Tag: "minnesota"

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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Posted April 21, 2016 by rebecca

On Wednesday, November 18, 2015 Christopher Mitchell sat down with Bill Wallace of US Ignite and Mark Erickson of the city of Winthrop, Minnesota. In part 2 of our ongoing series, Chris, Bill and Mark talk more about the "nuts and bolts" of building a network. Come back each Wednesday for new video content!

This interview is paired with ILSR's report, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative. The report documents a groundbreaking new model that’s sprung up in South Central Minnesota that can be replicated all over the nation, in the thousands of cities and counties that have been refused service by big cable and telecom corporations.

Posted April 20, 2016 by rebecca

On Wednesday, November 18, 2015 Christopher Mitchell sat down with Bill Wallace of US Ignite and Mark Erickson of the city of Winthrop, Minnesota, to talk about the exciting applications communities can develop if they have the connectivity they need.

This interview is paired with ILSR's report, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative. The report documents a groundbreaking new model that’s sprung up in South Central Minnesota that can be replicated all over the nation, in the thousands of cities and counties that have been refused service by big cable and telecom corporations.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this video podcast on RS Fiber, to be released Thursday as part of our ongoing series featuring community and policy leaders in the field.


Posted April 19, 2016 by christopher

When we launched this podcast in 2012, we kicked it off with an interview from Minnesota's farm country, Sibley County. We were excited at their passion for making sure every farm was connected with high quality Internet access.

After the project took a turn and became a brand new cooperative, we interviewed them again in 2014 for episode 99, but they hadn't finished financing. They broke ground 2015 and today we discuss the model and the new Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) case study that details how they built it.

City of Winthrop Economic Development Authority Director Mark Erickson and Renville-area farmer Jake Rieke are both on the board of RS Fiber Cooperative and they join us to explain how their model works.

We at ILSR believe this model could work in much of rural America, in any community that can summon a fraction of the passion of the citizens from Sibley and Renville counties. Having watched this project for all the years it was being developed, I cannot express how impressed I am with their dedication. And because they own it, I'm thrilled to know that no one can take it away from them.

Read the transcript from this show here.

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

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to...

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Posted April 18, 2016 by lgonzalez

A new trend is emerging in rural communities throughout the United States: Fiber-to-the-Farm. Tired of waiting for high-quality Internet access from big companies, farmers are building it themselves. 

Communities in and around Minnesota’s rural Sibley County are going from worst to best after building a wireless and fiber-optic cooperative. While federal programs throw billions of dollars to deliver last year’s Internet speeds, local programs are building the network of the future. 

In “RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative,” the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) and Next Century Cities documents a groundbreaking new model that’s sprung up in South Central Minnesota that can be replicated all over the nation, in the thousands of cities and counties that have been refused service by big cable and telecom corporations.  

Tired of Waiting: Farmers Build Their Own Fiber-Optic Co-op

21st century farms require 21st century connectivity. Denied access by telephone and cable companies, they created a new model. 

In the report you’ll meet: 

  • Mark Erickson, of the city of Winthrop. Erickson is the local champion that has breathed life into RS Fiber. Without the project, the city of Gaylord would have not attracted the forthcoming medical school. “We have that opportunity because of the Fiber-to-the-Home network. Without it, no medical school.”
  • Linda Kramer, of Renville County. Kramer’s family farm relies on the Internet to upload soybean and wheat reports to business partners. DSL connections are simply not fast enough to handle the massive amount of data agricultural businesses need in order to stay competitive with the Farming Industrial Complex that is the reality of the 21st Century. 
  • Jacob Rieke, a 5th generation family farmer. Rieke’s motivation for backing the project was his pre-school aged daughters. Not wanting to put them at a disadvantage to their peers in other cities, he considered moving to a different location in order to have access to Internet.

From the technologies to the financing, rural communities can solve their problems with local investments. 

“This cooperative model could bring high quality Internet access to every farm in the country,” says Christopher...

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Posted April 8, 2016 by lgonzalez

As Minnesota's Legislature decides on funding for the state's Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, local media is calling on state leaders to prioritize local connectivity in the Capitol Chambers. This year, Governor Dayton's office is recommending allocating $100 million to the program.

Blended Is Better

In the past, the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program has granted funding to areas of only the greatest need, which has resulted in Internet infrastructure deployment in very rural areas. That's great for municipalities, businesses, and residents in those areas who certainly need and deserve better connectivity. Towns where there is some coverage, such as old DSL networks, have typically not qualified. As a result, rural areas of the state are developing "donut holes" of inadequate connectivity. In the long term, this could spell disaster for these towns because businesses have no reason to locate in places where they can't get the Internet access they need for operations. A blended approach will allow investment in both unserved areas and areas where some networks already exist so centers of economic activity can still compete with their neighbors.

Chris provides more information on the blended approach, and on one possible solution for rural communities, in this nicely produced video created by Capitol Almanac:

Minnesota Broadband, 2016

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are saying broadband expansion, especially to greater Minnesota, is a priority this session, but there are competing perspectives on how to use any funding the legislature sets aside. In this segment from "Almanac at the Capitol," we hear two takes on how...

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Posted March 22, 2016 by christopher

In Minneapolis, a small and privately owned ISP has been steadily building fiber across the city and developing a stunning reputation for great customer service, low and predictable pricing, and generally being a great company to do business with. Co-founder Travis Carter of US Internet joins us for episode 194 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We discuss their approach to building networks, especially their philosophy around customer service and just how poorly some of US Internet's competitors treat their customers. As a small firm that is carving out its own path in a world of giants, its experiences are important lessons and points of consideration for community networks.

We also discuss how US Internet interacts with local governments. Though the company has high praise for Minneapolis, it discusses where some of the challenges have been in navigating local government zoning and permitting. Travis also offers some advice based on how smart investments and a well-organized approach to leasing fiber have helped US Internet to begin expanding in suburb Saint Louis Park.

USI coverage map is available here. For more information on USI's pricing, see their website for Fiber-to-the-Home and telephone service.

We plan to have Travis back on in the future again, so if you have questions you would like us to ask, please tell us!

Read the transcript from this show here.

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

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this Mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

...

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Posted March 16, 2016 by Scott

How good is Internet service in your community? 

The question may seem simple, but the answer isn’t always straight forward, according to a recent blog post from Blandin on Broadband. There is more to consider than just availability or speed. “A multitude of factors come into play.”  

Now, a Twin Cities-based consultant who has worked extensively with the Blandin Foundation has created an online Community Broadband Assessment tool designed to help cities and towns determine how their Internet service compares to other communities. The Community Broadband Infrastructure and Services Assessment Tool can be found at the Minnesota Broadband Coalition website.

Coleman Crafts Assessment Tool 

Bill Coleman, told us he recently came up with the idea for the survey after talking with several people from outstate counties and towns and rural advocacy groups. “There is a surprising lack of information about broadband quality” in Minnesota, said Coleman, whose consulting firm assists clients develop and implement programs of broadband infrastructure investment and technology promotion and training. “We are trying to coordinate the rural voice around broadband.” 

The Broadband Coalition noted that Coleman’s assessment tool:

“[W]ill help local leaders investigate, consider, understand and discuss the state of the community’s broadband infrastructure and services. This tool incorporates measures of broadband speed, ubiquity, competition, redundancy and partnership.  In many areas, community broadband consideration has moved beyond the city limits to the community’s market area or to individual townships, the entire county or tribal reservation.  This tool allows analysis at any geography, recognizing that larger geographies are likely to have wide variations in broadband availability. “

Comparing Communities on Broadband 

According to the Blandin blog:

...“[T]he assessment [tool] helps a community determine where it...

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