Posted by: Ann Treacy | September 15, 2016

2016 Minnesota Broadband Conference Recap

Posted by: Ann Treacy | September 15, 2016

Local Providers – Wired to Empower Rural Communities

A keynote address by Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications

Posted by: Ann Treacy | September 15, 2016

The Role of Co-ops in Advancing the Broadband Vision

A panel moderated by Bernadine Joselyn of Blandin Foundation. When rural Minnesotans first needed electricity and then telephones, cooperatives formed to meet the challenge. Today, we are seeing an expansion in the role that cooperatives are playing in meeting rural broadband needs. Leaders from four rural cooperatives will share how they are dealing with the demand for better broadband from their current members and neighboring communities. Learn how these cooperatives make their decisions about partnerships and new markets:

  • Stacy Cluff, Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative
  • Robin Doege, Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative
  • Kent Hedstrom, Runestone Telecom Association
  • Kristi Westbrock, CTC-Consolidated Telecommunications Company

Todd-Wadena Elelctric Coop – only have 3.5 members per square mile. So population density is an issue. Deploying a smartgrid was a driver as well. We’ve been tlakign about broadband for 5-6 years and nothing has change. Last year we started to really look into broadband. We’ve been working with WCTA and Blandin. We did a feasibility study. We learned that a fiber build-out would be $48 billion. The costs are so high and ROI to hard that a 50 percent match doesn’t help much. We need 75 percent. So we are supporting others that are building out local broadband – we are working WCTA.

Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative – Half of our members are seasonal. We have been providing internet access since 1997. We realized that the incumbents were not going to come into our area. We’ve applied for grants and been unsuccessful. We are talking with CTC to form a partnership for FTTH. Aitkin County is least served. We’ve seen more people move to our satellite rather than keep incumbent DSL

CTC – post broadband surveys to gauge impact of grants. Served 468 customers – many seniors, few children, very rural. Sent surveys out 9 months after they got broadband. Reliability and tech services is more important than price. Home have multiple devices. Only 2 percent did not use the Internet – despite the average age. 36% found that having broadband helped their businesses.

Runestone – biggest community is 1300 people.

How do you decide about partners and new market?

  • We have three people approach us about going into their area. We told them what we needed. They got it – it being letter of support for a grant application. That drive helps.
  • We look for community drivers and champions. The community seems to think that someone is making big money with the rural networks and that’s not the case. If it were the big providers would offer service.
  • The payback models are over 9 years, which means we have to go slower. City and counties need to be able to help pay or the State needs to look at 70-80 percent match.
  • We can’t take unnecessary risks.
  • We look for experts.
  • Projects need to be realistic and
  • We look at areas that really need our help – those who won’t be served by an incumbent in 2 years

Advice to share:

  • The 50/50 grant model doesn’t work
  • If we really want border to border we need to rethink 50/50 model
  • The challenge from the incumbents need to be revisited.
  • Wireless might be helpful in low population density areas.
  • Our legislators don’t know what the technology should be. They don’t understand the technology.

At Assn of MN Counties – we talk about projects that are in process. We sometimes need funding too. We’re looking at a pocket of money for partial projects.

Federally they had ongoing funding – recognizing that there was a need for continued support. But that is no longer the case. We need to let the Feds know it’s a problem. If Minnesota wants to stay progressive they want to look at continued funding too.

Metro legislators don’t know why they might support rural projects.

Advice for really unserved communities

  • Have skin in the game – maybe even getting funding from some of the subscribers.
  • Community champions
  • There isn’t a cookie cutter solution

mrnetMRNet was formed in 1987 as an association of members interested in getting the Internet, which, at that time, was a 56K connection to the NSFNet at the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana. In 1991 (25 years ago!) MRNet incorporated as a non-profit. And we are pleased to celebrate MRNet and its role in bringing the Internet to Minnesota with an award.

Here’s the inscription:

Advancing the Vision Award – MRNet

In recognition of the Minnesotans who, 25 years ago, had a vision of creating a network of networks to enhance research and education and to increase the productivity and competitiveness of businesses throughout our state.
September 14, 2016
Border to Border Broadband Conference
Duluth, MN


Dave Bergum accepted the award on behalf of the team. Dennis Fazio – the first employee of MRNet was unable to make the event – but also sent his comments:

Posted by: Ann Treacy | September 14, 2016

Navigating Challenging Broadband Decisions

A  panel moderated by Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors. As more modern broadband networks are deployed across Minnesota, elected officials in counties without high-quality, ubiquitous broadband are feeling the pressure from residents and businesses to make it happen. At the same time, the availability of DEED grants and CAF2 funding and changes in technology are making the landscape all the more uncertain.
Bill will be talking with local broadband champions to illuminate their decision making process around key questions in a dynamic broadband deployment landscape. Panelists:

  • Valerie Halvorson, City of Madison
  • Scott Higgins, Martin County
  • Nancy Hoffman, Chisago County HRA-EDA
  • Tom Johnson, Nobles County

Notes (I am posting with limited proofing as I take notes on the next session:

Martin County – They have done a feasibility study and are looking for options for a border to border grant.

Madison – The only unserved city in LqP County. LqP got ARRA funding for all areas except Madison. They were “served” at the time. But that has left them behind.

Chisago County – Just north of Twin Cities – we don’t have good service. We did a survey to all county residents (900 responses) about their broadband and we mapped the results. We learned about the providers and how satisfied they were. “If you had better broadband what would you do?”  About 70-80 percent of the people currently travel to the TCs for work. People really want to telecommute. We don’t have a college – many people (45%) would do. 31% would start a business. “Gaming may not a higher use of broadband – but it matters when people want to buy a home.”

Nobles County – We formed a meeting with government folks (schools, local government). We met first in March 2014. Broadband became a hot topic among all users. Lismore is applying for funds for Border to Border grant. We are supporting their effort – although they haven’ asked us for financial support.

What is good enough for broadband?

For Madison – only FTTP. Everyone around us has FTTP to compete we need it. I don’t want to spend public dollars on anything less. The speed goals and definitions keep changing; we want to build for the future. Broadband should not be a barrier. We


For Nobles County – know what’s not good enough. Back in the day – any connection would be have been good. But now we knew we need to go for a Gig.


For Martin – what are your people willing to pay for? We began with the goals that are established and are building from there.


For Chisago – We’re building for the future. We need a gig. Every year people increase broadband use by 30%.

How does CAF 2 play in your planning?

For Martin – Frontier came to our meetings. Early on the offered to be a partner with CAF 2 funding. The challenge is that they don’t go to all areas. We are trying to add dollars to get them to go faster than the CAF 2 requirement of 10/1

For Chisago – we were talking about a feasible study when we found that Frontier is upgrading in our areas. We want FTTP but any upgrade is worth it. We don’t want to invest in it but we’ll take what we can get. Will 253 going to be good enough. We don’t feel like it will be. We don’t know what CenturyLink’s plans are in our county. One town is talking about a shared grant for OBD funds.

For Nobles – the county is eligible for some CAF 2 funding but we don’t know what the providers are going to do. The coop is willing to talk to us. CAF 2 required speeds are a bridge.

How do you select a partner?

Chisago – we keep in communication and we are trying to form relationships with the incumbent providers and cooperatives in other parts of the state. Although it’s difficult to start a conversation before you have a project.

Nobles  – the partners selected us. We met with several providers. One committee member talked to a lot of the townships. Hard for bigger providers to come up with an ROI but the cooperative could.

Martin – We’ve had a lot of providers so me to the meeting. Frontier is a major player.

Madison – I sent letters and contacted local providers. I was honest with them about our needs and they let me know that they don’t have the engineer staff now to look at it.

Wired vs Wireless?

Nobles – we want both. We’ve had good experience with MVTV helping us get people online. And some people will be OK with slower speeds – at least for now.

Martin – wireless continues to improve but not fiber.

What is role with local financing?

Madison – local financing allows us to be partners. We are looking at tax abatement – and a grant to the provider. Having financing gets you a seat at the table.

We are looking at subordinate service district model where only the people getting the upgrade would pay the taxes in Sunrise Township

We did some ancillary funding. But there’s a role to provide some investment  – from feasibility studies and more. There’s a growing interest

How do you get started?

The visioning meeting was key to the activities we’ve done. The survey was very helpful.

Closing Advice:

  • Outreach
  • Educating local officials
  • Find the people who are passionate
  • Have conversation with communities who aren’t unserved. Are there underserved communities that will be leapfrogged
  • Need champions
  • Need to keep it on the forefront
  • Build relationships
  • Look at the risks of not doing it.

The sessions includes Learning Stations featuring projects funded through the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program. Station presenters:

  • Border to Border Phase I (St. Louis County), Northeast Service Cooperative (invited)
  • Central Itasca County Fiber, Paul Bunyan Communications
  • FTTH Project (Renville and Sibley Counties), RS Fiber
  • FTTP Project, Rock County Broadband Alliance
  • Middle Mile (in 20 southwestern MN counties), MVTV Wireless
  • Winona County Whitewater Area, Hiawatha Broadband Communications

(videos will be added as they are uploaded)

Posted by: Ann Treacy | September 14, 2016

Welcome to the 2016 Broadband Conference

We were pleased to be welcomed to the event, first by Mayor Emily Larson, City of Duluth

Senator Klobuchar offers her well wishes:


And Bernadine Joselyn welcomes us too


And a look at the presentation that is looping between sessions:

Over the summer I was able to talk with a number of young people about broadband. At the start of the Blandin Conference, we took the time to watch a few videos from students (middle school though college) expressing their thoughts on broadband. What do they do online now? What are their thoughts for the future? Would they live in a community with limited broadband? I am including all of the videos here.

NOTE – I would love to collect more videos. If you have a video on how folks (all ages!) are now or plan to use broadband, please send it to me. (

The Blandin Broadband Communities met before the Broadband Conference today. It was a great time to capture stories from the attendees about what’s going on in their communities.


The communities also worked on building storytelling skills and active listening. Here are a couple of tools they used to work on that: Business Storytelling – Using Stories to Inspire and Active Listening – Hear What People are Really Saying

Through the Open Space forum we discussed a wide range of topics:

The Winona Daily News recently ran a little to the editor from Gar Evans supporting Senator Schmit’s standing as a rural-supporting senator based on his work with broadband…

In fact, Sen. Schmit’s bipartisan broadband efforts were one of the highlights of this past legislative session, during which critical funding was secured for continued expansion of rural broadband access for thousands of the approximately 20 percent of Greater Minnesota homes and businesses that currently lack it. This successful effort likely was the greatest accomplishment of the 2016 legislative session — and Sen. Schmit led the charge!

For these efforts, Sen. Schmit has been recognized as a “Legislator of Distinction” by the League of Minnesota Cities for three straight years; he’s one of two state senators to earn such consistent recognition.

It’s a good reminder to ask candidates about their views on broadband if broadband is important to you!

Wanted to share info on an upcoming SHLB webinar series to help community anchor institutions gear up for better broadband…

We’re very excited to announce the beginning of our Grow2Gig+ webinar series! Over the next five months, we’ll be exploring different ways to help schools, libraries, health clinics, and other anchor institutions Grow2Gig+ speeds, starting with The First Steps in Creating a Broadband Plan. Follow the hashtags #Grow2Gig and #BroadbandPlan for tips and information. Also, feel free to tweet your own stories and questions.

This month, we’ll be covering the necessary steps cities and states need to create a broadband plan with the paper “Broadband Needs Assessment and Planning for Community Anchor Institutions.” Then we’ll discuss the more technical aspects anchor institutions need to know about WiFi and Wireless connections to prepare a broadband plan with the paper “WiFi and Wireless Networking for Community Anchor Institutions.”

This month we are kicking off the Grow2Gig+ Webinar Series! The first webinar will be held:

September 22, 2016
11 am – 12 pm EST

It will be moderated by John Windhausen (SHLB Coalition) and feature Kelleigh Cole (Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development) and Jeff Campbell (Cisco). Space is limited so register now!

Have a question you’d like answered during the webinar? Email or tweet it to us @SHLBCoalition.

I wanted to share this info I received from the Alliance for Excellent Education. Looks like a great day for educators, which I always think means parents too. I will actually be doing the last minute runaround for the MN Fall Broadband Conference that starts the same day but I will try to at least follow on Twitter…

Join us on Tuesday, September 13, 2016, for ConnectED Day to celebrate the three-year anniversary of President Obama’s ConnectED initiative.

ConnectED Day recognizes the progress made to connect students to high-speed broadband and help educators and leaders build their capacity to transform learning with technology.

On ConnectED Day, several education organizations will host webinar discussions, Twitter chats, or blog on topics aligned with the ConnectED and the Future Ready Schools® (FRS) initiatives.

FRS is proud to support the effective use of technology in America’s classrooms. Several FRS tools, including a comprehensive interactive Planning Dashboard, a new one-stop Hub for district leaders’ ongoing professional learning activities, and in-person summits and workshops, are available at no cost and can be found at

Explore the growing list of ConnectED Day events, share with your colleagues, and join us online for ConnectED Day on September 13.

Please help spread the word on social media by sharing the following with your networks.


According to the West Central Tribune

Kandiyohi County will likely issue bonds to cover its matching share of a state grant being sought to improve broadband services in unserved and underserved rural areas of the county.

In partnership with Consolidated Telephone Co. of Brainerd, the county is eyeing a $10 million broadband expansion that will serve residents in the northern part of the county. If the application to Minnesota’s border-to-border broadband technology grant program is successful, construction will start next year.

Here are more details…

At a meeting Tuesday of the Kandiyohi County Board, the County Commissioners heard a presentation from Shelly Eldridge of Ehlers and Associates on the most feasible option—a general obligation abatement bond.

Eldridge said it would involve pledging a portion of property taxes and loaning the proceeds to Consolidated Telephone. Unlike general obligation bonds issued for infrastructure such as road improvements, repayment ultimately will come from the users who subscribe to the newly expanded broadband service.

If the project is funded and goes forward, it will bring broadband to approximately 1,600 new users in the neighborhoods surrounding Norway and Games Lake, Lake Florida and Lake Monongalia west of New London, as well as a rural tract east of New London.

Feels like I spent as much time in Kandiyohi last summer as I did St Paul – attending various broadband discussions and meetings. They have been investigating options, building local support and expanding broadband leadership through education. It’s a good road path for a community interested in better broadband.

MSBA Capitol Connections recently ran an article from Marc Johnson of ECMECC – he has done guest posts here too. Marc knows broadband, education and rural – maybe better than he wants to know it!

He took a look at what schools pay for broadband…


  • The cost per Megabit (Mb) of Internet access for Anoka-Hennepin schools is $0.73. The district purchases 10Gb or 10,000Mb to serve their staff and nearly 38,000 students. The cost is $7,252 per month. That equates to $2.31 per student per year — or about 0.04 percent of the basic general education formula aid provided by the state.

  • In Braham, less than 50 miles north of the Anoka-Hennepin School District, the cost per Mb is $11, which is still $2 below the state average. The Braham Area School District purchases 100Mb to serve their 839 students which equates to $16.16 per student per year — or about 0.2 percent of the formula aid.

  • In west-central Minnesota, the Herman-Norcross School District spends $58 per Mb of Internet access. They purchase 45Mb for their staff and 92 students at an average cost of $2,610 per month. The cost per student per year is $340.43 — or about 5.5 percent of their formula aid.

The difference is shocking! You can read his article for a more eloquent elaboration on how and why it’s shocking, I’ll cut right to the chase and share his recommendations to help schools get better broadband at a rate they can afford…

So, what can we do about this? I suggested the following possibilities to the Task Force.

  • Fully fund the state Telecommunications Equity Aid program. It would cost $7 million per year (an increase from $3.75 million per year to $10.75 million per year) to fully fund Internet access in Minnesota schools for the next five years or more. This program is intended to help equalize telecommunications costs for schools, but now covers only about 40 percent of the cost (after E-rate) leaving a large gap for the schools where costs are highest.

  • Continue to support the E-rate program which provided more than $47 million in funding to Minnesota schools in 2015.

  • Support increased competition among providers (or incentives). We know competition drives down prices.

  • Support economies of scale. While most Minnesota school districts buy Internet access as part of a cooperative, there are opportunities for the cooperatives to work together along with the state to find additional savings.

  • Support the Border to Border grant program and other rural broadband initiatives. While schools themselves can get the access they need, many of our students still cannot.


Today the Task Force met to hear about broadband policies – the VoIP bill and how that’s playing out for Charter and CenturyLink’s take on the Competitive Market Regulation. They also heard from a national expert on how policy is playing out in other states. There’s a big push from all directions to level the regulatory playing field for providers. I think the precaution is ensuring that all consumer perspectives are considered as well.

They also heard from Minnesota Libraries and specifically digital inclusion efforts at St Paul’s Libraries. They learned about the NorthStar Digital Inclusion Standards – which are a set of standards around which one could create curriculum. It’s an approach that helps learners, teachers and other understand what is being taught yet gives room for modifications based on learners, teachers and the ever-changing nature of technology. Read More…

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