Ceylon City gets $1 million from Community Development Block Grant/CARES to deploy FTTH (Martin County)

Fairmont Sentinel reports

The Ceylon City Council has given Federated Broadband, a division of Federated Rural Electric Association (REA), approval to install fiber internet for the city’s residents. When the project is completed Ceylon will have some of the best internet access in Martin County.

CEYLON– The Ceylon City Council has given Federated Broadband, a division of Federated Rural Electric Association (REA), approval to install fiber internet for the city’s residents. When the project is completed Ceylon will have some of the best internet access in Martin County.

Funding for fiber installation comes from a Community Development Block Grant worth nearly one million dollars from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), which in turn was funded by the federal CARES Act. The grant money means residents who live within the city’s municipal boundary can receive free residential fiber installation.

“The average speed in Ceylon is about ten megabytes. The top speed that’s coming in will be one gig. Think about this; let’s look at a megabyte as one mile per hour. If you have a thousand megabytes that’s one gigabyte. Imagine going ten miles an hour, now you’re able to go a thousand miles an hour,” said Ceylon Mayor John Gibeau.

Some detail on initial steps…

The city council vote to approve approximately $4,700 for CEDA to submit a grant application on behalf of the city was split with Gibeau casting the tie-breaking vote. The application was submitted in July of 2021 and in August the city was awarded $983,105 for broadband improvement. After the grant was awarded the city began the process of planning its expansion and selecting a contractor to install the fiber optic system.

The city initially considered contracting with Federated Broadband or LTD Broadband, before selecting Federated.


FTTH can be a gig or a provider can offer lower speeds as Sherburne County is learning

St Cloud Times tells the story of an unhappy fiber customer (Jake Soenneker) in rural Sherburn County. Jake wanted better broadband. He championed an effort to make it happen, talking to his neighbors and getting them to sign petitions. He spoke to providers to get something going …

According to Soenneker, Sherburne County eventually reached out to him, followed by Perham-based telecommunications and broadband provider Arvig. He was involved in many discussions, which Soenneker said he came out of with the understanding that the neighborhoods would have symmetrical-speed fiber internet, meaning the upload and download speed would be the same. He went door to door again and gathered more than 20 letters of support for getting better internet service in the area.

He and the community were successful…

In August 2020, Sherburne County entered an agreement with Arvig to install conduits along a few county roads in Clear Lake Township and Becker Township. The county would allow Arvig to use the conduits at no cost with the understanding that Arvig would provide free internet service and some phone service to several county buildings. The contract specified that the internet service provided to the county would be symmetrical at 100 mbps.

The problem is that Jake thought he’d be getting symmetrical service and he isn’t. In the contract with the County, Arvig specifies that speed for County customers (county building et al) will be a minimum of 100 Mbps symmetrical but the contract doesn’t get into services that Arvig might provider to residents.

This is an example where a label similar to the nutrition labels in food would be helpful – something that spells out in no uncertain terms what the customer is getting and paying. The customer being the county and/or the resident. Also here are comments from the St Cloud article on various views…

  • Arvig Senior Manager of Plant Operations Brett Christiansen confirmed Arvig’s infrastructure is capable of providing symmetrical speed to homes. But Arvig does not offer symmetrical internet to residential customers, Arvig Director of Marketing and Public Relations Lisa Greene said, “primarily because customers don’t use it.” She said the company reserves that bandwidth for its business customers.
  • Ernesto Falcon, senior legislative counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said it’s “pretty typical” to expect symmetrical service from fiber internet. EFF is a nonprofit that works to “to ensure that technology supports freedom, justice, and innovation for all people of the world,” according to its website. Asymmetrical internet service — different speeds for upload and download — is a remnant of the cable-dominant era. In newly-installed infrastructure, there is no additional burden on a company to provide symmetrical speeds to customers, he said. … However, Falcon also said that it’s not fair to assume your internet will be symmetrical if you only see one speed listed on the contract. It’s typical for companies to list a download speed and not the upload speed. Greene said it’s typical for upload speed to be about 10% of download speed.
  • Arvig’s residential customers are provisioned up to 1 gigabyte download speed and up to 100 Mpbs download speed….
    After six months of back and forth with Arvig and being initially told he could upgrade his bandwidth, an Arvig employee told him via email that the company does not provide symmetrical fiber under residential plans. Arvig offered him the option to pay for an “enterprise plan” to receive symmetric service, which Soenneker said was quoted to him at more than $1,000 a month.
  • Soenneker has communicated with both the county and the attorney general’s office throughout this process as well. An analysis Arvig prepared in response to Soenneker’s complaint filing with the attorney general’s office said Soenneker’s bandwidth use was 656% more than the second-highest user and 1,233% higher than a hospital system that is their fourth-highest user.

CTC and Crow Wing County pursue CARES funds for Crosby and Ironton MN

The Brainerd Dispatch reports on Crow Wing County and CTC and their pursuit of CARES funding for broadband…

Combined Notice of Finding of No Significant Impact and Notice of Intent to Request Release of Funds State of Minnesota Community Development Block Grant Coronavirus (CDBG-CV) Program

Date of posting: June 1, 2022 or Date of publication: June 1, 2022

Responsibility Entity: Crow Wing County, Minnesota 326 Laurel Street Brainerd, MN 56401 218-824-1067

Preparer: Consolidated Telephone Company 1102 Madison Street Brainerd, MN 56401 218-454-1234

TO ALL INTERESTED PARTIES, GROUPS AND PERSONS: The purpose of this notice is to identify two separate but related actions to be taken by the Crow Wing County, Minnesota (hereinafter referred to as the Grantee). One, the Grantee has made a Finding of No Significant Impact on project activities described below and two, the Grantee intends to request the Business and Community Development Division, Small Cities Development Program, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED BCD) to release Community Development Block Grant Coronavirus (CDBG-CV) funds authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) (PL166-136) for the following project. Pursuant to HUD CPD Notice 20-07 “Guidance on conducting environmental reviews pursuant to 24 CFR Part 58 for activities undertaken in response to the public health emergency as a result of COVID-19” this notice combines the public comment and objection periods into one 18-day comment period. CARES Act funding is needed on an emergency basis as projects funded with CARES Act funds are designed to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the Presidentially declared coronavirus health emergency. Project title or name: Crow Wing County CDBG-CV Broadband Development Project (CWC Broadband Project)

Describe the project in detail: Crow Wing County’s will swiftly deploy a fiber optic to the premise (FTTP) network to hundreds of low to moderate income residents within an area which was economically distressed pre-pandemic and even more so as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as some residents in the area were finding new work because of an increase in local tourism and storefront openings in the nearby cities of Crosby and Ironton, the pandemic shut down business and tourism… resulting in greater economic hardship and financial loss to many of the residents in the Cuyuna region. A lack of broadband infrastructure made distance learning virtually impossible for Crosby-Ironton School District (ISD 182) students and teachers in the area. Additionally, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center was unable to offer telehealth services to many of the patients it serves due to a lack of broadband. This project better prepares the residents in the project area for distance learning, telehealth, and work from home opportunities State justification on why this can be covered under an expedited review: HUD notice CPD-20-07 issued on August 6, 2020 provides guidance on conducting environmental reviews pursuant to 24 CFR Part 58 for activities undertaken in response to the public health emergency as a result of COVID-19.

Fed broadband funding lessons from 2010 help with funding today: Madison & Appleton MN finally getting fiber!

It feels like the before-times, out on the road talking to folks in rural Minnesota about broadband and more. Traveling with Mary Magnuson, we made a few stops this week, starting with the UMVRDC (Upper Minnesota River Valley Regional Development Commission) to chat with Dawn Hegland and Kevin Ketelson.

UMVRDC supports Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties in Western MN. Broadband-wise this list includes some of the best and worst served counties in Minnesota.

Communities need awareness and education

Dawn has been working with the Blandin Foundation since the early days of MIRC (2009); she knows her stuff. Yet, as I say some of their counties are well served and others aren’t. One reason is that some communities are willing to invest, and some have not been. It makes the case for continued need for awareness and education.

Communities like LqP were early into the game, getting ARRA funding back around 2010, when some communities were still asking what broadband was. Post pandemic few communities (or community leaders) need a definition for broadband but the ones who needed it before were at a serious disadvantage during the pandemic shut downs. Swaths of communities were left to try to work, study and stay healthy in communities with inadequate and unreliable Internet access. While just down the road, folks had fiber.

So, while generally people understand the need now (and it remains a top concern in the annual regional survey), people don’t understand the ins and outs of technology. People think “the government will take care of it” or don’t appreciate the difference between fiber and satellite. Decision makers are often consumers online (getting email or watching videos) not producers (uploading work files, homework videos or selling online). They think because they are happy with local connections that others will be as well. But that is often not the case, especially if they are trying to recruit new businesses or young families to the area.

Understanding the landscape helps

Understanding the technology is only half the battle for community leaders. Especially now, you need to understand the funding options because rural broadband is expensive and a lot of State and Federal money will be going to deploy broadband over the next few years. But the applications are onerous and it’s important to find the right fit to serve the whole community, which leads to a long broadband story in the area with a soon-to-be happy ending.

As I mentioned earlier, LqP was an early adopter. They got federal funding for FTTH more than 10 years ago … to most of the county. Unfortunately, Madison, the county seat, was not eligible for the upgrade because the maps showed that they were already “served.” In 2010, that meant they has access of speeds of at least 10 Mbps down and 1 up. So for 10 years rural LqP has had fiber and the county seat has not. They have been actively looking for help to funding to support fiber deployment (because even the county seat in LqP is pretty rural) but had not been successful until now.

Last summer, UMVRDC helped Madison and Appleton apply for CARES funding from the state to build better broadband. (Appleton was in a similar position as Madison, but in Swift County.) The requirements and conditions of the grants were different than other opportunities and it turns out a good fit for both areas. There were awarded the money and Acira is working on Madison now and soon to be moving to Appleton. (Mary and I happened to run into folks from Acira in town too. They were excited to finish the jobs they started 10+ years ago!)

While I’m happy to share the good news of Madison and Appleton, I offer it also as a cautionary tale. Again, unprecedented funding is going into broadband in the next few years but most folks I’ve heard from feel that it won’t cover universal broadband and areas left unserved (or underserved) will have a difficult time catching up once the money is gone. That gets me back to the first point – communities need awareness and education.

Faribault County one step closer to using CARES money for better broadband

The Fairmont Sentinel reports

The cities of Bricelyn, Delavan, Elmore and Frost moved another step closer in being able to begin a broadband project to install fiber optic cable in their cities, courtesy of a grant program.

Faribault County Economic Development Authority (EDA) specialist Annie Nichols attended the Faribault County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday to give an update on the project.

“The first step was to complete an environmental review,” Nichols told the commissioners. “This has been completed and we are waiting for the go ahead from DEED (Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development) to post it for review from other government agencies.”

Nichols asked the commissioners to set Dec. 21, during their regularly scheduled meeting, for a public hearing on the matter.

“This grant is money from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and. Economic Security) Act,” Nichols reminded the board. “I would also ask you to consider contracting with CCG Consulting to prepare the necessary documentation according to state and federal regulations. CCG Consulting is a full-service telecom consulting company and they have extensive knowledge on the grant programs.”

The board passed a motion to hire CCG Consulting to develop a RFP (Request for Proposal) and contract for an ISP (Internet Service Provider) and engineer for the project.

Scott County uses CARES funding for fixed wireless broadband

Southwest News Media reports on Scott County using CARES funding to expand broadband to rural areas. Unfortunately, they don’t report actual (or advertised) speeds, although the provider’s site claims “speeds up to 30 times as fast as your current connection.” Here’s where Scott County stood a year ago…

Though there are several internet providers that serve Scott County, as of 2020 up to 40% of parts of the rural areas of the county did not have access to adequate broadband services, according to Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development.

The county recognized the existence of a gap and began working on a pilot program to help internet reach underserved areas using its existing regional fiber network.

They looked to use CARES funding to help…

When the COVID-19 pandemic began last March, Scott County made the move to accelerate the program by entering into a private-public partnership with Netwave Broadband, a fixed-wireless company that now brings internet service options to the county.

To pay for the project, the county used a portion of its CARES funding along with contributions from the city of Jordan and Sand Creek and St. Lawrence Townships.

Now the county is better served…

Through the public-private partnership, Netwave is offering a 25% discounted rate for monthly fees and installation.

Anyone who signs up during the Governor’s Emergency Peacetime Emergency is guaranteed a rate of $149 installation and a monthly cost of $49 per month or $59 per month if a router is needed.

Netwave has also lifted internet speed caps for customers during the peacetime emergency.

”Whatever your equipment is capable of getting is what you will get,” Herman said. “We don’t throttle anything.”

Through the recent deployment of Netwave Broadband, approximately 95% of the rural parts of Scott County now have access to broadband internet services, Mulcrone said.

“It shocks me how fast our speed is with Netwave,” Koepp said.

Herman said Netwave is working toward being able to cover the final 5%.

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.”