Tag: "minnesota"

Posted July 26, 2016 by lgonzalez

In an effort to improve local connectivity, Kandiyohi County will collaborate with a local cooperative, Consolidated Telecommunications Company of Brainerd (CTC Co-op). Kadiyohi County is in step with the increasing number of rural communities joining forces with cooperatives when big corporate providers find no reason to invest in less populated areas.

Keeping It Local

In early July, the County Board of Commissioners signed a letter of intent with CTC Co-op in order to start planning for a potential project. The move improves the county’s chances to obtain one of the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Program grants and motivates CTC Co-op to begin allocating some of its own funds toward a potential Kandiyohi project.

Kandiyohi County is home to approximately 42,000 people in central Minnesota and covers approximately 862 square miles of prairie. The region, filled with lakes, is a popular fishing destination. Like many places well known for outdoor recreation, residents and businesses can’t obtain the Internet access they need to keep pace with more populated areas.  

Minnesota's Lac qui Parle County worked with the Farmers Mutual Telephone Cooperative when incumbent Frontier chose not to pursue a partnership. The county received funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) but did not have the expertise or resources to maintain or manage a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. Farmers Mutual, who already had experience after deploying their own network, stepped in and by 2014 residents and businesses had access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. Read more about the project in our report, All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Fiber Internet Access.

Determining Need

The county hired a firm to perform a feasibility study, which includes a telephone survey. In April, county officials announced that the firm had started calling residents and businesses and would continue to do so throughout the...

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Posted July 20, 2016 by lgonzalez

We aren’t the only ones noticing. As rural communities take control of their connectivity by banding together to form broadband cooperatives, their efforts are getting attention. Earlier this month, PBS News Hour featured a story on the Wired West and RS Fiber Cooperatives.

Ivette Feliciano visits with local residents, business owners, and community leaders in both western Massachusetts and rural Minnesota where both initiatives are rewriting the rules for rural dwellers. She visits with Jake Reike, a farmer from Renville County; he talked with Chris during the Community Broadband Bits podcast episode #198. He described for us how improving local connectivity was what his family needed to maintain their farming lifestyle.

Feliciano also sought out expert Susan Crawford, who explained why people in these sparsely populated communities need high-quality connectivity and why they refuse to wait for big providers who may never come to their rescue.

Download a copy of our report RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative, to learn the details of one Minnesota farming region is bringing better Internet access to its people and businesses. There is much to be gained by joining forces.

For more on Wired West, we recommend WiredWest: a Cooperative of Municipalities Forms to Build a Fiber Optic Network, from the Berkman Center. Crawford helped author that report that dives deeper into the situation in western Massachusetts.

Posted July 13, 2016 by htrostle

The Land of 10,000 Lakes wants to become The Land of 10,000 Lakes With High-Speed Internet Access. 

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) will begin taking applications for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program on July 22, 2016. The program offers a total of $35 million in funding for projects in unserved and underserved areas. The application submission period closes on October 3, 2016.

The Grant Program

The Border-to-Border program will pay for up to 50 percent of project development costs, awarding a maximum of $5 million per grant. This round of funding sets aside $5 million specifically for underserved areas, and $500,000 will be set aside for areas that contain a significant proportion of low-income households. Officials estimate this year's $35 million in funding will impact an additional 2,000 Minnesotans.

Since May 2014, the Border-to-Border program has provided over $30 million in assistance to over 30 projects throughout Minnesota. This latest funding opportunity brings the total funding up to $65.4 million. It is the largest funding appropriation for the program to date.

Still Not Enough

The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband estimated that Minnesota needs $900 million to $3.2 billion of investment to bring high-speed Internet access to all in the state. The latest funding for the Border-to-Border program, although more than past years, is still not enough. Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith stated:

“Broadband isn’t nice, it’s necessary if we want Minnesota’s economy to work for everyone, everywhere in the state. This new investment will connect businesses to customers, students to learning opportunities, and patients to their doctors. This is an important investment but we have a long way to go...”

Learn more about the Border-to-Border program and our suggestions for how to improve it by downloading our May 2016 policy brief Minnesota's Broadband Grant Program: Getting the Rules Right

To learn more about the...

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Posted July 9, 2016 by Scott

"Fiber For The New Economy" will be the theme of  Broadband Communities' annual regional conference which is scheduled from Oct. 18th to 20th in Minneapolis.

The conference will explore the hottest developments in fiber and economic development with panel discussions and workshop sessions on such topics as Google Fiber, incumbent and other provider deployments, and public-private projects, according to Jim Baller, the conference’s economic development chairman.

There will also be sessions about developments in “major verticals,” including health care, education and energy, adds Baller, who is also co-founder and president of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice

The conference will focus on broadband activities and projects in primarily Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Montana, as well as western Ontario and Manitoba. 

The Blandin Foundation is assisting Broadband Communities with content and conference planning, a move that means the Minnesota non-profit will have a much smaller fall event of its own, said Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin Foundation director of public policy and engagement. Blandin’s fall conference is scheduled for Sept. 13th and 14th in Duluth.  For further information, go to the event website.

Key facts on the Broadband Communities’ Conference

What: “Fiber for The New Economy”

Where: Radisson Blu Downtown Hotel, 35 S. Seventh St., Minneapolis, Minnesota  55402.

When: Oct. 18-20, 2016

Register online for the conference at the event website. Check back in the future with the main event page for more as the agenda is set.

Posted June 23, 2016 by Scott

The League of Minnesota Cities has honored ten communities in the south central part of the state for their role in assisting to launch the RS Fiber Cooperative.

At its annual state conference on June 16th, the League awarded its “City of Excellence Award” in the 5,000 to 19,999-population category to the cities of Brownton, Buffalo Lake, Fairfax, Gaylord, Gibbon, Green Isle, Lafayette, New Auburn, Stewart, and Winthrop.

 In a news release, League officials said: 

“These 10 cities, along with 17 townships, worked collaboratively for five years to provide South Central Minnesota residents with access to high speed, affordable, and reliable “gigabit internet service. The cities created a joint governance structure that aligned local taxpayer interests across entities, and initiated a public/private financing structure that enables residents to obtain internet broadband services at minimal risk.

The cities developed grassroots support for the project by hosting more than 150 meetings and by personally contacting hundreds of residents, local businesses, and government officials. Over the next five years, thousands of households and rural farm sites and hundreds of businesses and community organizations will be able to receive high-speed internet service access that greatly exceeds previous services provided by national telecommunications firms.

Communities need reliable broadband access to attract and retain new businesses and residents. The success of the “RS Fiber Cooperative Project” confirms the value of small communities working together with private interests to make a positive difference in lives of constituents.” 

Mark Erickson, former Winthrop city manager who was instrumental in developing RS Fiber, told us he was excited about the award.

"It was a cool award to get; an important recognition for our little towns," said Erickson, currently Winthrop economic development director. "I'm just proud of the mayor and councils in the ten communities for having the vision and patience to make the RS Fiber project happen. When communities take steps to insure better futures for their residents, good things can happen."

Officials for the RS Fiber Cooperative, named after Renville...

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Posted June 2, 2016 by Scott

The Minnesota Legislature has just approved $35 million for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program for fiscal year 2017, the largest annual appropriation in the initiative’s two-year-old history.

But the Legislature’s action still falls short of dramatically helping bring universal, high-speed Internet connectivity to all non-metro Minnesotans. Try to find a Representative or Senator that doesn’t talk about how important rural Internet access is, but compare that list to those who are actually voting for solutions. The Blandin on Broadband website captured a glimpse of this dynamic in a recent post

Nice Gains And Noticeable Failures

The Legislature headed in the right direction this year to increase overall funding for broadband development. But we believe the Legislature’s action, which is moving at a snail’s pace, won’t help thousands of residents and businesses in Minnesota’s non-metro communities hurdle over the connectivity chasm. 

The state’s elected leaders also made changes to the program – some good and some bad – in the way projects are selected and the challenge process. 

Funding Fizzle? 

First, the funding fizzle. In its first two years, the state awarded about $30 million to 31 Border-to-Border projects. But that has been a miniscule appropriation compared with the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband’s estimate that Minnesota’s unmet broadband need is $900 million to $3.2 billion.

And the Legislature’s $35 million funding for the broadband grant program for the upcoming fiscal year seems particularly paltry given that the state has a projected $900 million budget surplus. 

“We are disappointed with the [broadband funding] number and the incredibly restrictive language” on eligibility for grants, said Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, (GMNP), a non-metro economic development group established in 2013 that successfully lobbied for the creation of the Broadband Development Grant program. 

...

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Posted May 26, 2016 by lgonzalez

After our article earlier this month on US Internet’s problems obtaining permission to install conduit under Minneapolis Park Board boulevard property, several other articles appeared in local media.

TV station KARE 11 ran a piece on the issue and interviewed Julie Stenberg, who observed, "Technically it's park land, but people are not playing Frisbee, they're not picnicking here.” (Watch the video below.)

The Star Tribune also ran an article noting that people like Julie, who live adjacent to park owned boulevards, may never have the opportunity to take Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service from the local provider.  If US Internet wants to obtain a permit to bury conduit along the parkway in order to get to Julie's house - the only option available - they will have to shell out $27,000 in fees. People around the corner from Julie are already getting FTTH service from US Internet.

Permit Denied

According to the Strib, Commissioners denied a permit for boulevard placement and for placement under Minnehaha Creek in South Minneapolis because it lacked the detail they required. The Park Bard is concerned about damage to trees during both conduit placement and any maintenance:

“We’d directional drill, and we’d be 12 to 14 feet under the creek bed,” [US Internet’s Vice President Travis] Carter said. “You will not see anything when we’re done. It’s just a pipe deep underground that nobody will see.”

US Internet has no access to Comcast and CenturyLink poles, so an underground network is its only option. Alleys are too tight to safely use the boring and maintenance equipment, especially in the winter, but the Park Board is not convinced, “It’s really important for USI to demonstrate that there’s no alternative,” [Assistant Park Superintendent Michael Schroeder] said.

Caught Behind A Boulevard And A Creek

Addresses south of Minneahaha Creek may not get access if the two parties do not resolve the problem. In order to reach thousands more homes and businesses they intend to pass, US Internet will need to place fiber under the creek in three...

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Posted May 23, 2016 by lgonzalez

When communities decide to proceed with publicly owned infrastructure, they often aim for open access models. Open access allows more than one service provider to offer services via the same infrastructure. The desire is to increase competition, which will lower prices, improve services, and encourage innovation.

It seems straight forward, but open access can be more complex than one might expect. In addition to varying models, there are special challenges and financing considerations that communities need to consider.

In order to centralize our information on open access, we’ve created the new Open Access Networks resource page. We’ve gathered together some of our best reference material, including links to previous MuniNetworks.org stories, articles from other resources, relevant Community Broadband Bits podcast episodes, case studies, helpful illustrations, and more.

We cover: 

  • Open Access Arrangements
  • Financing Open Access Networks
  • Challenges for Open Access Networks
  • U.S. Open Access Networks
  • Planned Open Access Networks

Check it out and share the link. Bookmark it!

Posted May 12, 2016 by lgonzalez

In its first two years of implementation, the Minnesota Border-to-Border program distributed $30 million to 31 rural Minnesota communities. But the state has not put enough money into the program and needs to put more focus on getting investment in Greater Minnesota cities to spur economic development.

“This funding is essential to greater Minnesota communities that are being left behind,” says Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “The current disbursement is only meeting a fraction of the state’s high-speed Internet needs as it is. The program’s rules must be reconsidered to meet economic development goals for the state.”

"Getting the Rules Right" is a policy brief on the Border-to-Border Broadband program. It covers what the program is, how it works, and why funding must be expanded in order to serve more greater Minnesota communities.

Download the Report here [pdf]

Executive Summary

Since 2014, Minnesota has been promoting the expansion of high-speed Internet access across the state through its Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program. The program is intended to help bring high-quality Internet access to unserved and underserved areas in Greater Minnesota; without public support, these communities would continue to be left behind. In its first two years, the state awarded about $30 million to 31 Border-to-Border projects. The program has been well administered but should be modified in two significant ways.

  • The grant program needs to be funded properly. The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband estimates Minnesota’s unmet broadband need is $900 million to $3.2 billion. That level of investment is simply beyond the capacity of existing telecommunications providers to meet without public investment. There is a dire need to dramatically increase funding for the program.
  • Even with adequate funding, the program’s rules and criteria need to be reconsidered to meet its economic development goals. Under current rules, the Border-to-Border grants could inadvertently harm the very cities that conceived the program.

The Broadband Development Grant program is at a...

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Posted May 10, 2016 by htrostle

Minneapolis is proud of its parks and trails and the City of Lakes has nurtured its jewel by fiercely protecting city parklands. The policy is effective but causing a bit of a headache for local Internet Service Provider, US Internet as the company deploys a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in Minneapolis.

The boulevards in front of some houses are Minneapolis parkland and the Parks and Recreation board recently voted down US Internet’s request to use those boulevards for conduit for its underground network. Now, homes bordering lakes and parkland will have to wait longer than their neighbors for FTTH. The situation illustrates one more challenge facing new entrants: right-of-way issues.

No Alternatives Available

US Internet explained in December that they had no alternatives to the boulevards. They can't use Minneapolis' narrow alleys, which are too cramped to safely use the boring equipment for installing underground conduit and fiber. The hard surface of the alleys prevents winter access for maintenance.

Aerial networks are not an option either. The current utility poles are under the control of Comcast, CenturyLink, and Xcel and the city will not allow any more aerial installations. There’s only so much space on a utility pole.

Is All Parkland the Same?

Right now, the park's boulevards do not have a separate classification and are treated the same as all other parkland. Although the Minneapolis parks need money for renovations, the Park Board decided not to leverage boulevard access for money. Park Board Commissioner Brad Bourn explained to the community newspaper Southwest Journal:

“We have to be careful of the precedent we set…  The purposes of our procedures are first and foremost to protect parkland.” 

How to use public land for the public good can be a difficult balancing act. The Park staff is now working to find possible solutions.

Residents who want FTTH but whose homes are located along park property are waiting. Resident Julie Stenberg signed up for US Internet in part because she knows that lack of FTTH will negatively impact her property values. She told the Journal:

She said it’s frustrating — no one is picnicking on the boulevard in front of her...

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