I will be there to take notes – but for folks who are able to make it…

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
August 17, 2016
Minnesota Senate Office Building-Room 2308
95 University Avenue West, St. Paul, MN 55155
10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

  • 10:00 a.m. — 10:15 a.m. Introductions, Approval of Minutes, Public Comments
  • 10:15 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Update from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD)
  • 10:30 a.m. — 11:15 a.m. National Digital Inclusion Alliance – Angela Siefer, Director
  • 11:15 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Providers Discuss Discounted Broadband Offerings
    Comcast: Meredith Moore Crosby, Director of Community Investment
    Midco: Dan Nelson, Director of Governmental Affairs
    Sjoberg’s: Dick Sjoberg, President
  • 12:00 p.m. – 12:30 p.m. Lunch
  • 12:30 p.m. – 12:45 p.m. Commodification of Broadband and Long-Term Implications on Affordability
    BEVCOMM: Jim Beattie
  • 12:45 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. Overview of Federal Lifeline Reform—Shannon Heim, Dykema
  • 1:15 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. Education Perspective on Broadband Affordability – Marc Johnson, East Central Minnesota Education Cable Cooperative (ECMECC)
  • 1:45 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Task Force Discussion on Affordability and Recommendations
  • 2:30 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. Update from Subcommittees
  • 2:45 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Wrap Up, Plans for September Meeting, Adjourn
Posted by: Ann Treacy | August 15, 2016

Minnesota low income areas broadband grant webinar August 16

I know a lot of communities are making their plans for the infrastructure grants from the Office of Broadband Development. Those are grants for up to $5 million to deploy broadband to unserved and underserved areas. New this year, there is also funding available to increase availability for low income communities. The OBD is planning a session tomorrow to explain more…

Learn more about the newest addition to the Border-to-Border grant program, the $500,000 fund for projects that propose to expand the availability and adoption of broadband service to areas that contain a significant proportion of low-income households. The webinar will be held on Tuesday, August 16, from 1 to 2 p.m. Central Time. To register, contact David Thao at the OBD office at david.j.thao@state.mn.us or at 651-259-7442. You will receive the toll-free call-in number and online access instructions to be able to join the webinar. Please contact us before Tuesday at noon if possible to be sure you receive instructions before the webinar begins. We will also record the webinar and post the link on the Broadband Grants webpage.

As the Brainerd Dispatch reports

The Minnesota Department of Education is now accepting applications for the Broadband Expansion Off-Campus Learning Grant Program. …

The program has two parts. Part A projects support wireless off-campus learning through a student’s use of a data card, USB modem, or other mobile broadband device. This funding supports student access to learning materials available on the internet through a mobile broadband connection. Applications must describe their approach for identifying and prioritizing access for low-income students and may include a description of local or private matching grants or in-kind contributions.

Part B projects focus on school bus internet access. School districts that qualify for general education transportation sparsity revenue may apply for a school bus internet access grant as part of the overall application process.

Qualifying school districts may use Part B funds to purchase or lease equipment designed to make internet access available on school buses, including routers and mobile Wi-Fi hot spots to connect to the internet, and may also make available one-to-one devices for students.

The Minnesota Department of Education and Office of Broadband will co-host a webinar at 2 p.m. Aug. 18 on the Internet Broadband Expansion for Students initiative. Go to https://intercall.webex.com/intercall for the webinar link. The meeting number is 593-256-492 and the webinar meeting password is K12Wireless. To connect by phone through a toll-free conference call, dial 888-742-5095. Follow instructions, then enter this conference code: 3249482049.

Grant applications must be received by (not postmarked by) 3:30 p.m. Sept. 9. For more information, contact Jennifer Nelson at jennifer.r.nelson@state.mn.us or 651-582-8791 or Lueck at rep.dale.lueck@house.mn or 218-927-2495.

The Post Bulletin recently ran an editorial on community networks from Brent Christensen, executive director of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance (MTA). I’ve learned there’s a correction to that article. Here are snippets from the original…

After recently reading about some Rochester City Council members who want the city to build a broadband network, I offer some advice: Be very careful and know what you are getting into. …

Rochester Public Utilities has successfully operated a city-owned power system, as well as sewer and gas. None of those have a competitive alternative. The claims in the Post-Bulletin by proponents that a city network can have a positive cash flow in four years are unrealistic. Pricing will have to be linked to cost to build and maintain a network (backbone costs, central office equipment costs, video content, labor and on and on). Costs for service will not be determined by a study conducted by an equipment vendor that has not yet been made public.

The city council should look no further than Monticello, Minn., as an example of the extreme risk the city would be taking. Monticello, after passing a referendum with an impressive 74 percent of the vote a decade ago, began construction of a fiber network that cost $26 million. The network was plagued with construction delays and, while many voted for the referendum, when it came time to select a provider, few chose the government network. The city ultimately sold it for pennies on the dollar, with taxpayers taking a significant loss. Bond holders lost more than 80 percent of their investment.

Similarly, the municipal electric utility in Moorhead built a broadband network that lost more than $1 million before being sold to a private company for a significant loss. Imagine if Rochester’s network fails to break even? Will RPUs electric ratepayers be asked to make up the difference or just those who sign up for the service?

I hadn’t heard about Monticello selling, so I asked Brent and learned there was a hiccup in the article. Brent noted…

I don’t exactly know when/how that happened, but that sentence was actually supposed to be in the next paragraph about Moorhead. They sold their broadband network for pennies on the dollar, not Monticello. It has been a crazy busy week, and I haven’t had a chance to track down what happened yet, but you are quite correct, they haven’t sold yet.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | August 12, 2016

Blandin webinar archive: Growing and Keeping Tech Talent

Thanks to those who presented and attended. Here’s the archive…

Growing and Keeping Tech Talent
August 11, 2016 – 3 pm

As the labor force tightens due to economic growth and demographic changes, it is critical for rural communities to grow and keep their tech talent since replacing tech workers is both challenging and disruptive.

This webinar will highlight two Minnesota programs that have these goals in mind.

Becky Siekmeier is director of SciTechsperience, an MHTA internship program that connects college students studying STEM disciplines with small and mid-sized Minnesota companies, with an emphasis on placing interns in greater Minnesota. Becky will talk about how this program for work for companies in your community and will bring along a couple interns to talk about their experience working for companies in rural communities.

Michael Olesen directs Project RITA (Rural Information Technology Alliance), a federally funded collaboration between Pine Technical, Ridgewater and Central Lakes Colleges here in Minnesota, plus North Central Texas College. Project RITA focuses on Web and Mobile Development, Computer Technology and Network and Cyber Security. The program is designed to address the growing need in rural communities for skilled information technology professionals.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | August 11, 2016

Fillmore County talks broadband, finances, grants and partners

Yesterday I joined 30-40 people at a public meeting in Preston MN to talk about broadband. Presenting were folks from CEDA (Community and Economic Development Associates), AcenTek (local fiber provider) and the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

fillmoreThey talked about the new broadband maps, which show that 41 percent of Fillmore County is unserved – based on the new definition of broadband at 25 Mbps up and 3 Mbps up. They talked about the state broadband grants. The County has approved $150,000 as match for proposed applications in the area. They talked about AcenTek’s plan to extend fiber through the area. They have plans but it’s expensive and access to state funding would accelerate the process.

They talked about the role of government and potential for partnerships. They talked about the role of wireless as a temporary solution that extends broadband to far reaches of a network and provides a revenue stream that supports reinvestment. They talked about the proposed growth coming from Rochester and the potential to attract residents and businesses with better broadband.

Attendees were dismayed that there was only $35 million in State funding available for broadband. Presenters explained that $35 million was more than many states, more than last year and hopefully a renewable fund.

I took full notes and videos and the hosts were kind enough to share their slides.

Read More…

According to the Brainerd Dispatch

The Brainerd lakes area will benefit from a $15,000 grant from Blandin Foundation in support of Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation’s mission to expand business, build community and grow jobs. These resources will offer the funds needed to continue and grow this 31-year-old initiative.

“Blandin Foundation’s continued support of BLAEDC’s efforts to grow the tech services industry sector has been pivotal,” said Sheila Haverkamp, executive director of BLAEDC, in a news release. “The Talent Recruiter project will build on our efforts and support local companies in hiring key employees to help them grow and expand in the Brainerd lakes area.”

The program promotes economic growth and prosperity for the area. Talent Recruiter will help meet community and business needs, connect skilled workers with technology companies and promote the Brainerd lakes area as tech-ready.

Since making rural broadband use and access a focus in 2003, Blandin Foundation has partnered with leaders in more than 100 communities and organizations across the state to support sustainable broadband adoption to enhance quality of life and place. The 13 grants in this round total $132,670.

The Institute for Local Self Reliance recentlyPPP published a report on Public Private Partnerships based on lessons from three case studies: Westminster and Ting in Maryland, UC2B and iTV-3/CountryWide in Illinois, and LeverettNet in Massachusetts.

It’s a good look at a wide range of PPPs – outlined on the graphic to the right with a strong focus on balanced partnerships. They use examples of successful and less than successful projects to demonstrate their points. (Monticello, MN is one featured example.)

It’s an interesting outline for any community looking at their options…

For communities that decide to seek partners, take heed from the lessons above. Be sure to build community buy-in and document the outcomes sought. Vet partners carefully to ensure they will deliver what the community needs. Ensure that the community will continue to have some oversight or leverage over the network that the

community will depend upon for decades. It needs to remain accountable. Two means to ensure that are 1) outright public ownership of some assets and 2) a right of first refusal to purchase them in the event network ownership changes.

Finally, there is no way to dismiss risk in these projects. Partnerships should combine the best capacity of the public and private sectors, not serve merely to hide risk from voters. When a community hears that a partner has a “no risk” approach, they should be extremely skeptical. The PPPs that have delivered the best results and stood the test of time are those where the public has taken on greater risk, as in Westminster. They funded and own the network. We have yet to see partnerships in which the private partner provides all the financing but allows the public any meaningful voice in network outcomes.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | August 10, 2016

Why a Gig? MuniNetworks will tell you why!

The Institute for Local Self Reliance has created a video to help communities explain why they need a gig…

Posted by: Ann Treacy | August 9, 2016

Nobles County awarded Blandin broadband grants

According to the Worthington Daily Globe

Blandin Foundation announced Wednesday that it has awarded 13 grants totaling $132,670 to assist rural Minnesota communities in advancing high-speed internet access and use in their communities.

Blandin Foundation Community Broadband grants totaling $23,600 will support three local projects:

  • Changing Main Street through Technology and Education: “This grant from Blandin Foundation will enable Community Education to plan and implement educational opportunities designed to help existing business owners with succession planning and prospective business owners with business planning,” said Sharon Johnson, ISD 518 Community Education Director. “We will collaborate with other local organizations such as the Worthington Chamber of Commerce to maximize the impact of this project. Our goal is to help Worthington remain a vibrant community with thriving businesses.”

  • Technology Education for Round Lake: Providing opportunities to the Round Lake area to develop computer and technology skills by supplying laptops for the Round Lake Community Center.

  • Regional Data Center Vision: “This grant will hopefully lead to an incredible opportunity,” said Tom Johnson, Nobles County Administrator. “Nobles County has some space that has little practical use for typical county operations anymore. Because we are a governmental entity, we hope to partner with many regional governmental agencies to create a small, very safe and secure data center. We know electronic data is how we are doing business now and into the future, and most government agencies need the ability to maintain system up-time and data accuracy as close to 100 percent as possible to serve our citizens well.”


Yes Magazine recently featured RS Fiber as “a unique community-owned broadband cooperative will free dozens of tiny towns and farms from reliance on slower corporate providers.” We’ve been tracking their progress here over the years, it’s nice to see their hard work get well deserved attention…

Here’s a quick snippet…

Today, in this sparsely populated swath of Minnesota, a grassroots, member-owned cooperative spanning more than 700 square miles and four counties is poised to expand high-speed broadband access—without relying on federal funding. After seven years of development led by local leaders and volunteers, RS Fiber, now in its first phase of construction, is expected to deliver high-speed broadband internet to more than 6,000 rural households by 2021. And unlike companies like Mediacom, the co-op is owned by local customers who have a say in rates and how it’s operated.

And perspective on their approach…

Last summer, Politico reported on the failure of dozens of rural broadband projects that received grants under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, the stimulus package that Obama signed in 2009, because of alleged mishandling of funds by the federal Rural Utilities Service (RUS). Meanwhile, projects without government support face even rockier odds of survival because utility companies and banks often consider it too risky to build expensive broadband networks in sprawling rural counties, where small populations don’t support the same kind of market.

As a result, about half of rural residents still don’t have access to high-speed broadband Internet.

“Those projects generally haven’t done well,” Mitchell said. “They couldn’t crack the code for how to get them financed.”

However, the RS Fiber project in rural Minnesota could soon flip that script, Mitchell says, because unlike other rural broadband co-ops, RS Fiber relied primarily on county and city bonding authority—not federal loans or grants—to finance the $45 million project. These local government partners then agreed to be repaid last if financial projections don’t pan out, making it easier to recruit secondary investors, such as community banks.

“It’s an incredible [approach] because it doesn’t rely on states or the federal government,” said Mitchell, who co-authored a case study about RS Fiber. “It allows communities to tap into their existing financial resources and borrowing capacity.”

Posted by: Ann Treacy | August 8, 2016

FCC maps intersection of healthcare and broadband

GNC reports on intersection of healthcare and broadband as mapped by the FCC…

The connection between access to broadband and the availability of innovative health care may not be immediately apparent, but  a new web-based interactive mapping tool developed by the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect2Health Task Force make the correlations increasingly clear.

Mapping Broadband Health in America lets the public, health officials and government agencies find the intersection between broadband connectivity and health at the national, state and county levels.

“The reality of broadband is that everything it touches is transformative,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said at the Aug. 2 launch event in Washington, D.C. “Yes, broadband is transformative for healthcare, but, no, broadband is not totally available.”

You can search and map data in many ways – by state and by county. Here is how Minnesota added up:

Broadband Accessbroadband healthcare

  • Number of Providers : 101
  • Fixed Broadband : 88.3%
  • Fixed Download : 89.3%
  • Fixed Upload : 91.7%
  • Most Common Download : 100 – 1,000 mbps
  • Most Common Upload : 15 – 25 mbps

Health Access

  • Primary Care Physicians : 4,834
  • Dental Providers : 3,544
  • Mental Health : 10,254
  • Health Measures
  • Poor/Fair Health : 573,003
  • Premature Death : 5,038 per 100,000
  • Preventable Hospitalization : 44.9 per 1,000
  • Injury Deaths : 55.9 per 100,000
  • Sick Days : 2.8 days per month

Health Behaviors

  • Obesity : 26%
  • Diabetes : 7.6%
  • Smoking : 16.2%
  • Excessive Drinking : 19.3%
  • Physical Inactivity: 19.3%
  • Severe Housing : 14.6%

The site includes a list of the 100 Priority Counties and another list of the 100 Priority Rural Counties. These are the counties that need the most help. Here’s the good news – no Minnesota Counties made the list!

As reported in the Bemidji Pioneer

Northwest Minnesota Foundation (NMF) has received funding from the Blandin Foundation for one of 13 projects that assist rural Minnesota communities in advancing high-speed Internet access.

NMF will work with area businesses to take advantage of more online resources available through high-speed Internet, with the support of a $12,970 Blandin Foundation broadband grant.  This work will occur as part of the regional IMPACT 20/20 Business Broadband Initiative.

“The Blandin Foundation’s commitment to better broadband access and use in rural Minnesota is admirable and we are honored to receive their support,” said Nancy Vyskocil, Northwest Minnesota Foundation president. “Through the IMPACT 20/20 Business Broadband Advantage grant, we will execute a well-planned Hackfest to drive technology vitality and training workshops to help businesses in the region improve their web and social media presence to result in more business. We are excited that through this partnership we can continue fostering the development of broadband in rural Minnesota.”

The IMPACT 20/20 Business Broadband Advantage project will seek to increase the number of businesses within the region that are taking advantage of broadband, increase the sophistication and depth of technology use among those that are employing broadband minimally, and to enhance the technological vitality of communities in the region.

“Rural leaders know that connected communities are vibrant communities,” said Dr. Kathleen Annette, CEO of Blandin Foundation. “We are delighted to see how Northwest Minnesota Foundation is engaging those they serve to explore new opportunities for area businesses made possible by high-speed Internet.”

Since making rural broadband use and access a focus in 2003, Blandin Foundation has partnered with leaders in more than 100 communities and organizations across the state to support sustainable broadband adoption to enhance quality of life and place.

There’s an interesting editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune this weekend addressing broadband as a public good. Here’s what he said about broadband…

An economic case for subsidizing broadband isn’t even as strong as organized garbage collection, although the electric utility analogy comes into play here, too. Fast internet access isn’t a nice-to-have, advocates say, it’s a must-have like the electricity it takes to run a refrigerator or keep the lights on.

Here the problem is not too many competitors going after the same lucrative customers, and eliminating the risk of competition by forming local monopolies. It’s having so few potential customers in sparsely populated areas that no company can justify the capital investment.

This summer, crews have been building out a project in Itasca County paid for in part with a $1.98 million state grant announced last year. Having fast internet service will be a godsend for the potential customers in the area — all 1,255 of them. Just the state portion of the project alone works out to nearly $1,600 for each.

I may have missed it when I went looking through the list of “market failures” published in my handy economics reference book, but it was hard to come up with one that seemed to apply here. It could be as simple as the local provider correctly assumed customers in a low-density area wouldn’t pay what it would really cost to bring broadband there.

Twin Cities taxpayers could probably be talked into supporting initiatives such as this one if they understood that the median household income is about $47,000 in Itasca County, as of the latest estimate.

That’s only a little over half what it was in metro counties like Washington County, east of St. Paul. Of course, affluent areas think they need the taxpayers’ help, too, as Washington County municipalities had applied last year and were disappointed not to get it.

Installing broadband is expensive. But from a public perspective I think we have to ask – what is the cost of not deploying broadband in rural areas?

What will happen to the communities without broadband? Will people move there? Will people stay there? How will a town prepare students for jobs of the future when they have limited experience with broadband? Who would start or keep a business there? And what about residents who will not be able to take advantage of telehealth options? (Research shows impressive cost saving and improved delivery of services with telehealth.)

It might be case of – you can pay me now or you can pay me later – when it comes to public investment.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | August 6, 2016

AT&T Expands 4G LTE Network in Babbitt and Tower

Good news for Babbitt and Tower…

AT&T* is improving service for customers in northeast Minnesota. We have expanded our super-fast 4G LTE wireless service at 2 sites, bringing faster speeds for customers and businesses:

  • A new 4G LTE site in Babbitt;
  • A new 4G LTE site in Tower near the Fortune Bay Resort and Casino.

“Customers are doing more with their wireless devices than ever before,” said Paul Weirtz, president of AT&T Minnesota. “Our goal is to give them an effortless network experience. These network investments in northeast Minnesota will help us do that.”

The AT&T 4G LTE wireless service is the latest high-speed mobile broadband technology, with mobile speeds 10x faster than 4G.

That means customers can do many of the same tasks on their tablet and smartphone that they do on their wired computer.

“This is good news for residents and businesses in Babbitt and Tower,” said State Senator Thomas Bakk. “If we want northeast Minnesota to compete in today’s global economy, it’s critical we have access to the latest mobile Internet technologies that are driving innovation and investment.”

“Fast and reliable mobile data is not only vital for economic development, but also for advancements in everything from education to health care to tourism,” said State Representative Rob Ecklund. “This investment will help Babbitt and Tower residents stay connected and businesses stay competitive in a mobile economy.”

From 2013 through 2015, AT&T invested more than $350 million in its networks in Minnesota, and these positions are part of AT&T’s continued investment in 2016.

We’re constantly investing in our network to give customers the high-quality services they need to stay connected. This helps people across Minnesota get the best possible experience over the AT&T network, whether at home, at work or on the go.

For more information about the AT&T service in Minnesota, visit the AT&T Coverage Viewer.

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