Rural fiber penetration now stands at 23%

Telecompetitor reports

Rural fiber penetration now stands at 23%, according to a study conducted by Pivot Group (parent company of Telecompetitor) and sponsored by Innovative Systems.

In comparison to national numbers, market research firm RVA, LLC reported just over 20 million homes were connected to fiber in 2019, or 44% of homes passed.

Rural Broadband Access Technology Penetration (Source: 6th Annual Rural Video & Broadband Study)

BroadbandUSA Announcements – April Webinars – NTIA Grants Webinar Series Home

The NTIA is hosting a series of webinars

Join NTIA for a webinar series starting in April 2021 focused on the three new broadband grant programs authorized and funded by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021: the Broadband Infrastructure Program, the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, and the Connecting Minority Communities Program. These webinars are designed to help prospective applicants understand the grant programs and to assist applicants to prepare high quality grant applications.

Please visit the BroadbandUSA website for more information, registration, and updates.

NTIA Grans Webinar Series Schedule

April:

Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grants Program (Tribal)

Register here for April 21st Webinar

Register here for April 22nd Webinar

Tribal

Register Here for May 19th Webinar

Register Here for May 20th Webinar

MRBC Legislative Update: Omnibus Bill Week – April 6, 2021

From the MN Rural Broadband Coalition…

Consider Broadband Provisions This Week
The Legislature has returned from its one-week break and has four days to pass omnibus finance and policy bills from their committees of origin and get them to the chamber floors for debate and passage. That’s a fancy way of saying each committee must choose which spending items and law changes will be put into one big bill, and that they must pass it from their committee by the end of the week.

Senate Agriculture Omnibus Bill
Let’s start with the Senate Agriculture Omnibus Bill. The committee will walk through SF958 this evening at 5:30pm and take public testimony. We’ve written a letter to the committee that you can read here. Tomorrow at 3:00pm the committee will “mark-up” (make changes) to the bill and pass it from the Agriculture Committee on to the Senate Finance Committee.

Here is what is included in the bill related to broadband:

  • $40 million for the Border-to-Border program
    • $30 million in FY22 and $10 million FY23
    • $10 million out of $30 million in FY22 must go to totally unserved areas
    • State can cover up to 55% of project costs
    • If available, federal covid relief funds must be used before state general funds
  • $350,000 per year for the Office of Broadband Development
  • Addition of “fixed wireless” to the definition of broadband service
  • Requirement of annual mapping of all broadband service in Minnesota

The Coalition will be supporting the Border-to-Border funding as well as the annual funding for the Office of Broadband Development. The Coalition will not be supporting the addition of “fixed wireless” to the broadband definitions. We have outlined our reasoning in the letter linked above.

House Commerce Omnibus Bill
Article 6, Section 23 of HF 1031 is the rural electric cooperative easements bill (HF 686). This bill would allow rural electric cooperatives to build broadband networks on existing electric easements. The bill has undergone some changes since it was first introduced and will likely be tweaked during the conference committee process.

The committee meets today at 3:00pm to walk through the bill and will meet to mark up and pass the bill tomorrow at 3:00pm.

House Broadband Provisions
The House broadband funding bill is currently sitting in the Ways and Means Committee, awaiting action. The House broadband provisions will eventually be amended onto the House Agriculture Omnibus bill to match up with the Senate version. The House and Senate use different committees of jurisdiction for broadband funding, so a few extra steps are necessary to get the provisions in the right place.

Broadband is a vital part of Minnesota’s Economy – especially when everyone is connected

The Wahpeton Daily News reports

The Next Minnesota Economy is an ongoing series focused on the economic regrowth of the state after a year of regression… In the sixth of the series, Daily News examines broadband access and the difficulties of gaining statewide access.

They provided an overview…

In Minnesota, 92 percent of businesses and houses have access to a moderate level of internet service, but moderate access is not conducive to development and growth, Grove said. In rural Minnesota, 83 percent of businesses and homes have access to the minimum definition of broadband.

Mentioned difficult areas…

But getting broadband into lacking areas can be difficult, said Vince Robinson, CEO at Development Services, Inc. Geography and distance pose problems when it comes to remote areas of the state because every mile of fiber costs a set amount per space. The fewer people in a space, the more difficult it is to make a financial case for service providers to reach them, he said.

“These service providers cannot afford to do it on their own,” Robinson said. “That’s really the biggest issue: The folks that are left to serve are either hollowed out from activities that took place through other expansion programs … or they’re people that are on the fringes of service activities.”

And possible solutions…

There are federal programs and a state program — the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program — that can help target those communities. Providers can make use of federal funding to expand their services, but they may be expanding “moderate” services, which are too slow to support day-to-day activities.

It’s key that the state and federal programs have high goals for broadband access and the money to incentivize providers to expand high-speed broadband, said Marc Johnson, director of the East Central Minnesota Education Cable Cooperative.

“It’s vital for them that that boost is there for them to e able to consider serving some of these areas,” Johnson said.

 

eNews: MN Monthly Recap: MN Legislature $40, $50 $60 or $120 Million for broadband

MN Broadband Task Force April Mtg archive & video: Angie Craig, LTD Broadband & NCTA
The MN Broadband Task Force heard from US Rep Angie Craig, LTD Broadband and NCTA in April. Task force members had questions about mapping, speed goals and how to best work with providers to get better broadband.
The Task Force met in mid-March too. They learned about new COVID-inspired broadband grants that will be made available through the State’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

Is MN a broadband winner or loser? A look at Federal Funding RDOF and CAF
Telecompetitor reports on the RDOF ranking by state; Minnesota ranks highly for funding per rural resident. The question is whether that funding will help or hinder the best broadband possible.

Blandin Foundation introduces CBR: Accelerate!
Blandin Foundation is offering intensive Community Broadband Resources (CBR) assistance with a new initiative: CBR: Accelerate! They will be working with Kanabec, Pine and Aitkin Counties and Mille Lacs Tribal Economy.

 Bernadine Joselyn talks about MN Broadband Model
Pew asks Blandin Foundation’s Bernadine Joselyn, “What Policymakers Can Learn From the ‘Minnesota Model’ of Broadband Expansion?” Bernadine outlines the components of the Minnesota Model, why they work and how others can learn from them.

MN Broadband Day on the Hill March 2021: Video and Notes
MN Broadband Coalition hosted their Day on the Hill. The Coalition promotes $120 Million for broadband grants – over two years.
Both the Senate and the House have bills that target $120 million. The Governor budgeted $50 million for one year and none for the second year of the biennium. Since creating the budget targets, the GOP (Senate) have changed their target to $40 million for broadband; we heard (unconfirmed) that the DFL (House) are looking at $30 million.

Emergency Broadband Benefit
The FCC is working on the process for the Emergency Broadband Benefit. This is funding that will help make broadband more affordable for households through a subsidy. Updates include:


State Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Federal Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Impact of COVID-19

Vendor News

Local Broadband News

Aitkin County
Aitkin County interested in extending waivers that support telehealth

Bemidji
GigaZone Gaming Championship Returns Virtually in April

Brainerd
Broadband is the hot topic at Brainerd annual Economic Development meeting

Chisago Lakes Area, Le Sueur County, Otter Tail County, Red Lake Nation and White Earth Nation
The latest Blandin Broadband Communities cohort shares descriptions and stories of their latest broadband projects – pre and post-COVID

City of Cook
Paul Bunyan Communications gets MN Border to Border Broadband Grant for portions of the City of Cook

Duluth
Duluth Digital Inclusion Initiative and Partnership Summary of Accomplishments January 2021
Duluth & St. Louis County prioritize broadband expansion at the Capitol

Ely & International Falls
Ely and International Falls part of new Midco fiber ring (St Louis & Koochiching Counties)

Iona
100 Households in Iona MN getting broadband (Murray County)

Mankato
Almost 80 percent surveyed near Mankato support MN Legislative investment in broadband
Mankato Free Press promote broadband as a good economic strategy

Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe
Blandin Foundation selects Mille Lacs Tribal Economy for broadband program

Minneapolis
ConnectedMN awards $2.35 million in grants to get kids online

Otter Tail County
Otter Tail County hires broadband advocate

Ramsey County
Ramsey County TechPak initiative: Tech for folks who needed it see $2.40 return for every $1 spent

St Cloud
St Cloud reader thinks broadband is for folks who can afford it – and a few counter points

St Louis County
St. Louis County is not waiting around for federal or state support – they are moving on broadband now

St Louis Park (Twin Cities)
St Louis Park (MN) invests ahead to build better broadband for the community

Todd, Cass and Wadena Counties
Minnesota cooperatives West Central and CTC on steady path of expansion (Todd, Cass and Wadena Counties)

University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota uses telehealth to treat heart attacks in the field

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Today, the first post on my Twitter feed was a quote attributed to Mark Twain – “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”  He likely heard those words first from his mother, or a 4th grade teacher!  It certainly applies to just about anything from spring cleaning to a post-pandemic diet.  And just as well to community broadband planning.  Those communities/counties that tackled broadband early faced a daunting, but simple broadband landscape…broadband lacking everywhere, a clear choice for fiber optics, and just a few broadband financing programs to pay for it.  Today, the map and technology choices are more complicated with an emerging array of federal dollars to attract and invest.

For many unserved places, “getting started” actually means getting “re-started.”  That can be a more difficult challenge.  These places have had task forces, completed feasibility studies, submitted grant applications and still have poor broadband.  Federal agencies may have made poor choices on behalf of the community by funding outdated or inappropriate technologies or, maybe worse, disinterested or incapable providers. In spite of these obstacles, communities need to become engaged to ensure, to the extent possible, that broadband investments are made and that they are the right investments.

As you look at the Minnesota broadband maps, you can see two things – that broadband issues are regional in scale and that broadband solutions are hyper-local.  Working regionally, communities can work at scale on data gathering and building political will.  Working locally, communities can design specific solutions with provider partners to deploy broadband down a country road or across a township.  Leadership teams from Pine, Kanabec and Aitkin Counties, in partnership with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, are working together on a regional initiative, engaging local government, health care providers, schools, businesses and community-oriented broadband providers.  They are “getting started” in a big, well-organized process.  I applaud these community teams for their dedication and enthusiastic leadership.  Minnesota will be better off as a result!

EVENT April 28: Women Leading Broadband and Connectivity in Rural

An invitation from 100 Rural Women

Join us for our next webinar:  Wed, April 28th at 8:30 am CST “Women Leading Broadband and Connectivity in Rural”  Featuring Bernadine Joselyn, Director of Policy and Engagement at the Blandin Foundation and Tina May, Chief of Staff and Vice President at Land O’Lakes.

EVENT April 15: RuralRISE Broadband Tech

Looks like an interesting conference…

RuralRISE Broadband Tech will spotlight resources, programs & solutions for affordable broadband in Rural America.

About this Event

RuralRISE Tech will be hosting a virtual Rural Broadband Summit on April 15. This virtual event will focus on:

Topics will include:

• Overview of Rural Digital Divide

• Fireside Chat: Successful State Programs and Innovative Partnerships

• Fireside Chat: Role of cooperatives in Rural Deployment: Cooperatives have been present in rural communities for years, how the movement to broadband offerings can assist in getting broadband to rural America

• Anchor Institutions (Schools, Hospitals and Libraries role in Rural Broadband

• Regional Digital Inclusion Planning.

• Community leaders working in rural communities sharing their success in advancing digital equity – via tech literacy, device access and affordable internet options.

• Actionable session focused on helping rural communities plan new fiber networks.

• 5 – Minute Quick Pitches – examples across rural America.

• Followed by a Networking/Social Hour

 

Draft Schedule available online.

MN Broadband Task Force April Mtg archive & video: Angie Craig, LTD Broadband & NCTA

Today the MN Broadband Task Force met. They heard from US Rep Angie Craig, LTD Broadband (big winner of federal broadband contract in MN) and NCTA (A cable association – or lots of cable folks on the board anyway.)

I took high level notes:

Update from the Legislature what are folks recommending broadband funding:

  • MN House: $60 million over two years
  • MN Senate: $40 million first year (will be discussed at Ways and Means Committee – Tuesday, April 6, 5:00pm – Remote Hearing by Zoom
  • MN Gov: still talking about $50 million

Update from Angie Craig:

  • “Broadband is not a luxury; it’s is essential 21st infrastructure. If you have broadband you can start a business from anywhere
  • What are challenges? Politics get in the way of good policy. How it gets paid for is a sticking point for infrastructure.
  • What are challenges? Politics get in the way of good policy. How broadband gets paid for is a sticking point for infrastructure – run deficit or long term investment? The problem is people think in 2-yr increments in DC
  • What do you think of fiber? We need to keep an open mind. We need accurate mapping. Just spoke with @fcc – we can invest in mapping and infrastructure.
  • “A danger for broadband support is that many people have signed no-new-taxes commitments. So while they may support broadband no-new-taxes takes priority. Corporate taxes went from 35 percent to 21 percent – we need to look at that.”

Update from LTD

  • The pandemic proved to them that consumers need symmetrical broadband – which is a change from what they said a few years ago.
  • Symmetrical or asymmetrical? COVID and Zoom have taught us that symmetrical matters. In my neighborhood we couldn’t get cable broadband 35Mbps up and that’s what we needed for all the zooms in my house.”
  • “Our fixed wireless #terragraph (mesh is being tested at Gig up and down. We are fans of hybrid; it makes sense to have more than one tool in the toolbox”
  • Q: “We are in an area that had been working on a #BordertoBrder grant but it was booted because of #RDOF.”
    A:”If you need help sooner, let us know. We can’t do it all at once but we can focus.”
  • “We are looking at deploying aerial fiber rather underground in areas like the Iron Range”

Info on networks during the pandemic from NCTA…

  • Chart shows much greater growth in upload than download traffic. Downstream is still greater than upstream but greatest growth is in upstream.
  • COVID-19 increased internet use by 70%, and streaming by more than 12%.
  • “Videoconferencing is less than 5 percent of overall traffic”

Subgroup Updates:

  1. Paul Wertz: Group did not meet since last meeting.  Fixed wireless panel coming up. Working on getting State Demographer
  2. Nolan Cauthen: Group did not meet since last meeting.
  3. Yvonne: Did meet. Working on speakers – such as ARC, Chris Mitchell, State Demographer.

Questions for the State Demographer:

  • Does broadband access impact other data – have they seen changes where broadband has improved?
  • Any stats on broadband access and local average age?

EVENTS: April Lunch Bunch: Federal funding (Apr 14) & Digital Ready Communities (Apr 28)

Each month the Blandin Foundation hosts two conversation or lunch bunch sessions; on the second Wednesday of the month the focus is Infrastructure and on the fourth the focus is Digital Inclusion and Use. Here are the topics for April:

Join us on April 14th for our lunch bunch discussion on emerging federal programs to fund broadband expansion in your community.  Believe us, it is getting complicated!  Each of the programs seem to have its own unique philosophy around ownership, partnership, technology and timing.  Plus, there is wide latitude to spend direct federal aid to communities and counties on broadband.  Are you ready for those discussions?  There are plenty of webinars to be had with folks reading bullet points about the various programs; our lunch bunch won’t be that!  It will be a vibrant discussion powered by your thoughts on how Minnesota communities are planning to maximize the pursuit and use of funds.  Join us ready to contribute!
Register here 

Join us April 28 for our lunch bunch on Digital Ready Communities. As part of the Fall Broadband Conference, three MN communities participated in Purdue University Center for Regional Development’s Digital Ready Community program that helps communities assess the local digital environment and create a community-wide plan for better local digital communication. (Learn more.) We will be hearing from participants and the folks from Purdue. Please come with questions and prepare to learn from their learning. Register here.

EVENT April 15: MN Rural Broadband Coalition Meeting

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

Save the Date!
Minnesota Broadband Coalition Meeting

Thursday, April 15, 2021
19:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Via Zoom
Agenda and Details on How to Join the Meeting Coming Soon! Please RSVP by replying to this email or Emily Murray to indicate attendance or absence.
Feel free to extend this invitation to other interested stakeholders.

Aitkin County interested in extending waivers that support telehealth

Aitkin Age reports

Last March, Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime state of emergency, issuing waivers to health care providers that temporarily granted them increased flexibility in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Across Minnesota, standard regulations for treatment location, telehealth services, and administrative activities were relaxed.

The state of emergency is set to expire on April 14. It is not known whether Walz will extend it beyond that date.

Cynthia Bennett, the director of Aitkin County Health and Human Services, said that a number of the waivers, such as more flexibility in terms of remote work, should stay in place.

“We had to make all these adjustments because we were not supposed to be face-to-face and we needed to comply with the governor’s executive orders for social distancing,” she said. “And it worked out well, so we would like to continue that, because we found cost savings for taxpayers.”

The waiver are what made telehealth possible and affordable during the pandemic. The increase in use is one of the silver linings of the pandemic allowing more patients to be seen and reducing drive times for patients and often for family or friends who would drive them to appointments out of town.

Infrastructure bill will boost broadband in MN

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

… President Joe Biden rolled out his sweeping $2.3 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan. The money will not only repair aging roads, bridges and school buildings, but also invest in broadband, clean water and the electric grid. There’s $20 billion in the plan to address racial disparities exacerbated when communities like Rondo were torn apart by past infrastructure projects.

The article outlines a number of varied projects that could benefit from the funding, including broadband…

Sen. Amy Klobuchar emphasized the $100 billion in the bill dedicated to broadband infrastructure, as well as job training opportunities as the economy recovers from the pandemic.

“We’re not going to have a shortage of sports marketing degrees; we’re going to have a shortage of electricians and plumbers and construction workers,” Klobuchar said. “So contained in this bill is training and retraining workers for the jobs that will be created, and I think that should not be lost.”

Blandin Foundation selects Mille Lacs Tribal Economy for broadband program

Brainerd Dispatch reports

The Blandin Foundation recently announced the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy was selected to participate in the Community Broadband Resources: Accelerate Program.

The program will provide a 15-week course of study and education about broadband for a community team. The program consists of three parts — leadership education, information gathering and analysis and next steps. The project will also include community surveys and interviews with internet service providers. It is anticipated a final report from the team will be available by July 2021.

The Mille Lacs Tribal Economy encompasses the three districts of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe territory. The populations served by this program will include areas within the counties of Mille Lacs, Pine, and Aitkin; as well as the cities of Onamia, Wahkon, Isle, McGregor, Hinckley, and Sandstone. According to Minnesota Compass, there are 20,171 people who live in the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy who will be supported by this initiative and subsequent development of robust broadband infrastructure.

Blandin Foundation reported the ultimate vision is for all residents of the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy to be able to use “convenient, affordable world-class broadband networks that enable them to thrive in our communities and across the globe.”

Rep Ecklund’s virtual townhall is heavy on broadband

Ely Timber Jay reports

One recurring theme was the status of broadband Internet service and expansion, an issue Ecklund has thoroughly embraced.
“That’s been one of the key things I’ve been working on since I’ve been in the Legislature,” Ecklund said. “Right now, I’ve got a bill for $120 million sitting in Ways and Means (committee) to fund the rural Border-to-Border grant program.”
The bill would allocate $60 million in each of the next two years to fund broadband expansion across the state.
Ecklund addressed the conflict created between state and federal funding options that has diced up townships and other areas of the district into smaller segments that can only be funded by one source or the other, but not both. Nevada-based LTD Broadband, a company with limited broadband experience, won a $312 million federal award under the Trump administration to develop systems for tracts throughout Minnesota. That decision has already had repercussions for Cook, where Paul Bunyan Communication’s original plan for the city had to be scaled back because its state-supported initiative overlapped places awarded to LTD Broadband by the federal government.
“One supplier got the majority of the contract,” Ecklund said, referring to LTD Broadband, “and it’s being looked at. The sad thing about it is that it’s a lot of money, but it’s spread out over a decade. To have big chunks of the state cut out of any other development just because it’s in that funding is terribly unfortunate. We’ve asked for some federal help on this to see if this is what they intended. We have not gotten an answer back.”
Ecklund acknowledged that some areas of the district have good broadband service, while there are other places “where it’s virtually impossible to get a signal.”
“District 3A has got the best of both worlds and the worst of both worlds when it comes to broadband,” Ecklund said.
The financing conundrum stands to hit rural townships particularly hard, given that lower numbers of potential users and installation issues make fiber optic broadband systems more costly. Ecklund said he is encouraging counties to use some of the federal relief money coming in to help.
“If they can afford to, (they can) set up a broadband account so that when Township XYZ puts in a proposal with one of the carriers and they have to come up with some money, maybe the county could also help,” Ecklund said. “When there’s more local skin in the game it looks better on the application.”
Ecklund also said that “broadband deserts” aren’t unique to rural areas, as there are numerous service gaps in the Twin Cities and elsewhere.
“It is a problem throughout the state and this pandemic has just exacerbated that,” he said.

FCC announces Initial List of Emergency Broadband Benefit Providers (incl MN List)

The FCC has announced the list of providers participating in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program…

The broadband providers listed below have elected to participate in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB Program). The list will be updated as more providers join the program.  Learn more about the Emergency Broadband Benefit, including eligibility details, by visiting: fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit

Definitions: Fixed broadband services are provided to your home, or a single location. These include cable, fiber optic, DSL, and fixed wireless services.

Mobile broadband services are device-based and available throughout the service provider’s cellular coverage area, similar to cell phone services. To view participating providers in your state or territory, click on the name of your state or territory below.

I am going to list the providers in Minnesota – but this list might change (after April 1, 2021) so you’ll want to double check with the FCC list.Continue reading