States go through stages to fund broadband: MN lifted as early adopter

The Benton Institute posts an article from CTC Energy and Technology on the steps that state take to fund local broadband efforts. They outline three stages…

  1. In the first stage, states must develop an overall broadband plan that identifies where improved connectivity is most needed and how those needs should be met.
  2. In the second stage, states design the structure and rules of their broadband funding programs to meet these goals.
  3. In the third stage, states execute their grant strategies and then revise and adjust them for further rounds of funding to incorporate lessons learned in earlier rounds.

And they pull out Minnesota as an early adopter…

States do not progress through these stages uniformly. For example, whereas Minnesota’s grant program was initially developed from nearly a decade of prior state-level strategy development, Illinois moved from planning to grant program execution quickly and efficiently, in part because it benefited from Minnesota’s lessons learned and best practices. Multiple iterations of the Minnesota broadband task force met from 2008 until the state created an administrative entity to execute broadband strategy in 2013, with initial infrastructure grant funding in 2015. The grant program has evolved by using feedback from prior grant cycles to fine-tune its approach and cultivate a pipeline of potential projects. In contrast, states such as Illinois and Virginia learned from Minnesota’s example and demonstrate how the time between planning and program execution can be dramatically reduced. Illinois’s $420 million grants program was launched in 2019, following simultaneous development of the program and availability information-gathering, stakeholder outreach, and strategy development.

While it’s always nice to be an early adopter, the article points out that a good idea will be replicated. Minnesota needs to go through these stages routinely to make sure to stay on top of the game.

Checking in with MN community broadband leaders around Minnesota

It’s always fun to check in with the Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) participating community leaders. Today the Blandin Broadband team checked in with a few of the communities. It was a look back at what I’ll optimistically call the tail end of the pandemic and a helpful look at what everyone is expecting moving forward.

We started with a list of how we are all going to use broadband to celebrate summer. But the conversation also well more work-focused practical. Turns out that we have mixed feelings about the transition from online meetings to live-only or hybrids. It seems like we landed on hybrids are good when the expectations are honestly set. The conversation also got into practicalities of dealing with state versus federal funding and how those don’t always play well together and how folks are going to handle training in the real-virtual world.

If you’re a community leader and you’re wondering yourself how to handle the role of technology and balancing the transition to “normal” life, this may be an instructive conversation to hear.

Quarantine rules help spread telehealth options for rural moms-to-be in Bemidji

The Bemidji Pioneer reports

If there’s a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be how it sped up a change in prenatal care that could improve outcomes for rural mothers and babies.

Dr. Johnna Nynas, an OB/GYN physician at Sanford Health in Bemidji, discussed her hospital’s move to offering virtual visits during the past year.

“We started laying the groundwork a couple of years ago,” said Nynas. “We looked at implementing a virtual visit option that provided patients with some equipment to monitor their pregnancies at home, including a blood pressure cuff, and then a Doppler, so they can listen to their baby at home. But what really thrust us to the forefront and accelerated the timeline was the COVID pandemic.”

Technical and legal challenges involved the interface between patients at home and their medical records. But with the onset of the pandemic, Nynas said, “there were rapid changes in Congress that made it much easier for health care organizations to initiate telehealth.”

They need better broadband…

There are still barriers that need to be addressed, such as broadband and cellular access in rural areas and for lower-income families. And there are days when the technology doesn’t work as well as others, and doctors have to make do with voice-only telephone visits.

Still, Nynas said, virtual visits will likely continue even after COVID-19 fades from public awareness.

There is a need…

The disparity is real. Nynas quoted shocking statistics: 23 percent of American women live in rural areas, but only 6% of OB/GYNs practice in rural areas. “That’s the challenge that we’re up against,” she said.

The benefit of prenatal care is also real, even for women whose pregnancies are considered low-risk. “It’s better to connect with prenatal care and get that care when and however you can,” said Nynas, “because getting no prenatal care is definitely correlated with worse outcomes.”

At the same time, the costs of running a labor and delivery unit while performing fewer deliveries are widening the gap between rural patients and the care they need. “That’s where being able to offer services remotely can be a really helpful thing,” she said.

EVENT Today (3pm): HF8 (Sundin) Agriculture and Broadband Budget Omnibus

Just got notice on this meeting. One quick note – this is to discussion funding the Office of Broadband Development NOT the Border to Border grants. Those have been moved to infrastructure. Depending on …

AGENDA – Ways and Means Committee – Monday, June 14, 3:00PM (or 1 hour after floor session adjourns, whichever is later) – Remote Hearing by Zoom


-HF13 (Lillie) Legacy Fund Budget Omnibus

-HF8 (Sundin) Agriculture and Broadband Budget Omnibus

Info on broadband is on the final page of the bill language…


21.15 The sumsshown in the columns marked “Appropriations” are appropriated to the agency​

21.16 and for the purposes specified in this article. The appropriations are from the general fund,​

21.17 or another named fund, and are available for the fiscal years indicated for each purpose.​

21.18 The figures “2022” and “2023” used in this article mean that the appropriations listed under​

21.19 them are available for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022, or June 30, 2023, respectively.​

21.20 “The first year” is fiscal year 2022. “The second year” is fiscal year 2023. “The biennium”​

21.21 is fiscal years 2022 and 2023.​


21.23 Available for the Year​

21.24 Ending June 30​

21.25 2022​ 2023​ $​ 350,000​ $​ 350,000​



21.28 $350,000 each year is for the Office of​

21.29 Broadband Development.

Depending on when it actually starts, I suspect I won’t be able to attend but here’s the info…

Meeting documents will be posted on the House Ways and Means Committee website at

Public Viewing Information:

This remote hearing will be live-streamed via the House webcast schedule page:

MN Broadband Task Force June 2021: broadband and people with disabilities, Emergency Broadband Benefits and MN Leg Update

The Minnesota Broadband Task Force met. They heard from Arc Minnesota on the impact of broadband (good and bad) on people with autism and other disabilities. They also heard from someone from the FCC on the ins and outs on the Emergency Broadband Benefits. They got an update on broadband in the MN legislature, combined with a comment at the end meeting on federal funding. The concern is that funding for MN grants has moved from Ag bill to Infrastructure bonding. The good news is that the Senate has greatly increased their proposed budget for broadband. The bad news is that is likely a starting/bargaining place. The other bad news is that changes in federal policy and lack of specificity in eligible households may create a conflict between what MN and the Feds are doing.

Full notes:

Legislative Update

Today is first day of special session. Workgroups have met behind closed doors. It’s been slow. End of fiscal year is June 30.

Broadband has been confusing. They kept the Office of Broadband Development budget in Ag and program budget (grants) is now in infrastructure. The OBD budget is pretty much set but the grant funding is still in play. Senate wants to put $179 million (entire infrastructure budget) into broadband.

Q: What about the need for majority votes?
A: Not sure how that plays out when this is federal funds into bonding.

Broadband is bipartisan so the hope is that this is something they will push through.

Q: Should the Task Force send a letter?
A: Good point.


Presentation by Alicia Munson, Chief Program Officer, The Arc Minnesota and Maren Christenson, Multicultural Autism Action Network/Arc Minnesota Board of Directors

We address the needs of kids with autism, who often come from families without a lot of resources .Access to broadband is a big part of providing services.

One big barrier for our clients is stigma.

Programmatic Values:

  • Human and Civil Rights
  • Self-Advocacy and Self Direction
  • Equity and Belonging
  • Racial and Disability Justice

Broadband Access and the Disability Community

  • Education
  • Healthcare and quality
  • Neighborhood and built environment
  • Social and community context
  • Economic stability

Online tools (such as Zoom meetings) have made things more accessible for some people, depending on disability and broadband access.

You might think that most people with people disabilities live in the Twin Cities. Percentage-wise that isn’t true and comparing maps you can see there are some areas with low broadband and high disability percentage.

Policy Recommendations

  • OBD job opportunities for people with disabilities
  • Interagency collaboration
  • Representation for people with disabilities on Task Force
  • Broadband grants – consider weighting grants based on work with people with disabilities
  • K12 Connect Forward Initiative
  • Grants to Supplement tech access
  • Ongoing tech support


FCC Emergency Broadband Benefit Presentation by Dave Savolaine, Consumer Affairs and Outreach Division, FCC

What is EBB? (Learn more: It can mean:

  • $50/month subsidy for broadband – but paid to provider
  • $75/month subsidy for broadband on tribal area
  • $100 one-time discount for computer if you buy through your provider
  • (reduced bill for customer not a check)

Who Is Eligible for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program?

A household is eligible if a member of the household meets one of the criteria below:

  • Has an income that is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, or Lifeline;
  • Approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year;
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020 and the household had a total income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

How long will this continue?

  • Until the funds run out OR six months after the Dep of Health decide the pandemic is over



  • Working on plans for an in-person meeting.
  • Heard from Chris Mitchell
  • Going to hear from Community Broadband Access Network


  • No recent meetings (although some met in May)
  • Looking for a speaker from industry – guy from Lumen didn’t work out
  • Paul Solsrud with talk about CNS mapping tool


  • Nothing new to share


  • They have maybe found someone to write the next task force report.
  • The July agenda is set

Biden made recommendations on America Rescue Funds. At first it looked good for broadband. But not they are focus on households without “reliable access to 25/3” and there’s no real definition for this. AND combine that with the movement at State level of funding from Ag to bond infrastructure – and we’re in danger of having funding get lost in the red tape.

July agenda

  • CNS (mapping)
  • Dep of Transportation (IoT)

EVENT Jun 15: Rural Broadband & Telehealth Financing

Looks like an interesting session…

Rural Broadband & Telehealth Financing
Tuesday, June 15 at 2:00 PM Eastern —
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many disruptions in our daily lives and highlighted disparities among communities. Schools have gone remote, healthcare providers have increased seeing patients virtually, and small businesses have shut their doors to in-store customers. These disruptions have particularly impacted rural communities where there is already a gap in accessing high-speed internet.

Join us for the CDFA // BNY Mellon Development Finance Webcast Series on Tuesday, June 15 at 2:00 PM Eastern to hear experts explain how rural communities can embrace the challenges of financing high-speed internet for the economic and societal gains provided by broadband.


  • James Young, Vice President, The Bank of New York Mellon, Moderator
  • Caitlin Cain, Vice President and Rural Director, Local Initiatives Support Corporation
  • Lindsay Miller, Of Counsel Attorney, Ice Miller LLP
  • Kenneth Neighbors, Partner, McGuireWoods LLP

To participate, register below. You will receive the login information on the day of the webcast. Registration is free and open to all interested parties.

Get Engaged! Contact Allison Rowland.

MRBC Legislative Update: Special Session Broadband Funding

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

Legislature Convenes Special Session
The Minnesota Legislature convened its first Special Session of 2021 on Monday, June 14, at the Capitol in Saint Paul. There is a lengthy list of things legislators need to accomplish, including the constitutionally mandated two-year budget and other priority items like an infrastructure (bonding) bill, police reform measures, various policy bills, a tax bill, and the governor’s emergency powers extension. The state will enter a government shutdown if a budget is not passed by July 1. If this seems like a lot to tackle in two weeks, you’re right. However, leaders expressed optimism this week that they believe the job can be done.
Broadband in the Bonding Bill
Funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program was moved from the Agriculture Committee to the Capital Investment Committee. Legislative leaders said after the regular session ended that the funding will be in the bonding bill and would come from the Capital Projects Fund given to the state through the federal American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress earlier this year. The agreement at the end of the regular session was $70 million over the next two years. A bonding bill requires a supermajority vote in both chambers, so it is more difficult to pass.
Note: Even though the funding is in the bonding bill, the money will not come from state bonds. It will simply be an item within the bonding bill.
We expect House and Senate Capital Investment Committee Chairs will exchange offers several times during the next two weeks, so funding levels and location may change! However, we believe broadband is in the strongest possible position to receive a significant investment.
Call to Action
Keep an eye out for a Call-to-Action letter-writing soon. We will send this out via the Coalition list sometime this week. So, be prepared to have your organization’s members write and call their legislators and the governor about why broadband funding is so important!

Report finds strong correlation between broadband availability and jobs and GDP growth

Deloitte released a report that looks at Return on Investment in broadband. They look at advantages of faster speeds and the need to focus on adoption and affordability…

Today, the digital divide still presents a significant gap after more than $100 billion of infrastructure investment has been allocated by the US government over the past decade to address this issue. The current debate regarding additional funds for broadband deployment implies that further examination is warranted regarding how to get to broadband for all and achieve the resulting economic prosperity.

Quantifying the economic impact of bridging the digital divide clearly shows the criticality of broadband infrastructure to the US economy. Deloitte developed economic models to evaluate the relationship between broadband and economic growth. Our models indicate that a 10-percentage-point increase of broadband penetration in 2016 would have resulted in more than 806,000 additional jobs in 2019, or an average annual increase of 269,000 jobs. Moreover, we found a strong correlation between broadband availability and jobs and GDP growth. A 10-percentage-point increase of broadband access in 2014 would have resulted in more than 875,000 additional US jobs and $186B more in economic output in 2019. The analysis also showed that higher broadband speeds drive noticeable improvements in job growth, albeit with diminishing returns. As an example, the gain in jobs from 50 to 100 Mbps is more than the gain in jobs from 100 to 150 Mbps.

The findings suggest further analysis is warranted before setting too high a threshold for broadband speeds (both uplink and downlink). Doing so could discourage investment in promising new technology that doesn’t yet meet predetermined thresholds but offers potential cost and rapid deployment advantages over today’s solutions. Furthermore, innovative solutions can help spawn a competitive broadband environment that improves affordability of broadband for all households. Overly stringent mandates on speed, on the other hand, run the risk of ruling out these innovations before they gain a market foothold.

Stakeholders should focus on several considerations as they move forward.

  • Place a renewed emphasis on adoption and affordability by ensuring consistent user experiences, analyzing trade-offs between delivering higher speeds and innovative new technologies, and seeking diverse solutions for unique, underserved geographies.
  • Segment underserved US geographies into more granular categories that recognize the vastly different coverage and affordability needs of underserved geographies.
  • Incorporate the expected growth in broadband consumption into future investments and programs by utilizing subscriber data (e.g., running an FCC speed test).

Bridging the digital divide will likely require public or private investment in the country’s communications infrastructure including both wireless and wireline. Regardless of the specifics of the investment, these guiding principles can help yield immediate gains in providing affordable access to underserved segments of the population and move the nation closer toward broadband for all and bridging the digital divide.

Finley Guide: Best Practices for Public-Private Partnerships

Finley Engineering helps communities with broadband and energy engineering. Telecompetitor recently posted their Guide: Best Practices for Public-Private Partnerships. Boiled down they have a straightforward 7-step approach to developing public private partnerships with communities, especially in light of federal, state and local funding being made available through various COVID recovery programs:

  1. Start with a strong feasibility study
  2. Engage the broad discussion around structure of potential partnership
  3. Make your company an attractive partner
  4. Develop an effective communication plan
  5. Be prepared to respond to an RFI/RFP process
  6. Find good vendor partners
  7. Prepare for things that can go wrong

Biden wants to lower broadband costs – industry says they’ve done that through subsidies but we need lower for all

Axios reports

President Biden’s promise to cut the price of Americans’ internet bills has provoked a fierce lobbying campaign by cable and telecom companies to prove that the cost of broadband has already dropped.

Why it matters: Internet providers are desperate to fend off any move to regulate the prices they charge, while the government is increasingly viewing connectivity as an essential service.

State of play: Internet industry lobbyists are publicly touting studies showing a decline in prices, attacking reports that argue otherwise and telling members of Congress there’s no need for new regulations because they already have affordable programs in place.

The article goes into detail about what’s happening, why it’s happening and the implications. The issue is that President Biden is looking to make broadband more affordable to everyone and the providers talk about ways to subsidize low income customers. There’s a difference. There’s a difference in who might be paying the subsidy. For example, the Emergency Broadband Benefit provides $50/month to low income households for broadband ($75 in tribal areas) and that is public money. There’s a difference in who qualifies for subsidies.

For many users, just lowering the price would lower the barrier and make it more affordable and sustainable to keep a connection. In fact, at a lower rate providers might get more customers who don’t need the subsidy.

A few years ago, I re-posted a letter from former Blandin Broadband Strategy Board member who explained the difference from the frontlines…

However, these subsidized programs exclude the working poor, and working and middle class who still need affordable internet; and we really need to make Internet affordable for all. …

During that time I found out there was a new cheaper fiber option in my neighborhood through US Internet, and so I switched over and ended up saving about $500 a year. I put away that money and put $300 into a retirement account, spent $100 on groceries, and spent $100 towards travel.

Thanks to this new internet option I was unexpectedly able to save more for retirement and take a much needed vacation. Well, I told everyone about US Internet, but became shocked to hear that cheaper internet wasn’t an option for some because of the neighborhoods they lived in. (Fiber networks like Google Fiber and US Internet are often relegated to upper class neighborhoods because of a guaranteed profit). In Twin Cities the current internet service system makes working people in poorer neighborhoods have fewer, but more expensive, internet service provider options.

Low-Cost Devices Matter for Broadband Policy

I just bought one of my kids a computer – a Mac something. She had tried to go cheap and in the end that computer didn’t meet her needs as an emerging artist. She was trying to get hired to go logos and run social media on her phone or the iPad she shares with her sister, in the end it tarnished her experience and her employability. I’m invested in her employability and learning to shift some of her art online so I was able to make the investment. But I wanted to make her promise not to tell her sisters! Computers are expensive. But I know having people use broadband with the wrong tool can backfire.

Communities need to make the same decision to invest in all members of their community to increase employability, which will in turn increase demand for broadband.

I got back to my desk and ran into Colin Rhinesmith’s article no this exact topic (Why Low-Cost Devices Matter for Broadband Policy). I’ll excerpt the portion that highlight’s Minnesota’s PCs for People…

In my report, I wrote that “low-cost or free computers are often just as important as having access to low-cost or free internet options.” Half of the organizations that participated in my study recognized that this tactic was a key part of their broader digital inclusion efforts. I also learned that many of these organizations worked to refurbish and resell computers at more affordable prices.

PCs for People—in Saint Paul, Minnesota—was one of the organizations that I visited. The organization makes desktop and laptop computers accessible for individuals and families with limited monthly incomes. In Benton’s Innovators in Digital Inclusion series, National Digital Inclusion Alliance Executive Director Angela Siefer explained, “PCs for People’s strategy is to: 1) procure high-quality, retired electronics from corporations, 2) leverage automation to efficiently refurbish computers, and 3) distribute equipment nationally at a lower cost than any other organization.” The PCs for People location in Saint Paul also made it incredibly convenient to access for individuals and families and, as such, became a trusted community institution.

During my visit to PCs for People (pictured left), I learned why low-cost devices were just as important as low-cost broadband service. As Casey Sorensen, PCs for People Executive Director explained,

Our average client is a family of three, usually a single parent and two kids, and they make about $12,000 a year. So they don’t have a lot of discretionary money that they can spend on services or products, but they do have some ability to pay. We found that if they provide a little bit of funds for a computer, they will treat it a little bit better. They will spend more time with it if they can make an investment in it, and most of the families that we are working with do want to make investments. They understand that getting a computer is a once-in-every-three-years purchase that they have never been able to do before, and our challenge is how do we make that at a price point that they can afford?

Many community members also told me that while they had internet access on their phones, they found it nearly impossible to apply for jobs on such small screens.

Just recently I wrote about folks who didn’t have broadband at home – cost, cost of computers and no interest were on the shortlist…

Some 27% of adults – up from 17% in 2019 – say they do not have broadband at home for some other reason, including 11% who say it is because they are not interested, do not care for it or do not need it.

Broadband non-adopters were asked which, among the reasons they mentioned, was the most important reason they did not have a broadband subscription at home.2 Some 27% of non-broadband users say the most important reason for not having broadband at home is cost – including 20% who say a monthly broadband subscription is too expensive and 7% who say a computer is too expensive.

I suspect many of those without interest have just not been given the right tool.

US 2021 Digital Equity Act proposes $1 billion in grants for digital inclusion

NDIA (National Digital Inclusion Alliance) reports

Originally introduced in April 2019 by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (WA), and reintroduced in 2021 the Digital Equity Act proposes to authorize more than $1 billion in Federal grant funding over the next five years to support digital inclusion programs throughout U.S. states and territories.

The Senate bill has been cosponsored by Senator Portman (OH).

The Digital Equity Act would create two major Federal grant programs, operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), to promote digital equity nationwide. The proposed funding for each program is $125 million per year for five years — a total of up to $1.25 billion.

One program would be carried out through state governments, with funding allocated by formula, and would incorporate state-by-state digital equity planning followed by implementation grants to qualifying programs.

The other would be an annual national competitive grant program, run by the NTIA, to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, and/or communities of interest anywhere in the U.S.

The Digital Equity Act references definitions of “Digital Inclusion” and “Digital Equity” developed by NDIA.

The NDIA has a host of tools to understand more, act and spread the word.

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

Big news in Ely from AT&T…

What’s the news? Northern Minnesota’s first responders are getting a major boost in their wireless communications thanks to the FirstNet® network expansion currently underway by AT&T. We’ve added a new, purpose-built cell site located on the Echo Trail northwest of Ely near Meander Lake and Lake Jeanette State Forest – one of the first primarily powered by solar in the Midwest region.

This FirstNet site will provide coverage when traveling along the Echo Trail, located in the remote wilderness of northeastern Minnesota. It will also give first responders on FirstNet – America’s public safety network – access to always-on, 24-hours-a-day priority and preemption across voice and data.

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

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

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

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

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

What people are saying:

Sheriff Ross Litman

Sheriff, St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office

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

Paul Weirtz 

President, AT&T Minnesota

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

Edward Parkinson

CEO, FirstNet Authority

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

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

CenturyLink asks PUC to relax landline repair rules

Twin Cities Pioneer Press reports…

Telecommunications company CenturyLink has asked Minnesota utility regulators to ease a decades-old rule that requires it to give priority for repairs to landline customers, saying the requirement is obsolete in an era dominated by broadband communications.

CenturyLink, a unit of Lumen Technologies, is the largest provider of copper landline phone service in Minnesota and one of the few companies still serving that segment. It petitioned the state’s independent Public Utilities Commission this week to bring its rules up to date, saying customer choices and demands have changed dramatically since the rules were drafted, before the first handheld cellphone appeared on the U.S. market in the 1980s.

Some details on the rule…

The rules set a goal that landline outages should be restored within 24 hours of being reported. CenturyLink says that forces it to spend a disproportionate amount of technician time on landline repairs compared with broadband repairs. And the rules don’t apply to CenturyLink competitors that just provide wireless, internet-based and other broadband communications, which the PUC generally doesn’t regulate.

They have tried to ease these rules in the past…

The PUC considered a similar CenturyLink request in 2014 but held off amid concerns from AARP and the state Department of Commerce about service quality and affordability. CenturyLink says in its new petition that the move by consumers away from copper landlines has only accelerated since then. The company says the most recent federal data show that only 4.4% of Minnesota households now rely solely on landlines for voice service.

If passed, it would help all landline providers…

The rule change CenturyLink seeks would also apply to Frontier Communications and other smaller landline providers in Minnesota, he said.

The request brings up a few topics – first, broadband providers are regulated differently and that’s always been a challenge to the providers and then passed onto the customers. But then they have also received public funding differently. It would be interesting to see an matrix comparing regulation and government inventing in telephone, cable, wireless and other broadband providers.

Also it would be interesting to get some scenarios of who still has a landline. When I’ve asked the most popular answer is – my parents (or grandparents). And that is why the AARP was involved with the decision in 2014. Forbes has an interesting article in January 2020 from a landline user. Some of his reasons were voice clarity, comfort, cost and safety. Safety is the research I remember being used most in 2014, here’s what Forbes said…

A landline phone might be the only phone that is accessible and functional when an emergency strikes. And if you are awoken by an intruder, you probably don’t want to yell “Could you bring me my mobile phone — it’s charging on the kitchen counter?”

Also cell coverage is an issue. In my old house in St Paul, there were certain rooms where my cell phone didn’t work – which may have been partially attributable to thick walls but it didn’t always work in the front yard either. And walking through the same neighborhood as often as I do, I can tell you there are dead zones. Again that’s in St Paul. Driving in rural area I’ve driven through miles of dead zones. Either would feel scary if you were making a life saving call – and that is what the landline phone is designed to do.

Arrowhead Regional Leaders Collaborate on Broadband Projects

A press release from the Blandin Foundation. These guys have been working hard in a year that made it hard but they have done great things and will continue…

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, local leaders throughout Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region (Aitkin, Cook, Carlton, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake and St. Louis Counties)
came together to assess their communities’ strengths and challenges in building and sustaining broadband-powered economies. Based on what they learned, eight projects emerged and will be supported through regional grants.
“Arrowhead Regional leaders had the courage and tenacity to dedicate time during a pandemic to look deeply at how broadband was propelling or, because of the lack of it, preventing community growth,” said Tuleah Palmer, president and CEO at Blandin Foundation. “These small grants will kindle the real power of this initiative – the collaborative, innovative spirit living within our rural communities.”
Arrowhead Intelligent Region (AIR) initiative brings together Northeast Minnesota leaders to identify
and fund projects that improve broadband infrastructure, build a knowledge workforce, incent innovation, ensure digital equity, foster commitment to environmental sustainability, and enable community engagement. It is a project facilitated by Blandin Foundation and Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board, with additional support from the Northland Foundation.
“Our agency is committed to supporting high speed reliable broadband in every acre and corner of northeastern Minnesota,” said Commissioner Mark Phillips, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation.
“Fast, reliable and affordable broadband access in northeastern Minnesota is an economic and public safety necessity, not a luxury. Our health care systems, families, workers, businesses and senior citizens are using it like never before, especially during the past year of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
With an $8,000 grant, St. Louis County School District 2142 will map students’ homes within the St. Louis County School District (including Nett Lake, NorthWoods, Tower, Babbitt, Cherry and SouthRidge) to determine existing broadband speeds and plan for a wireless broadband network to encompass the 3,850 square miles of the district. Leading the project, Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) is working in partnership with the Northeast Service Cooperative on a proposed wireless
network build off their middle mile fiber network that runs throughout the service area. Ultimately, the project hopes to serve many of the district’s 2,200 students at the lowest possible cost.
Iron Range Tourism Bureau will develop a co-working space and expand their outreach and recruitment of remote workers. This project builds on their Hello Iron Range initiative, a talent attraction initiative that promotes the region’s workforce opportunities and connects incoming and existing residents to local networking events and resources. Minnesota’s Children’s Press will create a new youth-, knowledge- and tech-driven genre of literature
with help from a $35,000 grant. Through this project, youth will collect and map locations of litter in Grand Marais and on the shores of Lake Superior using ArcGIS Mapping software. Following data analysis, youth will write, illustrate, and publish a book about their findings and solutions. An outreach campaign will focus on both the findings of the project as well as the process and it will include presentations to local leaders, workshop offerings, a website housing free civic digital journalism resources and a social media series.
Smart North will plan for and implement a pilot project for smart streetlights and mobility hubs in the City of Grand Rapids through the support of a $50,000 grant. This infrastructure will allow city departments to access and share data, enable robust 5G connectivity throughout the city and provide municipal WiFi access. In partnership with The Grand Iron Range CAV Initiative, this effort will support the test of the country’s first autonomous shuttle vehicle in a rural, all-season community.
Northspan seeks to strengthen equitable digital access across the Arrowhead region through their Welcoming Community initiative with the support of a $50,000 grant. Through this project, Northspan will gather regional broadband data to create a baseline for fair, equal access to broadband and technology and explore how it impacts people of various race/ethnicities, income, education and ages within the Arrowhead region. This data will inform a series of conversations and engagements on why digital equity gaps exist and inform programming to address gaps.
“Every AIR project is an example of collaborative local leadership that will strengthen our rural communities over the long haul,” said Palmer. “This is just the beginning for the Arrowhead Region’s future-forward vision for a digital economy and we’re proud to partner with them as they ready themselves for additional private and public investments.”
A second round of AIR funding will open late summer 2021. For a full list of AIR grantees and more on the AIR initiative, visit
AIR is the third broadband-focused partnership between Blandin Foundation and Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. From 2017 to 2020, two cohorts of Iron Range communities worked through a proven process to define technology goals, measure current levels of broadband access and use and develop projects to meet their goals through the Blandin Broadband Communities Program.