House and Senate working to reconcile broadband issues as part of larger Omnibus bill

I reported on this meeting yesterday, but here’s the official word from Session Daily

The committee received a walkthrough of HF4366, which includes differences of $180 million in housing appropriation changes in fiscal year 2023 and $185 million in the next biennium. Differences in agriculture and broadband appropriation changes are $76.4 million in fiscal year 2023 and $7.8 million in the following biennium.

Here’s the detail related to broadband…

The House would appropriate $25 million from the General Fund to the Border-to-Border Broadband Fund account as a one-time transfer in fiscal year 2023. The bill would increase the percentage of the grants to cover 75% of a project from the current 50% and would establish that grants to a single project cannot exceed $10 million, double the current level.

Establishment of a pilot program to provide broadband service to unserved and underserved areas of the state is included in the Senate bill. So is seeking to use federal funding, with a grant application program to the U.S. Department of the Treasury requesting that $110.7 million of Minnesota’s capital projects fund be allocated for grants.

[MORE: View a side-by-side comparison of the broadband portion]

MinnPost looks at PUC petition from MN Telecom folks focused on LTD Broadband

I mentioned this over the weekend and I suspect there will be more article but this has the potential to be a big deal so I’ll likely post them all.

MinnPost reports

Two trade groups have filed a petition with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission saying LTD Broadband will waste taxpayer time — and money — in the company’s bid to provide high speed broadband to roughly 160,000 people in the state.

The trade groups (MTA and MREA) say…

“Public funding is essential to bring broadband to unserved and underserved areas of rural Minnesota,” says the filing submitted by the Minnesota Telecom Alliance and the Minnesota Rural Electric Association. “But public dollars are limited, making it essential that those who obtain public funding can be counted on to deliver broadband to those areas as intended. The record will show that LTD cannot.”

LTD says…

Corey Hauer, the CEO of LTD Broadband, described the petition as a nuisance given the PUC has already approved the company. He said LTD can grow rapidly to meet the challenge of deploying a massive network of fiber-optic cable, despite having little experience building fiber, and will disrupt the industry like Elon Musk did with SpaceX and Tesla.

“The truth LTD Broadband is exposing is that deploying rural fiber is easier, faster and cheaper than the party line touted by some of our rural … competitors,” Hauer said.

What could happen…

If the PUC sides with the coalition of telecom providers and electric cooperatives, it would be the latest in a string of defeats for LTD Broadband across the country — and another reversal for a company that shocked the broadband industry by winning $1.32 billion in subsidies in 15 states from one of the country’s largest efforts to bring high-speed internet to rural areas.

20 Broadband companies poised to offer effectively free access

Yahoo Finance reports…

The Biden administration announced Monday that 20 leading internet service providers have agreed to offer basic low cost plans that will be free for millions of Americans after a refund.

The 20 companies, including AT&T (T), Comcast (CMCSA), and Verizon (VZ), cover more than 80% of the U.S. population. They will immediately provide at least one plan that costs no more than $30 a month and provides download speeds of at least 100 mbps.

The White House says that 40% of the U.S. population, about 48 million households, will be eligible to sign up through an existing program called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The program is aimed at lower income Americans and offers participants a discount of up to $30/month on their internet bill, meaning they’ll effectively get free service if they can get online with one of these participating companies.

AT&T CEO John Stankey said his company’s new plan “when combined with federal ACP benefits, provides up to 100 Mbps of free internet service.”

MN Omnibus that includes Broadband comparison Conference Committee – now each side deliberates

Today the following was held:

Conference Committee on HF4366

HF4366 (Sundin/Westrom) Omnibus agriculture, broadband and housing supplemental finance and policy bill.

Items included:
– Introductory comments.
– Walk through of side-by-sides and spreadsheet by nonpartisan House and Senate staff.
– Agency comments.

I have captured the moments related to broadband. Nothing surprising. And now the plan is for House and Senate to meet separately to decide what they can agree on easily and what will require more discussion. Then they will meet to try to come to an agreement.

Aurora Fiber Optic Networks Celebrates 20 years with expanded network partnership and new LLC

A press release from Aurora Fiber Optic Networks

After 20 years doing business under the brand, Aurora Fiber Optic
Networks, 702 Communications has formalized its partnership with Fiber Minnesota by creating Aurora
Fiber Optic Networks, LLC.
The partnership creates the largest and most robust statewide fiber network in Minnesota.
“For 20 years, 702 Communications has been the sales and marketing arm of the combined members of
Fiber Minnesota under the Aurora Fiber Optic Networks brand,” explains Brian Crommett, CEO of 702
Communications and now President of Aurora. “Formalizing the partnership and creating this amazing
statewide network really provides clarity to our Enterprise and Wholesale Carrier customers and opens
up huge opportunity for growth.”
Jason Dale, the CEO of Fiber Minnesota and Vice-President of Aurora agrees. “The Fiber Minnesota core
and partner networks stretch over 10,000 miles and interconnect our 30+ ISP members who have spent
decades building and upgrading their last-mile fiber networks. With 99% of the homes and businesses in
our markets enjoying fiber-optic access, we’ve brought opportunity to our local customers and created a
cohesive brand for carrier transport business in Minnesota. We cannot wait for the next 20 years to
unfold for Aurora.”
Aurora Fiber Optic Networks
Headquartered at 702 Main Avenue in downtown Moorhead, Aurora Fiber Optic Networks, LLC provides
a single point of contact for fiber optic connectivity to carrier, wholesale, ISPs and large enterprise
businesses. With member-owners based in five states in and around Minnesota complementing national
partner interconnections, Aurora can provide access to virtually anywhere in the nation. For more
information, visit www.aurorafonet.com

St. Louis County says yes to Rice Lake broadband project

Duluth News Tribune reports

The city of Rice Lake will bring broadband internet to its City Hall and connect more than 200 households and businesses, following a decision by the St. Louis County Board last week.

The board voted unanimously to support $400,000 to go with a city of Rice Lake match to make the $835,835 deal a reality.

Consolidated Telephone Co., headquartered in Brainerd, has committed $35,835 toward the project, and is contracted to install the fiber-optic network.

“We’re looking at 267 connections with this project,” Rice Lake City Councilor Suzanne Herstad told the board May 3 in Duluth. “Hopefully, this will still be a good building block to start doing a piece here and there, setting up loops wherever we can.”

Herstad noted the failure of a larger federal application, and still wanting to partner on continued efforts at improved rural broadband connectivity with Gnesen Township to the north, and Lakewood, Grand Lake and Normanna townships in surrounding directions.

They are using ARP funding…

“This is a much-scaled-down project,” Herstad said, explaining how Rice Lake City Hall, 4107 W. Beyer Road, had been using satellite internet, but is required to hold a static internet protocol address in order to conduct election business.

MN Senator Goggin gives a legislative update on broadband

Senator Goggin gives a legislative update including info on broadband in the Kenyon Leader

Our Agriculture, Broadband, and Housing bill expands broadband funding, addresses urgent concerns in our agriculture sector, and improves access to affordable housing. …

We are also investing heavily in improving Minnesota broadband connectivity. The legislation directs a historic level of up to $210 million of federal money to improve Minnesota broadband which is on top of the $70 million the legislature passed last session.

The pandemic has confirmed just how important it is to have access to high-speed internet in 2022. It’s no longer a luxury; it is a necessity. We’ve closed a lot of the gaps in our broadband coverage in recent years, but there is still more to do. This bill will get us even closer to our goal.

MTA and MREA ask PUC to revoke LTD Broadband’s ETC designation – could impact RDOF eligibility

Minnesota Telecom Alliance and Minnesota Rural Electric Association filed a petition with the Minnesota PUC to revoke LTD Broadband’s expanded eligible telecommunications carrier (“ETC”) designation and deny LTD’s funding certification for 2023. This would impact their eligibility for federal RDOF money. Regular readers will know that LTD qualified to apply for large amounts of federal funding deployment in Minnesota (and other states) and many are wary of their ability to successfully deploy a FTTH network.

Here is the start of the petition

The Minnesota Telecom Alliance (“MTA”)1 and Minnesota Rural Electric Association (“MREA”)2 hereby jointly submit this petition under Minn. Stat. § 216A.05, subd. 5 to initiate a proceeding to revoke the expanded eligible telecommunications carrier (“ETC”) designation of LTD Broadband LLC (“LTD”) and deny LTD’s funding certification for 2023.

On June 3, 2021, the Commission issued an Order that expanded LTD’s ETC designation to include approximately 102,000 additional locations in Minnesota (“LTD Expansion Order”).3 LTD sought that designation to qualify for $311 million in support under the federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (“RDOF”) to build and operate a fiber-to-the-premise (“FTTP”) broadband network in Minnesota. 4 That funding was part of LTD’s bid to obtain approximately $1.3 billion in RDOF funding for 528,088 locations in 15 states. 5 Since the LTD Expansion Order in June of last year, LTD has failed to obtain ETC designations for RDOF funding in seven of those 15 states. Most recently, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (“SD PUC”) denied LTD’s request for an expanded ETC designation related to RDOF support for 7,481 locations in South Dakota.6 The SD PUC’s decision was based on findings that LTD lacked the ability to build and operate the South Dakota broadband network contemplated in its RDOF bid.

RDOF Contender LTD Broadband Fined for Communicating with Cable MSO

Telecompetitor reports

The FCC has issued a proposed $100,000 fine against LTD Broadband, which was the largest winning bidder in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction. The commission said the company “apparently engaged in prohibited communications” with Cox Communications, which was another winning bidder in the auction.

The FCC’s concerns center on RJM, an investment agent that LTD hired to raise capital for investment in LTD. According to the commission, RJM and LTD never entered into a non-disclosure agreement that would have governed RJM’s activities as required by RDOF rules.

RJM sought investment from Cox and in doing so, shared information regarding LTD’s bids, bidding strategies and bidding outcomes with Cox during a quiet period before the auction started, the FCC said.

Grand Marais broadband project nominated for national award

From The Ranger newsletter

Grand Marais broadband project nominated for national award
Arrowhead Intelligent Region (AIR) is a broadband partnership that was launched last year between Blandin Foundation, Northland Foundation and Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. The trio made available a pool of grant funds for local organizations working to support a broadband-fueled economy in northeastern Minnesota.

Minnesota Children’s Press of Grand Marais was awarded a $35,000 grant from the funding pool to deliver broadband education services. Children’s Press launched Litter Lab, a program designed to teach elementary aged children how to use technology to help solve a community litter problem with the potential to pollute Lake Superior.

Approximately 65 children ages 5 to 13 collected litter last summer in the harbor area of downtown Grand Marias. The children sorted, categorized and inventoried the litter according to the GPS coordinates where it was found. Some of the categories included clothing, food packaging, plastic bottles and containers, general paper products, and hygiene products such as plastic dental picks. Their field data was then entered into ArcGIS, an advanced online GIS engineering platform made by Esri that uses interactive maps and data-driven analysis tools that rely on top-tier broadband service to manage  data. ArcGIS produced reports that considered the types of litter,  coordinates of the litter’s location and proximity of nearby trash and recycling receptacles. From the reports, the kids could develop hypotheses about why litter was more prevalent in certain areas of the harbor. They also theorized about alternate, less bulky and non-plastic packaging design and options for some of the more commonly found items such as drink cups and bottles.

“As the project progressed, the kids began to see themselves as problem-solvers,” said Anne Brataas, founder of Minnesota Children’s Press. “The report data spurred great group discussions about effective placement of community trash receptacles, size and shapes of receptacles to accommodate varying sizes of waste items, and potential solutions for reducing litter.”

Brataas believes the success of the Grand Marais project could prompt the concept spreading into other communities across northeastern Minnesota. Communities can use the data and reports to make decisions about community recycling and the placement, design and signage for public trash receptacles. It could also lead to a mass rethink of how people stay hydrated such as bottle-refilling stations to reduce the amount of single-use plastic water bottles.

Littler Lab will be recognized at the Esri Education Summit on July 10 in San Diego, California. Brataas was chosen to present preliminary findings of the Grand Marais project,  “Kids Thinking Spatially, Acting Sustainably” at the annual Esri conference during the session titled Building Environmental Literacy Through Experiential Learning.

“Litter Lab is an excellent example of how technology in northeastern Minnesota can be used to creatively solve community problems,” said Whitney Ridlon, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation community development representative. “It engaged the youngest of our rural population in the broadband economy by showing them how technology and internet connectivity can be used for the betterment of their very own community.”

Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation supported the AIR broadband initiative with $150,000 in Development Partnership grants. For more information email Whitney Ridlon at Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation or call her at 218-735-3004.

Mankato Clinic expands virtual care across 13 facilities (Blue Earth County)

PR Newswire reports

 Bluestream Health, a virtual care Platform-as-a-Service, has enabled access to virtual care for Mankato Clinic’s 13 healthcare facilities across four rural communities in southern Minnesota.

Bluestream Health’s virtual care platform provides access for patients to Mankato Clinic’s full spectrum of health specialties, services, and programs for primary care to care management to pediatrics. Bluestream Health is also providing interpreting services to patients through the virtual platform.

Le Sueur County Broadband Fair getting local attention to build greatest demand for better broadband

Le Sueur County News covered the Broadband Fair in Le Sueur County. I wrote about it as well and have told the story of Le Sueur over several posts. But it’s great to see it in the local newspaper – and I wanted to include the comment from the frontline that caught my attention…

“I can walk to town faster than I can get a connection,” said Peterson.

And some info on the event…

Seeking to fix their internet woes, the Petersons and dozens of households went to the Le Sueur County Broadband Fair on Thursday. The Le Sueur County Fairgrounds gathering featured a variety of broadband providers and information on how residents could bring fiber to their doors.

“We know there are people who could get better service but don’t know who from. This has just been a terrific discussion,” said Le Sueur County Broadband Initiative Coordinator Barbara Droher-Kline. “One woman was here who knew she was two miles away from fiber and negotiating a 50/50 split with a provider. She might be able to get it this summer. That doesn’t happen a whole lot.”

Seeking federal funding

Le Sueur County is asking Senators Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) and Tina Smith (DFL-MN) to appropriate federal dollars to build fiber out to every household in the county. If successful, the proposal would require $12 million to build off existing fiber optic networks to all residences, farms, and businesses along all of the rural roads in the county, along 96 miles of state roads, 310 miles of township roads, and 486 miles of county roads.

The proposal includes Cleveland Township, Cordova Township, Elysian Township, Kasota Township, Kilkenny Township, Lexington Township, Montgomery Township, Ottawa Township, Sharon Township, Tyrone Township, Washington Township and Waterville Township.

Litchfield gets fiber from Meeker Cooperative (Meeker County)

Litchfield Independent Review reports

Litchfield residents will soon have another broadband Internet access option. Meeker Cooperative is in the process of installing fiber optic cable throughout the city. Work began in the northeast quadrant late last month and is expected to continue through September.

Cooperative Director Tim Mergen and Luke Johnson appeared before the Litchfield City Council Monday evening to explain the project. Council members appeared most concerned about the disruption to city streets, alleys and front yards caused by laying the cable and installing access boxes.

I know regular readers who have been working tirelessly to get broadband to their area will envy the problem of the deployment process, but it’s good to see folks’ reactions…

City resident Connie Lies told the council that she and others object to not only the digging, which is temporary, but also to the inconvenience of having stakes and metal boxes in their yards. Mergen and Johnson reiterated that the cooperative would be repairing the excavation damage. Most of the main line work is being done within existing frontage easements, but the cooperative is using some rear yard and alley easements where available. “Our contractors are trying to clean up on a weekly basis, weather permitting,” Mergen told the council.

Meeker Cooperative, which supplies electricity to rural areas within and around Meeker County, has been laying fiber optic cable in rural areas within its service area, over the past few years. However, it has also made several other urban installations, including in Paynesville and Eden Valley, Mergen and Johnson said.

DEED Commissioner and Nuvera CEO talk about increased need for upload speeds in Hutchinson MN

The Hutchinson Leader reports

These days it seems that almost everyone is a content creator.

And that means it’s never been more important to have fast, reliable internet available to everyone, everywhere.

That was the message Glenn Zerbe, chief executive officer of Nuvera, shared with Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove during a roundtable discussion in mid-April.

“It’s not just Netflix creating and sending out content,” Zerbe said. “Content and creativity are coming from the home, and it’s changing everything.”

Grove agreed with the importance — and the urgency — of providing broadband internet access throughout the state. It’s been a priority at DEED and for Gov. Tim Walz’s administration for some time, including the governor’s proposal to invest $170 million — in addition to federal grant dollars — to fully connect the state.

The article also outlines what Nuvera is doing to provide better broadband…

Nuvera has been working to improve internet service in Hutchinson, connecting its fiber network to the southern half of the city’s downtown, two areas near State Highway 15 on the south side of Hutchinson, and an area around the 3M campus in 2021. In March, the company announced it is targeting several other areas, including the southwest side of the city west of Dale Street and south of the Crow River; the north half of Main Street; and the south end of Hutchinson, east of Highway 15 and north of Airport Road. Additional connections will continue in the future, with a goal of covering the entire city by 2024.

Nuvera also is working to extend its fiber network in Litchfield and Glencoe, with plans to invest at least 50% of its revenue into capital investments in 2023 in order to provide up to 1 gigabyte speeds.

Investments in internet access like those made by Nuvera are important to the state’s economy, Grove said, because of the amplified role connectivity plays during the pandemic and continues to play.

GOP Minnesota CD 1 Candidates on broadband funding and expansion

MinnPost asked all nine Republican candidates in MN’s 1st Congressional District to answer a series of questions about their views. Four responded:  Jennifer Carnahan, Bob “Again” Carney Jr., Brad Finstad and Jeremy Munson. Here’s what they had to say …

On Broadband, Carnahan said she supports block grants to states to fund public-private partnerships to build high-speed internet infrastructure. Finstad said investment in rural broadband should be focused on building reliable fiber networks and ensuring mapping of coverage to make sure new networks aren’t duplicative.

“Congress must ensure that all Americans have access to high-speed internet by removing regulations that make it difficult for major investments in rural areas while focusing on “last mile” infrastructure so all Americans have reliable Internet,” Finstad said.

Munson said the government shouldn’t spend billions in taxpayer dollars to support a program that the free market, in his view, already has a solution for. “We have great wireless broadband, like Starlink, which are available anywhere that meet the standards of high-speed internet,” Munson said, referring to the SpaceX service owned by Elon Musk that has drawn praise and criticism from broadband advocates in Minnesota. “The government’s interference will only cause increased internet prices and a chosen few companies to enable broadband in our rural communities.

“Government should not be picking winners and losers and charging taxpayers $12,000 per household to connect forty-year-old technology,” Munson said.