The FCC looks at increasing broadband speed goals for rural fund areas

The FCC reports

The Federal Communications Commission voted today to seek comment on a proposal to provide additional universal service support to certain rural carriers in exchange for increasing deployment to more locations at higher speeds.  The proposal would make changes to the Alternative Connect America Cost Model (A-CAM) program, with the goal of achieving widespread deployment of faster 100/20 Mbps broadband service throughout the rural areas served by rural carriers currently receiving A-CAM support.

The ACAM Broadband Coalition submitted a proposal to create an Enhanced A-CAM program, which is the impetus for the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted today.  Enhanced A-CAM, as proposed, would raise the broadband speeds required by the A-CAM programs to those generally required by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, while minimizing duplicative support across different federal broadband programs.  The Notice also proposes targeted modifications to the high-cost program rules to improve efficiency and efficacy in the program, including further streamlining of the annual reporting rules.

The Notice seeks comment on whether and how the Commission could:

 

  • Offer additional A-CAM support in exchange for increased broadband deployment obligations to additional locations and at higher speeds under an Enhanced A-CAM program.
  • Use the new Broadband DATA Act maps to determine any new deployment obligations.
  • Calculate support for an Enhanced A-CAM program, including whether the existing A-CAM framework continues to be appropriate.
  • Align specific proposals with Congressional intent, as well as programs at other agencies.
  • Improve the administration of the high-cost program and better safeguard the Universal Service Fund.

FCC decides not to cut USF support

Fierce Telecom reports…

Rural broadband providers breathed a sigh of relief this week, after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it would waive steep cuts to Universal Service Fund (USF) support which were set to take effect in July.

In an order formalizing the waiver, the FCC said it determined “current circumstances pose significant burdens on legacy carriers, which would be exacerbated should there be a significant reduction in support, at a time when they are facing insufficient cash flow and increased expenses.”

Commissioner Brendan Carr in a statement pointed specifically to inflation as a key source of pressure for small, rural operators. “The dollars they need to extend their networks and connect Americans are not going nearly as far today as they did a short while ago. So, today’s decision makes eminent sense,” he said.

The cuts in question would have reduced the support rural operators receive from two USF programs: Connect America Fund Broadband Loop Support and High Cost Loop Support. Both are subject to a budget control mechanism implemented in 2016 which is designed to systematically lower the monthly per-line subsidy operators receive over the course of several years.

Kandiyohi County, Charter Communications partner on $800,000 broadband project to serve 170 customers with ARPA funds

West Central Tribune reports…

Elected officials from Kandiyohi County and representatives from Charter Communications symbolically broke ground Monday on an $800,000 project that Charter said will bring broadband internet service to more than 170 rural, unserved homes and small businesses.

The event in New London Township was also a celebration of the partnerships between local elected officials and Charter Communications that made the project possible.

The agreement between Kandiyohi County and Charter Communications includes nearly $240,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding that was secured by the county, along with more than $563,000 in private investment from Charter.

Bemidji’s broadband leaves them poised to succeed – says Dave Hengel

Bemidji Pioneer posts a column from Dave Hengel, executive director of Greater Bemidji Economic Development, on the importance of technology and broadband for a thriving community…

The primary driver has been technology, which has created both incredible opportunities and challenges for communities worldwide. Since technology has allowed both businesses and people to locate virtually anywhere, geography (where we are located on a map) matters less, and place (a community’s character and quality of life) matters more. …

Thanks to technological innovations, none of these matters as much. We aren’t remote — we are connected via Zoom and other technology. We have access to metropolitan markets and resources all with the click of a mouse. While logistics have not reduced in importance, our largest “interstate” is our broadband network.

And let me remind everyone, the greater Bemidji region has the best all-fiber network in the nation. Thanks to the investment over the past decade by Paul Bunyan Communications, every home and business in our region has up to 10-gigabit service while other communities (including metropolitan areas) are struggling to gain basic broadband service.

In other words, Bemidji is ahead of the game.

Today, great communities are built, not born. The assets that bring prosperity and economic growth are not inherited. Like our all-fiber broadband network, key quality of life and economic development amenities can be identified and built.

Duluth resident skeptical of provider follow through with public funds

The Duluth News Tribune posts a letter to the editor…

I read with interest the May 9 News Tribune article “ St. Louis County signs on to Rice Lake broadband project .” I hope that included in the $3,800-per-household cost is a requirement for internet providers serving the area to hook up interested homeowners. Otherwise the county will have wasted taxpayer dollars to decorate telephone poles with expensive black cable for the residents to admire from across the road.

Almost two years ago a similar project in the rural, far east end of Duluth resulted in just that. Fiber optic cable strung from telephone poles ready to connect to homes. However, two years later, the only internet provider “servicing” this part of Duluth has yet to even contact residents about connecting their internet service to this fiber optic line — tantalizingly close, yet impossibly far away. Were taxpayer dollars used for this project as well? Who knows, as our local elected politicians have shown no interest in exploring this issue. Getting fiber optic cable into rural communities is a great political talking point. However, it seems that politicians really don’t care if the cable is actually used.

Many of us living in rural areas, in frustration, have abandoned the promise of fiber optic internet and turned instead to Starlink high-speed satellite internet for a fraction of the $3,800-per-household cost our county just approved for the Rice Lake project. I hope that the county commissioners were smart enough to make sure this massive amount of money promised for this project will have the intended result of gaining high-speed internet access for our rural friends and neighbors. But from my experience, I am skeptical.

I understand the frustration – but I think it rest more in the follow though and follow up than on the investment.

North Country’s take on the LTD Broadband predicament

LTD Broadband, the largest potential recipient of federal (RDOF) funding for broadband, has been in the news a lot because they (and the communities where they applied to provide service) are in limbo as they wait to hear if they do indeed get the funding. I’m trying not to duplicate the story too much – but did want to add the local respective from the Timbejay

LTD was a moderately-sized internet provider going into the 2020 FCC auction, with about 100 employees serving about 18,000 customers in six states, mostly in Minnesota.
But LTD walked away from that auction as the largest awardee in the nation, winning service area development bids worth $1.32 billion in federal funding to build broadband infrastructure for nearly 530,000 residents in 15 states.
That winning bid included nearly all of the federally eligible tracts in the North Country outside of already established broadband providers such as Midco and Frontier Communications. Because the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Development initiative will not give state subsidies for development in FCC-designated tracts, LTD’s FCC funding gives them a virtual lock on otherwise unprofitable development in these areas.
Paul Bunyan Communications was forced to eliminate numerous potential service locations from its broadband project for Cook because they were in FCC tracts awarded to LTD, and PBC could not use its Border-to-Border grant to pay for extending its service to those areas.
Greenwood Township is an area awarded to LTD in the FCC auction and an example of how the award can affect future development. The township has the option to wait for LTD to build its broadband network there, and the FCC monies make it a viable economic venture for LTD. Township officials have been working with another company to explore possibilities for getting service faster than they might through LTD, but cost is a serious issue. Greenwood is like all of the other tracts in the FCC auction in that companies have found the expense of serving them to be cost prohibitive without government subsidies. LTD is the only company qualified to receive subsidies for a project in Greenwood right now.
However, if the ETC designation for LTD is revoked by the PUC, they would be declared in default of their agreement with the FCC and lose access to those funds. Other companies could then step up to compete for alternative funding to build out service, according to information provided to the Timberjay on Tuesday by FCC spokesperson Anne Veigle.

MinnPost looks at PUC petition from MN Telecom folks focused on LTD Broadband

I mentioned this over the weekend and I suspect there will be more article but this has the potential to be a big deal so I’ll likely post them all.

MinnPost reports

Two trade groups have filed a petition with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission saying LTD Broadband will waste taxpayer time — and money — in the company’s bid to provide high speed broadband to roughly 160,000 people in the state.

The trade groups (MTA and MREA) say…

“Public funding is essential to bring broadband to unserved and underserved areas of rural Minnesota,” says the filing submitted by the Minnesota Telecom Alliance and the Minnesota Rural Electric Association. “But public dollars are limited, making it essential that those who obtain public funding can be counted on to deliver broadband to those areas as intended. The record will show that LTD cannot.”

LTD says…

Corey Hauer, the CEO of LTD Broadband, described the petition as a nuisance given the PUC has already approved the company. He said LTD can grow rapidly to meet the challenge of deploying a massive network of fiber-optic cable, despite having little experience building fiber, and will disrupt the industry like Elon Musk did with SpaceX and Tesla.

“The truth LTD Broadband is exposing is that deploying rural fiber is easier, faster and cheaper than the party line touted by some of our rural … competitors,” Hauer said.

What could happen…

If the PUC sides with the coalition of telecom providers and electric cooperatives, it would be the latest in a string of defeats for LTD Broadband across the country — and another reversal for a company that shocked the broadband industry by winning $1.32 billion in subsidies in 15 states from one of the country’s largest efforts to bring high-speed internet to rural areas.

20 Broadband companies poised to offer effectively free access

Yahoo Finance reports…

The Biden administration announced Monday that 20 leading internet service providers have agreed to offer basic low cost plans that will be free for millions of Americans after a refund.

The 20 companies, including AT&T (T), Comcast (CMCSA), and Verizon (VZ), cover more than 80% of the U.S. population. They will immediately provide at least one plan that costs no more than $30 a month and provides download speeds of at least 100 mbps.

The White House says that 40% of the U.S. population, about 48 million households, will be eligible to sign up through an existing program called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The program is aimed at lower income Americans and offers participants a discount of up to $30/month on their internet bill, meaning they’ll effectively get free service if they can get online with one of these participating companies.

AT&T CEO John Stankey said his company’s new plan “when combined with federal ACP benefits, provides up to 100 Mbps of free internet service.”

Aurora Fiber Optic Networks Celebrates 20 years with expanded network partnership and new LLC

A press release from Aurora Fiber Optic Networks

After 20 years doing business under the brand, Aurora Fiber Optic
Networks, 702 Communications has formalized its partnership with Fiber Minnesota by creating Aurora
Fiber Optic Networks, LLC.
The partnership creates the largest and most robust statewide fiber network in Minnesota.
“For 20 years, 702 Communications has been the sales and marketing arm of the combined members of
Fiber Minnesota under the Aurora Fiber Optic Networks brand,” explains Brian Crommett, CEO of 702
Communications and now President of Aurora. “Formalizing the partnership and creating this amazing
statewide network really provides clarity to our Enterprise and Wholesale Carrier customers and opens
up huge opportunity for growth.”
Jason Dale, the CEO of Fiber Minnesota and Vice-President of Aurora agrees. “The Fiber Minnesota core
and partner networks stretch over 10,000 miles and interconnect our 30+ ISP members who have spent
decades building and upgrading their last-mile fiber networks. With 99% of the homes and businesses in
our markets enjoying fiber-optic access, we’ve brought opportunity to our local customers and created a
cohesive brand for carrier transport business in Minnesota. We cannot wait for the next 20 years to
unfold for Aurora.”
Aurora Fiber Optic Networks
Headquartered at 702 Main Avenue in downtown Moorhead, Aurora Fiber Optic Networks, LLC provides
a single point of contact for fiber optic connectivity to carrier, wholesale, ISPs and large enterprise
businesses. With member-owners based in five states in and around Minnesota complementing national
partner interconnections, Aurora can provide access to virtually anywhere in the nation. For more
information, visit www.aurorafonet.com

RDOF Contender LTD Broadband Fined for Communicating with Cable MSO

Telecompetitor reports

The FCC has issued a proposed $100,000 fine against LTD Broadband, which was the largest winning bidder in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction. The commission said the company “apparently engaged in prohibited communications” with Cox Communications, which was another winning bidder in the auction.

The FCC’s concerns center on RJM, an investment agent that LTD hired to raise capital for investment in LTD. According to the commission, RJM and LTD never entered into a non-disclosure agreement that would have governed RJM’s activities as required by RDOF rules.

RJM sought investment from Cox and in doing so, shared information regarding LTD’s bids, bidding strategies and bidding outcomes with Cox during a quiet period before the auction started, the FCC said.

Mankato Clinic expands virtual care across 13 facilities (Blue Earth County)

PR Newswire reports

 Bluestream Health, a virtual care Platform-as-a-Service, has enabled access to virtual care for Mankato Clinic’s 13 healthcare facilities across four rural communities in southern Minnesota.

Bluestream Health’s virtual care platform provides access for patients to Mankato Clinic’s full spectrum of health specialties, services, and programs for primary care to care management to pediatrics. Bluestream Health is also providing interpreting services to patients through the virtual platform.

Litchfield gets fiber from Meeker Cooperative (Meeker County)

Litchfield Independent Review reports

Litchfield residents will soon have another broadband Internet access option. Meeker Cooperative is in the process of installing fiber optic cable throughout the city. Work began in the northeast quadrant late last month and is expected to continue through September.

Cooperative Director Tim Mergen and Luke Johnson appeared before the Litchfield City Council Monday evening to explain the project. Council members appeared most concerned about the disruption to city streets, alleys and front yards caused by laying the cable and installing access boxes.

I know regular readers who have been working tirelessly to get broadband to their area will envy the problem of the deployment process, but it’s good to see folks’ reactions…

City resident Connie Lies told the council that she and others object to not only the digging, which is temporary, but also to the inconvenience of having stakes and metal boxes in their yards. Mergen and Johnson reiterated that the cooperative would be repairing the excavation damage. Most of the main line work is being done within existing frontage easements, but the cooperative is using some rear yard and alley easements where available. “Our contractors are trying to clean up on a weekly basis, weather permitting,” Mergen told the council.

Meeker Cooperative, which supplies electricity to rural areas within and around Meeker County, has been laying fiber optic cable in rural areas within its service area, over the past few years. However, it has also made several other urban installations, including in Paynesville and Eden Valley, Mergen and Johnson said.

DEED Commissioner and Nuvera CEO talk about increased need for upload speeds in Hutchinson MN

The Hutchinson Leader reports

These days it seems that almost everyone is a content creator.

And that means it’s never been more important to have fast, reliable internet available to everyone, everywhere.

That was the message Glenn Zerbe, chief executive officer of Nuvera, shared with Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove during a roundtable discussion in mid-April.

“It’s not just Netflix creating and sending out content,” Zerbe said. “Content and creativity are coming from the home, and it’s changing everything.”

Grove agreed with the importance — and the urgency — of providing broadband internet access throughout the state. It’s been a priority at DEED and for Gov. Tim Walz’s administration for some time, including the governor’s proposal to invest $170 million — in addition to federal grant dollars — to fully connect the state.

The article also outlines what Nuvera is doing to provide better broadband…

Nuvera has been working to improve internet service in Hutchinson, connecting its fiber network to the southern half of the city’s downtown, two areas near State Highway 15 on the south side of Hutchinson, and an area around the 3M campus in 2021. In March, the company announced it is targeting several other areas, including the southwest side of the city west of Dale Street and south of the Crow River; the north half of Main Street; and the south end of Hutchinson, east of Highway 15 and north of Airport Road. Additional connections will continue in the future, with a goal of covering the entire city by 2024.

Nuvera also is working to extend its fiber network in Litchfield and Glencoe, with plans to invest at least 50% of its revenue into capital investments in 2023 in order to provide up to 1 gigabyte speeds.

Investments in internet access like those made by Nuvera are important to the state’s economy, Grove said, because of the amplified role connectivity plays during the pandemic and continues to play.

Le Sueur County Broadband Fair – well attended, good questions and tour of local wellness center

The Blandin Broadband crew attended the Le Sueur County Broadband Fair on Thursday. Hosted by the Le Sueur County Broadband Initiative, it looked like a pretty simple setup but it got a lot done. Providers were invited to set up a table. There local broadband team created a few “booths” that promoted the Affordable Connectivity Program (broadband subsidies to households that need it) and other funding opportunities like Congressionally Directed Spending. There was a vendor selling delicious BBQ and a few places to sit.

The event was very well attended. I would guess 60+ people through the event.

Getting people together to chat freely about broadband was a great idea. A lot of customers got to the right people – even if that just meant letting off some steam. A lot of potential customers heard from a number of providers. Engineers from the County chatted with different providers about where the fiber really is. Providers looking at maps and realizing that they can more towers now that the original community has FTTH.

Before the event, we attended the broadband steering committee, where we heard them plan contingency upon contingency based on what funding comes in and through which door it arrives. Le Sueur broadband is a study in persistence and resilience.

Also, we learned about the Clubhouse for folks with mental health issues in Le Center and ended up visiting it the next day. It’s a terrific community-led spot for folks with persistent and/or constituent mental health issues to go to learn skills, build friendships or just get away from the other parts of their world that might be causing stress. You can see our tour below.

Fiber coming to Mankato, North Mankato and Eagle Lake (Blue Earth, Nicollet, and Le Sueur counties)

Mankato Free Press reports

A new gigabit broadband internet service is coming to Mankato, North Mankato and Eagle Lake.

Fidium Fiber, part of Consolidated Communications, will be available some time this year for more than 10,000 homes in the region.

The service has speeds 10 times faster than the national average, according to Consolidated. …

The cost is $70 per month for gig service that includes Wi-Fi equipment and installation, with no required bundles, no data caps and no contract.