EVENT Jan 29: MN Governor’s Task Force on Broadband

The MN Broadband Task Force is meeting on Friday. Here’s the login info:

January 29 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Click here to join the meeting Or call in (audio only)
+1 763-317-4323,,989314741# United States, Plymouth
Phone Conference ID: 989 314 741#

Here’s the agenda…

10:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.                Welcome, Task Force Introductions, Attendee Introductions and Approval of Minutes from December 18, 2020 Meeting
10:15 a.m. – 10:20 a.m.  Status of 2020 Annual Report
10:20 a.m. – 10:40 a.m.  Office of Broadband Development Update
10:40 a.m. – 11:20 a.m.  Focus for 2021

  • Topics
  • Presenters
  • Meeting Locations (post-virtual meetings)

11:20 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.  Break

11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.  ask Force Organization

  • Subcommittee or Other Structure
  • Assign Topics
  • Assign Task Force Members to Subcommittee or Other Structure

12:15 p.m. – 12:30 p.m.  Public Comment, Other Business, February Meeting Plans, Wrap-up

EVENTS: Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch Feb Topics: Talking with MN Leg (Feb 10) & Digital Navigators (Feb 24)

Well, the first month went so well we are continuing the Broadband Lunch Bunch sessions – alternating between Broadband Infrastructure and Digital Use and Equity. The idea is to get colleagues in a shared space, introduce a topic and talk. Infrastructure will happen on the second Wednesday of the month and Digital Use and Equity on the fourth. Please note! The Digital Use were originally scheduled for the third Wednesday but we realized that conflicted with the NDIA (National Digital Inclusion Alliance) monthly 101 webinars.

(Side note: If you previously registered for the Digital Use and Equity events before – please re-register. The registration were unfortunately lost in the date transition – but we learned something new!)

Talking with Legislators about Broadband (Feb 10 noon to 1pm CST)
Last fall, we heard a lot about the importance of broadband from legislative candidates across the state and across the aisle.  The commitment will now be illustrated by votes soon to be taken on appropriations bills in St. Paul.  Legislators tell us that they need to hear from constituents to keep an issue at the top of the priority pile.  What are the best ways to do this?  What is your experience with talking with legislators?  What can we learn from other issue advocates?  Be ready to share your success stories, failures and lessons learned.  Register here 

Digital Navigators What, how & why (Feb 24 noon to 1pm CST)
Digital Navigators are individuals who help people (or organizations) through the process of funding the best digital solutions to meet their needs. It scored highly on our interest survey last month and we have (at least) two Lunch Bunchers who are willing to share their expertise with the group – one national and one focused on Minnesota schools. So please come with questions, ideas and solutions. Register here.

State of Broadband in US (Q4, 2020): tracking access and affordability

Broadband Now Research recently released their latest report on broadband access in the US. I am most interested in the access versus affordable comparison at speeds of 25/3 and 100/25. They define affordable as $60/month or less.

Here’s how Minnesota sits:

  • 92.36 percent access to 25/3
    70.08 percent access to affordable 25/3
  • 68.63 percent access to 100/25
    21.1 percent access to affordable 100/25

You can get an updated and more detailed version of the report from the Broadband Now website. (They get their data by combining government and private sources.

Free WiFi Access Points

Thanks to Danna MacKenzie, former Office of Broadband Director, I became aware of a great opportunity from a national non-profit organization – the Information Technology Disaster Resource Center (ITDRC.org) .  The initiative is called Project Connect.  You can see details under the COVID 19 tab on their web site, including the application form.  They have a great FAQ on their web site with all of the details.  This organization comes highly recommended.

The have the resources to install an external wi-fi access point on a public or private building, all for free.  They also help the host ensure that everything is secure.  They also provide some ongoing, but limited support on the access point management.

The local host must provide the Internet access, either through their existing access or with a new separate Internet service.  Most hosts are public entities like cities or libraries, but it could be a local grocery store.  Having a place to park or sit is important.  The access point can be located inside, such as in a community room of an affordable housing development, but public access is required.  Smaller communities might identify one site; larger communities might think about identifying sites that are at least 1/2 mile apart.  There seem to be few restrictions.

ITDRC uses paid staff and a corps of qualified volunteers to do this work.  It takes 30-60 days for equipment to be installed.  For those interested, they generally use Ubiquity access points.

Complete information is on their web site.  They would prefer that each site host complete their own application so that all the information goes directly into their system.

Let’s keep them busy in Minnesota!

Governor Walz budgets $50 million for broadband grants for 2022 (none for 2023)

Governor Walz has released his budget for the next biennium. On pages 21-22, he outlines $50 million for the MN broadband grants – for the first year of the biennium (2022). This compares to the $120 million introduced in the MN House and expected in the Senate…

Recommendation : The Governor recommends $ 50 million in FY 2022 for the Border -to -Border Broadband Grant program. The recommendation allows the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to reserve up to 3% of grant funds for program administration and broadband mapping.

Rationale/Background: Access to robust broadband is now recognized as a critical factor in the economic and social sustainability of all Minnesota communities. The need has only grown dramatically since the start of the pandemic. The state has a broadband mapping program which annually gathers current information from all providers about where broadband internet is available and at what speeds. While great progress has been made over the last several years, with 91% of households and businesses having access to a moderate level of service that meets the state’s 2022 goals; only 87% of rural homes and businesses have access at this minimum definition. In addition, the state as a whole is at 73.6% of homes and businesses meeting the 2026 broadband goal of access to 100Mbps/20Mbps service.

Proposal: This proposal funds the Border -to -Border Broadband Development Grant Program in FY 2022. This funding commitment will build on several years of public and private investments in broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas of the state and will facilitate meeting the statutory goal of border -to -border access of 25Mbps/3Mbps broadband service by the year 2022 (§237.012) and begin to pave the way for achieving the state’s 2026 goal of reaching everyone with a service capable of delivering 100Mbps/20Mbps.

Here is the expenditure review for the Broadband Development in DEED (from page 4) with dollar amounts in thousands…

  • FY2018 (Actual) – $28,744
  • FY2019 (Actual) – $586
  • FY2020 (Actual) – $23,898
  • FY2021 (Estimate) – $21,725
  • FY2022 (Forecast Base) – $648
  • FY2022 (Gov Recommendation) – $50,648
  • FY2023 (Forecast Base) – $662
  • FY2023 (Gov Recommendation) – $662

Here’s a chart the Governor has included to show the impact of previous grant investments…

Minnesota speed tests –spreading to other states and a competition is formed. Time to take a test!

I love a competition in January – from St Paul Winter Carnival Treasure Hunt to beating others states at taking state broadband speed tests. And while I have my Carnival button, just incase I find the medallion first, I’m feeling better about the odds for winning the most speed tests award.

Regular readers will know that GEO Partners have partnered with Minnesota Broadband Coalition to encourage people throughout Minnesota to take the broadband speed tests. Traditional broadband maps have been built largely on broadband provider-supplied data; GEO Partner maps are built on user-supplied data. Well, Kentucky is the latest state to take on the user-focused mapping, largely with the help of the Center for Rural Development.

GEO Partners report in an email…

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman announced today the launch of the Kentucky Broadband Speed Test, a crowd-sourcing project that will gather data from Kentuckians needed to expand internet home access for distance learning, telework and telehealth. Kentuckians can take the free, anonymous speed test from Jan. 19 to Feb. 18 at ewdc.ky.gov/Initiatives/Pages/KBI.aspx.

 

This means four states are using the mapping:

You can see from the map, that Minnesota’s definitely in the running but here are the map stats:

  • Minnesota has mapped 32,171 locations.
  • Washington has mapped 32,307.
  • Kentucky is at 10,984 (as of Sunday)– but they have only been up a few days.
  • Main has mapped 10,083

We’re going to need a burst of energy to get the most mapped!

EVENT Feb 2: Women in Ag Network sixth annual conference

The Women in Ag Network conference is not a perfect fit for all readers, but a look at the agenda is a reminder of how important broadband is to all aspects of agriculture business…

“Building Bridges, Cultivating Connections” is the theme of the sixth annual Women in Ag Network Conference. The event will be a day of learning and networking for women involved in agriculture. The conference will be held virtually on February 3 from 9 a.m.-3:45 p.m.
Michele Payn, CSP, principal of Cause Matters Corp, will be the keynote speaker. There will be three tracks of breakout sessions to choose from: Bridging the Gap with Social Media, Cultivating Management Best Practices and Connecting Farmers and Consumers through Marketing. The day will end with a panel discussion, “Direct Marketing: Taking it to the Next Level,” which will feature women who have taken marketing of their agriculture ventures to a new level.
For more information and to register visit z.umn.edu/WAGNConference21.

MN Legislature is looking at broadband as a pandemic imperative – funding amount starts in House at $120 million

Mankato Free Press reports

Area lawmakers say broadband funding will be a crucial issue in this year’s legislative session, but no one is certain just how much the state will spend.

COVID-related regulations and lockdown efforts exacerbated Greater Minnesota’s need for better internet access over the past year, giving urgency to the Capitol’s annual debate over broadband infrastructure.

Democrats and Republicans have argued over broadband funding levels in recent years, as well as what type of broadband technology to use.

They mention the recent House committee meeting

Democratic Rep. Rob Ecklund, of International Falls, introduced a $120 million broadband funding proposal earlier this week, the latest in a series of similarly sized DFL bills over the past few years. While Republicans agree broadband will be a priority this year, many are reluctant to support a bill that large in light of a projected $1.3 billion state budget deficit.

“It’s a nice dream,” said Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake. “I’m just glad that they’re willing to support broadband.”

There are questions about federal aid…

Complicating the issue is the looming federal aid money from the stimulus proposal Congress passed in December. States are expected to get about $300 billion in funding for various issues related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which includes about $7 billion marked for broadband efforts.

It’s unclear how that broadband money will be divvied up. Local lawmakers say they have yet to hear from federal officials how much they’ll receive or whether they’ll have to provide matching grants to accept the aid.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said she expects federal aid to cover the state’s immediate broadband industry needs as there’s a backlog on building supplies. Yet she also said broadband is “one of the biggest issues ever for economic recovery of the state.”

Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, agreed, saying the state should invest as much as it can in broadband this year to make up for the lack of access some in Greater Minnesota face.

Senator Draheim to introduce bill soon…

Draheim and Frentz have been key negotiators on broadband issues over the past few years. Draheim said he expects to introduce broadband legislation soon that would also include requirements for companies to ensure they connect all households in a project area, as well as follow through on promised services.

Also thinking about issues of speed goals…

Draheim also said he’d like to see the state increase its 2022 broadband goals of 25 mbps download and 2 mpbs [should be 3 mbps] upload speeds. Minnesota has a 2026 goal of all homes and businesses having access to 100 mbps download and 20 mbps speeds.

Senator Aric Putnam highlights need for broadband (St Cloud)

St Cloud Times posts a column from Aric Putnam (Minnesota Senate District 14A) including his interest in working on better broadband…

Outside my committee work, I’d like to work on legislation that protects the livelihoods and legacies of family farmers, expands broadband access, and helps make housing more affordable.

Kandiyohi County (MN) is looking for more fiber in 2021

West Central Tribune reports…

Connie Schmoll, from the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, hopes 2021 is the year a major broadband project is started in underserved areas of the county. She presented information Tuesday to the Kandiyohi County Board, looking for board support on a potential project that could require financial backing from the county.

Here’s a list form of the various opportunities:

  • survey conducted in Kandiyohi County last year of internet availability and usage showed many were not happy with their internet as the pandemic added significantly to the data being used at homes across the area.
    The good news is there might be fiber broadband expansion on the horizon. Late last year LTD Broadband was one of the winners of the Federal Communications Commission Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction. …
    “They are going to be providing fiber in a large portion of the south part of the county,” Schmoll said.
    While that would reduce the number of underserved households, there would still be pockets of need.
  • There is some positive news on that front. The Federated Telephone Cooperative has been allowed to expand its service area.
    “They are interested in Kandiyohi County, to move into our county, especially the west side and northern area of our county,” Schmoll said. “That was a huge plus.”
  • Schmoll is hoping to bring together a fiber broadband project with at least three rural townships in partnership with Federated, which has said it will provide 25 percent of the project costs.
    A similar project that never quite got off the ground in Dovre, Hamre and St. John’s Townships was estimated to cost close to $4 million and the service provider was only willing to provide 15 percent of the cost.
  • Border to Border Broadband Development Grant from the state, if awarded, could provide up to 50 percent or $5 million toward a project. However, the state Legislature has not yet approved funding for another round of grants for this year, Schmoll said.
  • County Administrator Larry Kleindl said even if every township in the county wanted that $25,000 for a broadband project, the county could financially make it work.

And end with a statement that shows the level of priority in the area…

“The viability of our rural areas is literally at stake here,” said Commissioner Steve Gardner. “I don’t believe that we as a board can afford to be bashful about supporting financially the efforts to bring broadband to all of these underserved areas.”

EVENT Feb 4: MN Rural Broadband Coalition Meeting

MN Broadband Coalition invites folks…

Save the Date!
Minnesota Broadband Coalition Meeting

Thursday, February 4, 2021
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Via Zoom
Agenda and Details on How to Join the Meeting Coming Soon!Please RSVP by replying to this email or Emily Murray to indicate attendance or absence.
Feel free to extend this invitation to other interested stakeholders.

Arvig extends FTTH to 10,000 households in St Cloud, Rochester and Twin Cities

Presswire reports (shares a press release)…

Today, telecommunications and broadband provider Arvig has announced it has installed a fiber optic connection into more than 10,000 townhome, condo and apartment units within the Twin Cities, St. Cloud, and Rochester area. The telecommunications provider continues to grow its high-speed internet connectivity offerings, a service that has become increasingly important with many now working and learning from home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lunch Bunch on Digital Use and Equity Archive: Share a success story

This big week of inaugural events includes the inaugural meeting of the Lunch Bunch on Digital Use and Equity. We had a 20-25 people attend – perfect for chat and connecting with each other. We spent a lot of time on the introductions – in part because the attendance grew as we spoke but it was worth it to learn more about each other. For example, I now know at least two people who could help me fill out the forms to get an FCC radio license.

It was also nice to have a mix of rural and Twin Cities folks; I hope that will help facilitate more working together. A silver lining of all of the pandemic restriction is that because everything is online these days, it’s easier to work with people in all locations without traveling. Of course the flip side is that it deepens the digital divide for those without access.

We had folks on the frontlines of teaching, librarians, policy folks, smart city folks and engineers. If this were my Destination Imagination team, I’d feel pretty good about our ability to problem solve. And there are open seats at the table next month if you want to join us.

A quick reminder – the Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch series includes 2 monthly sessions. Sessions will alternate between Broadband Infrastructure (2nd Weds) and  Digital Use and Equity (3rd Weds).

Feb 10, Broadband Infrastructure session will focus on how to work with legislators – more on that soon! Feb 17, Digital Use and Equity is still open. We surveyed folks about future topics today and will report back.

Senators Klobuchar, Smith and 151 others ask FCC to look carefully at RDOF applications

Telecompetitor reports

A broad coalition of Republican and Democratic senators and representatives have sent a letter to the FCC asking the commission to thoroughly vet RDOF auction winners. At stake is $9 billion in rural broadband funding awarded through the reverse auction, which was completed last year.

The letter was championed by Senators Amy Klobuchar and John Thune, as well as Representatives James E. Clyburn and Tim Walberg. Also signing the letter were an additional 153 senators and representatives.

Service providers were required to submit a short-form application in order to participate in the auction, which awarded funding for an area to the bidder that committed to deploying broadband to unserved locations in the area for the lowest level of support. A weighting system favored bids to provider faster service with lower latency.

Senator Smith and Senator Klobuchar both signed the letter. Here’s the paragraph (from the letter) that highlights their concern…

As responsible stewards of USF funds, we ask that the FCC redouble its efforts to review the long-form applications that will now be submitted. We urge the FCC to validate that each provider in fact has the technical, financial, managerial, operational skills, capabilities, and resources to deliver the services that they have pledged for every American they plan to serve regardless of the technology they use. We also strongly encourage the FCC to make as public as possible the status of its review and consider opportunities for public input on the applications. Such transparency and accountability will be essential to ensure the success of this program and to minimize any opportunities for fraud or abuse.

I have written about some of the concern about RDOF in Minnesota. And just earlier today I wrote about how many providers do not seem to be meeting their obligations in deploying broadband with federal CAFII funding. Here concerns outlined by Telecompetitor…

As Telecompetitor has noted, the 10 biggest RDOF winners won a combined 76% of the total funding awarded. Four of those winners are companies that traditionally have used fixed wireless technology who bid in the highest speed category (1 Gbps downstream), at least for some areas.

Fixed wireless equipment manufacturers persuaded the FCC that they had equipment capable of supporting gigabit speeds, although the technology is relatively unproven, especially for rural areas. Perhaps recognizing that, the big fixed wireless RDOF winners left themselves the option of deploying fiber broadband to meet their buildout requirements – one of them even bid to use fiber broadband exclusively for gigabit deployments. But some stakeholders have questioned whether some of the winners can afford to deploy gigabit fiber for the level of support awarded.

Also among the top 10 RDOF winners is satellite broadband provider SpaceX, whose technology also is relatively unproven. The company is in the process of deploying a constellation of non-geostationary satellites to support its bid in the second-highest speed category – 100 Mbps downstream.

Senator Klobuchar talks to Northern MN – broadband comes up

The International Falls Journal reports

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar reached out last week to northern Minnesota leaders to talk about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of local students, and on growing hunger.

In a phone call Thursday with International Falls School Superintendent Kevin Grover and three other northern Minnesota school superintendents, she said the information she learned would help her craft legislation aimed at assisting with the new needs communities are facing because of the pandemic.

Broadband came up…

The group also discussed the need to continue to improve broadband internet access in northern Minnesota, where areas still require “hot spots” for students to access their online learning programs.