Tag: "minnesota"

Posted July 29, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

In a new report, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance showcases the diverse range of approaches communities and local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have taken to expand affordable, high-quality Internet access in Minnesota. It includes a series of case studies that detail how communities are meeting the connectivity challenges of a broken marketplace shaped by large monopoly service providers. 

Download Minnesota Broadband: Land of 10,000 Connectivity Solutions [pdf] here.

The profiled projects include municipal networks, public-private partnerships, cooperatives, and private investment. They run from the most rural areas of the state to Minneapolis. Some examples include:

  • RS Fiber Cooperative, in south central Minnesota, which has brought fiber to local businesses and town residents. Rural residents benefit from RS Air, a fast wireless service available at affordable prices.
  • Arrowhead Electric Cooperative’s fiber network in Cook County, which succeeded beyond original projections. It provides fast and affordable Internet access to one of the most far-flung parts of the state.
  • St. Louis Park’s partnerships with both ISPs and the builders of large condominium complexes. One of the providers working with St. Louis Park is better known as the fastest ISP in Minneapolis, USI Fiber.
  • Christensen Communications, a 100+ year-old telephone company in south central Minnesota. The company demonstrated a strong commitment to its communities when the pandemic hit, and is now going above and beyond to build fiber with federal subsidies.
  • The Fond du Lac Band, in northern Minnesota, which built a fiber-to-the-home network that is rare in Indian Country.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken, co-author of the report and Senior Researcher with ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, said of the report’s findings: 

Minnesota communities and local ISPs have found creative and sustainable ways to build future-proof networks across the state, despite a broken marketplace and state barriers that favor slow-moving, out-of-state monopoly providers clinging to outdated technology. Lawmakers must stand up for the cities and towns that sent them to the legislature, and remove the obstacles that prevent a more competitive market and local broadband solutions.

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Posted July 29, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Our new report, Minnesota Broadband: Land of 10,000 Connectivity Solutions [pdf], showcases the diverse range of approaches communities and local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have taken to expand affordable, high-quality Internet access in Minnesota. It includes a series of case studies that detail how communities are meeting the connectivity challenges of a broken marketplace shaped by large monopoly service providers. 

The profiled projects include municipal networks, public-private partnerships, cooperatives, and private investment. They run from the most rural areas of the state to Minneapolis. Some examples include:

  • RS Fiber Cooperative, in south central Minnesota, which has brought fiber to local businesses and town residents. Rural residents benefit from RS Air, a fast wireless service available at affordable prices.
  • Arrowhead Electric Cooperative’s fiber network in Cook County, which succeeded beyond original projections. It provides fast and affordable Internet access to one of the most far-flung parts of the state.
  • St. Louis Park’s partnerships with both ISPs and the builders of large condominium complexes. One of the providers working with St. Louis Park is better known as the fastest ISP in Minneapolis, USI Fiber.
  • Christensen Communications, a 100+ year-old telephone company in south central Minnesota. The company demonstrated a strong commitment to its communities when the pandemic hit, and is now going above and beyond to build fiber with federal subsidies.
  • The Fond du Lac Band, in northern Minnesota, which built a fiber-to-the-home network that is rare in Indian Country.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken, co-author of the report and Senior Researcher with ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, said of the report’s findings: 

Minnesota communities and local ISPs have found creative and sustainable ways to build future-proof networks across the state, despite a broken marketplace and state barriers that favor slow-moving, out-of-state monopoly providers clinging to outdated technology. Lawmakers must stand up for the cities and towns that sent them to the legislature, and remove the obstacles that prevent a more competitive market and local broadband solutions.

...

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Posted May 13, 2021 by Maren Machles

Last week we wrote about the partnership between Long Prairie, Minnesota and the  forward-thinking and locally minded local telephone cooperative CTC to build a citywide fiber network and bring affordable, high-speed Internet to everyone in town.

Long Prairie isn’t alone, however, among north-central Minnesota communities needing better options, and for at least two others CTC has become a natural partner. This is both because of its location - offering service across the region in Sullivan Lake, Randall, Pillager, Outing, Nokay Lake, Nisswa, Motley, Mission, Lincoln, Leader, Freedhem, Ely, Brainerd, Baxter, and Crosby -  and because it has become one of the most aggressive fiber builders in the state.

Two other cities, specifically, Ely and Little Falls, have also partnered with CTC to bring fiber loops to their business districts. Both communities have faced challenges when it came to building and connecting their residents and businesses to a fiber network.

Dealt a Poor Hand, Ely Forged Ahead

The City of Ely sits on the Southern side of Shagawa Lake with a population of 3,500. While iron used to be what drove the economy, today Ely is a tourist destination and is known as the entry point for the Boundary Waters

Back in 2010, the City of Ely was in a difficult position. There were plans to bring FTTH to the city as part of the Lake County’s county-wide FTTH broadband project. But unfortunately, the project faced a number of obstacles (including pole attachment agreements, weather, and financing issues), and ultimately construction ended before it could reach Ely. 

Likewise, the nearby region has seen improved middle-mile connectivity in the recent past. The Telecommunications and Technology division of the Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC), which owns...

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Posted May 6, 2021 by Maren Machles

Tired of waiting for connectivity solutions to come to town, one Minnesota community has instead partnered with a local telephone cooperative to build a fiber network reaching every home and business in the city.

In embarking on its journey to improve local Internet access six years ago, Long Prairie (pop. 3,300) ended up partnering with one of the most aggressive fiber network builders in the state - Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) - on a solution that meets local needs. The two finished a ubiquitous Fiber-to-the-Home build in 2018, with CTC now owning and operating the network. 

Looking for Solutions

The City of Long Prairie (pop. 3,300), the county seat in Todd County, Minnesota, has long struggled with connectivity. It has manifested in issues with connecting students from their homes, with losing parts of the local workforce, and in a lack of access to support larger healthcare institutions for their aging population. 

In 2014, the city met with state officials as well as broadband providers to discuss the results of a feasibility study that was done back in 2011. Todd County stressed that this was a pressing issue that couldn’t wait anymore - they needed state support with funding and potentially help setting up a partnership with a local co-op. But this kind of partnership couldn’t just be with any co-op, it had to be a mutually beneficial partnership that could connect all of Long Prairie’s businesses and residents. It would take 2 more years before the community entered into an agreement with the right one.  

CTC started in the 1950s as a telephone cooperative, and began offering Internet access via DSL service in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Around 2008, CTC’s Board of Directors decided that the best long-term strategy for providing strong, reliable connectivity would be to build out Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) for all of its members. 

Building on that initial network, the main vision and mission driving the co-op over the last 10 years has been getting as many people in the area fast and reliable connectivity as possible. But because CTC is just one firm, that has meant developing relationships with other towns, cities, and counties that bloom into successful partnerships. 

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Posted April 20, 2021 by Maren Machles

This week on the podcast, we're joined by two representatives from Minnesota based CTC, a firm that started as a telephone cooperative and has become one of the most aggressive fiber network builders in greater Minnesota. CTC partners with electric cooperatives and communities to undertake internet infrastructure projects around the state. CEO and General Manager, Kristi Westbrock, and Director of Business Development, Joe Buttweiler, talk with Chris about the history of the cooperative's decision to embark on a network upgrade bringing fiber to its 15,000 members almost 20 years ago.

We learn about the towns of Long Prairie and Little Falls, which struggled for better connectivity solutions before CTC became a partner. The two joined forces to bring fiber service to residents and businesses there today.

This show is 29 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of...

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Posted April 14, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The latest round of Border-to-Border grants from the state of Minnesota total $20.6 million matched by $34 million in other funds for 39 projects to connect almost 7,000 locations, and includes almost a dozen cooperative projects. Among the winners are Paul Bunyan Communications, CTC, and Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative. 

Posted February 23, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

St. Louis Park (pop. 49,000), a suburb west of Minneapolis, Minnesota, has demonstrated commitment and creativity in bringing broadband access to the region over the last two decades. They’ve done so by connecting community anchor institutions and school district buildings, in supporting ongoing infrastructure via a dig once policy, by working with developers to pre-wire buildings with gigabit-or-better-capable connections, and by using simple, easy-to-understand contracts to lease extra dark fiber to private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to improve connectivity options for local residents. 

Conversations about improving broadband in St. Louis Park began in the 1990s, when local government officials and the St. Louis Park School District began talking about replacing the aging copper infrastructure it was leasing from the cable and telephone companies with fiber to support educational use and municipal services. At the time the city was paying about $45,000/year to stay connected and online. A 2003 projection suggested it could invest $380,000 to build its own network instead, take ownership of its infrastructure, and see a full return on investment in less than a decade.

Fiber, both the city and the school district decided, offered the best path forward for the range of tools and bandwidth that would bring success. The school district led off in connecting its structures, but by 2004 both were done, with each contributing to joint maintenance and operational costs. The city thereafter decided to keep going and expand its infrastructure wherever it made the most sense. In 2006 it advanced this agenda by adopting a dig-once policy by adding conduit — and sometimes fiber — any time a street was slated for repairs. 

Municipal Wi-Fi

St. Louis Park’s first foray into securing better connectivity for residents was a city-wide Wi-Fi project approved in December 2006. It began with a pilot project the previous April connecting 375 households across four neighborhoods which demonstrated strong demand from residents (21% signed up). Users also provided valuable feedback about the implementation obstacles that would need to be addressed, including a strong need for help...

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Posted February 2, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

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.

This show is 34 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or ...

Read more
Posted January 13, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

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 Gonsalves

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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