers extension.

But all of that is subject to negotiation. And each presents different scenarios.

An early session gives Walz some ability to bargain the timing and subject matter of the session. He can condition his summons on an agreement with both chambers and both parties and avoid having another extension steal attention. But because the GOP knows he must bring them back into session sometime in mid-July, they can also wait for better terms.

That said, Gazelka repeatedly lamented that sessions called under the emergency powers law don’t provide something most humans need: a deadline. So a negotiated, one-day session, might fit his needs.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman wanted the Legislature to remain in session until a policing deal — and an everything-else deal — could be accomplished. That might include recesses with no formal legislative action but still involve continuing talks. And while Hortman and Walz criticised Gazelka’s deadline as artificial, they also said it helped focus lawmakers.

Said Hortman: “It got everybody’s butts in gear.”

The wild card is the 2020 election. All 201 seats in the Legislature are on the ballot with high stakes for state and legislative politics. If the Republicans can hold on to the Senate, they are guaranteed a voice in the 2021 session, especially decisions about redistricting. If the DFL can hold the House and win the Senate, their need to work out compromises ends.

With campaigns already in full force, whenever a session is held it will be as much about messaging as legislating.

Charter Communications extends network in Rosemount (Dakota County)

Sun this Week reports…

Charter Communications has announced a $1 million construction project to bring its fiber-optic network nearly 265 homes in the northwestern part of Rosemount.

As part of Minnesota’s Broadband Grant Program, Charter was awarded a $500,000 grant to expand its services to 40 unserved and 225 underserved locations in the northwestern Rosemount area.

Charter contributed $450,000 and Dakota County added $50,000, bringing the total investment to $1 million.

Expected to be completed by this fall, residents in these locations will have access to the company’s Spectrum Internet, Spectrum TV, Spectrum Voice, and Spectrum Mobile services.

Spectrum Internet offers starting speeds of 200 Mbps and connections up to 1 gigabit per second — exceeding the state’s speed goals for 2022 and 2026 — with no modem fees, data caps or contracts.

MN Rural Broadband Coalition: Legislature Adjourns, No Deal on Additional Broadband Funding – May 18, 2020

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

Legislature Adjourns, No Deal on Additional Broadband Funding
Saint Paul, Minn.—The final seconds ticked off the clock of the 2020 Legislative Session on Sunday, May 17, but lawmakers weren’t able to finalize a deal to send additional funding to the Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program. Competing proposals were debated by the House and Senate in the final two weeks of the session. The Senate passed SF 4494 on May 4 and sent it to the House for consideration. The House amended SF 4494 to reflect their priorities in the Ways and Means Committee on May 15 and moved it to the House floor. There, it awaited legislators to negotiate an agreement that would resolve the differences between the House and Senate positions.
The differences are small but make the two bills drastically different. Both chambers agreed that $10 million should go to the broadband grant program. But they disagreed on how to fund it.
The Senate proposal said broadband funding must qualify for the federal coronavirus relief funds or the appropriation would be cancelled. The House proposal also had broadband funding come from the federal coronavirus relief account, but would spend $10 million from the state’s general fund to cover the appropriation if it didn’t qualify for federal relief dollars. Negotiations between key legislators were ongoing through the final days of session. However, a deal that could pass both chambers and receive Governor Walz’s signature never materialized. The bill would have increased available funding for the upcoming round of grants from $20 million to $30 million.
(Note: A full breakdown of SF 4494 is included at the end of this update.)
Governor, Legislature Eye June 12 For Special Session
Legislative work is likely not done for the year. Broadband was far from the only item that legislators needed more time to settle their differences. An agreement on the state’s biennial infrastructure bill—known at the Capitol as the bonding bill—fell apart on the final day of session. Both the House DFL and Senate GOP majorities brought up bonding bills in their chambers, but neither were able to get the 3/5 majority votes required for passage. Housing, COVID-19 relief, and state employee contracts are just a few other outstanding items.
Legislators indicated on the final day of session that they would need to reconvene to finish their work, possibly as soon as June 12. House and Senate leadership and the Governor expressed their interest in scheduling a special session, but only the Governor can call legislators back to the Capitol now that they’ve adjourned for the year. June 12 is also the day Governor Walz’s emergency powers will expire. If he wants to extend the emergency powers for an additional 30 days on June 12, he will need to call the Legislature back to session so they can vote on the extension. The extension would be approved unless both the House and Senate vote against it, which is unlikely. We should know more about the details of a special session in the coming days, so stay tuned.

SF 4494 Details

Senate Proposal

  • $10 million for Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, the appropriation is cancelled.
    • Focuses dollars on unserved areas of the state.
    • One-time appropriation.
  • $8 million for technology reimbursement grant program for schools
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, the appropriation is cancelled.
    • Grant applications from the following areas are prioritized:
      • Location of school to an unserved area of the state
      • Percent of students that live in a household without broadband
      • Percent of students that receive their internet service through the school
    • Program reimburses schools that have purchased technology for students that don’t have broadband access at home so they may participate in e-learning during the 2019-2020 school year.
    • Wireless or wire-line technology qualifies.
    • One-time appropriation.
  • $2 million for telemedicine equipment reimbursement program
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, the appropriation is cancelled.
    • Program reimburses licensed health care providers that purchase technology or software to diagnose and evaluate patients during the pandemic.
    • One-time appropriation.

House Proposal

  • $10 million for Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, general fund will be used.
    • Focuses dollars on unserved areas of the state.
    • One-time appropriation.
  • $15 million for technology reimbursement aid program for schools
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, general fund will be used.
    • Every school in the state is eligible, regardless if they are near unserved areas.
    • A school is eligible for an amount equal to one of the following, whichever is less:
      • The school’s expenditures for technology to connect students
      • $15 million divided by statewide enrollment times the number of students enrolled in the applying school.
    • Wireless or wire-line technology qualifies.
    • One-time appropriation.
  • $2 million for telemedicine equipment reimbursement program
    • Funding must come from coronavirus relief account.
    • If it does not qualify, general fund will be used.
    • Program reimburses licensed health care providers that purchase technology or software to diagnose and evaluate patients during the pandemic.

One-time appropriation.

Rosemount to extend better broadband to NE Rosemount in Dakota County

Patch of Apple Valley-Rosemount reports an update on Charter’s MN broadband grant project in Rosemount…

Charter Communications, Inc. today announced a $1 million construction project to bring its advanced fiber-optic network nearly 265 homes in the northwestern part of Rosemount in Dakota County.

As part of Minnesota’s Broadband Grant Program, Charter was awarded a $500,000 grant to expand its services to 40 unserved and 225 underserved locations in the northwestern Rosemount area. Charter contributed $450,000 and Dakota County added $50,000, bringing the total investment to $1 million. …

Expected to be completed by this fall, residents in these locations will have access to the company’s full suite of Spectrum Internet®, Spectrum TV®, Spectrum Voice®, and Spectrum Mobile™ services. Spectrum Internet offers starting speeds of 200 Mbps and connections up to 1 gigabit per second — exceeding the state’s speed goals for 2022 and 2026 — with no modem fees, data caps or contracts.

Broadband still on table at MN Leg but some differences in Senate and House

Duluth News Tribune reports on the MN House…

The House of Representatives has teed up a $208 million package last week with funding for housing assistance for those struggling to make rent or mortgage payments due to the pandemic, small business loans, broadband expansion and a pay raise for personal care attendants.

And the Senate…

The Senate has also taken up and advanced measures aimed at boosting funding for housing assistance and expanding broadband for telehealth and distance learning, but those measures have different price tags and details that would require negotiations to even out differences.

It’s good to be on the table but as the Tribune points out there are some differences.

Sen Sparks talks up broadband support in MN Senate

The Albert Lea Tribune posts a Senate Report by Senator Dan Sparks…

One need in rural areas that has been underscored by COVID-19 is broadband internet access. Never before has it been so clear that fast, reliable internet is a public good that every Minnesotan deserves. Yet, thousands of people continue to lack access to broadband, including many students who have now switched to distance learning and patients who must use telemedicine to see their doctor.

On Monday, the Senate moved forward on legislation to help address some of these issues. The bill creates a long-distance learning broadband access program through the Department of Education to provide access to those students with internet access issues during the COVID-19 peacetime emergency. It also establishes a telemedicine equipment reimbursement grant program for eligible applicants to acquire telemedicine equipment to serve patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also provided an additional $10 million for border-to-border broadband grants targeting unserved areas.

$27 million in broadband funding passes in the MN House

The Minnesota Star Tribune reports…

Minnesota Democrats in the House are pushing for a $208 million housing and economic assistance package, teeing up end-of-session negotiations with Senate Republicans over whether targeted aid or tax relief is the best way to help Minnesotans struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.

The DFL proposal passed the House 75-58 Thursday on a largely party-line vote. It would pump $100 million into rent, mortgage, utility-bill and property-tax assistance. Another $55 million would fund grants for small and minority-owned businesses. It also includes $27 million in broadband access to expand telemedicine and help families in rural areas with distance learning, as well as $26 million to help compensate personal care assistants helping vulnerable people during the pandemic.

You can see the discussion on the house:

There were a few questions/comments:

  • Rep Kresha emphasized his focus on unserved (versus underserved) areas.
  • Re Kresha offers recommendation to build up 5G in urban areas to reach school kids in certain areas
  • Neither amendment was accepted

Now it’s a matter of seeing what happens in the Senate. The Senate passed something similar last week with at least one big difference and that’s the origin of the $10 million for broadband grants. Both House and Senate make federal funding first choice for broadband; right now only the House offers a state funding option if federal doesn’t manifest.

MN Rural Broadband Coalition Legislative Update: House Passes Broadband Funding

From the MN Broadband Coalition

House Passes COVID-19 Relief Package, Broadband Funding
Saint Paul—The Minnesota House of Representatives passed HF 1507—the COVID-19 Economic Security Act— (75-58) on Thursday, May 7. Rep. Zack Stephenson’s (DFL-Coon Rapids) bill includes the following items:

  • $15 million for distance learning technology reimbursement grants.
  • $2 million for telemedicine technology and software reimbursement grants.
  • $10 million broadband infrastructure grants in unserved areas.
  • Temporary 15% pay increase for personal care assistants during the pandemic.
  • $55 million in small-business emergency loans.
  • $100 million for eviction and mortgage foreclosure protection and emergency housing assistance.

The language in HF 1507 is similar to the language in SF 4494 that was passed 66-0 by the Senate on May 4. There are two major differences between the two bills. First, the $10 million for broadband grants will come from the federal coronavirus relief account if it qualifies, but would be spent from the general fund if it does not. SF 4494 would cancel the appropriation if it doesn’t qualify for the federal funds. Second, the distance learning portion in HF 1507 is $15 million compared to the $8 million in SF 4494.
Now that the House has passed the bill, it will be sent to the Senate. However, there is currently no Senate companion with the spending and language included in HF 1507. The Senate hasn’t yet indicated if they will be taking up HF 1507 or if they will be assembling their own similar COVID-19 relief package.
There is still a chance that the House will pass a standalone broadband bill to match up with SF 4494 before the end of this year’s legislative session. Rep. Rob Ecklund’s (DFL-International Falls) HF 3029, a bill that includes the broadband, education, and telemedicine portions of HF 1507, has been sent to the House Ways and Means Committee where it awaits action by the committee.
We will continue to monitor these bills and update you as the end of session approaches.

MN Senate Passes Bill to Boost Rural Broadband

From the Senate…

A bill that would provide $20 million dollars in grants for broadband expansion in rural areas won the unanimous support of the Senate Monday, May 4.

Sponsored by Senator Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, the bill would provide $8 million dollars to support access to high-speed internet for students involved in distance-learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, $2 million dollars in grants would be available to support the purchase of equipment to address COVID-19-related telehealth services in rural areas, and $10 million dollars would provide permanent high-speed internet to unserved rural and urban areas of the state.

It’s worth noting that when they spoke about

MN Rural Broadband Coalition Legislative Update: Broadband Funding – May 1, 2020

From the MN Broadband Coalition

Memo To:           MRBC Members
Memo From:      Nathan Zacharias
Re:                       Broadband Funding
Date:                   5/1/2020
House, Senate Send Broadband Funding to the Floor, Differences Remain
Saint Paul—With 17 days left in the 2020 legislative session, the House and Senate have sent legislation to the floors of each chamber that would spend $10 million on the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program. Additionally, a distance learning internet access program for students without broadband during the 2020 school year would receive $8 million or $15 million (depending on which version prevails) and a similar reimbursement program for telemedicine technology would receive $2 million. But the two chambers are trying to pass this legislation in slightly different ways.
The Senate Finance Committee unanimously passed Sen. Torrey Westrom’s (R-Elbow Lake) SF 4494 on Wednesday, April 29. The committee had two robust hearings on SF 4494 and worked through members’ concerns with spending new state dollars during economic uncertainty. The Senate Finance Committee decided that funding in SF 4494 for schools and telemedicine should be spent from funds in the federal coronavirus relief account if possible, but would come from the state’s general fund if they were not eligible for federal funds. The $10 million for the broadband grant program must qualify for funding via the federal coronavirus relief account or the appropriation is cancelled. The Commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget will make this determination. The bill was sent to the Senate floor for final debate and passage.
The House Greater Minnesota Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division amended and passed Rep. Rob Ecklund’s (DFL-International Falls) HF 3029 on Monday, April 27 and sent the bill to the Ways & Means Committee. During the Ways & Means hearing on Friday, May 1, the committee decided to attach HF 3029 as an amendment to a larger COVID-19 relief package, HF 1507. The broadband language included in HF 1507 is similar to the language in SF 4494 passed by the Senate Finance Committee, with two important changes: the $10 million for broadband grants should come from the federal coronavirus relief account if it qualifies, but would be spent from the general fund if it does not; and the committee increased the distance learning funding from $8 million to $15 million. In addition to broadband funding, this package includes funding for personal care assistance rate increases, small business loans, and homelessness prevention and assistance. The Ways and Means Committee passed the bill 18-7 and sent it to the House floor for final debate and passage.
(note: HF 3029 was also sent to the Rules and Legislative Administration Committee in case it needs to move independently of other COVID-19 funding before the end of the session)
While this process is difficult to follow, it’s clear that the House and Senate are on the same page when it comes to prioritizing additional funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program. Senate and House leaders are facing incredibly difficult choices during the pandemic and will face even harder decisions in the coming weeks and months with the state’s uncertain economic future. Through all this, they have consistently said that connecting more Minnesotans to broadband should remain a top priority. We are thankful for their leadership.
The two chambers will need to find a way to agree on how to pair up their COVID-19 relief funding priorities and to reconcile the differences between them. The Senate has not yet put forward a comprehensive spending package to match HF 1507, but there is certainly a possibility they will. The Legislature still has work to do on a Bonding bill and a few other outstanding items. The final stretch of days during the legislative session will be fluid and legislation will move quickly. We will continue to provide you with the most currently available information as it happens.