Letter to the Editor – AT&T is investing in northwestern Minnesota

The Crookston Times posts a letter to the editor from Paul Weirtz, state president of AT&T Minnesota…

Mobile internet coverage is always a hot topic these days, especially in northwestern Minnesota. That’s why I wanted to take an opportunity to highlight some good news AT&T has to offer residents here.

Over the last five years, AT&T has made 115 upgrades to expand our network and boost coverage and reliability in Polk County and the surrounding counties of Kittson, Marshall, Pennington, Red Lake and Rosseau. This includes 36 network upgrades in Crookston, East Grand Forks, and Thief River Falls.

Just last month, we expanded our 4G LTE wireless network in the area with upgrades to an AT&T cell site on Highway 64 west of Thief River Falls. With these enhancements, AT&T customers will experience faster, more reliable wireless service.

We know residents and businesses are doing more with their wireless devices than ever before, and our goal is to give them an effortless network experience, not only in northwestern Minnesota but throughout the state.

That’s why AT&T is committed to investing in our wireless networks across Minnesota. We invested nearly $350 million in our Minnesota networks from 2014 to 2016. In 2017, we made 976 network enhancements across 299 communities in the state, including new cell sites, network upgrades, and capacity expansions. And we are continuing to invest in our networks this year. In fact, expanding our network in Minnesota has given AT&T the most wireless coverage in the state.

Not only do these investments boost reliability, coverage and speed, they also improve critical services that support public safety and first responders.

This is important because last year, Minnesota opted in to FirstNet, accepting a plan from the FirstNet Authority and AT&T to deliver a wireless broadband platform to the state’s public safety community. We are very proud that AT&T, in a public-private partnership with the FirstNet Authority, will build, operate and maintain a highly secure wireless broadband communications platform for Minnesota’s public safety community for the next 25 years at no cost to the state. The FirstNet experience will deliver innovation and create an entire system of modernized devices, apps and tools for first responder subscribers of the service.

As a member of the Governor’s Broadband Task Force, I know full well the benefits of broadband deployment.

I’m very proud of AT&T’s commitment to investing in our networks in Minnesota, and I’m excited for what the future holds.

Paul Weirtz, state president
AT&T Minnesota


Kristi Westbrock named new CEO/General Manager at CTC

Congrats to Kristi (and CTC) and best of luck to retiring Manager Kevin Larson! CTC stakeholders and customers (often one in the same) will remain in good hands!

CTC reports

The Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) Board of Directors unanimously elected Kristi Westbrock as Chief Executive Officer/General Manager. Westbrock succeeds CTC’s current CEO/General Manager Kevin Larson who announced his retirement from CTC at the company’s Annual Meeting on June 6, 2018. Kevin’s retirement date from the CEO position at CTC will be June 30, 2018.

“The CTC Board of Directors is delighted that Kristi has accepted the CEO/General Manager position. We are confident that Kristi will continue to move our Cooperative forward with the best interest of our members in mind,” states Morris Nelson, Chairperson of the Board of Directors. “We also thank Kevin for his dedication and commitment to the Cooperative for the past 17 years. Kevin has many accomplishments over his tenure, including leading the fiber to the home project to our original ten service areas.”

Pickwick MN getting online thanks to MN State Funds and HBC

The Winona Post reports on the progress of a Border to Border grant project in the Pickwick area…

The promise of high-speed Internet has been a long time coming for Pickwick area residents. When HBC won a $561,000 state grant in 2015 to cover half the cost of extending fiberoptic Internet cables to Trout Creek Valley, Cedar Valley, and Whitewater State Park, the company expected the cables to be laid and the broadband internet flowing by 2017. HBC has completed work to bring broadband to those other areas, but it has yet to begin laying wires in Trout Creek Valley. CEO Dan Pecarina said that work should begin this summer.

It turns out Pickwick was a more difficult area to serve…

Remote and sparsely populated, it is very expensive to extend new fiberoptic cable to rural homes and businesses. “It is anywhere from four to 10 times what it costs to build out a network in town,” Pecarina said. With state grants covering half the cost, some rural projects make financial sense, but the most expensive rural projects are still a difficult business proposition with a long wait for return on investment, he stated.
Pickwick turned out such a project, Pecarina stated. HBC has plans to run fiberoptic cable along County Road 7 the length of the valley, but connecting the mouth of the valley to HBC’s larger distribution network on Highway 61 is the problem, he explained. HBC has existing fiberoptic cable just over a mile upriver, but there is a tight bend where Highway 61 is squeezed between a bluff, the railroad, and the river, where laying fiberoptic cable would require boring through rock, Pecarina explained. That is very expensive.
Once HBC realized how difficult connecting to the head of Trout Creek Valley would be, the company looked for alternatives. Pecarina said the company spent most of 2017 analyzing other options. HBC was also purchased by Indiana-based Schurz Communications that year. After looking at all the options, Pecarina said his firm has come up with a workable solution for Pickwick.
HBC plans to beam wireless Internet across the Mississippi River to Trout Creek Valley from two locations in Wisconsin: one downriver in Trempealeau and one upriver near the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge. It is not ideal, Pecarina admitted. State officials and companies prefer fiberoptic cable because it has the capacity to provide even higher speeds in the future, but Pecarina said that the Pickwick project’s point-to-point wireless connection will still be able to provide the DEED-mandated broadband speeds. “They’re still going to get the speed an all-fiberoptic network would have … we just can’t build fiberoptic into the valley at a feasible price,” he stated. “We’ll have enough bandwidth pumped into the valley to serve everyone with one-gigabit service if they want to go to that.” In the future, HBC would like to extend fiberoptic cable from Ridgeway to the head of the valley, he added.

Unfortunately the funding for rural broadband was not renewed through the 2018 Legislature.

Changes at New Ulm Telecom: Increase in A-CAM and new name – Nuvera Communications

Market Exclusive shared some wonky but interesting info on New Ulm Telecom. First the easy part, they are changing their name…

On May 24, 2018, the Company announced that it is changing its name to Nuvera Communications, Inc. The Company expects the name change to be effective on June 4, 2018.

Also they are going to be getting more A-CAM money than originally planned – they will be getting $7.6 million a year in Minnesota. (A-CAM is federal funding for Rate of Return carriers; it is akin to the CAF 2 funding for Price Cap carriers.)…

In its Form 10-Q for the quarter ended September 30, 2016, New Ulm Telecom, Inc. (the “Company”) disclosed that it had elected the Alternative Connect America Cost Model (“A-CAM”) support for its Minnesota and Iowa operations, replacing its former interstate common line support. The new A-CAM funding model became effective for the Company on January 1, 2017. Under the A-CAM program, the Company is entitled to receive A-CAM support payments for ten years in exchange for meeting defined broadband build-out requirements. At the time of the Company’s election, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) had not yet determined the final award numbers.

Consistent with its Form 10-Q disclosure, the Company notified the FCC that it would participate in the A-CAM program. Under the Report that accompanied the FCC December 20, 2016 Public Notice, the Company was entitled to receive annually (i) $391,896 for its Iowa operations and (ii) $6,118,567 for its Minnesota operations. The Company will use the annual $6.5 million that it receives through the A-CAM program to meet its defined broadband build-out obligations.

On May 7, 2018, the FCC issued Public Notice DA 18-465, which contained revised offers of Alternative Connect America Cost Model (A-CAM) support and associated revised service deployment obligations.

On May 23, 2018, the Company’s Board of Directors authorized and directed the company to accept the FCC’s revised offer of A-CAM support and the revised associated service deployment obligations. Under the revised FCC offer Notice, the Company will be entitled to annually receive (i) $489,870 for its Iowa operations, which is a $97,974 increase per year and (ii) $7,648,208 for its Minnesota operations, which is a $1,529,641 increase per year. The Company will use the additional support that it receives through the A-CAM program to continue to meet its defined broadband build-out obligations. A letter of acceptance to elect the revised A-CAM support offer must be filed with the FCC by June 21, 2018. The revised A-CAM support offer payments are expected to begin in the third quarter of 2018.

FCC Establishes A Portal for ISP Disclosures

Borrowing from the Benton Foundation’s summary

As required by the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, with this Public Notice, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, in coordination with the Wireline Competition Bureau, establishes a portal for Internet service provider (ISP) transparency disclosures. The Order becomes effective on June 11, 2018, and the revised transparency rule requires ISPs to publicly disclose information about their service in one of two ways – by providing the disclosure on a publicly available, easily accessible website or by submitting it to the Federal Communications Commission for posting. On May 29, 2018, this portal will be available for both ISPs submitting their disclosures to the FCC and consumers searching for any disclosures submitted to the FCC.

It seems likely to me that most providers would simply use their own website to disclose information about their service – but this portal is available too. It would interesting to see if some of the providers use their website to disclose some info and this portal to disclose other info.


Who has authority over broadband service in MN PUC or FCC?

Minnesota Public Radio reports…

The question of whether state government can regulate internet service has surfaced at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The PUC will take up the matter this Thursday.

The state commerce department wants consumer internet complaints about Frontier Communications included in a PUC investigation of the company. The agency has received hundreds of complaints about Frontier, many concerning its internet service. The PUC plans a series of public meetings around the state to hear consumer comments on the matter.

But the state’s telecommunications companies maintain the regulation of internet service is something only the Federal Communications Commission can do.

Frontier would like the PUC to have FCC handle broadband issues and segment out only telephone for the PUC. The Attorney General says…

“An attempt to narrow the scope of the investigation at this stage would hinder the ability of the Commission and other state government entities to hear from customers,” the AG’s office wrote.

It said the question of who can regulate internet service is something “that does not need to be resolved at this phase.”

Frontier customers have told the PUC that their internet connection speed is often slow and undependable.

In a statement, Frontier Communications said it’s cooperating with the PUC review of its performance. But the company said the investigation should be limited to Frontier telephone service.


Details on new wifi connection in and around Rochester MN

Here are details on a new network around Rochester, Minnesota from a press release from Calix, a vendor serving equipment used in the network…

Calix, Inc. (NYSE:CALX) today announced Minnesota WiFi, a wireless Internet service provider (WISP) based in southern Minnesota, is leveraging Calix Cloud and Mesh-Enhanced Carrier Class Wi-Fisolutions to bring its managed Wi-Fi service to residential and business subscribers across six counties. Through the superior performance of the Calix GigaCenters, Minnesota WiFi has dramatically improved the broadband speeds and cloud-based services for its subscribers, allowing local businesses to thrive and residents to maintain their rural, teleworking lifestyle. With Calix Cloud in place, Minnesota WiFi has also been able to improve its support for these subscribers as the remote troubleshooting capabilities have resulted in faster call time resolution and fewer costly truck rolls.

“In the 13 communities Minnesota WiFi serves in and around Rochester, our broadband service enables our subscribers to enjoy the comforts of rural living while being able to take advantage of the same level of service they would find in a big city,” said Darin Steffl, owner of Minnesota WiFi. “Many of our subscribers rely on Wi-Fi for high-bandwidth applications like VPN connections to the Mayo Clinic to work remotely or for transferring huge satellite images of farmland for agricultural tile drainage. We found phenomenal performance and coverage from the Calix GigaCenters, especially in the 5Ghz band. The GigaCenters blew away all other dual-band Wi-Fi routers, which helps our business subscribers succeed and supports our residential subscribers who are streaming media and gaming more than ever before. We are thrilled that through our investment of these next generation technologies from Calix we can meet our goals of both enabling our communities to succeed while finding new ways to streamline our operations.”