Dakota County plans for CARES and Broadband (Meeting Aug 4)

If you have an interest in what’s happening in Dakota County or you just want to hear/see what another county is doing, you might consider attending the discussion (online and in person) in Dakota County

WHEREAS, Dakota County is committed to be a high-performing organization for the citizens of the County; and

WHEREAS, the Workshop will be an opportunity for the County Board to discuss Broadband; and

WHEREAS, staff recommends holding a workshop to allow staff to receive direction from the County Board on Broadband.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the Dakota County Board of Commissioners hereby schedules a County Board Workshop for Tuesday, August 4, 2020, following the General Government and Policy Committee, in the Boardroom, Administration Center, 1590 Highway 55, Hastings, MN, or via telephone or other electronic means if necessary due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to receive comments on staff direction for Broadband.

You can learn a little more about their plan (easier to read on their site)

Update On Process And Timeline For Potential COVID-19 Related Broadband Expansion Using CARES Act Funding

PURPOSE/ACTION REQUESTED
Provide an update on the process and timeline in developing COVID-19 related Broadband Expansion in Dakota County.
SUMMARY
The County is interested in learning about potential opportunities to invest CARES Act funds to better support our residents to engage in remote learning, work from home, and other activities that require a robust network of connectivity and to better meet the public service needs revealed by the pandemic. Dakota County requires broadband infrastructure built out to serve the unserved and underserved. The County is interested in exploring all technologies available to address the unserved and underserved areas of the County (Attachment A). These areas can be large or small geographically or in population.
The County will mail letters of interest (Attachment B) to all service providers (Attachment C) in the County asking them to respond with project areas that can be built out to better serve the residents of the County. Submissions must specify the unserved or underserved area(s) to be addressed, the total cost and funds requested from the County, and the timeline including the firm completion date. The Information Technology (IT) Department will review and recommend the best potential projects and setup meetings to fully develop project plans.
Proposed Time Line:
July 28, 2020 – send Letters of Interest to all service providers
August 12, 2020 – deadline for receipt of responses
Week ending August 21, 2020 reviewing responses
Request Board approval in September
Contracts for approved projects executed September
October/November buildout
Payment before December 1st
County IT will update the board with specific project locations, cost and project schedules.
RECOMMENDATION
Information only; no action requested.
EXPLANATION OF FISCAL/FTE IMPACTS
Funding for any projects, if approved, would be expected to use CARES Act funds with an amount to be
determined.

And a look at the letter that is going out…

DATE: July 28, 2020
TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Dan Cater, Chief Information Officer
SUBJECT: Broadband Connectivity within Dakota County borders
Dakota County Government has an interest in expanding high speed internet throughout Dakota County as the COVID-19 situation has illustrated the need for faster more reliable connectivity for our citizens, business, and other agencies.
The County is interested in learning about potential opportunities to invest CARES Act funds to better support our residents to engage in remote learning, work from home, and other activities that require a robust network of connectivity and to better meet the public service needs revealed by the pandemic.
Dakota County requires broadband infrastructure built out to serve the unserved and underserved. The County is interested in exploring all technologies available to address the unserved and underserved areas of the County. These areas can be large or small geographically or in population.
Attached is the most recent service inventory map produced by the State of Minnesota Deed Office of Broadband. CARES Act requires an aggressive timeline. Submissions must specify the unserved or underserved area(s) to be addressed, the total cost and funds requested from the County, and the timeline including the firm completion date. Work and payment need to be completed before
December 1st of this year. A high-level timeline is below:
– July 28th – letter soliciting proposals/plans
– August 12
th – deadline for receipt of responses
– Week ending August 21st review responses, setting up zoom meetings
– Request Board approval in September
– Contracts executed in September
– October/November buildout
– Payment before December 1st
Please let us know if you have an interest in discussing in providing a solution by contacting
Dan.Ferber@co.dakota.mn.us or Dan.Cater@co.dakota.mn.us.

Dakota County is always generous with public access to documents, which I think can be a gift to counties with fewer staff working on broadband.

Crow Wing County puts $1.5M of CARES funds into broadband & CTC

The Brainerd Dispatch reports…

The Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, July 28, approved a plan to distribute dollars from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. After $1.5 million expected to be applied toward reimbursing the county’s expenses, the program includes $3 million toward grants for businesses, $1.5 million for broadband expansion and $1 million for nonprofits grants. An additional $1 million could be shifted to any of those categories, depending on need.

Sounds like folks were OK with broadband but some discussion on the details…

CARES Act fund will also support three broadband expansion projects in the county: for Camp Vanasek in Baxter and the surrounding area, an area surrounding Borden Lake including the township halls of Bay Lake and Garrison, and a corridor along County Highway 13 in Lake Edward Township. Commissioner Rosemary Franzen, who asked for the latter project to be included, said Tuesday officials with the township were willing to commit their own CARES Act funds to the broadband expansion.

County Administrator Tim Houle said last week applying these funds toward broadband expansion would not only better equip residents for the new realities of virtual communication, it would be an investment outlasting the pandemic. With social distancing playing a major role in the response, the demand to connect virtually for distance learning or telework has increased dramatically.

The funding will go to CTC telecommunications company, which will also receive funds to cover the cost of providing Wi-Fi access points throughout the community to aid in distance learning efforts and COVID-related broadband installations completed from March to May. CTC CEO Kristi Westbrock said Monday they were in the process of surveying customers to determine how many of those new installations were directly related to needs associated with telework, distance learning or telemedicine.

The measure passed 4-1 with Commissioner Doug Houge opposed. Houge voted against the package because he said he didn’t think it was fair to offer CARES Act dollars only to CTC, when he thought other providers would be interested in pursuing broadband projects in the county.

“We’ve got, how many, four or five providers up there that I know would have projects if this is a definite allowable use of these dollars,” Houge said. “I think it’s only fair that we give them the opportunity to utilize those if they’re comfortable that it’s an allowable use. It just seems like we’re pushing this through without all of the information.”

There was some question as to whether applying CARES Act funding to broadband expansion would be an allowed use of those dollars. Westbrock previously said she’d done the legwork to help ensure it would pass an audit and committed to paying the money back if it became necessary, although there was no official word giving it the OK.

Houle said the contingency dollars could potentially be used for other companies’ broadband projects.

“There is still the potential to do some additional project work and … consistent with what the board’s action, or discussion I should say, was yesterday, I am reaching out to the other telecommunications companies,” he said. “ … What I’m suggesting is, that door’s not closed yet. It’s a pretty tight timeframe. It has to be in the ground by Dec. 1st.”

Houge said with $1.5 million set aside for CTC alone and $1 million in the contingency fund, the other companies would receive much smaller amounts if it was determined to be an allowable use. He said he agreed with all the other aspects of the CARES Act funding program, but was concerned the board was making a decision too quickly on the broadband piece.

Franzen said she thought Houle was doing a good job contacting providers and noted CTC was the only company stating it would pay back funds if the use was not allowed. Houge reiterated he thought that point should be nailed down.

“Well, I think this is a great opportunity,” Franzen said.

“I’m not saying it isn’t a great opportunity, I’m saying let’s make it fair to all the providers,” Houge replied.

“It is,” Franzen said.

“I don’t believe it is,” Houge replied.

Chairman Paul Koering suggested he’d postpone the matter until the next county board meeting. Houge said he still wanted to move forward on the other items. Franzen made a motion to approve the plan, which was seconded by Commissioner Steve Barrows.

COVID exacerbates the gap between haves and have-nots – starting with healthcare facilities vs broadband providers

High Plains Journal reports on a recent webinar on rural telehealth…

A July 15 webinar on those issues was hosted by Kevin Oliver, lead relationship manager at CoBank, part of the Farm Credit System that supports key initiatives in both rural broadband and healthcare. Titled “COVID-19 Impacts On Rural Healthcare and Broadband,” it is the fourth in the “From the Farmgate” series of webinars sponsored by CoBank. The speakers were Rick Breuer, CEO of Community Memorial Hospital, located in a rural area of Minnesota just west of Duluth; and Catherine Moyer, CEO of Pioneer Communications, which provides connectivity services in western Kansas via coaxial cable, copper wire, fiber and wireless.

I was especially interested in the bottom line impact to the broadband providers versus the healthcare facilities (the tele vs the health)…

Oliver noted that the cost dynamic was different for health care facilities and communications. Health care facilities saw a simultaneous increase in costs and decreases in revenue. On the other hand, communications companies have added customers and grown more quickly than they might have otherwise. While some payments are in arrears, “most of those arrears will be collectible,” said Moyer—whether from customers, or by laws like the Critical Connections Act that reimburses communications companies. Moyer said Pioneer had “donated” about $500,000 worth of connection services that may or may not be reimbursed.

Breuer said he doesn’t expect revenues at the hospital to return to anything like their full levels for at least a year.  The hospital has managed to avoid layoffs or furloughs, “but we’re getting [through] by the skin of our teeth.” Whatever happens with COVID, he said, “telehealth will definitely be part of our future. Home and hospital connections are equally important, since telehealth often happens from home.”

Breuer noted that until recently, he had to drive his kids into town to access hot spots so they could do their homework. One hospital sectioned off part of its parking lot for customer parking to use its hot spot, whether for medical tele-visits or other reasons. He also noted the vulnerability of rural networks, with little or no redundancy. He said one gnawing squirrel recently took down connectivity for a 50-square-mile area.

His hospital could not have kept its doors open without help from 10 separate funding organizations, said Breuer—but that in turn created a lot of documentation paperwork. He said independent clinics have been the worst-hit by the COVID crisis, especially those that service mostly rural populations but that don’t technically qualify as rural health clinics for one reason or another. Breuer supports changing those designations to allow more clinics to be helped.

Moyer supports what she calls contribution reform. Bill surcharges are based on an outdated model of long-distance service, now that texting has taken the place of phone calls for many. Fortunately, “the COVID crisis has focused the attention of many in Congress. I’ve been talking about all these connectivity issues for 20 years,” she said. “The silver lining is a lot of other people are focused on this issue now too.”

For so many years, the providers have invested (often with public support) in the networks that have made millions for private industry without reaping the same benefit. (A couple years ago, I looked at the community ROI of public investment in rural broadband – the community sees the return much more quickly than the provider.) It will be interesting to see what happens with healthcare and telecom/broadband. Many broadband providers are being generous with free/low cost connection right now and hopefully that will be an investment in a future paying customer. While the hospitals are in a different situation – the article points out that “163 rural hospitals have closed and about 600 more are vulnerable, or a third of all rural hospitals in the United States.“

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Data and Broadband Investment Archive

Thanks to Michael Curri of Strategic Networks Group (www.sngroup.com) for a very interesting and informative presentation on the uses of data to justify broadband investments.  Every stakeholder group – community members, business owners, elected officials, broadband providers, funders – has a unique set of Return on Investment measures by which they will consider participation and measure success.  Michael’s presentation provides an overview of those measures.

Participants raised many questions about broadband investment, including discussion of a changed mindset that would treat broadband infrastructure more like roads, a part of the public investment strategy to supports economic development.  We also talked about the economic and business benefits to increased broadband and technology sophistication.  An interesting point was made about that jobs created by a rural-based company may now be filled by people who are working online from another location.  We often think about remote rural workers teleworking to jobs in the metro area; the Internet is a two-way street which reinforces the need to build a local knowledge workforce.

Congratulations to Becky Lourey and her company Nemadji.  After years of seeking better broadband, they are about to get it through a new fiber extension by SCI, a regional broadband provider in east central Minnesota.  As a result, Nemadji will now have a redundant Internet connection and all residents of Bruno, population 102 in northern Pine County, will have fiber to the home Internet services!

Next week, August 4th, Bernadine Joselyn will lead a presentation and discussion about the new Connected MN program and how that will benefit Minnesota students in the months ahead.  Register at broadband.blandinfoundation.org under the webinar heading.

Aitkin County is moving forward with broadband in some areas – get the low down

Thank you to Ross Wagner and Aitken Age for making my job so easy today with a editorial from Ross…

The one thing I get the most questions, comments and complaints on is the broadband situation in Aitkin County. And understandably so, we are nearly at the point where the internet affects every aspect of our lives. Folks in rural communities sometimes wonder if the world will pass them by if they are not connected to the internet with broadband. Broadband is actually more of a concept with no set measures. The State of Minnesota defines broadband as minimum download speeds of at least 25 megabits/second and minimum upload speeds of at least 3 megabits/ second. Broadband is delivered through fiber optic lines. Aitkin County is not in the business of being an Internet Provider. However, we have initiated the Aitkin County Broadband Grant Program, with $450,000 from the economic development fund. We feel the most effective long-term solution is to work with existing internet providers by providing the financial assistance needed to bring broadband to Aitkin County.

Here’s what they are working on…

Aitkin County is very fortunate to have local providers who are willing to invest in Aitkin County, they operate here and are willing to look long term. They are Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC), SCI Broadband (SCI) and Emily Cooperative Telephone Company (ECTC). All received State Border to Border grants in 2019 and $5,000 from Aitkin County as a local contributing partner to the grants. In 2020 the State of Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Grant will again be offered. Aitkin County is currently soliciting proposals for two $75,000 grants from the Aitkin County Grant fund and will be offering $15,000 for local contributing partner matches for local providers applying for the State Grant. Both MLEC and SCI have previously received Aitkin County grants.

And here’s what they hope to see soon, thanks what they were working on last year…

So just which areas of Aitkin County have been awarded grants to internet providers for 2020? Esquagamah and Round Lake areas will see broadband brought to approximately 242 unserved and 103 underserved locations by ECTC. The MLEC has a grant that will serve 282 unserved and 225 underserved households in areas of Farm Island and Nordland Townships. MLEC was awarded a Community Connect Grant from the USDA, for a project in Rice River and Spaulding Townships and areas of the East Lake Community. The project will pass 235 homes and businesses. SCI has a project that will serve 269 unserved homes, in areas of Glen Township. In addition to the Glen Township area, SCI will be finishing up previous project areas around Big Sandy Lake and Clear Lake.

Can 5G Compete with Cable Broadband? A response from 5G

I asked Nokia’s Brian Pickering about Doug Dawson’s timely Pots and Pans 5G blog post today.  Brian shared this response with me and Blandin on Broadband blog readers.  You can see Brian’s presentation to our Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable here:

Bill,

This has been a heavy debated topics with the big operators, cable industry and others.  The discussion has always centered around the business case for 5G – number of house covered, uptake of customers per cell site, etc  vs trenching fiber to the house or through a subdivision.

mmWave and cmWave is the best for this solution.  mmWave having large bandwidth, but small coverage AND requires an external antenna to receive the signal as the signal will not penetrate the exterior walls.  There is a high power CPE coming to the market in the 2H 2020, which may eliminate the outdoor antenna.  cmWave is great for the coverage, but the speed may be comparable to cable guys, and outdoor antenna is not required.

I have heard from a cable company, they believe 5G to the home is a case by case for deployment – a tool in the tool box.  Will use 5G where it makes the most economical sense.  With that said, the big cable operators do not have a large amount spectrum yet.  Windstream small regional operator has 28Ghz spectrum.

Verizon as you know have pushed 5G to the home and had small success with it.  They have launched it in 6 markets, but its very limited in its geographic area.  Tmobile stated over a year ago they will go after the cable industry using their 2.5Ghz spectrum, using the same business model and process they do for wireless.  The cable guys continue monitor and test 5G to better understand what the telecom guys are doing.

Prior to the pandemic, cellular systems were lightly loaded in residential areas during the day as everyone went to work, traffic picked up in the evening, but overall still not heavily loaded.  Verizon looks at 5G to the home as a benefit to the network, as it helps use a lightly loaded network in the evenings or at night.

5G to the home is probably more appealing to the 20 &30 year olds – where they can take it anywhere at any time.  Example, my eldest has a 6 month co-op internship, he was  not able to get cable at his apartment because the cable company wanted a 1 year contract.  So, he is connecting his computer to his cell phone so he can watch Netflix, youtube, etc.

Hope that helps.  If you have any questions, please let me know.

Brian

Broadband Roundtable on 5G archive

Today, Brian Pickering of Nokia shared a interesting and digestible presentation on 5G wireless during the Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable.  Brian is the VP of 5G Product Sales North America for Nokia.  Brian is responsible for creation and implementation of the 5G sales strategy as well as business development in North America.

Brian outlined the three legs of the 5G stool that combine low latency, high reliability, capacity and connectivity:

  • Extreme mobile broadband with greater than 10 Gbps peak data rates with 100 Mbps available whenever needed
  • Critical machine communication
  • Massive machine communication

Critically important to understanding 5G is knowing how radio spectrum impacts performance.  He described that as the frequency increases, data rates go up and coverage area goes down.  The lower frequencies, like 600 MHz are used by TMobile to deliver broadband in rural areas across a wide area.  The higher frequencies, also known as millimeter wave, in the 24-28 GHz range, are primarily for stadiums, factories, etc.  South Korea and other countries are making strong use of the 3.5 GHz frequencies which is a sweet spot for capacity and range.  The US is in the process of making this available via auction for future use.  Brian’s slides clearly show how different spectrum impacts coverage and business strategy.

Brian highlighted the current and future applications where 5G’s greatest potential will be realized.  Machine to machine communication and virtual and augmented reality are two important applications.  Watch the webinar here:  Download the slides here

Next week, Ann Treacy will host a conversation on Rural Mental Health and Telehealth with local experts from MN Rural Health Association, NAMI MInnesota and MN Department of Health. (More info soon.)

5G articles from Paul Weirtz

Some good pushback on the 5G/Coronavirus conspiracy theories:

5G – Here are a couple of articles helping to debunk the “Coronavirus is caused by 5G”.  I think the media has actually been very helpful with all of this: 

Online chat: Continue reading

AT&T Invests More Than $300 Million Over Three-Year Period to Keep Minnesota Connected

Latest news from AT&T…

AT&T* is proud to have the nation’s best and also fastest wireless network,1 as well as the largest network in North America.2 From 2017-2019, we invested more than $300 million in our wireless network in Minnesota, including more than $175 million in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. From 2010 to 2019, AT&T invested nearly $1.2 billion in our Minnesota network. These investments expand coverage and improve connectivity in more communities.

That investment has increased reliability, coverage and overall performance for residents and businesses, which is essential for connecting our customers with family, friends and colleagues – no matter the distance. It’s also improved critical communications services for Minnesota’s first responders using the FirstNet network.

Today, our 4G LTE network covers more than 330 million people.3 That’s more than 2.61 million square miles and over 99% of all Americans.4

“Now more than ever, we know that our continued investment in Minnesota is vital to keeping people connected,” said Paul Weirtz, President, AT&T Minnesota. “One of AT&T’s core values is to Be There when people need us.  That’s why we’re committed to investing in our network and keeping our customers connected when and where they need it most, especially during these challenging times.”

In 2019, we made nearly 950 network enhancements across Minnesota, including new cell sites, additional network capacity, network upgrades and small cells. Expanding our network in the state has given AT&T the most wireless coverage in Minnesota.

More details about our wireless coverage in Minnesota, and anywhere in the U.S., can be found on the AT&T Coverage Viewer. For updates on the AT&T wireless network, please visit the AT&T network news page.

Building the Future of Wireless Connectivity, Today

5G is the future of wireless technology and is poised to jumpstart the next wave of unforeseen mobile innovation. Minnesota customers are already experiencing the power of 5G in cities like Duluth, St. Cloud and Le Sueur County, and we’re committed to bringing next-generation 5G coverage to more communities across the state as we build toward nationwide coverage this year.

We deliver the 5G experience to both consumers and businesses by deploying two types of 5G technology:

  • 5G over sub-6 spectrum is expected to enable faster responses over broader distances on new devices and is now available in 355 markets.
  • 5G+ delivers ultra-fast speeds and response times, capable of 1+ Gbps, using 5G technology and new millimeter wave spectrum, unlocking unprecedented experiences in iconic destinations and key venues. It’s ideal for businesses, universities, hospitals and sports venues and is currently deployed in parts of 35 cities.

 

To learn more about AT&T 5G, visit our AT&T 5G site.

 

FirstNet: Transforming Public Safety Communications

We’re honored to work with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) to build and manage FirstNet – the only nationwide, high-speed broadband communications platform dedicated to and purpose-built for America’s first responders and the extended public safety community. And we take our responsibility to deliver FirstNet seriously.

 

Building upon our current and planned investments in Minnesota, we continue to extend the reach, and increase the coverage, capacity and capabilities of the FirstNet network:

 

  • Purpose-built network enhancements – Across Minnesota, we’ve boosted the network with high-quality Band 14 spectrum in communities such as Minneapolis, Rochester, Duluth and St. Cloud. Band 14 is nationwide, high-quality spectrum set aside by the government specifically for FirstNet. We look at Band 14 as public safety’s VIP lane: in an emergency, this band – or lane – can be cleared and locked just for FirstNet subscribers. In addition, since the beginning of the FirstNet network expansion, we’ve launched a new FirstNet cell site in Clearwater County.
  • Reaching rural Minnesota – FirstNet is built for every first responder in the country – career or volunteer; federal, tribal, state or local; urban, suburban or rural. That’s why we’re collaborating with rural network providers to help connect remote parts of America and build out additional FirstNet LTE coverage in Minnesota.
  • Public safety-specific advanced capabilities – FirstNet is providing Minnesota public safety with dedicated access when they need it, as well as an entire communication ecosystem with unique benefits like mission-centric devices, certified applications, always-onpriority and preemption and high-quality Band 14 spectrum. These advanced capabilities enable FirstNet to perform faster than any commercial network5 and bring its subscribers the unthrottled connectivity they need.
  • Unparalleled emergency support – Minnesota agencies on FirstNet also have 24/7 access to a nationwide fleet of 76 deployable network assets. These assets can either be deployed for planned events or called upon in emergencies at no additional charge to help first responders stay connected and operate faster, safer and more effectively when lives are on the line. FirstNet Response Operations – led by a group of former first responders – guides the deployment of the FirstNet deployable assets based on the needs of public safety.
  • Free Smartphones for Life for Public Safety Agencies – We have a responsibility to public safety unlike any other wireless carrier. That’s why Minnesota agencies spanning law enforcement, fire, EMS, healthcare, hospital emergency departments, emergency management and 911 operations on FirstNet can stay up-to-date with smartphones for life at no additional cost.6 This means first responders across agencies of all sizes will have affordable access to their

 

The FirstNet network expansion across Minnesota is being done with direct feedback from state and public safety officials. This helps ensure FirstNet meets the short- and long-term needs of the public safety community.

 

Go here for more FirstNet news. Or check out FirstNet.com to learn more about the program.

 

This is all made possible by our talented, dedicated AT&T team members who are committed to being there and are the driving force behind our efforts to expand wireless connectivity both in Minnesota and across the country. That’s why we believe in investing in our employees and workforce. In 2019, Fortune and Great Place to Work named us one of the Best Big Companies to Work For.

CNS acquires WCTG creating unified state-wide fiber network

Big news from CNS

– Cooperative Network Services, LLC (CNS), a Minnesota fiber-optic transport carrier announced today that it has purchased the assets of West Central Transport Group, LLC (WCTG), a major fiber network in west central and southern Minnesota.

The deal will increase the CNS backbone network to a total of 2,500 route miles of fiber, and including partner assets, brings the network total to 10,200 route miles of fiber and 40,000 on-net/lit buildings.

Combining the assets of these two networks will enable MN’s rural telecom and broadband providers to deliver increasingly advanced services faster.

“This acquisition fits perfectly with the CNS purpose of Bringing More Broadband to More Rural Places… it creates new opportunities for success for many rural MN independent telecom providers, ensuring they have access to essential network services, and that they have a stake in the transport business for the future,” said Jason Dale, CNS CEO. “As technology and rural transport economics have changed, it’s clear that a unified state-wide network is a key ingredient to remaining relevant in the transport world. By combining these two complimentary networks, we’ve taken a huge step forward. We are extremely excited for this new chapter.”

The decision for combining these networks was an obvious one since eight of the owners of WCTG are also CNS owners, and the two networks have a long history of partnering together. These relationships will lend themselves to a quick transition, and early growth opportunities. The WCTG network will operate under the CNS subsidiary Fiber Minnesota, LLC.

“WCTG felt the CNS team was the perfect choice to continue meeting the needs of customers and neighbors,” said Jake Anderson, President of WCTG. “We are excited for the opportunities and crucial connectivity our combined networks will bring to the state of Minnesota and beyond.”

Similar to surrounding states

Minnesota’s fiber transport landscape has long been made up of smaller regional networks, but as technology has progressed, so too is the need for a larger, unified network.

For years, Minnesota has differed from neighboring states, where the independent telephone/ broadband providers joined forces decades ago to create statewide networks – enjoying robust facilities and advanced centralized solutions.

“This is a big win for the independent telecom providers in MN,” said Dean Bahls, CNS’ Network Manager. “The increased footprint will provide direct connectivity to more CNS owner companies, as well as connectivity to many more on-net customers throughout large portions of the state.”

The CNS Network currently uses Cisco NCS2K/15454 ROADM and has a proven track record of uptime. The newly acquired network also uses the same platform and will mesh together seamlessly.

Streamlined quoting and turn-up

With the increase of on-net route miles, quoting circuits will be faster, and pricing will be more competitive. Customers will enjoy highly available services, with faster resolution times.

Network of Networks

As with the current CNS network, through partnership with 702 Communications, the newly combined network will be branded under the Aurora Fiber Optic Networks name and will continue to be a part of the INDATEL nationwide network of networks.

The CNS purpose is to Bring More Broadband to More Rural Places. With that goal in mind we provide a variety of services to the rural telecommunications industry.

Cooperative Network Services (CNS) is a key provider of high-capacity fiber-optic backhaul for much of Minnesota, providing IP/TDM Transport, Special Access Circuits, and Ethernet services to the carrier, enterprise, and SMB markets.

CNS’ ownership consists of 20 cooperative telephone and broadband providers operating in and around Minnesota.

In addition to the CNS transport network, we also provide professional services to rural providers throughout the country, including: Engineering, Consulting, Video Product Management, Human Resources, and Graphic Design services.

Our ownership consists exclusively of cooperative telecommunications providers, and CNS reflects the cooperative spirit and values of its owners in the services it provides. By working together as a group, CNS provides the benefits and efficiencies of consolidation that much of the rest of our industry has experienced in recent years, while at the same time offering services that no single member could offer alone. This is very much in keeping with the cooperative mission. Do More. Together.

CenturyLink to bring fiber to 1,000+ homes in Nessel Township, MN (Chisago County)

Yahoo! Finance reports…

CenturyLink, Inc. CTL announced its plans to bring fiber to more than 1,000 homes and enterprises in Nessel Township, MN. Residents of this rural area will have access to reliable and high-speed Internet. The Monroe, LA-based communications company’s fiber and IP-based network capacity combined with its financial strength positions it well to support customers and boost shareholders’ value in the long term.

CenturyLink has a significant presence in Minnesota, with more than 17,000 miles of fiber and one million connections. The company’s investments and Minnesota’s Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program will help meet the state’s goal of extensive broadband service. This public-private partnership project is aimed at providing the fiber and electronics needed for high-speed connections of up to 940 Mbps. It complements other similar projects in Minnesota’s underserved areas, providing more than 3,300 connections since 2014.

MetroNet Announces Acquisition of Minnesota’s Jaguar Communications

From Business Wire…

MetroNet, a provider of fiber-optic internet, TV and phone service, today announced the acquisition of Owatonna, MN-based Jaguar Communications, a fiber optic internet company serving Owatonna, Mankato, Rochester, and several other Minnesota communities. The combination of the two companies allows MetroNet to expand its ultra-high-speed fiber optic footprint to residential and business customers across the Midwest. MetroNet is expecting to invest an additional $150 million or more in growing the Minnesota market to expand services to additional communities and neighborhoods.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The transaction was officially completed yesterday.

“Jaguar Communications shares our vision of providing customer-focused, fiber optic telecommunication services to homes and businesses,” said MetroNet President John Cinelli. “As we grow our fiber optic network in Minnesota, Jaguar Communications is a perfect fit. We look forward to fully integrating as a company, and we welcome them into the MetroNet family.”

Jaguar Communications currently serves Carver, Scott, Dakota, Nicollett, Le Sueur, Rice, Blue Earth, Waseca, Steele, Dodge, Olmstead, Freeborn and Mower counties in Minnesota with Gigabit speed internet. This acquisition will allow MetroNet to leverage Jaguar’s fiber optic infrastructure to provide these markets with MetroNet’s products. Jaguar customers will continue to benefit from gigabit internet speeds options with no data caps, full-featured fiber phone service, and fiber IPTV.

“Over the years, Jaguar Communications has proudly served Southern Minnesota and an agreement with MetroNet just made sense. This merger is the right next step to better serve our customers and provide further opportunities for our employees,” stated Jim Ward, Owner of Jaguar Communications. “This acquisition means accelerated expansion in Minnesota, reaching more residents and businesses that are eager for ultra-high-speed fiber optic services.”

The two companies are expected to fully integrate under the MetroNet brand in the months to come, and plan to integrate all MetroNet product line features in early 2021.

Telehealth more important during pandemic as facilities close – increasing need for adequate/affordable broadband across MN

Medical Express recently posted an article that reports that telehealth is an important tool for rural hospitals for treating COVID-19

Telehealth connects patients with doctors by computer or telephone when in-person appointments are not possible or safe from disease transmission.

“It’s a relatively easy way to expand access,” Feyereisen said. “More health care access is good. It’s one of the goals of the system.”

Minnesota is one of the states the publication recognizes as a leader…

Puro and Feyereisen concluded that talking with doctors remotely is an important part of improving rural health care. The odds of hospitals to provide telehealth services vary, with Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas leading the way among the nine regions designated by the U.S. Census.

While Becker’s Hospital Review reports further telehealth accolades for Minnesota…

Duluth, Minn.-based Essentia Health this month received Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota’s Trailblazer Award for its efforts to improve virtual care access during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Essentia Health launched its virtual visit program March 18, a month ahead of schedule, to accommodate patients during the healthcare crisis. The health system trained more than 1,200 primary care providers and physicians representing at least 60 specialties in how to conduct virtual visits.

“We knew we had to step in and fill a void that was quickly created by our patients not being able to come to see us,” Essentia Health CEO David Herman, MD, said in a news release. “We literally went from zero virtual visits to about 3,000 virtual visits per day in less than three weeks.”

The numbers are as staggering as the need. And diagnosing and treating people without exposing them to coronarvirus or other germs is obviously beneficial – especially (as I always add) for the folks who have adequate broadband to take advantage of the opportunities.

For those folks on the opposite end of the digital divide this pandemic has been hard with limited access to school work, economic opportunities and healthcare. It has meant sitting in library parking lots using their wi-fi, missing opportunities and longer drives to healthcare facilities.

And those drive just got longer as HealthPartners just announced that 7 of their clinics will not be reopening…

– Central Minnesota Clinics, St. Cloud.

– Highland Park Clinic, St. Paul.

– Park Nicollet Shorewood Clinic, Cottage Grove.

– Regions Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program, St. Paul.

– Regions Maplewood Behavioral Health Clinic.

– Riverside Clinic, Minneapolis.

– Stillwater Medical Group, Mahtomedi.

– Westfields HealthStation, New Richmond, Wisconsin.

HealthPartners says the pandemic has caused it rethink its business and where it needs physical locations, which comes amid a major increase in telehealth video visits as a result of the pandemic.

It really pushes the need to get everyone connected as it becomes a great healthcare concern. In rural areas, that often means making it available; in urban areas it means making it affordable!

 

HBC Announces Extension of the Keep Americans Connected Pledge

The latest from HBC...

Hiawatha Broadband Communications, Inc. (HBC) is taking additional measures to protect customers, from losing essential broadband services, by extending the Federal Communications Commission’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge.
“Many of our customers continue to endure significant financial challenges because of COVID-19,” HBC President Dan Pecarina said. “HBC understands that and is
committed to helping our most financially vulnerable customers keep their services which have become even more essential in this pandemic environment because of online learning and working from home.”
Extension of the Keep Americans Connected Pledge means:
-Free broadband service to qualified low-income ouseholds. Eligible households must have school-aged children enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program or the
Telephone Assistance Plan (TAP).
-Temporarily suspending disconnections of service due to failure to pay and waiving late fees for customers.
-Maintaining free access to HBC Community Wi-Fi hotspots.
Since signing the initial FCC pledge in March, HBC has worked with 12 school districts across all its service communities to make sure each student, their families, and
teachers would have access to broadband for both education and working from home through its wired and wireless networks. HBC continues to make all its community WiFi access points available free of charge.
Throughout this pandemic, HBC Installation Technicians have been safely connecting and servicing customers while following strict safety protocols. All employees must pass a daily health screening which includes temperature checks, before being allowed to serve customers. All local HBC offices are open by appointment only with customers
being asked to answer several health-related questions prior to scheduling any appointment. These protocols will remain in place to protect our customers and employees and to help stop the spread of COVID-19. HBC is proud to report that these precautions have kept all employees healthy and virus free.
According to Pecarina, HBC will continue to implement these safety measures as long as they are needed.
“It is important that we do everything thing we can to be able to safely serve our customers and continue to provide them with the tools they need to be successful in both work and school,” Pecarina said. “HBC is committed to providing access to technology and high-speed broadband connectivity to make available learning resources required by families with school-aged children.”
HBC has also worked with local and area schools to provide live coverage of socially distanced graduation ceremonies allowing distant family members to celebrate this milestone event. In addition to being broadcast live on HBC Channel 25, ceremonies are also live streamed around the world where nearly 1,000 households have viewed these broadcasts.

Frontier Communications may be due rebates or bill credits

A notice for Frontier customers…

Frontier Communications are potentially due a rebate or bill credit based on past Frontier service quality and reliability problems. But you must apply before July 20.

 

If you have expereinced any of the following as a former or current Frontier customer, you may claim a refund or bill credit:

 

  • Telephone was out-of-service and not restored within 24 hours.
  • Incorrect billing for service related to vacation rate.
  • Late fees charged for phone service despite bill being paid on or before due date.
  • Frontier did not cancel telephone service upon request, resulting in additional charges.
  • Charged to receive a paper bill for telephone service.
  • Charged for three-way calling without subscribing to the service.
  • Wrongly charged for directory assistance or 411 calls.
  • Charged an early termination fee on or after January 1, 2016, without having signed an agreement.
  • Inappropriately charged fees to reconnect telephone service.
  • Telephone disconnected without proper notice.
  • Refusal to install local telephone service.
  • Inability to use the telephone due to static, cross talk, or other notice.
  • Installation delay of more than 3 business days for primary local service line.
  • Same trouble on the same line within 30 days.
  • Frontier missed a repair appointment for telephone service.
  • Customer service representation claimed no trouble report exists from an earlier call regarding the same phone issue.

Applications for refund or bill credit are available by clicking here.

Views of broadband expansion in Rice County

Faribault Daily News reports on what community leaders and broadband providers are saying about broadband expansion in Rice County.

From Governor Walz…

Leading the charge to expand broadband access been Gov. Tim Walz. The first greater Minnesota resident to be elected governor since Rudy Perpich in 1986, Walz served as representative for the largely rural 1st Congressional District before his election. Earlier this year, Walz allocated more than $23 million in funding for rural broadband projects and asked the legislature for an additional $30 million. In announcing the grant awards, he said that internet is far from a luxury for rural Minnesotans.

From Rice County Commissioner Jeff Docken…

Rice County Commissioner Jeff Docken has long championed boosting access to high -peed broadband in his mostly rural district. Docken, a farmer, believes that high speed internet has become an invaluable tool for agriculture, small businesses and telecommuters. However, Docken doesn’t expect the state to come near its goal of hitting 100% broadband connectivity by 2022. At best, he said that a five- to eight-year timeframe would be more realistic.

From Galen Malecha (Northfield on the Board of Commissioners)…

Galen Malecha, who represents most of Northfield on the Board of Commissioners, said that in the southeast and southwest corners of Rice County there’s no broadband service at all and no plans are in the works to cover those areas. Malecha pledged that the board would continue to work on the issue until every Rice County resident has satisfactory access to broadband. However, he said that the economic equation makes attracting providers a challenge.

From Northfield Public Schools Superintendent Matt Hillmann…

Northfield Public Schools Superintendent Matt Hillmann said that during the “Stay at Home” order, unequal access to internet was felt acutely by the district’s rural residents. Hillmann said that given how essential the internet is to modern society, such a discrepancy has deeply unfair and unequal effects that must be remedied.

And from the providers, starting with Jaguar…

Jaguar covers a wide service area, including all or part of 13 counties throughout southern Minnesota. With backing from the state and federal governments, Wilker said Jaguar is working to expand and improve its coverage further, one customer at a time.

And BEVCOMM…

In western Rice County, Blue Earth-based BEVCOMM is working to expand and improve its services. CEO Bill Eckels said that the company recently completed an improved network for Morristown residents and is in the process of hooking them up to it.

BEVCOMM recently purchased Lonsdale Telephone Co., which serves Lonsdale and Morristown. In January, the governor announced that BEVCOMM has been awarded more than $2.5 million in grant funding for three separate broadband projects.

Roughly two thirds of that funding went to a project that will boost broadband speeds in northwest Rice County, northeast Le Sueur County and southern Scott County — an area which includes 417 households, 88 farms, 59 businesses, and 4 “community anchor institutions.”