New FirstNet Cell Site in Northern Minnesota to be Among the First Primarily Powered by Solar in Midwest Region (St Louis County)

Big news from AT&T…

First responders in Northern Minnesota will soon be getting a major boost in their wireless communications with construction underway of a new, purpose-built FirstNet cell site – one of the first primarily powered by solar in the Midwest.

The site – located on the Echo Trail north of Ely near Orr, Minnesota – is part of the FirstNet network expansion taking place across the state, bringing increased coverage, capacity and capabilities for public safety. The remote site was identified by state and public safety stakeholders as a priority location for increased network coverage and capacity to better support emergency communications.

“Minnesota’s first responders deserve reliable coverage across the state to help them effectively and efficiently address incidents. And with FirstNet, that’s exactly what they’re getting,” said Paul, Weirtz, president, AT&T Minnesota. “We couldn’t be more pleased to support the public safety mission and bring the state’s first responders – and residents – greater access to the connectivity they need. Working with public safety, we’ve made FirstNet nimble, adaptable and ready to scale for even the most severe situations as we’re seeing currently with COVID-19.”

FirstNet is the only nationwide, high-speed broadband communications platform dedicated to and purpose-built for America’s first responders and the extended public safety community. It’s built with AT&T* in a public-private partnership with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) – an independent agency within the federal government.

That’s why AT&T has a responsibility unlike any other network provider. And unlike commercial networks, FirstNet provides real, dedicated mobile broadband when needed with always-on priority and preemption for first responders. This helps ensure Minnesota first responders connect to the critical information they need – every day and in every emergency. Plus, it’s giving first responders unthrottled access to the nation’s fastest overall network experience.1

Building upon AT&T’s current and planned investments in Minnesota, we’re actively extending the reach of FirstNet to give agencies large and small the reliable, unthrottled connectivity and modern communications tools they need. Currently well ahead of schedule, the FirstNet build has already brought Minnesota first responders:

  • Purpose-built network enhancements New FirstNet cell sites in Minnesota – located in Zerkel and Graceville – have also launched. These sites were identified by state and public safety stakeholders as priority locations. With FirstNet, it’s about where first responders need connectivity. That’s what is driving our FirstNet build. These sites were constructed using Band 14 spectrum, as well as AT&T commercial spectrum. Band 14 is nationwide, high quality spectrum set aside by the government specifically for FirstNet. Band 14 has also been added on more than 300 existing sites across Minnesota, including markets such as the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester, the Iron Range, St. Cloud and the Baxter/Brainerd area.
  • Reaching Rural Minnesota – FirstNet is built for all public safety. That means every first responder in the country – career or volunteer; federal, tribal, state or local; urban, suburban or rural. That’s why connecting remote parts of America is one of our top priorities. We’re collaborating with rural network providers to help build out additional LTE coverage and extend FirstNet’s reach in rural and tribal communities.
  • Public safety-specific advanced capabilities – FirstNet is the only nationwide platform that gives first responders entire communication ecosystem of unique benefits including mission-centric devices, certified applications and always-on, 24-hours-a-day priority and preemption across voice and data. This is like giving public safety communications the “lights and sirens” treatment so that they stay connected, no matter the emergency.
  • Unparalleled emergency support – Minnesota agencies on FirstNet also have 24/7 access to a nationwide fleet of 76 land-based and airborne deployable network assets. These portable cell sites can either be deployed for planned events or in emergencies at no additional charge. FirstNet Response Operations – led by a group of former first responders – guides the deployment of the FirstNet deployable assets based on the needs of public safety.
  • Free smartphones for life for public safety agencies – We’ve also expanded the benefits of FirstNet for Minnesota agencies – spanning law enforcement, fire, EMS, healthcare, hospital emergency departments, emergency management and 9-1-1 operations. Now, they can stay up-to-date with free smartphones for life at no additional cost on their FirstNet Mobile—Unlimited plans.2 This means first responders across agencies of all sizes will have affordable access to their network for decades to come.

The COVID-19 health crisis illustrates precisely why public safety fought for the creation of FirstNet. Where public safety goes, we go. We’ve answered the call for tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods and other natural disasters. But with COVID-19, it is like experiencing a perpetual emergency in every community across the country. Public safety’s network is being tested in a completely new way, and it’s hitting the mark.

“FirstNet is a dedicated broadband platform for public safety, by public safety,” said FirstNet Authority CEO Edward Parkinson. “We worked hand-in-hand with Minnesota’s public safety community to understand their needs for the network. And these network enhancements are a prime example of how that input and feedback is becoming reality. We look forward to supporting Minnesota first responders’ use of FirstNet to help them save lives and protect communities.”

In addition to further elevating public safety’s connected experience in support of their emergency response, this new infrastructure will also help improve the overall coverage experience for AT&T wireless customers in the area. Residents, visitors and businesses can take advantage of the AT&T spectrum bands, as well as Band 14 when additional capacity is available.

For more about the value FirstNet is bringing to public safety, check out FirstNet.com.

Vast Broadband to be acquired by GI Partners

GI Partners announces…

Vast Broadband (“Vast”), a leading provider of gigabit-speed broadband, video, and phone in South Dakota and Minnesota, today announced it has signed an agreement to be acquired by GI Partners, a leading US-based investor in data infrastructure businesses, in partnership with industry veteran Rich Fish.  GI Partners will support the company and its employees to continue providing world-class service to communities throughout the region.

“Vast is committed to providing its customers with access to the most reliable, high-speed broadband connectivity available,” said Rich Fish, incoming CEO of Vast Broadband.  “As a native of the Great Plains, I am thrilled to partner with the local employees at Vast to bring high quality internet connectivity to my home region.”

EVENT Nov 20: Minnesota Broadband Coalition Strategy Session

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

Save the Date!
Minnesota Broadband Coalition Strategy Session

Friday, November 20, 2020
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Via Zoom
This meeting will  include a professional facilitator to help us develop a cohesive strategy for the organization moving forward.  Agenda coming soon!
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 974 7436 8831
Passcode: 564934
Join by phone:
Meeting ID: 974 7436 8831
Passcode: 564934
Find your local number: https://zoom.us/u/abeMvqZnAp

Please RSVP by replying to this email or Emily Murray to indicate attendance or absence.

Candidate/Rep Ecklund promotes broadband as a state priority for House District 3A.

WDIO reports

Republican Thomas Manninen — a law student is challenging Democratic incumbent Representative Rob Ecklund — a labor union leader and for his spot in House District 3A.

District 3A includes Cook, Koochiching, Lake and St. Louis Counties. It is one of the largest districts in the state.

Ecklund said one of his main priorities heading into the election is advocating for broadband internet access.

“I view broadband as probably the next economic engine of Northeast Minnesota. We have everything it takes that people want to live here. Taxes are low, we have the waters, we have the lakes, we have the trails. We have everything in terms of assets, so I’m going to continue—if I’m fortunate enough to be re-elected—continue being an advocate for greater broadband internet in the state of Minnesota. It should be like rural electrification back in the 1950’s,” Ecklund said.

Manninen, on the other hand, said one of his main priorities heading into the election is ending Governor Walz’s shutdown.

Benefits of telehealth likely to continue post pandemic

Always looking for a COVID silver lining, here’s a hopeful story from KARE 11 about how telehealth is helping a young girl…

From her home in Hancock, Minnesota, four-year-old Freya is learning to walk with the help of a physical therapist at Children’s Minnesota.

The family lives nearly three hours away from the Twin Cities but Freya is still able to receive weekly physical therapy sessions thanks to virtual care.

“Since doing telehealth, she’s made so much progress… I’m still in awe about how good she’s doing right now,” said Jessica Bossuot, Freya’s mother.

And how telehealth is likely to continue even after the pandemic…

While the future of telehealth is uncertain, Tanner is hopeful those services have a place in our future.

“I think there are some kids out there right now that are getting rehab services because they can do it virtually that wouldn’t be doing it at all if it wasn’t available,” Tanner said.

Freya fits into that category. Prior to the virtual physical therapy sessions, Freya would scoot everywhere. Now she’s standing up and walking on her own.

Bossuot said, “The fact that she’s trying to do this and she’s taking the initiative to do it on her own is amazing.”

Candidates Lee and Rarick in MN Senate District 11 both support better broadband

WDIO TV reports…

Democrat Michelle Lee is challenging Republican Senator Jason Rarick for his spot in Minnesota’s Senate District 11.

And their views of broadband…

One of the biggest issues the candidates say facing the district is access to broadband internet.

Rarick said he would like to see the state invest in bringing broadband internet to rural areas to improve learning and working from home.

“Even though we have a deficit as we’re coming back, I would really like to see the state make a commitment of about 50 million dollars a year that would be going into the grants that get internet access to our rural areas,” Rarick said.

Meanwhile, Lee said she would like to bring broadband internet to rural areas as well to improve education and create new business opportunities.

“I look at internet and the expansion of broadband as our moonshot. We can do this. We can join forces with the lawmakers that are out in Washington who are running on the same issue. We can join forces with Republicans and Independents here in Minnesota to make this happen,” Lee said.

MN Broadband Coalition Update: Bonding Bill Passes During 5th Special Session

From the MN Broadband Coalition news alert…

Bonding Bill Passes During 5th Special Session

Saint Paul, Minn.—A bonding bill has finally passed the House and Senate nearly 8 months after the 2020 regular legislative session began. SSHF1 was approved 100-34 by the House and 64-3 by the Senate. The bill includes nearly $2 billion of borrowing for public works projects as well as some small supplemental spending and a tax cuts package. Bonding bills require 60% supermajority in both chambers to pass, so both parties must work together to pass the measure. The bill’s passage was a strong display of bipartisan cooperation during a contentious election year.
No broadband funding was passed during the 5th special session as legislators wait for a second coronavirus aid package from the federal government. Negotiations in Washington have been ongoing, but a clear outcome is hard to predict at this point. Leaders have made competing proposals and walked away from the table several times in the past few months. Our hope is that the next aid package allows states to be more flexible with the funds they receive. For instance, extending the deadlines by which dollars must be spent and explicitly allowing broadband programs to qualify for funds. There is still strong support for broadband at the Minnesota Capitol, but legislators are facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit in the upcoming legislative session. A federal package that state legislators could tap to fund the Border-to-Border program would be a strong boost to broadband expansion. We will continue to monitor the negotiations at the federal level.

CTC proposes better broadband in Greenwood Township for $6.3 million

The Ely Timber Jay reports…

A preliminary proposal from CTC, a broadband (high speed internet) supplier, puts the cost of bringing broadband-level service to as many as 1,370 residences in the Greenwood Township area at around $6.3 million dollars. The project would include the installation of almost 106 miles of fiber optic cable, which would be buried underground.
Greenwood is currently served by Frontier Communications, offering a lower-speed DSL service, which is not sufficient for those wishing to telecommute. The company is also unreliable, often requiring long wait times for repairs.
Chairman Mike Ralston said costs for similar projects in northeastern Minnesota were in the same ballpark. One recent project, he said, was funded almost entirely with grant dollars, with a cost of just $100,000 to the township.
The cost estimate, Ralston said, is preliminary, and would change once actual groundwork and mapping is done.
Ralston said estimates of monthly costs for broadband customers would be between $60 and $100, depending on the speed of service.
The project would be done in conjunction with expansion of broadband service to the Vermilion Reservation.
The board, at Tuesday’s meeting, passed a motion to continue working with CTC. They also passed a motion to search for and hire a grant writer to work with the township to apply for available federal, state, and local grant programs.
The proposal would not include bringing broadband service to island properties.
“This is a starting point,” said Ralston. “We can use these numbers in our grant application to move forward….this is a good first step.”
The township had initially been soliciting proposals from a second company, Paul Bunyan from Bemidji, but they hadn’t yet responded to township requests for preliminary cost estimates, Ralston said.
Byron Beihoffer pushed back against reports that he was against broadband.
At last month’s meeting, Beihoffer said he wasn’t hearing any enthusiasm for broadband, and he speculated that the community wasn’t “gung-ho” on proceeding, and that “a lot of people…are happy with the internet they have.”
Beihoffer called the reporting that he was against broadband “fake news.”
“I was in support of the $50,000 proposed in the levy for broadband,” he said. “The people who voted against the $50,000 are against it.”
“I will continue to work for it,” he said.

EVENT Oct 20: Celebrate ReConnect Program Award with CTC

CTC has been awarded a grant in the amount of $3,061,502 to continue to bring broadband to rural Minnesota that are unserved today. Yay! The award will be granted by the United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and RUS Administrator Chad Rupe – via Zoom and we’re all invited!

ReConnect Program https://reconnect.usda.gov
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cordially invites you to celebrate an important investment in high-speed internet broadband infrastructure in Rural Minnesota with United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue

Date: Oct 10, 2020 3pm

Location: “Zoom” Teleconference: https://usfs.zoomgov.com/j/16194206399

Please RSVP no later than Oct 19 to: Ashley.Willits@usda.gov

EVENT: Oct 17: Kairos Alive virtual intergenerational dance party!

A number of people have enjoyed Kairos Alive at the Broadband 2020 conference. So I wanted to share this invitation for a virtual dance break over the weekend. (And remember you can catch them at the conference again from 11am to 1pm on Monday October 19.)

Please join us and the American Swedish Institute on Saturday, October 17th from 10 – 11 AM CDT for a virtual intergenerational dance party, because a dance party is a great way to start off a Saturday!

Curated by Kairos Alive! dancers/singer/actors, we’ll dance together on the virtual dance floor. This event is designed for all ages and abilities and features local musicians Kevin Washington, Vladimir Garrido Biagetti, Tom Johnson and a special Minnesota Orchestra guest – David and Rosemary Good Fellow, Kai Rocke.  Join with your family and friends for music, dance, and storytelling.

The dance party is FREE but requires advanced registration with ASI. Be sure to sign up BEFORE 8 am the day of the event to receive instructions on how to join us online.  REGISTER HERE: American Swedish Institute

We look forward to seeing you on the virtual dance floor!

Candidate debate for House District O3A: Rep Ecklund’s work in broadband is recognized

The Timber Jay reports on a debate between third-term Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL- International Falls, and his challenger, Thomas Manninen in District O3A, including a strong mention of Ecklund’s work in broadband…

Ecklund, as he has done throughout his tenure in the Legislature, emphasized the importance of expanding broadband connectivity to rural parts of the state. “I believe that providing broadband is the true new economy of the north,” he said. “Every city in the state has an empty industrial park. We’re all fighting to get industry here, but if we bring true border-to-border broadband to every house in the district, just like rural electricity was in the 1950s, that’s where we’ll see the boom in jobs.”
Ecklund said that people are looking for alternatives to life in urban areas and that northern Minnesota is looking increasingly attractive, provided there is broadband capability.

Senator Mary Kunesh-Podein (MN Senate District 41) supports better broadband

The Pioneer Press outlines Senate District 41 candidates. Senator Mary Kunesh-Podein mentioned a priority on broadband…

What would your top priorities be if elected? Getting the economy working again for all of MN is a top priority, knowing that a robust public health system is critical to our economic health. We must rebuild education and healthcare systems and ensure Infrastructure development – roadways and transportation systems; broadband access, especially to support distance learning and tele-medicine.

Rep Ecklund, running in MN House District 3A, promotes better broadband

The Duluth News Tribune published a letter to the editor from Representative Rob Ecklund, incumbent candidate running against Republican Thomas Manninen in Minnesota House District 3A. He mentions broadband as tool to attract and retain residents and businesses…

Beyond our immediate difficulties we’re facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take a longer-term vision to strengthen our rural economy. A lack of high-speed broadband access remains a barrier to attracting, growing, and maintaining businesses. Without internet access, it’s nearly impossible to bring products to a global marketplace. Additionally, large employers are looking to telecommuting options for their employees, and without broadband, our region can’t be home to these workers. I’m proud to have championed legislation investing $40 million in our state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program. While this is a significant investment, large gaps in reliable internet coverage remain throughout our region. Many of our students struggled to complete schoolwork prior to COVID-19, and since its emergence, distance learning has exacerbated these difficulties even further. It’s 2020, and high-speed internet can no longer be seen as just a luxury for businesses, students, and families. Rather, it’s time we treat it as the necessity it is.

MN Broadband 2020: Connected We Stand – Planning your week Oct 12-16 daily agendas

You are invited to join the Blandin Broadband crew for week two of the monthlong dispersed broadband conference. It’s a little less intense this week but we have events every day. We won’t take attendance but we’d love to see you there. It’s free and open!

There are three types of activities:

  • Digital Office Hours (11:45pm) am-1pm) every day: Join us for casual conversation and fellowship. Each day we have a host, who will give a brief presentation at 11:15 followed by more conversation
  • Broadband 101 (1:00-1:45pm) every day: a national broadband consultant or vendor will present on their area of expertise
  • Oct 15: (3-4pm) there will be a special workshop with Molly O’Leary from NTCA
  • Oct 15: (4:30-6pm): Coleman’s Happy Hour

The complete agenda (with links for more info and links to register and/or login) is below. Remember you can also get info from the Blandin Foundation Conference webpage.

Hope you see you this week!!


Monday, October 12

Tuesday, October 13

Wednesday, October 14

Thursday, October 15

Friday, October 16

MN House District 5A: John Persell (DFL), Matt Bliss (R) – both support broadband

Bemidji Pioneer reports…

In the House race, incumbent Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, debated GOP candidate Matt Bliss, and in the state senate race, incumbent District 5 Sen. Justin Eichorn debated DFL candidate and current Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht.

The paper reported on both debates. It looks like broadband came up with John Persell (DFL), Matt Bliss (R)…

Both candidates expressed the need for a bonding bill. They also discussed potential ways to support educators and invest in broadband for distance learning.

It wasn’t mentioned in connection with the other two.