MN Cooperative Fiber Coverage up 1,000 square miles from 2019

The Institute for Local Self Reliance has updated their 2017 report on how Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America; they update it on a regular basis. The quick take from the Minnesota perspective – coverage in Minnesota has increased by 1,000 square miles – or percentage wise from 21.6 to 22.3 percent in the last year.

2020 Coverage

2019 Coverage

And here are recommendations…

Federal and state governments must recognize that cooperatives are one of the best tools for ubiquitous, rural, high-speed Internet access.

  1. Design funding programs with cooperatives in mind.
    1. Letters of credit from the largest banks may be hard to come by for smaller cooperatives.
    2. Make applications as simple and easy as possible. Staff time is limited at small cooperatives.
    3. Develop grant and loan programs rather than create incentives in the tax code for infrastructure investment.
  2. Encourage cooperatives by removing barriers and encouraging partnerships.
    1. Remove barriers to electric cooperatives exploring the possibility of fiber network. Cooperatives should not be prevented from applying to federal grants that they are eligible for because of hindersome state laws.
    2. Encourage partnerships, including with existing muni networks.
  3. If you live in a rural area, talk to your neighbors, co-op manager, and board members about the potential for Internet networks. Successful cooperative projects are community-led projects. About 70 percent of electric cooperatives have less than 10 percent average turnout for their board member elections.25
    1. Co-Mo Electric Cooperative in Missouri had excited members go door-to-door and gave out yard signs to encourage folks to get involved with the project. Many community members also wrote letters of support for the project.
    2. In New Mexico, the local business community voiced their needs at Kit Carson Electric Cooperative board meetings to encourage the co-op to build a fiber network.
    3. Delta Montrose Electric Association in Colorado overcame an initial reluctance to develop an Internet access project after overwhelming demand from its members.26
  4. Make it clear that rural connectivity is about more than entertainment. Farmers, programmers, and entrepreneurs all need high-speed Internet access. Rural connectivity also supports needed research.
    1. Allband Communications Cooperative started a non-profit called ACEWR, which collaborates with universities and research institutions across the United States. It is a prime spot for research on local wildlife, endangered species, and conservation projects. The nonprofit also has an online workforce development program to train locals in new skills, empowering them to succeed in the 21st century economy

Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects in Koochiching County

Part of becoming a Blandin Broadband Community (BBC), is the opportunity to show off what you’ve been doing related to broadband in your community. It was great to hear from folks from Koochiching County.

Koochiching is well orgnaized and engaged. They talked abtout a number of projects. The ones that really caught my attention is broadband in the homeless shelter. WHat an asset to help people get jobs, education and healthcare. They also have virtual reality headsets to check out at the library especially for senior living centers and students. And they are busy getting tools for COVID-19-strength cleaning between users.

The shared a list of prjects and budgets:

Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects in Swift County

Part of becoming a Blandin Broadband Community (BBC), is the opportunity to show off what you’ve been doing related to broadband in your community. It was great to hear from folks from Swift County.

They talk about how they have used broadband to set up camping reservations, a resource that will likely see more action after COVID-19 restrictions. They worked with PCs for People that they are able to distribute and they were able to access, which offsets the story of the families who try to do everything during the quarantine using one computer.

STEM camp was a big hit for kids last summer; they’re just waiting to hear if that will be an option this year. And they have been working with local businesses to help them make the best use of digital marketing.

FCC presentation for MN & WI Tribes on federal funding: video

Thanks to the FCC for sharing their recent presentation to folks who could (and would) share information to tribal communities about the potential of federal funding for broadband. They spoke in great details about 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal opportunity. First they heard about all of the policy details, then (after an hour or so) really dove into the technology of 2.5 Ghz.

Policy Recommendations for bringing communities into the digital age from Roberto Gallardo

Roberto Gallardo’s recent paper on digital inclusion offers the following recommendations are meant to strengthen federal and state policies so that they may better support initiatives such as those discussed above:

  • Align Federal and State Policies around Digital Inclusion and Equity
  • Increase Community Awareness of the Importance of Digital Inclusion
  • Provide Digital Inclusion–Specific Funding
  • Support and Incentivize Digital Inclusion through Local Solutions

And one way they got to those recommendations was by looking at the Minnesota Broadband model…

One example of an effective state policy framework is the Minnesota Border-to-Border broadband grant program. It began in 2014 and is one piece of a comprehensive statewide approach to digital inclusiveness known as the “Minnesota Model.” This model launched in 2008 with a set of broadband goals proposed by a statewide task force appointed by the governor and adopted by the legislature. Progress is reviewed annually and consists of four interacting components: statutory goals, data and mapping, an Office of Broadband Development (OBD), and a grant program. This dynamic plan responds to the changing needs of communities and Internet service providers (ISPs) and to the intelligence garnered through data monitoring and measurement. The OBD serves as the central broadband planning body for the state. It operationalizes the various elements outlined in the law, such as administering the Border-to-Border broadband grant program as well as a telecommuter forward program. Another critical role of the OBD is to accurately map broadband deployment throughout the state to aid in the planning and monitoring of broadband infrastructure investments.

According to Bernadine Joselyn, Director of Public Policy and Engagement for the Blandin Foundation (a member of the statewide task force), these mutually reinforcing broadband plan elements constitute a critical civic infrastructure that strengthens the capacity and voice of local communities. This civic infrastructure provides support to broadband access and adoption throughout the state from setting broadband goals to supporting the OBD and to state mapping of broadband infrastructure and unmet needs (Interview, January 2020).

Statewide connectivity goals adopted in 2010 called for universal access at 10–20 Mbps download and 5–10 Mbps upload. By 2016, these goals were updated to universal access at 25/3 Mbps by 2022 and 100/20 Mbps by 2026. To achieve these goals, the Border-to-Border broadband grant program has invested more than US$85 million in broadband infrastructure in 110 projects connecting nearly 39,000 homes, businesses, and farms while leveraging roughly US$110 million in private and local matching funds. By the end of 2018, 86 percent of homes and businesses had access to 100/20 Mbps up from 39 percent in 2015. Also, 93 percent of homes and businesses had access to 25/3 Mbps up from 70 percent in 2011. In 2019, the legislature appropriated an additional US$40 million in funding for broadband grants over the following two years.

According to Angie Dickson, OBD broadband development manager, the state of Minnesota recognized early on that broadband access is a vital component of the state’s economy and all of its communities, especially its rural ones (Interview, January 2020). By maintaining this commitment consistently over time, Minnesota has taken major strides toward achieving digital inclusiveness.

Sen Jeremy Miller says broadband is a priority

In a letter to the Editor in the Fillmore County Journal posted yesterday (but dated May 4), Sen. Jeremy Miller Gives an update from the MN Capitol…

In the metro area, broadband access is universal. But in Greater Minnesota, there are still plenty of areas that are underserved or entirely unserved. That’s why we have made broadband access a top priority. Today we approved a $20 million bill to expand access to broadband internet service and telemedicine. Notably, $8 million of the bill is designated to distance learning grants for students currently lacking Internet access during the COVID-19 peacetime public health emergency.

Minnesota leaders from Austin to Mankato discuss COVID and need for better broadband

Channel 6 News reports…

District congressional candidate Dan Feehan hosted a virtual round table with state leaders to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on small communities.

Broadband was on the table…

Other issues detailed the importance of broadband in rural communities and the limited resources for students due to closures. Blue Earth County Commissioner Vance Stuehrenberg said students have had to go into town to the libraries that are closed and sit outside just to be able to complete assignments.

The discussion included leaders from all over Minnesota from Austin to Mankato and the communities in between. Though they shared different issues they all agreed that change is needed.