MN broadband grant requests $50.3 million – more than twice available funds

Monday was the deadline for the Minnesota Border to Border grant applications. The Office of Broadband Development reports that they received 70 applications, totaling $50.3 million in requests and representing $112 million in total project costs. During the 2017 session, the legislature included $20 million in funds for the Border-to-Border Broadband grant program.

You can get a full list of applicants online (I’ll paste that info below too). The next step is to see if there are any challenges to the applications. Here’s more info on that from the OBD…

An entity wishing to challenge an application must do so by 4:00 p.m. on Monday, October 16, 2017. Challenges will only be considered from providers that submitted updated broadband mapping data to Connected Nation in the spring 2017 data collection period. Challenges must be submitted in writing to the Office of Broadband Development, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, 1st National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, Suite E200, St. Paul, MN 55101-1351. A separate challenge must be submitted for each project being challenged.

So who is asking for funds?

  • AcenTek (2 applications)
  • Albany Mutual Telephone Company (2 applications)
  • Advantenon (6)
  • Arvig (1)
  • Benton Cooperative Telephone Company (1)
  • BEVCOMM (6)
  • Carlton County (1)
  • CenturyLink (3)
  • Farmers Mutual Telephone Company (2)
  • Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (3)
  • Garden Valley Telephone Company (1)
  • Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association (2)
  • Halstad Telephone Company (1)
  • Hanson Communications (1)
  • Jaguar (1)
  • KMTelecom (1)
  • Mediacom (4)
  • Midco (3)
  • Midstate/TDS (3)
  • Minnesota Valley Telephone Company (1)
  • NU-Telecom (5)
  • Otter Tail Telcom (1)
  • Palmer Wireless (5)
  • Paul Bunyan Communications (1)
  • Runestone Telecom Association (1)
  • SCI (4)
  • Sjoberg’s Cable (1)
  • West Central Telephone Association (2)
  • Wikstrom Telephone Company (1)
  • Windomnet (1)
  • Winthrop Telephone Company (1)
  • Woodstock Telephone Company (3)

At what speeds:

  • 1 Gbps/1Gbps – 37 applications
  • 1Gbps/500Mbps – 4
  • 1 Gbps/100Mbps – 3
  • 1Gbps/50Mbps – 4
  • 1Gbps/20Mbps – 1
  • 940Mbps/20Mbps – 3
  • 250Mbps/20Mbps – 4
  • 100Mbps/100Mbps – 8
  • 100Mbps/20Mbps – 1
  • 25Mbps/3Mbps – 4

 

Which counties are looking for funds?
(This does not indicate that the whole county is applying, usually just a portion)

Counties:

  1. Aitkin County
  2. Benton County
  3. Brown County
  4. Carlton County
  5. Chippewa County
  6. Chisago County
  7. Cottonwood County
  8. Dodge County
  9. Douglas County
  10. Faribault County
  11. Fillmore County
  12. Freeborn County
  13. Goodhue County
  14. Grant County
  15. Hennepin County
  16. Houston County
  17. Hubbard County
  18. Itasca County
  19. Kandiyohi County
  20. Kittson County
  21. Lac qui Parle County
  22. Lake of the Woods County
  23. Lincoln County
  24. Lyon County
  25. Marshall County
  26. Martin County
  27. Mahnomen County
  28. McLeod County
  29. Meeker County
  30. Mille Lacs County
  31. Morrison County
  32. Otter Tail County
  33. Pennington County
  34. Pine County
  35. Pipestone County
  36. Polk County
  37. Pope County
  38. Ramsey County
  39. Redwood County
  40. Rice County
  41. Roseau County
  42. St Louis County
  43. Scott County
  44. Sherburne County
  45. Sibley County
  46. Stearns County
  47. Stevens County
  48. Todd County
  49. Wadena County
  50. Wilkin County
  51. Wright County
  52. Yellow Medicine County

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Easiest way to ubiquitous broadband? Lower the goalpost. Quickest way to hurt rural areas? Lower the goalpost

I wrote about this earlier. I thought it bore repeating – especially when I found a great, straightforward explanation of what’s going on in the Huffington Post

Every year, the law requires the FCC to issue a report on whether “advanced telecommunications capabilities” is being deployed to “all Americans.” The FCC treats mobile services as different from cable, DSL or other services that run to the home. The FCC reasons that people use direct to the home services and mobile services very differently. For technical reasons, wireline services like cable or fiber or DSL work faster and more reliably than mobile services. So even though some people rely exclusively on mobile broadband (largely because they can’t afford both a wireline and a wireless subscription), the vast majority of Americans own both mobile devices and have a wireline subscription at home.

At the moment, the FCC defines home “broadband” as providing 25 mbps down and 3 mbps up (“25/3”). Many communities can only get that speed from a cable provider – assuming they have one that serves their communities. If you don’t have a home broadband provider that offers those speeds in your community, then the FCC reports that your neighborhood doesn’t have access to “advanced telecommunications services” (the technical term the statute uses). If the FCC discovers that certain identifiable groups of people, like rural Americans, don’t have access to broadband that meets the standard, then the law requires the FCC to take steps to ensure that those left behind get the access they need.

Pai’s Proposal: Lower the Standard For Broadband So We Can Say Everyone Has Access.

There is a proceeding for determining the rules about upcoming reverse auction for Connect America Funds. There are concerns that the FCC will give much of that money to satellite companies and declare that America’s broadband problem is basically solved. Comments for that proceeding are open now but closing soon. (Senator Franken helped keep that door open until Oct 6.) The Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Networks recently did a podcast with Jon Chambers (formerly of the FCC) on the topic.

Word is out on a letter being circulated in the House of Representatives for Members to sign on to express their concern on the idea of lowering speed goals. That should be available next week.

Webinar Archive: Digital Inclusion: Assessments, Training and Certifications

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Digital Inclusion Training webinar today. Here’s the video archive…

The PPTs

And the description…

Overcoming fears and improving digital skills allows the digitally excluded to make full of broadband-based technologies to improve their school and work readiness as well as their overall quality of life.  Learn how groups in Minneapolis, Cass Lake and Worthington are using digital literacy tools, including assessments, training, workplace partnerships and other strategies to help learners of all ages and abilities.

When: 3-4:00 CST Thursday Sep 14

Participants:

  • Ann Treacy, Treacy Information Services
  • Hannah Buckland, Leech Lake Tribal College
  • Angie Willardson, Project for Pride in Living
  • Julie Foote, MVTV Wireless
  • Sharon Johnson, Worthington Community Education
  • Kayla Westra, MN West Community & Technical College

Sneak preview of today’s webinar on Digital Inclusion: Assessments, Training and Certifications

Today I will be presenting as part of the Free Blandin Webinar on Digital Inclusion. I thought I’d share a sneak preview of what I’ll be saying as a reminder to folks that it’s happening.

Here’s the info on the session – it’s not too late to join:
When: 3-4:00 CST Thursday Sep 14
Register now!

List of presenters:

  • Ann Treacy, Treacy Information Services
  • Hannah Buckland, Leech Lake Tribal College
  • Angie Willardson, Project for Pride in Living
  • Julie Foote, MVTV Wireless
  • Sharon Johnson, Worthington Community Education
  • Kayla Westra, MN West Community & Technical College

And my presentation:

Broadband Update in Yellow Medicine Broadband: partner, plan, local investment

The Yellow Medicine County Board met to discuss their broadband plan – investment, grant applications and partners in a plan to being providing fiber service to the county. Sounds like they have a willing partner and community investment. They are hoping for a Minnesota broadband grant – and I’d say that’s the linchpin here in the project. They are asking good questions. The Independent reported on the meeting.

Scope of work…

Two methods were being looked at, Konechne said. First, to build fiber into the entire area or building a hybrid model with fiber to towns and branch off of that.

In the rural area, YMC is looking at a potential of 1,862 customers.

“That includes a large pile of homes and a handful of businesses without internet service,” Dawson said. He and Konechne went into the details of the 52-mile width of land to cover, he called it the backbone. It adds up to about 955 miles of rods, weaving down township roads because there seems to be a household down each one, he said.

The investment…

They are looking at delivering the service on poles, like telephone wires.

The next steps for the county to consider were half done, the consultants said, because the first step was to find a partner for the project. Which, depending on getting a grant, the board had made that agreement at the last meeting.

The YMC Board approved a $4 million broadband agreement with Farmers Mutual Telephone Cooperative (FMTC) in August pending the cooperative receiving a grant to cover half of the costs for the project.

The details…

The grant would only cover about 49 percent of the project FMTC had asked the county to loan it the other 51 percent if the grant came through. The county could bond the funds at a minimum of $4 million with the repayments coming from FMTC.

Isaackson then brought up a coverage glitch. The project is to service the central and northeast portion of the county, not the southeast where he lives.

“How are we covered?” he asked.

Heglund said that the county was looking at Arvig to cover that area since it is already in parts of the southeast end of the county.

“They have five to 10 years to complete the project,” she said.

Some specifics…

“Fiber to towers will enhance MVTV service,” Antony said.

“The 52-mile backbone does hit a lot of their spots,” Konechne said. A successful combination is high elevation (towers) and solid backbone (fiber).

The second step is to find the other half of the financing for the unserved area. Another partner to help with that would be ideal.

Repaying a loan was weighing on Greg Isaackson’s mind. Isaackson, from Cottonwood, is the treasurer for MVTV. He wanted to know what happens if the annual payment on the bonded amount doesn’t get paid.

“The fiber is collateral,” Heglund said. “We’d have to find another partner.”

She went on to explain that there would be precautions up front. The county has to get at least a 63 percent take rate (subscribers). Farmers Mutual Cooperative would have to show it financials, that it can make these payments, before the deal went through.

Brookings looks at broadband access and use – how does MN look?

Brookings Institute is looking at broadband access and adoption. I wrote about it from the urban-rural perspective this morning. (Spoiler alert: rural is behind!) This afternoon I thought I’d look at what they are saying about Minnesota – and by Minnesota I really mean St Paul-Minneapolis.

Before we look at the specifics, it’s helpful to look at their definitions and how they came to conclusions:

  • Used FCC’s Form 477 and the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (Dec 2015)
  • Low subscription neighborhood: one where fewer than 40 percent of households subscribed to broadband.
  • Moderate subscription neighborhood: had adoption rates between 40 and 80 percent
  • High subscription neighborhood: one where more than 80 percent of households subscribed to broadband.
  • They focused on metropolitan areas.

Here’s a map – indicating (among other things) that 3.1-6 percent of the Twin Cities neighborhoods do not have access to 25/3 (25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up).

The Twin Cities has 567,459 (or 16.4 percent) residents living in low-subscription neighborhoods.

Here’s how the Twin Cities ranked:

  • Metro Availability at 25/3 – 96.4%
  • Subscription GINI* – .38
  • Combined score – .77
  • Combined rank – 70 (out of 100)

*GINI coefficient (statistical measure of the degree in variation in data) of the subscription quintiles, where higher scores correlate with a higher proportion of the population living in higher-subscription neighborhoods.

They show what a map of the data looks like comparing San Diego and San Antonio. It would be valuable to see this for the Twin Cities. The report gives a nod to the Office of Broadband Development for their annual reports. They don’t list the work done by the City of Minneapolis – who did a community technology survey in 2014. It would be awesome to see a combination of the Brookings and Minneapolis work.

It seems like Brookings is doing research to impact policy – to see which areas need greatest support. A goal of the Minneapolis survey was similar but more granular and service oriented. They wanted to see where the libraries needed to be open longer and provide greater access to computer (which neighborhoods didn’t have home access). Which areas maybe has access and technology but needed more training. In which areas should you work through the schools and where was it better to work through work programs of elder services.

Both are great way to effect change with good info!

Brookings looks at broadband access and use – rural areas are falling behind!

Brookings Institute is looking at broadband access and adoption…

As federal, state, and local policymakers pursue universal access to in-home broadband, neighborhood-level indicators confer multiple advantages. First, broadband infrastructure is not deployed equally within regions, municipalities, and rural counties. Identifying these gaps can help target policies to boost availability. Second, understanding how neighborhood-level subscription varies will enable policymakers and practitioners to more effectively target their limited resources to boost adoption among populations and neighborhoods most in need. (In this analysis, neighborhoods are approximated by census tracts. For more information on this and other methodological details, please download the full report.)

It’s interesting and important work. There a lot to unpack in the report – so much that I am doing two posts on it. This morning I’ll look at what we can glean for rural areas and this afternoon I’ll look at what they say about the Twin Cities. I just think two bites are better than a big gulp.

Much of the data used in the report comes from 2015. They use 10/1 (10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps) to measure access through most of the report, which is a definition the FCC has used (certainly it’s the definition they use for most CAF 2 requirements although they do go as low as 4/1). This is frustrating because a lot of lip service is paid to the 25/3 definition but my frustration is with the FCC, not this report. In fact I think this report does a good job of illustrating what a difference a definition makes…

This distinction is especially important at a time when the FCC is talking about lowering the definition of broadband – so more people “will have access”. That sounds an awful lot like two plus two is five. We can call lower speeds broadband but if you can’t Skype with the potential employer – it’s not enough.

Brookings calls out the urban-rural divide specifically…

And a statistic that does not bode well for the future of rural areas…

When seven out of ten teachers assign homework that requires broadband – these kids are losing out and/or they are going about the learning process without a tool that most of us would consider essential to our work and life. They will be behind their urban/wired counterparts when it comes to college assignments or job seeking.

And how many are at risk? Two Thirds of rural residents!

But the report isn’t just about framing the issue. It is a primer for policy makers and those who want to influence policy makers. And here is the image I find most powerful. It details the local government responsibility/regulation. If you are a community – these are your trump cards – based on your geography and seat at the table.