Dakota County approves $800,000 in CARES Act funding for broadband

Dakota County Commissioners meeting notes from September 15, 2020, indicate an approval for $800,000 of CARE Act funding for broadband investment…

On a motion by Commissioner Thomas A. Egan, seconded by Commissioner Mary Liz Holberg, the consent agenda was unanimously approved as follows:

Operations, Management And Budget

20-436 Authorization To Execute Agreement With Hiawatha Communications Ltd. To Implement Broadband Connectivity Improvements For COVID-19 Response, Amend 2020 Non-Departmental Budget And Amend 2020 Information Technology Budget

WHEREAS, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dakota County residents, families and schools are experiencing a greater need for affordable, fast and reliable internet connectivity; and

WHEREAS, Dakota County received funds to use through the Federal CARES Act; and

WHEREAS, the County Board has determined that assisting broadband carriers to implement immediate broadband connectivity improvements to unserved and underserved areas of Dakota County is a necessary and reasonable response to the COVID-19 pandemic, therefore eligible for the use of CARES Act funds; and WHEREAS, the County Board directed staff to seek out interest from providers in expending their network in unserved and underserved communities; and

WHEREAS, staff sent letters of interest to providers on July 28, 2020 and received six proposals; and WHEREAS, staff presented the six proposals to the County Board at the August 25, 2020 County Board meeting; and

WHEREAS, the County Board directed staff to award Broadband Connectivity funds to Hiawatha Communications LTD (HBC); and WHEREAS, speeds of service will be offered in Nininger, New Trier, Hampton and Miesville between 10 Mbps minimum and a maximum of 100 Mbps.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the Dakota County Board of Commissioners hereby authorizes the Chief Information Officer to award Broadband Connectivity Cares Act funds to and execute an agreement, approved as to form by the County Attorney’s Office, with Hiawatha Communications Ltd., in an amount not to exceed $800,000;

46 percent of MN school CARES funding so far going to technology

MinnPost reports on how CARES funding is being spent in the schools in Minnesota. First a quick summary of the programs…

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Minnesota schools have received access to three main buckets of federal funding to help get students back to school safely. That includes $244.8 million via the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), $38 million via the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, and $140.1 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) aid.

Each comes with its own parameters of allowable uses and timeline. The bulk of these dollars are allocated on a per pupil basis, with some priority given to low-income students. And while the amounts available are largely non-competitive, school leaders must still submit a budget application to the Minnesota Department of Education for approval in order to access their funds.

As of Wednesday, the state Department of Education reports that only $111 million in applications, across all three buckets of funds, had been approved. Since there’s a tighter deadline for CRF funds — in which applications must be signed and approved by Oct. 1, with funds spent by Dec. 30 — the bulk of applications received to date fall into this category.

There’s still a lot of money to be requested but early days, it looks like technology is the biggest request…

By the end of last week, the Minnesota Department of Education had only approved about $9 million in budget applications submitted across all three buckets of funding. Breaking that amount down into eight categories, about 46 percent of budgeted items fell into the “technology” category. Expenses in the “instructional support” and “operating” categories made up another 41 percent of that amount, with the remainder falling under the following categories: transportation, nursing, non-instructional support, contracts and other.

Crow Wing Power on broadband updates in Crow Wing, Morrison, Cass and Aitkin Counties

In their most recent newsletter, Crow Wing Power spoke with local providers about broadband upgrades and expansion in the area, often spurred by great need in COVID.

From CTC…

  • Kristi [Westbrock, CTC CEO] explained that in mid-March, the company scrambled to extend finer to where it was needed and where they could reasonably expand, so students could have access to Internet for distance learning. It’s estimated that their efforts in the Brainerd ISD 101 school district provided broadband access to approximately 200 families in the region and set up 50 hot spots where kid cluster could go to study.
  • In 2019, CTC received an $830,587 MN Border to Border grant from the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to expand services to build to Ft. Ripley, and other areas in Crow Wing and Morrison Counties. This allowed CTC to build to 399 homes in portions of St. Mathias and Fort Ripley Townships, as well.
  • “Most recently, CTC received CARES Act funding from both Crow Wing and Cass County to build broadband to unserved areas of Welton Road, County Rd 10, Border Lake, Little Pine Road and unserved areas in Lake Edward Township. The funds must be used by December 1 so these locations will have access to fiber Internet.

From Emily Cooperative Telephone Company…

  • Five hot spots were also installed throughout the communities, which are still available. Josh [ECTC CEO] said they are updating 100 homes in the Crosslake area to finer services and reviewing other areas for 2021. ECTC also received a MN DEED grant of $376,000 to build fiber services to the Esquagamah and Round Lake area in Aitkin County.

Le Sueur County uses CARES funding for wireless towers in Tyrone Township

Le Sueur County News reports…

One of Le Sueur County’s top priorities for the year is to expand broadband into under-served areas. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in planned and proposed broadband projects are scheduled to be completed by the end of the year through federal funds from the CARES Act.

Le Sueur County received $3.4 million from the federal government. One of the first projects approved with that money is a $140,000 proposal to bring high speed wireless internet to Tyrone Township in partnership with Netwave Broadband.

Netwave, a subsidiary of Access Networks Inc., brought a proposal to set up a 5G 900 Mhz wireless tower. The tower would provide 100 mb speeds for up to 218 homes in a 7-mile coverage radius from a tower off Hwy. 169 near the Cambria Processing Facility.

And here’s what it will look like to customers and the provider…

On the customer side, it would cost $299 for a basic one-time installation fee. Customers would be charged $99.99 per month for 100 mb of service in a three year contract. The $99 would only cover internet, but NetWave also has a phone service and is in the process of setting up television services.

In the deal, NetWave Broadband would take on most of the risk for keeping the wireless tower operational.

“All the risk as far as the tower maintenance, keeping everything afloat as far as tower rent, power, the responsibility is all on us,” said Steve Herman with NetWave Broadband. “We’re just asking for capital investment to provide service in the area and then we’ll take all management and everything over from that point.”