Tag: "minnesota"

Posted January 13, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Over the last three years, Le Sueur County, Minnesota has assembled a task force of citizens, local officials, and business leaders which have succeeded in dramatically improving broadband for thousands of residents who previously had poor or no connectivity. In doing so, they’ve also forged relationships, inventoried local resources, and created a model which is likely to see the landscape go from one where nearly all residents in the county were under- or unserved by basic broadband at the beginning of 2018 to one where the vast majority of the community will have access at 100/20 Mbps in the next couple years. And if efforts continue to succeed, it’s possible we might see full fiber coverage in Le Sueur by the end of the decade, making it one of the most connected counties in the state.

Le Sueur is located ninety miles southwest of Saint Paul, and had just under 29,000 residents and 11,000 households in 2019. There are 11 whole or partial cities in the county, of which Le Center and Montgomery are the largest at around 2,500 people each. The remaining communities sit between 200 and a 1,000 residents. More than a thousand farms dot the landscape, and agriculture, along with some tourism and resort development centered on the lake communities, comprise the bulk of the county’s economic picture.

Broadband infrastructure outside of the population centers in Le Sueur is generally poor, which was a problem for residents, for businesses, and for farmers looking to remain competitive and modernize operations: “the lack of this service means students have trouble completing schoolwork and seeking future opportunity, small businesses have trouble connecting with customers and vendors, farmers have less efficient operations, home sales and development lags, and options for telemedicine are closed.”

Until the middle of the last decade, residents were largely on their own to find solutions. Starting about five years ago, however, things began to change. One Le Sueur resident who had paid individually to bring better Internet access to her home so she could run her small business took the initiative to bring up issue to the county board. Shortly thereafter, a diverse and energetic group came together to form the local broadband task...

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Posted November 30, 2020 by sean

The failure of policy and leadership at the federal level in addressing the digital divide was ever more clearly exposed as Covid-19 restrictions were put into place last spring. And, as the pandemic continues to rage, daunting connectivity challenges remain. 

Yes, the Connect America Fund (CAF) II program has doled out over $11 billion since 2015 in subsidies to the big telcos like AT&T, CenturyLink, Frontier, Windstream, and Consolidated ostensibly to upgrade rural broadband to speeds of at least 10/1 Megabits per second (Mbps). But, as Doug Dawson, president of CCG Consulting notes, it’s been a massive subsidy failure given that “even in 2015, it was ludicrous to spend money to build 10/1 Mbps broadband” – the same year the FCC defined broadband as 25/3 Mbps, which means “the FCC was investing in new Internet infrastructure in 2015 that didn’t qualify as broadband at the time of the award of funding.”

And there is reason to doubt that those subsidized upgrades were even completed, even as the FCC just extended the CAF II program for a seventh year.

So as states — and in many instances, local municipalities — step into the breach, the National Governors Association has released a new report that outlines a list of strategies governors can use to increase broadband access in underserved communities. 

Published just before Thanksgiving, the report first lays out the challenge:

According to the FCC, in 2018, at least 18.3 million people lacked access to fixed broadband in the United States that meets minimum [I]nternet access speed of 25/3. 1 Of those 18.3 million people, representing 6 percent of the total population, 14 million live in rural areas and 1 million live on Tribal lands, which amounts to 22 percent and 28 percent of those respective geographic populations [even as] studies have claimed that the FCC data is undercounting the number of people in the U.S. without fixed broadband access, and that the total may be as high as 42 million people.

“In addition to lack of access, the cost of broadband services remains a considerable barrier for many households,” the report points out. “The COVID-19 pandemic has...

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Posted October 5, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

One silver lining of the ongoing public health crisis is the chance to attend a wide array of virtual events which tackle aspects of community broadband expansion all across the country, in a variety of contexts. This week features three opportunities to hear about what’s going on in Minnesota, Michigan, and Virginia. Read on for details. 

Blandin Foundation Annual Conference

First up is Minnesota-based Blandin Foundation’s annual conference. It’s gone virtual for 2020, and the organization has taken it as an opportunity to shake things up. Instead of a three-day conference, Blandin is hosting four weeks’ worth of events starting Tuesday, October 6th, at 9am CST. 

The conference will feature a combination of panels with updates on everything from technology outreach to telehealth to efforts by community anchor institutions to stay connected, as well as mentoring sessions, regulatory and legislative updates, and feature presentations by leading voices:

  • Wednesday, October 7, 11:00am: From Digital Infrastructure to Transformation: Leveraging Broadband for Community Economic Development by Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D., Purdue Extension.
  • Thursday, October 8, 9:30am: Bringing Broadband to Rural America: Opportunities and Challenges Post-Pandemic by Shirley Bloomfield, NTCA.
  • Thursday, October 15, 3pm: Federal Broadband Regulatory and Legislative Updates by Molly O’Leary, Director of Government Affairs, NTCA.
  • Friday, October 23, 10:00am: Book Club: Thank You for Being Late and Thursday, October 29, 9:15am: How I Think About the Importance of Communities in the 21st Century by Thomas L. Friedman, Author, Reporter, Columnist, New York Times.
  • Thursday, October 27, 9:30am: Connecting Residents to Essential Services: Solutions for Local Communities by Deb Socia, The Enterprise Center.
  • Thursday, October 29, 10:30a: 2020 MN County Broadband Reports: Measured Progress, Accelerated Need by Ann Treacy, Treacy Information Services

It’s likely Deb Socia will be talking about Chattanooga’s landmark effort to connect 28,000 students to free 100/100 Megabit per second (Mbps) Internet. We covered Robert Gallardo’s...

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Posted August 19, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

If you live in the land of ten thousand lakes, your help is needed. The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition has launched a speed test initiative to collect much-needed data from everyone in the state so that lawmakers and stakeholders can better direct broadband expansion efforts now and in the future. Hop over to the speed test page and give them a hand.

Data, Data, Data

The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition (MRBC) — which is made up of over a hundred utilities, cooperatives, regional development commissions, nonprofits, private companies, and rural and urban interest groups — has worked for years with local communities and in the state capitol to advocate for more funds and help local communities address Internet access imbalances across the state. The initiative is the latest mark of their efforts, asking Internet users to input their addresses and how much they pay their Internet Service Provider (ISP) to get a better sense of speeds, availability, and prices. 

To date, they’ve gotten results from a little over 15,000 tests in 11,000 locations. There are predictable problem areas in the northeast part of the state, and according to the map just under 7% of locations are unserved so far. Saint Louis, Itasca, and Carlton Counties account for the bulk of the tests outside of the metro area, though Minnesotans in Scott and Le Sueur Counties south of the 169 corridor are also putting up a strong showing. 

We’ll be interested to see the report the group puts out once the test is complete and the data have been analyzed, but initial qualitative results show great news for those living in areas with cooperatives and other nonprofits and less-great news for those in areas with some of the problem monopoly ISPs. Subscribers of Paul Bunyan Communications (which started life as a telephone cooperative), for instance, enjoy high symmetrical upload and download speeds that should be serving those forced to work, visit the doctor, and grocery shop from home well. 406 results from the ISP in Itasca County show an average of 74 Megabits per second (Mbps) both up and down...

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Posted May 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In response to the increased reliance on connectivity precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Minnesota Legislature is working on legislation to improve access to broadband, online education, and telehealth services throughout the state.

The Senate passed their version of the bipartisan funding bill, SF 4494, earlier this week, and the House has two similar pieces of legislation, HF 1507 and HF 3029, currently under consideration. If the bills are passed and signed into law, there would be a total of $20 million to $27 million (depending on how the different versions are reconciled) available in grants to support distance learning, telemedicine programs, and broadband deployment. Bill authors designed the legislation to prioritize the use of federal money for the grant programs before pulling from the state’s general fund.

Broadband Bills in House and Senate

The Minnesota Senate passed its version of the legislation, SF 4494, on May 4 in a unanimous vote. Representatives in the House have rolled the grant programs into a larger coronavirus relief package that is under consideration, HF 1507. This is in addition to keeping a separate House bill with the broadband funding provisions, HF 3029, alive in case HF 1507 fails to pass.

The bills direct grant funding to three connectivity issues: connecting students for distance education, expanding access to telemedicine services, and deploying broadband networks in unserved areas. To facilitate online education during the pandemic, the bills would make $8 million (SF 4494 and HF 3029) or $15 million (HF 1507) available in grants to schools through the state Department of Education to fund the distribution of devices like hotspots and to reimburse the cost of...

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Posted March 4, 2020 by lgonzalez

In September 2019, we interviewed Kathryn DeWit from the Broadband Initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts about their State Broadband Policy Explorer. The tool documents state laws aimed at expanding broadband access. Now, the group has released a reported titled, How States Are Expanding Broadband Access, that examines developments in nine states where broadband availability has improved after implementing state efforts. The report dives into what those states are doing that works and makes recommendations to emulate those policies and repeat that positive trajectory.

Read the full report here.

All Hands on Deck

One of the primary discoveries from the report is that states are using many technologies and funding approaches to bring high-quality Internet access to those who have been left behind. Like other projects that involved multiple stakeholders and public funding, Pew learned that building broadband support and requiring accountability are factors that contribute to success.

Pew examined efforts in California, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. They also looked at Minnesota, where the Border to Border Development Grant Broadband Program provides funding for projects in areas where connectivity is slow and unreliable or where people have no service options at all. In Minnesota, notes the report, the state has established measurable and increasing speed goals and allows funding to flow to a broad range of recipients, including local governments, rural cooperatives, tribal governments, and large corporate Internet access providers.

minnesota-loon_2.png Minnesota also provides a challenge process, which has been used by some of the larger ISPs in the past to delay plans for community-centered projects,...

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Posted February 26, 2020 by lgonzalez

As state lawmakers debate in committee rooms and Capitol chambers around the country, various broadband and Internet network infrastructure bills are appearing on agendas. Some are good news for local communities interested in developing publicly owned networks while other preemption bills make projects more difficult to plan, fund, and execute. We've gathered together some notable bills from several states that merit watching - good, bad, and possibly both.

New Hampshire

For years, local communities were not allowed to bond to develop publicly owned broadband infrastructure in New Hampshire. Last year, the state adopted SB 170, which opened the door a crack so that municipalities can bond to develop infrastructure for public-private partnerships (PPPs) in "unserved" areas. This year, the New Hampshire General Court has the opportunity to push open the door a bit wider with SB 459.

SB 459 allows local communities to potentially define "unserved" areas themselves by putting more responsibility on Internet access providers. Municipalities must currently engage in a request for information process in which they must reach out to all Internet service providers operating in the community. SB 459, if adopted, would allow a community to consider areas "unserved" if a provider does not respond to such a request to clarify which premises are unserved. With the "unserved" designation, municipalities can bond to develop infrastructure to serve those premises.

The bill has bipartisan support and is scheduled for a March 11th hearing in the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee. Read the text of SB 459 here [PDF] and follow its progress here.

Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, where lawmakers meet all year, Rep. Pam Snyder introduced HB 2055 in late in 2019. The bill allows local governments to provide telecommunications services, but limits them to unserved areas. If passed, the bill amends the Municipalities Authorities Act and,...

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Posted February 25, 2020 by lgonzalez

Rural areas are taking steps to improve their connectivity and are developing high-quality Internet access on par with the best services in urban centers. When smaller communities band together, they increase their chances of developing fast, affordable, reliable community networks that serve a larger swath of people. This week, Christopher speaks with Travis Thies, General Manager of one of those networks established to serve an eight-town region, Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS).

The network started with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and has continued to make improvements and upgrades to serve folks who were once stuck with antiquated Internet access. Before SMBS, several communities had been told by the incumbent Internet access provider that the best they could ever expect was dial-up service. Now, subscribers can sign-up for gigabit connections. With intelligent partnerships, they're also able to provide service to farms and rural premises beyond town limits.

Travis and Christopher discuss the history of the project, the challenges that community leaders and network officials have faced and overcome, and how the area's demographics have helped them determine the best ways to serve subscribers. They also discuss their partnership with a local fixed wireless Internet service provider and the how better connectivity has attracted people and businesses to the region.

This show is 24 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed...

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Posted February 18, 2020 by lgonzalez

Minnesota's Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program provides funding for deployment of broadband networks in rural regions of the state. The program, which started in 2014, has helped extend necessary high-quality Internet access infrastructure to dozens of communities. Without this week's guest, Matt Schmit, the program would never have become a reality.

Matt and Christopher knew each other long before the program was even an idea — when they were in grad school together — and you can tell they’re friends with a lot to reminisce about. Matt, who is now working on broadband in Illinois, was one of the State Senators who drove the conversation that moved the needle on rural broadband and who led the development of the state program that has accomplished so much in Minnesota. He and Christopher talk about the process and what it was like to go from recognizing the need to creating a program that is making change.

Because of his ability to get results in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Matt is now working in Illinois, where billions of state dollars have been earmarked for infrastructure, which includes broadband deployment. Matt is now Deputy Director at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, where he will work to determine the best way forward in deploying broadband as critical infrastructure. He and Christopher talk about some of the challenges he expects to face, what it’s like working in Illinois as compared to his work in Minnesota, and his hopes for the new state broadband program.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please ...

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Posted January 14, 2020 by lgonzalez

If you're a regular visitor to MuniNetworks.org, you may also be someone ideally suited for a position we recently learned about with the Minnesota Department of Commerce. They're hiring a Telecommunications Analyst. The position application period is open until January 23, 2020, so now is the time to apply.

Check out the position posting here, where you can learn more about qualifications, salary, and benefits.

From the job summary:

This position performs a variety of tasks to fulfill the Department's statutory responsibilities with respect to the telecommunications marketplace. The telecommunications unit seeks to protect consumers from abusive tactics, and works to advance competition in a manner that is consistent with the public interest. The successful applicant will review new and existing telecommunications carrier petitions to determine compliance with statutory requirements and Minnesota rules.  The position will investigate problems experienced by consumers, and competitors in the marketplace; draft reports for actions before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission; and enforce statutes, rules and Commission orders.

Good luck and remember, the application deadline is January 23, 2020.

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