Koochiching County considers becoming a Blandin Broadband Community

According to the International Falls Journal

Background: Koochiching County officials will consider taking part in the Blandin Broadband Communities, or BBC, Program. The Blandin Foundation seeks four rural Minnesota communities to participate in the program. Selected through an application process, BBCs will define the technology goal, receive planning and technical assistance. They will also have access to resources to implement projects designed to make progress on their broadband and community technology enhancement goals.

Once selected, there is the opportunity to apply for up to $75,000 in grants over a two-year period, including feasibility studies or implementation of additions desired by the community.

An orientation with presenter Bill Coleman was held Thursday to discuss what the program is and strategic goals for a realistic application to the BBC.

The application deadline is May 31, with the grant application deadline in August, said Jim Yount, co-owner of Small Town Tech.

“We still have un-served and under-served areas within the county,” said Nevanen. “Although some strides have been made, it is an ongoing issue.”

National Coalition works to expand rural e-connectivity

Posting the press release…

WASHINGTON, D.C. April 18, 2018: A coalition of stakeholders committed to the expansion of broadband services in rural America today launched the first in a series of workshops to focus attention on the wide-ranging challenges to achieving connectivity, and the opportunities improved e-connectivity could bring to the people and economies of the nation’s rural regions.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai joined executives from the five partner organizations 

–Farm Foundation, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association (NTCA), National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), CoBank, and the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC)–in kicking off the listening sessions by highlighting the importance of e-connectivity to all sectors of rural America.

The next listening session will be in June 2018 in Minnesota, with additional sessions to be completed over the next six months.

“Broadband is vital to the rural economy in what is now a highly interconnected global marketplace,” said Tom Halverson, President and CEO of CoBank. “We need leaders on both sides of the aisle in Washington to work together to facilitate broadband investment and ensure that rural America remains competitive and strong.”

Achieving e-connectivity across rural America is not a simple task. “Actions needed to improve e-connectivity vary widely by community and region,” notes Farm Foundation President and CEO Constance Cullman. “These listening sessions will serve to highlight common issues, success stories to build strong broadband systems, and challenges that are yet to be met.”

Executives from regional telecommunications companies participated in the kickoff to provide perspectives on the broadband service issues. This panel included Levoy Knowles of the Tennessee Telecommunications Association, Mel Coleman of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, and Ken Johnson, Administrator of Rural Development’s Rural Utilities Service.

“We are excited for the prospects of enhanced cooperation and coordination between USDA, the FCC, and private operators like those in NTCA’s membership–all of whom recognize the value of and critical need for sustainable broadband in rural America. In that spirit, it is an honor to have both USDA Secretary Perdue and FCC Chairman Pai offer remarks at today’s kickoff event,” said NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield. “NTCA’s nearly 850 members connect many of America’s rural communities to the world with robust broadband, and we are pleased to participate in this collaborative effort to promote better access to rural broadband.”

Rural electric cooperatives are well aware of the needs of e-connectivity in their communities, and more than 100 electric cooperatives already are providing broadband service to their members. “The widening digital divide is a national crisis deserving of a national response,” said Jim Matheson, CEO of NRECA. “For decades, electric cooperatives have enhanced the quality of life throughout rural America. Now, many of those same electric co-ops are helping reinvigorate rural economies by bringing broadband to rural homes, businesses and farms. High costs to serve areas with low population density remain the biggest obstacle to expanded rural broadband access. An expanded combination of federal grant and loan funding through USDA is a critical step to connecting rural America.”

Stakeholders emphasized the need for collaborative efforts to enhance broadband services in rural America. “Leveraging additional investment in rural broadband infrastructure will require a team effort,” said Sheldon Petersen, CEO of CFC. “Local partnerships can be a wonderful way to leverage resources, expertise and efficiencies to ensure that rural communities can fully participate in today’s 21st century economy.”

Broadband video clips from House Omnibus Meeting (HF4289) from April 18

I wrote earlier today about the results of the Omnibus discussion from yesterday. (There are plans to discuss the bill tonight.) I have just pulled out the clips related to broadband.

Clips are grouped by topics – then included chronologically.

First is testimony from the Commissioner of DEED (MN Department of Employment and Economic Development) on the funding for proposed broadband grants. In response there’s Representative Baker and Representative Layman in their support for broadband funding.

Next is testimony from T-Mobile on the proposed $3000 cap for wireless applications fees to local government. (Wireless companies request permission to collocate equipment from local government; usually local governments need to hire third parties to help assess the applications. The proposed bill would cap that fee.) The next testimony comes from the League of MN Cities; they oppose the $3000 cap.

Arrowhead Regional Development Commission learn about local broadband options

Today Bill Coleman talked about broadband with local officials serving on the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC). They have board members that represent local units of government, including townships, cities, counties, tribal governments and school districts as well as citizen at large members.

The Arrowhead Region covers the most territory of any Minnesota region.The region has seen extensive fiber to the home network deployment, primarily by Paul Bunyan Communications, Arrowhead Electric, Lake County and, most recently, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.  Additional groups are working, through collaboration and innovation, to improve broadband services.

Bill noted that with relatively low population densities spread across heavily forested and mineral rich counties, these are some of the most challenging areas in the state in which to provide broadband services.  Projects in the area have benefited from strong community leadership and both federal and state broadband funds.

Missouri looking to replicate Minnesota broadband grant program

It speaks well to the Office of Broadband Development, the Broadband Task Force and the Legislators who continue to fund the efforts that another state is looking to replicate the MN Border to Border Broadband grant program. Ozarks First reports

A bill to expand rural high-speed internet access is making a run through the Missouri Senate after having cleared the House.

The proposal from Republican Representative Delus Johnson of St. Joseph would establish a grant program within the Department of Economic Development to expand broadband to unserved and under-served parts of Missouri.

The grants would provide 50% funding to build infrastructure that would offer internet download speeds of at least 10 megabits per second and an upload pace of no less that one megabit per second.  The grants could work with matching federal funding of 50%.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is…

Johnson has said his proposal is nearly identical to a program currently operating in Minnesota to expand broadband access.  BJ Tanksley, a representative from the Missouri Farm Bureau, says the state will have put a priority on faster speeds if it wants to keep up with download/upload goals set by Minnesota.

“We’ve been talking about 10/1 and 25/3 (in Missouri),” said Tanksley.  “Their state broadband goal (in Minnesota) is for everyone to have access to 100/100 by 2025, which isn’t that far out if you really think about it.  So, when we talk about speeds, we’re talking on a pretty low end compared to what other states are setting as goals.”

The speed goal is actually 100/20 by 2026 – but it’s nice to see Minnesota held out as a model of what works.

 

Fifth grader campaigns Becker County Commissioners for better broadband

I’ve heard it repeated often – If you’re going to keep kids in your town, you’re going to want broadband. I just didn’t realize we were talking about fifth graders! Here’s a letter shared with permission, but with the name blocked out, from a fifth grade in Becker County to the County Commissioners…

Dear County Commissioners,

Hello. My name is C.M. I an in the 5th grade and 11 years old. I live on Pearl Lake Drive. Today I am writing about the lack of internet. I use the internet for my school work and I will use it a lot more as I get older. I like to play video games too. Our internet is limited and expensive. I hope you take this into consideration. We need better internet for our neighborhood.

Thank you for your time,

C.M

Latest on MN House Omnibus bill – includes $15 million for broadband

The Session Daily reports on the status of the Omnibus bill…

HF4289as amended, sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), would appropriate $14.6 million from the General Fund and $27.7 million from the Renewable Development Account to fund more than 30 projects and grants, but it also includes some policy provisions that have raised concerns from the DFL and Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration.

The House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Committee heard an overview and some public testimony of the 95-page omnibus bill Wednesday. The committee plans to hear more testimony Thursday and will discuss potential amendments to the bill – and vote on it – Friday.

They highlight funding for broadband…

The committee was given a spreadsheet that shows all the funding appropriations in the bill, with money going to the Department of Employment and Economic Development, the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Labor and Industry and the Public Facilities Authority.

DEED would receive the most money, with $15 million from the General Fund in Fiscal Year 2019 going to the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program.

“I don’t know if people realize … that this is not a budget year and yet, with a little bit of surplus money that we had, this committee was given $15 million of new money and the entirety of that money is allocated to Border-to-Border Broadband,” said Rep. Sandy Layman (R-Cohasset), who sponsors the initial broadband funding bill.

The appropriation for broadband is only half the amount Dayton asked for in his supplemental budget, with DEED Commissioner Shawntera Hardy saying she’s “concerned” the appropriation won’t be enough to keep pace with the need for broadband expansion.

“I encourage you, if funding is found, to increase the investments to meet the governor’s level to ensure Minnesota families have access and Minnesota businesses are able to compete,” Hardy said.

Commissioners from other departments impacted in the bill also testified about their concerns, with most focusing on items that didn’t match the governor’s budget recommendations. Commerce Commissioner Jessica Looman also noted the bill includes funding for grants they haven’t had the chance to analyze to see if they’d be able to provide appropriate oversight.

More info on the meeting today from the Committee…

Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Date/Time/Location:

Thursday, April 19, 2018

5:00 PM to 11:00 PM

Basement State Office Building
Committee Chair:

Rep. Pat Garofalo
Agenda:

HF4289 (Pat Garofalo)
Renewable energy project funding provided, and money appropriated.

Public testimony of Jobs and Energy omnibus bill

The amendment deadline for language properly drafted to the DE is 2 PM on Thursday