EVENT Aug 23: MN Rural Broadband Coalition Virtual Meeting

Here’s the info from the MN Rural Broadband Coalition…

MRBC Virtual Meeting
August 23, 2022
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Via Zoom

Download Meeting Materials

AGENDA
Welcome and Introductions
Approval of December 15, 2021, Minutes
Fundraising Update/Financial Report
Next Steps for the Coalition
Blandin Broadband Conference/Future of Blandin in Broadband
Adjourn

Download Meeting Materials

Cook might benefit from FCC rejection of LTD RDOF application

The Timberjay reports on the FCC rejection of LTD Broadband’s application for RDOF money…

The Federal Communications Commission last week rejected troubled LTD Communication’s $1.3 billion application to build high-speed broadband internet networks in Minnesota and across the nation, a move that should open the door for other companies to provide more timely broadband solutions across a wide swath of the North Country.

I’ve written about this rejection earlier and plenty of local media have covered it so I won’t recap the general information but here’s the local impact…

An example of a North Country location that could benefit from new funding opportunities is Cook. Installation of a state-assisted broadband network by Paul Bunyan Communications for the community may get underway in the next few weeks, but the company had to remove some locations from its plans because they fell just inside of federal tracts awarded to LTD. Given that the news is fresh, Paul Bunyan officials have yet to issue any formal statements about future possibilities for LTD-forfeited tracts, and no such plan for Cook is known to be in the works. But new options are now available for numerous Minnesota communities now that they are no longer blocked from them by LTD.

Institute of Local Self Reliance announce training to help communities manage broadband deployment

The Institute of Local Self Reliance announce two training opportunities to help community leaders manage broadband deployment. The sessions are well times as investment in broadband is coming in fast and furious. Now is the time to be ready. Here’s a quick look at them:

Announcing the Urban Digital Equity Bootcamp

The program is designed to:

  • Increase knowledge and confidence of participants to allow them to better take action in their communities to achieve digital equity. This includes developing familiarity with key jargon and technologies related to Internet access.
  • Develop diverse cohorts and a larger human network of people sharing local strategies, challenges, and solutions.
  • Demystify Internet technology through hands-on applications and small group learning

Attendees will include a diverse group of stakeholders, from local leaders to activists to the philanthropic community. A key group of attendees would include organizations that already have the trust of frontline communities – groups that understand the importance of digital equity but haven’t had the capacity to address it. In larger communities, multiple events can be tailored to fit the different needs of different neighborhoods.

The primary objective will be building knowledge and trust among local organizations so they can engage in strategic campaigns of digital inclusion. These events will need significant local coordination to be effective.

Announcing the Let’s Get Going Broadband Program

The first Let’s Get Going Broadband Program cohort is scheduled to begin in September. The cost per community is $15,000, and we recommend each community will select 3-5 participants to attend.

See the full program flyer with schedule here [pdf], or below.

It includes:

  • Cohort Building – An opportunity for a local broadband team to join a eight-week cohort with other communities in a customized curriculum to develop expertise in solving broadband challenges and taking advantage of funding opportunities.
  • Trainings – 90-minute interactive webinars  focused on understanding – in a commonly accessible manner – broadband technologies, challenges, and how similarly situated communities have addressed these problems.
  • Technical Assistance – Eight, 2-hour technical assistance sessions rooted in local needs
  • Community Progress Reports and Research – Help in developing an information-gathering project with diverse community stakeholders to define digital inclusion problems.

Contact Community Broadband Networks Outreach Team Lead DeAnne Cuellar at deanne@ilsr.org for more details.

Duluth New Tribune opinion piece say government involvement is needed to get broadband to some communities

In an opinion piece in the Duluth News Tribune, Kyle Moorhead, the founder and CEO of Hometown Fiber, counters an earlier opinion piece that didn’t believe the government should be involved with broadband access…

The Progressive Policy Institute’s Lindsay Mark Lewis claimed in an Aug. 10 column in the News Tribune that the government has no place building or operating broadband networks.

His information was outdated.

In fact, the only way many communities will get the internet service they need is through local government involvement.

He gets into the details…

There are good reasons for government to consider ownership.

Fiber optic networks do not need to be complex and expensive to operate, as Lewis asserted. I have municipal networks running successfully for more than 12 years with 99.995% uptime. It costs little to operate these networks.

Fiber itself is inexpensive. Prices have dropped so much in recent years that it is affordable for residential service.

If you design and construct the network as critical infrastructure and not for a quick return on investment, you automatically get a reliable and fast network. Digging and directional drilling are the most expensive parts of a project. That cost is the same whether you’re building infrastructure to last 50 years or 10. Do it once correctly, and it pays for itself.

Networks can meet the business needs of ISPs and their communities. It’s not either/or.

An almost instant response to any new approach is, “But ISPs won’t like it.” Incumbent providers often resist offering customers choice, because it means their geographic dominance in the area could end. On the other hand, an incumbent ISP with failing infrastructure quickly understands this new approach is more profitable than maintaining its own infrastructure. It’s possible to meet an ISP’s needs for an almost instant return on investment and complete control over its internet office technology and operations while ensuring no equipment sharing or outside interference.

Harmony Telephone to build FTTH in Harmony (Fillmore County)

The Post Bulletin reports

On Monday, Harmony Telephone Company announced that construction will begin next week on its $2.5 million fiber installation in the city of Harmony. The company-funded project builds upon the federal and statewide push for expanded access to broadband internet, especially in rural areas.

Local policymakers chimed in…

Minnesota Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, also spoke to local companies’ initiative to expand their broadband offerings in his district.

“MiEnergy and Harmony Telephone and AcenTek have been very aggressive, and we actually have done quite some work in getting this broadband in to people,” Davids said.

However, Fillmore County has some catching up to do.

“Fillmore is only at about 33%,” Wells said of the county’s broadband coverage. “Fillmore and Mower: They’re the two that stand out in that southeast corner that are behind the other counties in the state. But we’ll get there.”

There is State and Federal funds…

And there’s great interest in getting there — Wells said her office will soon distribute $95 million in combined state and American Rescue Plan Act funding to finance broadband expansion projects, and through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Minnesota will receive at least $100 million to put toward broadband access.

But Harmony is not using any…

Though the Harmony fiber project is not funded with state or federal dollars, Huffman said public-private partnerships such as ARPA are helpful for developing broadband access in more rural parts of southeast Minnesota.

Duluth is looking at Open Access Fiber Options with the help of State funding

The Institue of Local Self Reliance reports on Duluth…

Last April, the Duluth Economic Development Authority signed a $65,000 contract with Entrypoint LLC to examine the possibility of building a community-owned fiber network in Duluth. The result: a new Digital Access Master Plan that proposes the city spend $7-9 million to build a pilot open access fiber network in Lincoln Park next year.

“Reliable high-speed internet is no longer a luxury,” Duluth Mayor Emily Larson proclaimed in a recent state of the city address. “It’s an essential utility no less important to our future success than our roads, water, and electricity.”

Under the proposal, 75 percent of the new network would be buried fiber and 25 percent would be microtrenched along public roads. The $7 to $9 million estimated price tag is based on a 60% take rate, short-term interest at 5 percent, and a long-term interest rate of 3 percent for 20 years. The initial pilot project would bring fiber to an estimated 1,900 Duluth residents next year.

“A 60% take-rate may seem aggressive given the strong market position of the incumbent cable operator,” the plan states. “However, the survey data suggests a strong desire among residents and businesses in Duluth to see competition, choice, better pricing, and the reliability of a fiber optic network.”

The plan moving forward…

Last June, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) announced that the state would be doling out $95 million in broadband expansion grants, with a maximum of $5 million for each potential target community. Another $68.5 million in funding for Minnesota communities is poised to arrive via the American Rescue Plan Act.

If the pilot goes well, the city will then decide whether to embrace a full, citywide fiber network at an estimated price tag of between $76 and $80 million.

Assuming the full network were to be built over a 48 month period, the plan predicts Duluth would need to subsidize the network for 14 months. Once the network reaches 21,709 premises, the investment will be paid back by operational surpluses. The plan assumes a $79.9 million network build cost would be funded with debt at a 3 percent interest rate over 20 years.

EVENT Aug 15: Broadband meeting in Willmar Monday

Willmar Radio reports

A meeting takes place this afternoon to update the public on a planned broadband project in Kandiyohi County’s Arctander, Dovre, Mamre and St. John’s Townships. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. in the lower level conference room of the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building, North Highway 71 in Willmar. The meeting is being put on by Kandiyohi County and the Willmar and Kandiyohi County Economic Development Commission.

Hope that’s helpful if you’re in the area. I’ll check to see if notes are posted for tomrrow.

Scandia moving forward with broadband plans with MidCo and Frontier (Washington County)

Country Messenger reports

Scandia’s efforts to expand high speed broadband service continues in 2022 and 2023. This year’s construction will reach approximately 160 households provided by MidCO. The project is currently underway. The equipment, fiber and other materials are ready to be deployed this summer, completion is expected by late fall.

For 2023 Scandia has allocated $432,000 in local funding for another expansion and requested that MidCO provide a plan for the City’s approval, including outside grant money where possible. Additionally, Scandia has sent a letter supporting Frontier Communications’ grant application to the State of Minnesota. If approved, Frontier’s project would begin in 2023 and be completed by the end of 2024.

The project would provide high speed broadband via fiber to several hundred locations within Scandia that are currently served by slower DSL lines. Scandia’s Internet Action Committee (IAC) has been working since 2020 with the goal of bringing high speed broadband to all of Scandia within five years.

And there’s an event to learn more…

Scandia and MidCo will host the third annual MidCo Day event Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. The first part will take place from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. in conjunction with with Scandia’s Farmer’s Market at the Community Center.

Mn Rep Pelowski recognized by Minnesota Rural Electric Association for supporting broadband

Minnesota House of Representatives reports

The Minnesota Rural Electric Association (MREA) honored State Representative Gene Pelowski (DFL – Winona) with the 2022 Legislator of the Year Award. MREA is the Minnesota statewide association representing 50 not-for-profit, member-owned rural electric cooperatives.
“I want to thank MREA and MiEnergy for this honor, and for their work in ensuring Minnesotans have access to affordable, reliable, and safe electricity,” said Rep. Pelowski. “Their efforts, in tandem with my work at the legislature to secure disaster aid funding and historic broadband investments, ensure communities like ours always have access to the resources they need, and I look forward to continuing that work.”

Rep. Pelowski, who chairs the House Industrial Education and Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee, oversaw the largest investment in high-speed broadband internet in state history, and authored successful legislation to replenish Minnesota’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account.

Duluth gets $24.9 million through USDOT’s RAISE program in part for broadband

Senator Klobuchar reports

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN) announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has awarded $24.9 million in federal funding for infrastructure improvements in Duluth. Specifically, the grant, provided through USDOT’s RAISE program, will revitalize a two-mile section of West Superior Street by replacing outdated utilities systems, expanding broadband connectivity, and building electrical vehicle charging stations.

“Investments in our infrastructure serve as down payments on the long-term economic well-being of our state,” said Klobuchar. “This federal funding will make a real difference for communities in Duluth, enabling critical infrastructure improvements that will strengthen downtown, while helping to replace aging utilities and increasing broadband connectivity for local businesses and residents.” 

“Minnesota is paving the way to a clean energy future and this project exemplifies Duluth’s commitment to prioritizing the environment while upgrading the city’s infrastructure,” said Smith. “From installing electric vehicle charging stations to investing in green infrastructure and expanding access to broadband, this project will both make critical improvements to the city’s infrastructure while remaining committed to the future of our planet. I’m glad we’re able to be a partner at the federal level to ensure this project gets done.”

“I am deeply grateful to Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith for understanding the value of this enormous investment in our community,” said Duluth Mayor Emily Larson. “This is a highly competitive grant process – receiving this RAISE grant is a truly monumental achievement and speaks to the commitment our Senators have to Duluth and our residents. This grant will provide critical West Superior Street infrastructure upgrades in the Lincoln Park Business District, along with supporting multimodal transportation: including safer bike and pedestrian access, electric vehicles, and local bus transit. The project will also better connect residents, businesses and visitors via a broadband corridor. Thank you to our city staff and community partners like Ecolibrium3, and especially to Senators Klobuchar and Smith for securing these dollars which will go to work in support of business, residents and visitors.”

These resources will enable a complete reconstruction of the two-mile increment on West Superior Street to incorporate more resilient infrastructure while also modernizing underground utilities, including sewage and stormwater systems, and installing fiber optics to ensure stronger broadband connectivity in the neighborhood.

RAISE grants can be used by communities across the country for a wide variety of projects with significant local or regional impact. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Klobuchar and Smith supported and was signed into law last year, delivered a 50 percent increase in the amount of available funding for the RAISE grants, as well as resources for improving the state’s roads, bridges, public transportation, and water infrastructure.

UMD is bringing back telehealth counseling by popular demand

Fox21 Duluth reports

Back by popular demand, the University of Minnesota Duluth will offer telehealth counseling again this school year.

During the pandemic, many schools connected virtually with students. Last year, UMD launched its telehealth program, that offers remote mental health counseling.

Now, the university is bringing it back, after seeing how well-received it was by students.

Virtual, in-person, and hybrid counseling sessions will be available. Free of charge and covered by tuition.

People seemed to like it…

“Last year we did our initial appointments virtually and then we talked to students about what it was they wanted moving forward. We were a little surprised, we thought that everybody would want to be back in the in-person in the office, but that wasn’t necessarily the case for all people.”

Baribeau-Thoennes went on to say, it’s important to keep virtual options available, especially during the cold, Minnesota months.

“Our no-show rates for appointments went down. Somebody might be like “oh no my car is blocked in and I have to shovel,” and normally they might have canceled the appointment, but now they just call and say can I switch my appointment to virtual.”

There are policy hiccups…

The kicker is — providers can only give services in their licensed state. Meaning UMD students have to be in Minnesota to use the telehealth option.

Mainstream (MN) look at FCC’s rejection of LTD Broadband and Starlink RDOF applications

Yesterday, the FCC announced their rejection of LTD Broadband and Starlink RDOF applications.

A recap at the highest level: LTD Broadband and Starlink qualified for the opportunity to get millions of dollars in federal contracts for broadband. There were questions about their ability to deploy these networks. The communities where they might have deployed networks have been unable to some other funding because of this deal. They have been frustrated for a year and a half. The FCC rejection of these providers means a loss of funding (hundreds of millions) coming to Minnesota BUT it also means these communities are free to find other opportunities.

Mainstreet media in Minnesota has been following the story, that in fairness includes some seriously wonky details. Here are what some of those sources are saying today:

  • MinnPost: In an email to MinnPost, Corey Hauer, the CEO of LTD, said company officials are “extremely disappointed in the FCC staff decision.”
    “I don’t believe the FCC fully appreciated the benefits LTD Broadband would bring to hundreds of thousands of rural Americans,” Hauer said. “We are continuing to review the letter and are evaluating our next steps.”
    FCC spokeswoman Anne Veigle said LTD can file a petition for reconsideration or an “application for review to appeal.”
  • Star Tribune: The FCC’s ruling on LTD is “a big deal,” said Brent Christensen, president of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance.
    “This is all uncharted territory,” Christensen said. “A lot of us don’t know what is going to happen.”
    An FCC spokesman said the locations for LTD’s winning bids will be eligible for other state and federal rural broadband funding programs. The federal government is expected to conduct other subsidy auctions.
  • Rueters: The FCC noted that Starlink, a fast-growing constellation of internet-beaming satellites, relies on nascent low-earth orbit satellite technology and had sought funding to provide 100/20 Mbps service to 642,925 locations in 35 states.
    “We must put scarce universal service dollars to their best possible use as we move into a digital future that demands ever more powerful and faster networks,” Rosenworcel said. “We cannot afford to subsidize ventures that are not delivering the promised speeds or are not likely to meet program requirements.”
    The FCC said the two companies both provided inadequate responses to questions and are not capable of complying with commission requirements.

 

Quantum Fiber (Lumen Tech) to expand fiber in MN

Telecompetitor reports

Quantum Fiber, a brand of Lumen Technologies, is expanding to 20 communities in 12 states, the company has announced.

Quantum Fiber offers symmetrical gigabit speeds, all digital ordering and subscription based billing and includes no contracts, bundles or data caps. Quantum offers promotional pricing of $65 for a gigabit package.

The states that include expansion markets are in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

 

Paul Bunyan may have Gig access to Cook MN before the end of the year (St Louis County)

The Timberjay reports…

Faster internet may be coming to Cook sooner than anticipated, as Paul Bunyan Communications announced on Tuesday that there’s a good chance the system will be installed this fall, rather than next spring.
“It looks like our Cook project is going to go ahead earlier than expected,” Paul Bunyan CEO Steve Howard told the Timberjay on Tuesday. “It’s still tentative. We originally were planning to start work there late this year and then finish up next year. But the weather’s been cooperative, and things are lining up nicely to potentially start working on that project as soon as right after Labor Day, and we very likely would finish this year.”
Bemidji-based Paul Bunyan Communications received a $311,000 state Border-to-Border grant to partially fund deployment of their fiber optics GigaZone network in the community in February 2021, and after minor changes to the original proposal were approved by the Cook City Council that March, the project was slated to be completed in spring 2023. Outside of an $8,000 contribution from the city of Cook, Paul Bunyan will foot the bill for the remainder of the $700,000-plus project.