New FirstNet Cell Site Launches in Fillmore County to Support First Responders in Southeastern Minnesota

Good news in Fillmore County from AT&T

What’s the news? First responders in southeastern Minnesota are getting a major boost in their wireless communications thanks to the FirstNet® network expansion currently underway by AT&T. We’ve added a new, purpose-built cell site located in Fillmore County.

This FirstNet site will provide coverage when traveling along State Highway 43 and Alpine Drive near Yucatan between Peterson and Spring Grove. It will also give first responders on FirstNet – America’s public safety network – access to always-on, 24-hours-a-day priority and preemption across voice and data.

Why is this important? We look at FirstNet as the most important wireless network in the country because it’s serving our first responders. And unlike commercial networks, FirstNet provides dedicated mobile broadband. To ensure AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) are putting coverage and capacity where first responders need it most, the FirstNet build is being done with direct feedback from state and public safety officials. This helps ensure Minnesota first responders connect to the critical information they need – every day and in every emergency. Other FirstNet sites already launched in Minnesota include Bagley, Baudette, Blackduck, Cloquet, Echo Trail (northwest of Ely), Finlayson, Graceville, Grygla, Hovland, Isabella, Kellogg (Hwy 42), Kjostad Lake, Lewiston and Williams.

What are the benefits to first responders? Building upon AT&T’s current and planned investments in Minnesota, we’re actively extending the reach of FirstNet to give agencies large and small the reliable, unthrottled connectivity and modern communications tools they need. These sites were constructed using Band 14 spectrum, as well as AT&T commercial spectrum. 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. That means only those on the FirstNet network will be able to access Band 14 spectrum, further elevating their connected experience and emergency response. Band 14 has been added on more than 600 existing sites across Minnesota, including markets such as the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester, the Iron Range, St. Cloud and the Brainerd/Baxter area.

How does this help Minnesota residents? This new infrastructure will also help improve the overall coverage experience for AT&T wireless customers in the area. Residents, visitors and businesses can take advantage of the AT&T spectrum bands, as well as Band 14 when capacity is available.

People are ready for Starlink to be great but they don’t really know

PCMag interviewed 1,041 adults about Starlink and found that people liked more than they knew…

Regardless, among the survey respondents who said they were familiar with Starlink, the obsession remains. When we asked that group whether they’d switch to the satellite ISP if or when it was available in their area, 76% said they were likely to; 40% said very likely.

That sentiment is probably informed not so much by the quality of Starlink’s service but more by how deeply people hate their current fixed-wired ISPs. Our follow-up questions showed that the majority of people agree with statements that Starlink is faster and more reliable (meaning fewer interruptions) than nationwide ISPs such as Comcast Xfinity, Verizon Fios, and Charter’s Spectrum. Sure, Starlink is faster than any satellite competitor, but it’s nowhere near faster than a cable or fiber connection today. Starlink does have the lofty goal of 10-gigabits-per-second downloads. Along with the service’s reliability, that remain to be seen.

For remote locations that are essentially disenfranchised by the major ISPs, though, any decent speed is transformative. One thing at least some of the survey respondents got right is agreeing with the statement that Starlink internet is more for rural users than city users. In fact, Starlink’s getting millions from the FCC to improve broadband in rural areas. We researched which US counties need it the most.

I’ve seen this in other places too. Especially for a report I’m hoping to share at the Blandin Broadband Conference. Rural residents are very frustrated with their existing options and they are primed to love something new. We just need to keep a balance on whether the shiny new solution meets the needs of today and tomorrow before we invest too much hope in it.

New FirstNet Cell Site Launches Near Baudette to Support First Responders in Northern Minnesota

Latest news on FirstNet from AT&T

Northern Minnesota’s first responders are getting a major boost in their wireless communications thanks to the FirstNet® network expansion currently underway by AT&T. We’ve added a new, purpose-built cell site located just south of Baudette near the North Branch Rapid River in Lake of the Woods County.

This FirstNet site will provide coverage when traveling along County Highway 84 and County Highway 1 near the Town of Carp in northern Minnesota. It will also give first responders on FirstNet – America’s public safety network – access to always-on, 24-hours-a-day priority and preemption across voice and data.

Why is this important? We look at FirstNet as the most important wireless network in the country because it’s serving our first responders. And unlike commercial networks, FirstNet provides dedicated mobile broadband. To ensure AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) are putting coverage and capacity where first responders need it most, the FirstNet build is being done with direct feedback from state and public safety officials. This helps ensure Minnesota first responders connect to the critical information they need – every day and in every emergency. Other FirstNet sites already launched in Minnesota include Bagley, Blackduck, Cloquet, Echo Trail (northwest of Ely), Finlayson, Graceville, Grygla, Hovland, Isabella, Kellogg (Hwy 42), Kjostad Lake, Lewiston and Williams.

What are the benefits to first responders? Building upon AT&T’s current and planned investments in Minnesota, we’re actively extending the reach of FirstNet to give agencies large and small the reliable, unthrottled connectivity and modern communications tools they need. These sites were constructed using Band 14 spectrum, as well as AT&T commercial spectrum. 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. That means only those on the FirstNet network will be able to access Band 14 spectrum, further elevating their connected experience and emergency response. Band 14 has been added on more than 600 existing sites across Minnesota, including markets such as the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester, the Iron Range, St. Cloud and the Brainerd/Baxter area.

How does this help Minnesota residents? This new infrastructure will also help improve the overall coverage experience for AT&T wireless customers in the area. Residents, visitors and businesses can take advantage of the AT&T spectrum bands, as well as Band 14 when capacity is available.

Update on MN PUC’s vote to move forward with inquiry into Frontier investment plan

Speed Matters providers an update on MN PUC’s plan with Frontier…

Last week, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MNPUC) voted 5-0 to proceed with an inquiry into Frontier’s investment plans in Minnesota, including the meaning of the company’s proposed “virtual separation” and its impact on service quality. During Frontier’s bankruptcy approval process, CWA urged the MNPUC to focus on how the company has decided to apportion its network and workforce investments across its geographic footprint as part of its “virtual separation” exercise, and what impact this will have on Minnesota customers. CWA believed that ensuring full transparency into the company’s network and workforce investment plans in Minnesota is crucial to ensuring that Frontier devotes the resources and maintains the workforce levels necessary to ensure quality service over the long-term.

“Everyday I see the impact of Frontier’s lack of investment in Minnesota among my members. In 2019, I had 100 Frontier members in my Local. That number has been cut by a third to 66 just in the last two years,” said CWA Local 7970 President Mark Doffing at the MNPUC public hearing. “This is despite the ongoing pandemic and the increasing reliance of our customers on the services Frontier provides. Areas that used to be covered by six to eight technicians are now being handled by two. The workload this has placed on my membership is overwhelming and unsustainable.”

Frontier committed to the Virtual Separation analysis as part of an agreement with a group of hedge funds and private investors who became its largest shareholders following Frontier’s emergence from bankruptcy. Since that agreement was disclosed as part of the bankruptcy process, Frontier has sought to re-define the term and ignore its original meaning by claiming that Virtual Separation is only an “accounting exercise.” In its investor update on December 15th, 2020, Frontier announced a new “Modernization Program” which outlined fiber investment focused overwhelmingly on a specific list of states, fulfilling the goals of the “Virtual Separation” program under a new name. Minnesota was notably absent from that list of states. Frontier has since announced a new strategic initiative for expanded fiber deployment but has yet to identify the states that will be targeted to receive this investment.

FCC data shows growing fiber, need for upload

C|Net reports

Every six months, the Federal Communications Commission releases updated data on the respective coverage of every internet provider in the US. That includes coverage maps as well as metrics on the types of technologies being used, the number of customers that fall into each provider’s footprint, and the specific upload and download speeds available to those customers, should they choose to sign up. The latest update went live just last week, and brings the database up to date as of June 2020.

I have picked out the charts and notes they share that I think are most interesting…

Percentage of US Population covered by each ISP

  • by the nature of their technology, satellite providers cover a lot.
  • Starlink isn’t on the horizon yet – but this is from June 2020

Percentage of Provider’s Footrpint with access to FTTH

  • Fiber is increasing
  • The problem is that it isn’t available everywhere — for the most part, providers have focused on building out fiber networks in population-dense regions around America’s major cities, leaving rural internet customers out of the mix.

Percentage of provider footprint with access to each (upload) speed via technology

  • Of all of the internet providers that offer service to at least 10% of the US population (including satellite providers omitted from this chart), Verizon is the only one that offers upload speeds faster than 25Mbps to a majority of its customers.
  • upload speeds from most providers remain much slower than most customers would probably like. That’s largely because fiber is really the only mode of home internet capable of hitting triple-digit upload speeds, and as mentioned earlier, fiber is far from universally available.

Zayo Announces 400Gig-Enabled Network – passes through MN

Businesswire reports

Zayo Group Holdings, Inc., a leading global provider of fiber-based communications solutions, today announced the planned deployment of thirty-one high capacity, 400G-enabled long haul routes across North America and Western Europe.

The availability of 400G client-side wave capabilities will allow Zayo to deliver multi-terabit capacity across its underlying global network, enabling higher transmission rates, reduced cost per bit, increased data transfer speeds and significantly greater bandwidth capacity — key features that support enterprises on their digital transformation journeys. Up to 800G transmission will be available in select areas as Zayo deploys significant speed enhancements in anticipation of future network needs.

This optimized wavelength network is designed to provide a direct route for multi-cloud and multi-market connectivity, ideal for content providers, hyperscalers, carriers and data centers. The upgrade will also enable reduced physical space requirements as well as reduced operation and maintenance costs resulting from a 40% reduction in power consumption.

The race to 400Gb/s has accelerated in recent years, with an increasing number of users, applications and devices driving exponential demand for increased bandwidth. Exceeding the current standard of 100G, Zayo’s new routes will provide a fourfold increase in maximum data transfer speed, supporting 5G technologies including Internet of Things, cloud-based computing, edge computing, virtual reality, high-definition video streaming and artificial intelligence.

Big news for Minnesota? The network will pass through Minnesota. (See map below, which might misplace Minneapolis in MN but gets the network here.)

Enbridge gives broadband grant to Waubun-Ogema-White Earth Community Schools (Mahomen County)

KFGO reports

Enbridge Energy, the Canadian company that owns the controversial Line 3 pipeline replacement project in northern Minnesota, has donated $366,000 to the Waubun-Ogema-White Earth Community Schools to subsidize internet access for low income families.

Enbridge spokesperson Julie Kellner says the grant will provide “a combination of broadband and fiber infrastructure, and fund other services that will help students connect to internet resources and thrive in remote learning environments.”

Kellner says the grant will also provide services for students in the Mahomen-Naytahwaush school district.  Enbridge plans to present a check Thursday morning.

What about the RDOF areas that are already served?

Fierce Telecom reports on what’s happening with the RDOF grants. As you may recall, the FCC asked providers to look at the areas they wanted to serve to make sure that they weren’t already served. Providers are doing that but it’s raising questions – what will happen to the money the FCC slated to serve those areas…

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently urged operators to ensure money awarded to them in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I auction wouldn’t go toward unnecessary coverage, and they responded – with a wave of waiver requests. As a result, millions in broadband funding could be left on the table.

Top RDOF winners including LTD Broadband, Windstream, Frontier Communications and Starry, were among those seeking to relinquish winning bids without penalty, after receiving warning letters from the FCC last month. Collectively, the waiver requests cover thousands of census blocks across at least 26 states.

The FCC issued letters to a total of 197 RDOF winners, flagging potentially redundant funding in a total of 15,187 census blocks. Operators had until August 16 to request waivers for these areas.

LTD Broadband requested waivers for more than 3,000 census blocks spanning California, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin. The operator was notably the top bidder in the RDOF auction, winning $1.3 billion in funding to provide service to 528,000 locations across those 15 states.

… and what will happen to the providers in question…

It is unclear exactly how much funding is associated with the waiver requests mentioned above. Last month, the FCC revealed more than 60 bidding entities have already defaulted on winning bids totaling $78,533,385.30 and covering nearly 11,000 census blocks.

According to RDOF rules, operators in default of winning bids are subject to a penalty of $3,000 per violation. But the FCC said in its warning letter last month it would consider waiving the fees if operators could demonstrate why defaulting on their bids would serve the public interest.

OPPORTUNITY: Dakota County RFP Systems Plan Update and Business Analysis

Dakota County has an RFP for Systems Plan Update and Business Analysis

Overview and Purpose of the RFP

The Dakota Broadband Board (DBB) is interested in updating the existing Systems Plan for its broadband fiber network, and in conducting a business analysis of the current broadband environment in Dakota County. The outcome of the project is expected to inform future operational and policy decisions of the Dakota Broadband Board regarding the use of its broadband fiber network.

The purpose of this Request for Proposals (RFP) is to identify qualified vendors who are interested in assisting the DBB in achieving the anticipated outcome. The DBB expects this process will include follow-up interviews with select vendors to answer any questions raised by DBB members, and obtain additional insight regarding their proposed approach.

 

Will supply chain issues hinder fiber deployment? AT&T say yes. Frontier, Lumen, Windstream say no.

Fierce Telecom reports

AT&T CFO Pascal Desroches warned investors supply chain issues would likely prevent the operator from reaching its goal of delivering fiber to 3 million new locations in 2021.

Speaking during an Oppenheimer conference, Desroches said that up through the second quarter AT&T “hadn’t really experienced any impact” from global supply chain disruptions, thanks in part to its status as a “preferred” customer. But he noted “since the start of the third quarter we are seeing dislocation across the board, including in fiber supply.”

Desroches estimated that as a result “we’re probably going to come in a little bit light” of the 3 million target set earlier this year, “probably around 2.5 [million].” He added AT&T doesn’t expect the shortages to impact it over the long term, but said highlighting its struggle was “really important for context because if we’re feeling the pain of this, I can only imagine what others in the industry are experiencing.”

From Frontier (new article)…

Last week, Frontier increased its deployment targets, stating it plans to rollout fiber to 600,000 new locations in 2021, up from an original goal of 495,000. Speaking at a Cowen investor conference on Thursday, Frontier’s chief network officer Veronica Bloodworth stated it is “not experiencing supply chain issues” and has taken several steps to protect itself from labor and materials shortages as its build progresses.

“Materials and supply is one area you could run into a constraint, we don’t have that currently,” she said. “We have diversified our supplier base, we’ve put commitment contracts in place…and we’ve changed our inventory on hand appropriately to make sure that we are insulated against supply chain issues.”

From Lumen (CenturyLink), Windstream and Consolidated…

Lumen’s Head of Mass Markets Maxine Moreaux made similar comments in an earlier Cowen session. “We have not seen any issues,” she said, adding “we have diversification not only in equipment and fiber but also in labor.” Like Frontier, Lumen recently said it plans to accelerate its fiber investments.

Likewise, a Windstream representative told Fierce it has “secured all of the supplies necessary to meet our current build plans.”

Jennifer Spaude, SVP of investor relations and corporate communications at Consolidated, told Fierce it remains on track to achieve a target of upgrading 300,000 passings to fiber in 2021, adding “our partners are confident they can supply us with sufficient equipment to maintain our operational pace.” However, she acknowledged “inventory is limited on next-generation chips that deliver multi-gigabit speeds” and it is “evaluating alternative CPE” which can be used if necessary.

A third party gives some perspective on the differences…

Asked to weigh in on AT&T’s predicament, Dell’Oro VP and optical transport market analyst Jimmy Yu noted some players locked in supply agreements long ago. “Verizon (luckily) had a supply agreement in place a few years ago that assured supply with Corning. I don’t think AT&T did. Hence, AT&T doesn’t have a secured supply like Verizon,” he told Fierce.

Yu added neither Lumen nor Frontier “are investing in access (fixed and mobile) at the same pace as AT&T and Verizon. So, those two operators will not have the same demand level as AT&T.”

Paul Bunyan Communications Opens Apple Service Center in Grand Rapids

It’s fun to see what the community can do with fiber …

Paul Bunyan Communications has opened a certified Apple Service Center in their new office at 510 SE 21st Street in Grand Rapids. The cooperative has been northern Minnesota’s certified Apple Service Center for several years out of the Bemidji location.

The Apple Service Center provides both in-warranty and out of warranty service on Apple products and computer repair including hardware or software problems, spill damage, screen replacement, virus removal, upgrades, and accessories. It is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. -5:30 p.m.

“It’s exciting to open up another Apple Service Center. People rely on a lot of devices and when they don’t work properly it isn’t fun.  When that happens, we’re here to help.” said Leo Anderson, Paul Bunyan Communications Technology Experience Manager.

“We’ve built one of the largest all-fiber optic rural gigabit networks in the country that offers the fastest internet speeds available.  It will provide optimum performance for the devices our customers use but not if they aren’t working right.  Now they can bring them to our Grand Rapids Apple Service Center to get checked out,” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager

CenturyLink vs. Comcast Xfinity: Which is better for your home internet?

C|Net compares CenturyLink and Comcast using a few metrics. If both are available in your area and you are making a decision about which to choose, the article will be helpful. If you are not in their area or you are and few of these services are available, the article may be frustrating but informative. Here’s the premise…

CenturyLink’s fiber and DSL home internet plans are available to just under one fifth of the US population. Meanwhile, Comcast Xfinity’s cable internet services are an option for more than a third of us. Setting aside satellite internet, which is available pretty much everywhere, CenturyLink and Comcast are two of the five largest internet providers in the country — and they’re competing for your business in more than half of all US states.

If you’re trying to pick between the two, the most important thing you need to understand is what, specifically, is available at your address. CenturyLink’s fiber plans are some of the best values you’ll find in high-speed home internet, but they’re only available in select regions. The rest of the footprint is left with CenturyLink’s DSL plans, which come with much slower speeds and a lot less bang for your buck. Meanwhile, with Comcast, you’ll connect via cable hookup regardless of where you live — but plans, prices and contract terms vary from region to region.

Fortunately, we’re here to help you make sense of it all. Keep reading for all of the key details on what each provider offers, including plans, prices, terms, speeds and customer satisfaction track records.

New FirstNet Cell Site Launches in the Kabetogama State Forest to Support First Responders in Northern MN

AT&T is making announcements of more deployments – again

What’s the news?

Northern Minnesota’s first responders are getting a major boost in their wireless communications thanks to the FirstNet® network expansion currently underway by AT&T. We’ve added a new, purpose-built cell site located in the Kabetogama State Forest near Kjostad Lake about an hour north of Virginia.

This FirstNet site will provide coverage when traveling along Orr Buyck Road and Crane Lake Road, located in the remote wilderness of northern Minnesota. It will also give first responders on FirstNet – America’s public safety network – access to always-on, 24-hours-a-day priority and preemption across voice and data.

This is the second FirstNet site to launch in this part of northern Minnesota this summer. In May, we added a new, purpose-built cell site located on the Echo Trail northwest of Ely near Meander Lake and Lake Jeannette State Forest – one of the first primarily powered by solar in the Midwest region. This site along the Echo Trail has already provided coverage to first responders who battled the Bezhik wildfire just a few miles south of the tower.

Why is this important?

We look at FirstNet as the most important wireless network in the country because it’s serving our first responders. And unlike commercial networks, FirstNet provides dedicated mobile broadband. To ensure AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) are putting coverage and capacity where first responders need it most, the FirstNet build is being done with direct feedback from state and public safety officials. This helps ensure Minnesota first responders connect to the critical information they need – every day and in every emergency. Other FirstNet sites already launched in Minnesota include Bagley, Blackduck, Cloquet, Echo Trail (northwest of Ely), Finlayson, Graceville, Grygla, Hovland, Isabella, Kellogg (Hwy 42), Lewiston, and Williams.

New FirstNet Cell Site Launches in the Kabetogama State Forest to Support First Responders in Northern MN

AT&T is making announcements of more deployments

Minnesota’s first responders are getting a major boost in their wireless communications thanks to the FirstNet® network expansion currently underway by AT&T. We’ve added a new, purpose-built cell site located near Kellogg in southeastern Minnesota. This FirstNet site will provide coverage when traveling north and south along Highway 42 between Kellogg and Plainview. It will also give first responders on FirstNet – America’s public safety network – access to always-on, 24-hours-a-day priority and preemption across voice and data.

Why is this important?

We look at FirstNet as the most important wireless network in the country because it’s serving our first responders. And unlike commercial networks, FirstNet provides dedicated mobile broadband. To ensure AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) are putting coverage and capacity where first responders need it most, the FirstNet build is being done with direct feedback from state and public safety officials. This helps ensure Minnesota first responders connect to the critical information they need – every day and in every emergency. Other FirstNet sites already launched in Minnesota include Bagley, Blackduck, Cloquet, Echo Trail (northwest of Ely), Finlayson, Graceville, Grygla, Hovland, Isabella, Kjostad Lake, Lewiston, and Williams.

CWA says Lumen (CenturyLink) is making the digital divide worse

Communications Workers of America in partnership with National Digital Inclusion Alliance have released a new report (Lumen’s Digital Disparity: Underinvestment in Infrastructure Discriminates Against Lower-Income, Rural, and Native American Customers) that does not paint a rosy picture of Lumen (CenturyLink) or for their customers. Here’s the executive summary…

Lumen Technologies (formerly known as CenturyLink) is making the digital divide worse and failing its customers and workers by not investing adequately in the essential fiber optic buildout that is the standard for broadband networks worldwide. An analysis of Lumen’s network in states where the company has more than 100,000 households in its service area, interviews with Lumen technicians, and reports by customers in Lumen’s service area show that its service in large parts of its footprint is below the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband definition of 25/3 Mbps and demonstrates Lumen’s failure to build fiber to much of its service area.

  • Thirty-nine percent of households in Lumen’s footprint do not have access to speeds that meet the FCC’s definition of broadband.
  • This underinvestment is especially devastating for rural communities, which make up more than half (57%) of the counties in the Lumen footprint and struggle with access to essential broadband services.
  • The median income for households with fiber available is 12 percent higher than in areas with DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) service only. The median income of households with access to fiber is $62,649, while the median income of households with only access to DSL is $56,123.
  • The company targets wealthy areas – 42 percent of households with access to fiber are in census blocks with median incomes above $75,000 – while leaving behind lower income areas, with only 7 percent of Lumen’s fiber network in census blocks with median incomes below $35,000.
  • In counties with higher populations of Native Americans (more than 25% of households) only about 5.2 percent have access to fiber-to-the-home service and 50 percent only have DSL access. This analysis uses data submitted by Lumen to the FCC as part of its mandatory semi-annual Form 477 reports. Due to data collection issues the FCC has only recently addressed, Form 477 data show an overly optimistic representation of Lumen’s network.2 For example, the Form 477 data show over 8 million households in the Lumen footprint have fiber-to-the-home broadband service available to them, while Lumen’s first quarter 2021 earnings report indicates the company only has 2.5 million “fiber-enabled” households. The disparity in Lumen’s network deployment may be significantly worse than reported to the FCC.

And notes about their service in Minnesota…

Minnesota

% of Lumen network without fiber access: 46%

% of Lumen network that does not meet FCC broadband standard: 35%

% of rural households that do not meet FCC broadband standard: 54%

Average income of fiber-enabled households: $75,774

Average income of households with only DSL: $56,538

That certainly colors the news that Lumen has sold much of their business in 20 states, not including Minnesota.