Blandin Broadband eNews: Reports and questions about federal maps

Border to Border Broadband: Transforming Minnesota Oct 23-24
Join policymakers, economic and community development professionals and community broadband champions from across the state for this annual opportunity to learn, connect and engage.

Is CAF 2 A Good Investment?
The Blandin Foundation releases a report on the networks being built with federal funding (CAF 2) given to large, price cap carriers in Minnesota. Based on field reports, many areas served will not have access to meet state speed goals of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up even after the investment.

Learn more at a webinar on Thursday, July 19 from 3-4pm: “Leveraging CAF II Dollars to Bring World-Class Broadband to your Community”

Are the Federal broadband maps accurate?
Trade publication, New Food Economy, questions the accuracy and validity of the federal broadband maps, which are instrumental in determining policies and subsidies used to expand broadband access.

Helping Kids without Broadband
Consortium for School Networking releases a toolkit to help close the homework gaps for kids without broadband.

National Broadband Listening Sessions Start in Minnesota
Farm Foundation, NTCA, CoBank, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp. and USDA held a broadband listening session in Faribault. Minnesota was posited as a model state for supporting rural broadband. Attendees asked questions about CAF 2 funding.

Daily Yonder features Blandin Case Study
The Daily Yonder features the Blandin’s Case Studies Measuring the Impact of Broadband in Five Minnesota Communities and the formulas used to factor the community return on public investment of broadband.

Federal Policies – actions and notes

Provider News

Local Broadband News

Representative Kiel and Senator Johnson talk about broadband and upcoming listening sessions

Ely uses first fiber connection to connect a coworking space

Gibbon celebrates their FTTH connectivity with a new 3D printer on Main Street

Granite Falls
Granite Falls is host to a statewide planning session where broadband becomes a table topic

Lake County
NBC draws from Lake County for story of broadband success and cites recent Blandin report

Lake Park
Lake Park citizens tell Senators Utke and Green that they want better broadband and ask about Net Neutrality

Frustrated citizen in Minnetrista wonders why the city doesn’t have broadband

Northwestern Minnesota
AT&T is investing in northwestern Minnesota

Rock County
Rock County is selected as a Blandin Broadband Community

St Paul / Minneapolis
The NDIA ranks worst connected cities: St Paul is #74 and Minneapolis #120

Outside News Related to MN

North Carolina
North Carolina sees Minnesota broadband plan as model

West Virginia
West Virginia is looking to Minnesota (Blandin) research report for path for better broadband

Lack of rural broadband is hurting business – reprinted letter from Inter-County Leader

Upcoming Events & 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

On Minnesota’s broadband maps, far too much of greater Minnesota is still unserved. If you zoom into the map, however, you will see that most towns are considered served, with 100 Mb/20 Mb service available, areas outside cities and towns are not.  Many communities have three wired providers for businesses and key community institutions or community-wide.  That is good news.

In pre-Internet days, I managed the state’s business retention and expansion (BRE) program; training and assisting community teams to interview businesses, identify key issues and provide assistance to spur growth of investment and employment.  Today, tech use would be a key BRE element, not only for businesses, but also checking up on chambers of commerce, schools, health care providers and local governments.  As people make decisions on where to live and invest, a town lacking in apparent tech savvy will lose out to places with a tech edge.

For many towns, lack of broadband service can no longer be an excuse for not keeping up with tech trends.  Seek out partnerships to promote available broadband and tech support services.  Convene institutional leaders to create and pursue a shared vision of tech adoption, for tech-based economic development leadership.  If broadband access is still an issue, due to capacity, price and/or reliability, use these same leaders to work intensively on this issue as well as utilization.

Need to know how to get started?  Blandin’s recent case study on broadband ROI is a rich resource illustrating what five smart communities are doing to promote a tech workforce and organizational innovation.  They are successfully branding themselves as high tech rural places. These efforts are increasingly inclusive and sustainable.  The Intelligent Community Forum ( has a treasure trove of information on the global competition for people and investment.

My advice: Follow suit or get left behind!

Lyon County Broadband Feasibility Study: hybrid fiber and wireless solutions are economically viable

With funding from the Blandin Foundation, Lyon County worked with Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting on a study that would look at if and how the county might take on bringing better broadband to all corners of the county.

Here’s the executive summary of the Lyon County Broadband Feasibility Study – check out the full study for greater details and next steps…

Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting submit this report of our findings and recommendations for the feasibility of finding a broadband solution for those parts of the county without broadband today. The county is typical of many rural counties where a substantial part of the county has or will soon have good broadband, including fiber, while other parts of the county have little or no broadband. This disparity in broadband coverage is already harming those portions of the county without broadband and you can expect those areas to suffer lower housing prices and become places where families and business don’t want to be located.

Our study area looked at the feasibility of bringing broadband to the parts of the county that are not expected to have fast broadband to homes and businesses over the next few years. The areas served today by Woodstock Communications already have fiber. Minnesota Valley Telephone plans to build fiber in their exchange. Marshall and Tracy are served by two cable companies with fast broadband. Finally, Midcontinent Communications got a grant this year to improve broadband speeds in Taunton, Minnesota and Ghent. That leaves a study consisting of the rural areas served today by CenturyLink and Frontier Communications including the towns of Green Valley, Cottonwood, Amiret, and Florence. We also looked at scenarios that build fiber to Balaton and Lynd, even though Woodstock Communications has requested grant funding to build fiber to those towns.

The studies looked at two scenarios—building fiber to the study area and building a hybrid combination of wireless technology and fiber. The wireless network designed by Finley is intended to supply at least 25 Mbps download to rural homes in the county, which is a significant improvement for those without good broadband today. Some customers will be able to get even faster speeds on the wireless network.

However, we know the county’s goal is to eventually have fiber everywhere and so implementing a wireless network would not be a permanent solution. All of the broadband trends in the country show that the amount of bandwidth needed by a typical home will keep growing, and at some time in the future a wireless network would become obsolete in the same manner that has happened in the past with dial-up and DSL broadband.

We view the hybrid fiber and wireless solution and a great first step towards improving broadband. This option would bring fiber immediately to about a third of the rural homes in the county, including the towns of Green Valley, Cottonwood, Amiret, and Florence. And the fiber constructed for this scenario is a first step in getting fiber closer to everybody in the county. We think a reasonable business plan is to start with the hybrid option and extend fiber to everybody over time.

Our analysis shows that it is not economically feasible to build fiber everywhere in the rural parts of the county using the existing Border-to-Border grant program—the 50% grant matching in that program is not enough to create a sustainable network. However, the hybrid fiber and wireless solutions all look to be economically viable.

The report discusses the next steps the county needs to take after digesting the results of this study. These include such things as looking for a partner to bring broadband to those areas without it today. The goal would be to have a partner by next year to be ready for future state grant funds.

T-Mobile Fined $40 Million After Tricking Rural Customers With ‘False Ring Tones’

Gizmodo reports…

T-Mobile has admitted it engaging in misleading calling practices with its rural customers, and as part of an FCC settlement, is coughing up $40 million.

What exactly was T-Mobile trying to get away with? At issue is the practice of injecting false ring tones, causing rural customers to think their calls had already connected. Practically, that means while T-Mobile was trying to establish a link between parties—sometimes using additional local carriers for some of these more secluded customers—the phone was ringing in the earpiece of the caller, even though the callee might have never gotten a single ring.

A bill relating to Minnesota ISPs activities (HF4411) is introduced

According to the April 16th Journal of the House

Hilstrom introduced:

H.F. No. 4411, A bill for an act relating to broadband service; prohibiting certain activities by Internet service providers serving Minnesota customers and those under contract to the state or political subdivisions; proposing coding for new law in Minnesota Statutes, chapters 16C; 325F.

The bill was read for the first time and referred to the Committee on Commerce and Regulatory Reform.

USDA Seeks Applicants for Rural Broadband Access Loans

As announced by the Benton Foundation…

The Rural Utilities Service (RUS), an Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), announces that it is accepting applications for fiscal year (FY) 2018 for the Rural Broadband Access Loans and Loan Guarantees Program (the Broadband Program). Applications will be processed on a first come, first served basis. Every ninety (90) days, RUS will conduct an evaluation of the submitted applications.

Here’s more info from the Federal Register...

SUMMARY: The Rural Utilities Service (RUS), an Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA),
announces that it is accepting applications for fiscal year (FY) 2018 for the Rural Broadband Access Loans and
Loan Guarantees Program (the Broadband Program). RUS will publish on its website  
the amount of funding received through the final
appropriations act.
Since the passage of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (2014 Farm Bill), RUS has only accepted applications according to discrete application windows as identified in notices published in the Federal Register. However, based on a
review of the applications submitted since the implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill, RUS has determined that the use of application windows has not
effectively supported the Agency’s mission to finance improved broadband service in rural areas. As a result, RUS is accepting applications on a rolling basis throughout FY 2018. This will give RUS the ability to request additional
information and modifications to a submitted application whenever necessary.
Applications will be processed on a first come, first served basis. Every ninety (90) days, RUS will conduct an
evaluation of the submitted applications. During the evaluation period, applications will be ranked
based on the percentage of unserved households that the applicant proposes to serve. RUS anticipates that it will
conduct at least two evaluation periods for FY 2018. Because the Agency will receive applications throughout the
fiscal year, subsequent evaluation periods can alter the ranking of applications.
In addition to announcing its acceptance of FY 2018 applications, RUS revises the minimum and
maximum amounts for broadband loans for the fiscal year.
DATES: Applications under this NOSA will be accepted immediately through September 30, 2018. RUS will process
loan applications as they are received.

In 10 years the digital economy grew 5.6% compared to overall economic growth of 1.5%

The Bureau of Economic Analysis just released a report – an inaugural report on the digital economy – Defining and Measuring the Digital Economy.

The working paper set out to do a few things – define the digital economy, measure it and create conversations to move measurement and research forward.

Here are some of the economic highlights from the report:

  • Digital economy real value added grew at an average annual rate of 5.6 percent, outpacing the average annual rate of growth for the overall economy of 1.5 percent
  • In 2016, digital economy real (inflation‐ adjusted) value added totaled $1,302.2 billion, 82.2 percent larger than it was in 2005.
  • During this economic recovery, prices for digital economy good and services decreased at an average annual rate of 0.4 percent (chart 8). Prices for all goods and services in the economy increased at an average annual rate of 1.5 percent.
  • Workers in the digital economy earned average annual compensation of $114,275 compared to the economy‐wide average of $66,498.

The report also set out to define the digital economy. There has been a push for a better way to measure the economic impact of broadband for at least a year. I think this is a good first step. Here’s a brief take on what they did..

Conceptually, a digital economy satellite account should include all goods and services related to the digital economy. However, the preliminary estimates presented here are based on goods and services that are primarily digital. There are numerous challenges to estimating the economic contribution of “partially‐digital” goods and services which are laid out in this report. These challenges are opportunities for future research to expand these early estimates into a complete digital economy satellite account.

They have included things like digital‐enabling infrastructure (hardware, networks) but not peer-to-peer economy such as Uber. So I think there are ways to improve on their definition – but they do too. In fact, they ask for feedback!

West Central Regional Roundtable on Broadband – providers, legislators and community leaders

Back at the regional tour of broadband discussion with Bill Coleman with a stop in Fergus Falls today to talk with the Mid-Minnesota Region. There were 50 people in the room including Rep Jeff Backer, Rep Paul Anderson, Rep Bud Nornes and representatives from Senators Klobuchar and Smith.

It was a good mix in the crowd with folks who knew policy, folks who knew technology and folks who knew they needed better broadband. It was interesting to hear what Otter Tail County has done to ensure that everyone in the county gets broadband in the future. They are working with providers, getting a view of what’s happening and likely to happen with a feasibility study (thanks to support from the Blandin Foundation).

We also got a quick update on policy from the legislators who attended.

Continue reading