New FirstNet Cell Site in Northern Minnesota to be Among the First Primarily Powered by Solar in Midwest Region (St Louis County)

Big news from AT&T…

First responders in Northern Minnesota will soon be getting a major boost in their wireless communications with construction underway of a new, purpose-built FirstNet cell site – one of the first primarily powered by solar in the Midwest.

The site – located on the Echo Trail north of Ely near Orr, Minnesota – is part of the FirstNet network expansion taking place across the state, bringing increased coverage, capacity and capabilities for public safety. The remote site was identified by state and public safety stakeholders as a priority location for increased network coverage and capacity to better support emergency communications.

“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,” said Paul, Weirtz, president, AT&T Minnesota. “We couldn’t be more pleased to support the public safety mission and bring the state’s first responders – and residents – greater access to the connectivity they need. Working with public safety, we’ve made FirstNet nimble, adaptable and ready to scale for even the most severe situations as we’re seeing currently with COVID-19.”

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. It’s built with AT&T* in a public-private partnership with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) – an independent agency within the federal government.

That’s why AT&T has a responsibility unlike any other network provider. And unlike commercial networks, FirstNet provides real, dedicated mobile broadband when needed with always-on priority and preemption for first responders. This helps ensure Minnesota first responders connect to the critical information they need – every day and in every emergency. Plus, it’s giving first responders unthrottled access to the nation’s fastest overall network experience.1

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. Currently well ahead of schedule, the FirstNet build has already brought Minnesota first responders:

  • Purpose-built network enhancements New FirstNet cell sites in Minnesota – located in Zerkel and Graceville – have also launched. These sites were identified by state and public safety stakeholders as priority locations. With FirstNet, it’s about where first responders need connectivity. That’s what is driving our FirstNet build. 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. Band 14 has also been added on more than 300 existing sites across Minnesota, including markets such as the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester, the Iron Range, St. Cloud and the Baxter/Brainerd area.
  • Reaching Rural Minnesota – FirstNet is built for all public safety. That means every first responder in the country – career or volunteer; federal, tribal, state or local; urban, suburban or rural. That’s why connecting remote parts of America is one of our top priorities. We’re collaborating with rural network providers to help build out additional LTE coverage and extend FirstNet’s reach in rural and tribal communities.
  • Public safety-specific advanced capabilities – FirstNet is the only nationwide platform that gives first responders entire communication ecosystem of unique benefits including mission-centric devices, certified applications and always-on, 24-hours-a-day priority and preemption across voice and data. This is like giving public safety communications the “lights and sirens” treatment so that they stay connected, no matter the emergency.
  • Unparalleled emergency support – Minnesota agencies on FirstNet also have 24/7 access to a nationwide fleet of 76 land-based and airborne deployable network assets. These portable cell sites can either be deployed for planned events or in emergencies at no additional charge. FirstNet Response Operations – led by a group of former first responders – guides the deployment of the FirstNet deployable assets based on the needs of public safety.
  • Free smartphones for life for public safety agencies – We’ve also expanded the benefits of FirstNet for Minnesota agencies – spanning law enforcement, fire, EMS, healthcare, hospital emergency departments, emergency management and 9-1-1 operations. Now, they can stay up-to-date with free smartphones for life at no additional cost on their FirstNet Mobile—Unlimited plans.2 This means first responders across agencies of all sizes will have affordable access to their network for decades to come.

The COVID-19 health crisis illustrates precisely why public safety fought for the creation of FirstNet. Where public safety goes, we go. We’ve answered the call for tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods and other natural disasters. But with COVID-19, it is like experiencing a perpetual emergency in every community across the country. Public safety’s network is being tested in a completely new way, and it’s hitting the mark.

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

In addition to further elevating public safety’s connected experience in support of their emergency response, 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 additional capacity is available.

For more about the value FirstNet is bringing to public safety, check out FirstNet.com.

Fall Lake Township is getting broadband from Zito Media (Lake County)

Ely Echo reports on a Fall Lake Township meeting earlier this week…

Fall Lake Township residents, broadband is coming. That is what T.C. Leveille with Zito Media told the supervisors and the 10 citizens attending the township meeting Tuesday night.
“The main roads will be worked on first,” said Leveille, “and then branch out from there. Year-round residents would be first, then seasonal places.”
Hopefully more residents will have broadband connection by spring. Leveille said Zito is looking for a building to store equipment. He said there may be a possibility for free services in exchange for a storage area.
He said Fall Lake has areas that are more inaccessible because of ledge rock and a pole attachment agreement would have to be reached with Lake Country Power and Minnesota Power.
Leveille was asked if there is a possibility of going under Fall Lake to access the north side of the lake. He said he would have to check into that, but Supervisor Eric Hart said it is hard to get approval from the DNR.
Sheila Gruba asked if Zito could have an article in the Ely Echo about the broadband progress for Fall Lake and have contact information for Zito so residents who are interested in connecting to broadband could get on a list.
Gruba said Town of Morse has received funds from IRRRB for broadband, and maybe Fall Lake could get funding also.
Supervisor Craig Seliskar said Ulland Brothers received the big for the Cloquet Line project, and the bid came in under the estimated cost. Seliskar had a scheduled meeting with Ulland and TKDA Engineering Thursday morning and said work would be starting on Monday, October 12. The work would include clearing, widening and culvert replacement. Ulland hopes to keep one lane of traffic open with a pilot car or flagmen.

I didn’t know Zito Media; it looks like they provide wireless and cable options.

CoBank reports that Rural Broadband Valuations Remain High

CoBank recently released a report that indicates that rural broadband is a good investment. Here’s a two minute video that explains why.

As Jeff Johnston points out this is a time when folks are looking to acquire rural broadband companies including WISPS (wireless internet service providers). It’s good news for communities so long as the acquiring company is intersted in investment after the acquisition.

Crow Wing Power on broadband updates in Crow Wing, Morrison, Cass and Aitkin Counties

In their most recent newsletter, Crow Wing Power spoke with local providers about broadband upgrades and expansion in the area, often spurred by great need in COVID.

From CTC…

  • Kristi [Westbrock, CTC CEO] explained that in mid-March, the company scrambled to extend finer to where it was needed and where they could reasonably expand, so students could have access to Internet for distance learning. It’s estimated that their efforts in the Brainerd ISD 101 school district provided broadband access to approximately 200 families in the region and set up 50 hot spots where kid cluster could go to study.
  • In 2019, CTC received an $830,587 MN Border to Border grant from the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to expand services to build to Ft. Ripley, and other areas in Crow Wing and Morrison Counties. This allowed CTC to build to 399 homes in portions of St. Mathias and Fort Ripley Townships, as well.
  • “Most recently, CTC received CARES Act funding from both Crow Wing and Cass County to build broadband to unserved areas of Welton Road, County Rd 10, Border Lake, Little Pine Road and unserved areas in Lake Edward Township. The funds must be used by December 1 so these locations will have access to fiber Internet.

From Emily Cooperative Telephone Company…

  • Five hot spots were also installed throughout the communities, which are still available. Josh [ECTC CEO] said they are updating 100 homes in the Crosslake area to finer services and reviewing other areas for 2021. ECTC also received a MN DEED grant of $376,000 to build fiber services to the Esquagamah and Round Lake area in Aitkin County.

Le Sueur County uses CARES funding for wireless towers in Tyrone Township

Le Sueur County News reports…

One of Le Sueur County’s top priorities for the year is to expand broadband into under-served areas. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in planned and proposed broadband projects are scheduled to be completed by the end of the year through federal funds from the CARES Act.

Le Sueur County received $3.4 million from the federal government. One of the first projects approved with that money is a $140,000 proposal to bring high speed wireless internet to Tyrone Township in partnership with Netwave Broadband.

Netwave, a subsidiary of Access Networks Inc., brought a proposal to set up a 5G 900 Mhz wireless tower. The tower would provide 100 mb speeds for up to 218 homes in a 7-mile coverage radius from a tower off Hwy. 169 near the Cambria Processing Facility.

And here’s what it will look like to customers and the provider…

On the customer side, it would cost $299 for a basic one-time installation fee. Customers would be charged $99.99 per month for 100 mb of service in a three year contract. The $99 would only cover internet, but NetWave also has a phone service and is in the process of setting up television services.

In the deal, NetWave Broadband would take on most of the risk for keeping the wireless tower operational.

“All the risk as far as the tower maintenance, keeping everything afloat as far as tower rent, power, the responsibility is all on us,” said Steve Herman with NetWave Broadband. “We’re just asking for capital investment to provide service in the area and then we’ll take all management and everything over from that point.”

Mille Lacs County looks at CARES funding for wireless broadband

Mille Lacs Messenger reports…

Talks of potential broadband expansion in the southern portion of Mille Lacs County have taken place over the last month among county board members and county administration. The county is pursuing CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funding for this expansion.

During a special meeting in late August, the County outlined a proposal to implement broadband infrastructure using the CARES Act funding available to counties and local government.

The proposal stated that Advantenon, a broadband wireless internet provider servicing Minnesota and South Dakota, will complete the building of towers that provide broadband internet service, beginning with the southern border of Mille Lac County and working northward. Coverage in the unserved and underserved areas would extend to an east/west line three miles north of Page to the southern border of the County.

Advantenon’s responsibilities would include confirming suitable tower locations for internet backbone connectivity and for hub and spoke antenna host sites, creating construction plans for all sites, installing and configuring network infrastructure to support Internet connectivity and inter-tower connectivity, installing end users (a residential, business, institutional, or government entity that uses services for its own purposes and does not resell such services to other entities) as time permits until Dec. 31, 2020, and installing end users as requested after Dec. 31, 2020.

The County’s responsibilities were outlined as assisting Advantenon in identifying antenna host sites in smaller towns, particularly when water towers are good candidate locations, identifying antenna hosting at suitable county-owned premises and assisting in permitting process for county permits.

Advantenon will utilize the feasibility study and a past State of Minnesota grant proposal, which has been denied twice for Mille Lacs County, to confirm tower locations within the southern portion of Mille Lacs County. Once tower locations have been confirmed, the towers will be utilized to install and configure end use connectivity.

The estimated project cost, which would include six completed towers and direct internet access, is $1 million. Individual Internet plans through Advantenon would range from $39 to $109 per month or a discounted year-in-advance rate.

Are AT&T and other providers changing their tune about mapping or changing their spin?

AT&T is getting a lot of heat after CEO John Stankey published a column in Politico. As Ars Technica reports…

AT&T—which has spent the past decade fighting US-government attempts to improve the country’s horrible broadband maps—is now claiming to be very concerned about the mapping problem that has helped thwart efforts to wire up millions of American homes without adequate broadband access.

AT&T CEO John Stankey this week published an opinion piece in Politico with the apparent goals of improving AT&T’s reputation, reducing government regulation, and getting more federal funding. The piece is titled, “A Game Plan to—Finally—Connect Every American to Broadband,” and the first item on AT&T’s game plan is “to identify where broadband is unavailable with geographic precision.”

Most of the heat stems from the fact that AT&T (and other broadband providers) have a history of not supporting mapping. So folks are questioning the change. Medium offers a high level framework upon which they build a case…

AT&T’s Stankey game plan has 4 goal posts.

  • POINT 1:“First, we need to identify where broadband is unavailable with geographic precision.”
  • POINT 2:“Second, the Federal Communication Commission’s program that supports connectivity for low-income households needs to be modernized.”
  • POINT 3:“Third, as Congress debates earmarking up to $80 billion for rural broadband as part of the next round of pandemic relief, we should give equal weight to wired and wireless options.”
  • POINT 4:“Lastly, Washington should enact a policy framework that incorporates sustainable funding mechanisms for the long run.”

Our take is different: America needs:

  • RESPONSE, POINT 1:A complete accounting of AT&T’s copper and fiber lines in service, “lit” or not lit, (known as “dark”, which are installed but not in use) needs to be done immediately in each state utility.

  • RESPONSE, POINT 2:An investigation to explain why America’s prices are 3–14 times more expensive that other countries, worldwide — with the goal: lower rates 50% or more.

  • RESPONSE, POINT 3:Go after the $95 billion in overcharging over the last 5 years from AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink — and use the money to solve the Digital Divide, once and for all.

  • RESPONSE, POINT 4:New federal and state government oversight andenforcement with penalties and fines must happen now.

The situation calls for a high ranking ombudsman who looks out for the short and long terms needs of consumers and citizens. Or maybe, as is happening, it calls for broadband proponents to respond to Stankey’s position and start a conversation that moves us farther afield.

 

Can 5G Compete with Cable Broadband? A response from 5G

I asked Nokia’s Brian Pickering about Doug Dawson’s timely Pots and Pans 5G blog post today.  Brian shared this response with me and Blandin on Broadband blog readers.  You can see Brian’s presentation to our Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable here:

Bill,

This has been a heavy debated topics with the big operators, cable industry and others.  The discussion has always centered around the business case for 5G – number of house covered, uptake of customers per cell site, etc  vs trenching fiber to the house or through a subdivision.

mmWave and cmWave is the best for this solution.  mmWave having large bandwidth, but small coverage AND requires an external antenna to receive the signal as the signal will not penetrate the exterior walls.  There is a high power CPE coming to the market in the 2H 2020, which may eliminate the outdoor antenna.  cmWave is great for the coverage, but the speed may be comparable to cable guys, and outdoor antenna is not required.

I have heard from a cable company, they believe 5G to the home is a case by case for deployment – a tool in the tool box.  Will use 5G where it makes the most economical sense.  With that said, the big cable operators do not have a large amount spectrum yet.  Windstream small regional operator has 28Ghz spectrum.

Verizon as you know have pushed 5G to the home and had small success with it.  They have launched it in 6 markets, but its very limited in its geographic area.  Tmobile stated over a year ago they will go after the cable industry using their 2.5Ghz spectrum, using the same business model and process they do for wireless.  The cable guys continue monitor and test 5G to better understand what the telecom guys are doing.

Prior to the pandemic, cellular systems were lightly loaded in residential areas during the day as everyone went to work, traffic picked up in the evening, but overall still not heavily loaded.  Verizon looks at 5G to the home as a benefit to the network, as it helps use a lightly loaded network in the evenings or at night.

5G to the home is probably more appealing to the 20 &30 year olds – where they can take it anywhere at any time.  Example, my eldest has a 6 month co-op internship, he was  not able to get cable at his apartment because the cable company wanted a 1 year contract.  So, he is connecting his computer to his cell phone so he can watch Netflix, youtube, etc.

Hope that helps.  If you have any questions, please let me know.

Brian

Broadband Roundtable on 5G archive

Today, Brian Pickering of Nokia shared a interesting and digestible presentation on 5G wireless during the Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable.  Brian is the VP of 5G Product Sales North America for Nokia.  Brian is responsible for creation and implementation of the 5G sales strategy as well as business development in North America.

Brian outlined the three legs of the 5G stool that combine low latency, high reliability, capacity and connectivity:

  • Extreme mobile broadband with greater than 10 Gbps peak data rates with 100 Mbps available whenever needed
  • Critical machine communication
  • Massive machine communication

Critically important to understanding 5G is knowing how radio spectrum impacts performance.  He described that as the frequency increases, data rates go up and coverage area goes down.  The lower frequencies, like 600 MHz are used by TMobile to deliver broadband in rural areas across a wide area.  The higher frequencies, also known as millimeter wave, in the 24-28 GHz range, are primarily for stadiums, factories, etc.  South Korea and other countries are making strong use of the 3.5 GHz frequencies which is a sweet spot for capacity and range.  The US is in the process of making this available via auction for future use.  Brian’s slides clearly show how different spectrum impacts coverage and business strategy.

Brian highlighted the current and future applications where 5G’s greatest potential will be realized.  Machine to machine communication and virtual and augmented reality are two important applications.  Watch the webinar here:  Download the slides here

Next week, Ann Treacy will host a conversation on Rural Mental Health and Telehealth with local experts from MN Rural Health Association, NAMI MInnesota and MN Department of Health. (More info soon.)

5G articles from Paul Weirtz

Some good pushback on the 5G/Coronavirus conspiracy theories:

5G – Here are a couple of articles helping to debunk the “Coronavirus is caused by 5G”.  I think the media has actually been very helpful with all of this: 

Online chat: Continue reading

EVENT July 14: Broadband Roundtable on 5G

An invitation from the Blandin Foundation

Join Blandin Foundation on Zoom Tuesday morning at 9:00 am for our weekly Broadband Roundtable conversation. This week we will talk about 5G with guest expert, Brian Pickering. Brian is Nokia’s Vice President of 5G Product Sales North America. This is a great opportunity to learn about how 5G technologies and services might impact your community’s broadband services and the way that your residents, organizations and businesses use technology.

You can register for this and future Roundtables here

For more information, or to share ideas for future Roundtable starter topics, contact Mary Magnuson at memagnuson@blandinfoundation.org.

Turns out T-Mobile had IP traffic issues that slowed service on Monday (June 15)

I mentioned network outages on Monday when I wasn’t able to reach either of my parents, who are both on T-Mobile. Fierce Wireless reports on what happened…

The outages, which started June 15 just after 12 p.m. ET and continued for about 13 hours, were an “IP traffic related issue” that “created significant capacity issues in the network core throughout the day,” according to an update around midnight from T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert.

Looks like voice and text were down, but not data…

While voice and texting were down, Sievert said data services were working throughout the day, so customers could use apps and services like FaceTime, iMessage, Google Meet, Zoom, and Skype to reach people.

Still, the duration of the T-Mobile’s outage was not insignificant. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the outage “unacceptable” and said the agency is launching an investigation.

And it looks like T-Mobile was the issue…

There were complaints that AT&T and Verizon customers were also experiencing problems with service, but both carriers confirmed Monday that their respective networks were working normally. A Verizon spokesperson at the time said it was aware another carrier was having network issues and “calls to and from that carrier may receive an error message.”

Networks down all over the US June 15

I wondered why my dad was ignoring me. Then I tried to call my mom and couldn’t get through.  I had to remember my childhood home phone number, which thankfully worked. My parents are OK.

Their networks are not. I looked to find one article that spoke to issues with several carriers. WCVB (ABC TV out of Boston I think) reports…

If you’re having problems with your cell phone, it seems you’re not alone. Customers of multiple cell phone carriers are reporting widespread outages.

According to Downdetector, a website that tracks outage reports, the outage is impacting customers of T-Mobile, Metro by T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon.

“Our engineers are working to resolve a voice and data issue that has been affecting customers around the country,” Neville Ray, T-Mobile’s president of technology tweeted. “We’re sorry for the inconvenience and hope to have this fixed shortly.”

In a statement to CNET, a spokesperson from Verizon said, “Verizon’s network is performing well. We’re aware that another carrier is having network issues. Calls to and from that carrier may receive an error message.”

AT&T says their network is working properly, but users of the carrier continue to report problems with their devices.

“Our network is operating normally, but it’s possible some customers are unable to reach people on other carriers’ networks,” AT&T said on Twitter.

My limited experience pointed to T-Mobile but again my experience is very limited. No cause was listed here. I will keep an eye out. It’s been such a strange year, I don’t even dare to imagine what’s going on.

I checked out Downdetector. They track downtime for providers and websites. The graphic of their homepage take at 6:17pm CST says it all. Lots of places experiencing problems still – a few seem to be on the mend…

Winona County to vote on approval of a 300-foot telecommunications tower near Lewiston (June 8)

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

The Winona County Board of Commissioners is set to vote Monday on approval of a 300-foot-tall telecommunications tower near Lewiston.

The tower, to be built by Powder River Development Services of Rochester, will enhance communications in rural areas of the county, supporters said.

Communication capacity for first responders, distance learners and home-based workers will be improved, they said, noting that there has been a long-term effort by state leaders to enhance broadband accessibility in rural Minnesota.

The county’s Planning Commission approved the proposal last month, attaching a number of conditions. Included were requirements for filtering devices to reduce interference with other signals; correcting any interference issues at the tower owner’s expense; and dismantling and removal of the tower at the owner’s expense if it ever stands vacant for more than a year.

Jacobson Community Center get creative with WiFi

The best introductin to community wifi goes to Jacobson Community Center newsletter in Jacobson MN…

A stellar member of our community (who is a Star Trek fan) reported the following dream/vision that occurred to him during his afternoon siesta. He found himself on the Star Ship Enterprise. Dr. Spock was addressing Captain Kirk: “Captain I detect a WI-FI signal from the JCC Farmers Hall. Beam me down to determine if lifeforms exist! “ The good Dr. Spock was transported down to the hall and indeed observed a newly installed WI-FI system!! He was transported back to the Enterprise and enthusiastically reported to the captain “these are not just ordinary life forms. But lifeforms of extreme intelligence, they have WI-FI !!!” I personally don’t know how much credibility should be assigned to our member’s vision? He vehemently insists that Dr. Spock was indeed in our building and left clues behind as prove of his visit. Fact or Fiction? I dont know.

BUT… The one fact I KNOW is it is true the hall does have WI-FI available, In the building and west parking lot. Password is: manpowersyrup530 Thanks to Aitkin County and especially Ross Wagner who acquired the grant and arranged installation of equipment.

What would the founding Fathers of the Hall think ?

Northeast Service Cooperative and CTC map public WiFi spots in NE MN

I can imagine this has saved a few hours for a lot of people. Through a partnership between CTC & NESC, an interactive map has been created that shows public WiFi locations.  As more sites come online they will get added.  This resource should help parents and students find and use quality broadband.