OPPORTUNITY: MN PUC is looking for members

The Secretary of State reports…

The Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State today released notice of vacancies for various state boards, councils and committees that are accepting applications. Minnesotans are encouraged to apply and serve in demonstration of public service. The newest vacancies are listed below, and the full list of 792 vacancies / 1312 positions can be found on our website Open Positions.

Applications may be submitted online, and must be submitted within 21 days of the “Publish Date” listed on our Open Positions page, to be assured of full consideration by the appointing authority. Appointing authorities may choose to review applications received by the Secretary of State after the 21 day application period.

One open position is at the Public Utilities Commission

Web Site

Supporting Entity/Enabling Legislation Supported by Public Utilities Commission

ENABLING LEGISLATION
MS 216, 216A, 216B, 216E, 216F, 216G, 216H, & 237
Enabled: 08-01-1980

Note: It also looks like there’s a opening in the Broadband Task Force but that has actually been filled.

Minnesota approved for $44 million in Capital Projects Fund

Broadband Breakfast reports…

The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday announced the approval of broadband projects in an additional six states under the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Utah.

Together, these states will use their funding to connect more than 180,000 homes and businesses to affordable, high-speed internet.

The Capital Projects Fund provides $10 billion to states, territories, freely associated states, and Tribal governments to fund critical capital projects that enable work, education, and health monitoring in response to the public health emergency. In addition to the $10 billion provided by the CPF, many governments are using a portion of their State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds toward connecting to affordable, reliable high-speed internet.

This is what is happening in Minnesota…

  • Minnesota is approved for $44 million for broadband infrastructure. Minnesota’s award will fund two additional broadband infrastructure programs: Minnesota’s Line Extension Program, a competitive grant program designed to address the needs of individuals who are located near infrastructure for high-quality broadband service but where the cost of the last mile connection is a barrier; and the Low-Density Pilot Program, a competitive grant program that provides financial resources for new and existing providers to invest in building broadband infrastructure in low-density areas of the state that currently lack high-speed internet. Funding from CPF will help Minnesota continue its efforts to provide reliable internet access to predominately rural locations previously facing cost barriers. Both programs are designed to provide internet service with speeds of 100 * 100 Mbps symmetrical to households and businesses upon project completion. Minnesota submitted plans for the remainder of their CPF funds and these applications are currently under review by Treasury.

What is the American Connection Corps? And what do they do?

The Farmer posted a nice article on the American Connection Corps (ACC). I have had an opportunity to work with ACC; they are impressive and energetic and doing great work in the community. The Farmer reports

ACC specifically focuses on supporting its fellowship program that places young adults in rural areas to work alongside local community leaders on broadband development, digital access and digital literacy.

ACC falls under the umbrella of Lead for America, co-founded in 2018 by four young college-educated adults interested in returning to and revitalizing their home communities. One of the cofounders, Benya Kraus Beacom, returned to her family’s sixth generation farm near Waseca, Minn., in 2019. Once considering a career in international relations, Beacom redirected her interests after her college junior year, when she spent the summer at home. …

Beacom reached out to Tina May, Land O’Lakes Inc. vice president of rural services, who shared similar interests in small community development. The co-op also had been working to improve digital connectivity in rural communities. They decided to pilot a cohort, and in August 2021, along with the Mayo Clinic, Midwest Dairy and Scoular, placed six ACC fellows in Redwood and Ottertail counties, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe community, the East Iron Range and the cities of Warroad and Fairmont.

Today, ACC has 250 fellows across 40 states.

What do they do?

When fellows start working in a community, their focus is threefold — on broadband development, digital access and digital literacy. They work at coordinating all providers in the area, obtain accurate digital maps, work with engineering firms to determine fiber needed, and engage with the community, Beacom explains.

What do they do in Redwood County? Led by Patrick Garry…

The county’s largest project currently underway, referred to as the “Cadillac Project,” looks to serve 30% of the county with fiber. The $4.4 million project pools the county’s American Rescue Plan funds, internet provider contributions and the state’s Border-to-Border Grant. Population-wise, it serves 1,870 structures making up eight cities.

What do they do in Ottertail Count? Led by Carter Grupp…

ACC fellow Carter Grupp, based in Fergus Falls, Otter Tail County, has an impressive resume of accomplishments in his first year, too. He has helped establish 10 Zoom conferencing rooms and built an app to use them. He developed STEM curriculum and kits for three county libraries. He promoted a speed testing campaign to get real data on how his community was being served by internet service providers.

And more…

Closest to his heart these days is promoting computer science as a potential career to high school students — his second pilot project. Grupp teamed with Luke Heine, who works for Microsoft and last year, held the first remote statewide youth computer science training program — the Northland Hackathon. The educational event teaches youth how to code, design their own apps and websites, and showcases career opportunities with companies such as Meta, TikTok or Microsoft. Last year, more than 30 high schools participated virtually. The event in 2023 is set for April 23.

Kandiyohi is frustrated with broadband flurries but moving forward where they can

West Central Tribune reports…

Frustrations about broadband boiled over recently during a meeting of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission ‘s joint powers board.

Opportunity seems to be drawing more attention than action…

The EDC is currently working with cooperatives from neighboring counties to build out the broadband network in order to get fiber to homes everywhere. Two major projects the broadband committee was able to secure will have ribbon-cutting ceremonies in December, according to EDC Executive Director Aaron Backman.

The main frustration among members of the EDC joint powers board is that private entities — which have promised in the past to increase broadband access to rural areas and then not followed through — are suddenly commencing projects during a time when government funding is available due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This has created problems with the planning of grant-funded, cooperative projects on which the EDC staff and broadband committee are actively working, and has wasted the time and energy of EDC staff and the broadband committee.

A little background on Kandiyohi might help explain why they are concerned. Back in 2017, they (with CTC) were awarded a Border to Border grant to deploy fiber but in the end, the project never happened. The quick version was that CTC needed community support in the form of subscriptions with a down payment. They didn’t get the support they needed, although it was very close. One factor is that an incumbent provider (TDS) campaigned heavily against the project. They have been frustrated by provider intervention in the past.

Some of the projects are going…

Updating his fellow joint powers board members about the progress of border-to-border broadband in the county, Kandiyohi County Commissioner Rollie Nissen noted there is a lot of activity happening for broadband, especially around Nest Lake in New London.

He also noted that additional broadband projects for Arctander, Mamre and Dovre townships have been submitted to Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, which funds the expansion of broadband service to areas of Minnesota that are unserved or underserved.

Some are not…

Another project the broadband committee had been working on that was all ready to go was in Lake Andrew and Norway Lake townships. That work turned out to have been wasted effort with the announcement of a project by TDS.

“TDS came along with a plan and kind of blew that apart, I’ll put it that way,” Nissen said, noting TDS had put out a news release regarding that project.

A Duluth stargazer view of Satellites: will too many spoil the view?

I loved astronomy as a kid. One of my favorite things about heading outside of the Cities is the clear, starry sky at night. So I have to admit, I do wonder what will happen to the night sky as humans keep launching satellites. So I was fascinated to read about what Bob King, a photographer from Duluth, was noticing.

The Duluth News Tribune reports

Back in September I described a new 4G broadband satellite cellular service planned by AST SpaceMobile. At the time, their prototype unit, BlueWalker3 , orbited the Earth but had yet to unfold, the reason it was too faint for most casual skywatchers to track. That’s changed. On November 10, the company “unboxed” the satellite — basically a squash-court-sized antenna array — which greatly increased its surface area and therefore its capacity to reflect sunlight.

The very next night, the first reports trickled in, describing BlueWalker 3 as brighter than most stars. I’ve spent the past few evenings observing passes of the satellite from my driveway here in Duluth, Minnesota, and can confirm those observations. I’ve seen it now on three occasions. During each appearance it showed up on time and grew as bright as magnitude 1.3, equal to Deneb in the Northern Cross and very easy to see with the naked eye even through light cloud and moderate light pollution.

The satellite circles the planet in low-Earth orbit between 312 and 327 miles (508-527km) altitude or about 60-75 miles higher than the International Space Station. Why should you care? BlueWalker 3 is the predecessor of a new “constellation” of some 110 larger satellites (called BlueBirds) that will launch aboard SpaceX rockets in the next few years. The first five are slated for liftoff in late 2023 .

Being larger they’ll likely also be brighter. As skywatchers I think it’s important to know about any new project that adds more machines to the night sky so we can see what’s happening with informed eyes. Like most people I enjoy satellite-watching but fear we’ve reached a saturation point. There are now so many “moving lights” up there they distract from our appreciation of the wild essence of the night.

The author admits that we all want better broadband or a cellphone with coverage everywhere but he recommends contacting the FCC and requiring companies to find ways to lessen the impact of their bright and growing satellites.

Barbara Dröher Kline is newest addition to MN Governor’s Task Force On Broadband

Big news for broadband advocates, there’s a new member of the MN Broadband Task Force…

Barbara Dröher Kline – New Prague, MN

Governor’s Task Force On Broadband

Member

Effective: November 28, 2022

Term Expires: April 2, 2023

Replacing: Bernadine Joselyn

Barbara is an excellent addition to the Task Force. She has lived on the wrong end of the digital divide quite recently and still has the fire to want to make it better for everyone in her community. She has the drive, the experience and the expertise to make a difference.

Senator Putnam chosen for MN Agriculture, Rural Development and Broadband

Senator Aric Putnam was chosen for the MN Agriculture, Rural Development and Broadband. The Duluth New Tribune reports

State Sen. Aric Putnam admits he doesn’t know a lot about farming, but as a scholar, he’s ready to take a crash course to prepare to lead the Minnesota Senate Agriculture Committee.

Putnam, a Democrat from St. Cloud, was named to his leadership post just before the Minnesota Farmers Union state convention and went to the event Nov. 19 to be introduced.

“The first thing I said was, ‘I don’t seem like a clear fit for this,’” Putnam said. “I still think that the committee is a space to do great things for the whole state. So the full title is Agriculture, Rural Development and Broadband, so there’s a lot of stuff in that jurisdiction that I think I can help with.”

Putnam was elected to his second term in the Minnesota Senate in the November general election, which saw the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party flip enough Senate seats from red to blue that the party now controls both houses of the Legislature and saw Gov. Tim Walz win a second term.

Why do farms need broadband? MN farmers will let you know

KSTP TV reports on the need for broadband in rural areas…

Growing up, Joe Sullivan envisioned a life behind the wheel of a tractor.

But the farmer from Franklin, Minnesota spends most days at a computer with his smartphone nearby.

An app tells Sullivan the location and status of every piece of equipment on the farm. Software maps every acre of land, revealing detailed information about crop yields and soil health. Each building, including the large pole barns that store tractors, is hooked up to Wi-Fi.

“We’ve been pretty early adopters of technology,” Sullivan said. “It’s a complete game changer once you are connected and can actually utilize all the tools that are out there.”

Many other farmers in rural Minnesota want to incorporate the latest technology into their operations, like Sullivan, but unreliable internet and non-existent broadband infrastructure make that impossible.

“It is a huge, huge disadvantage if you’re the ‘have nots,’” Sullivan said.

$4.8 M Aitkin County Broadband scheduled completion in fall 2023

Mille Lacs Messenger reports

The final engineering plans have been created and the project is moving forward and on schedule according to Aitkin County Economic Development. This $4.8 million project is scheduled to be completed by fall of 2023. The McGrath project is the purple shaded area above.

Broadband is a priority for Minnesota Farm Bureau

Brownfield Ag News reports…

Minnesota Farm Bureau has set legislative priorities for 2023.

Vice president Carolyn Olson, who farms near Cottonwood, tells Brownfield rural broadband connectivity, supporting research and development at land grant universities, and funding the veterinary diagnostic lab emerged during grassroots discussion.

“To continue research for prevention of animal diseases. As a pig farmer, that is something that is pretty important to me and our neighbors that also raise livestock.”

On broadband, she says Farm Bureau can encourage lawmakers to speed up implementation by sharing their stories.

“It’s important to share how much our tractors rely on cell signal, for example. And if they don’t know, they don’t know how to fight for us either.”

OPPORTUNITY: Office of Broadband Development looks for Grants Specialist Coordinator

OK this is really notice of an extended deadline – but maybe you have someone coming home for the holidays that needs to know about it. The deadline was Nov 28; it’s now Dec 2. (The website may not be updated to reflect that yet.)

The Office of Broadband Development is looking for a Grants Specialist Coordinator

Working TitleBroadband Program Administrator
 Job Class: Grants Specialist Coordinator
Agency: Department of Employment & Economic Development 

  • Who May Apply: This vacancy is open for bids and for all qualified job seekers simultaneously. Bidders will be considered through 11/12/2022.
  • Date Posted: 11/04/2022
  • Closing Date: 12/02/2022
  • Hiring Agency/Seniority Unit: Department of Employment & Economic Development
  • Division/Unit: Business & Community Development / Broadband Development
  • Work Shift/Work Hours: Day Shift
  • Days of Work: Monday – Friday
  • Travel Required: Yes – 10% local and occasional overnight travel
  • Salary Range: $27.93 – $41.24 / hourly; $58,317 – $86,109 annually
  • Classified Status: Classified
  • Bargaining Unit/Union: 214 – MN Assoc of Professional Empl/MAPE
  • FLSA Status: Exempt – Administrative
  • Telework Eligible: Yes – May be eligible to telework up to five (5) days per week
  • Designated in Connect 700 Program for Applicants with Disabilities: Yes

MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF MINNESOTANS

The work you’ll do is more than just a job. Join the talented, engaged and inclusive workforce dedicated to creating a better Minnesota.

Will BEAD fund unlicensed spectrum? Good question and it will matter in Minnesota!

So many posts about the FCC maps and funding and details because the details will impact how much money communities will receive for broadband in the next few years. The issue this post – unlicensed spectrum versus licensed spectrum. Telecompetitor reports

The BEAD program is designed to cover some of the costs of deploying broadband to unserved rural areas. In establishing rules for the program, NTIA omitted fixed wireless service that relies totally on unlicensed spectrum for last mile connectivity from its definition of reliable service – a decision that impacts the BEAD program in two ways.

It makes FWA deployments using unlicensed spectrum ineligible for funding. And it makes areas that have high-speed broadband eligible for overbuilds if the only high-speed broadband available is FWA that relies on unlicensed spectrum.

But some folks want that changed…

Seven U.S. senators sent a letter to Alan Davidson, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, today urging NTIA to revise its definition of reliable broadband for the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.

So what’s the difference between licensed and unlicensed spectrums?

Here’s a definition from IotaComm. I was hoping for a less commercial perspective but also high level enough to take in easily.

Most of the radio spectrum is licensed by the FCC to certain users, for example, television and radio broadcasters. Individual companies pay a licensing fee for the exclusive right to transmit on an assigned frequency within a certain geographical area. In exchange, those users can be assured that nothing will interfere with their transmission.

Alternatively, organizations can still use the airwaves to transmit communications without getting permission from the FCC, but they must transmit within those parts of the spectrum that are designated for unlicensed users. The amount of spectrum that is available for public and unlicensed use is very small—only a few bands. Both the size of the area and the lack of exclusivity mean there’s greater potential for interference from other users located nearby. (It’s like the “wild west” of radio communication.)

The Telecompetitor article touches on it a little…

NTIA hasn’t said much about why it defined reliable broadband as it did. But David Zumwalt, CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) told Telecompetitor a few months ago that NTIA’s primary concern was the future availability of unlicensed spectrum.

WISPA is particularly concerned about whether areas that already have unlicensed high-speed FWA will be eligible for overbuilding through the BEAD program, as many WISPA members already have made high-speed FWA deployments that rely on unlicensed spectrum.

Folks in Minnesota may have a special interest in this issue. According to the FCC map, LTD Broadband is serving a large portion Southern Minnesota with unlicensed spectrum, as the map below indicates.

Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities talks up Broadband success

The Worthington Globe reports

While bonding-related projects regarding water infrastructure and housing, and grant programs for business and childcare facilities, remain an ongoing priority for CGMC, Seifert said there was success last session with their broadband goals. A total of $210 million was received for broadband funding, more than double the amount the CGMC lobbied for, as a result of federal COVID bills relegating extra funds.

“This was one area where Minnesota came out with $160 million from the feds,” Seifert said. “We had to match it up with $50 million from our budget surplus.”

While Seifert warned that deployment has been slow, it is underway and one of the “good news items” from the last session.

In addition to seeing work start again on matters left over from last year’s legislative session, Mayor Mike Kuhle asked about the state’s budget surplus, which Seifert projected to be north of $7 billion.

Broadband price disparities in Minneapolis are some of the worst

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

A house in the Audubon Park neighborhood of northeast Minneapolis, once redlined by federal agencies, pays $50 a month to CenturyLink for internet service with speeds up to 80Mbps.

Not far away, in a neighborhood that wasn’t redlined, that same $50 to CenturyLink buys high-speed fiber internet with speeds up to 200Mpbs.

Similar differences have been found in other Minneapolis neighborhoods as well as cities throughout the country, according to data released and analyzed by the tech news nonprofit the Markup. But Minneapolis has “one of the most striking disparities” among 38 U.S. cities examined, the nonprofit found.

“Formerly redlined addresses were offered the worst deals almost eight times as often as formerly better-rated areas” in Minneapolis, the report said. The group’s analysis focused on CenturyLink in Minneapolis, the provider offering the most fiber service in the city, but did not compare service offers among other providers in town.

In cities across the country, people living in homes in redlined areas got worse dollars-per-megabit internet deals, according to the nonprofit, which analyzed more than 800,000 internet service offers from AT&T, Verizon, EarthLink, and CenturyLink. It found that “all four routinely offered fast base speeds at or above 200Mbps in some neighborhoods for the same price as connections below 25Mbps in others.” The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines broadband as 25Mpbs or more.

Redlining was a government-backed effort that segregated Black families into particular neighborhoods deemed “undesirable” by the now-defunct Home Owners’ Loan Corp. Though the practice was outlawed in 1968, the impacts remain, affecting homeownership, education and other quality-of-life issues.

This was a hot topic on the Black Broadband Summit last week. Attendees talk about their own experience with high bills and slow speeds and the exacerbated need for broadband during the pandemic and civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd. One solution notes was to treat utility as a utility…

“We allow monopolies for internet service because internet isn’t considered a utility like it should be,” Augustine said. “It should be like water. If you want to be a modern citizen of the world, you need high-speed internet. Otherwise, you’re automatically a second-class citizen.”

According to new FCC map Minnesota has ubiquitous broadband at 25/3 – hmm

I have good news and bad news. According to new FCC map, Minnesota has ubiquitous broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. It’s good news if it’s true. It’s bad news if it’s not true and we lose out on federal broadband funding because the maps were wrong. According to maps from the Office of Broadband Development, the FCC maps are wrong. The areas shown in pink in the map below (on the right) do not have broadband at 25/3.

If you live in one of these areas, check out the map and report a location challenge if you think they FCC map is wrong. Once you look up your address, you’ll see the where to make a location challenge on the website.

If you are a community leader or a (potential?) provider in the area, you might think about how to get your neighbors to report overrepresentation or think about attending the tutorial from the FCC on how to file bulk challenges to the FCC’s broadband map on November 30.