Senator Klobuchar Call with Benton, Chisago, Isanti County Officials on how Infrastructure Bill will Expand Rural Broadband: Notes and archive

Here’s the intro…

On Monday, November 22, at 2:00pm CT, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, will hold a call with community broadband advocates from Benton, Chisago, and Isanti Counties to discuss how the recently enacted bipartisan infrastructure bill will help expand broadband to rural Minnesota communities.

Klobuchar will be joined by Chisago Lakes Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Katie Malchow, Isanti County Administrator Julie Lines, and Benton County Commissioner Jared Gapinski, as well as Mary Magnuson, a broadband program administrator at the Blandin Foundation.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill included the largest investment our country has ever made in broadband infrastructure, with many provisions based on Klobuchar’s legislation with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) to help bring high-speed internet to every corner of the country.

And my notes, which are bulleted to keep up. From Sen Klobuchar:

  • Broadband coverage seems random at times
  • Blandin was way ahead of its time in recognizing broadband issues in rural Minnesota and creating solutions
  • Access to email isn’t enough anymore; students need to be able to take tests remotely and corporate/healthcare workers need to be able to consult remotely
  • Problems: mapping, giving money to providers that have a history of not meeting needs
  • Solutions: open access to funds to all providers and get money back from providers who don’t meet needs
  • Make broadband affordable – average monthly cost in MN is $68/month

From Katie Malchow

  • Broadband isn’t about politics, it’s about getting people connected
  • We started out broadband journey working with Blandin Foundation
  • We surveyed residents and found a disconnect between what providers said they offered and what consumers saw at home
  • Not all providers are created equal and some have not met the needs of MN residents for a while now. Maybe it’s time to ask folks on the frontlines who they would choose.
  • This is going to be a one-time investment, it’s spend it wisely.

From Jared Gapinski

  • Started talking about broadband as community in Jan 2020 (he’s new to county commission) in Jan 2021 when they realized they have 600-700 hotspots in student home, which meant that many households were un/underserved
  • They want to do a middle mile fiber project to get providers into the area
  • He pays for 100/100 Mbps connection – but it tests at 30/11
  • The community is stuck in RDOF/LTD limbo – waiting to hear from FCC is LTD got the contract
  • We need time to plan and educate to make sure we spend money wisely.

From Julia Lines

  • Broadband coverage is good in the cities but bad in the land between
  • East Central Energy is (finally) talking to them about providing broadband
  • The boundaries of cities/towns/counties are getting in our way
  • MidCo is helping in the cities but not rural areas
  • If we want people to relocate from the Cities to rural areas, we need to provide metro-quality broadband

From Mary Magnuson

  • We worry about the Swiss cheese effect that leaves certain areas unserved and as others become better served those areas fall farther and farther behind
  • RAMS is now hosting the MN state broadband speed test – available to everyone
  • Local places need to have local buy in – especially when it comes to choosing providers in their communities

Fillmore County gets pitches from several broadband providers to invest ARPA funds

Fillmore County Journal reports

Three broadband providers outlined their proposals at the Fillmore County board’s November 9 meeting.

The county has received $4.2 million in American Recovery Act funding. Broadband providers are looking for a portion of this funding to support broadband projects within the county. Much of Fillmore County is still underserved.

Corey Hauer, LTD Broadband, said they have been a provider in the county for nine years. Fixed wireless is limited by hills and trees. He said we have been successful getting federal funding for fiber optic cable. Recovery Act funding could allow us to add additional unserved and underserved areas in one or two years. He estimated it takes $5,000 per household to bring fiber to areas with a low density of households. County dollars could allow them to build quicker in rural areas.

Jill Huffman, CEO of Harmony Telephone/MiBroadband, said they are a cooperative partnership dedicated to the expansion of broadband. There is a significant need in Fillmore County for residents and businesses. Build-outs in rural areas are expensive with return on investment being very long term. Step one is to build it, and then to support it and make it run smoothly. Northern and western portions of the county have very limited household density. She detailed two project areas that could be expanded with the support of state and county dollars. Huffman made it clear she welcomes ideas and is willing to consider all funding options to expand project areas. They are looking at all future funding options at federal, state, and local levels. She suggested projects could be completed in two construction seasons. Huffman expects it will cost more than $5,000 per household in low density areas. She concluded stressing that the installation of fiber will greatly impact the future economic growth in the county.

Zachary Raskovich, Mediacom Communications, has been with Mediacom for 15 years. The Mediacom system makes service available to 6,200 homes and businesses. Mediacom recently built out broadband in the city of Fountain, sharing project costs about 50-50 with a Minnesota DEED Grant. Mediacom is now constructing 4.3 miles of fiber to bring service to 246 homes and businesses in Wykoff. The total investment is 100% paid for by Mediacom and is expected to launch in March 2022. Mediacom is prepared to invest in the city of Ostrander to serve 155 homes and businesses, roughly 3.5 miles of construction. Raskovich requested a county grant in the amount of $50,000 (using American Recovery Act funds) for this project or roughly 16 percent of the total project cost.

AcenTek is expected to present their proposal at the next board meeting on November 23.

City of Prinsburg Takes Next Step for Broadband Project – $330,000 in ARPA funding (Kandiyohi County)

The news from Prinsburg…

On Tuesday, November 2nd, the Prinsburg City Council held a community broadband meeting at the Prinsburg Community Center to complete the next step towards a fiber-to-the home broadband project in partnership with Arvig. Over 40 people were in attendance, including community members and business owners, City representatives, Arvig Enterprises, Inc., and Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission Broadband Committee members.

Access to high-speed broadband internet is an important issue for attracting and retaining community members and businesses alike. As many have experienced firsthand over the past 18 months, broadband has become a critical infrastructure for people to work from home, attend online classes, and participate in telemedicine appointments; not to mention staying connected with loved ones.

“I was considering moving out of town,” Alex Calvin told the City Council on Tuesday. “This project will help attract more young adults to Prinsburg.”

The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners approved an allocation of $330,000 from their American Rescue Plan Act funds on September 21st. Additional funding for this $1 million project will come from Arvig ($450,000) and the City of Prinsburg. Thanks to the overwhelming support for this project at Tuesday’s community meeting, the Prinsburg City Council adopted a Resolution Approving Property Tax Abatements. This resolution allows the City to issue general obligation taxable tax abatement bonds not to exceed $275,000, with a tax abatement term of up to ten years.

As part of the agreement between Arvig and the City of Prinsburg, construction will begin no later than August 1, 2022, with substantial completion by December 31, 2022.

OPPORTUNITY: Sherburne County looking for partners to build better broadband with ARPA grants

WJON reports

Sherburne County is using some America Rescue Plan Act dollars to invest in broadband service for their residents and businesses.

The county is taking applications from service providers to share in a $1.5-million grant to expand broadband to unserved and underserved areas.

Eligible projects must be substantially completed on or before December 31st in 2024.

The effort is to bring reliable, affordable high-speed internet to more Sherburne County households and businesses.

The application can be found on Sherburne County’s website and all applications are due on December 31st this year.

Here’s a little more info on the opportunity from the grant guidelines…

The purpose of the Sherburne County Broadband Access Grant Program is to encourage and facilitate necessary investment in broadband projects designed to provide high- speed, reliable, and affordable broadband service to unserved or underserved households and businesses in Sherburne County. The County may award up to $1,500,000 in grants to service providers for eligible projects that will provide service designed to reliably meet or exceed a symmetrical 100 Mbps download and upload speeds or, where symmetrical 100 Mbps speeds are not practicable, 100 Mbps download and at least 20 Mbps upload speeds, along with other requirements set forth in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”).

The Broadband Access Grant Program will be administered through the County Administrator’s office.