Tag: "minnesota"

Posted November 24, 2017 by ChristopherBarich

Ely Area Broadband Coalition (Ely ABC) and the Ely Economic Development Authority (EEDA) are set to complete a broadband feasibility study and release report results by late-November.

The ABCs Of The Ely Feasibility Study

The Ely Area Broadband Coalition (Ely ABC) is a collection of city, township, school district officials, and private citizens working in partnership with the EEDA to improve broadband in Ely and the surrounding area. In mid-2017, Ely ABC and EEDA submitted the Request for Proposals (RFP) to conduct a broadband feasibility study.

The group is keeping an open mind and will consider a variety of models. In addition to publicly owned infrastructure, they're hoping to hear ideas that will include partnership possibilities or recommendations on encouraging the private sector to improve local services.

The City of Ely is in St. Louis County and located in the northeastern corner of Minnesota. The rural community has a population of approximately 3,500 year-round residents and covers 2.74 square miles. The community, known on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, is known as the location of the North American Bear Center and the International Wolf Center.

In November 2016, Ely was one of six communities to receive a $25,000 Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) program grant from the Blandin Foundation in partnership with Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) and Saint Louis County. Ely ABC and EEDA utilized the BBC grant to fund the broadband feasibility study. 

Through the BBC program, the six communities will receive broadband planning, along with technical support and assistance to advance local technology initiatives over the next two years. The BBC program has assisted 18 other rural communities across Minnesota with broadband planning.

Blandin Foundation president and CEO,...

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Posted November 1, 2017 by ChristopherBarich

On September 22nd, Fillmore County and local telecommunications cooperative representatives participated in a groundbreaking event to mark the start of building a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in the rural town of Lanesboro, Minnesota.

Fiber To The Unserved

Lanesboro is located in Fillmore County about 50 minutes southeast of Rochester. The small rural town covers 1.3 square miles with a population of 755. Forty-one percent of households in Fillmore County are “unserved” as defined by both the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development and the FCC, which defines “broadband” as 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Fillmore County residents and businesses are one small group of a large segment of rural America without access to high-quality connectivity. The FCC reported in 2016 that 39 percent of rural residents don’t have access to broadband, but actual numbers are much higher because incumbent reported mapping tends to overstate the reality. 

Fortunately, rural cooperatives are picking up the slack where national incumbent ISPs are failing to deploy high-quality Internet infrastructure. Local telecommunications cooperative, AcenTek, will build the FTTH infrastructure. The network will connect 431 unserved households, 42 unserved businesses, and one community anchor institution (CAI) in the rural Lanesboro area, including Whalan, Carrolton Township, and Holt Township. The FTTH project is expected to reach speeds of 1 gigabit upload and download.

Funding FTTH

In January 2017, AcenTek received a $1.78 million grant from the Minnesota Border-to-Border Development Program administered by the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). The grant program is intended to provide state resources that help reduce the financial burden for new and existing providers to invest in building broadband...

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Posted October 24, 2017 by lgonzalez

With the best intentions, Kentucky announced in late 2014 that it would build out a statewide open access fiber optic network to at least one location in each county to encourage high-quality connectivity in both urban and rural communities. Hopes were high as rural residents and businesses that depended on DSL and dial-up envisioned connectivity to finally bring them into the 21st century. After almost three years and multiple issues that have negatively impacted the project, legislators and everyday folks are starting to wonder what's in store for the KentuckyWired project. 

Local Communities Are Best Suited To Deploy Community Networks

There is no one-size-fits-all method of deploying across a state filled with communities and landscapes as diverse as Kentucky. From the urban centers like Louisville and Lexington to the rocky, mountainous terrain in the southeastern Appalachian communities, demographics and geography vary widely. But most lack modern Internet access and local ISPs have found it hard to get affordable backhaul to connect to the rest of the Internet.

There are several municipal networks in Kentucky, some of which have operated for decades. In addition to Glasgow, Paducah, Bowling Green, Frankfort, and others, Owensboro is currently expanding a pilot project that proved popular. As our own Christopher Mitchell discussed at the Appalachia Connectivity Summit, several cooperatives have made major fiber-optic investments in the state.

When it comes to connecting residents and local businesses, we strongly believe local entities are the best choice. Local officials have a better sense of rights-of-way, the challenges of pole attachments, and the many other moving pieces that go into network investment. Projects with local support see fewer barriers - people are more willing to grant easements, for instance. 

As a state, building an open access fiber network into each county makes sense. States also need to connect their offices, from public safety to managing natural resources and social services. Rather than overpay a massive monopoly like AT&T...

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Posted October 20, 2017 by lgonzalez

Next week’s Border to Border Broadband Conference from the Blandin Foundation promises to be a great opportunity to meet like-minded people with an eye on infrastructure. This year, the event is titled “Bridging the Gaps - Expanding the Impact” and will take place at Madden’s on Gull Lake. If you haven’t already made your plans, now is an excellent time to plan on heading up north to enjoy some fall weather, Minnesota style. 

The folks at Blandin shared more information about the event and we want to pass it on to you:

Minnesota is hosting its annual Border to Border Broadband Conference October 25-26 in beautiful Brainerd Minnesota on Gull Lake.  Come learn about Minnesota's broadband innovative broadband infrastructure grant program that has had a significant impact on broadband deployment in some of the most rural places in Minnesota. 

Blandin Foundation will present new research demonstrating the impact of investment in broadband infrastructure and adoption on five rural Minnesota communities where world-class broadband is meeting smart economic development strategies.

Providers and communities will host eight interactive learning stations showcasing successful rural projects funded through Minnesota’s Border-to-Border grant program.

Pre-conference sessions will include a Broadband 101 Workshop and a Digital Inclusion Showcase:

Laura Withers, Director of Communications, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association; Roberto Gallardo, Assistant Director, Purdue Center for Regional Development; and Aaron Brown, Iron Range storyteller, blogger (http://minnesotabrown.com/)  and broadband advocate; are among the conference’s featured speakers.

Learn more at the conference website.

Posted September 18, 2017 by lgonzalez

The Blandin Foundation will be holding its Border to Border Broadband Conference this October at Madden’s on Gull Lake. This year, the title of the event is “Bridging the Gaps - Expanding the Impact.”

Up North In The Fall

The folks at Blandin looked around the state to find rural communities where local decisions are having a positive effect by improving connectivity. The event will be October 25th - 26th and will include presenters from local government, cooperatives, and the private sector:

  • Rural Alvarado, BEAMCO & Wikstrom Telephone
  • Westbrook & Woodstock Telephone Company
  • Rock County Broadband Alliance
  • Renville County – RSFiber & HBC
  • Palmer Wireless – Big Lake Industrial Park
  • Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative & CTC
  • Fayal & Harris Townships - Mediacom

If you attend the conference, you’ll start the event by choosing between the Broadband 101 or Digital Inclusion preconference sessions. Later, there will be presentations on public-private partnerships, real life benefits to better rural connectivity, and methods for grassroots outreach.

Attendees can also experience the popular Broadband Learning Stations, described as:

…[F]eature stories of partnerships and perseverance that define the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program participants. All sessions highlight what it takes for community success -- the partnerships, the strong community spirit and perseverance, the long-haul financial commitment, and the positive economic and social impact these investments have and will have on local businesses, households, and community institutions. Come for the community camaraderie and advice; leave better informed and inspired as you seek to reach your own community broadband goals.

Eyes On Minnesota

In recent months, legislators from the states of Ohio and Virginia have looked to Minnesota’s approach to expanding connectivity in rural areas. Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband program, which allows the state legislature to allocate funding to rural projects,...

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Posted September 15, 2017 by lgonzalez

For years we’ve encouraged voters to make improving connectivity a campaign issue in local, state, and federal elections by pursuing answers from candidates. In this year's Virginia Gubernatorial race, it has now become a topic that both candidates are addressing as a key issue. The Roanoke Times Editors, no strangers to the state's struggles with rural Internet access, recently published an editorial to inform voters that broadband is finally getting some long overdue attention.

Surprised And Pleased

The Times has spent significant resources on broadband reporting in recent years, so it’s no surprise that the editors are savvy to the fact that broadband as a campaign issue is a novel development.

The most important news here is that both candidates say they see a state role in extending broadband to rural Virginia. The times really are a-changing: This is the first governor’s race where broadband has been a big enough issue for candidates to issue policy papers on the subject.

During the last legislative session, the Times covered Delegate Kathy Byron’s bad broadband bill closely. Over the past few years, they’ve pointed out the many disadvantages local communities face when folks suffer from poor connectivity. They've also shined a light on why the state’s economy will deteriorate if Virginia does nothing to improve Internet access in rural areas.

Comparisons

In this editorial, the Times briefly lays out a few differences that the candidates have expressed in their proposals. Both candidates want to expand the state’s fledging Virginia Telecommunications Initiative, modeled on Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Program, which has also recently inspired Ohio legislators.

Virginia's election is November 7th, which gives voters time to review both plans, contact the candidates with questions, and decide which candidate's...

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Posted September 11, 2017 by lgonzalez

Two Ohio State Senators are taking a page from Minnesota’s playbook to expand rural broadband connectivity. Democratic Sen. Joe Schiavoni and Republican Sen. Cliff Hite recently announced that they would be introducing legislation to create a grant program modeled after the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program.

Putting Money Into It

The program is expected to expand broadband Internet access to approximately 14,000 rural Ohio households per year. State officials estimate that 300,000 homes and 88,500 businesses in rural areas of the state do not have access to broadband connectivity.

In Minnesota, the Department of Employment and Economic Development hosts the Office of Broadband Development, which administrates grant awards and management. The Ohio bill will place the responsibility for the program in the hands of their Development Services Agency (DSA).

Grants will be awarded of up to $5 million for infrastructure projects in unserved and underserved areas; the grants cannot fund more than half the total cost of each project. Recipients can be businesses, non-profits, co-ops or political subdivisions. The bill allocates $50 million per year for broadband development from the state’s Ohio Third Frontier bond revenues.

The Ohio Third Frontier is a state economic development initiative aimed at boosting tech companies that are in early stages and helping diverse startups. The Ohio General Assembly appropriates funds to the program, much like the Office of Broadband Development in Minnesota.

Minnesota Setting The Trend

seal-minnesota.jpg This isn’t the first time politicians have looked longingly at Minnesota’s plan to build more network infrastructure in rural areas. Ralph Northam, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, released an economic plan for his state this summer and addressed the need to improve connectivity in rural areas. In his plan, he suggested that the state adopt clear goals “[s]imilar to the legislation Minnesota has passed.”

His report...

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Posted September 9, 2017 by lgonzalez

Mozilla’s All Access Pass with Veronica Belmont explores local broadband initiatives in episode 6. She sends reporter Dominic Girard to speak with folks in Renville and Sibley County, Minnesota, to discuss the RS Fiber Cooperative.

Girard talks with Mark Erickson who spearheaded the project and describes how difficult is was for farmers who needed better connectivity for 21st century agriculture. Jake Rieke, a local farmer, shares the concerns he described with us in episode 198 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast - how awful Internet access could negatively impact his family’s future.

The crew also interviews Angela Siefer from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) who describes the local desires to invest in better connectivity but state barriers that often interrupt those efforts. Angela gets into the ripples those barriers and access to the Internet interrupts the ability for women, people of color, lower-income folks, and the LGBTQ community to participate in civic engagement.

The show also ventures to the way a group of entrepreneurs are using the Internet to help Syrian refugees adjust to a new life. Their program has changed people from refugees to coders sought out by tech companies.

The show examines how access to the Internet - or lack of it - has become a factor that impacts one's life for the better or worse.

Listen to episode 6 of All Access Pass here.

Learn more about the RS Fiber Cooperative from our 2016 indepth report RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative.

 

Posted August 26, 2017 by htrostle

The lakes and woods of northern Minnesota are home to high-speed Internet service. Paul Bunyan Communications Cooperative has developed a 5,000 square mile GigaZone service area, where it offers symmetrical speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) to homes and businesses. Paul Bunyan Communications CEO Gary Johnson explains how the cooperative built a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network throughout rural areas.

In this TEDx Bemidji talk, Johnson explores through the history and mission of telephone cooperative and points to the importance of building networks for the future. Specifically, he highlights the need for high-speed uploads for innovators and entrepreneurs in rural communities. 

Watch Johnson at TEDx Bemidji below:

Posted August 14, 2017 by htrostle

Native nations are building community networks, owned and operated by tribal governments to ensure that Indian Country has high-speed Internet access. In July 2017, the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe announced a plan to build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to 900 homes that only had access to dial-up Internet service.

The Duluth News Tribune reported that the Fond du Lac tribal government is putting more than $2 million towards the venture and has secured about $6 million in federal grants. We spoke with Jason Hollinday, the Planning Director, to get more details on Fond du Lac Communications and what it means for the community. 

Fond du Lac Connectivity

The Fond du Lac reservation, “Nagaajiwanaang,” covers about 150 square miles in northeastern Minnesota, and the FTTH project will encompass most of the area - about 120 square miles. The network will offer voice, video, and Internet service.

Anyone, including non-tribal members, will be able to get connected within the service area. Prices have yet to be determined, offering affordable rates is a priority. In a recent Pine Journal article, Band IT director Fred Underwood pointed out that "Connectivity is available anywhere, but is it affordable?" and added that affordability in rural areas is often hard to find. Connectivity for the FTTH network will include a program to connect low-income residents and installation fees have been waived for any subscriber who signed up before July 31st.

Community centers and public buildings will all be connected and receive two years of free Internet service. The goal is to make sure that the network will be a community asset benefiting everyone.

logo-fond-du-lac.jpg Hollinday mentioned how excited people are to have high-speed Internet service at home for the first time. Several have already expressed their anticipation at being able to enjoy Netflix and take online college courses. As the project got underway, the community...

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