Frontier using trees as telephone poles in Ceylon

This fall the PUC held a number of public meetings about the service at Frontier. I went to one. People were passionately amgry about the services they received. MPR recently published an article on Fronteir service in Ceylon in Southern Minnesota; another town where people are angry…

You would expect to look up to see Frontier Communications telephone lines in the town of Ceylon, neatly swaying from traditional wood utility poles.

But in parts of town, look down. There they are — black cables snaking through the grass.

“There’s three lines there, that are just laying across the ground,” said John Gibeau, a Ceylon City Council member. “And they run down for probably another 60 yards.”

He gives Frontier’s work on this telephone line project a failing grade. It looks like the cables were successfully laid out, but that’s it. They’ve never been buried or attached to a telephone pole.

It sounds like the network is patchworked at best…

Gibeau points out one line draped across a propane gas tank. When the cable reaches a street, it’s elevated so that vehicles don’t run over it. But not to a telephone pole. Instead the line is supported by the overhead branches.

“It elevates up into the tree that is now acting as a Frontier telephone pole,” Gibeau said. “And so it goes up over the tree, and to the next tree across the street. Through a bunch of branches which isn’t safe. And this here actually has been this way for almost three years.”

Gibeau said one resident worried about severing a Frontier cable with a lawnmower moved the line from the grass into a flower bed for safety. Another attached a line to a post to get it off the ground. Gibeau said town officials have repeatedly asked Frontier to fix the problems, but so far nothing has happened.

And the problem is that without good broadband resdients are losing money and opportunity…

“If we don’t have proper internet, you can kiss these small towns goodbye,” Gibeau said.

Just how important good communication lines are was demonstrated by another testifier at the Slayton hearing. Last summer a construction crew severed the Frontier cable that serves Dale Burkhardt’s southern Minnesota farm. He said it hasn’t been fixed yet.

“I still don’t have a landline, I don’t have an internet,” Burkhardt said. “I’m getting a little fed up.”

During the summer he runs a crop-spraying service. He estimates he’s lost about $10,000 in business because customers can’t reach him.

Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa start a broadband provider

I mentioned this when MPR posted about it a couple weeks ago, but the Minneapolis Star Tribune recently posted about the new tribal provider up in Fond du Lac

The band has created a corporation, Aaniin, to build and provide fiber-optic service to all residents of the reservation, whether or not they’re tribal members. Main lines are in the process of being laid and should be completed sometime in November; workers then will begin the process of running fiber-optic lines to as many as 1,800 households on the roughly 39,000-acre reservation.

Only a handful of tribes nationwide have created their own broadband providers, said Danna MacKenzie, executive director of the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development. But the trend toward rural communities providing their own broadband service is growing, she said.

“We are seeing communities and providers leaning in and finding a lot of good solutions,” MacKenzie said. “And others are getting even more creative in looking at ways to solve what they see as their community needs on their own.”

The state has a goal of seeing that every Minnesota resident has access to broadband service with a minimum download speed of 25 megabits (Mb) per second and upload speed of 3 Mb by 2022. By 2026, the goal is to make upload speed of 100 Mb and download speed of 20 Mb available to all.

Currently, about 82,000 rural households lack access to the broadband speeds set in the 2022 goals, according to data from MacKenzie’s office. About 243,000 households don’t meet the 2026 standards.

Broadband access will provide a wide array of benefits to Fond du Lac residents, Hollinday said.

The agony of rural broadband, the thrill of making it happen

This week City Pages has a nice feature on rural broadband. A good wake up for those of us in the Cities who aren’t living on the frontlines of slow Internet. They do a good job telling the stories…

Outside nearby Gibbon, Linda Kramer endured a similar fix. Her family grows corn, soybeans, and wheat, while her husband also works as a crop consultant. He’d attempt to send field data to clients, only to watch it take days to upload. So he’d find himself driving 40 miles just to deliver thumb drives.

“We weren’t being able to accomplish what people in the cities or other rural areas were able to accomplish,” Kramer says.

Their problems weren’t unique. Across hulking swaths of Minnesota, gas stations struggle to run credit cards. Counties see scant hope of nursing new businesses. And everyone worries the evacuation of their young will only accelerate. Forgive college grads who can’t see futures in places where it takes hours to load an Instagram photo.

They highlight a solution that is working in Renville and Sibley Counties…

Winthrop—population 1,399—was too small to build a high-speed fiber system on its own. So it resorted to a spirit of socialism practiced a century ago, the kind that brought electricity, phone lines, and farm cooperatives to the Minnesota backcountry.

It would seem a despairing quest. Sibley County is in the heart of Trumpland. “Out here, we’re quite conservative,” says Erickson. “When the Republican Party says something, people listen.”

Yet the resulting campaign would exhibit a savvy and insistence few lefty activists could match. It involved 10 cities and 17 townships across Renville and Sibley counties. Over 100 educational meetings spanning two years. Seventy volunteers to carry the load.

The final outcome: RS Fiber, a co-op that delivers better internet than most Twin Citians receive.

And the difference fast broadband has made…

For Jacob Rieke, it means no longer fearing for his daughters’ schooling. He can now employ all the weaponry of precision farming, saving between $5,000 and $20,000 annually on seed costs alone.

For Linda Kramer, it means getting 10 times the speed of her old service for the same price, allowing her family to be “good stewards of the land.” An ability to read the subtleties of a field prevents over-fertilizing, which has left most southwest Minnesota waterways too toxic for swimming. “The technology is really allowing people to do good things.”

RS is also fostering commerce. A new 3D printer business in Gibbon can send data-heavy files to clients. An industrial electrician in Winthrop does work all over the world.

They talk about Windomnet too, another innovative approach to service in rural areas…

Fortune’s success comes courtesy of Windomnet, among the nation’s first city-owned internet concerns. The company’s databases handle orders 24/7, a task impossible in much of outstate, since time-outs and dropped connections corrupt files, turning orders into horrors.

And Paul Bunyan…

The same thing could be said of Bemidji, home to Paul Bunyan Communications. It began as a telephone co-op in the 1950s, eventually moving on to TV and internet across multiple counties. “They’re really transforming that entire region,” says Coleman. “It’s becoming a high-technology center.”

And Lake Connections…

Lake County rode to the rescue. It created Lake Connections, with the unforgiving task of bringing broadband to 11,000 residents scattered across 2,100 square miles, an enterprise no private company would attempt.

 

$43.7 Million in USDA Smart Grid Funding, Could Help Drive More Rural Broadband: 3 projects in MN

Telecompetitor reports…

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded $43.7 million in funding for rural smart grid projects. The USDA smart grid funding was part of a broader announcement of a total of $398.5 million to improve rural electric service in 13 states. The funding came in the form of low-interest loans.

The USDA smart grid funding could be good news for rural broadband providers, as smart grid projects rely on advanced communications infrastructure and rather than build that infrastructure themselves, some electric companies partner with broadband providers for that purpose. In some cases, this can help build a business case for fiber deployment to support broadband services in areas where it previously was not economically feasible.

At least one rural electric company in the latest group of funding recipients has partnered previously with a small rural broadband provider.  Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative partnered with Consolidated Telephone Company on a previous buildout.

The need to deploy communications infrastructure to support the smart grid also is spurring some rural electric cooperatives to become broadband service providers themselves.

They list the award recipients; here are the three from MN:

  • Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MN)
  • Red River Valley Cooperative Power Association (MN)
  • Federated Rural Electric Association (MN)

And more info on the MN projects

Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative received $15,000,000 loan.
This Rural Development investment will add 575 consumers, build 42 miles of line, improve 38 miles and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $2,961,860 for smart grid projects.  Mille Lacs Energy is headquartered in Aitkin. It serves about 15,150 consumers in Aitkin, Crow Wing and Mille Lacs counties.  The economy of the territory is principally based on tourism, recreational activities and light industry.

 

Red River Valley Cooperative Power Association received $8,000,000 loan.
This Rural Development investment will add 414 consumers, build 47 miles of line, improve 44 miles and make other system improvements.  The loan amount includes $1,545,000 for smart grid projects.  Red River Valley is headquartered in Halstad.  It serves 4,606 customers over 1,802 miles of line in Clay, Norman and Polk counties in northwestern Minnesota. The economy of the service area is primarily agricultural.

 

Federated Rural Electric Association received $4,500,000 loan.
This Rural Development investment will add 100 consumers, build 19 miles of line, improve 32 miles and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $1,798,500 for smart grid projects.  Federated is headquartered in Jackson. It provides electric service to 6,789 consumers in seven counties in southern Minnesota and four counties in northwestern Iowa.  The service territory is primarily agricultural.

 

MVTV Wireless helps out Frontier customer after PUC meeting

I heard from a lot of people after I posted about the PUC-Frontier meetings last week. Systemically, people in rural areas are frustrated by lack of choice and competition in broadband providers.

I did hear one happy ending story from MVTV Wireless, a provider that offers another option in some areas. Julie Foote, at MVTV, had reached out to someone who gave public comments at the meeting and was able to get them a better connection. I wanted to share the story – especially if it helps connect someone else to the broadband they need. Here is the Q&A on it…

How did Joe connect with you?  I reached out to Joe after reading the Blandin Blog. I was able to track him down thru work (googled him and found his LinkedIn account). Joe was surprised by how much attention the article was getting, and seemed to be glad that it was making a positive impact. Joe had never heard of MVTV Wireless Internet but was willing to give us a try. He agreed to allow our tech to check his location for Line Of Sight (LOS).

How were you able to help? Signal was available from our Worthington Access Point (AP), our tech installed the radio and Joe’s family now has 25Mbps!

As a member-owned not-for-profit Cooperative, if we had not been able to find LOS to Joe’s home, we would have tracked it as a ‘miss’ and continued to work on a solution if possible. …cause that’s what coops do. We focus on member needs.

This is how MVTV determines where we need to build/expand to next. Each new community is served due to an expressed need for alternative broadband internet choices. This practice enables us to go where we are needed and not waste resources on areas already being served sufficiently.

What speeds and prices are available? MVTV Wireless Internet provides unlimited fixed wireless broadband internet service at speeds ranging from 5Mbps to 25Mpbs. If a business were to need more speed, our Business Sales Team would work with them to find the appropriate technology for their bandwidth needs and mission critical tech support. For a list of plans, go to https://www.mvtvwireless.com/our-products/wireless-internet/ or call our office in Granite Falls at 320-564-4807. The prices listed are exactly what you pay. …no hidden fees. And we do not have contracts.

And how would someone know if you were available in their area? MVTV serves SW MN and a map of our footprint can be found here: https://www.mvtvwireless.com/our-products/wireless-internet/coverage-maps/

And/or on a more macro level – are you interested in talking to new service areas? ABSOLUTELY! Since our $1.85M middle mile network upgrade (which was completed last summer), we are now able to offer faster speeds and reach more areas. Since then, we’ve been actively back-filling areas we had not been able to serve in the past. In just one year, we’ve delivered service to dozens of new communities throughout our footprint.  Residents and businesses should check back with us if they had tried us in the past. We’ll be happy to send a tech for a recheck at no charge.

PUC public hearing on Frontier – the frustration of a community held hostage by a broadband provider

Last night I attended the Public Utilities Commission meeting taking comments from frustrated Frontier customers. This is one of several meetings the PUC is having across the state. There were about 100 people in attendance. The meeting when from 6:00 until after 9:00. People spoke passionately.

The point that most people made was their frustration at having one choice. Most were in the position where there were no other broadband providers that reached their homes. And it sounds like the service is slow (often less that 1 Mbps) and unreliable. Someone mentioned their connection had cut out 75 times in a 24-hour span. Most were disappointed with customer service and billing issues.

One person mentioned that they opted for satellite instead of Frontier – but they were unhappy with satellite as well. Some used mobile hotspots when they really needed to get online. But others mentioned that hotspots were even an option because they leave/work in a cell dead zone.

People were frustrated because they couldn’t work from home. They could run credit cards in their small businesses. Kids couldn’t do homework. It took 5 hours to watch a movie on Netflix due to buffering. Other were worried because the phone went out when the internet went out – and again many were in cell dead zones. They worried about what they would do in case of emergency. How could they make a call to 911?

Living in the Cities, it’s easy to think that everyone has access. But the videos of this meeting are here as a reminder that not everyone does – and often it’s not their choice.

The PUC is accepting written comments until October 3, 2018.

Woodstock Communications expand coverage in Pipestone County

The Pipestone County Star reports…

Fiber optic cable is going in the ground between Edgerton and a communications tower northeast of Trosky as part of Woodstock Communications’ effort to expand internet service in the county.
The tower near Trosky is one of two existing towers the company plans to lease space on and connect fiber to as part of its effort to bring high-speed internet service to unserved parts of Pipestone County with a hybrid fiber-wireless system. The other tower is north of Pipestone.
Woodstock Communications also plans to build two new communications towers — one in Altona Township and one in Eden Township — that it will use to transmit wireless internet service. The towers are expected to provide broadband service within a six-mile radius.
When complete, the system is expected to serve 135 currently unserved households, 540 unserved businesses and one unserved community anchor institution, the Altona Township Hall. It’s expected to provide internet speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloading and 3 Mbps uploading, meeting the federal government definition of broadband. In some areas, higher speeds of 75 Mbps downloading and 25 Mbps uploading are expected.
The fiber installation — about 15-20 miles in all — and tower construction are part of a $967,000 project for which Woodstock Communications received a $363,851 Border-to-Border Broadband Grant from the state of Minnesota last fall.