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Community Broadband Media Roundup - January 23

We continue to see reverberations from President Obama's speaking out in favor of municipal networks. The presidential nod sparked state lawmakers to propose bills, news organizations to write editorials, and to give communities a better sense of how they can take action locally.

As Claire Cain Miller with the New York Times wrote in her article for “The Upshot”:

“The goal is not to replace the big companies with small, locally run Internet providers. It is to give people more than one or two options for buying Internet – and spur everyone, including the incumbents, to offer more competitive service and pricing.”

Jeff Ward-Bailey reported on Obama’s interest in tech issues in the State of the Union, specifically the laws limiting local deployment of networks.

“Obama has said that he wants to end these laws, and the White House’s new broadband plan includes a program, BroadbandUSA, that will encourage communities to deploy their own high-speed networks. BroadbandUSA will offer guidance on planning, financing, and building municipal broadband networks, and even includes funding for “in-person technical assistance to communities.”

The always-worth-reading Harold Feld explained the significance of President Obama's short mention of Internet access in his address:

“Which brings me to the last point. Yes, the President is clearly signalling that Dems need to see investment in broadband infrastructure (including by local governments) and protecting the open Internet not as isolated issues or peripheral techie issues, but as part of a comprehensive plan to ensure that the United States has a robust 21st infrastructure necessary to support a prosperous nation with opportunity for all. At the same time, Republicans should stop thinking of this as “regulation of the Internet” and think of it in the same way we think of highway fund investment and maintaining public roads. This doesn’t have to be a partisan issue, and it didn’t use to be.”

Reactions from cities and news organizations around the country showed that people support the right to build networks for job creation, business development, education, and healthcare. 

Alex Keefe and Lynne Mccrea with Vermont Public Radio talked to Irv Thomas with central Vermont’s ECFiber for reactions to the president’s message. More than 30 percent of Vermonters did not have access to high download speeds in 2013 – that’s one of the highest percentages of any state in the nation. 

Community Broadband Efforts

Danielle Kehl and Patrick Lucey with the Open Technology Institute wrote about the significance of Obama’s announcement for other small cities that want to restore local authority to build networks: 

“The digital divide becomes even more pronounced when you compare access in urban and rural parts of America, or consider the fact that four out of five Americans who aren’t online live below the poverty line. A big part of the problem is competition: Most Americans live in areas where only a single provider offers truly high-speed connectivity (more than 25 megabits per second), and it often comes with a steep price tag.”  

Some states are wasting no time moving forward with their community Internet networks. Kudos to Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey for his proposal. The Hill’s Mario Trujillo reports:

“Booker's legislation — the Community Broadband Act — would block any state "statute, regulation, or other legal requirement" that restricts cities from providing their own Internet network. His legislation to tweak the Telecommunications Act of 1996 will be introduced Thursday.”

Booker's office framed the issue as one that could help rural and low-income communities. At least 19 states around the country have laws on the books setting limits on the creation or expansion of municipal broadband networks. 

The state with some of the slowest Internet in the nation may have hope yet for high speed Internet access thanks to a huge push by state lawmakers. Maine lawmakers on both sides of the isle submitted a whopping 35 bills that could help the state make some serious moves up the list. Darren Fishell with Bangor Daily News covered the story.

“I think most people understand that in this day and age for us to be competitive, that’s one of the necessary tools,” [Rep. Norman] Higgins (a Republican) said, noting he’s found bipartisan support on the issue. “The question, I think becomes: How do we do it? And who does it?”

One of the key proposals is a change in definitions. Whit Richardson with The Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel writes that Maine’s broadband service authority is raising the standard of broadband from 1.5 Mbps to download and upload speeds of at least 10 Mbps. Currently just 20 percent of households there have access to those speeds. The new standard would mean about 80 percent of the state’s communities (up from just 5 percent) would be eligible for ConnectME funding and it be the most aggressive state in terms of requiring fast upload speeds - a boon to small businesses and people who work remotely.

But Broadband DSL Reports’ Karl Bode reports that the state may find they want to raise that bar even higher in coming months. He reports on Netflix CEO’s push for making 25 Mbps download the “new baseline.”

Another Minnesota broadband effort is nearing its financial goals. The Belle Plaine Herald report that RS Fiber’s 10 member cities re-committed to the fiber project this week. Backers are seeking another level of commitment before moving ahead with the sale of bonds in March. The first phase of building for the project is expected to begin in 2016.

Cleveland’s OneCommunity “Big Gig Challenge Grant” is going toward helping create a fiber network to connect several businesses, non-profits and the Cleveland Clinic. The West 25th Corridor project is earmarked to be municipally-led, community-wide fiber. 

“The impact of introducing fiber to this burgeoning district cannot be overstated,” according to OneCommunity CEO Lev Gonick. “Hospitals, industry and businesses of all sizes, regardless of their scope will benefit from the network. We are proud to be part of this major leap into the future as outlined by the West 25th Street Corridor Initiative.”

In Utah, UTOPIA is reaching a settlement that gives hope to the struggling network. Antone Clark with the Standard Examiner reported the good news for network, which had been running at a loss for several years. 

“Even as we speak, our revenue picture is frankly outstanding,” Paul Isaac, acting director of UTOPIA, told the Standard-Examiner recently when pressed on the operational status of the network as it heads into the 2015 year.”

Just “down the road” in San Francisco, you can access high speed Internet from all city parks, and many businesses.  Josh Harkinson with Motherboard reported on how the telecom industry has developed such a successful obstacle course for communities: 

“Like many cities, San Francisco already has a robust fiber network in place to serve government offices.  [Ron Vinson, the city's chief marketing officer] believes that the $1.7 million that the city has spent to outfit its network with public wifi (not including a $600,000 grant from Google) is totally worth it. "There's absolutely no downside being able to provide access to the internet, whether you are parking your car or waiting for a MUNI bus," he says. "It's one of those fundamental things. We fill potholes, we clean the streets, and yes, now we provide wifi. And our citizens expect that."

Seattleites hopes for a city-owned network were rekindled this week! KING5 News reported on a new group forming that will push for affordable Internet access across the city. If the group is successful, Seattle would be the largest city in the United States with a municipal network.

Missouri Considers Revoking Local Authority

Despite the positive news from the White House, another state— Missouri— will consider a bill that creates barriers for community broadband. Rep. Rocky Miller introduced the bill, Sean Buckley with Fierce Telecom.

"Miller's bill includes a provision that would require a town or city to make a majority vote to offer a "competitive service." If residents voted to build a community network, the municipality would not be able to use the revenue from other services like water and sewer to pay for the buildout of the network and services, which would create a challenge in being able to pay for the initial construction costs to extend services to homes and businesses."

Kansas City, Missouri, is concerned how the proposed legislation would stifle the torrent of tech startups and economic development activities that are tied to faster speeds. 

"[Communications litigation expert Robert] Cooper said that state laws that restrict municipal broadband deployment are "antithetical to those FCC mandates because they enshrine barriers to investment by local governments." There is "ample" evidence that advanced broadband capability is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion."

Bill to Establish Broadband Grant Program in Montana State Legislature

In Missoula and Bozeman, momentum is building for improved connectivity by way of community network infrastructure. As usual, funding a municipal network is always one of the main challenges, but the state appears uninterested in helping them. State Representative Kelly McCarthy recently dropped HB 14 into the hopper, a bill to create a broadband development fund primarily for private companies.

The bill authorizes $15 million in general obligation bonds for broadband infrastructure projects for middle-mile and last-mile connectivity in rural areas. Unfortunately, projects built and maintained by private entities have priority per the language of section 3(2)(b).

The state legislature would be wise to follow Minnesota's lead and establish a program that is available to all as in the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program. Private entities are eligible to apply along with public entities and nonprofits, but do not receive special consideration.

If anything, the long history of success from cooperatives and local government approaches in infrastructure is favorable to the history of consolidation and poor services that big monopolies have offered in rural areas.

It never ceases to amaze us that people designing programs to use taxpayer money in expanding essential infrastructurel would earmark it only to subsidize entities that are the least accountable to the communities they are supposed to serve. Ultimately you have to wonder whether these programs are designed to benefit local communities or just the companies that can best afford lobbyists.

All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access

Publication Date: 
September 23, 2014
Author(s): 
Lisa Gonzalez
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell

Minneapolis, MN —In 2010 the Minnesota legislature set a goal: universal access to high speed broadband throughout the state by 2015. It is now 2015 and large parts of Greater Minnesota will not achieve that goal, even as technological advances make the original benchmarks increasingly obsolete.

But some Minnesota communities are significantly exceeding those goals. Why? The activism of local governments.

A new report by ILSR, widely recognized as one of the most knowledgeable organizations on municipal broadband networks, details the many ways Minnesota’s local governments have stepped up. “All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access” includes case studies of 12 Minnesota cities and counties striving to bring their citizens 21st century telecommunications.

 

  • Windom, which is one of the most advanced networks in the state, built their own network after their telephone company refused to invest in their community.
  • Dakota County showed how a coordinated excavation policy can reduce by more than 90 percent the cost of installing fiber.
  • Lac qui Parle County partnered with a telephone cooperative to bring high speed broadband to its most sparsely population communities.

Read how these and other communities took control of their own connectivity and their community vitality. Some did it alone while others established partnerships; each chose the path they considered the best for their own community.

 

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 119

Thanks to Jeff Hoel for providing the transcript for Episode 119 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast with Senator Schmit, Representative Simonson, and Danna Mackenzie on State of Minnesota's Border to Border Broadband Fund. Listen to this episode here.

 

00:05:

Danna Mackenzie: What we wanted to do was figure out what is the appropriate and right role for a state to enter into this conversation, and to incent the construction and build into areas of the state where it's currently -- no other incentives have worked to date.

00:22:

Lisa Gonzalez: Hi, and welcome once again to the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. This is Lisa Gonzalez.

During the last legislative session, lawmakers in the state of Minnesota appropriated $20 million to a grant program to encourage the deployment of broadband infrastructure. The state is now taking applications for that program until October 28th. As part of the measure, the legislature also created the State Office of Broadband Development. In this podcast, Chris visits with two of the lawmakers that were instrumental in passing the measure, Senator Matt Schmit and Representative Erik Simonson. He also visits with Danna Mackenzie, the Executive Director for the State Office of Broadband Development.

In order to get the initiative adopted, it was important to show need, desire, and support for the appropriation. Senator Schmit and Representative Simonson, both from greater Minnesota, explained how they reached out to Minnesota communities, how they took public opinion back to their colleagues, and what they hoped they can accomplish with this modest state investment. In order to learn more about the grant program, Danna helps explain the details about eligible applicants, expectations for its distribution, and some of the requirements for funded projects. When crafting the requirements for the program, the authors wisely chose to include specs that ensure a long-term solution. Here's Chris, visiting with Senator Schmit, Representative Simonson, and, last of all, Danna Mackenzie.

01:51:

Chris Mitchell: This is Chris Mitchell, now, talking with Senator Matt Schmit, of the DFL Party, from Red Wing. Welcome to the show.

01:57:

Senator Matt Schmit: Hey, Chris. It's good to join you today.

01:59:

Chris: So, Senator Schmit, I wanted to ask you, what is the need in Minnesota? Like, how do you quantify what we need here?

02:08:

Sen. Matt Schmit: You know, Chris, I think that's a great question. I think a lot of the states and regions are grappling with that. Obviously, there's different capacities out there, in terms of gigabit, you know, bandwidth, in other areas. We don't have it in much of Minnesota. But what I do is, I look back at the work that we've done as a state in the last ten years. And a lot of that work has been the result of three successive Governor's Task Forces on Broadband. And great philanthropic acts particularly coming from the Blandin Foundation. Local energy, with communities banding together to talk about how to improve their bandwidth and their technology in their own footprints. But the thing that I think we need to focus on is the fact the first Governor's Task Force here in Minnesota adopted a consensus, a set of state speed goals, that we -- that they felt would be important for Minnesota to reach by 2015. And those goals articulated a range of 10-20 megabits per second download speed, accessible to all Minnesotans, in all corners of the state. And also, a minimum of 5-10 megabits per second upload speed, accessible to all Minnesotans throughout the state. And, you know, the federal stimulus and ARRA process allowed us to start mapping the progress that Minnesota's made.

And we've certainly made great strides over the last several years. But one thing is clear: we're going to fall short of meeting state speed goals. And those are speed goals, I should mention, that were put in the state statute following the activity of that first Task Force report. And so, we're going to fall short of those. It looks like maybe 80 percent of Minnesota will hit those goals. And that's going to leave over 300,000 Minnesotans short that access, in 2015. And these are estimates, but it's quite clear we're going to fall short.

And so the question is what to do about it. And, about a year ago, we set off to go and talk to folks throughout the state, with their experiences of accessing the bandwidth they need for their day-to-day lives. We dubbed it the Border-to-Border Broadband Listening Tour. And we met with around 20 communities -- all corners of the state. We had great turnout. We had some staff join us, and the folks from the Department of Commerce were there as well. And it was just kind of a traveling show. We had a -- the Blandin Foundation sent a couple of individuals to a number of these, and recording the contents of the meetings. And it -- high-value sessions, each one of them. We had a cross-section of the community. We had folks from education, from healthcare, from the local, you know, Chamber of Commerce, local elected officials. And just regular citizens who said I take an interest in this; I want my community to be as livable, I want our quality of life to be as high as it possibly can. And we had many of these meetings, anywhere from 15, 20, 30, even 40 people plus, show up, on cold days in the Minnesota winters, to talk about the importance of broadband in their daily lives.

And the message that I heard, time and time again, is that there are pockets of poor service where we're just not cutting it, that we're not competitive, that folks living in certain parts of the state just aren't able to take part in the 21st century economy, let alone just enjoy, you know, basic connectivity. Time after time, in these meetings, these themes were repeated. One, that it really comes down to a fact that, you know, we have hard-to-reach areas in Minnesota, that regardless of, perhaps, the best efforts of some of our providers and cooperatives, there's a shortage of capital, of investment capital to extend networks. And another thing we heard is that Minnesota is really diverse -- geographically, market, and also the players who are providing services to markets. And that we can't have a one-size-fits-all approach if the state's going to do anything in this realm. And the third thing we heard, loud and clear, at every one of these stops, is that folks are tired of talking about this problem -- they want to do something about it.

05:52:

Chris: Hear, hear!

05:54:

Sen. Matt Schmit: Yeah, exactly. You've heard before, right? So it was a great tour, you know. Over 20 stops. We connected with over 450 Minnesotans around the state. And it really set the tone for what we were going to do in the 2014 legislative session. And so -- invaluable process. And I think, in my mind, that reaffirmed the sense that I had long had, that we just weren't, you know, keeping pace with where we needed to go.

And bringing this back to, you know, your original question, you know, how are we doing in terms of meeting the state's speed goals -- where are we at -- Minnesota has made great strides in the last several years. But independent analysis has demonstrated that we're actually slipping, relative to other states, and certainly relative to other countries. So, despite great efforts from the private provider community and other, you know, public efforts along the way, we're not keeping up. And there's more that we can do if we're going to take seriously the charge of being a leader in this space -- not simply meeting state speed goals but being a leader in this space.

 

And so, I think we've had, you know, great dialog over the last year about what to do. And I'm very optimistic we're in a position right now where we're really going to be able to move that dial, not only relative to where we were a couple years ago but relative to where other states are, and other states are moving.

07:06:

Chris: Well, let me ask you one final question. You worked with Representative Erik Simonson. And he's in an area that I think has cable coverage. You're from Red Wing, where -- Red Wing, at least, is getting some of the best access in the state, thanks to a Minnesota company, HBC -- Hiawatha Broadband. I presume some of the people who are your constituents don't have the greatest access. But the two of you made this a key issue, and build a fund that's going to be focused on serving the least-served people. And I'm just curious, what motivates that?

07:36:

Sen. Matt Schmit: Well, I just think there's a keen appreciation that this is the key investment of the 21st century. And you've heard these analogies before. You had the intercontinental railroad of the 19th century. You had the interstate highway system of the 20th century. Well, the information superhighway is the key medium for the exchange of ideas and goods and services in the 21st century. And we've got to make sure that we have access to it in all corners of the state that no one is left behind.

And just as, you know, we did 100 years ago, and the undertaking of rural electrification, this is the charge of the 21st century, to make sure that folks are connected, that they have access to the 21st century economy, and can participate in that on a day-to-day basis. It's just going to take a galvanized effort, bringing together the best of the public and private sectors and the nonprofit sector have to bear. And I'm hoping that in Minnesota, we're starting that conversation. It's not about who's doing it, necessarily, but how we're moving the dial, and how we're getting, you know, communities, individuals and businesses, families, students, farmers the vital access they need.

08:37:

Chris: Great. Well, thank you for coming on the show.

08:39:

Sen. Matt Schmit: Chris, it's always good to join you.

08:41:

Chris: And now I'm speaking with Representative Erik Simonson, from the DFL, a representative from Duluth, representing District 7B. Welcome to the show.

08:51:

Representative Erik Simonson: Thanks, Chris. Appreciate your having me.

08:53:

Chris: I'm really glad to have you on the show. I was extremely appreciative of all the work you did. You're one of the main reasons that we have this broadband fund. And I think you were the lead author in that house, and really a driving force. So, why don't you tell us, what motivated you to make sure we had this fund to spur broadband deployment?

09:15:

Rep. Erik Simonson: Right. Well, there's a couple of reasons, really. There's actually several reasons, but a couple that really stand out, for me. Being a representative from greater Minnesota, I see and hear about the need for tools for economic development all the time, both from local government -- municipalities that are trying to encourage development within their own jurisdictions, and from business as well. And one of the things that has really risen to the top, over the last ten or so years, has been this need for better broadband capabilities here in Minnesota. This market, this economy in today's world, really relies upon good Internet service. And it doesn't really matter what industry you're in. It seems to be across the board that there's a definite need. And Minnesota has really started to fall behind, if you will, the curve. And this is one of the things that prompted me to get involved with this bill. Because I saw the, you know, the great potential for greater economic development -- especially in greater Minnesota, outside the metro.

10:22:

Chris: That actually leads to my second question, which is, what do you think we're going to see happening as a result of this fund? And how are we going to know if we're successful?

10:32:

Rep. Erik Simonson: Well, I think, you know, what I think will happen is, we've got this fund, now, that's got $20 million in it. And the language around the fund is designed to promote, you know, strong public-private partnerships. And really try to capture as much private investment as we can in systems. And my hope is that we see a significant amount of applications come into DEED for these dollars. Because I think the need is out there. I think it's been demonstrated. And now, with this fund set up, and the application period opening, I think we'll see a significant amount of applications that will far exceed the amount of money that we've appropriated -- which, in theory, should demonstrate the need for a further appropriation for Minnesota.

11:17:

Chris: Would you say, then, that you expect that a number of people will be surprised at just how much motivation there is in greater Minnesota to invest in better networks?

11:27:

Rep. Erik Simonson: That's my assumption. You know, I think that is what I believe, based on the conversations that I've had throughout Minnesota. I think, you know, there's this significant need out there. I don't think anybody questions that. It's a matter of how we capture that need, and turn it around to provide something that will facilitate further investment, and building these networks out, and providing the service that folks need. So, I'm expecting to see a pretty significant amount of applications.

11:56:

Chris: And one of the things that I think people should realize is that you and Senator Schmit really pushed hard for a $100 million fund. And we're going to see a continued discussion as to how much as to how much money the legislature should put into this. How do you recommend people get involved to make sure that their views are being heard, in terms of needing more investment in these networks?

12:19:

Rep. Erik Simonson: Right. And the $100 million came as a recommendation from the Broadband Task Force. And I think it's important to put that into perspective, that, even at $100 million, that doesn't come anywhere near meeting the statewide need, if you will. So, $100 million is really sort of a drop in the bucket, in terms of total need. And we, of course, settled and received $20 million. But as we go forward, I think that, now that we've got a process in place, and we've got an ability for municipalities and private business and others to kind of demonstrate their need through a process, I think it will become fairly evident about the size of the need here in Minnesota. And I think people really need to make sure that they go through the application process, and, more importantly, talk to their own legislators, both in the House and the Senate, and the Governor's office, about, you know, what the need is in Minnesota. Because, in my mind, the Internet really has become what I'm calling, basically, critical infrastructure now -- no different than electricity or water and you know, sewer lines were many years ago. This is the need of today. It's the need of tomorrow. And if Minnesota wants to remain, you know, nationally and globally competitive, this -- these are the types of things that we need to do.

13:39:

Chris: All right. Well, thank you for joining us.

13:41:

Rep. Erik Simonson: You're welcome. Thanks, Chris. Appreciate it.

13:43:

Chris: I'm speaking with Danna Mackenzie, the Executive Director of the Office of Broadband Development for the state of Minnesota. Welcome to the show.

13:50:

Danna Mackenzie: Thank you. Glad to be here.

13:52:

Chris: Yes. I'm glad you're there, also, actually. I was thrilled when you got the position. You came down from Cook County. And it's a very good thing for the state to have you in that position. So, thank you. I understand that you have some checks you're going to be cutting in the near future. There is a Broadband Fund that some people fought very hard to establish, to make sure that Minnesota has more investment in Internet networks. Can you tell us what this fund is all about?

14:22:

Danna: I sure can. Yes, the legislators and the Governor put into place a general fund appropriation of $20 million in 2014, to really look at -- how can the state incent the deployment and the build-out of broadband infrastructure, out into the places that are least served, and most difficult to serve, frankly. And so, this $20 million fund is really our -- the starting point of the conversation for the state on what the most appropriate involvement for the state is, in that equation.

14:55:

Chris: What is the actual name of the fund?

14:59:

Danna: It is the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program.

15:04:

Chris: So, we have this Border-to-Border Fund -- I'll just simplify it -- and it's $20 million. How is that going to be split up, ultimately?

15:12:

Danna: Well, it's really focused on the un- and underserved areas of the state, like I mentioned, which means that we are expecting to see applications from all over the state for projects that probably look at serving the small pockets of areas that are unserved. So, we anticipate -- this grant has a legislative cap of $5 million per award. So, obviously, a $20 million fund isn't going to go a long way. But we anticipate anywhere from 15 to 50 applicants, and we hope to fund anywhere from 5 to 20 projects, using that funding source. And, again, the projects that are eligible are focused on unserved areas. And that funding is actually eligible to be distributed to a wide variety of applicants. And the legislators were -- deliberately wanted to welcome all comers who had the wherewithal and ability to build and sustain the project into these unserved areas. So, the legislation outlines that the money is available to both for-profit businesses, including existing providers, cooperatives, nonprofits, government entities, tribal entities. So, it's a pretty wide variety of eligible applicants that we expect to see come in the door, here, in the next four weeks.

16:43:

Chris: Well, I think that was -- I was very glad to see that. And, in particular, I just think it's always noting that, for states that do have a number of reservations, that -- people sometimes forget, but it's very important to include the tribal entities. Because if you think rural Minnesota has it bad, a lot of times, the tribal areas are even lacking access to telephone, around the United States. So, it's just an important thing for people to be aware of.

17:07:

Danna: I agree. And I think it will be interesting to see how the tribal governments respond to this opportunity.

17:13:

Chris: So what are the, sort of, requirements that come along? I remember actually making a recommendation that there be a number of more requirements than were ultimately adopted. But there's one in particular that I think is just a very smart move. So, If I was to get some of this money to deploy a network, what would the state require of me if I accepted it?

17:35:

Danna: I think the biggest one, other than the ones we've already mentioned -- which is to be serving the un- and underserved areas -- is that any technology that's funded using these dollars must be scalable to at least 100 megabits per second connection bi-directionally, which -- obviously, the intent of that was to make sure that these are long-term investments, and not something that might turn around and become obsolete in a very short period of time. So, while the language of the grant and the law is agnostic as far as the technology used to deliver those services, the applicants need to prove, through engineering documents, that anything that they intend to install is, in fact, scalable to those levels.

18:19:

Chris: Yeah. I'm just glad to see that, because, I think, in some areas, we've seen government funds used to build networks that some might say were obsolete before they were finished. And I'm very glad we won't be seeing any of that here in Minnesota. One of the -- the last question I have for you, actually, is: I think Minnesota is really leading the way for a number of other states in this, because, while we've seen a lot of elected officials say broadband's really important, and we need to figure out how to get better connections, Minnesota has actually put out $20 million. And a number of us hope for more. But $20 million is more than most states are putting up right now. So, what other kinds of lessons might you suggest to similar people in your position in other states, as to what they can learn from Minnesota?

19:05:

Danna: Well, as you might guess, we're a little bit early, as far as the grant itself, in being able to discern what lessons we're going to learn from that process. But there are a couple of things that have kind of led us up to this point that might be useful to consider. And one of the first I would mention is the Task Force. It's really a useful policy mechanism to have an external group, or body that is charged with deliberating on the value of various broadband policy options. And the fact that that group includes both public and private representatives is an important piece. It provides information and informs legislative discussion, in such a way that gives them, really, kind of a jump start on the debate, as they move into a fast-moving session. So -- and that information is also very useful for a Governor's office, when determining their position on an issue. So, I would say that somewhat independent, or outside, group, looking at those issues, is a helpful policy lever.

The second thing I would note is, the creation of the Office of Broadband Development is, in our case -- really has shown its value, in creating a focal point for broadband issues in state government. I turns out there's a lot of moving pieces that are happening in various areas and agencies. And, in many cases -- in fact, a lot of cases -- not even with the awareness of the people working on it, how it dovetails and is important to broadband advocacy and furthering broadband in the state. So the idea that the state's created that focal point. And, which also, in turn, acts as another policy lever, in moving policy and programs forward.

And I think the third piece is just the beginning lesson of the incentive program. What we wanted to do was figure out what is the appropriate and right role for a state to enter into this conversation, and to incent the construction and build into areas of the state where currently no other incentives have worked to date. And that includes the successful business model. And we are already seeing that the communications between providers and communities are changing, and moving forward in a way that we hadn't seen prior to having this incentive program on the table.

So, those are kind of my three first lessons.

21:41:

Chris: Now let me just ask you, as sort of a bonus comment: There was some concern from some, as this bill was making its way through, that there might not be enough interest from parties in Minnesota for a fund. Do you think there's any danger that you won't get enough applications?

21:57:

Danna: I am fairly comfortable that we're going to get plenty of applications. We are in daily conversation with communities and providers that are working on applications. And, just very briefly, you are probably aware, one of the things we used was the FCC's Rural Broadband Experiments Letters of Interest, to gauge volume of demand. And with over 60 letters of interest, and $600 million in proposals in that list, we're pretty confident that there is a demand out there.

22:29:

Chris: And that was just for the state of Minnesota, from those projects, right?

22:32:

Danna: Correct. Yes. Thank you for that clarifying statement.

22:34:

Chris: Well, thank you so much for coming on this show. And we wish you luck in evaluating all the applications.

22:39:

Danna: You're welcome. Thank you for the opportunity.

22:42:

Lisa: If you're interested in learning more about the Border-to-Border program grants, you can visit the Minnesota Department of Economic Development website to download an application and other relevant materials. Remember, the application deadline is October 28th, 2014. So don't delay.

Send us your ideas for the show. E-mail us at podcast@muninetworks.org. Follow us on Twitter. Our handle is @communitynets. Once again, we want to thank Jesse Evans for the song, "Is it Fire?" licensed through Creative Commons. And thank you for listening. Have a great day.

Minnesota's Chaska.net to End Service in 2015

The rumors have been swirling for months now that the city of Chaska was considering putting an end to its municipal Wi-Fi service, Chaska.net. A recent Chaska Herald article confirms that city staff recommends the Council choose to end its residential service. If the Council follows the recommendation, the remaining business Wi-Fi customer, KleinBank data center, and School District 112 will still receive Wi-Fi service.

According to the article, the city explored the possibility of selling the system to the private sector, but the idea did not garner a favorable deal:

[City Administrator Matt] Podhradsky said that it appeared that the proposals were more of an attempt to gain access to the city’s water towers. “We started asking ourselves, ‘Should we be in the business of picking winners and losers?’” said Podhradsky. “We decided that’s just not the right direction for us.” 

City staff is recommending that the service end when the contract for support for the existing equipment ends in July. They also recommend that the last four months of service be offered free of charge. Customers will be notified by letter in early 2015.

The end of Chaska.net is bittersweet. When it was new, it was much celebrated as one of the first municipal Wi-Fi networks in the U.S. The past few years, however, have proved difficult. Waning subscriptions, competition from private providers, and old equipment have taken a toll. In order to replace the aging equipment, the city needs to spend $3 million. 

Podhrasky said the city is proud of what it accomplished with Chaska.net. “When you think back, there were a lot of cities that tried things and spent a lot of dollars to get something like this off the ground.”

He noted that the goal of the Internet utility was to provide high-speed service at an affordable cost until the market caught up. “We were a gap,” he said.

Today, that market has caught up. “It sort of feels like we completed our goal,” said Podhradsky.

Read more about Chaska's fiber network and Wi-Fi investment in our recent report, All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - December 19

This was a big year for local governments and many year-end discussions have noted the role of cities in expanding high quality Internet access. Among them, The Free Press' Timothy Karr:

The rise of homegrown Internet infrastructure has prompted industry lobbyists to introduce state-level legislation to smother such efforts. There are at least 20 such statutes on the books. But in June, the FCC stepped in with a plan to preempt these state laws, giving communities the support they need to affordably connect more people.

and Broadband Breakfast's Drew Clark:

...viewed from the vantage point of the future, the far more significant development will be the emergence of opportunities outside of Washington for high-capacity broadband networks. It’s a world in which cities and municipalities are playing the leadership role...

The most direct crystallization of our municipal broadband moment is the new non-profit coalition dubbed Next Century Cities. Launched less than two months ago in Santa Monica, it now boasts membership from 50 cities, representing 25 states. From Los Angeles to communities along the Pacific Northwest, from Lafayette in Cajun country to Chattanooga, and from patrician Boston to a city that got its start as a cow town, Kansas City, each of these 50 cities have different motivations and approaches to Gigabit Networks.

Almost 60% of the United States has access to 100 Mbps Internet connections, but only 3% can get a gig. Ars Technica's Jon Brodkin and Anne L. Kim from Roll Call both take a look at a new report from the Department of Commerce this week. 

The ESA report titled, “Competition Among U.S. Broadband Service Providers,” finds that far more competition exists at slower speeds than at higher speeds (only 8% can choose from at least two 100 Mbps providers.) 

"This report gives policymakers a deeper understanding of what is occurring in the ISP marketplace," says U.S. Commerce Department Chief Economist Sue Helper. “We know that competition typically drives down prices. And we also know that increasingly, higher Internet speeds are required for optimal functionality of popular, high-bandwidth computing applications. As more and more commerce and information move online, we risk further widening the digital divide if access to affordable, higher speed Internet doesn’t keep pace.”  

Anders Bylund with Motley Fool posted an article this week about why AT&T might nervous about the days to come. Bylund asks whether municipal broadband projects like those in Chanute, Kansas, and Google Fiber’s entry into the market are rendering AT&T obsolete. 

“You might think that AT&T would shrug its shoulders over new competition in such a laughably small market. But the company sees this as the beginnings of a much larger threat: Allow one high-sped service at incredibly low prices, and other cities will surely follow. Soon enough, this tiny insurgent will have turned into a nationwide trend, putting enormous pressure on AT&T's existing business model.”

Small towns, larger cities, counties and cooperatives all over the United States are catching on. 

In Renville, Nicollet and Sibley Counties in rural Minnesota, residents have a lot to look forward to in 2015. Cassandra Sepeda with KEYC Mankato reported on RS Fiber’s growing momentum. The fiber-to-the-home initiative could reach more than 6,000 residents by 2016. The groups financial planner, and local business man, Phil Keithahn works from home and is definitely on-board:

"...That's what this does. It levels the playing field for people who live and work in rural America with people who are in the twin cities. So it's an economic development tool for south central Minnesota."

In Virginia’s rural Bedford County— a cooperative partnership could soon connect thousands of homes. Last week the county’s board announced they would collaborate with Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative to get high speed Internet in the area.

“[Internet infrastructure] is a public utility build-out — the biggest one so far in this century — and it’s pretty much equal to the rural electrification that happened at the turn of the last century,” said Allen Boaz, who presented the advisory proposal to the supervisors.

“That’s how important I believe it is, and a whole lot of other people are with me.”

The county’s economic development director says that residents might be connected within six months.

And, speaking of development, 10 Connecticut communities are rolling forward with high speed Internet goals in mind. According to Brian Fung with the Washington Post, half of the state's population could some day be wired for high-speed, fiber-optic Internet. Stephen Singer with the Associated Press writes that while the cities have committed to wanting businesses to build and finance Internet service, they don't want to get into the business themselves: 

Among the goals are to create a gigabit-capable network for targeted businesses and residential areas with a "demonstrated demand" to drive job creation and stimulate economic growth. The call [out to a business or partner] also seeks to provide free or heavily discounted Internet service of between 10 and 100 megabits to underserved and disadvantaged residential areas and deliver gigabit Internet service at prices comparable to other gigabit fiber networks in the United States.

Students in South Bend, Indiana are now fiber-connected. Metronet's grant program helped pay for the high-performing school to connect to Metronet's dark fiber network. Before the upgrade, students often had to do their Internet research from their own homes. 

McHenry County’s Northwest Herald, and Charleston, South Carolina’s The Post and Courier, put their support behind competitive Internet this week. In Charleston, the paper threw down on South Carolina’s 2012 law that prohibits public networks, saying that the state cannot afford to continue to be left behind in terms of speed and connectivity: 

“South Carolina communities with limited or inadequate bandwidth access stand virtually no chance of attracting industries that increasingly rely on high speed Internet connections to do business. Gov. Nikki Haley's record on job creation is strong, but her decision to sign the 2012 bill dealt a serious blow to the state's ability to attract investments.

Perhaps regulating the Internet under a labyrinthine federal communications code would indeed slow innovation and hurt the economy. But preventing competition - the inevitable effect of South Carolina's law - can be equally harmful.

Companies like Comcast, Time Warner and AT&T operate like monopolies in too many markets, and monopolies require rules to prevent actions that harm consumers and other businesses.”

The Star Tribune and MSP Business Journal are reporting that Chaska’s city-owned Internet service will be switched off next year. The city opted out of the wireless Internet offerings rather than pay the $3 million to upgrade. Since it launched in 2004, the city has seen a rise in competition, with more providers offering service. 

“We never wanted to compete with the private sector,” Podhrasky said. “We just wanted to make sure our residents had access to [wireless Internet] until there were more options out there.” He said the city concluded the time has come, with people now having a variety of choices, including bundled services at high speeds through cable modems at prices close to chaska.net’s."

The city will continue to provide its fiber service to the school district and one data center.

And Susan Crawford came out another good piece: “The 3 Big Myths that are holding back America’s Internet.”

TING!

Charlottesville, Virginia could soon be home to what one alternative wireless carrier calls, “Google Fiber lite.” Ting announced this week they will build their own 1Gbps fiber-to-the-premises when they purchase Blue Ridge InternetWorks to serve Charlottesville customers— and, as Sean Buckley with Fierce Telecom reports, they don’t plan to stop there. 

"We'll be on the lookout for the next town or city in which we can lay down roots," wrote [Andrew] Moore-Crispin, [senior content manager at Ting.] “Roots made of fiber optic cable and ultimately leading right to the home. If you'd like to see Ting Internet in your town, let us know on the Ting Internet page… We admire what Google is doing with and for gigabit fiber Internet access, but for the Internet giant, access is more of a side project," wrote Moore-Crispin. "Also, Google is a lot of great things but human scale isn't one of them."

Jason Koebler with Motherboard covered the story as well

"When we got into mobile, we just took the same business processing and billing and applied them to mobile, which was suffering from incredibly high pricing and a low level of service," he added. "We thought, where else can we take these things we've gotten good and apply them to?"

Hypocrisy Department

And Time Warner Cable is fighting to keep its Broadband expansion projects private.

"'As outlined in our appeal, disclosure of Time Warner Cable build-out plans, including details like completion dates and the areas and number of potential customers served, would clearly harm our competitive position,' Time Warner Cable spokesman Scott Pryzwansky said Monday."

Time Warner Cable and other private providers regularly demand this information from local government providers. This is a frank admission that local governments operate from a position of disadvantage relative to private sector providers.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - December 12, 2014

This week in Community Broadband networks... partnerships, cooperatives, and going-it-alone. For a background in muni networks, check out this recent article from FiscalNote. The article highlights Kansas and Utah's fight for improving beyond the minimum speeds. 

Speaking of minimum, the FCC announced its new "rock bottom" for regulated broadband speeds. Ars Technica's Jon Brodkin reports that despite AT&T, Verizon, and the National Cable and Telecom Association's protests, ISPs that use government subsidies to build rural broadband networks must provide speeds of at least 10 Mbps for downloads.

Rural Americans should not be left behind those who live in big cities, the FCC announcement today said. "According to recent data, 99 percent of Americans living in urban areas have access to fixed broadband speeds of 10/1, which can accommodate more modern applications and uses. Moreover, the vast majority of urban households are able to subscribe to even faster service," the FCC said.

The FCC plans to offer nearly $1.8 billion a year to carriers willing to expand service to 5 million rural Americans. 

This is a step in the right direction, but we are alarmed to see a download:upload ratio of 10:1. People in rural areas need to upload as well as download - our comments to the FCC strongly recommended raising the upstream threshold as well and we are very disappointed to see that remain a pathetic 1 Mbps.

And, from TechDirt's own "who can you trust if you can't trust the phone company department," Karl Bode found that a study by the AT&T-funded Progressive Policy Institute concluded that if Title II regulations were passed, the nation would be "awash in $15 billion in various new Federal and State taxes and fees. Bode writes that the study cherry-picked and conflated data:

The reality the broadband industry doesn't want to acknowledge is that very little changes for it under Title II if carriers aren't engaged in bad behavior. The broadband industry is fighting Title II solely to protect potential revenues generated from abusing uncompetitive markets. That this self-serving behavior is being dressed up as concern about the size of your broadband bill is the industry's best comedic work to date.

Cities Pursuing Community Broadband

Nancy Scola reported on the growing collective of "Next Century Cities." 

[The group's] early expansion is a signal of what seems to be a shift in the way Americans are thinking about high-speed Internet access: the idea that cities will the battlegrounds for the playing out of the broadband debates. One effect of these cities working so closely with Google as it rolls out its fiber network in places like Kansas City and Austin is a realization that mayors can take broadband into their own hands -- whether that's through a municipal solution like Chattanooga's gigabit network or through partnering with traditional Internet service providers such as Comcast or Time Warner Cable.

Other partnerships are also moving muni networks forward

At the same time as the Next Century Cities announcement, the Department of Agriculture announced $190.5 million in grants and loans for rural broadband and telecommunications infrastructure.

"Modern telecommunications and broadband access is now as essential to the businesses and residents of rural America as electricity was in the 1930s," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in a USDA statement. The funding will go towards providing, “broadband in areas that lack it, help rural-serving public television stations begin using digital broadcasts and support other telecommunications infrastructure improvements."

Jason Meyers with LightReading explains why utility companies (like EPB in Chattanooga) are positioned so well to be home to gigabit networks.  

Several communities are considering local options for networks. Some are just in the earliest study phases: Medina County and Athens in Ohio and Walla Walla, Washington are among them. RS Fiber in Minnesota has approved its updated business plan and financial strategy, meaning it can move forward with its cooperative network, and several communities in Northeastern Oklahoma are pursuing a cooperative plan as well.

It looks like the push for local options in Colorado is having an affect on other communities. Aspen and Pitkin County have submitted requests for proposals-- perhaps inspired by Longmont, Boulder, and the rest of the communities we reported on after the November referenda.  

Meantime, Bruce Kushnick with the Huffington Post reported this week that communities all over the country have been paying for fiber infrastructure upgrades, but have seen almost none of the investment. 

Starting in 1991, the phone companies went state-to-state to get changes in state laws, known as "alternative regulations" to charge customers for the replacement of the copper wires that were part of the state-based utility, like Verizon New Jersey, with a fiber optic wire capable of 45 Mbps in both directions, the standard speed for broadband in 1992.

And though it varied by state, this fiber optic wiring was to be done everywhere -- urban, rural, and suburban, rich and poor communities and cities, and even the schools were to be wired in some states. All customers were paying for the upgrades of this future fiber optic broadband utility so they all deserved to be upgraded.

Check it out and see if your community is on the list. And if you think this isn't the first time you've heard about this Big Ripoff, you're right-- We interviewed him on Community Broadband Bits Episode 28

Net Neutrality

This week, New Jersey's Cory Booker and Maine's Angus King defended net neutrality on CNN. 

The Internet is one of the most powerful tools on the planet. Across the globe, millions of people connect every minute of every day to harness its wealth of information, exchange ideas in an open platform and foster the type of innovation and entrepreneurship that spurs economic growth.

And today, it's never been more at risk in the United States.

Washington Post's Brian Fung reported that there are hints that the telecom industry is preparing for a new Title II reclassification. Verizon's CFO Francis Shammo said, in a nutshell, that the company would do just fine if the FCC imposed the stricter regulations. 

"I mean to be real clear, I mean this does not influence the way we invest. I mean we're going to continue to invest in our networks and our platforms, both in Wireless and Wireline FiOS and where we need to. So nothing will influence that. I mean if you think about it, look, I mean we were born out of a highly regulated company, so we know how this operates.

Despite this very clear statement, we expect to see still more claims from groups like the AT&T puppet Progressive Policy Institute that Title II would somehow cause major carriers to invest even less in networks across the United States. Though, if the market were half as competitive as they claim, any firm that invested less would be in big trouble! How do we know when they are lying? Well, are their lips moving?

Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Video and Materials Now Available from Blandin

Our friends at the Blandin Foundation recently sponsored another Minnesota Border to Border Broadband conference. Video and materials are now available

In addition to the archived video of the November 19th event in Brainerd, Minnesota, Blandin on Broadband's Ann Treacy provides links to summaries of each session, some of which also have PowerPoint presentations or video available for viewing:

Interest in rural broadband projects has risen sharply in the past two years. In 2013, the state legislature set aside $20 million in grant funding for rural broadband projects; applications have recently come due.

A Star Tribune article reports that entities seek approximately $44.2 million in total for Minnesota projects. Sen. Matt Schmit, the lead author on the grant funding bill also spoke at the conference and told attendees:

“Above all, I think what we wanted to do was prove there was interest out there — that there’s a need."

Community Broadband Media Roundup - December 5, 2014

After successfully fighting a Kansas state law proposed in February that would have outlawed community networks entirely, the city of Chanute is being required to follow an outdated 1940s law that requires them to ask permission to move forward with a bond initiative that would fund a high speed Internet network to businesses and residents. And, AT&T is officially intervening in the city’s efforts. 

Our most favoritest headline of the week about this story comes from Brad Reed with BGR: “AT&T wants to know why a town is building a 1Gbps network when it already offers 6Mbps DSL." Yah, Chanute, what gives?!

Dion Lefler with the Wichita Eagle reported this week that the city has been ordered to follow a 1940 state law requiring it to get permission to sell bonds that would fund a project to provide the town’s 9,000 residents with high speed Internet. 

Chanute officials say the law requiring commission permission to expand is outdated, because it was written in the days when the telephone company was a monopoly… “AT&T is the incumbent telephone company and Cable One is the incumbent cable TV operator,” the city’s filing to the commission said. “Neither of those providers offers the level of service throughout Chanute’s utility service area that Chanute will be able to offer its citizens as a result of the investment planned for Chanute’s network. As such, there will not be a duplication of existing services, even if such a consideration were still relevant today.

Kate Cox with the Consumerist goes further:

AT&T has a long track record of very vocally opposing even the mere idea of municipal broadband projects. The company has worked hard and spent lots of money helping enact state laws that prohibit public broadband expansion.

They have also argued that not only should public fiber projects be banned any place that they (or anyone else) already serves, but that those projects should be banned anywhere they might choose to do business later on.

And Jon Brodkin with Ars Technica noted the real cause for AT&T’s worry: the city would charge people just $5 more per month for Gig service than AT&T does for its bargain-basement 6mbps service. Yikes!

Wendy Davis with MediaPost covered the story as well:

If the new network moves forward, residents would have every reason to defect from AT&T in favor of the new service -- unless AT&T can step up its offerings.

So far, AT&T hasn't shown an inclination to do so in Chanute. While AT&T plans to expand its fiber optic network to dozens of cities, Chanute isn't one of them, according to advocacy group Public Knowledge. That organization today issued a public call for AT&T to avoid putting up obstacles to a new fiber network. “No one should deny rural America the choice of building high-speed broadband networks in a world where the Internet is so vital to a community’s growth.

MSMolly with FireDogLake offered her insight this week on the delicate balance ISP’s walk when it comes to regulation:

AT&T isn’t opposed to government handouts, though, as long as they are flowing to the private sector. The company argues that community broadband networks “should not receive any preferential tax treatment,” and that only private companies should be given special treatment. AT&T said, “Indeed, any tax incentives or exemptions should be provided, if at all, to private sector firms to induce them to expand broadband deployment to unserved areas.”

AT&T has been going state by state paying asking state lawmakers to get rid of most remaining consumer protections, such as those requiring continued 911 access to the elderly, so it can get out of DSL markets it doesn’t want to upgrade.

But AT&T isn’t all bad, right? I mean last week we reported that the telecom giant would back down on its threats to halt fiber rollouts, that’s good, right?

Thomas Gryta with the Wall Street Journal and Brian Fung with the Washington Post say that while AT&T might have said it would pull its investments in fiber if they didn’t get more certainty from the FCC about net neutrality, what they really meant was...

The issue is complex for AT&T. As a major Internet service provider, it has a deep interest in how the Internet is governed, but the company also needs approval from the commission for its pending acquisition of satellite broadcaster DirecTV.

In other words, “We didn’t mean to ruffle any feathers before the FCC approves our merger.”

Community Broadband Communities

The Slog’s Ansel Herz is at it again. He is frustrated that Seattle has not yet invested in a municipal fiber network. The city’s chief tech officer, Michael Mattmiller says the study he’s commissioning on muni broadband will likely not be complete until April (these things cannot be completed overnight!).

The threat of competition is giving cities all over the country more power in franchise agreement talks. Bill Neilson with Broadband Reports cites Lawrence, Massachusetts; Lexington, Kentucky; and New York City for using their franchise talks to get more from incumbents, or head for the door. 

After being told for years that previous franchise agreements would magically increase local jobs and improve customer service (which never occurred on either front), some cities are now demanding guarantees in writing before agreeing to a franchise agreement. Now, some cities are also demanding that franchise agreements be reduced in years so that cities may see just how well the cable providers are acting during the agreed upon years.

Residents in Torrington, CT are one step closer to fiber in their city. The council approved using part of $1.7 million in Nutmeg Network grant money set aside to fund a fiber optic connection for community anchors. The network would run alongside its existing AT&T connection.

Alaska's Statewide Broadband Task Force is up and running. The group is committed to bringing 100 mbps speeds to every household in Alaska by 2020. Carey Restino with the Arctic Sounder has the story:

"We have reached a point in the development of modern communications wherein the Internet is firmly woven into our fabric of everyday life. America is in a race to the top in order to compete in the globalization of trade and development," the report concludes. "Alaska is part of this race. The same factors that make broadband deployment difficult in Alaska — geographic remoteness, lack of roads, high costs — also mean that Alaska, more so than other states, has the most to gain from making sure that affordable and reliable high-speed broadband is available to all its residents. Very soon, social pressure will be too great for government and civil society not to act, whether collaboratively or alone. A clear plan is in the best interest of the state."

Despite its relatively small dollar amount, communities in Minnesota are competing for the state's $20 million broadband kitty. Jenna Ross with the Star Tribune:

[Ron] Brodigan, owner of the Snowshoe Country Lodge on Sand Lake [near Two Harbors], gets Internet service with download speeds of 5 megabits per second — “almost adequate,” he said. Once the county’s fiber-to-the-premises project reaches him, he expects to pay $80 a month for 30-megabit service. “It’s going to be a boon when we get it,” he said. “But it’s been setback after setback,” he said, referring to challenges from cable companies and other delays. But, he added, “they’re really humping now.”

Lake County Provides Gap Funding To Keep Project On Track

Lake County has faced a number of challenges since it began deploying its fiber network in 2012. The latest wrinkle comes as the Rural Utility Service (RUS) is late in distributing funds to pay contractors. The agency is administering the stimulus funds used to build the $66 million project. The Lake County News Chronicle recently reported that the County Board of Commissioners will pay $500,000 to cover expenses until federal funds arrive.

The Chronicle reports:

County Administrator Matt Huddleston said the County typically submits financial requirement statements (FRS) to RUS, and the federal agency usually processes the request for funds within 20 days. FRS 15 was filed more than 50 days ago and RUS still hasn't paid the County. A second, more recent FRS has also been delayed.

Commissioners were concerned delayed payments to contractors would further delay the project, scheduled for completion by September 2015.

After the original partner and the County dissolved their partnership and a threat of a lawsuit from Mediacom slowed deployment, Frontier asserted ownership of a number of utility poles within Two Harbors. According to the Chronicle, Lake Connections and the County recently made the decision to bury fiber instead of stringing them on poles as a way to avoid more delays.

Commissioner Rick Goutermont said he was hopeful after speaking to RUS officials on a conference call Monday that RUS would approve the new plan, the project would move forward and RUS would reimburse the $500,000 quickly.

"If we make some kind of movement in the form of some gap financing ... to keep the boots on the ground out there working on it, I believe that would send a stronger message to RUS of our commitment and that we want to move forward," Goutermont said Tuesday.

We documented Lake County's story in our report, All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access.