New FirstNet Cell Site Primarily Powered by Solar Launches on Echo Trail to Support First Responders in Northern Minnesota

Big news in Ely from AT&T…

What’s the news? Northern Minnesota’s first responders 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 on the Echo Trail northwest of Ely near Meander Lake and Lake Jeanette State Forest – one of the first primarily powered by solar in the Midwest region.

This FirstNet site will provide coverage when traveling along the Echo Trail, located in the remote wilderness of northeastern 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.

This site, which launched May 18, has already provided coverage to first responders who battled the Bezhik Fire – a wildfire that began May 17 near Bezhik Lake, spread north to Moose Loop Road, and burned 782 acres just a few miles south of the new tower.

Why is this important? We look at FirstNet as the most important wireless network in the country because it’s serving our first responders. And unlike commercial networks, FirstNet provides dedicated mobile broadband. To ensure AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) are putting coverage and capacity where first responders need it most, the FirstNet build is being done with direct feedback from state and public safety officials. This helps ensure Minnesota first responders connect to the critical information they need – every day and in every emergency. Other FirstNet sites already launched in Minnesota communities include Bagley, Blackduck, Cloquet, Finlayson, Graceville, Grygla, Hovland, Isabella, Lewiston and Williams.

What are the benefits to first responders? Building upon AT&T’s current and planned investments in Minnesota, we’re actively extending the reach of FirstNet to give agencies large and small the reliable, unthrottled connectivity and modern communications tools they need. These sites were constructed using Band 14 spectrum, as well as AT&T commercial spectrum. Band 14 is nationwide, high quality spectrum set aside by the government specifically for FirstNet. We look at Band 14 as public safety’s VIP lane. In an emergency, this band – or lane – can be cleared and locked just for FirstNet subscribers. That means only those on the FirstNet network will be able to access Band 14 spectrum, further elevating their connected experience and emergency response. Band 14 has been added on more than 600 existing sites across Minnesota, including markets such as the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester, the Iron Range, St. Cloud and the Brainerd/Baxter area.

How does this help Minnesota residents? This new infrastructure will also help improve the overall coverage experience for AT&T wireless customers in the area. Residents, visitors and businesses can take advantage of the AT&T spectrum bands, as well as Band 14 when capacity is available.

What is FirstNet? FirstNet is the only nationwide, high-speed broadband communications platform dedicated to and purpose-built for America’s first responders and the extended public safety community. Shaped by the vision of Congress and the first responder community following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, FirstNet stands above commercial offerings. It is built with AT&T in public-private partnership with the FirstNet Authority – an independent agency within the federal government. The FirstNet network is providing first responders with truly dedicated coverage and capacity when they need it, unique benefits like always-on priority and preemption, and high-quality Band 14 spectrum. These advanced capabilities enable FirstNet to help fire, EMS, and law enforcement personnel save lives and protect their communities.

What people are saying:

Sheriff Ross Litman

Sheriff, St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office

“For our first responders battling the Bezhik Fire, this new FirstNet tower provided critical wireless coverage necessary for communication in a very remote area where we previously had poor to no coverage. FirstNet is helping give public safety the connectivity they need to communicate and coordinate emergency response efforts, especially in remote wilderness areas of St. Louis County.”

Paul Weirtz 

President, AT&T Minnesota

“Minnesota’s first responders deserve reliable coverage across the state to help them effectively and efficiently address incidents. And with FirstNet, that’s exactly what they’re getting. We’re pleased this new site could provide critical wireless coverage for the courageous fire fighters and first responders who battled and contained the Bezhik Fire near the Echo Trail. We have a responsibility unlike any other network provider, and couldn’t be more pleased to support the public safety mission by bringing first responders – and residents – greater access to the connectivity they need.”

Edward Parkinson

CEO, FirstNet Authority

“FirstNet is a dedicated broadband platform for public safety, by public safety. We worked hand-in-hand with the Minnesota public safety community to understand their needs for the network. And this new site is a prime example of how that input and feedback is becoming reality. We look forward to supporting Minnesota’s first responders’ use of FirstNet to help them save lives and protect our communities.”

Where can I find more information? Go here to learn more about how AT&T is supporting Minnesota. For more about the value FirstNet is bringing to public safety, check out FirstNet.com. And go here for more FirstNet news.

MVTV covering campgrounds in Kandiyohi and Redwood Counties

I just got a campground hotspot update from MVTV Wireless. Funny enough I got it while on a campground in Northern Minnesota, which makes me appreciate the work even more…

We have recently added Internet Hotspot Service at two more campgrounds within our network. Diamond Lake County Park in Kandiyohi County and Sailors & Soldiers Memorial Campground in Redwood County. Right now MVTV is proudly serving 23 campgrounds throughout our network with Hotspot Service. Each year more and more people are working from their campers and spending more time camping. It’s also a great way to keep the family entertained, especially when it’s raining. MVTV Wireless Hotspot service offers low priced plans with unlimited data. Hotspot Services make it more convenient than ever to stay connected at parks and campgrounds.

MN Broadband Task Force Mtg May 2021 Notes: Fixed Wireless & State Demographer

Today the Task Force heard from a panel of Fixed Wireless providers. They spoke about advanced in wireless technologies and the range of customers they have. The also heard from Susan Brower, State Demographer. We learned that the state is growing but at a slower rate and that growth is uneven. There’s more growth in urban areas.

Here’s the whole lineup including some of Susan’s slides:

10:00 a.m. – 10:10 a.m. Welcome, Task Force Introductions, Attendee Introductions and Approval of Minutes from April 5, 2021 Meeting

10:10 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Update on 2021 MN Legislation Deven Bowdry, DEED

Session ended May 17 with no action. But Senate, House and Gov agreed on $70 million over biennium for broadband – not sure if it’s State of Federal funding yet. Funding will not be included in Sen Westrom’s Ag bill. They passed a policy-only bill with nothing related to broadband. It will likely become an infrastructure bill. Spreadsheets expected May 28; June 4 bill language is due; Special session is June 14 – with all new bill numbers.

10:15 a.m. – 11:10 a.m. Fixed Wireless Panel – Luke Johnson, Broadband Operations Manager, Meeker Cooperative Light & Power – VIBRANT Broadband Terry Nelson GM/VP, Woodstock Communications Mary Lodin, CEO/Partner and Jay Mankie, CTO/Partner, Genesis Wireless, Tim Johnson, Operations Manager, MVTV Wireless

Questions:

Can fixed wireless provide symmetrical services?
Only at lower speeds 10/10, 20/20 even 50/50 but not up to 100/100

How much is fixed wireless?
$39.95/month to 99.95 – we really need to average $50 per customers to remain sustainable.
We have 300-400 people who only use email; we have others that seem to stream constantly.
Folks can get 25 Mbps for $35/month.
Woodstock has a service that starts at $24.95/month. It’s a legacy from a Moose Lake municipal service and it’s mostly seniors who only email. No streaming.
If we want symmetrical speeds we have to go with fiber.
If someone wants a light package we can serve northern areas but the trees make it difficult. They try to map accordingly.
Costs can be high for end users – and sometimes we need to go to them to help pay for those costs and people do it – especially with fiber? Do people really need FTTH or do the hybrid solutions work.
It might be helpful to have a “bank” of funds to help offset some of these installation costs for folks who need it.

How has COVID impacted demand?
Many people now know they can work from home and many of them will continue working from home. That might not be the case with students.
Evening hours are the busiest for most providers. They built the network for those nighttime peaks; so we were ready for the shift to day time use. For most, they got new customers and upgraded existing customers.
Learned that we need to deploy quicker in rural areas. They were installing 7 days a week. They’re still seeing growth and people are not getting the lower packages; the buy at higher levels.
Sometimes you can get around obstacles.

How can we help you?
What about a program that helps upgrade existing customers? Rather than introduce a faster competitor, but look at who is the incumbents and how can the State help make them faster. Especially in areas where you might have 4 customers per square mile. The customer is there – we just need to upgrade.
Need better education. Wireless had gotten a bad rap – and there are good ways and bad ways to build it. The new technology is a very good solution.

How many residents actually need a Gig – we have to quick chasing these numbers. Getting to 100/100 with today’s technology is difficult but providers feel they can get there in the future. Not sure about higher speeds.

Cost to build a tower:
In Meeker $120,000
300 ft tower $100-175,000
And there’s a 50 percent increase in steel costs

How do you deal with businesses in range but out of line of sight?
We work with them – taking down trees or extending existing towers.

11:10 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Break

11:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower

Minnesota had growth but it has slowed, as has the US growth. Our population is getting older. (More people living longer than babies born.) Most growth is in 7-metro counties and up the Highway 94 core. IN rural areas – there’s not as much growth but these areas are not quickly emptying out. It’s more of a stability that most people think.

In rural areas – we are seeing population declines, albeit modest decline. It has picked up in some areas in the last decade. Entirely urban areas are growing.

12:15 p.m. – 12:30 p.m. Public Comment, Other Business, June Meeting Plans, Wrap-up

What are we going to do with RDOF? Can we get the legislature to look at the problem of RDOF closing the door on so many communities that night have qualified for Border to Border grants and are now left in the lurch.

New FirstNet Cell Site Launches in Lewiston to Support First Responders

Here’s the latest from AT&T on FirstNet in Lewiston…

What’s the news? Lewiston’s first responders 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 Lewiston near the area of Whistle Pass Drive and Rolling Hills Road. This site will provide coverage when traveling along Highway 14 and County Roads 20 and 25 in the Lewiston area. 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.
Why is this important? We look at FirstNet as the most important wireless network in the country because it’s serving our first responders. And unlike commercial networks, FirstNet provides real, dedicated mobile broadband. To ensure AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) are putting coverage and capacity where first responders need it
most, the FirstNet build is being done with direct feedback from state and public safety officials. This helps ensure Minnesota first responders connect to the critical information they need – every day and in every emergency. New FirstNet cell sites in Cloquet and Hovland in
northern Minnesota were also announced today. Other FirstNet sites already launched in Minnesota communities include Bagley, Blackduck, Graceville, Grygla, Isabella, Finlayson, and Williams.
What are the benefits to first responders? Building upon AT&T’s current and planned investments in Minnesota, we’re actively extending the reach of FirstNet to give agencies large and small the reliable, unthrottled connectivity and modern communications tools they need.
These sites were constructed using Band 14 spectrum, as well as AT&T commercial spectrum.
Band 14 is nationwide, high quality spectrum set aside by the government specifically for FirstNet. We look at Band 14 as public safety’s VIP lane. In an emergency, this band – or lane –can be cleared and locked just for FirstNet subscribers. That means only those on the FirstNet
network will be able to access Band 14 spectrum, further elevating their connected experience and emergency response. Band 14 has been added on more than 450 existing sites across Minnesota, including markets such as the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester, the Iron Range, St.
Cloud and the Brainerd/Baxter area.

How does this help Lewiston residents? This new infrastructure will also help improve the overall coverage experience for AT&T wireless customers in the Lewiston area. Residents, visitors and businesses can take advantage of the AT&T spectrum bands, as well as Band 14 when additional capacity is available.

EVENT May 24: MN Broadband Task Force Mtg (featuring Fixed Wireless & MN State Demographer)

The MN Broadband Task Force will be Monday (May 24) from 10am to 12:30pm. I will plan to attend and stream via Facebook. There is always room for public comments if you are able to join. Here’s the agenda…

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
May 24, 2021
10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Microsoft Teams meeting – Click here to join the meeting
Or call in (audio only) +1 763-317-4323,,974606064#   United States, Plymouth
Phone Conference ID: 974 606 064#
Find a local number | Reset PIN

  • 10:00 a.m. – 10:10 a.m. Welcome, Task Force Introductions, Attendee Introductions and Approval of Minutes from April 5, 2021 Meeting
  • 10:10 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Update on 2021 MN Legislation
    Deven Bowdry, DEED
  • 10:15 a.m. – 11:10 a.m. Fixed Wireless Panel
    Luke Johnson, Broadband Operations Manager, Meeker Cooperative Light & Power – VIBRANT Broadband
    Terry Nelson GM/VP, Woodstock Communications
    Mary Lodin, CEO/Partner and Jay Mankie, CTO/Partner, Genesis Wireless
    Tim Johnson, Operations Manager, MVTV Wireless
  • 11:10 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Break
  • 11:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower
  • 12:15 p.m. – 12:30 p.m. Public Comment, Other Business, June Meeting Plans, Wrap-up

New FirstNet Cell Sites Launch in Northeastern Minnesota to Support First Responders

Here’s the latest from AT&T on FirstNet in Northeastern MN (near Cloquet and Hovland)…

What’s the news? First responders in northeastern Minnesota are getting a major boost in their wireless communications thanks to the FirstNet® network expansion currently underway by AT&T*. We’ve added new, purpose-built cell sites located near Cloquet on County Road 3 and in Hovland along the North Shore between Grand Marais and Grand Portage. These sites will
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.
Why is this important? We look at FirstNet as the most important wireless network in the country because it’s serving our first responders. And unlike commercial networks, FirstNet provides real, dedicated mobile broadband. To ensure AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) are putting coverage and capacity where first responders need it
most, the FirstNet build is being done with direct feedback from state and public safety officials. This helps ensure Minnesota first responders connect to the critical information they need – every day and in every emergency. A new FirstNet cell site near Lewiston in southeastern Minnesota was also announced today. Other FirstNet sites already launched in Minnesota communities include Bagley, Blackduck, Graceville, Grygla, Isabella, Finlayson, and Williams.
What are the benefits to first responders? Building upon AT&T’s current and planned investments in Minnesota, we’re actively extending the reach of FirstNet to give agencies large and small the reliable, unthrottled connectivity and modern communications tools they need.
These sites were constructed using Band 14 spectrum, as well as AT&T commercial spectrum.
Band 14 is nationwide, high quality spectrum set aside by the government specifically for FirstNet. We look at Band 14 as public safety’s VIP lane. In an emergency, this band – or lane –can be cleared and locked just for FirstNet subscribers. That means only those on the FirstNet
network will be able to access Band 14 spectrum, further elevating their connected experience
and emergency response. Band 14 has been added on more than 450 existing sites across Minnesota, including markets such as the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester, the Iron Range, St. Cloud and the Brainerd/Baxter area.

How does this help northeastern Minnesota residents? This new infrastructure will also help
improve the overall coverage experience for AT&T wireless customers in northeastern Minnesota near Cloquet and near Hovland along the North Shore. Residents, visitors and businesses can take advantage of the AT&T spectrum bands, as well as Band 14 when capacity is available.

Scott County uses CARES funding for fixed wireless broadband

Southwest News Media reports on Scott County using CARES funding to expand broadband to rural areas. Unfortunately, they don’t report actual (or advertised) speeds, although the provider’s site claims “speeds up to 30 times as fast as your current connection.” Here’s where Scott County stood a year ago…

Though there are several internet providers that serve Scott County, as of 2020 up to 40% of parts of the rural areas of the county did not have access to adequate broadband services, according to Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development.

The county recognized the existence of a gap and began working on a pilot program to help internet reach underserved areas using its existing regional fiber network.

They looked to use CARES funding to help…

When the COVID-19 pandemic began last March, Scott County made the move to accelerate the program by entering into a private-public partnership with Netwave Broadband, a fixed-wireless company that now brings internet service options to the county.

To pay for the project, the county used a portion of its CARES funding along with contributions from the city of Jordan and Sand Creek and St. Lawrence Townships.

Now the county is better served…

Through the public-private partnership, Netwave is offering a 25% discounted rate for monthly fees and installation.

Anyone who signs up during the Governor’s Emergency Peacetime Emergency is guaranteed a rate of $149 installation and a monthly cost of $49 per month or $59 per month if a router is needed.

Netwave has also lifted internet speed caps for customers during the peacetime emergency.

”Whatever your equipment is capable of getting is what you will get,” Herman said. “We don’t throttle anything.”

Through the recent deployment of Netwave Broadband, approximately 95% of the rural parts of Scott County now have access to broadband internet services, Mulcrone said.

“It shocks me how fast our speed is with Netwave,” Koepp said.

Herman said Netwave is working toward being able to cover the final 5%.

St Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN) gets grant to support digital inclusion in the Twin Cities

Street Insider reports

Mobile Beacon is honored to provide a community grant in celebration of this anniversary to SPNN’s Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP) AmeriCorps program in St. Paul, MN. We are honored to support SPNN in its mission to empower people to use communications and technology to make better lives, use authentic voice, and build common understanding.  We are honored to be able to supply a $10,000 monetary donation, as well as 10 laptops, 10 4G LTE hotspot devices, and free Mobile Beacon service to the organization.

CTEP will provide mobile hotspots and unlimited service to participants who are completing digital literacy training. Additionally, the $10,000 donation will be used to support their AmeriCorps program for in-person and virtual training from providing basic computer skills, resume writing and help to find jobs.

North Branch gets wireless with CARES funding and Genesis Wireless

The Isanti-Chisago Star reports on city-wide broadband in North Branch. It’s been a long time coming but they have it. They found a provider that would help make a plan…

[City Administrator Renae] Fry, who has been spearheading the push for more expansive high speed internet access, told how the process for achieving this mirrored the city’s previous internet access, explaining how it was very slow getting off the ground, but once everything fell into place, it reached a conclusion at a rapid pace.

“North Branch has known for years there is a core where high-speed internet is expected,” Fry said. “But there is about 30 square miles of the community that has been struggling with nothing better than dial-up. And that’s the challenge they’ve been living with, that they’ve been trying to address and have come to their elected officials time and time again to find a solution.”

Fry explained how four years ago, she invited all of the internet providers to come up with a way to provide high-speed access to all of the city.

“And I was told, ‘absolutely not, it’s not in our business plan. We can’t afford it. We won’t do it. But if you are willing to pay for it, we’re happy to chat with you.’”

Finally, Fry said she approached Genesis Wireless. “And I have to give a lot of credit to Jay Manke because he didn’t tell me no. What he told me was ‘let me do some research.’”

Fry said what he came back with about three years ago was putting up about 24-30 towers that would offer point-to-point wireless system, with the backbone being fiber-based, but the delivery is from a transmitter, to a receiver, down to the home. She said the initial cost was estimated at $800,000 to $900,000.

They found some funding…

Fry said once the city received COVID CARES Act money, their initial thought was to apply some of that money for high-speed internet. However through research, they couldn’t be certain if that was an acceptable use of the money.

“The concern for North Branch was that if we spent it for broadband and upon final audit, we’re told it was not an allowable expenditure, the city would have been on the hook to repay that money,” Fry explained.

Once it was figured out broadband was probably an acceptable expense, there was too little time before the November, 2020 deadline to go ahead with the project. However, Fry said city staff was able to figure out the city had previously budgeted for public safety, which was also an acceptable CARES expense, enough money that if they now used CARES money, they could transfer the previously earmarked money over to pay for broadband, which had actually decreased in scope to only require three new towers plus installation on existing towers at an expense of around $500,000.

“I have to give a lot of credit to my elected officials, because they didn’t even hesitate. They said ‘absolutely. This is such a worthwhile endeavor. This is something the city has needed for so long. We support it whole-heartedly.’”

Pushing 5G in while pushing 2G and 3G out is going to leave a gap!

The Benton Institute reports…

In letters to wireless carriers, 13 US senators caution about shutting down legacy services. Researchers estimate that at least 13% of Americans rely on older 2G or 3G technology. In some areas, 2G and 3G services are the only mobile wireless service available, and this is particularly true in rural and secluded areas where 4G and 5G technologies have not yet been deployed. For many customers who live in these areas, a mobile wireless connection is their only tool for staying in touch with friends and family, doing homework, or making a living. Shutting down 2G and 3G services in these areas without adequate notice, or before 4G or 5G services are available as a replacement, risks leaving millions of Americans completely disconnected. The senators ask a number of questions about shutting down 2G and 3G services, requesting a reply by May 3, 2021.

Here are the questions as posed in a letter to Verizon

Accordingly, please answer the following questions by May 3, 2021, regarding Verizon’s plans to shut down its 2G and 3G networks:

1) How many Verizon customers currently rely on 2G and 3G services? Which states have the highest numbers of 2G and 3G customers, both as a total number and as a portion of Verizon’s total subscribers?

2) What information have you provided to your current 2G and 3G customers regarding the transition to 4G and 5G services? Has Verizon provided its customers with the date on which it intends end their 2G and 3G services?

3) Does Verizon have any services or offerings designed for customers transitioning from 2G and 3G services? Is Verizon offering any financial support for customers who may not be able to afford more expensive 4G and 5G devices and services? How will Verizon support customers who currently do not have a 4G or 5G handset?

4) Will Verizon immediately provide 4G and 5G services in areas where it plans to shut down its 2G and 3G networks? If not, how long will it take for Verizon to deliver 4G and 5G services in those areas? How will Verizon ensure that the shutdown of its 2G and 3G networks do not leave some customers without mobile wireless service?

5) How will the 2G and 3G shutdown impact access to public safety and 9-1-1 services?

6) How will the 2G and 3G shutdown impact non-cellular devices and other devices and systems that are not mobile phones on your networks? How many of these devices will be impacted in each state?

7) How will the shutdown of 2G and 3G services impact the ability of other carriers to use Verizon’s network for roaming traffic or wholesale services? What is Verizon doing to ensure that the voice traffic of roaming carriers will not be impacted?

8) Can current 2G and 3G customers change service providers during this transition without incurring additional fees? If so, what information have you provided customers on how to do this?

9) How has Verizon trained its customer service representatives to assist and provide resources to 2G and 3G customers during the transition? What are these resources and when will they be available to customers?

10) What other steps, if any, is Verizon taking or has planned to take to ensure that this transition closes rather than widens the digital divide? Please describe in terms of both availability and affordability.

Electric cooperatives want to use easements for broadband as well as electricity

Minnesota legislature is looking at a bill that would extend electric cooperative easements to include use broadband and electricity. The Albert Lea Tribune posts a guest post from Darrick Moe, president and CEO of the Minnesota Rural Electric Association about easements….

With a primary mission of serving the needs of the communities they serve, not-for-profit electric cooperatives came to the rescue for rural America by stringing power lines in smaller, less populated areas. Today, electric co-ops can be an asset in making broadband accessible to all Minnesotans.

Unlike any for-profit business or governmental entity, electric cooperatives already have the critical infrastructure in place that is needed to bring broadband to every corner of the state. Minnesota’s 44 distribution cooperatives serve 1.7 million Minnesotans in all 87 counties and operate the largest distribution network in the state with more than 135,000 miles of electric lines.

Minnesota’s electric cooperatives can be part of the solution to bridge the digital divide. The cooperative business model, existing infrastructure and proven history make electric co-ops natural champions for deploying broadband to rural America. However, there is a legal challenge that must be addressed first.

Currently, if an electric co-op wants to deploy broadband or partner with a telecommunications company to deploy broadband, they must first get a newly signed easement agreement from every landowner that gives the co-op express permission to use the easement for broadband purposes. However, obtaining new easements is an extremely time-intensive and expensive task.

To address this legal challenge, the Minnesota Rural Electric Association has worked with state legislators to draft HF 686/SF 1304. This bill would allow co-ops to use their current electric service easements to also deploy broadband, providing they give easement holders six months’ notice in a bill insert or via first-class mail and recognize a landowner’s right to commence legal action or seek damages for a fair market decrease in property value.

This legislative bill supports Governor Walz’s initiatives to develop strategies to unlock the benefits of universal access to broadband for all communities in Minnesota while supporting inclusion, equity and children’s initiatives. High-speed internet services are essential to community development, economic growth and prosperity, and educational attainment across the state.

Broadband is happening around Ely with CTC, Midco and Treehouse Broadband expansions

There’s a lot of broadband activity happening in Ely these days between CTC, Midco and wireless options (Treehouse Broadband). Ely Timber Jay reports

Existing cable and internet customers who are frustrated with all-too-common service disruptions recently learned that Midco activated more than 200 additional miles of fiber to create a northern Minnesota fiber ring that adds diverse network paths for the Ely area.
The expansion and investment by the cable provider is an effort to reduce or eliminate service disruptions caused by fiber cuts and other sources of internet and business connections. Their recent investment announcement also appears to give the cable provider a bigger piece of the broadband pie in the immediate Ely area.

CTC is also building in the area…

CTC is in the midst of installing a state-of-the-art fiber-optic network in the city’s downtown corridor and is actively selling business services. In their first phase, CTC offers broadband technology to homes and businesses along Sheridan Street, and looks to offer business and residents internet, phone, and TV services along with business phone systems and IT services.
“We are scheduling a meeting with Midco at some point,” Langowski said. “We want to discuss where our project is and where their project is. I was a little concerned when I talked with (Midco’s) government affairs representative, who wasn’t aware of what we are doing or what our project is. I told him he must have been living under a rock. If he had read our local newspapers, he would have seen that we have been working on this for the last decade-plus.”
The first phase of the city of Ely’s CTC Broadband project is limited to the downtown area. “I don’t want it to sound like I’m not excited about (Midco’s) investment,” Langowski said. “I just want to make sure they don’t come in and overlay what we just did and cut us out of the market.”
Midco also announced that crews will begin installing FTTP (Fiber to the Premises) to homes and businesses in Ely and Winton in early 2022 capable of up to five Gbps. Connections can be upgraded to 10 Gbps, according to the cable provider.
The neighboring communities of Tower, Soudan and Babbitt will see similar construction activity with full FTTP network upgrades in 2023, company officials said.

Wireless is coming to the area too…

A wireless broadband project is also moving forward in the Town of Morse around the Ely area. Isaac Olson of Treehouse Broadband uses directional antennas operating on the radio frequency spectrum to provide high bandwidth internet service. With direct line of sight to their towers and repeater locations, they service customers in the Ely area. Unlike traditional satellite service, according to Olson, rain, snow and other weather has no impact on the frequencies and short-range transmissions he uses to deploy broadband.

Midco is expanding in other areas too…

In addition to the network redundancy and FTTP upgrades in the Ely area, the northern Minnesota communities of International Falls, Ranier and Littlefork will see faster data speeds from Midco in the coming year.
“All three communities will have access to Midco Gig in 2021. Midco Gig is 35 times faster than the average high-speed internet,” McAdaragh said.

EVENT Today 3pm: MN Senate Committee on Ag and Rural Dev on SF1536 broadband definition to include wireless or not

Sorry for the late notice – busy day! I’m going to try to attend remotely…

From Bill Tracker:

Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy

March 24, 2021 at 3:00pm (CDT)

The main idea is to change the definition of unserved/underserved as it relates to wired and wireless broadband. They want the legislation to definitely include wireless. This will determine who qualifies for state funding. State grants are available to wired and wireless solutions. I’ve bolded the areas with changes:

A bill for an act
relating to broadband grants; allowing broadband grants to be used for fixed
wireless broadband and clarifying broadband mapping requirements; amending
Minnesota Statutes 2020, sections 116J.394; 116J.397.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA:

Section 1.

Minnesota Statutes 2020, section 116J.394, is amended to read:

116J.394 DEFINITIONS.

(a) For the purposes of sections 116J.394 to 116J.398, the following terms have the meanings given them.

(b) “Broadband” or “broadband service” has the meaning given in section 116J.39, subdivision 1, paragraph (b).

(c) “Broadband infrastructure” means networks of deployed telecommunications equipment and technologies necessary to provide high-speed Internet access and other
advanced telecommunications services for end users.

(d) “Commissioner” means the commissioner of employment and economic development.

(e) “Last-mile infrastructure” means broadband infrastructure that serves as the final leg connecting the broadband service provider’s network to the end-use customer’s on-premises telecommunications equipment.

(f) “Middle-mile infrastructure” means broadband infrastructure that links a broadband service provider’s core network infrastructure to last-mile infrastructure.

(g) “Political subdivision” means any county, city, town, school district, special district
or other political subdivision, or public corporation.

(h) “Underserved areas” means areas of Minnesota in which households or businesses lack access to wire-line or fixed wireless broadband service at speeds of at least 100 megabits per second download and at least 20 megabits per second upload.

(i) “Unserved areas” means areas of Minnesota in which households or businesses lack
access to wire-line or fixed wireless broadband service, as defined in section 116J.39.

Sec. 2.

Minnesota Statutes 2020, section 116J.397, is amended to read:

116J.397 UPDATED BROADBAND DEPLOYMENT DATA AND MAPS.

(a) Beginning in 2016 and continuing each year thereafter, The Office of Broadband Development shall contract annually with one or more independent organizations that have extensive experience working with Minnesota broadband providers to:

(1) collect broadband deployment data reflecting all broadband delivery technologies from Minnesota providers, verify its accuracy through on-the-ground testing, and create state and county maps available to the public by April 15, 2017, and each April 15 thereafter, showing the availability of broadband service at various upload and download speeds throughout Minnesota;

(2) analyze the deployment data collected to help inform future investments in broadband
infrastructure; and

(3) conduct business and residential surveys that measure broadband adoption and use
in the state.

(b) Data provided by a broadband provider under this section is nonpublic data under
section 13.02, subdivision 9. Maps produced under this paragraph are public data under
section 13.03.

 

Wisconsin is using drones to bring broadband to students in Northwoods

People are so clever. I love the innovation here. It’s not a permanent fix but what a great way to reach people who currently don’t even have enough cell coverage to support students or workers trying to get online at home. I know there are areas in Minnesota that are in the same boat! Wisconsin Public Radio reports

Rural Northwoods students who lack reliable internet at home will soon be able to connect to their school networks via a drone-powered cellular signal.

A Wisconsin startup will be part of a state-funded pilot program in the Eagle River area that will test the use of drones as a way to expand internet connectivity into rural areas.

It’s a partnership between the new company Wisconsin Telelift and the Northland Pines School District. The drones will be fitted with cellphone towers, allowing students throughout the sprawling Northwoods district to get online, even in rural areas where cellphone service and broadband access are unavailable or unreliable.

It’s a real need in a district that is among the state’s largest geographically, spreading over 435 square miles in Vilas and Oneida counties.

As many as 15 percent of the district’s 1,340 students have no internet access at home, said Northland Pines administrator Scott Foster, and half of its students have unreliable connections that don’t always allow for streaming video and other tools used in educational software. The district provides Chromebooks to its students and portable hotspots to those who need them — but the hotspots can only work where there is a strong cellular signal. In much of the district, that’s just not the case.

Christopher Ali outlines broadband options for rural areas

Benton recently posted a column from Christopher Ali about the importance of cooperatives. He promotes cooperatives as broadband providers because they are local and they have infrastructure. He also quotes Bernadine…

Long story short, and to use a quote from Bernadine Joselyn of the Blandin Foundation in Minnesota, “everything is better with better broadband.”

 

But perhaps even more valuable is a succinct description of different types of broadband…

With wires, DSL, or digital subscriber line, is the most deployed broadband access technology in rural America. DSL connections are the copper wires owned and operated by telephone companies like CenturyLink. Despite its prevalence, the problem is that these types of connections are slow and outdated, oftentimes not able to meet the FCC’s definition of broadband, which is 25 Mbps download, 3 Mbps upload. More than this, DSL gets worse the further you are away from the network node. So once you’re about 3 miles from the access point, your internet is going to slow down considerably. AT&T and other providers have also begun phasing out their DSL networks, leaving many in rural America without an alternative.

Cable internet, or coaxial, or coax-hybrid internet is the most deployed type of connectivity in urban areas. These connections are owned and operated by cable companies like Comcast Xfinity. The benefit of cable internet is that you get blazing fast download speeds, which is great for binging Netflix. The problem is that the upload speed, which is so important for business and for video conferencing like we’re doing, is slower. More than this, cable internet suffers from something called “network congestion” – the more people on the network at the same time, the slower it becomes. Here in Charlottesville, my husband and I have Comcast, and we have definitely noticed slower service during peak working hours when everyone in our neighborhood is trying to make a Zoom call. It can make teaching really difficult!

Then there’s fiber optics, the “future-proof” and “gold standard” technology. It offers blazing-fast download and upload speeds, doesn’t degrade with distance, and is not impacted by how many people are on the network at the same time. The problem? It is expensive: Upwards of $27,000 per mile. And this is where counties and cooperatives and localities tend to struggle – how to raise the money necessary for fiber-to-the-home?

On the wireless side, counties like Culpeper are deploying towers with fiber-optic connections that transmit broadband wirelessly. This is known as “fixed wireless” and is provided by Wireless Internet Service Providers or “WISPs.” Fixed wireless has proven to be an important form of connectivity on its own, and for some counties, a mid-point towards fiber-to-the-home. It’s not as fast as fiber, and certainly comes with drawbacks like suffering from inclement weather and requiring line of sight, but many counties, particularly rural ones, are erecting a series of towers that are connected at the back end with fiber optics so that residents have meaningful connectivity. Fixed wireless is particularly useful for rural communities and agricultural spaces since one tower can cover a rather large distance. Others, however, say that nothing short of fiber for all will suffice. Again, the type of connectivity should be in tune with the community and the community’s needs.

Also on the wireless side is satellite, which many people don’t even consider viable because it is so problematic. Hughes and ViaSat are the two satellite internet providers in the country. Often times when I bring up satellite in rural areas, people roll their eyes at me, because it is expensive, slow, suffers from lag and inclement weather interruptions, and comes with tiny data caps. Still, the FCC considers satellite a viable complement to wireline broadband. It is available to almost everyone in the country, perhaps 99% or so. That said, I know of many residents who have to augment their satellite connections with mobile hotspots to ensure they are always connected, but at tremendous expense – sometimes $300 a month.

Many of you may have also heard about StarLink – Elon Musk’s SpaceX broadband service. StarLink is a type of satellite broadband called LEO or “Low Earth Orbital,” where the satellite sits closer to the Earth than traditional geosynchronous satellites like from Hughes or ViaSat. Theoretically, this proximity allows LEOs to provide faster and stronger service. Trials suggest StarLink is providing faster service, upwards of 100/20 in certain communities, but this pales in comparison to the original hype around LEOs, which promised speeds of gigabits per second. StarLink and others like it are just getting going, and the technology is still unproven at scale. A recent study, for instance, suggested that StarLink will reach capacity in only 8 short years. There’s still so much we don’t know about these networks. Despite this, the FCC recently awarded StarLink almost $900 million in funding. StarLink’s competitors are challenging this award, claiming that it overexaggerated its capabilities to the FCC.

We could say the same thing about 5G. While urban areas are getting a taste of what 5G can do – like blazing-fast mobile connections and the potential to replace your home broadband network – it is still in its trial stages and the type of 5G found in urban areas, known as millimeter-wave 5G or high-band 5G, is unavailable to the rest of the country. So far, 5G has not lived up to the hype mobile providers like Verizon and T-Mobile have promised us.

I get worried when I hear counties say that they are considering pausing their broadband plans in hopes that StarLink or 5G will arrive soon. Truth be told, these technologies are years away from being deployed in rural areas across our country. There is also uncertainty around cost, in addition to time. Communities that decide to pause will be waiting for something that may never come. In contrast, there are very real solutions available to counties today.