Beltrami Electric Cooperative gets $22.7 million USDA loan for smart grid technology (Polk County)

The USDA reports

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the Department is investing $2.7 billion to help 64 electric cooperatives and utilities (PDF, 175 KB) expand and modernize the nation’s rural electric grid and increase grid security.

Investment included Minnesota…

USDA is investing in 64 projects through the Electric Loan Program. This funding will benefit nearly 2 million rural people and businesses in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Here are some details…

Minnesota’s Beltrami Electric Cooperative is receiving a $22.7 million loan to connect 1,480 consumers and build and improve 225 miles of line. The loan includes $1.3 million for smart grid technologies. Beltrami Electric is headquartered in Bemidji, Minnesota. It serves 21,772 consumers in portions of Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Hubbard, Itasca and Koochiching counties with 3,500 miles of distribution line covering approximately 3,000 square miles.

And hope for the future…

In the coming months, USDA will announce additional energy infrastructure financing. The Biden-Harris Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act provided more than $12 billion to USDA for loans and grants to expand clean energy, transform rural power production, create jobs and spur economic growth. This funding will help make energy cleaner, more reliable and more affordable.

MN Broadband Task Force Meeting Jan 2023 – general updates

Today the MN Broadband Task Force met to get general updates from Office of Broadband Development and Legislature. There is clearly a concern that there are not strong advocates at the legislature despite the $276 million set in Governor’s budget. Hearing about the federal funding, it is clear that it will not come quickly but there are opportunities for local communities to get involved. For example, Region 9 is looking at hosting a broadband conference for their community.

Next meetings are Feb 22 and March 27.

Here are details.

10:00 a.m. – 10:05 a.m. – Welcome, Task Force Introductions, and Approval of Minutes from December 19 and December 22 meetings

10:05 a.m. – 10:10 a.m. – Legislative Update by Deven Bowdry, DEED

  • Governor recommendation is $138Million per year for the biennium
  • Bree and/or Teddy have presented to various Legislative committees
  • No broadband bills yet
  • Lots of new bill makers (Ecklund is gone; broadband in new committee) – so people have questions about mobile vs fiber and what speeds mean

Q: Will there be a day of the hill?
There was a one for the providers – but not others.
MN Broadband Coalition is not in a position to do a day on the hill; apparently we had a bill due but we’re trying to move forward. We need to convene a meeting. We’d like to at least have a lobby day.

10:10 a.m. – 10:40 a.m. How Can the Task Force Advocate for Broadband Funding at the Legislature? – Nathan Zacharias, Technology Policy Analyst, Association of Minnesota Counties

Tips for lobbying

  • Have a factsheet (map of availability with quick facts, available federal funds, speed goals, suggested funding level)
  • Get testimony and/or write letters
  • Work with committee chairs when you can – also vice chairs and minority leads

Q: Can we look for better than 50 percent match? Can we figure out how much of property tax is going into Border to Border funds already?
Some folks don’t have enough of a tax base to match grants.

10:40 a.m. – 10:50 a.m.  – Office of Broadband Development Update by Bree Maki, Executive Director

  • Border conference 242 people in person and 193 online (registered)
  • We heard from past three Task Force chairs
  • We will be doing a survey to see if folks want another conference knowing that we’re missing another conference planner

10:50 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Line Extension Program Update by Bree Maki

  • $15 million
  • People can apply online or via paper to report their unserved address
  • 856 applicants so far (in 3 months) – 53 are businesses
  • Trying to connect with providers
  • We think we have funds for about 600 line extensions

Q: Any consideration of accelerating the process?
Not with all of the other things are happening. For example some addresses may be served from recent grant recipients.

Q: Le Sueur is the project partner for this project. We have a lot of fiber in the ground but it’s middle mile. How can we as a county engage with the process? DO we need to rely on vendors? Can we get the addresses?
People have to register themselves. Getting the word out there is most important. We can’t share personal address info.

Q: Is the map available on the website?
No.

Q: Is there any thought to recommend to legislature to improve on the $5 million cap and 50 percent match?
The low density pilot project is still being tested. We reach capacity even with 50 percent match so we’re hard to push on that. There is an interest in going to a $10 million cap and it sounds like folks are talking about it. There are a lot of unknowns.
An Analysis of last year’s applications to see how much of state funding was property taxes.
Association of Townships is working on this.

11:00 a.m. – 11:10 a.m. Border-to-Border Grant Program Update by Diane Wells, Deputy Director, Office of Broadband Development

  • Awarded $100M to 62 projects in December 2022 – leverage was $152M
  • Opened the latest round of grants ($42M in ARPA and $25M State), pre-applications were due Jan 19 – applications due March 2 – hope to announce awards by late Spring
  • 25-30 projects are still open
  • BEAD funding – working with $5M planning grant. Five year plan due July 2023. Each state will receive at least $100M. Goals: 1: reach unserved, reach unserved, get Gig to anchor institutes. Some indication that we might get $650M total (so another extra $550M; we should know mid-June.)
  • First 20 percent of funding might not be released until mid-2024. There will be 4-years for implementation.

Q: ON the maps … just heard there were one million locations added to maps? Has Connected Nation been able to see anomalies? I know of locations that are misrepresented.
Availability of service is best known by person at that location. So we asked folks to report anomalies. The FCC used a fabric developed by Costquest – one option we have is to use them to try to sync with them or we have decided to work with local source to build a map. That will help us challenge. Some providers have reported to the FCC using different methods. Without the fabric in place first, we’re at a disadvantage. We didn’t do a bulk challenges of addresses but it looks like those who did were rejected.

Q: In Le Sueur we made a push to improved maps – but we’re having trouble even getting surveys done online because the broadband is poor.
The OBD staff is all remote and many rural – they are acutely aware of issues. We hope to get more engaged to document in five year plan.

11:10 a.m. – 11:20 a.m.                Break

11:20 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Digital Equity Update – Hannah Buckland, Digital Equity Program Lead, Office of Broadband Development

  • Digital Equity Act – not BEAD – Due Nov 30, 2023 – then we send in a noncompete application.
  • There are 15 aspects we need to address in the capacity grant application.
  • There are opportunities for communities to get involved and for communities to get funding to get involved.

11:30 a.m. – 11:50 a.m. Input from Governor’s Task Force Members

Q: What can we do to push the issue at the legislature?
We could be at the legislature. Talk to legislators.

11:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.  Public Comment, Other Business, Future Speakers for February 22 and March 27, 2023 Meetings, Wrap-up

EVENT Feb 1: Broadband Budget at MN Senate Committee Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development Committee

Happening tomorrow…

Feb 1 at 3pm
Chair: 
Senator Aric Putnam

Location: 1150 Minnesota Senate Bldg.

If you wish to testify on SF 548, please email the Committee Administrator, Hunter Pederson, at hunter.pederson@senate.mn by 12:00 p.m. (noon) on Tuesday 01/31. Please include your name/the testifier’s name, title, and organization.

Agenda:

  • Call to Order

  • Governor’s Budget Presentation- Broadband Items

  • S.F. 0548  Putnam

    Rural Finance Authority bond issue and appropriation

EVENT Jan 31: MN Broadband Task Force

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
Tuesday, January 31, 2023
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
 Click here to join the meeting
Meeting ID: 242 404 479 485
Passcode: uwn3VA
Video Conference ID: 116 345 427 6

10:00 a.m. – 10:05 a.m. – Welcome, Task Force Introductions, and Approval of Minutes from December 19 and December 22 meetings

10:05 a.m. – 10:10 a.m. – Legislative Update by Deven Bowdry, DEED

10:10 a.m. – 10:40 a.m. How Can the Task Force Advocate for Broadband Funding at the Legislature? – Nathan Zacharias, Technology Policy Analyst, Association of Minnesota Counties

10:40 a.m. – 10:50 a.m.  – Office of Broadband Development Update by Bree Maki, Executive Director

10:50 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Line Extension Program Update by Bree Maki

  • About the Program
  • Submissions so far with hot spots
  • Timeline

11:00 a.m. – 11:10 a.m. Border-to-Border Grant Program Update by Diane Wells, Deputy Director, Office of Broadband Development

  • Past Round and Future Round updates – where at with both grant rounds
  • Money given out and future money coming from NTIA
  • Low-Density Pilot Program

11:10 a.m. – 11:20 a.m.                Break

11:20 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Digital Equity Update – Hannah Buckland, Digital Equity Program Lead, Office of Broadband Development

11:30 a.m. – 11:50 a.m. Input from Governor’s Task Force Members

11:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.  Public Comment, Other Business, Future Speakers for February 22 and March 27, 2023 Meetings, Wrap-up

 

EVENT Feb 13: Affordable Connectivity Program Sign Up Day in Ball Club (Itasca County)

News for folks in Itasca County and an idea for folks who aren’t…

Paul Bunyan Communications, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and the Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) are holding a sign-up day for the Affordable Connectivity Program, on Monday, February 13 from 1-6 p.m. at the Lone Eagle Community Center in Ball Club.

This new long-term benefit will help to lower the cost of broadband service for eligible households struggling to afford internet service and provides a discount of up to a $30 per month toward broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for qualifying households on qualifying Tribal lands.

A household is eligible if one member of the household meets at least one of the criteria below:

  • Has an income that is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines;
  • Participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, SSI, WIC, or Lifeline;
  • Participates inone of several Tribal specific programs, such as Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal Head Start (only households meeting the relevant income qualifying standard) Tribal TANF, or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations;
  • Is approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating broadband provider’s existing low-income program.

Eligible households can enroll at the sign-up event, through a participating broadband provider, or by going to ACPBenefit.org to submit an online application or print a mail-in application and contacting their preferred participating broadband provider and selecting a plan.  Additional information about the Affordable Connectivity Program Benefit is available at www.fcc.gov/ACP, or by calling 877-384-2575 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET any day of the week.

More on Border to Border grants in Dakota County

Hometown Source reports…

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development is awarding approximately $98,750 to deliver broadband infrastructure to 68 households and one business in northwest Dakota County, including portions of Apple Valley and Lakeville – all which lack access to qualifying broadband service today, according to a news release from Rep. John Huot’s office.

More info on the project…

As a result of this broadband grant, Spectrum Mid-America, managed by Charter Communications Inc., will improve broadband service levels, exceeding 2026 state speed goals. The high bandwidth broadband access will assist residents with remote learning and remote working, accommodate members of a household or small business simultaneously using bandwidth-intensive applications, such as video conferencing, telemedicine, video streaming, gaming, virtual or augmented reality sessions, and numerous other applications, the release said. The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program was created in 2014. The legislative focus of this grant program is to provide financial resources that help make the business case for new and existing providers to invest in building broadband infrastructure into unserved and underserved areas of the state. The Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program has been funded with state general fund revenues and a combination of both state general fund revenues and the federal American Rescue Plan Act, according to the release.

More on Border to Border grants in in Houston and Winona Counties

News 8000 reports…

A nearly $2.9 million grant will improve high speed internet connections in Houston and Winona Counties.

The grant comes as part of Minnesota’s ‘Border-to-Border Broadbrand Grants’ program.

The grant will allow Acentek to bring speeds of up to a gigabyte to 900 locations in the counties.

The state’s 2022 and 2026 state speed goals will be exceeding in the area with the grant’s help and it will be paired with $6.7 million from other local sources.

More than $23 million in grants will be distributed to 30 projects across the state.

MN House take on Governor Walz’s broadband budget

The MN House of Representatives reports on the MN House Ag Finance and Policy Committee Meeting yesterday…

Time is running out to meet Minnesota’s statutory goal to get high-speed internet to all households by 2026.

Nearly 300,000 households do not have access to 100 megabits per second download speeds, which should allow family members to stream, game and Zoom without much trouble.

While 88% of the state can get internet at that speed, only 62% of rural areas can, a reflection of how installation costs per household skyrockets as population density goes down.

A large infusion of cash would put the state much closer to its goal.

Gov. Tim Walz is proposing more than $275 million for the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, which funds expansion of internet to underserved areas.

The governor’s budget recommendation presented to the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee Thursday calls for $138 million in each of the next two years to fund grants assisting with middle-mile and last-mile broadband infrastructure. Money could be used for design, permits, installation and testing.

This past year, the Office of Broadband Development distributed $99.6 million in 61 grants out of 130 applications requesting a total of $189.8 million.

Typical grants require a 50% match with a cap of $5 million. However, the broadband office had run a pilot program for very low-density areas with a $10 million cap. The grant could provide 75% of the money.

The office tries to be agnostic as far as the technology, whether fiber, satellite or mobile, said Director Bree Maki, but wired connections have often been more reliable. There is a push, especially when working with federal money, to ensure projects can be built upon, allowing greater speed or reliability in the future.

OPPORTUNITY: Become a Leading Edge Fellow at ILSR

The Institute for Local Self Reliance is looking for interesting help…

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is pleased to announce that it has been selected by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) as a host organization for a Leading Edge Fellowship for the second time. The application window has opened for recent PhDs in the humanities to apply for a two-year, full-time fellowship to be a Tribal Broadband Policy Analyst. The fellow will continue and contribute to foundational work by ILSR on Internet access in Indian Country while gaining experience in the regular portfolio of research and policy activities by the Community Broadband Networks initiative at ILSR.

Read about the requirements and learn more about the fellowship here. Then, apply here! The deadline is March 15, 2023 at 9:00pm EDT.

Arvig buys network to serve 130 businesses in Alexandria MN

Telecompetitor reports

Minnesota broadband provider Arvig has completed an agreement to buy a fiber network from ALP Utilities. The network serves about 130 businesses in the city of Alexandria, MN.

ALP Utilities is a community-owned municipal utility that provides residential and commercial electric and water services to the area in and around Alexandria. The company had partnered with Runestone Electric Association to build the network in the late 1990s, starting with dial up service and later expanding into fiber for local businesses.

Arvig will assume ownership and management of the fiber network, which includes 77 route miles of fiber throughout the city and another 13 miles of conduit, while also retaining all of the network’s existing business customers.

EVENT Jan 26: MN House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee Meeting

The Minnesota House will be talking about the Governor’s broadband budget request tomorrow (Jan 26). Here’s more info from the House…

Thursday, January 26, 2023
1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
State Capitol, Room 1205857

***ADDED: Overview of the Governor’s Budget Request for broadband.***

 

AGENDA*

  1. Overview of the Governor’s Budget Request for broadband.
  2. Overview by Department of Agriculture, Plant Protection Division.
  3. H.F. 47 (Hansen) Pollinator research funding provided, money transferred, and money appropriated.
  4. H.F. 352 (Hansen) University of Minnesota; heritage oilseed and grain initiative funding provided, and money appropriated.
  5. H.F. 80 (Anderson, P. H.) County agricultural inspector grant funding provided, and money appropriated.

HANDOUTS: Handouts MUST BE IN PDF FORMAT and emailed to the committee administrator by 12 p.m. (noon) the business day before the hearing.  If you are bringing hard copies, bring 40 copies.  Note: submitted written testimony is public and will be included in the official committee record.  It may be posted to the committee webpage if received by deadline.

TESTIFYING: Testimony is limited.  The number of testifiers and length of time permitted is at the discretion of the chair, and is subject to change.  Please plan accordingly.  If you would like to testify, please email the committee administrator by 12 p.m. (noon) the business day before the hearing.

DOCUMENTS: Meeting documents may be found on the Agriculture Finance and Policy webpage.

ACCESSIBILITY: To learn more about requesting an accommodation, please visit the FAQs for Disability Access.  If you have further questions on accommodations or accessibility, please contact the Committee Administrator.

 

Please note that this list serv notification email is not monitored.  If you wish to reply, please email the committee administrator.

Details on Governor Walz’s $270 million broadband budget

According to the official One Minnesota Budget released by Governor Walz…

Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan are investing in Minnesota’s economic future by recruiting and retaining workers, empowering employers to grow their businesses, and making sure Minnesota is creating the jobs of the future right here at home. The One Minnesota Budget invests in everything from agriculture to workforce training to clean energy jobs to make sure Minnesota continues to be competitive in a global economy. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s plan will ensure that
Minnesota is a destination to live, work, and raise a family.

Here are the details on the broadband budget…

Increasing Access to Broadband
The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program expands broadband service to areas of Minnesota that are unserved or underserved in pursuit of the state’s goal that all homes and businesses have access to broadband by 2026. Since its inception in 2014, the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program has provided nearly $230 million to connect 90,000 Minnesota homes and businesses to high-speed internet. Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan recommend $276 million in new funding to expand the reach of this vital program.

Advice from a MN Broadband Task Force Meber: Look at the MN LIne

The Ely Echo posts a letter to the editor from a MN Broadband Task Force member…

If I were to ask 100 people across the Iron Range if they have heard of the Broadband Line Connection Extension Program, I would bet my next Social Security check that less than 10% would say yes.  Anyone want that bet?  One of the few bills to pass in the 2022 legislative session was a bill with an allocation of $15 million dollars to fund a program that would help people in more remote locations get connected to broadband. I know many people in rural communities that are aware that there is fiber broadband located in the ditch across from their home, yet to connect to that fiber the provider who owns the fiber wants the homeowner to pay the entire cost of trenching the fiber to their premise. Depending on the length of your driveway, and geographic barriers like ledge rock or wetlands, the cost is usually prohibitive, so life goes on with lousy internet or using your cell service for a connection.

Well as a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband, and the MN Rural Broadband Coalition, I am pleased to share with you some simple steps to hopefully get you connected to high speed, quality broadband at reasonable pricing. This new program requires that you as a homeowner fill out an online application  (available at this address or for online subscribers click on this link) https://mn.gov/deed/programs-services/broadband/extension/#1  or you can submit a written request to the MN Office of Broadband 332 Minnesota Street Suite E200  St Paul, MN 5510; or you can call the OBD at 651-259-7610 and they will fill out the request over the phone.  You have to let them know that you do not have a WIRELINE broadband or internet provider to your home, and you wish to be connected. That is really all you have to do.

Signed,,,

Steve Giorgi

Mt. Iron, MN

More info on Apple Valley Border to Border grant (Dakota County)

The MN House of Representatives

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is awarding approximately $98,750 to deliver broadband infrastructure to 68 households and 1 business in northwest Dakota County, including portions of Apple Valley and Lakeville – all which lack access to qualifying broadband service today.

“Minnesotans deserve fast, reliable internet access they need for work, school, and home,” said Rep. Huot (DFL-Rosemount). “Broadband is a necessity in our modern world, and I’m grateful for our state partnership with Apple Valley to help residents advance and thrive in the 21st century.”

As a result of this broadband grant, Spectrum Mid-America, managed by Charter Communications Inc., will improve broadband service levels, exceeding 2026 state speed goals. The high bandwidth broadband access will assist residents with remote learning and remote working, accommodate members of a household or small business simultaneously using bandwidth-intensive applications, such as video conferencing, telemedicine, video streaming, gaming, virtual or augmented reality sessions, and numerous other applications.

The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program was created in 2014. The legislative focus of this grant program is to provide financial resources that help make the business case for new and existing providers to invest in building broadband infrastructure into unserved and underserved areas of the state. The Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program has been funded with state general fund revenues and a combination of both state general fund revenues and the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

 

MN PUC notes on LTD Broadband situation: stayed ruling, ILSR may intervene, LTD counsel withdraws

This is an ongoing saga that many of us are watching closely and some might want a little recap…

The Minnesota PUC decided to continue to move forward looking at revoking LTD Broadband’s ETC designation. (Background: LTD was awarded an opportunity to apply for$311 million in federal RDOF funding. They needed the ETC designation from the MN PUC to qualify; industry folks asked the MN PUC to rethink their designation because there were concerns about LTD being able to fulfill the contract. Last month, their application for RDOF was rejected.)

Here’s the latest update

LTD requested that this matter be stayed pending LTD’s appeal of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) denial of its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) long-form application. Minnesota Telecom Alliance (MTA) and Minnesota Rural Electric Association (MREA) (together, Petitioners), the Minnesota Department of Commerce and the Office of the Attorney General-Residential Utilities Division argue that this matter should proceed to hearing. The parties filed letters in support of their respective positions and the record on the parties’ requests closed on October 18, 2022, the date the last letter was filed.

On January 18, 2023, the MN PUC decided…

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT: 1. These proceedings are STAYED pending a ruling by FCC on LTD’s appeal of the denial of its long-form application. 2. LTD shall serve and file a status report every 120 days beginning on February 1, 2023. 3. A prehearing conference will be held by telephone on March 6, 2023, at 2:30 p.m. to review the status of the case. A

They also decided (also Jan 18) …

On September 16, 2022, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) filed a Motion to Intervene (Motion). LTD filed an objection to the Motion on September 23, 2022. Based on all the files and proceedings of the matter, the Administrative Law Judge makes the following: [185245/1] 2 ORDER 1. The Motion of Institute for Local Self-Reliance is GRANTED. 2. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is admitted to this proceeding as a full party. 3. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance will file a Notice of Appearance at its earliest convenience but in no event later than January 27, 2023.

And on January 19, Taft et al withdrew as LTD Broadband’s Counsel

Please take notice that as of January 19, 2023, and pursuant to Minn. R. 1400.5700, Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP hereby withdraws as counsel for LTD Broadband, LLC. LTD Broadband, LLC’s address is PO Box 3064, Blooming Prairie, MN 55917 and its phone number is (507) 369-2669.