Nobles County commits $2 million match for ReConnect application for broadband

The Worthington Globe reports….

One week after discussing the potential expansion of fiberoptic broadband throughout Nobles County, commissioners on Thursday authorized spending up to $2 million on the project — if the county is awarded a significant USDA ReConnect grant to support the estimated $21 million project.

Lismore Cooperative Telephone Company is proposing to complete the project with assistance from Finley Engineering, the firm hired by the cooperative to design and build the system. LCTC built up much of the rural broadband that currently exists within Nobles County, and this would expand on their efforts by delivering fiber to another 2,900 locations, serving an estimated 6,300 residents.

Nobles County Board chairman Gene Metz stepped down from leading the meeting prior to the presentation, instead taking a seat alongside his fellow Lismore Telecom board members to promote the proposal.

More details…

The cooperative’s board last week stated it would contribute $2.5 million toward the project. Of the county’s $2 million — which would likely come from its American Rescue Plan Act allotment — commissioners said Thursday they want to ask townships impacted by the project to consider designating some of their ARPA funds to it as well.

Since Worthington, Adrian, Ellsworth and Brewster are already served by internet providers, this new project would boost service to the communities of Bigelow, Reading and Dundee.

Chris Konechne with Finley Engineering told commissioners that the construction project is estimated to be completed in three years, pending the grant. Up-front engineering would be done in 2022, and there’s roughly a 30-week lead time for materials currently.

New FirstNet Cell Site Launches in Angle Inlet (Lake of the Woods County MN)

Here’s the latest from AT&T…

What’s the news? First responders in the Northwest Angle 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 in Angle Inlet – the northernmost point of the contiguous 48 states.

This FirstNet site will serve those traveling along Inlet Road NW and Pine Creek Drive NW in Angle Inlet – a community in Lake of the Woods County – as well as those fishing or recreating on the nearby lake. This site 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.

Angle Inlet is part of the Northwest Angle of Minnesota, the only place in the continental United States north of the 49th parallel. The community is the northernmost census-designated place in the contiguous 48 states. The Northwest Angle cannot be reached from the rest of the United States without either going through Canada or crossing water – specifically Lake of the Woods.

LTD Broadband is suing Iowa Utilities Board for RDOF loss

As several Minnesota communities are stuck in wait-and-see mode as the FCC decides what to do with the LTD RDOF projects that have not been awarded yet, I think it’s informative to see what’s happening in other states and how aggressive LTD is being to pursue funding. Iowa Capital Dispatch reports

A lawsuit filed by a major provider of broadband services alleges that a recent decision by the Iowa Utilities Board has prevented it from participating in the rollout of a $23 million expansion of broadband service for rural Iowans.

LTD Broadband, a Las Vegas-based company with roughly 150 employees, owns and operates more than 2,500 communications towers in Iowa and six other states, and is suing the Iowa Utilities Board over the alleged delays.

In 2019, the board designated the company as an “eligible telecommunications carrier,” or ETC, that could receive federal funds to support the development of rural and high-cost telecommunications services. That designation was based on the finding that LTD had the requisite “technical, managerial, and financial” capabilities to do the work, and that the designation would be in the public interest.

In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission implemented a new program, called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, designed to improve rural broadband availability throughout the nation. The FCC later announced that LTD was the winning bidder for more than $23 million in federal funding to help bring new broadband service to a substantial portion of Iowa.

And here are the details…

As part of the bidding process, the FCC had specified that the funding could not be provided until LTD received state approval for the expansion of LTD’s existing ETC designation, which would cover the specific service territory for areas covered by the new federal program.

On May 7 of this year, LTD filed an application to expand its ETC designation and then provided the Iowa Utilities Board with additional information that was requested by the by the board staff.

The FCC deadline for obtaining state approval was June 7, and so, with no action taken yet by the Iowa Utilities Board on its application, LTD sought a deadline waiver from the FCC that would give it more time to win the Iowa board’s approval.

The utilities board also didn’t approve LTD’s request at meetings in July, August, September and October, and on Oct. 20, the FCC denied LTD’s request for a waiver of the June 7 deadline.

At the time, the FCC noted that LTD had waited five months after the December 2020 bid award to file its applications in Iowa and two other states, believing approval tale no more than 30 days. “LTD offers no explanation for why it did not file in these states sooner, or why waiting until the last possible moment to file (even if its assumptions about a 30 day approval process were correct) was a choice warranting waiver,” the FCC stated.

LTD then sought reconsideration of the FCC order and, at the same time, it filed a request with the Iowa board seeking an expedited ruling on its expansion request.

In November, the board issued a ruling denying the expansion request, citing the company’s alleged failure to comply with the “minimal” regulations Iowa had already imposed upon it.

The board pointed out that the company had yet to comply with a February 2019 order to file a registration as a telecommunications service provider, was past due on the payment of certain assessments, and had not yet filed the required annual reports for 2019 and 2020.  The board also accused LTD of routinely submitting regulatory filings with “obvious errors.”

The lawsuit filed by LTD does not directly address the concerns raised by the board in its November ruling, but alleges the company has been held to a higher standard than other broadband service providers.

Recap on Kandiyohi County using ARPA funds to build better broadband in Prinsburg with Arvig

Telecompetitor reports

Prinsburg is a small town with a population of about 500 in largely rural Kandiyohi County. Arvig had discussed various projects with the county over the years.

“Some were close to being successful,” Birkholz said. “This one came through.”

Arvig’s history with the county meant that when ARPA funding was allocated to the county and the city, it made sense for Arvig to reconvene with decision makers.

The ARPA included $350 billion for a Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, which allocated specific amounts of funding to states, counties and cities that could be used for a variety of purposes, including broadband deployments.

As Birkholz explained, Arvig determined what it would cost to bring fiber broadband to each of the 220 locations in Prinsburg and what portion of the cost Arvig could cover. Arvig’s fiber distribution network reaches to within a few miles of Prinsburg, which helped minimize the cost.

Nevertheless, there was a gap of $550,000.

The solution was to create a public private partnership to build the network. The county earmarked $330,000 of its ARPA funding to the project and Prinsburg contributed $45,000 from its ARPA allocation. In addition, the city contributed $175,000 through a bond.

Plans call for Arvig to begin construction in Prinsburg no later than August 2022 and to complete the project by the end of the year.

Land O’Lakes gets nice nod for bringing federal funding to broadband

Twin Cities Business reports

Not long after Beth Ford became CEO of the Land O’Lakes cooperative in 2018, she toured agriculture co-ops and farms across rural America.

By early 2019, she was alarmed that many small towns and rural residents lacked high-speed internet service, which she feared would leave them behind in the 21st century economy. She recognized the technology deficit would greatly reduce access to education and health care and harm job creation. Ford became hell-bent on securing broadband funding at the federal level.

Less than three years later, on Nov. 15, she was on the White House lawn to witness President Biden’s signing of a bipartisan infrastructure bill, which included $65 billion for broadband.

It’s great to see businesses step up and her work speaks to the role that cooperatives are having in rural areas deploying broadband.

New FirstNet Cell Sites Launch along Gunflint Trail and near Lichen Lake (Cook County MN)

Here’s the latest from AT&T. I have a few very similar posts for this afternoon but for archival reasons, I’ll post the info on each community separately…

New Infrastructure Will Help Advance Public Safety, Improve Connectivity for Area Residents and Visitors

What’s the news? First responders in northern Minnesota are getting a major boost in their wireless communications thanks to the FirstNet® network expansion currently underway by AT&T*. We’ve added two new, purpose-built cell sites – one located along the Gunflint Trail near Gunflint Lake and Magnetic Lake and another located near Lichen Lake in the Superior National Forest.

These FirstNet sites will serve those traveling in the remote wilderness of northern Minnesota. One site will provide coverage when traveling along the Gunflint Trail north of Grand Marais. The second will provide coverage when traveling along State Highway 165 near Lichen Lake north of Tofte. The sites 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.

New FirstNet Cell Site Launches in Togo (Itasca County MN)

Here’s the latest from AT&T. I have a few very similar posts for this afternoon but for archival reasons, I’ll post the info on each community separately…

New Infrastructure Will Help Advance Public Safety, Improve Connectivity for Area Residents and Visitors

What’s the news? First responders in northern 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 Togo near George Washington State Forest in Itasca County.

This FirstNet site will provide coverage when traveling along State Highways 1 and 65 in the remote community of Togo. 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.

New FirstNet Cell Site Launches South of Faribault (Rice County MN)

Here’s the latest from AT&T. I have a few very similar posts for this afternoon but for archival reasons, I’ll post the info on each community separately…

New Infrastructure Will Help Advance Public Safety, Improve Connectivity for Area Residents and Visitors

What’s the news? First responders in southern 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 just south of Faribault in Rice County.

This FirstNet site will provide coverage when traveling along 260th Street West, Dalton Avenue and Canby Avenue just south of Faribault between Deerfield and Medford in southern 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.

Heavy lobbying anticipated as agencies figure out infrastructure bill

The Hill reports…

The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill is enshrined into law, but the lobbying over its implementation is just getting started.

Specifics on broadband…

Meanwhile, internet service providers (ISPs) are expected to aggressively lobby the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) as it crafts new internet rules under the infrastructure bill’s $65 billion broadband expansion plan.

The relatively tiny agency has six months to develop a proposal that will require recipients of federal broadband funding to provide a low-cost broadband option and encourage states to explore alternatives to dominant ISPs such as coops, nonprofits and municipalities.

The NTIA will have the final say as to what kinds of speeds and prices providers must offer. An aggressive broadband plan could hurt the bottom line of ISPs that have long operated in underserved communities without any competition.

“The language in the legislation offers a baseline of requirements that need to be met, and it provides some flexibility to the agencies to interpret just how far they can go,” said Greg Guice, director of government affairs at Public Knowledge, a nonprofit that advocates for increased access to affordable high-speed internet.

“Competition, affordability, speed, reliability, resiliency — with all of those things there is some flexibility, and ISPs would like to keep them at a minimum level,” he added.

States will play a key major role in implementing the broadband rules. That’s another lobbying avenue for ISPs, which successfully pushed more than a dozen states to adopt rules limiting or blocking municipal broadband networks.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), meanwhile, is tasked with creating regulations requiring ISPs to disclose their network performance, data collection and other key factors to customers. The FCC must also craft rules that prevent ISPs from discriminating on customers based on the a region’s income or demographic characteristics.

Latest FBA Research Underscores Fiber is the Superior Broadband Technology

As the industry is looking at literally billions of dollars to invest in broadband, it’s nice to get a glimpse at the ongoing costs of various modes of broadband like fiber. This report is from the Fiber Broadband Association and they have a clear agenda, but numbers are compelling…

The Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) today released its 2021 Broadband Consumer Study that reveals fiber is the clear superior technology to meet broadband needs. The research, conducted by RVA LLC Market Research & Consulting (RVA), concludes that when compared to other broadband technology—including cable, DSL/FTTN, satellite, mobile wireless and fixed wireless—fiber has stronger reliability, the highest satisfaction rates and lowest cost per Mbps.

RVA consumer broadband studies have been conducted for the FBA since 2006. The data for the latest study was collected from 4,300 surveys of U.S. and Canadian broadband consumers in May 2021. This annual research provides a snapshot of the current broadband market. It includes the latest broadband technology deployment numbers, satisfaction rates and market growth rates. The FBA leverages the results to set strategic initiatives, and FBA members utilize this data to guide current and future fiber deployment plans.

“We’re experiencing a defining moment in building broadband infrastructure, and our research will help influence public policy to ensure that the remaining 20 – 40 million Americans without broadband access can finally realize digital equality,” said Gary Bolton, President and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association. “We know that when broadband capacity is unlimited, our communities’ potential is limitless. This research underscores the fact that fiber is the superior broadband technology because of its ability to reliably connect families and businesses to new opportunities.”

This year’s survey revealed several key findings that note fiber has the:

  • Highest Satisfaction Rating
    • Fiber has an average net promoter score of 20% (scores of other broadband types range from -5% to -45%).
  • Highest Reliability based on reported outages
  • Highest Speeds and Lowest Latency based on random speed tests.
  • Lowest Cost per Mbps at $0.66
    • Other technologies range from $1.00 – $6.00 per Mbps.
  • Increase in value to Real Estate
    • Increasing the value of homes by 3.4%, apartment rental prices by 8.1% and apartment operating income by 15%.

MetroNet to make Chanhassen Minnesota’s Next Gigabit City (Carver County)

Telecompetitor reports

MetroNet today announced plans to bring symmetrical gigabit-speed internet service to Chanhassen’s homes and businesses. When complete, Chanhassen will become a Gigabit City, making ultra-high-speed internet service delivered through fiber optic connections available to a majority of Chanhassen homes and businesses. MetroNet, now available in more than a dozen Minnesota communities, will fully fund the 100 percent fiber optic network through a multi-million-dollar investment.

Here are the details…

MetroNet’s two-year construction project in Chanhassen is planned to begin this fall, with customers able to receive service in the summer of 2022. As MetroNet’s construction begins, residents will receive communication by mail about activity in their neighborhood 30 days prior to starting. Additional messaging, such as yard signs and signs at neighborhood entry points, will be provided to let residents know when the construction process is about to begin in their area. MetroNet crews are identified by ID badges and use branded MetroNet vehicles.

Residents and businesses that are interested in MetroNet services may now visit www.MetroNetInc.com/construction to receive updates on when their address is eligible for installation and sign-up early for presales.

[Added Nov 8] The folks from Mediacom inform me that they “made Chanhassen a Gigabit City years ago.” Lucky Chanhassen residents have options!

Starlink out of beta but not shipping soon due to chip shortages

Ars Technica reports

If you ordered Starlink broadband service and don’t receive your “Dishy McFlatface” satellite dish any time soon, the global chip shortage may be one reason why.

“Silicon shortages have delayed production which has impacted our ability to fulfill orders. Please visit your Account page for the most recent estimate on when you can expect your order to be fulfilled,” SpaceX said in an FAQ on the Starlink support website. The language was added to the Starlink website on Thursday night, according to a PCMag article.

Starlink has apparently just exited its beta status. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in September that it would emerge from beta in October, and the word “beta” was deleted from descriptions on the Starlink homepage late last week. The website was also updated to advertise “download speeds between 100Mbps and 200Mbps and latency as low as 20ms in most locations,” an improvement over the previously stated “50Mbps to 150Mbps and latency from 20ms to 40ms in most locations.”

But the move from beta to general availability doesn’t necessarily coincide with widespread availability. PCMag also pointed out that expected shipment times for Starlink have been pushed to late 2022 or early 2023 in additional parts of the US. The Starlink website reports expected service times of “early to mid 2022” in other areas.

Frustrations with outages at LTD Broadband might send red flag to federal funders

I often hear from people who are unhappy about their lack of broadband and/or unhappy with the company providing less than adequate broadband. I generally tread lightly. But a recent article in Tech Dirt and the unprecedented public dollars being invested in broadband reminds me that customer service is important.

A couple of weeks ago I heard from Scott Evers, an LTD Broadband customer, asking me if I had heard anything about outages LTD have been experiencing since Aug 27. I hadn’t. But it was easy to learn more – not in media – but in online forums, such as Downhunter. (Screenshot provided.) You can read the frustration –  people had been down for “more than a week” or “over a month” and hadn’t heard anything satisfying from the company.

There are already concerns about LTD and the fact that they are on the very short (singular name) list to get RDOF money to provide FTTH (Fiber to the Home) in parts of Minnesota, despite the fact that they have a history of deploying wireless solutions. (And the FCC is taking time to look more closely at grants.) So it seems like a good time to lift the voices of customers. I am going to share some of the notes I have received from Scott about the service:

  • Oct 8: I am wondering if you are aware of their issues that started on Aug 27th and continue for a wide base of users through the midwest. Customers are very frustrated since LTD is refusing to provide details and timelines for when services will be restored to normal levels that customers pay for. At this time we are still experiencing 1-4 hour rolling outages and service speeds that rarely exceed 1-2 Mb/sec since Aug 27th.(normal was about 10-15Mb before Aug 27th). LTD has been refunding customers but refuses to provide details as to when issues will be resolved. They are also refusing and limiting comments on their facebook site so customers can not get information. Attached is one email that was provided by LTD. There are several comments from customers on Downhunter.com. This lack of communication and problems is certainly even odd for LTD.
  • Oct 13: I called the LTD sales office (3rd time) to try and get a status update since the main support Helpdesk can’t answer any questions. I was able to convince the sales person to escalate  the issue since multiple calls from multiple customers in our area have made no progress in the last 46 days since LTD started having broad issues. Again the issue of rolling outages and speeds no greater than 2mb over the last 46 days. This was the third time I requested a service manager return my call to try and explain the situation since the front Helpdesk was unable to make progress. I have yet to get a call back. To my amazement 30 minutes after the call with the sales team performance was restored to 25Mbit for all 7 customers in our area. so it’s great to finally have success after 46 days of frustration but wow LTD has some major internal issues going on. LTD never did make any announcements that services are back to normal to all their customers.
  • Oct 21: I did receive a call from LTD in regards to my complaint with the MN Attorney General. He apologized for their “bad Sept” and happily offered to refund 1 months service. I reminded him that LTD went down Aug 27th and my service was not restored until 46 days later on Oct 13th and only after pleading with their Sales team to escalate since their helpdesk repeatedly could offer no timelines or solutions. It seems the call was mostly about trying to appease the MN AG complaint? Regardless I did ask several questions and he did agree to refund 1.5 months of service (yet to be seen and the refund is not the point anyways… it’s about the service levels). To my questions about what was really happening at LTD… his response was to blame their one network engineer that left the company and did not document how the network was built. so they had to hire “experts” to come in and help rebuild from ground up and that some rebuilding is still in progress. They always claim their network will be built better than ever but can provide no details as to what they are improving. Like more upstream bandwidth or new equipment or more redundancy. I asked about their customer ticketing system since each time you call in it’s like starting over and sometimes they even act like you never called.. he acknowledged they do not have an adequate ticketing system since they have grown too fast. He also said LTD hired a new Operations Officer to help improve internal processes but again no details about what if anything will be improved. when I brought up the issue of their FCC funding problems he quickly stated that “they only lost 2 states” and were still getting funding. I did ask if he could extend the 1.5 month refund to my other 6 neighbors that were impacted and he said no they would all have to call in and ask for legal reasons.

One man’s story is one man’s story but the online forums indicate that he’s not alone. The details might signal a need for the FCC to look more closely at what’s happening. It sounds like changes are in process but is it enough? Before doling out RDOF grants, should the FCC find a way to help LTD prepare for rapid growth or find a way for them to partner with providers who have a proven record. I think the Office of Broadband Development does a nice job or encouraging partnerships with providers in the field when there is a mix of expertise – or more often, an overlap of areas served. Everyone wants the money to be spent as effectively as possible to get more people reliable, robust broadband to improve their lives and livelihoods.

I did contact LTD for more information. I didn’t hear back. To be fair, the only contact I found was for tech support, not communications. (But having worked in communications for a broadband provider years ago, it seems like that message could have realistically found the right person over a few days.)

Which providers in MN can get voice-only lifeline service support? CNS has a map!

Back in June (2021), the FCC announced the census blocks where providers could still receive financial support for voice-only lifeline services…

Today, the Wireline Competition Bureau (Bureau) announces those Census blocks where Lifeline support for voice-only service will continue at $5.25 per month from December 1, 2021 through November 30, 2022. These Census blocks can be found on the Universal Service Administrative Company’s (USAC) website here: https://www.usac.org/wpcontent/uploads/lifeline/documents/Data/voice_CB_blocks.zip.

In the 2016 Lifeline Order, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) outlined a shift in the Lifeline program towards a greater focus on supporting broadband services for Lifeline eligible consumers.1 As part of that effort, the Commission adopted a transition period to phase down support for voice-only Lifeline services before reimbursement for such services would decrease to $0 on December 1, 2021.2 The Commission also adopted an exception to this complete phase-down in voice-only support and continued Lifeline support, in the amount of $5.25 per subscriber per month, for qualifying voice-only services provided to Lifeline eligible subscribers in Census blocks where there is only one Lifeline provider.3 The Commission directed the Bureau to identify Census blocks where there is only one Lifeline provider and to announce those Census blocks by June 1 of each year.

CNS has mapped out the areas, which is always a good way to take in this information, especially for policymakers. I have a screenshot here, the CNS map is interactive.

Should public funding consider track records of potential fund recipients?

Karl Bode, at Tech Dirt, takes a stand on national providers continuing to take public funding despite a record of disgruntled customers and communities. Minnesota’s Chris Mitchell asks policy makers to consider a provider’s record before investing…

So for years I’ve noted if you really want to understand why U.S. broadband is so crappy, you should take a long, close look at Frontier Communications in states like West Virginia. For decades the ISP has provided slow and expensive service, routinely failed to upgrade or repair its network, and generally personified the typical bumbling, apathetic, regional monopoly. And its punishment, year after year, has generally been a parade of regulatory favors, tax breaks, and millions in subsidies. At no point do “telecom policy leaders” or politicians ever try to do much differently.

Case in point: Frontier, fresh off of an ugly bankruptcynumerous AG and FTC lawsuits over repair delays, and repeated subsidy scandals, is positioning itself to nab yet more subsidies from the state of Wisconsin. Frontier is asking the state of for $35 million in additional grants, despite the fact Wisconsin was just one of several states whose AGs recently sued the company for being generally terrible. Folks familiar with the company argue it shouldn’t be seeing a single, additional dime in taxpayer resources given fifteen years of scandal

“I hope the state will seriously consider the track record of companies to understand which ones have a long record of meeting the needs of residents and businesses,” Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, a Minnesota-based think tank supporting communities’ telecommunications efforts, said in an interview with The Badger Project.

“Frankly, Frontier’s record suggests it should not receive a single additional dollar from any government,” he added. “Local companies, communities, and cooperatives have proven to be much better at turning public subsidies into needed networks.”

Keep in mind Frontier has been accused of taking state and federal subsidies on several occasions, misleadingly billing the government extra, then basically just shrugging when asked for the money back. To date nobody has done much about any of it. Also keep in mind Frontier routinely lobbies for (and often ghost writes) state laws banning towns and cities from building their own broadband networks. They’re also directly responsible for the gutting of state and federal regulatory and consumer protection authority. Facing little real competition and feckless oversight in most states, nothing much changes. By design.