T-Mobile has 18% discount for nonprofit orgs to serve their clients

I just heard that T-Mobile has opened up its contracts with states and the federal GSA to nonprofits. This means you have access to an 18% discount on service. If you pay T-Mobile directly you can use this discount to provide service to the folks you serve. They do not have a system for the folks you serve to pay T-Mobile directly.

This could be a way to offer hotspots to library patrons or to families you serve that don’t have access at home. (Get pricing. And check coverage areas before you get into any contracts!)

Other providers may have similar service – and if they do I’d be happy to post it here too. (Just send me info atreacy@treacyinfo.com or post a comment below.)

Squeaky wheel sometimes gets better broadband in Douglas County

Echo Press reports on some successful and not-so-successful attempts to get broadband providers to expand service in and around Douglas County. Starting with success…

Last year, [local resident Dick] Quitmeyer pitched in on a neighborhood effort to bring Runestone Telecom Association’s high-speed fiber optic to the shores of Lake Andrew. As vice president of the Lake Andrew Lake Association, he convinced more than 30 of his neighbors to sign a petition asking the cooperative to bring fiber to their doors.

Competition for prime internet service in Douglas County is at the street level these days, as neighborhoods around Douglas County are organizing to bring high-speed service to their homes and home-based businesses. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s a tactic encouraged by the local telecommunications cooperatives as well as state officials.

Interesting to learn what it meant to Quitmeyer…

he says slow internet speeds bog down his online stock trades enough to cost him up to 30 percent in potential revenue.

Another story of success…

In response to demand from neighborhoods, the rural telecommunications groups are pushing beyond their traditional boundaries to extend premium internet access to nearby communities, especially when internet giants like CenturyLink turn down local requests.

When a handful of organizers knocked on doors near Holmes City, they gathered about 200 households that wanted service, and Runestone agreed to deliver. It won a Border to Border grant and now provides high-speed internet there as well as to Blackwell Lake, both within CenturyLink’s service area.

And a story of the not-to-successful…

At least one neighborhood in Douglas County, the Bluffs Road NW loop near Lake Carlos, has met with defeat time and again after trying to convince CenturyLink to upgrade their internet service, two neighbors said.

Kevin Rankl, an applications engineer who works from home, said every few months, neighbors along their loop call the Louisiana-based company to ask for better service.

Rochelle Telander, who lives down the road from Rankl, said that when her son streams Netflix, nobody can do anything else online. Plus, when their internet access goes down, their TVs don’t work either, she said. She last called CenturyLink about four months ago, she said.

“They tell us this is the best we can get,” Telander said. “Nobody has really gotten anywhere. We’d all like better access because it’s really stinky out here.”

CenturyLink confirmed to the Echo Press that while it has brought more than 60,000 Minnesota households online since 2016, including some locally, it has no immediate plans to expand in Douglas County.

And a suggestion for anyone who has not been successful…

Neighborhoods whose internet providers say no to future upgrades need to change tactics, said Danna MacKenzie, executive director of Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development. They might have better success contacting her office instead. In the past, the state has connected nearby providers with neighborhoods, she said.

MacKenzie said the state’s Border to Border program is designed to be responsive to those who ask for service.

Rural and Urban Broadband are different and 5G isn’t a panacea for both

Doug Dawson take on the most popular question of the last few years (again!) – will 5G bring ubiquitous broadband to rural areas. And the answer again is – no. I’m a little tempted to just leave my comments as that and link readers directly to Doug – but I’ll try to pull out some very high level points…

There are a few hot-button topics that are the current favorite talking points at the FCC. T-Mobile and Sprint are pressing both the 5G and the rural broadband buttons with their merger request. The companies are claiming that if they are allowed to merge that they can cover 96% of America with a ‘deep, broad, and nationwide’ 5G network.

There are multiple technologies being referred to as 5G – wireless broadband loops and 5G cellular – and their claim doesn’t hold water for either application.

Doug goes on to explain the multiple technologies. And if you want/need to know the differences, I think he makes it pretty easy to understand. If you don’t want or need to know – you can skip right to his conclusion…

The T-Mobile and Sprint claim is pure bosh. These companies are not going to be investing in fiber to bring 5G wireless loops to rural America. While a combined company will have more spectrum than the other carriers there is no immediate advantage for using 5G for rural cellular coverage . The T-Mobile and Sprint announcements are just pushing the 5G and the rural broadband hot-buttons because the topics resonate well with politicians who don’t understand the technology.

CTC to extends fiber to reach man in Crow Wing County

Last month I wrote about Steve Riley in Crow Wing County, who was frustrated with his broadband service. His wife teleworks, they couldn’t get anything faster than 5-9 Mbps and their provider wasn’t interested in upgrading them.

Turns out CTC was. Joe Buttweiler from CTC saw Steve’s story, which included a map of the area. CTC was already working with some small businesses in the area and Steve’s home wasn’t too far off the planned construction. SO they got together and it sounds like the Riley’s will have better service soon.

MN Broadband provider asks Governor to Think Big with Broadband via Center for Rural Policy & Dev

The Center for Rural Policy and Development curated letters to the new governor from experts in different areas from around Minnesota – including a letter from Gary Johnson and Brian Bissonette from Paul Bunyan Communications in Bemidji.

If you have someone on your team or a leader in your community that needs to better understand the why and how or broadband – share this with them! They have incorporated some easy instruction on the difference between copper, wireless and fiber – and a little telecom history.

At the end they give some recommendations – to approach broadband policy with an eye toward abundance, not scarcity…

If you think about your Internet experience, whether it’s those early dial-up days or that rat’s nest of dusty cables behind your desktop computer or your Wi-Fi connection today, your Internet service provider has always been the throttle or choke point in your experience.

It’s only recently with gigabit speeds that Paul Bunyan Communications as a provider is no longer the bottleneck. Unless you have fairly new equipment, it’s very likely a gigabit Internet connection will be faster than your computer’s networking capabilities, your Wi-Fi can transmit, or that distant website can send the data back to you.

That’s how it should be.

Paul Bunyan Cooperative’s philosophy has been that customers should make the decision on what they need, what they can do, or what’s fast enough. Instead of being the gatekeepers, providers should strive to be the enablers of whatever can be dreamt up today or in the future.

Yet today, policy makers and ISPs alike still are deciding what speed is good enough, often setting the bar low for economic reasons and trying to use the existing—often copper wire—infrastructure or slow wireless technologies as a short-term solution.

Funding spent on existing aging infrastructure and old technology like copper results in no real progress in Internet speeds and capabilities and is a wasted opportunity to build for the future.

Our investments in infrastructure should be for the future, not on decades-old technologies. Our expectations for speed should be lofty, not what just gets us by for now. That means fiber optic networks delivering gigabit speeds and beyond.

We can do this today if there is the will. The dollars are there if we invest them in the right way, on the right technologies, and for the right reasons.

Let’s not just get by. Let’s think big. Let’s do what is possible, so that we enable those who follow to dream of what’s next.

A Better Wireless has a Solution for Rural MN – but they need access to spectrum

The Benton Foundation has posted a column from Mitchell Koep, CEO of A Better Wireless, about the need in rural areas (specifically rural Minnesota) for better broadband to create a level playing field for students…

I know firsthand what it’s like living on the wrong side of the digital divide because my local community in rural Minnesota has been experiencing it for far too long. That is one of the reasons why I founded A Better Wireless, a wireless ISP that is seeking to connect rural Minnesotans who lack affordable broadband access.

The most upsetting part about the digital divide is the lack of access our students face. As more teachers assign homework that requires an internet connection, students without home access are at a severe disadvantage. My granddaughter and her third-grade classmates are living in this divide known as the “Homework Gap.” At Battle Lake Independent School District in Otter Tail County, Minnesota – where my granddaughter attends school – 23 percent of all families with an enrolled student lack broadband access. This Homework Gap not only impacts families from participating in digital life but also severely inhibits students from accessing the same educational opportunities that benefit their urban peers.

Koep offers a solution with wireless…

Last year, Otter Tail County approached commercial providers asking to help solve our digital divide. Incumbent telephone companies told the county it would take $49 million to expand fiber along roadways in just the southern third of the county. This plan would require rural residents to pay to bury fiber from the road down their driveways—some of which are half a mile long or longer.

A Better Wireless submitted a proposal to connect these same households with fixed wireless for a fraction of that cost. For just $8.6 million, we would upgrade capacity for county schools — which currently pay $2,300 per month for 200 Mbps service — to gigabit access for just $750-$1000 per month. For students who ride the bus up to an hour one way to and from school—a journey that takes even longer when we receive 30 inches of snow—we plan to equip school buses with internet access to turn travel time into homework time. And families with enrolled students that qualify for free and reduced lunch plans would get 25/10 Mbps service for just $15/month.

Our plan also includes offering fixed wireless broadband access to every resident in the county for just $45 per month. In addition, we will offer our public safety officials access to a mobile, public safety network.

But they need access to spectrum to make it happen,,,

But our plan hinges on the Federal Communications Commission making currently unused Educational Broadband Service (EBS) spectrum available to educational entities. While EBS has been licensed in roughly half of the United States, geography covering 85 percent of Americans, the remaining half covering roughly 50 million Americans has never been licensed. The FCC has now proposed to finish licensing this spectrum — which has essentially been frozen since 1995 — to local educational entities. A Better Wireless has already developed partnerships with schools interested in applying for licenses if the spectrum is made available. We have also joined an advocacy group with 70 other companies and educational entities called Educators and Broadband Providers for American Rural Communities (EBPARC) to help make this proposal a reality. I recently traveled to Washington (DC) to tell the FCC and Congress about the critical need for smaller operators like mine to access this key spectrum band.

The biggest threat to our plan is that large, national, wireless providers are urging the FCC to sell these licenses to them instead of continuing to license to educational entities. Rural schools like those in Otter Tail County will not be able to compete in a spectrum auction against large telecommunications companies—the same companies that have been ignoring our community for far too long. Even if resources were available, schools in some states are not legally allowed to spend resources on spectrum.

Better broadband comes to Side Lake (St Louis County)

The Hibbing Daily Tribune reports on better broadband happening in St Louis County with the help of Paul Bunyan and MN State Broadband Grants…

“Side Lake area residents are on track to have their homes and cabins wired with fiber optic cable starting this summer, thanks to a 2017 grant that Paul Bunyan Communications received from the state of Minnesota.

“The Border to Border Grant Program is provided by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to promote broadband internet to underserved or unserved areas in the state,” said Steve Howard, Paul Bunyan Communications’ Information Technology and Development Manager.

Two years ago, Paul Bunyan Communications (PBC) was awarded $802,620 to deliver broadband services to areas near the communities of Park Rapids, Bigfork and Side Lake, in Hubbard, Itasca and St. Louis counties. According to the state Office of Broadband Development’s website, “this project will improve the economic vitality of the region and bring advanced technology to areas that would likely not see state-of-the-art services without opportunities such as the Border to Border Broadband Grant.” The total eligible cost of the project is about $1.78 million.

What does all that mean for local residents?

Lightning fast broadband services lakeside.
During a recent interview, Howard pulled up a service map of the Side Lake area and provided more detail. The map uses red lines to highlight the properties around Big Sturgeon, West Sturgeon, Little Sturgeon and South Sturgeon, as the “2019 Construction Grant Area.” Another area of land to the east of the construction surrounding Side and Pickerel lakes is highlighted in green and has been designated “Possible 2019 construction, pending pre-orders.”

Howard explained, “At the time the area in red was considered unserved, while the area in green was considered served by CenturyLink. The grant will pay for 45 percent of the installation fees for the area in the red, with Paul Bunyan paying the remainder 55 percent. The area in green would be 100 percent funded by Paul Bunyan.”

PBC is encouraging property owners in both zones who are interested in bringing these services to their residences to call and get signed up early. He stressed that property owners in the green zone who are interested in installation should call and get put on the list for consideration by June 18. “We’ll look at that area in late June and see if there’s enough interest to make it a go,” Howard said.