FCC fines providers for RDOF defaults including $2.3M to LTD for defaults in KS and OK

Fierce Telecom reports

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is cracking down on operators who have backed out of their Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) commitments, fining 73 auction participants a total of $4.3 million for defaulting on their winning bids. One operator, LTD Broadband, alone accounted for more than half of the overall assessment.

In an order released late last week, the FCC slapped LTD Broadband with a $2.3 million fine for defaulting on 768 census block groups in Kansas and Oklahoma. The FCC last year denied the company’s request for more time to prove its eligibility to receive funding in those states.

“So I started my own ISP…” everything old is new again

I worked for Minnesota Regional Network (MRNet) in the mid 1990s. They were the first Internet service providers in Minnesota. They partnered with big folks (3M, UofM and more) to bring the Internet (backbone then was three T1s) to the state. They sold subscriptions to home users and they were upstream connections to other ISPs. Everything was new and there were very few rules.

We’d get calls from all over the state of someone who wanted a dialup connection to MRNet. Dialup only made sense if you were within the local service market – or your long distance bill would break you. So sometimes we’d get very entrepreneurial folks who would decide they’d get a difference connection to their house (maybe with a 56k or T1 Frame Relay connection) and sell to their neighbors to offset the cost. Sometimes that grew like a garage punk band on their way to CBGBs. Sometimes it imploded. But I always love the ingenuity and I was reminded of it listening to a story on NPR

Long before the pandemic forced many office workers to depend on their home internet, Jared Mauch had been working from home for about two decades.

When he moved to Scio Township in 2002, an area in rural Michigan not far from Ann Arbor, his employer set him up with a great home internet connection — many of his neighbors at the time were still stuck with sluggish dial-up.

After a while, though, his bandwidth couldn’t keep up with his tech job and his growing family.

But when he started shopping around, he wasn’t happy with his options. The internet speeds from AT&T were painfully slow. Comcast wanted to charge him an up-front fee of $50,000 to expand service to his home. He opted for a third route.

Rather than shell out that kind of money only to depend on the whims of an internet service provider, the 46-year-old decided to create his own fiber ISP.

“I had every reason to believe that I would be able to execute and perform a lot of these pieces of it, and most likely be more able to bring the service to the community than, you know, a large company,” he told NPR. “I saw it as an excellent opportunity both to expand service and something I’m passionate about.”

He created the company in 2017 and secured permits in 2019 to start construction the following year. In August of 2020, he was officially in business. Just in time for his kids to start virtual school during the pandemic.

“It was great,” he recalled. “I had a home fiber that I controlled, and the ability to kind of control my own fate in the future.”

Gardonville applies for Border to Border grants for Carlos and Nelson MN (Douglas County)

The Alexandria Echo reports on Border to Border grant applications from Gardonville for areas around Carlos and Nelson…

That could change in a year or to if internet provider Gardonville Telecommunications receives a state Border-to-Border grant to supply broadband internet access to more than 1,100 homes and businesses around Carlos and Nelson. It would provide up to 1 gigabyte download and upload.

Over the past several years, Gardonville has applied for 12 Border-to-Border grants and won seven, said Dave Wolf, the company’s general manager and CEO.

“If we are awarded grants in these project areas, we would begin construction in the spring of 2023,” Wolf said. “We are already buying material, planning the construction, lining up financing and crossing our fingers.”

The area the company is targeting are northwest of Carlos , on the northeast side of Lake Le Homme Dieu , and around Nelson .

If Gardonville gets the grant, the first homes and businesses would be online by mid-June of 2023, he said. He added that projects of this size can take up to two construction seasons to finish.

Sherburne County Board approved $600k for 3 broadband grants to Midco

The News Patriot reports

The Sherburne County Board Tuesday approved over $600k for three grants for Midco projects to expand broadband within the county.

The project in Livonia Twp. would provide service (passings) to 169 households, with an additional 72 homes that would also be connected. The total project cost is $580,000, with the township contributing $5,000. The county’s contribution is $68,000.

The second is a $497,000 project in Santiago Twp. with 72 passings, plus another 121 additional homes that would be connected. After the township’s $5,000 contribution, the county’s cost is $276,000.

The third is a project in Becker Twp. with 42 passings and an additional 72 homes that would be connected. The total project cost is $404,000. The county’s cost is $252,000. All three projects would be funded with ARPA money provided to the county through the federal allocation.

You can see the approval in action at the County Board meeting, which is conveniently archived on YouTube:

Harmony Telephone to build FTTH in Harmony (Fillmore County)

The Post Bulletin reports

On Monday, Harmony Telephone Company announced that construction will begin next week on its $2.5 million fiber installation in the city of Harmony. The company-funded project builds upon the federal and statewide push for expanded access to broadband internet, especially in rural areas.

Local policymakers chimed in…

Minnesota Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, also spoke to local companies’ initiative to expand their broadband offerings in his district.

“MiEnergy and Harmony Telephone and AcenTek have been very aggressive, and we actually have done quite some work in getting this broadband in to people,” Davids said.

However, Fillmore County has some catching up to do.

“Fillmore is only at about 33%,” Wells said of the county’s broadband coverage. “Fillmore and Mower: They’re the two that stand out in that southeast corner that are behind the other counties in the state. But we’ll get there.”

There is State and Federal funds…

And there’s great interest in getting there — Wells said her office will soon distribute $95 million in combined state and American Rescue Plan Act funding to finance broadband expansion projects, and through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Minnesota will receive at least $100 million to put toward broadband access.

But Harmony is not using any…

Though the Harmony fiber project is not funded with state or federal dollars, Huffman said public-private partnerships such as ARPA are helpful for developing broadband access in more rural parts of southeast Minnesota.

Scandia moving forward with broadband plans with MidCo and Frontier (Washington County)

Country Messenger reports

Scandia’s efforts to expand high speed broadband service continues in 2022 and 2023. This year’s construction will reach approximately 160 households provided by MidCO. The project is currently underway. The equipment, fiber and other materials are ready to be deployed this summer, completion is expected by late fall.

For 2023 Scandia has allocated $432,000 in local funding for another expansion and requested that MidCO provide a plan for the City’s approval, including outside grant money where possible. Additionally, Scandia has sent a letter supporting Frontier Communications’ grant application to the State of Minnesota. If approved, Frontier’s project would begin in 2023 and be completed by the end of 2024.

The project would provide high speed broadband via fiber to several hundred locations within Scandia that are currently served by slower DSL lines. Scandia’s Internet Action Committee (IAC) has been working since 2020 with the goal of bringing high speed broadband to all of Scandia within five years.

And there’s an event to learn more…

Scandia and MidCo will host the third annual MidCo Day event Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. The first part will take place from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. in conjunction with with Scandia’s Farmer’s Market at the Community Center.

Paul Bunyan may have Gig access to Cook MN before the end of the year (St Louis County)

The Timberjay reports…

Faster internet may be coming to Cook sooner than anticipated, as Paul Bunyan Communications announced on Tuesday that there’s a good chance the system will be installed this fall, rather than next spring.
“It looks like our Cook project is going to go ahead earlier than expected,” Paul Bunyan CEO Steve Howard told the Timberjay on Tuesday. “It’s still tentative. We originally were planning to start work there late this year and then finish up next year. But the weather’s been cooperative, and things are lining up nicely to potentially start working on that project as soon as right after Labor Day, and we very likely would finish this year.”
Bemidji-based Paul Bunyan Communications received a $311,000 state Border-to-Border grant to partially fund deployment of their fiber optics GigaZone network in the community in February 2021, and after minor changes to the original proposal were approved by the Cook City Council that March, the project was slated to be completed in spring 2023. Outside of an $8,000 contribution from the city of Cook, Paul Bunyan will foot the bill for the remainder of the $700,000-plus project.

Lumen (aka CenturyLink) to offer 8-gig broadband in Minneapolis

Fierce Telecom reports

Lumen Technologies announced a significant speed boost for Quantum Fiber subscribers in a trio of markets, rolling out a new symmetrical 8-gig service for residents and small businesses.

The operator is offering the new speed tier using its XGS-PON network. Unlike multi-gig fiber services from other operators, Lumen said its 8-gig plan will require the on-premises installation of a permanent network interface and router that is separate from a customer’s Wi-Fi. It claimed this separation will enable “easy Wi-Fi activations and simple upgrades as technology evolves.”

Its new speed tier will initially be available to select customers in cities near Denver, Minneapolis and Seattle. A Lumen representative told Fierce it plans to expand availability of the service “as quickly as we can,” adding “the vast majority of our new builds will have 8 gigabit capability.”

The new 8-gig tier will cost $300 per month and will be offered alongside a 3-gig option for $150 per month, a 1-gig option for $65 per month and a 200 Mbps service priced at $49 per month.

The move to introduce its 8-gig service comes after the company’s President of Mass Markets Maxine Moreau teased its development of a multi-gig offer in March.

Many reader will know Lumen better as CenturyLink. Here’s the connection from their website…

Lumen brings together the talent, experience, infrastructure and capabilities of CenturyLink, Level 3 and 25+ other technology companies to create a new kind of company—one designed specifically to address the dynamic data and application needs of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Kandiyohi County Commissioners support three Border ro Border grant applications

The West Central Tribune reports…

At Tuesday’s Kandiyohi County Board meeting, the commissioners approved submitting three letters of support toward three broadband projects hoping to be awarded state Border-to-Border grant funds. An update on projects was also given at the meeting.

It took much longer than anyone wanted, but applications for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program through the state Department of Employment and Economic Development are finally being accepted. By the due date of Thursday, at least three of those applications will be coming from Kandiyohi County.

The County has also invested ARPA money…

When the county received its more than $8 million in American Rescue Plan Act coronavirus relief funds, the board made the commitment to earmark around 75% of those monies for broadband. So far, the board has approved allocations to several projects across the county.

Some details…

At Tuesday’s meeting of the County Board, the commissioners approved signing and sending three letters of support to DEED for three different broadband projects. Border-to-Border awards grants of up to $5 million or 50% of the project cost, whichever is less. This year, there is approximately $95 million in funds available, thanks to an influx of cash from both the state’s general fund and from the federal government.

The county’s primary project, which is made clear in the letters of support, is the Kandiyohi County West project, that would bring fiber broadband to 645 locations in Dovre, Mamre, St. Johns and Arctander townships. The project is estimated to cost more than $9.8 million, and the EDC Broadband Committee is asking for $4.5 million from the DEED program.

“We are asking for that full 50%,” said Sarah Swedburg, business development manager with the EDC. “We need every penny that the state can give us.”

Martin County Commissioners support Frontier’s Border to Border application for Fairmont, Northrop and Ceylon

The Fairmont Sentinel reports

The Martin County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday heard from Scott Bohler of Frontier Communications, Inc. who asked for a letter of support from the county for the grant application to the DEED- Office of Broadband, Minnesota Border to Border Grant Program.

The proposed project would cover about 500 locations in the Fairmont, Northrop and Ceylon area.

Commissioner Kathy Smith asked if the proposal was brought to the broadband committee. Bohler said the specifics haven’t been presented to them.

The commissioners noted that the city of Ceylon has already received a broadband grant and has been working with Federated on a project. Bohler said they had designed the project based off of the areas that the state program identified as eligible for funding.

There was some back and forth in part because the area in question had already received funding but also because Frontier was interested in covering the city only and the Board wanted the whole area to be covered. In the end, the Board decided to support the project…

Smith asked about the $3.5 million project Frontier did in 2016. Bohler said the expectations have changed from then to now.

Bohler said that the grant needs to be applied for by Thursday this week. Commissioner Elliot Belgard noted that Frontier could apply for it without a letter of support from the county.

“I don’t think supporting it can necessarily be a bad thing. If it’s not worthy we’ll let the committee that decides who gets the grants say it’s not worthy, not us,” said Belgard.

Smith made a motion to approve of the letter of support for Frontier.

Doug Dawson on why we need to see broadband grant applications

Doug Dawson is on the frontlines of building broadband; he understands funding and policy from the most pragmatic perspective. Hence, his call to make broadband grant applications public

Most broadband grant programs do not publish open grant applications for the public to see. But we are in a time when an ISP that is awarded funding for bringing a new broadband network is likely to become the near-monopoly ISP in a rural area for a decade or two to come. The public ought to get to see who is proposing to bring them broadband so that these decisions are not made behind closed doors.

He gives a specific example, but I think in Minnesota one that comes to mind is LTD Broadband. They applied for RDOF grants. They won the sole opportunity to submit long for applications. Nearly two years later, the funds have not yet been awarded and the proposed communities have bee stuck in a limbo where nothing else has been happening to improve their situation. Some of the communities (notably Le Sueur County) has questioned the ability of LTD to provide the service they claim to be able to achieve for the price; Le Sueur has done feasibility studies and their costs were much higher than LTD’s. Now maybe LTD has a new way or maybe they have been too optimistic in bidding. But before the money is awarded would be a good time to know what’s happening.

But as Doug, says it’s not about the specifics, it’s about the process and a possible early warning system and planning for the future…

The point of today’s blog is that allowing the public to see grant requests can prompt interesting observations and questions like the ones sent to me. Certainly, not all public input will be valid, but there can be issues raised by the public that a grant office might not otherwise hear.

I’m a terrible shopper. I don’t try on the dress before I buy. Every 6 months, I come home with single-ply toilet paper because I forgot to read the small print. But when we are spending real money – as we are with these tax-backed grants, I take the time. Broadband is integral to education, healthcare and economic development. We need to be good shoppers or communities will suffer the consequences for generations.

Letting the public see grant requests is also a way to fact-check ISPs. Most states will tell you that the folks reviewing broadband grants often don’t have a lot of experience with the inner workings of ISPs. This means that it is easy for an ISP to snow a grant reviewer with misleading statements that an experienced reviewer would catch immediately. ISPs will be less likely to make misleading claims if they think the public will call them out and threaten the chances of winning the grant.

I know that publishing grant requests can open a whole new can of worms and extra work for a grant office. But I think the extra public scrutiny is healthy. I would think a grant office would want to know if false or misleading claims are made in a grant request. On the flip side, a grant office will benefit by knowing if the public strongly supports a grant request. Shining light on the grant process should be overall a positive thing. It’s a good check against awarding grants that aren’t deserved. But it’s also a way to make sure that grant offices are being fair when picking winners.

FCC Proposes Fines of $4.3M Against 73 RDOF Applicants for Defaults – some with MN connections

The FCC reports

The Federal Communications Commission today proposed $4,353,773.87 in fines against 73 applicants in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction (Auction 904) for apparently violating Commission requirements by defaulting on their bids between July 26, 2021 and March 10, 2022. The FCC provided clear guidance in its rules and notices on the monetary forfeitures associated with defaults in Auction 904. The bid defaults prevented 1,702 census block groups with 129,909 estimated locations in 36 states from seeing timely new investments in broadband infrastructure.

The applicants defaulted on their respective bids by withdrawing applications in certain areas, or failing to meet deadlines and requirements required in the auction rules after having already placed winning bids in Auction 904. In order to be authorized to receive universal service support, winning bidders or their assignees were required to provide information that demonstrated they are legally, financially, and technically qualified to fulfill the Auction 904 public interest obligations. The Notice of Apparent Liability proposes forfeitures for 73 applicants and two bidding consortia. However, the Notice does not propose forfeitures for applicants who defaulted on bids in response to the FCC’s letters identifying census blocks that may have been already served or raised significant concerns about wasteful spending.

There was one bidders found in default in MN…

  1. Aspire Networks 2, LLC (Aspire); FRN: 0030311583; File No.: EB-IHD-22- 00033836; NAL/Acct No.: 202232080013. Aspire is a competitive local exchange carrier registered in Delaware and Minnesota that provides internet services to rural locations in Minnesota.9 Aspire’s parent company, Atlantic Engineering Group, Inc. (AEG), a Georgia company, was part of the AEG and Heron Broadband I (Consortium).10 The Consortium timely submitted its Short-Form Application to participate in Auction 904 and was a successful bidder.11 The Consortium then assigned two CBGs to Aspire, which timely filed its Long-Form Application in Auction 904.12 On February 16, 2021, Aspire notified the Commission of its intent to default on its two CBGs subject to forfeiture in Minnesota.13 WCB declared Aspire to be in default on July 26, 2021, and referred the company to EB for enforcement action.14 The Commission finds that Aspire apparently committed two violations by defaulting on its CBGs subject to forfeiture, which places the company’s base forfeiture at $6,000.00.15 Aspire’s assigned CBGs in default subject to forfeiture amounted to $6,470,222.30, thereby capping the maximum possible forfeiture at $970,533.34, which is 15% of Aspire’s defaulted support subject to forfeiture in Auction 904.16 Because the base forfeiture is less than the 15% cap established in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Order, 17 the Commission finds that the forfeiture amount of $6,000.00 against Aspire is appropriate here.

LTD was also one of the bidders found in default…

  1. LTD Broadband LLC (LTD Broadband); FRN: 0020926788; File No.: EB-IHD-22- 00033870; NAL/Acct No.: 202232080047. LTD Broadband is a Nevada company that provides fiber and fixed wireless service to customers, businesses and governmental entities located in rural areas.306 LTD Broadband timely submitted its Short-Form Application to participate in Auction 904 and was a successful bidder.307 On August 16, 2021, LTD Broadband notified the Commission of its intent to default on certain census blocks.308 On August 25, 2021, LTD Broadband also notified the Commission that it would not seek reconsideration of WCB’s denial of the company’s deadline waiver request for its Kansas and Oklahoma bids.309 The areas where LTD Broadband intended to default cover 768 CBGs subject to forfeiture. WCB declared LTD Broadband to be in default on December 16, 2021,310 and on January 28, 2022,311 and referred the company to EB for enforcement action. The Commission finds that LTD Broadband apparently committed violations by defaulting on 768 CBGs subject to forfeiture, which places the company’s base forfeiture at $2,304,000.00.312 LTD Broadband’s CBGs in default subject to forfeiture amounted to $78,496,778.40, thereby capping the maximum possible forfeiture at $11,774,516.76, which is 15% of LTD Broadband’s defaulted support subject to forfeiture in Auction 904.313 Because the base forfeiture is less than the 15% cap established in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Order, 314 the Commission finds that the forfeiture amount of $2,304,000.00 against LTD Broadband is appropriate here

Redwood County residents asked to take a survey and leave a message about broadband

This is a reach out to folks in Redwood County and a possible idea for other counties. Redwood County is working with Arvig on a Border to Border grant. The County EDA has been working on a broadband vision…

Every resident and business in Redwood County will have access to an affordable, reliable, high-speed internet connection delivered by committed community partners skilled in operating and maintaining a successful fiber broadband network.

And a place for Redwood County residents to engage. Folks are invited to take the broadband survey or send in their personal message about broadband need.  It’ll be a great accompaniment to their grant application as well as providing insight into need.

Sherburne County and Arvig partner of Border to Border grant applications for Haven Twp., Clear Lake Twp. and Elk River.

Patriot News reports

After 15-minute discussion last Tuesday, the Sherburne County Board Tuesday approved three grant applications by Arvig for broadband projects in Haven Twp., Clear Lake Twp. and Elk River.

Arvig has requested to partner with Sherburne County on 2022 State of MN Border to Border Broadband program applications. 

The grants are $666,406 for the Haven Twp. project, $192,477 in Clear Lake Twp. and $217,060.50 in Elk River. The board passed a resolution of commitment of 30% contribution for each project. Should Arvig be awarded any of the grants by the state, the county’s contribution (using ARPA funds) would be $499,804.50 for Haven Twp., $144,357.75 for Clear Lake Twp. and $162,795.38 for Elk River.

The projects would serve a total of 254 homes for the three projects combined.

The board tabled its decision on proposed broadband projects in Santiago Twp. and Becker Twp. until August. 

Paul Bunyan partners with Fiber Homes to track addresses with FTTH

Paul Bunyan Communications reports…

Paul Bunyan Communications has partnered with Fiber Homes, the nation’s first fiber internet search service that provides home buyers, renters and realtors with access to fiber internet availability information down to the address level.

Fiber Homes’ free portal through www.fiberhomes.com makes it easy to find homes that meet their internet needs and allows sellers to market their listings as “certified fiber homes,” which can increase the property’s value.

“Internet access is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity.  People should know if a home they are purchasing has reliable internet. We’re excited to deliver this critical information through Fiber Homes.  Through their easy to use, free portal at fiberhomes.com anyone can now find out instantly if a home or business is connected to our all-fiber optic gigabit network the GigaZone,” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.