RS Fiber Renville County broadband grant project on track for June 2019 completion

The West Central Tribune reports…

A project to provide broadband service to underserved areas in Renville County is on track for a June 2019 completion.

Work should be getting underway this week to install an underground, fiber-optic cable along a leg of the network near Sacred Heart, Ben Ranft, general manager of Renville Sibley Fiber/Hiawatha Broadband Communications, told the Renville County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

RS Fiber/HBC is a cooperative that was formed to provide broadband service to Sibley County and rural portions of Renville County. Now in its third year, the cooperative serves 2,000 homes and businesses, most located in Sibley County, according to a report by Broadband Communities magazine.

The state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program awarded a $865,000 grant for the Renville County portion of the project. The grant calls for providing service to 193 underserved households, 99 underserved businesses and three community anchor institutions in portions of the townships of Preston Lake, Boon Lake, Brookfield, Osceola, Kingman, Winfield, Crooks, Erickson, Sacred Heart, Emmet, Flor, Henryville, Norfolk, Birch Cooley, Camp and Cairo.

The total project cost is estimated at $2 million or more, according to Ranft.

Woodstock Communications expand coverage in Pipestone County

The Pipestone County Star reports…

Fiber optic cable is going in the ground between Edgerton and a communications tower northeast of Trosky as part of Woodstock Communications’ effort to expand internet service in the county.
The tower near Trosky is one of two existing towers the company plans to lease space on and connect fiber to as part of its effort to bring high-speed internet service to unserved parts of Pipestone County with a hybrid fiber-wireless system. The other tower is north of Pipestone.
Woodstock Communications also plans to build two new communications towers — one in Altona Township and one in Eden Township — that it will use to transmit wireless internet service. The towers are expected to provide broadband service within a six-mile radius.
When complete, the system is expected to serve 135 currently unserved households, 540 unserved businesses and one unserved community anchor institution, the Altona Township Hall. It’s expected to provide internet speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloading and 3 Mbps uploading, meeting the federal government definition of broadband. In some areas, higher speeds of 75 Mbps downloading and 25 Mbps uploading are expected.
The fiber installation — about 15-20 miles in all — and tower construction are part of a $967,000 project for which Woodstock Communications received a $363,851 Border-to-Border Broadband Grant from the state of Minnesota last fall.

Minnesota model is one where the State supports local involvement is broadband deployment

The Hill reports on opposite views of the Community Broadband Act…

Lawmakers on Tuesday sparred over ways to bring more investment to rural broadband services.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology heard from experts on the problems with building out rural broadband.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), the subpanel’s chair, said government needed to complement private investment not compete against it.

Lawmakers on Tuesday sparred over ways to bring more investment to rural broadband services.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology heard from experts on the problems with building out rural broadband.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), the subpanel’s chair, said government needed to complement private investment not compete against it.

The discussion helps me appreciate the Minnesota Model as administered by the Office of Broadband Development. Yes, it wasn’t funded for next year due to circumstances unrelated to broadband or the program. BUT the pieces are there for State funding to support local broadband through the grants. Local may mean partnering with a national provider (such as Sunrise Township) or a local cooperative (such as West Central Telephone). Allowing for projects to brew from the grassroots opens the doors to many solutions. And each community needs something different. As the saying goes – if you’ve been to one small town in Minnesota, you’ve been to one small town in MN.

Lack of rural broadband is hurting business – reprinted letter from Inter-County Leader

Thank you to the Inter-County Leader for permission to re-post a letter to the editor from someone who had experience with fiber in Minnesota and is talking about what life is like without broadband…

Rural Internet service

When I recently volunteered at Forts Folle Avoine during a fundraising event, their credit card machine stopped working. This was eventually fixed but staff said it happens quite often, especially when they have events where there are lots of people wanting to charge. The staff indicated that internet service in that area was poor.

The previous year, during Gandy Dancer Days, the credit card machine in the coffee shop in Webster did not work. They lost business as people didn’t have cash and most don’t use checks. On a recent visit to the coffee shop, the credit card machine was working but they had no internet. A customer said she was looking for a job and relies on using the internet at places like the coffee shop to apply for jobs. She stated that the school where she previously worked had iPads for students, but they often couldn’t connect due to slow internet speed. So she used her cell phone hot spot which cost her around $200 a month for unlimited data.She stated that this lack of access to the internet does not give local students an equal opportunity in education when compared with other locations in more populated areas.

About two years ago the school where I worked in rural Minnesota, a small town of 500, was getting up-to-date fiber optic cable for better internet access. I believe this was partly funded by the state of Minnesota.

With a population of 15,000 for the whole county of Burnett, the internet provider doesn’t seem to be concerned about the poor internet service. What the company doesn’t realize is that many “lakers,” some coming from the Twin Cities, want good internet service and they are at their cabins regularly. I would recommend that people interested in improving the internet connection in Northwest Wisconsin contact their legislators and their internet service providers asking for better up-to-date internet.

Pam Girtz

Frederic

Unfortunately the state funding she mentions above was not funded in the last legislative session – it was part of the Supplemental Budget that was vetoed.

 

Pickwick MN getting online thanks to MN State Funds and HBC

The Winona Post reports on the progress of a Border to Border grant project in the Pickwick area…

The promise of high-speed Internet has been a long time coming for Pickwick area residents. When HBC won a $561,000 state grant in 2015 to cover half the cost of extending fiberoptic Internet cables to Trout Creek Valley, Cedar Valley, and Whitewater State Park, the company expected the cables to be laid and the broadband internet flowing by 2017. HBC has completed work to bring broadband to those other areas, but it has yet to begin laying wires in Trout Creek Valley. CEO Dan Pecarina said that work should begin this summer.

It turns out Pickwick was a more difficult area to serve…

Remote and sparsely populated, it is very expensive to extend new fiberoptic cable to rural homes and businesses. “It is anywhere from four to 10 times what it costs to build out a network in town,” Pecarina said. With state grants covering half the cost, some rural projects make financial sense, but the most expensive rural projects are still a difficult business proposition with a long wait for return on investment, he stated.
Pickwick turned out such a project, Pecarina stated. HBC has plans to run fiberoptic cable along County Road 7 the length of the valley, but connecting the mouth of the valley to HBC’s larger distribution network on Highway 61 is the problem, he explained. HBC has existing fiberoptic cable just over a mile upriver, but there is a tight bend where Highway 61 is squeezed between a bluff, the railroad, and the river, where laying fiberoptic cable would require boring through rock, Pecarina explained. That is very expensive.
Once HBC realized how difficult connecting to the head of Trout Creek Valley would be, the company looked for alternatives. Pecarina said the company spent most of 2017 analyzing other options. HBC was also purchased by Indiana-based Schurz Communications that year. After looking at all the options, Pecarina said his firm has come up with a workable solution for Pickwick.
HBC plans to beam wireless Internet across the Mississippi River to Trout Creek Valley from two locations in Wisconsin: one downriver in Trempealeau and one upriver near the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge. It is not ideal, Pecarina admitted. State officials and companies prefer fiberoptic cable because it has the capacity to provide even higher speeds in the future, but Pecarina said that the Pickwick project’s point-to-point wireless connection will still be able to provide the DEED-mandated broadband speeds. “They’re still going to get the speed an all-fiberoptic network would have … we just can’t build fiberoptic into the valley at a feasible price,” he stated. “We’ll have enough bandwidth pumped into the valley to serve everyone with one-gigabit service if they want to go to that.” In the future, HBC would like to extend fiberoptic cable from Ridgeway to the head of the valley, he added.

Unfortunately the funding for rural broadband was not renewed through the 2018 Legislature.

Rep Layman lists broadband funding as a loss felt with Supplemental Budget veto

In an Editorial in the Grand Rapids Herald Review, Representative Layman specifically lists broadband funding as a loss felt by rural Minnesotans with the Governor’s veto of the Supplemental Budget…

On May 20, we wrapped up the legislative session by putting bills on the governor’s desk to cut taxes, provide schools with more funding, and expand broadband in rural Minnesota. Moreover, we took major steps to address and fix the enormous challenges faced by Minnesotans due to the Dayton administration’s MNLARS debacle and the revelation of years of elder abuse reports neglected by Minnesota’s Department of Health and Human Services. We completed our work on schedule and made a good-faith effort at compromise. Despite the compromise effort, the governor vetoed our tax and school funding bill as well as our supplemental budget, which will mean major consequences for many, many Minnesotans.

Why Governor Dayton vetoed the bill that included broadband grants

Here’s the letter from Governor Dayton on why he vetoed the supplemental bill, which meant not funding the Border to Border Broadband Grants. Broadband isn’t mentioned in the letter; the broadband funding is unfortunate collateral damage of a larger decision. I suspect we will hear many theories about the approach of/from both the Legislature and the Governor. It will be interesting – but in the end, the broadband funding was not passed and the reason doesn’t seem to relate to broadband.

The Office of Broadband Development continues to receive praise from all sides. Other states are looking to replicate their work. I think it’s important for proponents in and out of Minnesota to know that this move does not reflect on the Minnesota’s program – nor does it reflect the views of the Governor or Legislature on broadband – both have been vocal in their approval of the idea and funding in the past.

Dear Madame President:
May 23, 2018
I have vetoed and am returning Chapter 201, SF 3656, the omnibus supplemental budget bill.
Repeatedly over the past several months, I implored the Legislature to send separate bills on Minnesotans’ most urgent priorities. We agreed that we must reform elder care, address the opioid epidemic, and ensure safe schools for our children. Yet instead of coming together to find shared solutions to these critical issues, you have deposited them into a 989 page budget bill, with 51 policy provisions, which I oppose. This legislative gamesmanship was terrible, and I will not sign the result.
Despite efforts over the past several months to strengthen existing elder abuse laws, this bill fails to meet the expectations of a large number of lawmakers and of the
coalition of nearly every consumer advocacy organization in the state working to stop elder abuse. This legislation does not ensure that there will ever be licensure or
protections for assisted living or dementia care. It provides no private rights of enforcement for elderly and vulnerable adults who suffer preventable hmm or even death at a long-term care facility. It fails to provide even the basic public right of action protections for elderly people being evicted from their care setting and residence. In fact, advocacy groups believe changes made in this bill would actually make current law less protective. This failure is unacceptable.
The bill also does far too little to combat the opioid epidemic plaguing our State. Several months ago, I proposed investing over $12 million annually in high impact strategies to treat and prevent opioid abuse, funded through an Opioid Stewardship Fee that would hold partially accountable the pharmaceutical companies, who created this deadly epidemic. Instead, this bill spends only $7 million in FY 2019 and about $10 million in FY20/21, entirely from the General Fund. Not one penny is ascribed to the drug companies, through either a “penny-a-pill” or a licensing fee. Evidently, the industry’s 32 lobbyists and whatever promises they made outweighed the interests of the people of Minnesota.

The bill does not support a comprehensive approach and instead provides onetime grants and a small rate increase to providers. There is no funding targeted to communities of color or tribal communities that have been devastated by this crisis. The disparities between tribal communities and communities of color and white residents are the highest in the United States. You could have and should have done more.
Included in this enormous bill are workable responses to problems that I sincerely hoped would become law: school safety and HAVA funds. I was sincere in my oft-stated
desire to work with you and make these provisions become law. However, you knowingly prevented their enactment by inserting them into a bill, containing policies and agency budget cuts that I had said I would not sign.

I made my objections to this bill very clear throughout the Session. My Administration sent you over 100 detailed letters  throughout the session, carefully explaining my concerns with each of the proposals.
This terrible bill and the resulting veto are your creations. Never have I seen a legislative session so badly mismanaged, less transparent, and more beholden to monied special interests.
For the above reasons, I have vetoed this bill.
Mark Dayton
Governor