Office of Broadband Development Program Call for Border to Border Broadband Grant Applications

I wish I had a drum roll. Good luck to everyone!

The Office of Broadband Development (OBD) unit is soliciting applications for the Border to Border Broadband grant funding of broadband projects.

Submission Deadlines and Requirements

The deadline for the applications is 4 p.m., on Friday, September 13.

Application proposals must be mailed or delivered to:
Office of Broadband Development MN Department of Employment and Economic Development
First National Bank Building
332 Minnesota Street – Suite E200
St. Paul, MN 55101-1351

Application submittals must include three full sets of paper copies, and one additional electronic set in Microsoft Word format on a USB drive. They must be received by the deadline to be considered for funding.

Contact Information

For questions regarding this application process, please contact OBD Staff at 651-259-7610 or

Lake County Broadband sold to Zito Media

Business North reports…

Lake Connections, the broadband company established by Lake County, Minn., is being sold to Zito Media.

“We are just waiting on our franchise permits. At that point, the Lake County fiber network will be 100 percent Zito owned,” said Zito President Jim Rigas said.

Zito, a small cable and data operator based in Pennsylvania with operations in 17 states, intends to maintain the Two Harbors office and local staff.

The article does a nice job outlining the trials and tribulations of Lake County Broadband and recognizes the people who forged ahead to make broadband happen for their county…

Lake County Commissioner Rich Sve has the unique perspective of watching the journey of county-owned broadband from the beginning. Sve had just been elected as commissioner for the first time in 2009, and midway through that year, the county began its grant application to introduce a fiber network reaching into rural Lake County.

With a couple of options already available for high-speed internet service within the cities of Lake County, Sve said, it was the rural regions that were neglected and no incumbent service would step up.

“There was no one else who would do it, and we recognized that to be part of the world we live in requires that type of bandwidth.”

The county board in 2010 foresaw a future with many basic needs, such as healthcare, elders aging in place and education, that would rely on all county residents having access to high-speed internet. For the county to thrive, attract companies and entrepreneurs and develop economically, it was a must, the board decided.

“I’m most proud of bringing broadband infrastructure to so many people,” Sve said, “and in the same breath, I regret that we did not get to every corner of the county as we had hoped to.”


Lake County Administrator Matt Huddleston had also just begun in that position at the start of the broadband project.

“It felt like it was uphill the whole way, but the board stepped out on a limb for something it believed in even with the risk involved,” he said, “and without that, I’m not sure such a big portion of the county would have been reached.”

Huddleston expressed disappointment that the last miles of fiber were not yet laid to the farthest reaches of the county, however, he feels confident that the county board’s perseverance brought the project through obstacles that a private entity might not have managed.

Huddleston said he is hopeful those final connections and more fiber placement will continue under new ownership, and added that the county intends to work cooperatively with the new owners to advocate for grant opportunities.

It sounds like Zito is looking at moving forward…

Going forward, Rigas said, Zito Media’s focus is to connect as many customers as possible. He noted a significant number of people live next to fiber that has already been placed, but their homes are not yet connected to the network.

“The county has collected 600 or more expressions of interest in being served by us,” said Rigas, adding that the company would first like to connect customers already next to the fiber lines.

The second step for Zito will be looking at the areas where deployed conduit is only partially complete, with evaluation taking place over the course of the next year, according to  Rigas.

Blandin on Broadband eNews: Minnesota Monthly Recap (July 2019): New County Maps are Out

Oct 8-10 – MN Fall BB Conference – Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work
This three-day conference at the beautiful Grand View Lodge in Nisswa, MN will offer learning and engagement on many aspects of the challenges and benefits of broadband access and use, from “Pursuing Broadband 101,” to digital inclusion tools and strategies for diverse audiences. Registration opens soon.

New MN county broadband maps are out
The Office of Broadband Development unveils the latest Broadband County Maps. Check them out to see how your county ranks for access to 25 Mbps down and 3 up or 100/20

MN with better broadband speeds that other Midwest States
Roberto Gallardo (Purdue University) looks at Midwest urban and rural access to broadband speeds. Minnesota does best with equitably access to the highest speeds measured (Gig).

Interactive broadband map of MN based on speed tests
NEO Partners unveils an interactive map created from speed tests It highlights served (faster than 25 Mbps download) and unserved (slower than 25 Mbps) areas.

MN Contingency heads to NYC
Blandin Foundation takes a contingency to the Intelligent Community Forum Global Summit where community members learned from award-winning smart communities. Having broadband is only one ingredient to success, now Minnesotans are armed and inspired to create more ingredients.

On the Minnesota policy front…

And national policy front…

Vendor News

Local Broadband News

Cannon Falls
Blandin Foundation Strut Your Stuff Tour in Cannon Falls highlights use of technology to build a food brand and more

Fargo (ND)
It could be up to five years before customers in smaller cities like Fargo and Bismarck can expect to see 5G

Grand Rapids
Paul Bunyan Communications announces construction of new customer service and technology center in Grand Rapids

International Falls
International Falls Journal says broadband touches us all

Kandiyohi County
Kandiyohi County moves forward with broadband engineering study

Little Falls
Growth & Justice unveils latest chapter (economic development) of their Blueprint in Little Falls

Northeastern MN
Technology makes it easier for seniors to stay at home in Northeastern MN

Renville & Sibley Counties
RS Fiber and HBC form long-term agreement and plan expansions

Rock County
Blandin Foundation Strut Your Stuff Tour in Rock County highlights hotspots in libraries, buses and camping sites as well as programming

St Louis County
There was a meeting in St Louis County to talk about partnership and preparing for MN broadband grants. Local media look at it as an opportunity to get ready for better broadband

“I need better internet period!” says local business in St Louis County

Local business needs better broadband to grow in St Louis County

Fiber to the farm means food to the people in St Louis County

Stearns County
Stearns County recognizes the one-two-three public punch at broadband expansion

Swift County
Blandin Foundation Strut Your Stuff Tour in Swift County highlights hybrid welding classes, 4H app, STEM for kids and more


Upcoming Events and Opportunities

We are looking to add MN broadband-related events to the Blandin on Broadband blog calendar. If you have an event you’d like to add please send it to

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Decisions are not getting any easier for community leaders working on broadband.  The pressure to do something is increasing as the impact of being un- or underserved mount, yet new wireless technologies are providing more strategy options.

Consider just these two alternatives from the many out there for consideration:

  1. A cooperative telephone company operating nearby offers to partner on a fiber to the home project that will provide gigabit service to everyone in the area. The project will require relatively large grants from both the state broadband program and from the county.
  2. A wireless company offers to partner with the county to offer services in the rural countryside that will offer 100 Mb/20 Mb service to 80% of rural residents. Implementation of the project will require a moderate sized state grant, but no county contribution.

These two simple examples require local leaders to make judgments that they may feel unqualified to make, considering the following questions:

  • Fiber can deliver gigabit speeds both up and down and more. Wireless can now meet the 2026 state goal.  Will wireless meet the needs of farms, resorts, students and tele-workers far into the future?  What else could our county do with those local grant funds?  Would fiber provide a long-term strategic advantage for our area?
  • Will state grant makers grant our county the necessary large grant to make our project feasible or will they pass us by for solutions that serve more people at lower cost? Conversely, will state funders favor more high-capacity, future-resilient technologies?
  • What about the 20% of rural households that would not be served with the wireless solution?
  • If we only have an opportunity for one state grant, what is it that we really want long-term for our citizens?

Reaching a consensus on these questions will drive each community’s unique broadband solution.   “Go slow to go fast” is wise advice that apparently goes back Rome’s Augustus.  I suggest that you take that advice as you consider your options.

Now is a good time for communities to prep for broadband upgrades

It was good to see local media write about the broadband meeting in St Louis County last week. The Hibbing Daily Tribune reports…

Now is a good time for communities to take the proper steps to prepare for grant applications, representatives said, especially because of the local, state and federal sources available to tap into and an Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and Blandin Foundation partnership.

“There are general fund dollars (state money) and local matching dollars this year … to grow connectivity in our area,” said Jason Metsa, deputy commissioner for the IRRRB.

An IRRRB infrastructure grant has up to $2 million dedicated for fiscal year 2020 to serve as a local match in leveraging other state and federal grants for broadband. The funds are available for unserved and underserved areas, with up to a 25% match.

St. Louis County has large areas considered unserved or underserved.

Local funding resources, which other rural parts of the state have employed, include local cash contributions, tax abatement bonds and dedication of special taxes.

Federal dollars are available through the United States Department of Agriculture ReConnect initiative and state funding from the Border to Border Broadband Grant Program.

I wrote about the meeting too so I won’t go into great detail – but it’s a reminder to all communities – act or be left behind. A lot is happening and that’s great. Some communities will be lucky enough to get grant funding – and luck favors the prepared.

How does MN broadband access by urban/rural status compare to other Midwest states?

I’m so glad you asked how Minnesota broadband access by urban/rural status compares to other Midwest states. It gives me a chance to dive into Roberto Gallardo’s recent article on broadband access in the Midwest. Also a quick caveat – broadband is defined here as 25 Mbps down and 3 up. That is the FCC definition of broadband; it’s also the 2022 speed goal for Minnesota. Minnesota has a secondary speed goal of 100/20 by 2026.

At first glance I was a little worried. We’re were number one (granted the data is from 2017) after a few years of attention on speed (statutory goals) and investment (broadband grants) …

Then I saw that Roberto was also looking at access to 25/25…

And symmetrical gig access

Especially looking at gig access, we are absolutely in leadership position. Undoubtedly the “Minnesota Model”  – speed goals, broadband grants, Office of Broadband Development located in Department of Employment and Economic Development and an active broadband community has played a part.

So I’m not so worried about not coming in first for the 25/3 access; in fact not coming in first helps us recognize the need to try harder and with broadband that means – ubiquitous coverage at high speeds.

Paul Bunyan Communications Announces Construction of New Customer Service and Technology Center in Grand Rapids

Great news for Grand Rapids from Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan Communications has announced they will be constructing a key, new facility in Grand Rapids beginning this summer and opening in the late spring of 2020.

“It’s our hope that our new customer service and technology center will be a great addition to the Grand Rapids community and reinforce our cooperative’s commitment to the city and region.  It will also position us to better serve this important and expanding part of our service area well into the future.  I’m very excited that our employees, growing membership base and potential new customers will soon benefit from this great new facility,” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO & General Manager.

The member-based, non-profit cooperative began expanding its all-fiber optic network to the Cohasset and Grand Rapids areas in 2004. Since then, Paul Bunyan Communications has continued to aggressively expand to rural areas of Itasca and St. Louis counties providing state of the art, gigabit Internet and other communication services to areas lacking these critical services  Paul Bunyan Communications is now the largest broadband cooperative in the state of Minnesota.

“I’m really excited that Paul Bunyan Communications is investing in a new customer service and technology center here.  The cooperative provides first class communication services to the region and with their commitment to local customer service also provides many good paying jobs in the technology field.  I can’t wait to see their operations move to this beautiful new facility next year,” said Rick Blake, Grand Rapids City Councilor

“We are excited that Paul Bunyan has committed to expanding their office and service delivery in Grand Rapids.  They are an important partner in our community.  Economic development is currently one of the priorities of the County Board.  Expansion of high speed internet is vital to that growth and improved customer service will certainly add benefit,” said Davin Tinquist, Itasca County Board Chair.

“Paul Bunyan has played an integral part in ‘connecting’ much of Itasca County through their broadband expansions,” said Tamara Lowney, President of Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC).  “We value their partnership with IEDC and their continued investment into our area, both through their expansion and their community minded investments.  Their leadership in providing broadband to our rural communities in critical to attracting and retaining our workforce and families.”

The first Paul Bunyan Communications office in Grand Rapids was in leased space in the Central Square Mall from 2005-2008.  To meet growing customer demand, their current larger leased retail space was opened in 2008 on Pokegama Ave South which will remain open until the cooperative-owned facility construction is complete.

The construction manager of the project is Kraus-Anderson (KA), one of the nation’s premier commercial general contractors and construction managers. Paul Bunyan Communications and KA have put a priority on hiring local contractors who are members of the cooperative for the project whenever feasible.  KA has a deep and valued relationship with Paul Bunyan Communications, having constructed portions of their cooperative headquarters in Bemidji along with several additions, network facilities and remodeling projects.


Growth & Justice Blue Print – economic development discussed in Little Falls

Yesterday Growth and Justice released the latest section of the Minnesota Equity Blueprint – with special focus on economic development. The event was held at Sprout Growers and Makers Marketplace in Little Falls, MN. We heard from folks from Region Five Development Commission, Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, Five Wings Art Council, The Initiative Foundation and others.

You can watch the meeting in its entirety below.

Growth & Justice does a good job promoting rural and urban partnerships. Yesterday they talked about entrepreneurship, childcare, welcoming new people into the communities (immigrants and others), using art for placemaking and more. (The next section should address broadband more directly. Can’t wait!) These are the issues that are thorns in the side of residents.

It was interesting to hear from the presenters and the questions they got. Region Five has a program where they work with businesses and communities to be more welcoming – again of immigrants or others, like new graduates.  There was a small group of protesters, who did not like the idea of welcoming immigrants. They didn’t think their community needed it. Region Five explained that businesses and communities came to them for help. They aren’t door knocking for clients. Receiving their welcoming service is NOT mandated or required to receive a grant, loan or other service.

The vocal minority thought they spoke for the community – but clearly they didn’t speak for the whole community because Region Five has a waiting list for their welcoming services.

It reminded me of broadband discussions in some communities. Generally businesses want broadband. Generally anyone with kids in school wants it. But sometimes there is a group of vocal and/or powerful (on boards or otherwise in a decision-making position) who doesn’t think the community wants to invest in broadband. I remember attending a meeting in Sunrise Township where board members needed some persuading to understand that many people wanted broadband. (Now they have it.)

Communities without broadband have difficulties retaining, never mind attracting new residents and businesses. At the Growth and Justice meeting I was reminded that the State Demographer has reported that immigration is fueling population growth. Communities that aren’t welcoming will have difficulty attracting new residents. Broadband and immigration are coming; communities ignore that fact at their own peril.