AT&T expands 5G to Duluth, St Cloud and Le Sueur County

AT&T reports…

AT&T’s 5G network is now live for consumers in 90 additional markets across the country and covers more than 120 million people. With today’s launch, AT&T now offers access to 5G on its best unlimited wireless plans for consumers and businesses in a total of 190 markets in the U.S.

“At a time when technology is proving to be even more essential for communication, AT&T customers can rest assured that our company is continuing to invest in our network and new technologies to make connection easier,” said Chris Sambar, EVP of Technology Operations. “We remain focused on launching AT&T 5G in more markets and to more customers across the country – building on the nation’s best and fastest wireless network* – and plan to reach nationwide coverage this summer.”

The latest 5G markets available this week include:

Minnesota

44. Duluth

45. Le Sueur County

46. St. Cloud

Paul Bunyan’s broadband is making life easier during coronavirus on the Iron Range (Itasca County)

Hometown Focus posts stories from folks on the Iron Range who have broadband from Paul Bunyan and are better armed for the pandemic because of it…

During the Stay Home statewide order, three Itasca County residents who received broadband connection from the Paul Bunyan project shared their testimony.

Claire Peterlin is the Itasca Area Schools Career Pathways Program director and is teleworking from her home on Scenic 7. She connects daily with teachers and career pathway professionals through an online chat-ready room to keep the curriculum going for students taking college level and career academy-based courses.

“The world of education has totally shifted the last few weeks, but I really believe that we will come out even stronger with more tools in our belts once ‘normal’ resumes,” said Peterlin. “I miss meeting face-to-face with my peers, but none of this would be possible without reliable high-speed internet.”

Vicki Hagberg is the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce president. She is teleworking from her home on Buck Lake north of Nashwauk. Her husband is a superintendent in the pipefitting division of CR Meyer and is preparing construction bids from home during the pandemic.

“When we were in the market to buy a home in 2017, broadband connectivity was one of our top considerations. Little did we know then how needed it would be to continue our employment during a global pandemic,” said Hagberg.

Aaron Brown is an instructor of communication at Hibbing Community College, while also working as an author, radio producer and Iron Range news blogger. He and his wife have three sons, and the entire family is working and learning from their Itasca County home during the COVID 19 crisis. Aaron conducts video conferences from his home for his students, so they can complete his course and graduate on time. Meantime, he is collaborating with a partner in New York on a new podcast project. Earlier this week he published an article on the new urgency for rural broadband.

“Access to high-speed internet in rural northeastern Minnesota is equivalent to other basic services such as postal delivery, electricity and telephones,” said Whitney Ridlon, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation community representative. “Mail, electrical and telephone service at one point in history were considered luxuries and available only in larger cities. Eventually our nation considered these basic public utilities and made them available in rural areas across America: mail delivery in the early 1900s, electricity in the 1930s and telephone service in the 1950s. We are at that same point with broadband.”

MN PUC decides that Feds have jurisdiction over Fond du Lac broadband company

West Central Tribune reports…

Minnesota utility regulators on Thursday, April 16 agreed that their federal counterparts should be the ones to have jurisdiction over the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s community-owned broadband company.

The band had earlier pushed for federal oversight in filings with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Members of the commission unanimously ruled in the band’s favor during an online meeting Thursday morning, April 16.

The band is looking “eligible telecommunications carrier” for the reservation and three small adjacent areas – where there are apparently three households…

Attorneys for the band have argued that its broadband company, Fond du Lac Communications, should answer to the Federal Communications Commission on the basis of tribal sovereignty. Reservation officials have sought to deal directly with the FCC in their efforts to secure an “eligible telecommunications carrier” designation for the company, something the MPUC normally grants.

Doing so would open up the company to a stream of federal funding through the Lifeline, a benefit program that helps qualifying low-income households to save on their monthly phone and internet bills. Officials say the program could be crucial for the more than 20% of reservation households that fall below the poverty line.

While the program typically provides subscribers with discounts of up to $9.25 a month, those on tribal lands can save as much as $34.25. Only about 50,300 households use Lifeline in Minnesota, according to the most recent PUC data from 2018

It is unclear when or if the band expects its petition for Lifeline eligibility to be approved by the FCC. A spokesperson declined to comment.

Ownership Models and Provider Partnerships: Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar Archive

Thanks to the presenters and attendees for joining the latest Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar: Ownership Models and Provider Partnerships. Here we have the description, video archive, slides and chat transcript (get handouts)…

For many communities, turning a community broadband vision into a real project depends on their ability to determine if and how to partner with an existing broadband provider.  For many communities, identifying a quality partner speeds project deployment and reduces financial and political risk.  A partnership can range from active community endorsement, to financial contributions in the form of a grant or a loan, to actual community ownership of all or some of the network components with a lease agreement with the selected provider(s).

Community ownership of the physical network may provide long-term benefits that help a community achieve their vision.  Public network ownership can provide for enhanced choice of broadband providers, can enable deployment of Smart City applications around street lighting, public safety, and sewer and water utility operations as well as future 5G deployment.

CTC, a broadband cooperative in Brainerd, is active in multiple community broadband partnerships.  Joe Buttweiler, who leads CTC’s community partnership efforts, will showcase several public-private partnership examples joined by Rick Utecht of Todd County Development Corporation and Jon Rademacher of the City of Little Falls.  Each community has formed a unique partnership to bring fiber-based broadband to their communities.

CTC Lease Agreement & CTC Options

and chat:

Current and Former Frontier Customers May be Eligible for Rebates or Bill Credits – July 20 Deadline!

Current and former customers of Frontier Communications may be eligible for rebates or bill credits for past service quality and reliability problems such as phone out of service, problems getting timely repair, failure to cancel service, incorrect billing or other inconveniences.  Applications are due by July 20.

If you have questions about how fill out the form, contact Frontier Customer Service at 1-877-414-4777 or the Minnesota PUC at 1-800-657-3782 or locally at 651-296-0406.

Here’s the info from the Frontier website

If you are Frontier customer in Minnesota, you may be entitled to a bill credit or refund for certain events you may have experienced with your local telephone service. Credits and refunds will be provided in accordance with an agreement approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

You must submit a claim form by July 20, 2020, to receive a bill credit or refund.

Whether you are eligible for a credit or refund depends on what type of local telephone service problem you experienced, when the problem happened, and where you receive service. Credits and refund are available for events that occurred after January 1, 2017, unless another date is shown next to the situation in the below list.

If you believe any of the situations listed below apply to you, and you have not previously received a bill credit, you may request a credit or refund from Frontier by completing this online form. Frontier will investigate the matter and provide all appropriate credits and refunds.

Treehouse Broadband Needs $150,000 to bring fixed wireless to Morse (St Louis County)

Ely Echo reports on a broadband project that would serve the town of Morse but needs $150,000 in funding to deploy…

A revised broadband project that would provide much-needed service to rural Ely residents in the Town of Morse has hit a funding snag.
The project now seeks to use cutting edge wireless technology to provide up to 200Mbps service to customers within line-of-sight of towers and repeater sites. Customers without line-of-sight may be eligible for service up to 25Mbps.
Currently these residences and businesses have to choose between nearly non-existent speeds from Frontier or gamble on satellite connections.
Isaac Olson of Treehouse Broadband, LLC gave an update to the Morse board Tuesday, describing how the point-to-point and point-to-multipoint wireless broadband system would serve over 300 locations in the Burntside Lake, Little Long Lake and Wolf Lake areas.
The $600,000 project would include two 100 foot towers along with repeater sites and at customer homes and businesses Treehouse would install 18-inch receiver dishes and indoor WiFi coverage.
The project has a $150,000 funding gap as it currently sits. The Town of Morse has committed $100,000, Treehouse Broadband has pledged $200,000 and the IRRRB has shown interest in half of the remaining $150,000.
Under current funding rules, the IRRRB only provides up to 25% of the funding, looking to state broadband monies to provide the rest.
But those monies have been committed for the current fiscal cycle, meaning if the state legislature approves additional funds, Morse would have to compete with other projects statewide and wait until next year to proceed.

Residents of the Iron Range testify to value of Paul Bunyan FTTH especially during pandemic

The IRRR Ranger reports

Paul Bunyan Communications in 2015 installed fiber optic lines to bring high speed internet to portions of Itasca County including the townships of Balsam, Lawrence, Nashwauk and the former Iron Range Township.

The project was a collaboration among public partners, community members and the rural cooperative Paul Bunyan. Together they successfully brought broadband to 1,310 locations, including homes and businesses. Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation supported the project with a $1.25 million grant.

“Fast, reliable and affordable broadband access in northeastern Minnesota is an economic necessity, not a luxury,” said Mark Phillips, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation commissioner. “Our families, workers, businesses, senior citizens, health care systems, students and schools are using it like never before. During the COVID-19 crisis it is enabling learning, working and health care to continue. But there is more work to be done to bring it to every single acre and corner of northeastern Minnesota.”

During the Stay Home statewide order, three Itasca County residents who received broadband connection from the Paul Bunyan project shared their testimony.

Claire Peterlin is the Itasca Area Schools Career Pathways Program Director and is teleworking from her home on Scenic 7. She connects daily with teachers and career pathway professionals through an online chat-ready room to keep the curriculum going for students taking college level and career academy based courses.

“The world of education has totally shifted the last few weeks, but I really believe that we will come out even stronger with more tools in our belts once ‘normal’ resumes,” said Peterlin. “I miss meeting face-to-face with my peers, but none of this would be possible without reliable high-speed internet.”

Vicki Hagberg is the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce president. She is teleworking from her home on Buck Lake north of Nashwauk. Her husband is a superintendent in the pipefitting division of CR Meyer and is preparing construction bids from home during the pandemic.

“When we were in the market to buy a home in 2017, broadband connectivity was one of our top considerations. Little did we know then how needed it would be to continue our employment during a global pandemic,” said Hagberg.

Scandia looks for another broadband expansion grant (Washington County)

The County Messenger reports

The Scandia City Council last week agreed to provide a letter of support to Midco Communications encouraging the company to apply for a second Minnesota Border-To-Border Broadband Development Grant. The council also earmarked $165,000 in capital improvement dollars for its 2021 budget as the local matching portion, should the grant be approved.

“We need to keep the momentum going,” said council member Patti Ray, who serves on the city’s Internet Action Committee. “Good internet service is as important as good roads and good schools to our city.”

The council has been considering ways to expand broadband service in the city for the better part of three years. After exploring several options, including a fiber-to-the-premises proposal that was ultimately deemed too expensive, the city partnered with Midco late last year in seeking and receiving the grant.

Clearfield announces Home Deployment Kits to Streamline FTTH Ad minimize customer interaction in time of social distancing

This is a little more industry than I usually post – but I think it’s interesting in an era of social distancing and Clearfield is a Minnesota company; they report

Clearfield, Inc. (NASDAQ:CLFD), the specialist in fiber management for communication service providers, today announced the introduction of Home Deployment Kits. Designed to streamline and ease the task of FTTH deployment, Home Deployment Kits include everything you need to connect a home to fiber — all in one box. Clearfield’s Home Deployment Kits can reduce install time by 30 minutes per install. For carriers looking to deploy a fiber network to 1,000 homes over the next year, this equates to a time savings of 500 hours with a lower-cost per install team. For those consumers willing to take a do-it-yourself approach, the Home Deployment Kit enables a contactless installation keeping residents and fiber technicians at a safe distance.

Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar – Broadband 101 Archive

Thanks to the presenters and attendees for joining the latest Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar: Broadband 101.  Here we have the description, video archive, slides when available and chat transcript (get handouts discussed in the webinar)…

The third of ten webinars – Broadband 101 – over the next five weeks is April 7 at 9 a.m. CDT.  Join Carl Meyerhoefer of Calix and Tim Johnson of MVTV Wireless as they share their expertise in helping to create and spread a shared broadband vision in their area.

And chat Continue reading

Tiger 4G And AT&T work together to get Franklin Township online

The Delano Herald Journal reports on a story of provider collaboration to get broadband to a community that needed, especially in an era of sheltering in place. The innovation at the most local level is great; partnering with incumbent or upstream providers at the early stage is a key piece in making the network work. …

For many people working from home and students participating in distance learning online, internet service is a necessity.

That necessity was in jeopardy for the 240 people in Franklin Township, Independence, and Greenfield who utilize Tiger 4G Internet.

In fact, it appeared as if service was being terminated all together.

Tiger 4G owner Ken Beamish said a change in terms with AT&T prompted an AT&T employee to start shutting off customers’ accounts.

The owner reached out to social media, which helped make the connections he needed…

“Enough people called (Rep.) Joe McDonald and (US Rep.) Tom Emmer, and they got involved,” Beamish said. “(Delano Public Schools Superintendent) Matt Schoen called Tom and Joe, as well.”

McDonald and Emmer are familiar with AT&T’s lobbyists at the state and federal levels and got them connected with Beamish, who was then able to get a hold of the right people at AT&T to restore service.

Those connections in turn helped the community get better connected..

He came up with a solution.

“I worked out a way with AT&T to offer a wireless program,” Beamish said. “I put a modem and wireless router in your house, just like your cell phone pulls it out of the air and your router broadcasts it.”

That results in speeds of 5 megabytes up to 70 megabytes, depending on proximity to cell towers.

He’s looking forward to keeping that service going for years to come.

NEO becomes GEO and can help with strategic hotspot placements

I just got an update from GEOspatial Engineering & Optimization (GEO, formerly NEO) about how they can help schools and other pick the most strategic placement of hotpots based on surrounding households. I know many schools (and perhaps others) have been racing to use hotpots to get better broadband to those who need it as quickly as possible to help people keep learning and earning and living online during the coronavirus threat. Here’s what they offer…

When we do an RF design study, we have the option to locate optimum places for hotspots and identify the number of households that are covered by them.

 

This was originally designed around Ruckus equipment, but the Cisco Aironet series will work with this model.  We would recommend 2.5 and 5 ghz channels be set to the 200mw setting and using the 6 db antennas.

 

The base display shows, based on a cutoff, in this case, of 10 households within wifi range, where we should place the hotspots.  These are the purple dots.

We can see alternative locations for hotspots indicating the # of households and hotspots required to service them.  By placing the mouse over a dot, we see the number of hotspots required in that area, the square miles of that area, and the number of households served.

 

We then can come up with an optimal installation strategy – minimizing distance traveled between each installation, shown both as waypoints, and as a route map.

The Internet isn’t bogging down but people are upgrading home connections

This article from Duluth News Tribune echoes what I’ve heard from others – that Internet traffic may be up slightly but mostly it’s just a time shift for busy periods. And the greatest bottleneck may be the network in your house (I’ve also heard server of the website you want to reach)…

“For the majority of providers, 9 o’clock on Sunday night is a crazy busy time for a network,” said Brent Christensen, president and CEO of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance, which is the trade association for 43 telecom providers throughout the region. “Probably a lot of that is Netflix, but it could also be people rushing to get ready for the next week of work and kids getting homework assignments done at the last minute.”

Most telecom companies have built networks well in advance of the pandemic that have been built to handle much higher levels of traffic than are currently being seen. When people are seeing slowdowns in their home networks, it is usually a result of much higher internet use under their own roof.

“Our backbone networks were designed for heavy usage. We engineer the networks for multiples of what’s actually being used, just to handle upticks in traffic like this,” said Christensen, whose family owns Christensen Communications in Madelia, Minn. “You will see slowdowns in your home network, not necessarily on the internet, because your home wifi network is maxed out. Take all of your laptops, then add on the internet of things, like an Alexa device somewhere in your house, or a Nest thermostat, or phones connected to the wifi in your house. You could have 30 or 40 devices in your house using the wifi, when all you think about are three or four laptops. So there’s a lot of traffic going over your home network and that’s where you’re seeing a bog down.”

An interesting addition here is the recognition that households are upgrading and going online more..

Due to that increased usage within many home wifi networks, telecom companies are seeing a demand for upgrades, and some first-time buyers of home internet. In the past, cost was always considered the main reason that people did not have internet access at home. Instead, they are learning that many people primarily accessed the internet at work, and would use data on their phones at home if they needed to get online. That has changed with more people working from home, and more students doing distance learning.

Pandemic preparation for a local urban broadband providers: Community Networks with US Internet

Keeping up with broadband these days is becoming 24×7 job these days. I’m catching up a little bit over the weekend – starting with the Community Network’s podcast. This last week, Chris Mitchell spoke to Travis Carter of US Internet (USI) about what it’s like to provide broadband services during a pandemic.

First -their office is primarily working form home using Google Hangouts for meetings and a virtual private network to access local services and provide customer services. There are a few folks who aren’t working because that would break social distancing recommendations – but they are on staff and will remain so as long as possible.

They have seen a change in network traffic. It used to be that Sunday nights were the busiest time and now every day is like Sunday night. They do see an increase but it doesn’t compare with “Game of Thrones” busy. USI is focusing on keeping things running.

So why do some sites seem to run slow? It’s not the local providers. It’s because poplar sites don’t’ have the server power to handle the traffic.

The USI network in Minneapolis (with 2500 access points) is now open for free. There were about 7300 connections (at time of recording). They are running into some issues – but often that’s because people are trying to access wifi from their well-insulated, well-built home. The wifi just doesn’t move well through that barrier.

One funny note – they still have 1200 dialup customers! Not because USI can’t or won’t upgrade; they choose this level of connectivity. USI is working to see what might bring people online to a higher degree. They have tried different price points, adding television and partnering with device distributors, such as PCs for People.

Frontier prepares for bankruptcy, regrets failure to install enough fiber

Ars Technica reports…

As Frontier Communications moves closer to an expected bankruptcy filing, the ISP told investors that its troubles stem largely from its failure to invest properly in upgrading DSL to fiber broadband.

 

They also report on the plan for recovery. It looks like they are planning to get FCC funding…

While things are bleak now, Frontier says it has a plan to improve performance in the long run. The presentation for investors said Frontier intends to “transform the business from a provider of legacy telecom services over a primarily copper-based network to a next-generation broadband-service provider with long-lived fiber-based infrastructure.”

Frontier recently hired a new CEO, former Dish executive Bernie Han, to lead a turnaround attempt. Though Frontier has failed to prevent customer losses, company leadership apparently believes a restructuring, more investment, and better management would help the ISP compete more effectively against cable and fiber ISPs. Frontier said its potential market is “an attractive investment with opportunity for capital deployment” and that its “undermanaged assets” pose an opportunity. The board of directors is likely to change significantly after bankruptcy, the company said.

After a restructuring, Frontier says it intends to “invest in high-return” fiber-to-the-home upgrades, and fiber expansions “for wireless and wholesale customers.” Frontier said it has identified about 3 million households “with attractive economics for new fiber builds.”

Frontier said it intends to get a slice of Federal Communications Commission funding that can be used to upgrade rural-broadband networks. With Frontier’s customer service also a problem, the company said it hopes to reduce subscriber losses with improvements to the installation process, equipment functionality, and customer service in general.