Charter waves a red flag on RDOF results based on map inaccuracies

Fierce Telecom reports

Charter Communications filed a waiver request on May 11 with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) related to its award in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction.

Charter, like all RDOF auction winners, promised to bring broadband to unserved areas. But the company has been auditing the census block grants (CBGs) where it was awarded funds, and it’s found that several of these areas already have broadband or will soon be receiving it.

Bidding under the name of CCO Holdings, Charter was awarded $1.22 billion in the RDOF Phase 1 auction, which concluded in December 2020. Charter won 5,366 CBGs, representing about 1 million homes and small businesses across 24 states for which it’s promised to deliver fiber broadband services.

Similar to something I posted about last week when we dug into Minnesota maps and they showed similar inaccuracies in MN RDOF award areas

Through RDOF LTD Broadband was deemed eligible to receive $1.32 billion in the US, including $312 million in Minnesota to build FTTH to unserved locations. There is some controversy about that decision – but this post isn’t about LTD, it’s about the maps.

Looking at maps where LTD is eligible to received funding, there are some surprises. For example the Vikings Practice Facility shows up as eligible, as does Henry Sibley High School, lots of locations along the highway and spots in commercial portions of suburban Twin Cities – just feet away from areas that were served. And then there are areas where locations seem to be on or under the highway.

Literally billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on the RDOF; $16 billion in phase one and $4 billion in phase two. The program duration is 10 years, which means anomalies and discrepancies not caught now make take 10 years to emerge, which may leave some communities unserved for 10 more years. Already some communities in RDOF areas are disqualified for other funding to secure better broadband. There are worse things than changing your mind at the alter – especially when the partnerships impact so many people. Maybe it’s time to reassess what’s on the table.

US poised to award $100B to SpaceX Starlink – will it help rural residents?

Telecompetitor reports…

The analysts estimate SpaceX’s total addressable U.S. market at full deployment at between 300,000 to 800,000 households, or less than 1% of the market.

It’s a particularly noteworthy number, considering that SpaceX is poised to receive nearly $900 million from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to cover some of the costs of bringing broadband to unserved rural areas. And considering that the total number of locations for which SpaceX was the winning RDOF bidder is 642,000.

Why do they have doubts?

MoffettNathanson’s estimate of SpaceX’s addressable market is based on several assumptions, which according to the researchers, are conservative. These include:

  • Although Starlink currently has about 1400 satellites deployed, the analysis is based on the nearly 12,000 satellites that the company expects to launch, approximately one third of which will cover the U.S.
  • Based on satellite inclines of 53 degrees, researchers estimate that only about 3% of Starlink’s satellites will be visible to U.S. customers at any given time.
  • According to SpaceX FCC filings, each satellite will have a capacity of 17-23 Gbps, but future developments could expand that. Therefore, the researchers assumed a doubling or tripling of per-satellite capacity.
  • The average broadband user consumes data at a constant rate of 2.2-2.7 Mbps during peak consumption hours, leading to researchers’ assumption that 4 Mbps of bandwidth per user would be needed to provide good quality of service today. The researchers forecast that requirement to increase to 10-18 Mbps per user in the next five years

One last factor…

SpaceX is charging customers $499 for a rooftop antenna, which according to news reports, cost the company $2,400, which suggests that the company is subsidizing each installation by nearly $2,000.

It seems like that $499 installation fee could increase at any time, which would make satellite much less affordable to deploy for the household. The authors also remind us that Starlink is in line to get $100 billion from the US government through an RDOF award.

Is MN a broadband winner or loser? A look at Federal Funding RDOF and CAF

Telecompetitor reports on the RDOF ranking by state. Turns out Minnesota ranks highly for funding per rural resident…

The states with the most funding per rural resident, in descending order, were California ($830), West Virginia ($530), Arkansas ($377), Minnesota ($328), Massachusetts ($327), Mississippi ($313), Pennsylvania ($254), Wisconsin ($248), Illinois ($205) and Michigan ($201).

You’d think that would make Minnesotans feel like winners but it doesn’t because there is great concern over what that money is going to buy and when. The biggest concern is about LTD, undeniably a big winner with an opportunity to bid for almost $312 million project to build FTTH (fiber to the home) to 102,005 homes. This is especially surprising because they are a small company that always has focused on fixed wireless not fiber.

I’ve written a lot about this – so a quick rundown:

This story may sound familiar. It reads an awful lot like what I posted about CAF II awards in 2015

If I’ve learned nothing else from the TV show Toddlers in Tiaras, I learned that sometimes you don’t want to win the first crown. Winning the first crown is better than winning nothing, but it usually puts you out of the running for Best in Show. Getting access at speeds of 10/1 is better than what the communities receiving CAF 2 funding have now. And any improvement is an improvement. BUT those speeds are slower than the Minnesota speed goals of 10/5 (The MN Broadband Task Force is looking to update those speeds.) and they seem even slower when you compare them to rural areas that have Gig access, such as Grand RapidsRed WingLac qui Parle CountyNew PragueRogersMelrose and others.

Five years later, CAF II winners CenturyLink (Lumen) and Frontier report that they “may not have met” CAF II deployment deadlines for 2020. Here’s what I said when that announcement was made in January…

The frustration is that this leaves many people without broadband – again. The goal is to build to 25/3 (even lower in some areas) and they haven’t done that. To put that in perspective, it does not get them closer to the MN State speed goal of 100/20 by 2026. In Minnesota we are used to the State MN border to border broadband grant rules where project must build networks that are scalable to 100/100. That is not the case with these networks and getting to 25/3 does not mean getting to 100/20 will be easier.

Also there is the concern for customers that the promise or threat of building has kept competitors out of their market. The promise of a CAF II network has made it more difficult for the communities to get funding from other sources. CAF II funding focused on the providers only – communities didn’t not sign up or on to the program.

Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Frustration is watching from the sideline as decision makers make the same decision again and again, especially when you are the community that suffers the consequence.

MN Telecom Alliance asks FCC to deny LTD’s long-form RDOF application

I have written about concerns with the LTD winning options for federal funding through RDOF. Looks like MN Telecom Alliance is taking steps to formalize those concerns. Telecompetitor reports

Two state associations representing broadband providers have asked the FCC to deny the long-form application filed by LTD Broadband in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) program. LTD Broadband had the largest amount of RDOF winning bids in the program and stands to gain $1.3 billion for broadband deployments in 15 states if its long-form application is approved.

In a joint filing with the FCC, the Minnesota Telecom Alliance and the Iowa Communications Alliance argue that “there is no indication that LTD has the technical, engineering, financial, operational, management, staff, or other resources to meet RDOF build-out and service obligations.”

They get into some details…

Arguments made by the Minnesota and Iowa associations in their filing about LTD Broadband RDOF concerns:

  • LTD won funding in five states in the Connect America Fund (CAF II) auction but was fined $3,563 for defaulting on bids in one census block in Nebraska and another in Nevada. The FCC rejected LTD’s argument that it had been unable to obtain designation as an eligible telecommunications carrier in those states – a requirement for obtaining funding.
  • The company has been criticized by the Minnesota Department of Commerce for failure to comply with its obligations to advertise Lifeline service to eligible customers.
  • The Better Business Bureau gives LTD’s Minnesota operations a failing rating based on the length of time it has been operating and because the company failed to respond to a complaint filed against the business and currently has 14 complaints filed against it.
  • The associations estimate that the LTD Broadband RDOF build-out will cost the company between $5,000 to $8,000 per location, yielding estimated 15-state construction costs of $2.6 billion to $4.2 billion. Noting that the company does not likely have the required funding on hand, the petitioners argue that the FCC should “place a substantial and stringent burden of proof on LTD to demonstrate reasonable, workable and detailed technical plans for constructing and operating its RDOF broadband networks . . . and to show that it has clear and certain access to the financial resources necessary to meet the realistic and detailed costs of such technical plans.”

The filing reminds the FCC that 160 members of Congress sent a letter to the commission urging the commission to thoroughly vet winning RDOF bidders.

LTD Broadband partners with Aviat for wireless platform system

PRNewswire reports

Aviat Networks, Inc. (NASDAQ: AVNW), the leading expert in wireless transport solutions, today announced that LTD Broadband, an internet service provider (ISP) and top recipient in the US government’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction with a total of $1.3 billion in funding, will deploy Aviat’s WTM 4000 microwave and multi-band platform systems in its network middle mile and for fiber redundancy. The company has already deployed these Aviat systems in its current network, which delivers high-speed connectivity to commercial and residential subscribers in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, with other states in planning as part of the company’s RDOF expansion.

“Our experience with Aviat has been exceptional,” said Corey Hauer, Chief Executive Officer, LTD Broadband. “The company’s WTM systems deliver the multi-gigabit fixed wireless performance we need, and Aviat Design enables solid link planning with no surprises. We are able to order the systems from the Aviat Store and take delivery within a couple of weeks, something no other radio manufacturer can offer us, accelerating our time to market. These capabilities will become even more critical as we roll out our RDOF plans.”

LTD Broadband was selected to submit a long form RDOF proposal to build FTTH; they were the biggest winner of potential funding in Minnesota. There is some concern that they are better versed in building wireless network than the fiber they are committed to building in Minnesota.

How LTD Broadband plans to meet RDOF requirements

Fierce Telecom takes a look at how LTD Broadband did so well with the RDOF process…

The RDOF auction was a “reverse auction.” This is different than typical auctions where multiple buyers bid up the price for an item from the seller. In its reverse auction, the FCC drove down the price of its item — awards to deploy broadband — by having multiple bidders compete against each other to provide the best technology at the lowest price. The FCC has used reverse auctions before.

But there was a provision in the FCC’s auction rules (paragraph 20, page 9) for RDOF that created a “clearing round.” The bidding system took into account the performance and latency promises of bidders in a census block and eliminated the inferior bidder from proceeding.

The electric co-ops may not have bid at the highest speed tier — the 1 Gbps/500 Mbps — if they weren’t confident they could deliver those speeds. But it turned out they were often eliminated from the auction if another bidder in a particular census block did bid at that speed tier.

Sounds like LTD was able to use this to their advantage; they did bid at the higher tiers.

Fierce Telecom also look at how LTD plans to deliver on their fiber plan…

Hauer said LTD plans to deliver on its promise of fiber to rural areas, and he doesn’t seem daunted by the cost, even though the expense of fiber has humbled large companies in the past, such as Verizon.

He said it’s hard for providers to lay fiber in urban and suburban areas because there is a lot of existing infrastructure to contend with such as natural gas lines, sewer pipes, water systems and buildings. “Our theory is that it’s going to be easier to do in rural areas,” he said. “Fiber is primarily a labor proposition.” He said his company will be able to deploy fiber faster and cost-effectively in rural because there are less obstacles.

He said LTD will probably lay fiber using both methods: in-the-ground and aerial on existing infrastructure such as telephone wires. He said, “With a fiber plow that puts fiber in the ground, you can go at walking speed.”

Even though there’s a shortage of skilled fiber layers, Hauer said he has a plan for securing workers, which he’s not willing to share publicly.

In areas where it’s simply impossible to lay fiber, LTD will use other methods such as microwave hops. “Fiber is the source of the river,” said Hauer. “And in many cases, we also will use fiber at the end. For RDOF, where we would consider FWA would be the middle mile…. It might be mountain top to mountain top where we could do multi-gigabit microwave links as part of this. In most cases we’ll be able to run fiber.”

EVENT Feb 16: RDOF – LEO Satellite Assessment Webinar from Fiber Broadband

Of potential interest to folks watching RDOF and especially if you like in an area where satellite is in line to get RDOF funding (check map)…

RDOF – LEO Satellite Assessment
Presented by: Fiber Broadband Association
Complimentary Webinar
Tuesday, February 16th, 10:00 AM EDT

The Fiber Broadband Association commissioned research firm Cartesian to develop an independent analysis and a model to help the FCC analyze whether Starlink is likely to meet the RDOF public interest obligations.

The results of this study indicate that Starlink will fail to meet the RDOF public interest requirements on a nationwide basis, with over 56% of subscribers expected to experience service degradation during peak periods. This expected service degradation will worsen and significantly impact all its awarded RDOF locations if Starlink’s broadband capacity is also offered to (non-RDOF) commercial subscribers.

Register now

Could Amnesty Program for Over-Zealous RDOF Winners help rural Minnesota?

Telecompetitor has an idea for RDOF

As more and more stakeholders express concern that some RDOF (Rural Digital Opportunity Fund) winners will not be able to deploy rural broadband meeting the service parameters to which they committed, one stakeholder has an interesting idea for what to do about this. Perhaps an RDOF amnesty program would be appropriate, suggested Jonathan Chambers, a partner with Conexon, on a recent phone interview with Telecompetitor.

One of the providers under the spotlight is in line to receive funding to serve a big portion of Minnesota

Chambers is one of several stakeholders that have singled out LTD Broadband, which won the most funding — $1.3 billion — in the auction, as a company that won funding to serve considerably more locations than it already serves. Traditionally the company has offered fixed wireless and fiber but bid to deploy gigabit-speed fiber for its RDOF buildouts.

Telecompetitor talked to LTD Broadband CEO Corey Hauer in late December, who said, “We have a history of very rapid growth. We expect that to continue. We have met challenges of growth and scale as we’ve grown.”

One hiccup is that some providers bid to provide services they don’t usually provide…

Chambers said he has heard from auction participants that some participants that initially wanted to use gigabit fixed wireless for their auction bids were told they couldn’t bid to use fixed wireless at the gigabit speed tier. (The auction awarded funding to the company that committed to deploying broadband at the lowest level of support, but a weighting system favored bids to deploy gigabit service.)

It’s not clear why some companies allegedly were allowed to bid gigabit fixed wireless and others weren’t. One possibility is that different FCC staffers responded differently to bidders after reviewing their initial applications.

The upshot, according to Chambers, is that “you can already see there are companies that seem to be preparing for the great bait-and-switch.” He speculates that some companies that bid to deploy gigabit fiber will try to get the FCC to allow them to use fixed wireless instead.

Allowing providers to rethink their bids may save time for communities…

Chambers sees a possibility that the review process could change, considering the recent administration change. As things stand now, however, any funding pulled back from the provisional winner would likely roll into the Phase 2 RDOF auction, which won’t happen until the FCC completes its revamp of broadband availability data collection and analyzes that data, which could be a time-consuming process.

Chambers offered some interesting alternative ideas. One idea, he said, might be to offer RDOF amnesty to any auction bidder, which would give over-zealous bidders the option of bowing out gracefully without encountering penalties.

And perhaps the FCC wouldn’t have to wait until the Phase 2 auction to award the funding returned by those accepting amnesty. Perhaps the commission could conduct a separate auction for areas turned back, Chambers suggested.

A problem now is that communities are left in a wait-and-see limbo. They are told to trust the provider, until the provider doesn’t perform. It takes the patience required for waiting for a buffered video to download to a new level.

Hear the frustration when RDOF trumps MN Border to Border grants in Le Sueur County MN

Chris Mitchell (Institute for Local Self Reliance) and Barbara Dröher Kline (Le Sueur County, MN) about what’s happening in their area – front what it’s like to live across the road from good broadband to the impact when state and federal funding clash on the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the podcast we’re catching up with what’s been happening in Le Sueur County (pop. 28,000) in southern Minnesota, and path they’re on to turn the region from one of the least connected in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes to one on track to becoming among the most connected in the next couple of years. To do so, Christopher talks with Barbara Droher Kline, a county consultant who helped the county organize the recent broadband efforts.

She shares with Chris the history of their recent work to bring area towns together and the resulting partnerships with local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to do both fiber and fixed wireless projects. Chris and Barbara end the conversation by briefly discussing the recent Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction, and the adverse consequences it’s having in places like Le Sueur.

Lynd MN getting better broadband through Woodstock’s MN Broadband grant (Lyon County)

The Marshall Independent reports

We’ve been trying for the grant for three years. We looked at it multiple ways,” said Terry Nelson, general manager of Woodstock Communications.

On Jan. 28, Woodstock Communications learned it had received one of 39 Border-to-Border Broadband Grants awarded statewide. The $325,548 grant will help make it possible to extend fiberoptic cable to 203 homes, businesses and community buildings in Lynd.

The project will significantly improve internet speed in the community, Nelson said.

“It’s going to be fantastic. Hopefully it will help bring businesses into Lynd,” said Lynd City Clerk Sue Paradis. Having reliable internet access has become a vital part of both school and work, and Paradis said the COVID-19 pandemic has really driven home its importance. “There’s a lot of people who work from home now.”

Nelson said the plan will be for Woodstock Communications to start the excavation to lay fiberoptic cable in Lynd this spring or summer. A lot of the timing will depend on how quickly Woodstock can get the needed cable supply, he said.

“We’re pretty much sticking to the city limits of Lynd,” including the housing developments extending north past the Savannah Oaks golf course, Nelson said.

Folks who have been watching the State (Border to Border Broadband) grants versus the federal RDOF funding, will especially appreciate Woodstock’s process, starting with getting the community involved…

“We had to show there was a need in the community,” he said.

Nelson said current internet speeds in Lynd range from five to 25 megabits per second, “But a lot of it is inconsistent.” With the new broadband project, speeds would be up to a gigabit per second, he said.

Nelson said Woodstock Communications sent out letters to Lynd residents to notify them of the project, and he planned to meet with members of the Lynd City Council to share more information on. Updates on the Lynd broadband project will also be posted on Woodstock Communications’ Facebook page, he said.

A look at how RDOF impacts the State Grant-funded project in Cook MN

The Ely Timberjay pulled the thread of conflict in Cook Minnesota where a MN broadband grant was impacted by federal RDOF funding plans. It’s a story we’ve seen in Le Sueur (and other areas) as well. I hope the details below help tell the story again. The high level issues have been discussed. In short – communities and providers worked together to submit proposals for MN State grants. Then federal RDOF funding was announced (providers were selected to submit long form applications for their projects) and areas within the federal selected areas were disqualified for state funding. (Some were able to change their applications; some couldn’t do that.)

Here’s how it played out in Cook, MN.

Good news for Paul Bunyan and Cook…

Bemidji-based Paul Bunyan Communications is set to receive $311,254 from the state Border-to-Border Broadband Development grant program to help fund the project, which is estimated to cost almost $700,000. Paul Bunyan would foot the bill for most of the difference, along with an $8,000 partnership contribution approved by the Cook City Council last August.

But the news could have been better. The original grant application for the City of Cook was for $790,575 for 345 passings (86 Unserved 259, Underserved).  It was reduced to $691,675 for 311 passings (57 Unserved, 254 Underserved) because of a conflict with possible federal funding …

However, [Steve] Howard told the Timberjay on Tuesday that there’s one more hurdle to clear before green-lighting the project, a hurdle created by a conflict between state and federal broadband funding programs that threatens to compromise other area broadband projects as well.
Howard said that Paul Bunyan had to scale back the size of its original proposal because the area overlapped in places with census tracts covered by the federally-supported Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. In December, the Federal Communications Commission awarded Nevada-based LTD Broadband nearly $312 million to develop broadband systems for tracts throughout Minnesota, including those bordering Cook.
Minnesota officials won’t allow Border-to-Border funds to be used for locations in RDOF tracts in order to avoid duplication of funding and to develop services in other areas. Since LTD Broadband has RDOF funding for those tracts locked in, Paul Bunyan would have to foot the full bill for locations they originally anticipated would be covered by Border-to-Border funds. Therefore, Howard said, they had to drop some of the proposed service locations outside Cook city limits from the project.

The decision in federal funding, means changes on the ground…

Howard said he notified city officials of the changes on Tuesday and is awaiting a response indicating if the city still wants to move forward with a smaller project at the same $8,000 commitment.
The system would provide first-time broadband capability to 57 customers and significantly upgraded broadband to 254 more locations, both residential and commercial. The vast majority of those locations are in Cook proper but some locations outside city limits are still included in the proposal because Paul Bunyan determined keeping them while assuming all the costs for their development was economically viable.
Operating at ultra-high speeds of 1Gbps, the system will be almost nine times as fast as the highest currently advertised speed of 115 Mbps by troubled Frontier Communication, a wire-based DSL service with extremely limited access in Cook. Broadbandnow.com estimates that 70 percent of residential locations in Cook do not currently have access to high-speed broadband service.

Without funding local providers are not able to invest…

Howard told the Cook council last August that the reason Cook and surrounding rural areas didn’t have widely available broadband was that companies couldn’t afford to build those systems without government support. The Border-to-Border award makes the Cook project possible for Paul Bunyan; without it, there would be no project.
Greenwood Township has been working with CTC Internet on broadband possibilities, although getting residents to respond to a needs assessment survey has been challenging. Now that LTD Broadband has secured access to federal RDOF funds and no state money is available, the likelihood of CTC Internet making an enormous investment of its own cash in a broadband system for the township has evaporated.

Two projects in Rice County get MN State grants – RDOF impact in other areas may have helped them

Faribault Daily News reports…

Two crucial rural broadband projects backed by the Rice County Board of Commissioners were among those funded last week through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Border to Border broadband grant program.

More details on the projects…

The larger of two local projects funded is spearheaded by Nuvera, a Prior Lake-based service provider. It will serve 103 unserved and 178 underserved locations in Wheatland and Webster townships in Rice County, as well as portions of Dakota and Scott counties.

One hundred and six of those homes will be in Rice County, which extended $200,000 in CARES Act dollars to the project in October. In total, the $1.2 million project will be funded about on third by DEED and two thirds by local match dollars.

Blue Earth-based service provider BEVCOMM received a bit over $200,000 for its roughly $525,000 project, which will serve approximately 14 unserved and 94 underserved locations in portions of Rice, Waseca, and Steele counties. That project is backed by Rice County’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority, which extended a $15,000 zero interest loan to the company in September. In addition, the county sent a letter of support for the project to DEED.

County Administrator Sara Folsted said she was surprised to see both projects funded. While both were certainly worthy, she noted that only about half of all project applications are approved — and Rice County has often been overlooked in favor of even more “needy” areas.

They note that disqualification of other areas because of  potential RDOF awards to LTD Broadband may have helped Rice County…

As Grove noted, one factor helping projects like Rice County’s may have been that proposals covering areas already included under the federal government’s recently announced Rural Digital Opportunity Fund grants were not eligible for consideration. That’s a point of frustration for Nathan Zacharias and other members of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition. Zacharias, a lobbyist with the MRBC, noted that it could take until 2027 for some projects to pan out.

CoBank questions RDOF applicants’ ability to deliver

Telecompetitor reports…

CoBank, a lender specializing in rural telecom, has added its voice to a growing chorus expressing concern about the ability of some Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction winners to deploy networks capable of supporting the broadband speeds they have committed to deliver. CoBank concerns relate to technology, expertise and financial prowess of certain winners.

They point out that the problem impacts just a few providers but represents a huge portion of the funding and areas…

Although there were more than 200 winners in the auction, the top 10 winners combined won more than three-quarters of the funding. And the ability of some of those top 10 winners to deliver what they promised has come into question.

Here’s what they have to say about LTD Broadband, which has qualified to apply to serve large swaths of Minnesota…

Some of the top 10 winners, including some that traditionally have used fixed wireless technology, submitted gigabit bids based on using fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) as well as fixed wireless. Although FTTP is a proven technology, it’s costlier than fixed wireless and some critics have questioned whether some winning bids are really feasible based on an FTTP deployment.

CoBank raises a different concern – the size of some winning bids in relation to the winner’s existing operations. The report notes, for example, that LTD Broadband – the biggest winner in the auction – won support to provide coverage in 15 states, but currently only offers service in parts of two states.

CoBank’s research about LTD Broadband also suggests that the top speed the company currently offers is 35 Mbps downstream and 7 Mbps upstream. Those speeds are considerably less than the 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps speeds for which LTD Broadband won funding.

“Seems like lots of execution risk to us,” CoBank said of LTD Broadband in its report. (Telecompetitor spoke with LTD Broadband in late December, but the company was unwilling to say much about its RDOF win at that time, citing FCC quiet period restrictions.)

Another concern related to some RDOF winners, according to CoBank, involves to the letters of credit that the companies are required to obtain before funding can be released to them. A company seeking to grow seven-fold could have trouble obtaining the necessary letter, CoBank suggests.

And SpaceX, which also could serve some areas in Minnesota with RDOF funds…

One of the big winners was SpaceX, which is still in the process of deploying a constellation of non-geostationary satellites to support service at 100 Mbps. That technology is relatively unproven, but CoBank also questions whether the FCC should have awarded $885.5 million in RDOF funding to a company owned by the world’s richest man.

MN DEED announces 2020 broadband grant recipients – RDOF impact awards

Today the Office of Broadband announced the recipients latest round of broadband grants. High level details, from the press conference (so math is very high level)…

  • $20 million in state funding
  • $45 million total investment for projects (so $25 in matching)
  • 39 projects funded from 64 applications

The RDOF (federal funding) changed the equation for applicants in areas that qualified for RDOF funding. Applicants in RDOF areas were asked to reapply to the State and remove the RDOF areas. (RDOF areas were announced after communities had applied for State grants.) In the end, DEED removed the applications in RDOF areas because they didn’t want to double up on state and federal funding. Frustrating to the applicants because RDOF areas qualify for federal funding, they are not guaranteed funding. (I wrote about RDOF progress before.)

When asked about RDOF, one winning applicant explained that the process to get funding from the State is quite rigorous. And Commissioner Grove noted that the turn around for State projects is faster. They both missed the point – some communities in RDOF areas are concerned at the lack of federal rigor and slower timeline.

The balance of State and Federal funding for broadband came up at a MN House Committee meeting last week. It’s sure to be a hot topic for the Legislature and Broadband Task Force as more federal money comes into the state.

Also brought up today the fact that Governor Walz proposed $50 million for one year funding for broadband, while the House has introduced a bill for $120 million over the biennium. (Senate is expected to introduce $120 million too.)

Congrats to the recipients below. I will be digging in to really look at the list later.

AcenTek – Rural Peterson Exchange FTTH – GRANT $1,492,096

This last mile project will serve 214 unserved households, 18 unserved businesses, 88 unserved farms, and two unserved community anchor institutions as well as 47 underserved households and five underserved businesses in areas of Fillmore and Winona counties. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota and Fillmore County EDA, AcenTek will improve these 374 locations’ broadband levels up to 1 Gbps download and 100 Mbps upload, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. These investments will bring the benefits of high speed broadband, increase economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for the people who live, work, and farm in the rural Peterson area.

  • Total eligible project cost is $4,973,654
  • Local match is $3,481,558
Arvig (Tekstar Communications, Inc.) – Lake Osakis, Sauk Lake & Smith Lake Project – GRANT $486,458

This middle and last mile project will upgrade approximately 230 unserved and 39 underserved locations in Todd and Douglas counties. Through a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Arvig (Tekstar) will improve broadband levels up to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. The area served will realize improved quality of life, including opportunities for business, education, health care, security, and telecommuting options.

  • Total eligible project cost is $1,389,880
  • Local match is $903,422
Benton Cooperative Telephone Company – Ramey Phase 2 Project – GRANT $338,011

This last mile project will serve 119 unserved locations in the Ramey telephone exchange located in portions of Lakin and Mount Morris townships in Morrison County and a small portion of Dailey and Page townships located in Mille Lacs County. Through a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Benton Cooperative Telephone Company will bring service of 250 Mbps download and 250 Mbps upload to homes, businesses and farms in the project area, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals.

  • Total eligible project cost is $965,746
  • Local match is $627,735
BEVCOMM (Blue Earth Valley Telephone Company, Easton Telephone Company & Cannon Valley Telecom) – Rural Faribault County and Martin County Fiber Expansion Phase 2 Project – GRANT $1,182,818

This last mile project will serve approximately two unserved households, 203 underserved households, 46 underserved businesses, and 181 underserved farms in portions of Faribault and Martin counties. In a funding

partnership with the State of Minnesota, Faribault County EDA and Martin County EDA, BEVCOMM will provide fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) at speeds of up to 1 Gbps symmetrical, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. Broadband access will provide home-based business options, stimulate economic growth, and spark innovation and investment in the project area.

  • Total eligible project cost is $2,957,043
  • Local match is $1,774,225
BEVCOMM (Cannon Valley Telecom, Inc.) – Rural Morristown Fiber Expansion Project – GRANT $210,692

This last mile project will serve approximately 14 unserved and 94 underserved locations in portions of Rice, Waseca, and Steele counties. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota and Rice County Housing & Redevelopment Authority, BEVCOMM will improve broadband levels to 1 Gbps symmetrical, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. With access to broadband, education, health care, agriculture, energy efficiency, and public safety will improve within the project area.

  • Total eligible project cost is $526,729
  • Local match is $316,037
Charter Communications (Spectrum) – Cambridge Hills – GRANT $28,950

This middle and last mile project will serve approximately 41 unserved households in Marion Township in Olmsted County. Through a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Charter Communications will bring broadband service levels up to 940 Mbps download and 35 Mbps upload, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. Broadband access will enhance the quality of life for residents in the project area, enabling students to complete their school assignments from home and adults to work from home.

  • Total eligible project cost is $96,582
  • Local match is $67,632
Charter Communications (Spectrum) – Getchell Road – GRANT $11,400

This middle and last mile project will provide broadband service to eight unserved households in northern Duluth in St. Louis County. Through a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Charter Communications will provide speeds up to 940 Mbps download and 35 Mbps upload, exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals.

  • Total eligible project cost is $25,360
  • Local match is $13,960
Charter Communications (Spectrum) – West Lake Carlos – GRANT $24,450

This middle and last mile project will serve approximately 42 unserved households on the west side of Lake Carlos in Douglas County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Charter Communications will provide broadband service levels up to 940 Mbps download and 35 Mbps upload, exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals and providing quality of life enhancements for the residents of the project area.

  • Total eligible project cost is $81,661
  • Local match is $57,211
Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) – Stark-Ross Lake Area – GRANT $350,805

This last mile project will serve approximately 180 unserved locations in a portion of Ross Lake Township in Crow Wing County. Through a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, CTC will provide speeds of 1 Gbps symmetrical (1 Gbps download and upload), exceeding 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. Building this high-speed broadband network will enable students to better access educational resources, families to communicate with loved ones, businesses to grow and thrive, aging residents to live longer and healthier lives, and workers to telecommute and be more productive employees.

  • Total eligible project cost is $701,610
  • Local match is $350,805
Crosslake Communications – O’Brien/Goodrich Lake Fiber Project – GRANT $618,970

This last mile O’Brien/Goodrich Lake Fiber Project will serve approximately 232 unserved households in Crow Wing County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Crosslake Communications will offer broadband services at speeds attaining 1 Gbps symmetrical (upstream and downstream), exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals. The use and development of this broadband will provide home-based business options, stimulate economic growth, innovation and investment as well as improve education, health care, energy efficiency, and public safety for the residents of the project area.

  • Total eligible project cost is $1,547,424
  • Local match is $928,454
Garden Valley Technologies – Northwest Thief River Falls and Euclid – GRANT $1,640,722

This middle and last mile project will serve 104 unserved and 22 underserved locations in portions of Marshall and Polk counties. The project will bring internet speeds to a synchronous 1 Gbps capability, exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals. Essential to the area’s economic prosperity, broadband will allow area residents to work from home and students to participate in distance learning as well as provide improved access to telemedicine and enable businesses and farms connectivity for financial management, pest management information and up to date weather information.

  • Total eligible project cost is $3,281,444
  • Local match is $1,640,722
Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association – Douglas County – County Road 34 FTTH Project – GRANT $1,551,370

This last mile project will serve 71 unserved and 544 underserved locations in Ida and Carlos townships in Douglas County. Through a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association will improve unserved/underserved levels to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals. This fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) project will provide households, businesses and farms with high-speeds needed to work, to learn, to play, and to connect.

  • Total eligible project cost is $3,447,488
  • Local match is $1,896,118
Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association – Douglas County – Hazel Hill Road FTTH Project – GRANT $692,929

This middle and last mile project will serve 212 unserved households, 79 unserved businesses and one unserved farm in Alexandria Township in Douglas County. Through a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association will provide speeds of 1Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals. Providing customers with adequate speeds to perform daily activities, along with improving their functionality, will enhance the quality of life in this community for years to come.

  • Total eligible project cost is $1,732,322
  • Local match is $1,039,393
Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association – Douglas County – Town Hall Road FTTH Project – GRANT $90,251

This last mile project will serve 46 unserved and 3 underserved locations in La Grand Township in Douglas County, including home-based businesses and households with telecommuters. Through a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association will improve unserved/underserved levels to 1G per second download and 1G per second upload, exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals. This fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) project will provide the most dependable, reliable technology today, enhancing lives by keeping families and communities connected.

  • Total eligible project cost is $225,628
  • Local match is $135,377
Halstad Telephone Company – North Fisher Expansion – GRANT $619,000

This last mile project will upgrade approximately 57 unserved and seven underserved locations in portions of Huntsville, Nesbit and Fanny townships in Polk County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Halstad Telephone Company will improve broadband with speeds up to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals. Families living in the project area will improve their education and health with access to e-learning, e-medicine and other quality-of-life opportunities provided through a robust broadband connection. Farms will be more efficient and reduce their impacts on the environment by utilizing precision farming techniques. Businesses can increase productivity, allow remote working, and become more competitive as they use the improved broadband for operations, marketing, data analytics, and expanded e-commerce opportunities.

  • Total eligible project cost is $1,376,000
  • Local match is $757,000
KMTelecom – Rock Dell Northwest Fiber Build – GRANT $385,173

This last mile project will serve approximately 125 unserved locations in the rural Ashland and Vernon townships in Dodge County and Salem Township in Olmsted County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, KMTelecom will improve unserved levels to 1 Gbps up and 1 Gbps down, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals and enabling rural customers to have adequate online access to education, healthcare and work. This network will also allow the farming community to increase their productivity and have access to the latest farming technologies.

  • Total eligible project cost is $1,283,910
  • Local match is $898,737
KMTelecom – Rock Dell Southwest Fiber Build – GRANT $404,709

This last mile project will serve approximately 96 unserved households, 70 farms and five unserved businesses in rural Vernon Township in Dodge County and Sargeant Township in Mower County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, KMTelecom will improve speeds to 1 Gbps up and 1 Gbps down, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. This network will bring broadband speeds that are now necessary for rural customers to have access to education, healthcare and work, as well as allow the farming community to increase their productivity and have access to the latest farming technologies.

  • Total eligible project cost is $1,349,031
  • Local match is $944,322
Lismore Cooperative Telephone Company (Lismore Broadband) – Iona FTTP – GRANT $219,714

This last mile and middle mile project will serve approximately 100 unserved locations including 75 households, nine businesses, 13 farms, and three community institutions within the town of Iona. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota and Murray County, Lismore will improve speed levels to 1 Gbps up and 1 Gbps down on their fiber network, improving access to education and healthcare services, increasing employment as businesses leverage this network and making telecommuting opportunities accessible. The new network is vital to this rural community and economy.

  • Total eligible project cost is $732,381
  • Local match is $512,667
Mediacom Minnesota LLC – Field of Dreams Hermantown Project – GRANT $624,751

This last mile project will serve approximately 267 underserved households, six underserved businesses, and one underserved community anchor institution in Hermantown in St. Louis County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota and City of Hermantown, Mediacom will improve broadband levels to 1 Gbps download and 50 Mbps upload, exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals. This investment will improve quality of life and business development opportunities for the project area.

  • Total eligible project cost is $1,249,503
  • Local match is $624,752
Mediacom Minnesota LLC – Minnestrista Project – GRANT $189,752

This last mile project will serve 80 unserved households in Minnestrista in Hennepin County. Through a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Mediacom will provide speeds of 1 Gbps download and 50 Mbps upload, exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals. By bringing broadband to this unserved area, the project will enhance quality of life and provide economic opportunities.

  • Total eligible project cost is $421,673
  • Local match is $231,921
Meeker Cooperative Light & Power Association (Vibrant Broadband) – Lake Koronis – GRANT $41,927

This last mile project will serve approximately 28 unserved and seven underserved locations in Union Grove Township in Meeker County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Meeker Cooperative will improve speed levels to 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload, meeting or exceeding Minnesota’s 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. Building a fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) high-speed broadband services network will provide

households, businesses and farms in the project area with access to e-learning, telemedicine, precision agriculture tools, as well as other critical applications.

  • Total eligible project cost is $139,757
  • Local match is $97,830
MiBroadband, LLC – Rural Preston FTTP – GRANT $1,173,330

The Rural Preston fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) project will serve 231 unserved and 26 underserved locations in the rural portions of southern Fillmore County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, City of Preston and Fillmore County, MiBroadband will improve speeds to 1 Gbps down and 1 Gbps upload on a fiber network, exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals. Building a FTTP network will improve access to education and healthcare services. It will also increase employment as businesses leverage this new network and telecommuting opportunities become accessible.

  • Total eligible project cost is $3,370,372
  • Local match is $2,197,042
Midco (Midcontinent Communications) – Scandia – GRANT $78,824

This last mile project will serve 78 underserved households and one underserved business in remote neighborhoods of Scandia in Washington County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota and City of Scandia, Midco will improve broadband service levels to symmetrical 5 Gbps speeds, exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals. By providing high-speed broadband services in the Scandia area, this project improves access to critical school e-learning and telehealth and will stimulate a more robust local economy.

  • Total eligible project cost is $434,144
  • Local match is $355,320
Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC) – Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative Phase 4 FTTH – GRANT $198,607

This fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project will serve 80 unserved and five underserved locations along the southeast side of Farm Island Lake in Aitkin County. Through a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, MLEC will bring 1 Gbps speeds to 84 homes and one business on the fiber route, exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals. With access to a high-quality dependable communications infrastructure, residents in the project area will realize expanded educational, economic and healthcare opportunities.

  • Total eligible project cost is $441,350
  • Local match is $242,743
Minnesota Valley Telephone Company (MVTC) – Rural Franklin Fiber Project – GRANT $226,800

This middle and last mile project will serve approximately 45 unserved locations in the City of Franklin and the townships of Sherman, Eden, Camp and Birch Cooley in Redwood, Renville and Brown counties. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Minnesota Valley Telephone Company will offer broadband services at 1 Gbps symmetrical (upstream and downstream), promoting rural economic development within the project area. The fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) project will transform these unserved areas into highly productive rural communities, opening doors to advancements such as precision agriculture, and will empower the area by providing the opportunity to be proficient users of broadband technology.

  • Total eligible project cost is $648,000
  • Local match is $421,200
Nuvera Communications, Inc. – Goodhue Welch FTTP – GRANT $340,790

This last mile project south of Welch will serve 100 unserved and 15 underserved locations in Goodhue County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Nuvera Communications, Inc. will bring broadband service levels to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals. This fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network will enable households, businesses and farms in the project area to utilize new technology and tools to grow and enhance their community.

  • Total eligible project cost is $973,686
  • Local match is $632,896
Nuvera Communications, Inc. – Goodhue West FTTP – GRANT $532,232

This last mile project will serve 148 unserved and two underserved locations in Goodhue, Zumbrota, Minneola, and Belle Creek townships in Goodhue County and Chester Township in Wabasha County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Nuvera Communications, Inc. will bring broadband service levels to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals. The reliable, affordable, high quality broadband service will enable residents in the project area to have increased access to health care and education, and farms and business will have the technology to enhance their operations.

  • Total eligible project cost is $1,520,662
  • Local match is $988,430
Nuvera Communications, Inc. – Hutchinson SE FTTP – GRANT $169,369

This last mile project will serve 42 unserved and five underserved locations in the Hutchinson area of McLeod County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Nuvera Communications, Inc. will bring broadband service levels to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals. This fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network will provide reliable, affordable, high quality broadband to rural farms, businesses, and homes in the project area.

  • Total eligible project cost is $423,423
  • Local match is $254,054
Nuvera Communications, Inc. – New Ulm HDT 202 FTTP – GRANT $444,386

This last mile project north of New Ulm will serve approximately 80 unserved and 67 underserved locations in Nicollet County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Nuvera Communications, Inc. will bring broadband service levels to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals. This fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network will provide reliable, affordable, high quality broadband to rural farms, businesses, and homes, enabling them to thrive in a modern world.

  • Total eligible project cost is $1,269,675
  • Local match is $825,289
Nuvera Communications, Inc. – Webster Rural FTTP – GRANT $431,260

This last mile project will serve 103 unserved and 178 underserved locations in Wheatland and Webster townships in Rice County, Euraka and Greenvale townships in Dakota County, and New Market and Cedar Lake townships in Scott County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Nuvera Communications, Inc. will bring broadband service levels to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the State’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals. The reliable, affordable, high quality broadband service will enable residents in the project area to have increased access to health care and education, and farms and business will have the technology to enhance their operations.

  • Total eligible project cost is $1,232,171
  • Local match is $800,911
Paul Bunyan Communications – City of Cook GigaZone Fiber – GRANT $311,254

This last mile project will improve high-speed broadband for 57 unserved and 254 underserved locations in the community of Cook in St. Louis County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota and City of Cook, Paul Bunyan Communications will improve broadband service levels up to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals for homes, businesses, and community facilities in the project area. The project will enable businesses to take advantage of online resources, including training, marketing, and business support services. In addition, it will increase quality of life and economic opportunity for all residents by providing new avenues to pursue education, employment, healthcare, social life, and entertainment.

  • Total eligible project cost is $691,675
  • Local match is $380,421
Runestone Telecom Association – Villard – GRANT $1,463,259

This last mile project will serve 496 unserved households, 36 unserved businesses, nine unserved farms, and five unserved community anchor institutions in northeast Pope County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota and Pope County, Runestone Telecom will bring broadband service levels up to 1 Gbps download and up to 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. This fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project will increase economic development and facilitate telemedicine and distance education options not only in the era of COVID-19, but beyond.

  • Total eligible project cost is $4,180,741
  • Local match is $2,717,482
Savage Communications Inc. (SCI) – Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe (Onamia) Broadband Expansion – GRANT $70,261

This last mile fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project will serve 102 unserved households within the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Reservation in Mille Lacs County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, SCI Broadband will bring service levels of 1 Gbps down and 20 Mbps upload, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. SCI will leverage its existing middle mile infrastructure to deploy a last mile fiber solution, improving access to education, telemedicine, telecommuting, and economic development for the project area.

  • Total eligible project cost is $140,522
  • Local match is $70,261
Sytek Communications – Morrison/Todd/Stearns County FTTP Project – GRANT $1,048,668

This last mile project will bring service to 130 locations in Southwest Morrison, Southeastern Todd and Northeastern Stearns counties. Through a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Sytek Communications will extend fiber-optic lines to some of the most rural parts of Minnesota at service levels up to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. As a result of this project, families will have the tools they need to earn a living, educate their children and access needed medical care.

  • Total eligible project cost is $2,330,373
  • Local match is $1,281,705
West Central Telephone Association – Rural Staples Phase 2 – GRANT $465,050

This last mile project will serve 56 unserved locations in extremely rural areas of Wadena and Cass counties. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Sourcewell and Region 5, WCTA will bring service levels of 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding Minnesota’s 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. Building a fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) network provides advanced, high-speed broadband services to households, businesses and farms in the project area, improving their access to e-learning, telehealth, the latest precision agriculture tools, and other applications that allow businesses to operate remotely and stimulate the local economy.

  • Total eligible project cost is $1,033,445
  • Local match is $568,395
Wikstrom Telephone Co. Inc. – Wiktel NW MN Broadband 2020 – GRANT $490,997

The last mile project will serve 153 unserved locations in sparsely populated areas in Kittson, Marshall and Polk counties. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Wikstrom Telephone will bring broadband speeds up to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. This fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network will provide service to an area with only 1.5 subscribers per route mile of cable and is key to economic development, successful e-learning for children, and home health care monitoring in this remote area.

  • Total eligible project cost is $1,091,104
  • Local match is $600,107
Winnebago Cooperative Telecom Association – SE Faribault/W Freeborn County FTTP – GRANT $953,842

This last-mile fiber optic project will bring service to 319 unserved locations, including 289 homes, 16 businesses, 11 farms, and three community anchor institutions in the townships of Clark, Foster, Kiester, Seely, Alden, Carlston, Manchester, Mansfield, and Pickerel Lake located in Southeastern Faribault and Western Freeborn counties. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Winnebago Cooperative Telephone Association (WCTA) will bring 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload service capabilities to this very rural part of southern Minnesota, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. As a result of this project, those served will have access to the broadband they need to adapt to the rapidly changing needs of business, employment, education, and social applications.

  • Total eligible project cost is $3,179,381
  • Local match is $2,225,539
Winthrop Telephone Company, Inc. – Bismarck & Transit Township FTTP Project – GRANT $716,000

This last mile project will serve 148 unserved and six underserved locations, including homes, businesses and farms, in Bismarck, Transit and Round Grove townships in Sibley and McLeod counties. Through a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Winthrop Telephone Company will offer broadband services at 1 Gbps symmetrical (upstream and downstream), exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. This project will promote rural economic development and transform these unserved areas into highly-productive rural communities.

  • Total eligible project cost is $1,790,000
  • Local match is $1,074,000
Woodstock Telephone Company – Lynd FTTP – GRANT $325,548

This middle and last mile project will serve 203 underserved households, three underserved businesses and three underserved anchor institutions in the City of Lynd in Lyon County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, Woodstock Telephone Company will improve service levels to 1 Gbps down and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. The network will enable new business and employment in the community, increase educational opportunities and resources, provide increased access to health care resources and increase overall quality of life in the project area.

  • Total eligible project cost is $1,085,154
  • Local match is $759,606

Feasibility study near Tower MN show some areas broadband ready – but will federal RDOF funding for LTD change the equation?

The Ely Timber Jay reports on a broadband feasibility study with a roadmap to better broadband in the area…

A roadmap to provide broadband level internet service to the Tower area was recently released by the Laurentian, Tower, and East Range (LTE) Broadband Group. The study’s conclusions show bringing broadband to the Tower area may be financially feasible for the priority areas of Pike Bay, Daisy Bay, and Eagles Nest, and expansion to a wider rural area encompassing the Tower School district boundaries could be possible, although additional financing and contributions from stakeholders might be required.
The study was funded with contributions by governmental units, local businesses, and a matching grant from the Blandin Foundation. The LTE Broadband Group, which has been working with funding and leadership from the Blandin Foundation and Iron Range Resources, and stakeholders from the East Range, Tower-Soudan, and Eveleth-Gilbert-Virginia areas commissioned the study last year. The group hired NEO Connect to conduct the study, which cost about $120,000.

Since the study was done, the federal funding may have changed the equation entirely…

John Bassing, who along with his wife JoAnn, has been an active participant in the broadband planning group, said that while the results of the study are promising, there is a possible complication. A company called LTD Broadband that has previously specialized in providing fixed wireless internet service, not fiber-optic-based services, received $312 million in funding from the Federal Communications Commission for projects in the state, the largest amount awarded in Minnesota.
“That Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) grant throws a wrench in the monkey-works,” said Bassing. “The company bid on providing service to census blocks, including those in our area.” LTD’s experience in Minnesota has been providing fixed wireless service in flat farmland areas, said Bassing. The company’s expertise to provide fiber optic service has been questioned, as well as whether it can provide the gigabyte level service that is the goal in Minnesota.

This leaves the area up in the air…

“Our next step is to attract a broadband provider,” said Bassing. “But DEED [Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development] is worried about the legal implications of giving out grants in the RDOF area.” DEED oversees the state’s Border to Border grant program, which is instrumental in funding rural broadband projects.
At this point, Bassing said, the project is on hold until some of these questions are resolved. …

Whether or not the state’s Border to Border program will be able to make grants to project in our area is uncertain at this time, Bassing said.

The article goes on to share important results from the study. Also they paint a picture of the predicament of many communities in Minnesota are living. Communities have been working on getting better broadband and are now holding their breath to see what happens with the RDOF funding for LTD Broadband. I’ve mentioned the issues with RDOF before – and the details above cover it as well. In short – federal funding did not take the local community into consideration.

Best case scenario, LTD will turn around and create an amazing FTTH network. That would be awesome. But even if they do, it’s a network that happens to a community not with and there’s a difference, especially to the communities that have been working on this. It’s awesome like when someone gives you a free dinner but less so if you don’t get to choose your meal.

Worst case scenario, the RDOF program resembles the CAF II federal funding programs where a few providers were given a lot of money to build better broadband (but only required to build to 25/3 and sometimes even lower than that) and several years to do it. Two of those providers in Minnesota have recently reported that they “may NOT have met” the most recent deadlines. That is where the concern comes in given LTD’s background in wireless but contact in FTTH. They are in line to be hired for something they aren’t known for doing. The concern is great enough that 151 Senators have asked the FCC to scrutinize the long form applications for RDOF funding. (LTD has “won” the sole ability to apply for funds in their areas but they have not yet been awarded the funds.)

The concerns here are multiple:

  • Concern that federal funds will be ill-spent
  • Concern that these areas will not qualify for other funding until RDOF payments are done (10 years)