Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC) partners with Aitkin County to expand better broadband

Aitkin Age reports

Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC) has announced that MLEC fiber internet will become available for more customers.

In partnership with Aitkin County, MLEC is bringing fast and reliable fiber internet service to 565 homes. The project area includes the townships of Idun, Pliny, Rice River, Seavey, White Pine, Williams and the city of McGrath. MLEC will, once again, work with Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC) on the construction of this project and expand the MLEC fiber internet network.

The $4,823,654 grant is a part of the Small Cities Coronavirus Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG-CV). The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) awarded $34,656,956 in grants to 15 Minnesota cities and counties across the state.

As part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), Minnesota received a special allocation to address community needs to prevent, prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the funding will be used for broadband improvement projects. Other uses will include housing assistance, food shelf assistance, retrofitting buildings and commercial rehabilitation projects.

Continue to watch for updated information on Facebook and MLEC’s website. For more information on MLEC fiber internet, call 218-429-0433 or visit www.mlecmn.net/fiber. Project area maps, internet plans and service agreements can all be found online.

New rules mean broadband providers can’t upsell customers using government subsidies

Ars Technica reports

Less than a year after Verizon and other ISPs forced users to switch plans in order to get government-funded discounts, a new federal program will prevent such upselling by requiring ISPs to let customers obtain subsidies on any Internet plan.

With last year’s $50-per-month Emergency Broadband Benefit that was created by Congress, the Federal Communications Commission let ISPs participate in the program as long as they offered the discount on at least one service plan. The FCC said it did so to encourage participation by providers, but some major ISPs drastically limited the subsidy-eligible plans—forcing users to switch to plans that could be more expensive in order to get a temporary discount.

Congress subsequently created a replacement program that will offer $30 monthly subsidies to people with low incomes. The program also specified that ISPs “shall allow an eligible household to apply the affordable connectivity benefit to any Internet service offering of the participating provider at the same terms available to households that are not eligible households.” The FCC still has to make rules for implementing the new Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), but that requirement prevented the FCC from using the same one-plan rule that helped ISPs use the program as an upselling opportunity.

AT&T’s Paul Weirtz named state president of AT&T Wisconsin (as well as MN)

If you don’t know him from anywhere else, careful readers will know Paul Weirtz from his seat on the MN Broadband Task Force. Wisconsin Business reports that we’re going to have to share him – and congrats to Paul…

AT&T* announced today that Paul Weirtz has been named state president of AT&T Wisconsin.

As president of AT&T Wisconsin, Weirtz will lead all external, government and community affairs efforts for AT&T in the state. Weirtz succeeds Scott VanderSanden, who retired in December after nearly 33 years with the company.

“I am honored to lead AT&T external affairs in the great State of Wisconsin,” said Weirtz. “AT&T has a long history of investing in Wisconsin, and I’m excited to work closely with our team to continue those investments, from expanding our networks to giving back to our local communities.”

Weirtz has more than 22 years with AT&T. In 2013, he was named president of AT&T Minnesota. He has served on the Minnesota Governor’s Broadband Task Force since 2015 and played a key role in the passage of small cell legislation in the state in 2017. He has also held positions in local external affairs and government relations for the company.

As current state president for Minnesota, Weirtz will lead legislative and community affairs operations for both Wisconsin and Minnesota, working closely with legislators, business leaders and other policymakers.

HBC Bringing 10 Gigabit Residential Fiber Service to Winona

Good news for Winona…

The City of Winona is about to become the fastest broadband community in southeastern Minnesota. Hiawatha Broadband Communications, Inc. (HBC) has announced it will be constructing a new Fiber-To-The-Premise (FTTP) network in Winona, MN.
HBC President, Dan Pecarina, made the announcement today saying the time has come to update the existing network with state-of-the-art fiber-optics. The project will
allow HBC to provide faster Internet speeds than any other service provider in the area.
“In 2022, HBC is celebrating its 25th anniversary. And what better way to begin our 25th year of serving the Winona community than to build a new, state-of-the-art, fiber-optic network,” said Pecarina. “This new network will provide service speeds of up to 10 Gigabits to our Winona customers, the fastest broadband Internet available.”
Pecarina stressed that all Internet speeds will be symmetrical, meaning a connection with equal download and upload speeds. Gigabit symmetrical speeds are best
delivered with FTTP networks.
“Customers are going to notice their Internet connection will be much smoother and faster, with noticeably lower latency. Higher upload speeds are becoming more and
more necessary given the growth and usage of video conferencing, virtual reality, and other two-way communication services. We are extremely excited about this project and the benefits it will offer Winona’s residents and businesses,” he said.
Construction is scheduled to begin this spring. The project will employ XGS-PON technology which, according to Jim Kronebusch, HBC VP of Technology, will allow the delivery of 10 Gigabit Internet services.
HBC is deploying GigaHome Blast routers in customer’s homes so they can take full advantage of the ultra-fast Internet speeds and allow them to manage their home WiFi
network.
“These routers are WiFi 6 capable, extremely reliable, extraordinarily versatile, and offer exceptional range. And if needed, our Mesh WiFi extenders will fully cover any
size home, and even the garage or back yard” Kronebusch said. “And with our HBC GigaHome app, customers will be able to control their home networks themselves. This includes network security, parental controls, and more.”

HBC’s predecessor, Luminet, was created in 1992 by Bob Kierlin, founder of Fastenal.
Kierlin and others in the community, created the network to connect Winona’s government, health care, business, K-12 and post-secondary education facilities with plans for that network to eventually provide access to City of Winona residents. In 1997, Luminet’s board of directors voted to build a community-wide hybrid fiber-coax network that would serve the greater Winona area and HBC was born.
After completing construction of the network in Winona, HBC expanded its reach adding the communities of St. Charles and Wabasha, with Wabasha being the company’s first all-fiber-optic network in 2005.
Since then, HBC has grown to serve more than 30 towns and cities throughout southeastern Minnesota, with 28 of those being Fiber-To-The-Premise (FTTP) communities. In 2021, HBC began construction of a FTTP network in Hastings, MN.
The company also serves thousands of homes and businesses in some of the most rural areas with its fixed-wireless broadband product, HBC Air.
HBC also built and manages the RS Fiber Cooperative network in central Minnesota.
This network has brought gigabit broadband service to the rural towns and farming areas in parts of five counties.

Fiber Broadband Enters Largest Investment Cycle Ever

The Fiber Association reports…

The Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) today announced the results of its 2021 Fiber Provider Study that reveals fiber broadband is strong and entering the largest investment cycle ever. The research, performed by RVA LLC Market Research & Consulting (RVA), shows that fiber broadband now passes over 60.5 million homes in the U.S. alone—a 12% growth in 2021. The increase in deployments can be attributed to the fact that fiber continues to score higher than any other broadband technology—such as cable, satellite or wireless—in terms of capacity, reliability, latency and customer satisfaction. These benefits have created competition among more diverse sizes and types of service providers that are now racing to reach more subscribers with fiber. The Study suggests that if all federal infrastructure funding is directed at fiber, there could be more fiber deployed in the next five years than all the fiber deployed to-date, enabling the initial U.S. FTTH build to be nearing completion by the end of this decade.

“It is through research like the Fiber Provider Study that we’re able to educate the industry on the benefits of fiber and the positive impact fiber can have on local communities. When every community can leverage fiber optics for its critical infrastructure, we’ll open endless possibilities for prosperity,” said Gary Bolton, President and CEO at the Fiber Broadband Association. “The private sector is increasing its understanding of the importance of fiber and government efforts to close the digital divide have never been greater. This momentum is exciting and sets the stage for our industry to finally deliver digital equity to everyone regardless of where they live, work or play.”

The Study revealed that 43% of U.S. households and 60% of Canadian households now have access to fiber. Larger providers such as AT&T, Verizon, Lumen and the top five cable MSOs have built nearly three-fourths (72%) of overall fiber broadband access, with Tier 2 regional operators like Windstream, Frontier, Consolidated and TDS making up 10% of the growth. Unique to the U.S., over 1,200 Tier 3 market players with smaller projects ranging from a single state to three or four states compose the other 17% to 18% of the build. This group includes a mix of rural telcos, private competitive carriers, rural electric companies, smaller cable companies and municipalities.

While there is currently a steady increase in fiber deployments, there are several challenges that the industry will have to overcome before it can complete FTTH builds within this decade. Supply chain and labor shortages were the greatest perceived concern of mid-size and small providers. The FBA has welcomed several supply chain speakers on recent episodes of its Fiber for Breakfast series to offer guidance on how to navigate through the challenges. To address labor concerns, the FBA created its Optical Telecom Installation Certification (OpTIC) Program to design expert fiber broadband curriculum, fill the existing fiber skills gap and accelerate fiber deployments across North America.

Fiber providers are also concerned about how to ensure that the vast majority of federal funding goes to fiber. The FBA continues to conduct research and provide evidence that investing federal money in non-fiber broadband is irresponsible because fiber-based broadband performance metrics measure the highest for download and upload speed, latency and reliability. Additionally, the FBA is working with the NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association to publish a Broadband Infrastructure Playbook to assist State governments in best leveraging infrastructure funding. The Playbook will outline the benefits for consumers and communities of directing funds towards reliable future-proof fiber networks, recommendations for best structuring State broadband programs, templates for funding applications and more.

 

AT&T and Verizon Agree to New Delay of 5G Rollout

As someone who is currently on a road trip to California with plans to fly home, I am pleased to share a recap from Benton

AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay their rollout of a new 5G service for two weeks, after the Federal Aviation Administration requested they do so in an effort to mitigate potential interference with airplane safety systems. At Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s request, “we have voluntarily agreed to one additional two-week delay,” an AT&T spokesperson said. “We know aviation safety and 5G can co-exist and we are confident further collaboration and technical assessment will allay any issues.” The sudden turn of events came as the Federal Aviation Administration was preparing to soon issue flight restrictions that US airlines worried would significantly disrupt air-travel and cargo shipments around the country. Airlines for America, which represents major passenger and cargo carriers, had planned to ask a federal court to block the 5G rollout slated for Jan 5. The trade group held off once both telecom carriers agreed to further delay their 5G rollout until Jan. 19.

To be fair my concern is more related to my fear of flying that knowing anything about the real risk of 5G.

Paul Bunyan Communications shares info on the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program

Good info for folks in and out of Paul Bunyan coverage area…

Today, Paul Bunyan Communications announced it is working to help build awareness about the Affordable Connectivity Program, a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program.  The new long-term benefit will help to lower the cost of broadband service for eligible households struggling to afford internet service.

The $14 billion Affordable Connectivity Program 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.  The benefit also provides up to a $100 per household discount toward a one-time purchase of a computer, laptop, or tablet if the household contributes more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase through a participating broadband provider.

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 in one 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.

Affordable Connectivity Program enrollment opened on December 31, 2021. Eligible households can enroll through a participating broadband provider or by (1) going to ACPBenefit.org to submit an online application or print a mail-in application and (2) contacting their preferred participating broadband provider and selecting a plan.  Additional information about the Emergency Broadband 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.

Kandiyohi County spends $56,000 in ARPA on broadband project

The West Central Tribune reports…

Twenty-three homes along 30th Avenue Northwest in Dovre Township of Kandiyohi County might soon have access to high-speed broadband. A proposed Charter project would bring speeds up to 100 megabits download and 20 megabits upload to the area, which is currently considered unserved by the state.

“It is kind of isolated,” said Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl at the Dec. 21 Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners meeting. “We are trying to get them some broadband coverage.”

Continuing its commitment to broadband expansion, the county commissioners approved granting the project $56,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds, the latest in several projects to which the board has given money.

The total project is expected to cost $136,000, with Charter contributing $80,500, or 59%, of the cost. Construction is scheduled to begin in April.

Kleindl said Dovre Township will also be asked to participate, which might reduce the county’s share of the bill. However, the county will cover the remaining costs if Dovre Township decides not to take part, as the county doesn’t want Charter to pull out of the project.

KMTelecom earns award for broadband connectivity (Dodge County)

Post Bulletin reports

KM Telecom, the broadband provider serving the Kasson-Mantorville area, has earned the Smart Rural Communities designation from the Rural Broadband Association.

With a greater need for rural broadband access – from distance learning for schools, telemedicine, and online working accommodations – the need for broadband access in rural areas is growing.

To earn the designation, KM Telecom demonstrated high-capacity broadband capabilities as well as community subscription to its services. More importantly, the program requires local communications providers to work actively with other local leaders to develop broadband-based solutions to improve local conditions.

“The community of Kasson salutes KM Telecom for its hard work to meet these standards, which enable our residents to fully participate in today’s connected society,” said Kasson Mayor Chris McKern. “Because of access to high-speed internet, Kasson provides its residents with educational and economic opportunities on par with those in the most connected regions of America.”

Survey of Rural Broadband providers show half of collective customer base can get Gig service

The Rural Broadband Association (NTCA) surveys their members (850 rural rate-of-return regulated telecommunications providers in 44 states) annually. You can learn a lot from the results. I was focused on recognizing how many independent rural telcos have grown into full service FTTH providers. Especially as the MN Broadband Task Force looks at how to get better broadband to the far corners of the state, this survey is a reminder that is can be done. That lots of providers are doing this – we just need to support the ones that are making the connections for the future!

For example, it’s great to see the download and upload speed averages. More than half of the customers can get gig access down or up; while less than 4 percent are stuck with 10 Mbps down and less than 9 percent stuck with 3 Mbps up. A critical mass is being reached, which means we can start to set expectations higher.

With respect to downstream service availability, on average, respondents reported that the following percentages of their customer base can receive maximum speeds of:

  • Greater than/equal to 1 Gig: 55.4%
  • Greater than/equal to 100 Mbps but less than 1 Gig: 20.2%
  • Greater than/equal to 25 Mbps but less than 100 Mbps: 10.6%
  • Greater than/equal to 10 Mbps but less than 25 Mbps: 10.1%
  • Less than 10 Mbps: 3.7%

With respect to upstream service availability, respondents indicated the following percentages of their customer base can receive, on average, maximum speeds of:

  • Greater than/equal to 1 Gig: 52.3%
  • Greater than/equal to 100 Mbps but less than 1 Gig: 21.3%
  • Greater than/equal to 20 Mbps but less than 100 Mbps: 6.4%
  • Greater than/equal to 10 Mbps but less than 20 Mbps: 5.2%
  • Greater than/equal to 3 Mbps but less than 10 Mbps: 6.2%
  • Less than 3 Mbps: 8.5%

So the next question is – how can we help the providers that want to extend fiber? As the graphic below indicates, cost is still the major barrier and the public sector is poised to help dole out unprecedented funds in the upcoming years.

The next step is looking at adoption to ensure that demand will meet growing supplies…

Change in broadband provider ownership (Federated Rural) in Jackson, Cottonwood, Nobles, Martin, Murray and Brown Counties

The Worthington Globe reports

Federated Rural Electric’s Board of Directors approved the acquisition of Back 40 Wireless on Nov. 30.

Back 40 Wireless is a wireless internet company currently owned by Troy Rasmussen doing business from downtown Jackson. The transfer of ownership to Federated will take place on Dec. 31, with a formal closing on Jan. 7.

The business name will change to Federated Broadband at that time, and Back 40’s existing downtown location at 205 Second St. will close Dec. 31.

Back 40 Wireless provides rural internet service to Jackson, Cottonwood, Nobles, Martin, Murray and Brown counties in Minnesota, as well as Osceola, Dickinson and Emmet counties in Iowa.

“The new business plans include maintaining their great level of service, while expanding our services to reach the entire Federated service area and beyond if requested,” said Scott Reimer, Federated’s general manager. “Federated Broadband will operate independently from the electric utility operations, as a self-sustaining business.”

They are making plans for expansion…

“We will continue working on applying for grants and loans for deploying fiber optic internet in the future for Federated members in both counties,” said David Hansen, Federated Board president. “In fact, the Board approved hiring a consulting firm Dec. 6 to submit Federated’s application for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Reconnect grant and loan program to cover fiber broadband. This application deadline is Feb. 22.”

Federated has experience with providing internet service, as the co-op has offered Wild Blue satellite internet since 2012, which became Exede satellite service. The remaining Federated satellite customers will be offered the faster service through Federated Broadband.

Federated is a Touchstone Energy cooperative serving 6,800 members in Jackson and Martin counties.

LTD seems confident in their RDOF broadband applications

Regular readers will know about the federal money coming through RDOF. IN short, the FCC held an auction and awarded possible contracts to the winners. What the winners actually got was a chance to complete a long form proposal. LTD is one of the biggest winners of the opportunity; their possible areas cover much of Minnesota and there has been controversy about their ability to deploy the broadband they are understand to do (fiber) and communities have been left in a limbo for more than a year now waiting to hear what happens. Telecompetitor recently posts about a webinar where LTD spoke more about their opportunities…

At stake is $1.3 billion in funding that LTD Broadband was tentatively awarded to bring fiber broadband, primarily at gigabit speeds, to parts of 15 states. The FCC has not yet approved LTD Broadband’s long-form RDOF application, a requirement before funding can be released to the company, but that’s not unusual in the case of the largest winners.

The 10 largest winners in the auction account for three quarters of the $9.2 billion tentatively awarded and most of those winners also have not yet had their long-form applications approved.

The RDOF auction tentatively awarded funding to bring broadband to unserved rural areas, with funding for an area going to the company that committed to deploying service for the lowest level of support. A weighting system favored bids to provide higher-speed, lower-latency service.

LTD Broadband’s win calls for low-latency service at speeds of 1 Gbps downstream and 500 Mbps upstream throughout a large part of the areas won.

LTD seems confident in their long form proposal…

RDOF plans call for the company to “keep growing at a massive rate” and to create regional hubs for handling construction, including one in Colorado, one in Texas and one in Illinois.

Asked whether LTD Broadband has a contingency plan in case its RDOF long-form application is not approved, Hauer said that’s not on the radar.

“The FCC has been very collaborative with us and other awardees,” he said. “They want RDOF to be successful. They want the companies participating in it to succeed and complete the obligation.”

Nuvera Communications Announces Plans for New Gig-Speed Fiber Internet Service Across Minnesota

Big news from Nuvera Communications especially for the following counties: Brown, McLeod, Goodhue, Meeker, Redwood Falls and Scott …

Nuvera Communications, Inc. (OTC: NUVR) a diversified communications company headquartered in New Ulm, Minnesota, announced today plans to build and deploy Gig-speed fiber internet across its network creating crucial access to the fastest speeds available for rural communities, small cities and suburban areas across Minnesota.
“This is a transformational moment for Nuvera as we make a future-focused investment in the communities we serve by providing the most reliable fiber-to-the-home access to
Gig-speed services,” said Glenn Zerbe, Chief Executive Officer, Nuvera Communications. “Our homes, businesses and communities need reliable and affordable connections to school, workplaces and entertainment, as an important and growing part of everyday life.”
“Nuvera’s investment in fiber-to-the-home network infrastructure will allow more underserved communities across Minnesota to leverage the quality of life and economic opportunity that access to a state-of-the-art network provides now and for years to come.” said, State Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato.
Nuvera’s Gig-speed end-to-end fiber network is building and rolling out now.
Service will be available for thousands of customers in 2022. The company will continue to build and deploy the Gig-speed service over the next few years.
“We’re excited to create ‘Nuvera Gig Cities’ in the communities we serve while also expanding access to fiber-based internet service at a range of speeds,” said Zerbe.
“Nuvera’s fiber network gives customers affordable access to a range of speeds from 100 Mbps to 1 Gigabit at prices that are the same whether you’re in rural Goodhue or
suburban Prior Lake.”
While Nuvera’s goal is to bring Gig-speed service to as many communities as possible, the initial buildout will focus on the following cities and surrounding communities:
• New Ulm
• Hutchinson
• Glencoe

• Goodhue
• Litchfield
• Redwood Falls
• Prior Lake
• Elko New Market
• Savage
• Sleepy Eye
• Springfield
• Aurelia, IA
Nuvera’s fiber internet prices range from $50 per month to $125 per month for Gig-speed services. Customers can choose the right speed at an affordable price, including low-income households through Federal programs.
Residential and business customers can find out more about Nuvera Gig-speed Internet and request notifications about when new service is available in their area by going to NuveraGigCities.com.

Hy-Vee is launching low-cost telehealth and online pharmacy services

KTTC Rochester reports…

Hy-Vee, Inc. is launching a new national subsidiary that will provide low-cost telehealth, online pharmacy services, and direct shipping of prescribed treatments to patients’ homes throughout the U.S.

RedBox Rx will make it easy for people to get treatment offering quick, easy and discreet access to a provider who can prescribe prescription medication that is then shipped for free directly to the patient.

Find services offered here: https://www.redboxrx.com/services