Rural counties with the highest levels of broadband have the highest levels of income

Agri-Pluse is publishing a series of articles – “The seven things you should know before you write the next farm bill.” Last week their article on Rural Development touched on the importance of broadband – using a Minnesota example…

Bob Fox, a Minnesota farmer and Renville County commissioner says that businesses looking to plant roots in a rural community often ask about the quality of roads first and the speed of broadband, second.

“It just makes a world of difference in what you can do as a business person with that broadband speed,” he told Agri-Pulse. “We have to find a way to get broadband across all of the United States.”

A study conducted for Cornell University’s Community and Regional Development Institute underscores his point. It found that rural counties with the highest levels of broadband have the highest levels of income and education and lower levels of unemployment and poverty.

But according to the most recent Broadband Progress Report, 34 million Americans still lack access to broadband benchmark speeds. This baseline map (below) visualizes broadband access at the county level and identifies connectivity gaps — the lighter the color, the lower the percentage of households with broadband access.

They recognize that reaching those 34 million is tough work…

Building out high-speed broadband in rural areas is not easy or cheap, as Catherine Moyer, CEO of Pioneer Communications, pointed out during a recent Senate Agriculture Committee field hearing.

Pioneer is a local telecommunications provider located in southwestern Kansas, serving a 5,000 square mile area – roughly the size of Connecticut but with over three million fewer people than that state.

“We provide 21,000 total connections to wireline voice, high-speed broadband and video services over a network that utilizes a mix of fiber, copper and coax facilities,” Moyer testified. “On average, we have just over two subscribers per square mile. However, when considering that 81 percent of our customers live in our small population centers, the “density” of our rural subscribers per square mile drops to just under 0.5.

“Put another way, 81 percent of our customers reside in approximately 15 square miles, while the remaining 19 percent reside in the other 4,985 square miles.

One might ask why we serve these areas, she noted in her testimony. “We are the provider of last resort –in addition to legal obligations to serve these consumers and businesses who were left behind long ago when larger companies picked first where to serve. If Pioneer does not provide them now with service, there is no one else available to do so.”

They also recognize that broadband is one facet of rural development. There are many. Agri Pulse seems to be suggesting a united front for building better awareness…

While a wide array of Rural Development programs can offer many options for helping keep farmers on the land and rural businesses growing, this part of the farm bill is often not considered to be a high priority for national farm organizations. For commodity groups, it’s usually something that surfaces after the commodity, crop insurance, and conservation titles.

And even among its most stalwart advocates, congressional staff say that support for RD is often splintered in respective silos. For example, rural water advocates do a great job lobbying for water programs and the same is true with the rural electric cooperatives, advocating for low-interest loans. And organizations like NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association have been actively promoting expansion of broadband.

But during the last farm bill debate, rural advocates say there was not a strong enough coalition of all rural and farm groups “beating the drum” for a more comprehensive approach to job creation in rural areas.

Rise in Tech Companies in Brainerd Area Due to Broadband

Earlier today KAXE (public radio out of Grand Rapids) interviewed Sheila Haverkamp (Executive Director of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation about how a private-public partnership over 13 years ago has created a fiber optic network that is attracting new people and new businesses to the Brainerd Area.


Sheila reports that Tech companies are employing 1000 people in and around Brainerd, MN. Broadband helped local businesses grow and encouraged new businesses to start – especially some home-based businesses. She tells the story of several businesses in the area…

Homegrown entrepreneurs are taking advantage of it but the area also is attracting others from outside the market for the same reason, said Sheila Haverkamp, executive director of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation (BLAEDC).

“The area’s high-speed Internet service plays a critical role in the decision-making process of many entrepreneurs considering markets in which to start a technology-related business,” she said. “For the last decade, our fiber optic network has been an important factor in helping start-up companies grow and succeed here. And now we’re getting noticed from others throughout the state.”

Ben Gibbs is another successful entrepreneur who owns online businesses that require high-speed Internet. The founder and owner of Crosslake Sales, Gibbs moved his family to the Crosslake area in 2003. While cell phone coverage was spotty at the time, “we had better Internet service here than we did in the Twin Cities,” he said. “We needed high-speed Internet when we started the business, and we knew Crosslake had it, so it made our decision easy.”

Crosslake Sales specializes in liquidating bicycles and bicycle components and accessories. Gibbs buys and sells products from around the world. He also has two other sporting goods-related companies to complement his online businesses.

Jim Mayne was in the same boat in 2000 when he moved to Deerwood from the Twin Cities to start Deerwood Technologies. Offering technical services requires reliable and fast Internet service, he said, which allows him and his five technicians to easily connect with customers. The company helps companies move their business systems to the Cloud, manages computer security services and provides network and server support.

“We don’t require the bandwidth of high-speed Internet here because we don’t host client data or systems on the premises,” Mayne said. “What we need is reliability.

Border to Border Broadband meeting in Spicer

According to the West Central Tribune there’s a meeting in Spicer to discuss the recent Border to Border broadband grant (next meeting April 4)…

The second in a series of meetings on broadband expansion in northern Kandiyohi County will be at 5 p.m. [yesterday] today at the Dethlefs Center in Spicer.

Representatives of Consolidated Telecommunications Co. will be on hand to explain the project and answer questions. Those who live or do business within the proposed project zone also will have an opportunity to sign up for future services.

Consolidated Telecommunications was awarded a grant earlier this year through the Minnesota Office of Broadband Technology to bring high-speed internet to unserved rural neighborhoods in north central Kandiyohi County.

They were talking what they need to happen to help the project succeed…

Connie Schmoll, business development specialist for the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, said 53 people attended the first meeting, which was held Monday evening.

Consolidated Telecommunications Co. needs at least half of the potential customer base within the target area to become subscribers in order to make the project financially feasible. Because of the state grant funds, those who sign up during the project deployment will not be charged installation fees, Schmoll said.

Monthly fees are competitive with services offered by other local carriers. Bundles that include landline telephone service and TV also will be offered if there’s enough interest.

A final informational meeting with CTC will be held at 5 p.m. April 4 at the Dethlefs Center in Spicer.

MN House Job Growth Budget – $7 million for broadband grants for one year only

Earlier today I posted the Senate budget for broadband ($10 million a year for 2 years). Now I have the House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee posted proposed budget today.

Here’s what they have for broadband: Broadband (HF1618 Baker/HF841 Sandstede) (Border to Border Grants)

  • FY 2018 – $7 million
  • FY 2019 – 0
  • FY 2020 – 0
  • 2021– 0

They budget $250,000/year for the Office of Broadband Development from 2018-2021.

Both the Senate and the House are far from the $50 million a year proposed by the MN Broadband Task Force and the $30 million a year proposed by the Governor.

MN Senate Jobs Omnibus Budget Spreadsheet – Broadband Grant funding through FY 2018-19

I try to follow what’s going on at the State in terms of funding for broadband. Yesterday I ran across the Senate Jobs Omnibus Budget Spreadsheet. There are a couple of interesting items related to broadband.

  • The Governor’s proposed appropriation for Border to Border grant for 2018-19 is $60 Million ($30 million per year) with $500,000 ($250,000 per year) for the Office of Broadband Development
  • The Senate’s proposed appropriation for Border to Border grant for 2018-19 is $20 Million ($10 million per year) with $500,000 ($250,000 per year) for the Office of Broadband Development
  • Neither have proposed funding for the grants for FY2 20-21
  • Both have proposed funding of $500,000) ($250,000 per year) for the Office of Broadband Development for 2020-21

Akamai Q4 (2016) broadband report is out – MN ranks 25-29 depending on the category

The latest Akamai Report is out Q4 (2016). They measure worldwide broadband adoption and speeds. Turns out Minnesota is pretty middle of the pack. Really Minnesota doesn’t even rank well enough to make the report (they only list “top 10) but the folks at Akamai are kind enough to send me our stats.

I’ve included below charts from the report – followed by Minnesota stats…

Average connection speed:

We rank #26 with an average connection speed of 16.2 Mbps – that’s a slight increase over Q3 (1.5 percent) but a nice increase from 2015 (8.5 percent).

Average peak connection speed:

We rank #27 with an average peak connection speed of 76.3 Mbps – that’s an increase over Q3 (3.5 percent) but a very nice increase from 2015 (24 percent).

4 Mbps broadband adoption:

We rank 29 with 88 percent having access. That’s an increase of 1.1 percent from Q3 and 5.1 percent from 2015.

10 Mbps broadband adoption:

We rank 26 with 60 percent having access. That’s an increase of 6.5 percent from Q3 and 16 percent from 2015.

15 Mbps broadband adoption:

We rank 25 with 39 percent having access. That’s an increase of 5.2 percent from Q3 and 20 percent from 2015.

25 Mbps broadband adoption:

We rank 26 with 14 percent having access. That’s an decrease of .1 percent from Q3 and an increase of 17 percent from 2015.

There’s a slight dip in growth in the 25 Mbps category. We weren’t the only state to see a decrease there and the decrease is slight (.1 percent) so that isn’t too concerning. What is concerning is the stronghold we have on middle of the pack standing!

It is disheartening to rank #27 for peak connection speed with 76.3 Mbps. It’s not great to be #27 – but again more concerning is that while the average peak for the state is 76.3 Mbps 12 percent of the state doesn’t have access to 4 Mbps. That’s quite a digital divide.

Paul Bunyan GigaZone Comes to Hines and areas of Blackduck

Happy to share the big news!

The GigaZone Comes to Hines and areas of Blackduck
One of the largest rural all-fiber optic Gigabit networks in the United States continues to grow;
Now available to more than 33,400 locations in northern Minnesota

(Bemidji, MN) (March 20, 2017) – Paul Bunyan Communications has announced that the GigaZone has come to Hines and areas of Blackduck. As a result of continued upgrades to the Cooperative’s all-fiber optic communications network over 700 more locations now have access to GigaZone services including Internet speeds up to a Gigabit per second.

“We’ve made great progress on upgrading our network to incorporate even more members into the GigaZone over the past several months.  I’m very proud of all the hard work our cooperative has put in so far as we put our membership and region at the forefront of the very latest in communication networks.  We will continue to do as much as we can to bring the GigaZone to all our members and the communities we serve as fast as we can.” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.

The GigaZone is currently available to over 33,400 locations, making it one of the largest rural all-fiber optic networks in the United States!  Check out our online map showing the current areas of the GigaZone as well as those that will be constructed/upgraded in the future.

Paul Bunyan Communications recently mailed out information to the new locations that are now in the GigaZone and the cooperative has an online map available at showing the active areas of the GigaZone as well as those areas that will be constructed/upgraded in the future.

“If you are wondering when the GigaZone will reach you, the online map of the active areas and plans for the next two years is a great resource.” added Brian Bissonette, Paul Bunyan Communications Marketing Supervisor.

GigaZone service options include unprecedented Broadband Internet speeds of up to 1000 Mbps – a Gigabit.  Members who subscribe to GigaZone Broadband can also add PBTV Fusion and/or low cost unlimited long distance service.  All current service options also remain available to cooperative members within the GigaZone.

Most current wireless routers cannot support blazing GigaZone Internet speeds.  To help, the cooperative is offering GigaZone Integrated Wi-Fi that uses the latest in advanced Wi-Fi technologies to maximize the in-home wireless experience. This service is free to all new GigaZone customers for the first six months, with a minimal charge thereafter.

Paul Bunyan Communications has the region’s largest and fastest all fiber optic network with over 5,000 square miles throughout most of Beltrami County and portions of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties.  The Cooperative provides Broadband High Speed Internet Service up to a Gigabit per second, digital and high definition television services, Smart Home services, digital voice services, and more.   Service availability depends upon location, some restrictions may apply.