Paul Bunyan Communications shares info on the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program

Good info for folks in and out of Paul Bunyan coverage area…

Today, Paul Bunyan Communications announced it is working to help build awareness about the Affordable Connectivity Program, a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program.  The new long-term benefit will help to lower the cost of broadband service for eligible households struggling to afford internet service.

The $14 billion Affordable Connectivity Program provides a discount of up to a $30 per month toward broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for qualifying households on qualifying Tribal lands.  The benefit also provides up to a $100 per household discount toward a one-time purchase of a computer, laptop, or tablet if the household contributes more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase through a participating broadband provider.

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

  • Has an income that is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines;
  • Participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, SSI, WIC, or Lifeline;
  • Participates in one of several Tribal specific programs, such as Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal Head Start (only households meeting the relevant income qualifying standard) Tribal TANF, or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations;
  • Is 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;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating broadband provider’s existing low-income program.

Affordable Connectivity Program enrollment opened on December 31, 2021. Eligible households can enroll through a participating broadband provider or by (1) going to ACPBenefit.org to submit an online application or print a mail-in application and (2) contacting their preferred participating broadband provider and selecting a plan.  Additional information about the Emergency Broadband Benefit is available at www.fcc.gov/ACP, or by calling 877-384-2575 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET any day of the week.

CNS Map of RDOF Auction Details

CNS continues to update their interactive map of RDOF Auction Details…

Here’s the latest updates:
We update this map whenever the FCC releases RDOF-related data. The latest update was 12/29/2021 with data released from the FCC on 12/14/21 and 12/16/21. Updates include:

“Bids in Default” DA-21-1582A3 12/16/2021

“Ready to Authorize” batches 1-5 12/16/2021

“Authorized” batches 1-4 12/14/2021

Senator Smith remembers 2021 and investment in broadband through Infrastructure Bill

Duluth New Tribune posts letter from Senator Tina Smith…

As we look ahead to 2022, the historic investments we made this year will power our recovery. The once-in-a-generation, bipartisan infrastructure law we passed this fall will put millions of people in good-paying jobs in Minnesota and across the country by rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, ports, and electric grids, as well as by expanding broadband networks. And the American Rescue Plan that I helped pass into law in the spring gave us the tools to battle the pandemic, restore lost jobs, and reopen our schools and small businesses.

In November, I joined President Joe Biden at the White House when he signed the historic, bipartisan infrastructure bill into law. I also joined him this past month when he came to Minnesota to discuss the transformative impact the new law will have on the lives of Minnesotans, by creating a generation of good-paying jobs and economic growth.

I pushed hard to enact this law because it will make badly needed improvements to our state’s roads, bridges, ports, and electric grids. It provides the support to bring high-speed, affordable broadband networks to Minnesota families and businesses — especially those in rural areas. The new law also includes strong buy-American provisions so things like steel will be mined, melded, and manufactured in the United States.

Kandiyohi County spends $56,000 in ARPA on broadband project

The West Central Tribune reports…

Twenty-three homes along 30th Avenue Northwest in Dovre Township of Kandiyohi County might soon have access to high-speed broadband. A proposed Charter project would bring speeds up to 100 megabits download and 20 megabits upload to the area, which is currently considered unserved by the state.

“It is kind of isolated,” said Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl at the Dec. 21 Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners meeting. “We are trying to get them some broadband coverage.”

Continuing its commitment to broadband expansion, the county commissioners approved granting the project $56,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds, the latest in several projects to which the board has given money.

The total project is expected to cost $136,000, with Charter contributing $80,500, or 59%, of the cost. Construction is scheduled to begin in April.

Kleindl said Dovre Township will also be asked to participate, which might reduce the county’s share of the bill. However, the county will cover the remaining costs if Dovre Township decides not to take part, as the county doesn’t want Charter to pull out of the project.

Daily Yonder looks how how states are poised to handle influx of broadband funding – MN has veteran standing

The Daily Yonder reports

The recently signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes significant funding to expand broadband access, to help households pay for their monthly broadband connections and to help people learn how to productively use those connections. This legislation represents Congress’ first formal recognition of the essential nature of high-speed internet.

Historically, broadband funding has been distributed from federal entities like the Federal Communications Commission or U.S. Department of Agriculture directly to internet providers. The Government Accountability Office, which monitors and audits government operations, has been critical of these efforts.

This time, however, states are at the center of the funding that is coming down the pipeline. The US$42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, known as BEAD, requires each state to generate a five-year action plan laying out how it will use the funds, including a process for prioritizing locations that are classified as “unserved” or “underserved.”

Similarly, the $2.7 billion Digital Equity Act requires each state to establish an organization responsible for developing a digital equity plan, which will help to disburse subgrants. Digital equity means ensuring that every community has adequate access to the technologies and skills needed to fully participate in society.

They take a look at how each state is poised to handle the funding. When it comes to years in the field, Minnesota is looking pretty good…

Broadband funding makes MinnPost top rural issues list

MinnPost reports

Looking back, here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of some of the most memorable developments in Greater Minnesota in 2021.

Broadband makes the list…

3. Cash came rolling in for child care and broadband

Between state COVID-19 relief money, the $1.9 trillion federal American Rescue Plan stimulus package and a $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure package signed by President Joe Biden, a lot of government money has flowed this year to help with issues caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including for things like hospital capacity and rent assistance.
While many things critical to Greater Minnesota have received money over the last year, broadband infrastructure and child care are among two of the more important. Minnesota stands to get at least $170 million for subsidizing construction of broadband infrastructure from Minnesota’s share of the ARP and the federal infrastructure bill. That would be more money than the state spent since 2014 in its own broadband grant program. The state could potentially be in line for $280 million or more for high-speed internet.

Border-To-Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant Update

An update from the Office of Broadband Development…

The FY22 and FY23 broadband grant program is scheduled to be funded with federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, Sec. 604 Capital Projects Fund (CPF). The 2021 Legislature directed that $70 million of Minnesota’s allocation from that fund should be used for the broadband grant program. There is a three-step process for the state to receive the federal funding (which is being administered by the U.S. Department of Treasury): submit an application; upon Treasury’s approval of the application, execute a grant agreement; submit a state Grant Plan and one or more Program Plans for Treasury to review and approve.

The Office of Broadband Development (OBD) at the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development is working through Treasury’s process for accessing the funding. Because this is a new process and aspects are outside of OBD’s control, OBD cannot commit to a specific date when the Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant Application window will open. However, we are mindful that state law requires OBD to post the scoring criteria for this program at least 30 days before opening the application window. Therefore, OBD has posted the scoring criteria on the website and will move as expeditiously as possible to post the grant application and open the application window upon all of the necessary approvals from Treasury. OBD does anticipate that the Border-to-Border Broadband grant program will be conducted very much like prior broadband grant rounds, so you may want to review the materials available on the website related to those rounds if you are interested in applying for FY22 funding. Here is a direct link to the website: Broadband Grant Program / Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (mn.gov)

Minnesota’s total Capital Projects Fund allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act is $180,702,620. At this time, $70 million has been allocated by the state legislature for the broadband infrastructure grant program. OBD anticipates that decisions regarding the remaining CPF funding will be made during the 2022 legislative session.

Separately, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law on November 15, 2021, also contains funding for broadband infrastructure. That federal funding is being administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce. NTIA is required to issue a Notice of Funding Opportunity by May 15, 2022. Information on how and when that funding will be available to the states will be contained in the Notice.

OPPORTUNITY: Regional Partnerships now inviting proposals for community projects

From U of M Extension…

Greater Minnesota residents with an idea to strengthen their community can now apply for partnership support from the University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP). RSDP supports local innovation by connecting community ideas to University of Minnesota resources. Community members work on diverse project teams that research, design and plan local sustainability projects with University students, faculty and staff. RSDP seeks ideas from diverse populations and those who have not previously partnered with the University. Project ideas are invited now through February 14. Award decisions will be made by RSDP’s five regional boards this spring.
The Central RSDP serves Becker, Benton, Cass, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Otter Tail, Stearns, Todd and Wadena counties and the White Earth Nation, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe sovereign Native nations. Learn more and share your idea at z.umn.edu/RSDPIdeaBrief.

Starlink speeds flattening as new customers are added

Tom’s Guide reports

Starlink, Elon Musk’s satellite internet company, seems to be hitting a speed plateau, according to data collected by one of the biggest speed test websites on the internet.

Ookla, known for running SpeedTest.net, says that Starlink speeds didn’t increase during the third quarter of this year. In some areas, speeds began to wane.

According to Ookla, median speeds between Q2 to Q3 2021 saw a decrease from 97.23 to 87.25 Mbps. Ookla speculates that this could be a symptom of Starlink adding new customers to its satellite network, which may eat away at available bandwidth.

Chemical Health Assessments available online in Crookston, East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls and Roseau

Crookston Times shares info on how folks with broadband can get chemical health support online…

In an effort to increase accessibility to treatment options, RiverView Recovery Center offer chemical health assessments, also known as Minnesota Rule 25, on a telehealth basis over the Zoom application.

A chemical health assessment is the first step in receiving treatment and is often a requirement for those in the court system. The assessment helps determine whether the individual needs treatment and if so, what type of treatment will be most beneficial.

Telehealth assessments are provided at various times and on various days, originating from all four of the RiverView Recovery locations (Crookston, East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls, and Roseau). The assessment takes approximately two hours and is done by licensed staff.

RiverView Recovery Center accepts most insurances, credit/debit cards, check, or cash. Discounts may apply. For more information on a chemical health assessment or other services offered over telehealth at RiverView Recovery Center, call 281-9511.

KMTelecom earns award for broadband connectivity (Dodge County)

Post Bulletin reports

KM Telecom, the broadband provider serving the Kasson-Mantorville area, has earned the Smart Rural Communities designation from the Rural Broadband Association.

With a greater need for rural broadband access – from distance learning for schools, telemedicine, and online working accommodations – the need for broadband access in rural areas is growing.

To earn the designation, KM Telecom demonstrated high-capacity broadband capabilities as well as community subscription to its services. More importantly, the program requires local communications providers to work actively with other local leaders to develop broadband-based solutions to improve local conditions.

“The community of Kasson salutes KM Telecom for its hard work to meet these standards, which enable our residents to fully participate in today’s connected society,” said Kasson Mayor Chris McKern. “Because of access to high-speed internet, Kasson provides its residents with educational and economic opportunities on par with those in the most connected regions of America.”

Survey of Rural Broadband providers show half of collective customer base can get Gig service

The Rural Broadband Association (NTCA) surveys their members (850 rural rate-of-return regulated telecommunications providers in 44 states) annually. You can learn a lot from the results. I was focused on recognizing how many independent rural telcos have grown into full service FTTH providers. Especially as the MN Broadband Task Force looks at how to get better broadband to the far corners of the state, this survey is a reminder that is can be done. That lots of providers are doing this – we just need to support the ones that are making the connections for the future!

For example, it’s great to see the download and upload speed averages. More than half of the customers can get gig access down or up; while less than 4 percent are stuck with 10 Mbps down and less than 9 percent stuck with 3 Mbps up. A critical mass is being reached, which means we can start to set expectations higher.

With respect to downstream service availability, on average, respondents reported that the following percentages of their customer base can receive maximum speeds of:

  • Greater than/equal to 1 Gig: 55.4%
  • Greater than/equal to 100 Mbps but less than 1 Gig: 20.2%
  • Greater than/equal to 25 Mbps but less than 100 Mbps: 10.6%
  • Greater than/equal to 10 Mbps but less than 25 Mbps: 10.1%
  • Less than 10 Mbps: 3.7%

With respect to upstream service availability, respondents indicated the following percentages of their customer base can receive, on average, maximum speeds of:

  • Greater than/equal to 1 Gig: 52.3%
  • Greater than/equal to 100 Mbps but less than 1 Gig: 21.3%
  • Greater than/equal to 20 Mbps but less than 100 Mbps: 6.4%
  • Greater than/equal to 10 Mbps but less than 20 Mbps: 5.2%
  • Greater than/equal to 3 Mbps but less than 10 Mbps: 6.2%
  • Less than 3 Mbps: 8.5%

So the next question is – how can we help the providers that want to extend fiber? As the graphic below indicates, cost is still the major barrier and the public sector is poised to help dole out unprecedented funds in the upcoming years.

The next step is looking at adoption to ensure that demand will meet growing supplies…

Change in broadband provider ownership (Federated Rural) in Jackson, Cottonwood, Nobles, Martin, Murray and Brown Counties

The Worthington Globe reports

Federated Rural Electric’s Board of Directors approved the acquisition of Back 40 Wireless on Nov. 30.

Back 40 Wireless is a wireless internet company currently owned by Troy Rasmussen doing business from downtown Jackson. The transfer of ownership to Federated will take place on Dec. 31, with a formal closing on Jan. 7.

The business name will change to Federated Broadband at that time, and Back 40’s existing downtown location at 205 Second St. will close Dec. 31.

Back 40 Wireless provides rural internet service to Jackson, Cottonwood, Nobles, Martin, Murray and Brown counties in Minnesota, as well as Osceola, Dickinson and Emmet counties in Iowa.

“The new business plans include maintaining their great level of service, while expanding our services to reach the entire Federated service area and beyond if requested,” said Scott Reimer, Federated’s general manager. “Federated Broadband will operate independently from the electric utility operations, as a self-sustaining business.”

They are making plans for expansion…

“We will continue working on applying for grants and loans for deploying fiber optic internet in the future for Federated members in both counties,” said David Hansen, Federated Board president. “In fact, the Board approved hiring a consulting firm Dec. 6 to submit Federated’s application for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Reconnect grant and loan program to cover fiber broadband. This application deadline is Feb. 22.”

Federated has experience with providing internet service, as the co-op has offered Wild Blue satellite internet since 2012, which became Exede satellite service. The remaining Federated satellite customers will be offered the faster service through Federated Broadband.

Federated is a Touchstone Energy cooperative serving 6,800 members in Jackson and Martin counties.

Innovate 218 gets more recognition for lifting up Northeast Minnesota

Tech.MN reports on Innovate 218…

From Grand Rapids to Duluth, Northeast Minnesota is well known as including a region called the Iron Range, where historically mining and other natural resources championed the local industries.

“They have many of  the elements there — thriving higher education, broadband, local champions, and strong corporate innovators,” Neela Mollgaard, Executive Director of Launch Minnesota, said. The last region to join Launch MN’s 8 hub and 80 program partner initiatives across the state, the area holds a lot of promise for innovation.

“It’s been great to see these organizations across Minnesota come together. They’ve all been serving entrepreneurs for years, and now are purposefully working together to start and scale new ventures ” Mollgaard said. “They are building on their local strengths while leveraging statewide resources and best practices.”

The main innovative areas remain in the natural resources sphere, according to Tim White, Business Development and Intellectual Property Manager at University of Minnesota Duluth / Natural Resources Research Institute.

“Northeast Minnesota has amazing natural resources available. We are charged with considering responsible use of those resources,” White said, mentioning the minerals, forests, and freshwater that are in abundance.

FCC commits $603 million to close homework gap – MN to get $57+ million

The FCC reports

—The Federal Communications Commission today announced that it is committing $602,985,895.13 in its latest wave of Emergency Connectivity Fund program support, which will connect over 1.4 million students in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. These additional commitments bring the current total commitments to over $3.8 billion, supporting students, school staff, and library patrons in all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia. The funding can be used to support off-campus learning, such as nightly homework and virtual learning, as schools and libraries continue to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. …

Today’s announcement marks the sixth wave of commitments and includes over $367 million in commitments from Window 1 applications and nearly $236 million in commitments from Window 2 applications. This round of commitments will support 1,651 schools, 85 libraries, and 14 consortia, which are approved to receive nearly 1.2 million connected devices and over 790,000 broadband connections. Total commitments to date are supporting over 9,000 schools, 760 libraries, and 100 consortia for nearly 8.3 million connected devices and over 4.4 million broadband connections. More details about which schools and libraries have received funding commitments can be found at https://www.fcc.gov/ecf-current-funding-commitments.

Minnesota will get $57,412,673.35 in total doled out in waves of:

  • $19,830,464.06
  • $10,347,442.23
  • $6,601,893.82
  • $3,854,319.44
  • $10,865,203.54
  • $1,468,881.00
  • $4,444,469.26