EVENTS Jan 13 & 21 : Blandin Broadband “Lunch Bunch” online discussion sessions

An invitation from the Blandin Broadband Team…

The Blandin Community Broadband Program announces a new virtual series for 2021 – the Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch. Sessions will take place the second and third Wednesdays of the month from noon-1:00 pm.

Sessions will alternate between Broadband Infrastructure (2nd Weds) and Digital Use and Equity (3rd Weds). The idea is to get colleagues in a shared space, introduce a topic, and talk. We learned during the 2020 virtual broadband conference that people really enjoy the opportunity to talk to one another, and we often found that the wisdom is often in the room – even in a Zoom room. Topics will be announced monthly and may include some experts to get the ball rolling.

Here’s what we have for January:

January 13 – Broadband Infrastructure: Everything You Want to Discuss about RDOF

The FCC’s Rural Development Opportunity Fund is a game changer for rural broadband development. Are the pending results of the reverse auction a win, loss or is the game still in play. Come bring your questions, share what you know  and tell the group how the RDOF auction is changing your local broadband strategies.

(Register here – for the first, all, or several of the upcoming Infrastructure sessions.)

January 21 – Digital Use and Equity: Share a success story

Note – this session was originally scheduled for January 20, which is also Inauguration Day. We decided to reschedule to Thursday.

The inaugural Lunch Bunch on Digital Use and Equity is an opportunity to talk turkey with colleagues and cohorts around Minnesota and beyond! Normally there will be a specific (but loose) topic but to get the ball rolling – but for January, planners invite folks from the front lines to share their best stories of success. Please come and brag!

It will give us some good ideas to replicate. It will give us stories to share with legislators. Most of all, it will help set the stage of success for 2021!

(Register here – for the first, all, or several of the upcoming Digital Use & Equity sessions.)

We’re planning on holding Lunch Bunch sessions through June – at least! The monthly topics will be shared on the Blandin on Broadband blog, and in our monthly Broadband e-Newsletter. Links are also available on the Webinars page on our website.

Questions? Contact Mary Magnuson at memagnuson@blandinfoundation.org.

MN Broadband Task Force: Draft annual report and meeting archive

This morning the MN Broadband Task Force met to comb through a late draft of the annual report. It’s not the final draft, it may not be the penultimate but it’s getting close.

You can read the draft report and watch the discussion below. The video focused mostly on the text so it would probably be easier to listen and use the PDF version to follow along.

Some high level comments on discussion:

  • There was discussion on the fourth recommendation related to permits and the OBD (Office of Broadband Development) working with partners. There was confusion more than disagreement. In the end I think the decision was to recommend a workgroup for public rights of way and look at greater oversight of railroad easements.
  • There was also a lot of discussion on RDOF and CAF II and the opportunity they have to help or hinder the state in reaching state speed goals. Concerns are that the CAF funding is sunsetting and the speed goals required with CAF funding do not meet even the MN 2022 speed goals of 25/3. Concern with RDOF is the surprising result in Minnesota where one provider received a large percentage of the funding to provide services that they are not known for providing, which results in both concern whether that provider will meet scrutiny of the RDOF long-form application to actually get the funding and concern that if they do they will be able to deliver fiber as promised. Some folks felt that as it was federal funding,  it fell out of the scope of the state task force while others were concerned on the impact the federal funding would have on state funding moving forward.
  • There was also discussion on CARES funding with similar cases. Some thought it seemed beyond scope especially since State level CARES funding had not been dedicated to broadband. (Funding trickled down to counties and some did use it for broadband.) Others thought it might be helpful for legislators to see what other states did to improve broadband with CARES funding in case the opportunity arises again.

Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Broadband Projects throughout Minnesota

Every year, the Blandin Foundation does an assessment of how the Blandin Broadband Communities projects are going. The assessment is part update and part cumulation. You can read the whole report online. There update from the following communities:

  • Cannon Falls
  • Koochiching Technology Initiative
  • Rock County
  • Swift County
  • East Range Joint Powers
  • Iron Range Tourism Bureau
  • Laurentian Chamber of Commerce
  • Tower Economic Development Authority
  • Aitkin County
  • Chisholm
  • Ely
  • Grizzlies (Bois Forte, Cook, Orr)
  • Hibbing
  • Mt. Iron-Buhl

I will post those updates separately so we can all find them next year when we want them. And here’s the overall commentary on the impact of 2020 and all it has brought with it…

2020 COVID-19 Response: Under normal circumstances, community teams are encouraged to invite the public and the media to the third and final Strut Your Stuff Tour to join in celebrating success. BBC Steering Committees use the occasion to revisit the community goals that informed their activities, report on progress achieved toward those goals, and recommit to continued efforts. However, in 2020 the third visit was being planned for early spring, so the decision was made to shift to virtual meetings via Zoom. Furthermore, most communities were very busy with COVID planning and emergency relief activities related to Minnesota’s Stay-a-tHome order. As a result, these were smaller, virtual gatherings where the focus was on both progress-to-date and COVID adjustments.

One nearly across-the-board adjustment was that communities were invited to extend their grant periods through December 31, 2020. Most had been scheduled to be concluded by midyear. The reason this was necessary was because a lot of the work was paused while team members were occupied with emergency response, and in-person gatherings and trainings were put on indefinite hold. An extension allowed the BBCs to pause and reassess current projects and allocate or reallocate funding to implement technology-related COVID response projects.

Other common challenges for BBCs included:

  • Mobile devices, hotspots, and even some laptops became difficult to find due to high demand as schools shifted to online learning.

  • The gap between students with internet access at home and those without became even more significant, and districts scrambled to find solutions for students. The 35 solutions were often mobile Wi-Fi hotspots or reduced cost internet subscriptions through local providers.

  • Trainings and workshops originally designed as in-person had to shift to videoconference. This was a particular challenge when the expected audience had very limited exposure to technology, such as senior citizens.

  • Delays related to equipment availability and concerns related to social distancing with installation.

However, the challenges of 2020 highlighted the importance of universal broadband. It became clear to so many additional people that high-speed internet access and the skills to use it is critically important infrastructure. Working and schooling from home is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity, and internet access makes it possible to do so successfully. Meanwhile inequitable access to the internet leads to inequal educational and work opportunities. The digital divide intensified but received more attention from new advocates.

Businesses began to adapt to more online and less in-person traffic. Many BBCs have funded digital marketing and technology trainings for small local businesses and nonprofits over the past few years, and those businesses were in better shape to adapt and respond to the pandemic.

Need broadband and cultural comfort about tele-mental health especially for kids

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that need for tele-mental health is clearly there…

Despite the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, some mental health clinics aren’t seeing the increase in patients that they expected.

“We know people are experiencing higher than normal levels of stress, yet we haven’t seen an increase in our community members seeking help,” said Julie Hanenburg, executive director of Lighthouse Child & Family Services in Milaca.

Yet, mental health emergency room visits are up from last year, according to Sue Abderholden, executive director at NAMI Minnesota.

 

People are doing what they can but it’s not always reaching people…

Due to a relaxation of state and federal rules, more therapy is moving to telehealth visits using computers, tablets or smartphones.

The electronic visits don’t work for everyone and because of limited internet availability some do not have access.

“With some kids it didn’t work with telehealth, mainly the younger children,” Abderholden said. “Watching a Disney movie on the screen is different than doing play therapy.”

Other children were concerned about privacy and were worried that parents or siblings could hear their sessions. One telephone company provided free earphones or earbuds to help, she said.

Acceptance was also an issue. Some families declined to use telehealth at the start of the pandemic, hoping that in-person therapy would soon resume.

“In the last several weeks we’ve noticed that people were more accepting of telehealth,” Hanenburg said.

State officials announced Friday that the Ikea US Community Foundation will donate $1.2 million that will be used to broaden access to children’s mental health services.

The money will provide resources to the School-Linked Mental Health Program that pairs 58 mental health providers with 1,100 Minnesota schools.

We need to work on broadband to all – not a new goal. But also in increasing comfort with telehealth.

MN Broadband Task Force: working on report – questions about speeds, funds, unserved vs underserved and a request from MN Mayors

I tried to take more complete notes today in part because the recording can be difficult to watch. I have to rig up a system that would make MacGyver proud to get these sessions streamed and archived and I know they are less than perfect.

At a very high level – each of the three subcommittees presented their recommendations. There was a lot of overlap with recommendations, yet not complete agreement.

There is agreement that there should be funding for the grants and the Office of Broadband Development. There seemed to be agreement that funding should be ongoing. There weren’t any confirmed dollar amounts attached to those investments – although $75M per biennium was mentioned. From each member of the Task Force to the Governor, there seemed to be agreement tat COVID as exacerbated the demand for greater and more ubiquitous broadband.

There was disagreement on:

  • Focus on unserved versus underserved
  • Speed goals/benchmarks – from 25/3 to 100/20 to 100/100
  • Concerns about role of OBD (and others) in terms of communications, coordination and regulation

There were discussion of politic decisions such as deciding to focus on funding over change or asking for more than you think you’ll get.

9:45 a.m. Welcome, Introductions, Meeting Overview
10:00 a.m. Gov. Tim Walz conversation with the Task Force

Governor Walz spoke to the Task Force. Here are some of his observations

  • the need for broadband upload and download at industry standards has increased during COVID
  • broadband is an investment
  • there are local government commissioners that cannot participate is zoom calls
  • Because MN did not finish the border to border broadband goal before COVID, people were put at a disadvantage
  • COVID forced us to move quickly
  • Broadband funding will need to be ongoing. It’s not a problem that gets solved.

Q: Is broadband part of the proposed state budget?
A: The budget is not yet created but it seems likely and there will likely to have even stronger support

Q: How/why are schools being  held responsible for providing broadband access to un/underserved families?
A: We view broadband as regular expenses – we can’t create unequal distribution

Q: How can we
A: Cooperative have been most successful in serving rural areas. It is an economy of scale. When it’s a business decision (for national, business providers) only the math doesn’t work. When stakeholder reward is part of the equation, that changes the math.

Q: What about CARES funding?
A: CARES funding was filtered to counties and towns. More federal funding is likely.

10:30 a.m. Economic Development and Digital Inclusion Subgroup – report content and recommendations
Recommendations:

  1. Continue Minnesota’s Border to Border state broadband grant program and fund it from the base budget.
  2. Create an Office of Broadband operating fund to promote broadband adoption and use and redress digital inequity.
  3. Task the Office of Broadband Development with building computer donation partnerships between state agencies and community-based organizations getting computers into the hands of those who need them.
  4. Fully fund the Telecommunications Access Equity Aid (TEA) program by raising the funding cap to at least $9 million in order to allow school districts to equitably procure the Internet and network bandwidth needed to fully support digital learning.

[had those at the ready since I’m helping with that portion of the report]

Discussion:

  • The MN Model group is coming up with a number for funding the fund; $70M per biennium was mentioned.
  • Need to talk to  Office of BB Development about a number for funding adoption coordination.
  • Concerns that #3 might compete with ConnectedMN and/or PCs for People. Or is this more of a prioritization of tasks for OBD than funding question
  • With #4 cost per student for technology is not consistent throughout MN, which create a situation ripe for inequity.

11:15 a.m. Barriers and Technology Subgroup – report content and recommendations

  1. MN should invest is getting the 157,000 unserved households access to broadband at speeds of at least 100/20.
  2. Funding for the OBD should come from base budget and include a focus on mapping
  3. The Task Force and OBD should work with the state and providers to create greater communication channels to streamline broadband deployment.

Discussion:

  • Do we really want to focus on unserved versus underserved? (with #1)
  • There are concerns about getting into the regulations with #3. Providers prefer that broadband not be regulated by the state. BUT it looks like they are talking more about creating a clearing house for info more than regulators.

12:30 p.m. Public Comment – Duluth Mayor Emily Larson discussing the Minnesota Mayors Together letter (See the letter)

The Mayors Together group are prioritizing broadband. It’s a nonpartisan group and a nonpartisan issue. IN Duluth they have a population of 85,000 and 1200 students without access. Here are their recommendations:

  1. The first of these is speed. The 2026 goal of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload, while it may have seemed aggressive when it was adopted, now looks somewhat modest. Why not recommend what the Border-to-Border grant has enabled in some areas of the state: 100 and 100?
  2. Second, we would urge the task force to tell legislators that this is an ongoing challenge, that having good access and speed is vital to all Minnesotans. As such, this investment should be a regular and recurring feature of the state’s operating budget. So, we would ask you to say that the Legislature consider the $35-50 million as an annual expenditure – for many years.

12:45 p.m. Minnesota Model Subgroup – report content and recommendations

Recommendations:

  1. $75 million per biennium
  2. No change to grants
  3. 25/3 is irrelevant
  4. No mapping changes (since change needs to happen after next year)
  5. Fund the OBD
  6. Fund the fund

Discussion

  • Where did the $75 Million come from? The 2018 TF report had a calculation that came to $70; the 2013 TF report suggested $100M. Might need to work on an estimated cost per passing to figure it out.
  • The 25/3 access isn’t irrelevant because of the demographics.
    Except 3 Mbps up during a pandemic doesn’t work for most families
    We have given legislators roadmaps with the 25/3 and 100/20 benchmarks. Is that fair to change now?
    We don’t’ need to change that just add a new benchmark moving forward?
    The pandemic will be over by mid-2021
  • Should we wait on policy changes until next year and focus only on funding this year?
  • We have another speed test that is not supporting what the OBD maps are finding so it seems like what we’re showing the legislators may not gel with the truth anyways.
  • Changing the speed goals will change reality; you can still show they outdated maps.
  • Can we change the speed goals to 100/100.
    On the ground what is the difference when designing/developing 100/100 versus 100/20?
    100/100 is fiber / 100/20 is tech neutral
    CenturyLink can provide 100/20 with copper at short distances but we cannot provide 100/100

Broadband 2020: Closing Reception

Thanks to everyone who attended the closing reception. We had folks from Florida, Iowa and the four corners of Minnesota. It was a great chance to catch up with people and hear what they thought about the conference. Some were wise to the world of Zoom and for a few this was the first whole hog jump into a month-long Zoom event.

There were a few shout-outs given to attendees, including David Asp, Perry Mulcrone and Jim Yount. There was appreciation for the time to meet people and talk, to hear national speakers and vendors and for the seamless technology and immediate archive.

We have one day left. We are all looking forward to …

How I Think About the Importance of Communities in the 21st Century by Thomas L. Friedman, Author, Reporter, Columnist, New York Times
Introduction by Former Senator Al Franken. Moderated by Mark Ritchie, President, Global Minnesota

Broadband percentages on MN Tribal reservations

I was going to dive into to Tribal broadband profiles this week but I found out that there may be updates coming very soon. So I just wanted to share a quick look at where folks are connected and where they are not.

I have removed anything related to access off reservation and I’m only looking at access to 100/20 Mbps (100 down and 20 up).

Clearly, each area has its own story. Bois Forte (with 294 households) has no access; while Shakopee (with 116 households) has ubiquitous access. And the numbers are such, especially considering households, that there’s not much comparison to make. But I wanted to keep note, especially as I talk about the MN County Broadband Profiles at the Broadband 2020 conference tomorrow and for when I take the deeper dive once the latest numbers and maps are available.

Name Households (2010 estimate) Percent Broadband (100Mbps/20Mbps) Percent Wireline Broadband (100Mbps/20Mbps)
Bois Forte Reservation 294 0.00 0.00
Fond du Lac Reservation 1530 62.52 62.52
Grand Portage Reservation 257 80.64 80.64
Leech Lake Reservation 3930 77.33 77.33
Lower Sioux Indian Community 134 89.98 68.43
Mille Lacs Reservation 1835 66.38 66.38
Minnesota Chippewa Trust Land 1 100.00 100.00
Prairie Island Indian Community 62 50.15 50.15
Red Lake Reservation 1757 99.82 99.82
Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community 116 100.00 100.00
Upper Sioux Community 48 97.92 0.00
White Earth Reservation 3529 78.17 78.17

MN Broadband 2020: Broadband 101: Drive Adoption and Engagement of Your Mobile App

Thanks to everyone who joined us for the conversation on apps…

Drive Adoption and Engagement of Your Mobile App

Offering subscribers a mobile app increases your ability to control the home network — this helps with stickiness and enables you to deliver the ultimate subscriber experience. Now that you’ve got an app for subscribers, how can you get them to download and use it? Get our valuable tips on how you can drive app adoption and engagement

Joe Kohegyi, Director of Marketing Channel Activation, is marketer, product developer and business strategist with a love for understanding consumer behavior and connecting brands and products. With over 15 years of B2B and B2C marketing experience across multiple industries including telecom, Joe helps service providers quickly go-to-market as Calix’s Director of Marketing Channel Activation. Spent 5 years pursuing a career as a professional snowmobile racer before realizing his wife likes seeing her husband and being able to pay the light bill.

 

Candidate Liz Reyer (MN Senate District 51) supports better broadband

The Pioneer Press outlines Senate District 51 candidates. Liz Reyer mentioned a priority on broadband…

What would your top priorities be if elected? 1. Making sure every Minnesotan has access to a good job, affordable healthcare, & housing 2. Connecting every household & business to high-speed broadband to thrive in the new global economy 3. Confronting the climate crisis with clean energy powering the economy of the future 4. Fighting racial disparities in every action and for all communities.

Broadband 2020: Oct 7: Border-to-Border Broadband Project Presentations for the MN Task Force

Border-to-Border Broadband Development Fund Grantee Presentations

Hear about how Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Fund grants are impacting communities.

Rock County

Learn about the history behind Rock County’s border-to-border broadband as well as the projects we have been able to implement because of the broadband available in our county.

Kyle Oldre, Rock County Administrator and Emergency

Management Director.

Calla Jarvie is the library director for the Rock County Community Library in Luverne, Minnesota. Jarvie is the project leader for the Blandin Broadband Communities project in Rock County.

Melrose

What expanded Broadband means to the City of Melrose’s Industrial Park Expansion.

Hear about the “history” of Arvig and the Border-to-Border grant program. Melrose was the first gigabit city in the state of Minnesota and yet there were three businesses south of the interstate that needed more. There is always another pocket to serve.

Mark Birkholz is responsible for sales, operation and service delivery in the Southern Markets, which consists of eight companies and more than 32,000 core service accounts for Arvig.  Mark also is the Director of Customer Relations.  Since 1993, his experience in the communications industry has included management of accounting functions, customer service, billing, sales, marketing, human resources, regulatory, and information technology. Mark joined Arvig Enterprises in 2005 along with the acquisition of Midwest Information Systems, Inc. (MIS). He earned a BS degree in Accounting from Dickinson State University and an Associate’s degree in Sales and Marketing Management from the University of Minnesota, Crookston.

Colleen Winter, City Administrator, City of Melrose. Colleen  serves as the chief administrative officer of the City and is responsible for all day to day operations, policies and governance of the City and Utilities. Colleen has over 30 years experience in local government administration, economic and community development.

10:20   Breakout Sessions with Task Force Subcommittees

ng rural trends, socioeconomic analysis, industrial clusters, the digital divide, and leveraging broadband applications for community economic development. He is also the author of the book “Responsive Countryside: The Digital Age & Rural Communities”, which highlights a 21st century community development model that helps rural communities transition to, plan for, and prosper in the digital age. Dr. Gallardo is a TEDx speaker and his work has been featured in a WIRED magazine article, a MIC.com documentary, and a RFDTV documentary. He lives in West Lafayette with his wife and two daughters.

Broadband 2020: Oct 6 happy hour preview of Oct 7: Broadband Task Force & Roberto Gallardo

We enjoyed an intimate open-house style happy hour tonight. And it was ladies night! I thought to capture the crowd at one point but people came and went. I brought my old MRNet Scavenger t-shirt from 1994 and as it turned out two of us worked at MRnet, which was *the* Minnesota ISP back in 1994. That got us talking about the “good old days” and it reminded us of the timeline we had at the 2019 broadband conference. I told folks I’d share the video tonight. It’s a fun throwback:

Feels like a lifetime ago but remembering the quick paced time of the early Internet helped us remember that times come and go.

Also, I wanted to give people a heads up on the events of tomorrow:

The conference will be hosting the MN Broadband Task Force. We’re delighted to be able to interact with them.

The Task Force will continue meeting after Roberto’s presentation. It’s open to the public and attendees are encouraged to join them. At 1:30 to see them at work. That won’t be hosted by the Blandin Foundation but you can get links to join the online meeting.

Last minute issues? You can get links to the Blandin portion of the meeting online and/or watch the livestream on YouTube or follow the Twitter hashtag #mnbroadband.

Clay County Broadband Profile 2020: Yellow Rating: Ranking out 23 of 87

Green=served Purple=underesrved Red=unserved

Rank (from 100/20 megabits per second): 23
Code: Yellow

Annually, Blandin Foundation pulls together data from the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development and broadband news to gauge progress toward the state broadband goals (25 megabits per second download/3 Mbps upload by 2022 and 100 Mbps/20 Mbps by 2026). Leaders can use this information to improve broadband access and use in their communities. To see how the state is doing overall, or to compare counties, visit the Blandin Foundation interactive map. Or check out past years’ reports: 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Clay County: consistent, incremental improvements over years

If slow and steady wins the race, we might want to keep an eye on Clay County. In 2010, they made the FCC list of worst served Minnesota Counties; they are much better off now. They have seen consistent improvements through the years and local provider, Arvig, received a Border to Border grant in the last round that should help improve access for the next profile.

Broadband Access:

2020 2019 2018 2017
100/20 (2026 goal) 87.57 82.32 82.52 74.13
25/3 (2022 goal) 90.31 95.82 95.45 83.15

Computer Access:

County Households with computer …with desktop or laptop …with a smartphone …with a tablet et al …with other
State of MN 90.3% 81.1% 76.5% 59.3% 3.5%
Clay 87.8% 79.3% 74.7% 57.9% 2.2%

What we learned in the past:

Back in 2010, Clay County made the list of the nine unserved counties in Minnesota based on the FCC Annual Broadband Report, which defined broadband as 4 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up. Clearly Clay County has improved since then. They have a local Minnesota business providing service and choice of providers in much of the county. Their improvements have been slow but steady since we started looking at improvements.

Update from 2020:

2019: Clay County will benefit from a project that was awarded Border to Border funding in the last round.

  • Arvig (Loretel Systems, Inc.) – Cormorant Lakes Area Project – GRANT $430,780
    This middle and last mile project will upgrade approximately 481 unserved locations near Pelican Lake, Lake Ida, Turtle Lake, and Big Cormorant Lake in Otter Tail, Becker, and Clay Counties. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota and Otter Tail County, Arvig will improve broadband service levels up to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. These investments will improve quality of life and business development opportunities.
  • Total eligible project cost is $1,230,800
  • Local match is $800,020

Checklist:

  • Find more articles on broadband in Clay County. (http://tinyurl.com/hcgg9rm)
  • 100/20 Mbps ranking: 23 (up 6 places)
  • Has worked with Blandin: no
  • Has received a MN Broadband grant: no
  • Household density: 21.2

Details:

I am doing the annual look at broadband in each county – based on maps from the Office of Broadband Development and news gathered from the last year. I’m looking at progress toward the 2022 (25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up) and 2026 (100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up) and will code each:

  • Red (yikes)
  • Yellow (warning)
  • Green (good shape)

Chisago County Broadband Profile 2020: Yellow Rating: Ranking out 52 of 87

Green=served Purple=underesrved Red=unserved

Rank (from 100/20 megabits per second): 29
Code: Yellow

Annually, Blandin Foundation pulls together data from the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development and broadband news to gauge progress toward the state broadband goals (25 megabits per second download/3 Mbps upload by 2022 and 100 Mbps/20 Mbps by 2026). Leaders can use this information to improve broadband access and use in their communities. To see how the state is doing overall, or to compare counties, visit the Blandin Foundation interactive map. Or check out past years’ reports: 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Chisago County: has plans, need funding

Like several other counties, Chisago County has areas where there is one national provider (or another). That can lead to bottlenecks when trying to get upgrades, but Chisago has found creative ways to work with national providers to get Border to Border grants to match federal funding. Border to Border grants require projects to build to higher speeds; the federal funding only required 25/3 Mbps and sometimes only as low as 10/1 Mbps. Chisago area has benefited from two grants in that model and a third was just funded in the last round. They are building a momentum for continued improvement.

Chisago County residents spoke with Blandin on Broadband about the impact broadband had on their ability to deal with COVID. (See video below.) The response was mixed because some residents are well served, and some aren’t. That leads to a local digital divide but that also means that the county (especially schools) needs to do things differently to accommodate both sides, which creates another level of digital divide when compared to counties that have ubiquitous coverage.

Broadband Access:

2020 2019 2018 2017
100/20 (2026 goal) 71.92 71.26 69.53 65.45
25/3 (2022 goal) 84.34 83.85 73.27 65.25

Computer Access:

County Households with computer …with desktop or laptop …with a smartphone …with a tablet et al …with other
State of MN 90.3% 81.1% 76.5% 59.3% 3.5%
Chisago 90.7% 83.8% 77.8% 63.7% 2.0%

What we learned in the past:

Chisago County has benefited from two MN broadband grants:

  • 2017 – CenturyLink – Fish Lake Township FTTH Project – GRANT $1,833,724
  • 2016 – SUNRISE TOWNSHIP (CENTURYLINK) FIBER TO THE HOME – GRANT: $1,074,852

In 2018, a Blandin Foundation report looked at the impact of Federal CAF II funding in two towns in Chisago County. The study found that while some areas were upgraded beyond 10/1 Mbps; some remain at speeds that do not meet the 2022 nor 2026 MN broadband goals. With these funded grants, Chisago found a way, in at least some areas, to encourage providers to build to higher speeds; the state grants that require higher speed buildouts.

Update from 2020:

Chisago remains focused on improving broadband in their area. In the last year, Chisago broadband advocate Nancy Hoffman received an honor from the Blandin Foundation. The County and city of North Branch were named Minnesota Telecommuter Forward communities, which means they promote broadband use. Also, they will benefit from CenturyLink’s successful application in the last round of Border to Border grants:

  • CenturyLink (Qwest Corporation) – Nessel Township FTTH Project – GRANT $1,657,550
    This last mile project will upgrade approximately 956 unserved and 64 underserved locations in Nessel Township in Chisago County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota and Nessel Township, CenturyLink will improve broadband service levels up to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. Building a fiber-to-the-premise network that provides advanced, high speed broadband services to households, businesses, and farms in the proposed grant area improves access to critical school e-learning applications while also making agricultural operations more efficient and enhancing crop production through enabled precision agriculture tools. The broadband network will improve access to rural health care resources and will stimulate a more robust local area economy.
  • Total eligible project cost is $5,525,167
  • Local match is $3,867,617

Is broadband a help or hindrance in dealing with COVID?
Chisago County met with Blandin on Broadband to talk about how their broadband situation helped or hindered the ability to deal with COVID restrictions.

The short answer is that it has been both. It’s a help where they have it and a hindrance where they don’t.

They have enough residents without access that they shaped plans around the divide. In the video you’ll hear the story of the have and the have-nots. Two were able to work from home without issues. School was possible. It might not be their top choice, but everything worked. For the other, his son missed classes due to outages in the spring. Trying to work from home, he found that his 25/1 Mbps access was not adequate and he was frustrated because that connection had recently been upgraded with federal funding and was still too slow to meet their needs. Neighbors down the block are less lucky.

The schools did what they could to support students with devices and even mobile hotspots to use at home; unfortunately, hotspots did not work for all households. Some are out of cellular reach.

Checklist:

Details:

I am doing the annual look at broadband in each county – based on maps from the Office of Broadband Development and news gathered from the last year. I’m looking at progress toward the 2022 (25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up) and 2026 (100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up) and will code each:

  • Red (yikes)
  • Yellow (warning)
  • Green (good shape)

Blue Earth County Broadband Profile 2020: Red Rating: Ranking out 42 of 87

Green=served Purple=underesrved Red=unserved

Rank (from 100/20 megabits per second): 42
Code: Red

Annually, Blandin Foundation pulls together data from the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development and broadband news to gauge progress toward the state broadband goals (25 megabits per second download/3 Mbps upload by 2022 and 100 Mbps/20 Mbps by 2026). Leaders can use this information to improve broadband access and use in their communities. To see how the state is doing overall, or to compare counties, visit the Blandin Foundation interactive map. Or check out past years’ reports: 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Blue Earth County: Stalled below 80 percent access to 100/20 Mbps

Between 2017 and 2018, Blue Earth County’s broadband access increased substantially but their ranking has remained stagnant since then. They continue to investigate avenues for improvement; the most recent feasibility study (Jan 2020) indicates that it would be expensive to install fiber. However, a local letter to the editor seems to indicate that at least some residents are ready to move forward. We’ll have to see if they have applications in the most recent Border to Border grant round (which closes Sep 30, 2020) and if they are successfully funded.

Broadband Access:

2020 2019 2018 2017
100/20 (2026 goal) 77.81 77.91 14.13 55.6
25/3 (2022 goal) 85.36 78.33 77.95 88.35

Computer Access:

County Households with computer …with desktop or laptop …with a smartphone …with a tablet et al …with other
State of MN 90.3% 81.1% 76.5% 59.3% 3.5%
Blue Earth 91.6% 84.6% 77.0% 53.7% 3.4%

 What we learned in the past:

In 2017, Blue Earth’s broadband access was deemed non-competitive for business by the FCC. Last year, we noted that Blue Earth County was in danger of not making either the 2022 or 2026 MN speed goals. There were some anomalies, but we’ve moved past to get a consistent picture. It’s not as dire as non-competitive, but signs point to not making the speed goals.

At the end of 2018, Blue Earth County Board resolved to kickstart efforts to bring more broadband options and data fiber connections to the area. In April 2019, they were awarded funding from the Blandin Foundation for a broadband feasibility study, which has been used to help support applications to the state broadband grant program but those applications to date have been unsuccessful.

Update from 2020:

Early in 2020, Blue Earth County unveiled their feasibility study, which included a tough message: If Blue Earth County wants to have rural broadband internet, it’s going to have to pay a potentially unworkable amount of money.

According to the study, it could cost more than $35 million to install 1,067 miles of fiber to connect all rural areas of Blue Earth County, excluding the Mankato area and larger cities such as Lake Crystal and Madison Lake. A combination of wireless networks and fiber, about 161 miles in total, would cost about $11 million to install.

Despite the cost, there was a subsequent local letter to the editor that indicated that residents were prepared to invest: “In these times where rural America is being left behind, according to certain politicians, it seems there would be some kind of push to subsidize rural broadband or require some telecom and broadband providers to contribute to a development fund. Broadband is to the 2020s what rural electricity was to the 1930s. We know rural America got its electricity. Now it needs its broadband.”

These comments were made before the pandemic.

Part of Blue Earth County was served by Jaguar, which was acquired by MetroNet in July (2020). MetroNet claims they will invest $150 million to grow their Minnesota market.

Checklist:

  • Find more articles on broadband in Blue Earth County. (http://tinyurl.com/j5pe9kr)
  • 100/20 Mbps ranking: 42 (down 3)
  • Has worked with Blandin: yes
  • Has received a MN Broadband grant: yes
  • Household density: 31.9

Details:

I am doing the annual look at broadband in each county – based on maps from the Office of Broadband Development and news gathered from the last year. I’m looking at progress toward the 2022 (25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up) and 2026 (100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up) and will code each:

  • Red (yikes)
  • Yellow (warning)
  • Green (good shape)