Tag: "minnesota"

Posted June 2, 2017 by lgonzalez

June will be an exciting month for people living in Brownton, Buffalo Lake, Fairfax, and Stewart in Minnesota. RS Fiber Cooperative will begin construction so those premises can connect to the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network now serving six other communities in the central Minnesota region. This stage of the buildout should bring another 500 subscribers on to the network by the end of the year; the network already serves 1,100 premises.

Bringing The Last Towns Into The Fold

According to general manager Toby Brummer:

“As construction of the network continues, we expect our customer numbers to continue to grow. Once we have the final four towns connected to the network, construction can begin on Phase Two of the project which will involve bringing gigabit fiber service to the township members of the RS Fiber Cooperative.”

Customers who take FTTH service now can sign up for voice, video, and Internet access up to 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps). Addresses that are outside the fiber connection service area have been able to obtain service from the cooperative via its fixed wireless RS Air service.

A Story Of Peaks And Valleys On The Prairie

The RS Fiber Cooperative story began in Sibley and Renville Counties as a regional municipal effort but when Sibley County pulled out, the project had to restructure their plan and design a new strategy. Rather than leave the rural farms behind, the participants decided to form a broadband cooperative to serve as many premises as possible.

Local farms - some of which had no Internet access at all - needed high-quality Internet access in order to operate in the modern agricultural economy. National providers had decided that the area was too sparsely populated to justify investment, so the locals decided they needed to act.

The project has had its challenges, but has overcome each one and in the process won numerous awards. This past May, the RS Fiber Cooperative received the “Cornerstone Award” from Broadband Communities...

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Posted May 9, 2017 by lgonzalez

Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS) is now rolling out gigabit connectivity to local communities. Local leaders and network officials anticipate the upgrade will attract more jobs and more people to this rural area of the state:

"Jackson is very fortunate. This is something that a lot of people probably take for granted and don't realize how lucky we are in greater Minnesota to have high capacity access," said Jackson City Administrator Jennifer Bromeland.

"It's just been so vitally important, and to be able to offer that in the communities of our size is just something else. It's absolutely fabulous," SMBS General Manager Travis Thies said.

Regional Effort

SMBS received $12.8 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding to add to their own contributions, for the 181-mile fiber project in 2012. The publicly owned regional network serves the communities of Jackson, Bingham Lake, Heron Lake, Lakefield, Brewster, Wilder, Okabena, and Round Lake. Several of the communities in the consortium had been told by incumbent CenturyTel (now CenturyLink) they would never get upgrades faster than dial-up because the towns were just too small to justify investment from a national provider. Now all the communities collectively own the high-speed fiber-optic network. 

Local businesses strongly supported the project and helped secure the ARRA funding with letters to the federal government expressing the need for better connectivity in the region. Municipal facilities were connected to the Internet via 1.5 Mbps connections that drained bandwidth for the rest of the community. Local healthcare facilities and nonprofits also stepped up to submit appeals to the federal government. Clearly, the entire region - and all sectors in it - needed better connectivity.

Things have changed since the communities took matters into their own hands.

"We have the fiber set up to many of our businesses and residents right now, so we have had this for a while and it's helping or businesses to meet their goals and just helping us to keep people in Jackson and attract people to want to move to Jackson," said Bromeland.

Better Broadband On The Prairie

In addition to bringing high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) access to people...

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Posted April 18, 2017 by lgonzalez

Net Inclusion 2017 from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and hosted by the St. Paul Public Library is less than a month away. The event will be on May 16 - 17 in Minnesota and early bird registration prices are available to April 20th.

From the event website:

Participants will discuss current and potential local, state and federal policies and policy innovations that could increase digital equity, current and potential sources of financial and programmatic support of digital inclusion programs, and share digital inclusion best practices and new strategies from across the USA.

Maya Wiley, Senior Vice President for Social Justice and the Henry Cohen Professor of Urban Policy and Management at the New School will present the Keynote address. Read more about her work here.

The event will start on Tuesday, May 16th, with tours of local inclusion programs and lunch at the historic James J. Hill Center. Participants will then move to the St. Paul Central Library and City Hall for the Break-out Sessions. The Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award will be presented on Wednesday along with some other special discussions on local government investment and the digital divide.

Christopher will be speaking on Tuesday at the 2:45 p.m. “Statehouse strategies: State-level digital inclusion advocacy and programs” panel. Other familiar speakers include:

  • Chris Lewis, Public Knowlege
  • Joanne Hovis, CTC
  • Laura Breeden, NDIA
  • Nicol Turner-Lee, Brookings Institution
  • Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin Foundation
  • Matt Wood, FreePress

…and many others.

In addition to speakers from national organizations, the agenda includes quite a few participants from St. Paul and Minnesota groups working toward digital literacy and finding ways to bridge the digital divide.

Break-out sessions discuss a range of issues, including legislation and policy,...

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Posted April 15, 2017 by lgonzalez

RS Fiber Cooperative, serving communities in central Minnesota, has received attention and awards for a collaborative approach to improve local connectivity. The project is bringing better Internet access to farms, businesses, and residents in rural Minnesota that had little chance of ever getting better service from the national providers.

In a recent edition of National Public Radio’s The Call-In: Rural Life, Winthrop economic development director Mark Erickson, who was one of the champions of the project, talks with series host Lourdes Garcia-Navarro about what better connectivity means for rural areas.

Remember to check out our extensive coverage of the RS Fiber Cooperative, including our 2016 report, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative.

Erickson’s interview begins at around 4:20. Transcripts for the show are available here.

Posted March 31, 2017 by lgonzalez

After elected officials in Washington, D.C., voted to allow ISPs to invade their customers’ privacy online, leaders in Minnesota took steps to protect constituents. A recent amendment in St. Paul may be setting some new rules for ISPs operating in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Taking Action In Minnesota

Both the state House and Senate approved omnibus bill amendments that prevent ISPs from collecting the personal data resulting from customer use of the Internet. The Senate amendment language, introduced by Ron Latz, reads like this:

No telecommunications or internet service provider that has entered into a franchise agreement, right-of-way agreement, or other contract with the state of Minnesota or a political subdivision, or that uses facilities that are subject to such agreements, even if it is not a party to the agreement, may collect personal information from a customer resulting from the customer's use of the telecommunications or internet service provider without express written approval from the customer. No such telecommunication or internet service provider shall refuse to provide its services to a customer on the grounds that the customer has not approved collection of the customer's personal information.

The body voted 66 - 1 to adopt the language into the Senate omnibus jobs bill, SF 1937. In the House, an almost identical amendment was adopted into HF 2209, their economic development omnibus bill. The Senate version added the last sentence, preventing ISPs from denying service unless a customer allows their ISP to collect data.

After the amendment was included in the bill, Sen. Latz commented that the language was, “about standing up and saying that our online privacy rights are critically important.”

Latz's office told us that, since federal law is silent on this particular issue, the state may enact this...

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Posted March 10, 2017 by lgonzalez

Minnesotans are known for their penchant for politics, their belief in strong local communities, and their love of getting together. As high-quality connectivity becomes a critical component of every day life, people who live in rural areas of Greater Minnesota are coming together in St. Paul on March 15th. The Minnesota Broadband Coalition is sponsoring the first Rural Broadband Day on the Hill.

A Panel And A Press Conference

Registration for citizen lobbyists filled quickly, but there will be a Broadband Issues Legislator Panel at 9:15 central time in Room N 500 of the State Office Building. It will include Representatives Layman, Garofalo, Baker, and Johnson, Senator Simonson, DEED Office of Broadband Development Director Danna MacKenzie and will be moderated by Steve Kelley, Sr Fellow Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

There will also be a press conference at 10 a.m. moderated by Steve Fenske, from the Minnesota Association of Townships. Speaking at the press conference will be several rural Minnesotans, including local broadband leaders:

  • Mark Erickson - Mark was instrumental in establishing the RS Fiber Cooperative
  • Joe Buttweiler - Joe is at Consolidated Telecommunications Cooperative now, but he was one of the leaders on the Arrowhead Electric Cooperative infrastructure in Cook County
  • Marc Johnson - He’s with the East Central Minnesota Educational Cable Cooperative (ECMECC) now and has extensive experience in education and the connectivity needs of anchor institutions
  • Chuck Novak - As Mayor of Ely, Chuck’s priorities are economic development and high-quality connectivity in his city
  • Sophia Stading - Sophia attends 6th grade in rural Lake Crystal, Minnesota
  • Sammie Garrity - Sammie is also in 6th grade and lives in Lutsen. He attends school in Grand Marais.

For more on the speakers and the agenda, check out...

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Posted January 23, 2017 by lgonzalez

High-quality connectivity from the local cooperative is attracting economic development to rural Minnesota. Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC), began developing a fiber-optic network in the Brainerd area in the early 2000s; as the cooperative has expanded the network, businesses are getting fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.

Connected Satellites

A recent Brainerd Dispatch article highlighted several businesses that credit the local workforce and the network for their decision to build satellite offices in the Brainerd area. In addition to “battle-tested sales people who can establish relationships with customers and can ‘close the deal,’” GovMint.com’s Director of Sales Jim Martin told the Dispatch:

Equally important is the area's fiber optic network, a high-speed Internet connection that allows the sales staff to access the company's giant customer and product database, and efficiently complete online sales forms.

Martin said the company relies on its computer system for call routing, customer information, online orders and sales leads that come through the Internet. GovMint.com's sales staff makes 150-300 customer calls a day.

"The system has to be reliable or Jim's phone starts ringing," Martin said. "The service we have in Crosslake is very fast and very reliable."

The company sells rare and unique coins and has headquarters in Burnsville, Minnesota; the satellite office employs 25 people. The company has doubled revenue over the past five years and needed to expand so established the office in Crosslake, near Brainerd and on the CTC network.

Great For The State

logo-CTCcoop.jpg

The Minnesota Department of Human Services chose Brainerd for its service center in part because they needed access to a network that could handle its technology demands. Applications are processed digitally with high bandwidth applications that require access to large state databases. Fiber-optic technology is the obvious choice to handle the work efficiently. There are 160 employees now working in...

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Posted January 11, 2017 by lgonzalez

The mythical Paul Bunyan was enormous. Paul Bunyan Communications’ GigaZone appears to be following his example as it continues to expand throughout northern rural Minnesota. The cooperative recently announced that they are expanding the upgrade once again, bringing Gigabit per second (Gbps) capacity to their members via the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. This time, members in the communities of Kelliher and Northome will have access to the upgrade.

The Big Gig

The expansion brings gigabit network to more than 1,700 additional locations; this will bring Paul Bunyan’s GigaZone footprint to more than 29,400 locations. The network covers more than 5,000 square miles in Beltrami County and also reaches areas of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties.

In November 2016, the cooperative began offering service on the Red Lake Nation, which makes it one of only a few tribal communities with high-quality Internet access. Paul Bunyan provides gigabit connectivity to local schools for affordable rates and has been awarded the Leading Lights National Award for most Innovative Gigabit Broadband Service.

A Long Time Coming

Paul Bunyan Telephone began in 1950 when the residents in very rural northern Minnesota either had no telephone service, or received it from their townships, which meant they had to share lines with up to nine other customers. As a prerequisite to obtaining a loan from the Rural Telephone Administration (RTA) through the Rural Electric Administration (REA), the Co-op Board had to purchase and operate an existing system. They started with the privately owned Kelliher Telephone Company along with the Hendrickson Township Telephone system. In addition funds they had obtained by selling memberships in the cooperative, the board directors agreed to mortgage their own property as collateral so another local cooperative and a local bank would loan Paul Bunyan Telephone enough to purchase both telephone systems. It was a risk, but it paid off.

Over the decades,...

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Posted December 17, 2016 by htrostle

A northern Minnesota county has been approved for federal funding to bring high-quality Internet access to some of the community's most rural residents. Lake County (population: about 11,000) has been building Lake Connections, a county-owned community network, for the past few years. People living in the densely wooded region have always lacked adequate Internet service, but with this funding, they will have better connectivity than many city dwellers.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently authorized $3.5 million for Lake Connections through the Rural Broadband Experiment program. Lake Connections previously faced numerous delays, but this next stage of the project is ready to move forward.

Despite Best Efforts, Delays

Lake County has long been working towards a more connected future by building a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The massive project covers almost 3,000 square miles, connect almost 100 community anchor institutions, and will provide connectivity to over 1,000 businesses. Grants, loans, and matching local funds to complete the project add up to approximately $70 million.

The county obtained federal stimulus funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in 2010 (see our 2014 report, All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access). Incumbent providers, Mediacom and Frontier, delayed the project by alleging rule violations and fighting for ownership of utility poles. By July 2014, however, the fiber network started serving its first 100 customers.

This new $3.5 million from the Rural Broadband Experiment program will connect more far-flung residents. The funding was tentatively approved last March, but Lake County ran across a confusion in regulation on whether Lake Connections was an “eligible telecommunications carrier” (a...

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Posted December 2, 2016 by htrostle

We have created a new fact sheet: Minnesota: Cooperatives and Local Governments Can Solve Rural Digital Divide. The fact sheet highlights rural areas with excellent connectivity and the role of cooperatives and municipalities.

Minnesota cooperatives and municipalities have done great work to bring fast, affordable, reliable Internet service to rural areas throughout the state. They've built many Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks, but there is still much work left to do.

One in 4 Minnesotans lives in a rural area, and of those rural households, 43 percent lack access to broadband, defined by the FCC as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Resilient, robust, fiber is the long-term goal, but fixed wireless can help extend coverage in hard-to-reach rural areas.

Download the fact sheet here.

Learn more about Minnesota’s connectivity in Community Broadband Bits Episode #190 with Dan Dorman, Executive Director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership. He discusses the "donut hole problem" and the economic development potential of rural Minnesota. 

Check out all of our Community Network Fact Sheets here. You can also subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks.

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