EVENT April 28: Women Leading Broadband and Connectivity in Rural

An invitation from 100 Rural Women

Join us for our next webinar:  Wed, April 28th at 8:30 am CST “Women Leading Broadband and Connectivity in Rural”  Featuring Bernadine Joselyn, Director of Policy and Engagement at the Blandin Foundation and Tina May, Chief of Staff and Vice President at Land O’Lakes.

EVENTS: April Lunch Bunch: Federal funding (Apr 14) & Digital Ready Communities (Apr 28)

Each month the Blandin Foundation hosts two conversation or lunch bunch sessions; on the second Wednesday of the month the focus is Infrastructure and on the fourth the focus is Digital Inclusion and Use. Here are the topics for April:

Join us on April 14th for our lunch bunch discussion on emerging federal programs to fund broadband expansion in your community.  Believe us, it is getting complicated!  Each of the programs seem to have its own unique philosophy around ownership, partnership, technology and timing.  Plus, there is wide latitude to spend direct federal aid to communities and counties on broadband.  Are you ready for those discussions?  There are plenty of webinars to be had with folks reading bullet points about the various programs; our lunch bunch won’t be that!  It will be a vibrant discussion powered by your thoughts on how Minnesota communities are planning to maximize the pursuit and use of funds.  Join us ready to contribute!
Register here 

Join us April 28 for our lunch bunch on Digital Ready Communities. As part of the Fall Broadband Conference, three MN communities participated in Purdue University Center for Regional Development’s Digital Ready Community program that helps communities assess the local digital environment and create a community-wide plan for better local digital communication. (Learn more.) We will be hearing from participants and the folks from Purdue. Please come with questions and prepare to learn from their learning. Register here.

EVENT April 15: MN Rural Broadband Coalition Meeting

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

Save the Date!
Minnesota Broadband Coalition Meeting

Thursday, April 15, 2021
19:00 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.

Aitkin County interested in extending waivers that support telehealth

Aitkin Age reports

Last March, Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime state of emergency, issuing waivers to health care providers that temporarily granted them increased flexibility in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Across Minnesota, standard regulations for treatment location, telehealth services, and administrative activities were relaxed.

The state of emergency is set to expire on April 14. It is not known whether Walz will extend it beyond that date.

Cynthia Bennett, the director of Aitkin County Health and Human Services, said that a number of the waivers, such as more flexibility in terms of remote work, should stay in place.

“We had to make all these adjustments because we were not supposed to be face-to-face and we needed to comply with the governor’s executive orders for social distancing,” she said. “And it worked out well, so we would like to continue that, because we found cost savings for taxpayers.”

The waiver are what made telehealth possible and affordable during the pandemic. The increase in use is one of the silver linings of the pandemic allowing more patients to be seen and reducing drive times for patients and often for family or friends who would drive them to appointments out of town.

Infrastructure bill will boost broadband in MN

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

… President Joe Biden rolled out his sweeping $2.3 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan. The money will not only repair aging roads, bridges and school buildings, but also invest in broadband, clean water and the electric grid. There’s $20 billion in the plan to address racial disparities exacerbated when communities like Rondo were torn apart by past infrastructure projects.

The article outlines a number of varied projects that could benefit from the funding, including broadband…

Sen. Amy Klobuchar emphasized the $100 billion in the bill dedicated to broadband infrastructure, as well as job training opportunities as the economy recovers from the pandemic.

“We’re not going to have a shortage of sports marketing degrees; we’re going to have a shortage of electricians and plumbers and construction workers,” Klobuchar said. “So contained in this bill is training and retraining workers for the jobs that will be created, and I think that should not be lost.”

Blandin Foundation selects Mille Lacs Tribal Economy for broadband program

Brainerd Dispatch reports

The Blandin Foundation recently announced the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy was selected to participate in the Community Broadband Resources: Accelerate Program.

The program will provide a 15-week course of study and education about broadband for a community team. The program consists of three parts — leadership education, information gathering and analysis and next steps. The project will also include community surveys and interviews with internet service providers. It is anticipated a final report from the team will be available by July 2021.

The Mille Lacs Tribal Economy encompasses the three districts of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe territory. The populations served by this program will include areas within the counties of Mille Lacs, Pine, and Aitkin; as well as the cities of Onamia, Wahkon, Isle, McGregor, Hinckley, and Sandstone. According to Minnesota Compass, there are 20,171 people who live in the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy who will be supported by this initiative and subsequent development of robust broadband infrastructure.

Blandin Foundation reported the ultimate vision is for all residents of the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy to be able to use “convenient, affordable world-class broadband networks that enable them to thrive in our communities and across the globe.”

Rep Ecklund’s virtual townhall is heavy on broadband

Ely Timber Jay reports

One recurring theme was the status of broadband Internet service and expansion, an issue Ecklund has thoroughly embraced.
“That’s been one of the key things I’ve been working on since I’ve been in the Legislature,” Ecklund said. “Right now, I’ve got a bill for $120 million sitting in Ways and Means (committee) to fund the rural Border-to-Border grant program.”
The bill would allocate $60 million in each of the next two years to fund broadband expansion across the state.
Ecklund addressed the conflict created between state and federal funding options that has diced up townships and other areas of the district into smaller segments that can only be funded by one source or the other, but not both. Nevada-based LTD Broadband, a company with limited broadband experience, won a $312 million federal award under the Trump administration to develop systems for tracts throughout Minnesota. That decision has already had repercussions for Cook, where Paul Bunyan Communication’s original plan for the city had to be scaled back because its state-supported initiative overlapped places awarded to LTD Broadband by the federal government.
“One supplier got the majority of the contract,” Ecklund said, referring to LTD Broadband, “and it’s being looked at. The sad thing about it is that it’s a lot of money, but it’s spread out over a decade. To have big chunks of the state cut out of any other development just because it’s in that funding is terribly unfortunate. We’ve asked for some federal help on this to see if this is what they intended. We have not gotten an answer back.”
Ecklund acknowledged that some areas of the district have good broadband service, while there are other places “where it’s virtually impossible to get a signal.”
“District 3A has got the best of both worlds and the worst of both worlds when it comes to broadband,” Ecklund said.
The financing conundrum stands to hit rural townships particularly hard, given that lower numbers of potential users and installation issues make fiber optic broadband systems more costly. Ecklund said he is encouraging counties to use some of the federal relief money coming in to help.
“If they can afford to, (they can) set up a broadband account so that when Township XYZ puts in a proposal with one of the carriers and they have to come up with some money, maybe the county could also help,” Ecklund said. “When there’s more local skin in the game it looks better on the application.”
Ecklund also said that “broadband deserts” aren’t unique to rural areas, as there are numerous service gaps in the Twin Cities and elsewhere.
“It is a problem throughout the state and this pandemic has just exacerbated that,” he said.

FCC announces Initial List of Emergency Broadband Benefit Providers (incl MN List)

The FCC has announced the list of providers participating in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program…

The broadband providers listed below have elected to participate in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB Program). The list will be updated as more providers join the program.  Learn more about the Emergency Broadband Benefit, including eligibility details, by visiting: fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit

Definitions: Fixed broadband services are provided to your home, or a single location. These include cable, fiber optic, DSL, and fixed wireless services.

Mobile broadband services are device-based and available throughout the service provider’s cellular coverage area, similar to cell phone services. To view participating providers in your state or territory, click on the name of your state or territory below.

I am going to list the providers in Minnesota – but this list might change (after April 1, 2021) so you’ll want to double check with the FCC list.Continue reading

EVENT April 5: Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Meeting

I will attend and plan to livestream on Facebook. Here are the details from the Office of Broadband Development

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband April 5, 2021

10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Microsoft Teams meeting

Join on your computer or mobile app

Click here to join the meeting

Or call in (audio only)

+1 763-317-4323,,746852807#   United States, Plymouth

Phone Conference ID: 746 852 807#

Find a local number | Reset PIN

10:00 a.m. – 10:10 a.m. Welcome, Task Force Introductions, Attendee Introductions and Approval of Minutes from March 16, 2021 Meeting

10:10 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Update on 2021 Legislation (Deven Bowdry, DEED)

10:15 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Update and conversation with U.S. Rep. Angie Craig

10:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.  LTD Broadband – RDOF Introduction with Corey Hauer (Invited) and Haley Tollefson (Confirmed)

11:00 a.m. – 11:10 a.m.  Break

11:10 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. 2020 Network Performance -The Shift to Home and the Impact to Networks with William Check, SVP, Science & Technology and CTO, NCTA and Matt Tooley, VP of Broadband Technology at NCTA

11:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.                Subgroup Reports

12:15 p.m. – 12:30 p.m.                Public Comment, Other Business, May Meeting Plans, Wrap-up such as May meeting-specific questions/topics for State Demographer? Also presentation by Fixed Wireless Panel planned.

Is MN a broadband winner or loser? A look at Federal Funding RDOF and CAF

Telecompetitor reports on the RDOF ranking by state. Turns out Minnesota ranks highly for funding per rural resident…

The states with the most funding per rural resident, in descending order, were California ($830), West Virginia ($530), Arkansas ($377), Minnesota ($328), Massachusetts ($327), Mississippi ($313), Pennsylvania ($254), Wisconsin ($248), Illinois ($205) and Michigan ($201).

You’d think that would make Minnesotans feel like winners but it doesn’t because there is great concern over what that money is going to buy and when. The biggest concern is about LTD, undeniably a big winner with an opportunity to bid for almost $312 million project to build FTTH (fiber to the home) to 102,005 homes. This is especially surprising because they are a small company that always has focused on fixed wireless not fiber.

I’ve written a lot about this – so a quick rundown:

This story may sound familiar. It reads an awful lot like what I posted about CAF II awards in 2015

If I’ve learned nothing else from the TV show Toddlers in Tiaras, I learned that sometimes you don’t want to win the first crown. Winning the first crown is better than winning nothing, but it usually puts you out of the running for Best in Show. Getting access at speeds of 10/1 is better than what the communities receiving CAF 2 funding have now. And any improvement is an improvement. BUT those speeds are slower than the Minnesota speed goals of 10/5 (The MN Broadband Task Force is looking to update those speeds.) and they seem even slower when you compare them to rural areas that have Gig access, such as Grand RapidsRed WingLac qui Parle CountyNew PragueRogersMelrose and others.

Five years later, CAF II winners CenturyLink (Lumen) and Frontier report that they “may not have met” CAF II deployment deadlines for 2020. Here’s what I said when that announcement was made in January…

The frustration is that this leaves many people without broadband – again. The goal is to build to 25/3 (even lower in some areas) and they haven’t done that. To put that in perspective, it does not get them closer to the MN State speed goal of 100/20 by 2026. In Minnesota we are used to the State MN border to border broadband grant rules where project must build networks that are scalable to 100/100. That is not the case with these networks and getting to 25/3 does not mean getting to 100/20 will be easier.

Also there is the concern for customers that the promise or threat of building has kept competitors out of their market. The promise of a CAF II network has made it more difficult for the communities to get funding from other sources. CAF II funding focused on the providers only – communities didn’t not sign up or on to the program.

Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Frustration is watching from the sideline as decision makers make the same decision again and again, especially when you are the community that suffers the consequence.

Sen Klobuchar hears that some students may want to continue online post-pandemic

West Central Tribune reports…

The mental health of students and teachers, free and reduced lunches, and the possibility of distance learning into the next school year were at the top of local school leaders’ concerns in a conversation with Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Wednesday, March 31.

Klobuchar met in a conference call with the superintendents of four northwest Minnesota school districts — East Grand Forks Public Schools, Stephen/Argyle Central School District, Park Rapids Area Schools and Greenbush Middle River School District — to discuss how the districts have fared during the pandemic, as well as their concerns going forward. The intent was to help guide Klobuchar’s legislative priorities in Washington.

They discussed topics I expected…

The superintendents also brought up the issues of rural internet access, which is still limited in many areas of northwest Minnesota, and of mental health, which impacted every level of the school communities during the pandemic.

And one that I did not…

The discussion was expected to cover distance learning, high-speed internet, nutrition and mental health, according to a media advisory. But other topics arose and seemed to take the senator by surprise, particularly a concern raised by East Grand Forks Superintendent Mike Kolness, who worries some students who have found they thrive in a virtual setting may depart from the district next year in favor of a virtual academy.

“I get asked this question probably daily about are we going to have to continue with distance learning next year,” Kolness said. “And that’s a big question for families and educators and, whether it be mandated by state or federal government or just by the loss of students, if we don’t provide that service and we have 100 students still want to participate in distance learning, we’re going to lose those students to a virtual academy somewhere. That’s concerning.”

There are approximately 2,000 students in the East Grand Forks district, Kolness said, and the district transitioned back to full-time in-person learning for all students after middle and high school students spent the first semester in a hybrid learning model. However, he estimates there are still about 150 students who have opted to remain in a full-time distance learning program.

A decline in the student population could bring financial impacts to the school district, as some state and federal funding is based on student enrollment. This semester, East Grand Forks schools already reported their lowest enrollment numbers in several years.

I am envious of a family that likes distance education but I understand the conundrum. It is a reminder that “going back to normal” post-pandemic is going to look at lot different and opportunities are going to look more similar in urban and rural locations – as long as there’s adequate, affordable broadband.

Broadband providers need sustained funding

Mankato Free Press reports

Industry leaders say Minnesota’s broadband access is growing on its own — a combination of federal, state and community funds has spurred projects throughout the state over the past 10 years — but federal action could mean better access far quicker than what internet service providers could normally accomplish.

“If nothing else, the pandemic showed us how much we need rural broadband,” said Brent Christensen, president and CEO of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance.

Folks are working on fiber…

Christensen and other advocates say providers are working to address those disparities during the next few years by planning more wired fiber-optic networks. While those projects are more expensive than installing wireless broadband options, industry experts say wired connections are more reliable and better prepared for future technology.

In Madelia, where Christensen runs the local communications company, the community is set to build a fiber optic network to every home.

Bill Eckles, the CEO of Blue Earth-based BEVCOMM, said the south-central Minnesota internet provider has about half of its customers served through a fiber optic network. The company plans to have all of its customers served through wired broadband connections in seven years, and all of the farms BEVCOMM serves in the next three years.

Those projects need sustained funding, Christensen said. Broadband providers in Minnesota have a short construction season each year and many building supplies for broadband networks are in high demand, making them difficult to find.

“Whatever we do needs to be spread out over a longer term, over a couple years, so we have a chance to plan and order and get stuff in,” he said.

Broadband Legislative Update from MN Broadband Coalition

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

Broadband Legislative Update
Saint Paul, Minn.—A lot has happened since we last provided you with a comprehensive update on broadband legislation, so let’s get right to it.
Legislative Break and What’s Ahead
The Legislature is currently on a one-week break for the Easter/Passover holiday. They will return April 5. This break happens every session and is when lawmakers to head home to their districts, hear from constituents, and, most importantly, get a break from each other and the partisan nature of life at the Capitol.
1st and 2nd committee deadlines are now in the rearview mirror. Every bill that’s introduced must receive hearings before these deadlines in the appropriate committees if it is (potentially) included in the committee’s omnibus funding or policy bill. 3rd deadline is coming up on April 9th, which is the first Friday after legislators return to the Capitol. Each committee must pass their budget by 3rd deadline and send it along to the general finance committee so it can be put together with other committee budget bills and become the state’s biennial budget omnibus bill. The House and Senate will have quite different budget bills because each chamber has its own priorities. However, broadband funding will almost certainly be in both budget bills.
Where Does Broadband Stand?
The House and Senate have heard several bills this year including funding and policy legislation. Here’s a quick look at the budget proposals from each party:

  • Senate GOP: $40 million, first year only
  • House DFL: $30 million biennial
  • Governor Walz $50 million, first year only

These are significantly lower than the recommended $120 million biennial recommendation of the Governor’s Broadband Task Force as well as the main funding bills in the House and Senate. Part of this is due to the uncertainty over the RDOF program and how much funding will come to Minnesota from the FCC. We hope and intend to ask legislators to raise those figures during negotiations.
Once the budget omnibus bills are assembled by the House and Senate, leaders from each chamber and party will negotiate with Governor Walz. They must come to an agreement and pass a budget by the end of session on May 17th or special sessions will be necessary to complete the work.
The Senate and House are both moving forward with the broadband easements bill HF 686/SF 1304 which would allow electric cooperatives to build broadband infrastructure on existing electricity easements. The bill will likely be part of a Commerce omnibus bill in the House. Its outcome in the Senate is still uncertain. It is currently in the Civil Law and Data Practices Committee awaiting a hearing.
The Senate has also considered a few other broadband provisions including the addition of “fixed wireless” to the statutory definition of broadband and restricting the state from investing in areas scheduled to be built out with federal funds. The Coalition has expressed its concerns with both bills during their hearings. These provisions have not received hearings in the House.
Broadband Virtual Day on the Hill
March 24 was our annual Day on the Hill event and this year it was held virtually. We had over 80 people attend the event that was held from 9:00am-12:00pm. Although we wished we could have seen each other in-person, the virtual event allowed us to hear from more broadband leaders than ever before. We heard from U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, DEED Commissioner Steve Grove, State Rep. Rob Ecklund, State Sen. Tom Bakk, Director of the Office of Broadband Development Angie Dickison, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s Deputy Legislative Director April Jones, and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. We want to thank our speakers as well as all of you that attended, asked questions, and made appointments to speak with your legislators.
What’s Next?
Once legislators return from their weeklong break on April 5, we will be entering the most dynamic part of the legislative session. Things can change by the day and even the hour as we approach the end of session. We will keep you up to date with information when we know it.

I posted video of the Day on the Hill last week.

EVENT April 7: World Health Day Symposium 2021

Global Minnesota is hosting a meeting next week and broadband will be a featured topic – because broadband is key is health equity, especially during a pandemic..

Global Minnesota hosts an important virtual symposium to mark World Health Day on April 7. The official theme for the day is Health Equity.

This enormous topic extends all the way from local grassroots issues to global policy initiatives. With its reputation for health care, organizations and companies based in Minnesota are in a unique position to share expertise in improving global health. As the facilitator of this symposium, Global Minnesota serves as a conduit of information that can take local innovations and extend their reach across the world.

What projects around the globe can shape solutions that support developing health equity? How can the United States and Minnesota learn from global innovators?

Register now to hear the perspectives of local, national, and international organizations and corporations that provide leadership in health care, research, and policy.

The list of speakers include some folks well steeped in the world of broadband, such as…

  • Ali Dalio – Managing Partner, United Ventures; Managing Director, United Capital Group
  • Juan José Gómez Camacho – Ambassador of Mexico to Canada
  • Jean-Paul Smets, PhD – Founder, Nexedi; Founder RapidSpace; CTO, Blutel Wireless

US Rep Fischbach puts broadband on top of list for Ag Committee priorities

Alexandria Echo Press reports…

In 2020, Republican Rep. Michelle Fischbach beat Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson, then the committee chairman. She served many years in the Minnesota Senate before that.

She emailed a list of her priorities on the ag committee, starting off with broadband…

Ensure adequate access to broadband internet. “More than one in five farms in Minnesota’s Seventh Congressional District currently lack access to high-speed internet,” the email said. It added that broadband access is important for agriculture as well as for remote schooling and telehealth.