Tag: "minnesota"

Posted October 6, 2015 by htrostle

This past July the USDA announced over $85 million in funding for rural broadband projects across seven states. The projects, many awarded to rural cooperatives, aim to bridge the digital divide and expand economic opportunities. For those interested in federal funding opportunities, NTIA has just released this guide [pdf].

Rural areas are often passed over by big telcos because they are considered less profitable. Farming, however, is a high-tech industry, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack believes that Internet access is as necessary as electricity in rural areas:

"Broadband is fundamental to expanding economic opportunity and job creation in rural areas, and it is as vital to rural America's future today as electricity was when USDA began bringing power to rural America 80 years ago. ...  Improved connectivity means these communities can offer robust business services, expand access to health care and improve the quality of education in their schools, creating a sustainable and dynamic future those who live and work in rural America."

The USDA has awarded more than  $77 million in Community Connect Grants for rural broadband projects (since 2009). This July, the USDA loaned $74.8 million and awarded another $11 million in Community Connect Grants. Here is the current round-up of the USDA’s most recent loans and grants:

Alaska

Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative Inc. will connect Point Hope subscribers and prepare for an undersea fiber line with a $1.4 million grant.

Minnesota

Garden Valley Telephone, one of the largest coops in Minnesota, will continue to expand its FTTH service area with a $12.63 million loan. On average, the coop serves two households per square mile.

Consolidated Telephone, another coop, will perform upgrades and add a new fiber ring to allow for greater bandwidth with a $12.27 million...

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Posted September 26, 2015 by htrostle

Sometimes we just want to celebrate a small victory for local communities. Back in June, Paul Bunyan Communications won the 2015 Leading Lights National Award for Most Innovative Gigabit Broadband Service.

This small cooperative from rural northern Minnesota beat both innovative local firms like C Spire and national companies like Google. Whereas Comcast is rolling out Gigabit Pro in Silicon Valley, Paul Bunyan Communications is serving sparsely populated, often-ignored, rural areas. Gary Johnson, the Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager was honored to accept the award and explained their approach to gigabit access:

“It is one of the first gigabit network initiatives that will encompassas a large rural area and I think that is significant. Many of the gigabit network projects taking place are in small portions of densely populated metropolitan areas. Too often, the more challenging rural America gets overlooked.”

Paul Bunyan Communications has created a GigaZone passing 7,800 locations, and will soon include 20,000 locations by the end of this year. Those in the GigaZone will have the opportunity to buy a Gigabit connection for only $100 a month. The goal for the small telecom cooperative is to expand the GigaZone to encompass the entire 5,000 square mile service area. Now, that deserves an award.

Posted September 9, 2015 by phineas

Six years after an initial feasibility study was conducted to assess bringing broadband to Renville and Sibley Counties in southeastern Minnesota, members of the RS Fiber Cooperative board were finally able to dust off their shovels for a groundbreaking ceremony on July 9. Although those shovels may have ended up being more symbolic than they were practical, the ceremony marked an important and long-awaited step in the fight to extend broadband to 10 cities and 17 rural townships across the largely agricultural region.

The groundbreaking ceremony marked the start of stage one of a two-stage project that will take five to six years to complete. By the end of 2015, the RS (Renville-Sibley) Fiber Cooperative plans to connect 1,600 homes and businesses with fiber, with 90 percent of its service area covered by high-speed wireless. It hopes to connect another 2,600 homes and businesses by the end of 2016, with the eventual goal of reaching 6,200 potential customers. At the event, Toby Brummer, RS Fiber General Manager, highlighted the importance of broadband Internet to rural development:

This technology is to this generation what rural electric and rural telephone was to generations years ago.

The RS Fiber Cooperative is member-owned and member-driven, led by a Joint Powers Board that formed in 2009. In order to provide FTTH to the rural locations across the two counties, the cooperative partnered with a network operator, Hiawatha Broadband Communications, that already serves 17 communities in southeast Minnesota. RS Fiber will offer residential Internet speeds up to 1 gigabit for $129.95. It will also connect schools, bolster home and farm security systems, and even facilitate high school sports broadcasts and telemedicine initiatives.

The local governments each sold a General Obligation Tax Abatement Bond that in aggregate totalled $15 million that was loaned to the cooperative, which helped offset the cost of the...

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Posted August 27, 2015 by lgonzalez

Earlier this year, Rochester City Council members chose to look further at the prospect of developing a municipal fiber network. On August 17th, the Committee of the Whole met to hear a proposal from Alcaltel-Lucent to deploy 500 miles of fiber for approximately $42 million.

According to the Post Bulletin, the city recently surveyed 1,200 Rochester Public Utilities (RPU) customers and found that more than 75 percent of them supported the idea of Internet access from RPU.

Rochester residents and businesses have long suffered with expensive, unreliable, slow connectivity from incumbent Charter Communications. City Council member Michael Wojcik introduced the idea of publicly owned infrastructure in 2010 but the idea never picked up steam. He revived the issue last year when constituents began calling his office with complaints about Charter.

"Principally, I feel the technology, the customer service and price in Rochester are unacceptably bad (from Charter)," [Wojcik] said. "I get the feeling that a good portion of the public strongly agrees with that."

For this information session, the Council took no action; next, the proposal will be examined thoroughly by RPU officials.

Local video coverage from KTTC:

Posted June 25, 2015 by phineas

Economic Development and Community Networks

When a community invests in a municipal broadband network, it often does so because it hopes to reap economic benefits from the network. Many people and organizations have explored the positive relationship between municipal Internet networks and economic development, including a White House report published in January 2015. Municipal networks create jobs by ensuring businesses have fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access; the old DSL and cable networks just don't cut it. These networks improve the productivity of existing businesses and attract new businesses to communities, allow individuals to work from home more effectively, support advanced healthcare and security systems, strengthen local housing markets, and represent long term social investments in the form of better-connected schools and libraries. They also create millions of dollars in savings that can be reinvested into local economies. 


"Upgrading to higher speed broadband lets consumers use the Internet in new ways, increases the productivity of American individuals and businesses, and drives innovation throughout the digital ecosystem." - Executive Office of President Obama

When municipalities choose to deploy fiber networks, they introduce Internet services into the community that are not only significantly faster than DSL and cable, but more reliable. With more reliable fiber connections, businesses and individuals are far less likely to experience temporary blackouts that can halt productivity in vexing and expensive ways. And because these networks are locally-owned and operated, business owners do not have to spend hours on the phone with an absentee Internet Service Provider like AT&T in the (albeit unlikely) event of a problem. 

We at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance have catalogued numerous examples of economic development achievements that have occurred as a result of local governments deploying a municipal broadband network. Below, you can find a wide range of articles...

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Posted May 26, 2015 by lgonzalez

When Westminster, a community of 18,000 in rural Maryland, found itself with poor Internet access that incumbents refused to improve, it decided to join the ranks of a growing trend: public-private-partnerships between local governments and private companies to invest in next-generation Internet access. They are now working with Ting - one of a growing number of private sector firms seeking partnerships with cities – though how partnerships are structured varies significantly across communities.

In building an infrastructure intended to serve the community for decades, city leaders knew Westminster should retain ownership of the network to ensure it would remain locally accountable. Ting is leasing fiber on the network and providing Internet services to the community with plans to offer some type of video in the near future. The public-private-partnership (or “P3”) includes a temporary exclusivity arrangement for two years or when a minimum number of subscriptions are activated. Westminster will then have the ability to open up its network to other providers in an open access arrangement. 

Communities are realizing that if they want better connectivity, they need to take matters into their own hands. As local leaders wade through the complex process of planning, financing, and deploying Internet network infrastructure, P3s are becoming more common. Communities with little or no experience in managing fiber optic networks may assume that P3s are safer or easier. That may be true or not depending on the specific P3 approach; the data is only starting to come in. P3s have been relatively rare compared to the hundreds of local governments that have chosen to build their own networks in recent decades.

Partnerships will continue playing a larger role  when improving local connectivity but this area is still maturing – there are already a few examples of successful P3s though many will also recall the failed Gigabit Squared P3 approach

P3s are more established in municipal public works projects involving other areas of infrastructure. A November 2013 Governing article by Ryan...

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Posted May 7, 2015 by lgonzalez

Minnesota's Dakota County community leaders are planning to expand their existing fiber optic network, reports Blandin on Broadband's Ann Treacy. She attended a recent County Commissioner's meeting in which commissioners approved $1.2 million to add another 500,000 feet to the network.

Dakota County plans to perform some upgrades in addition to the expansion. They hope to collaborate with municipal and state government as well as a local school district. In addition to connecting more public facilities, a key benefit of this expansion will be to improve traffic signals along several busy corridors. 

Dakota County is taking advantage of transportation projects and its dig once policy to install conduit and fiber. This project will also add redundancy and capacity to the existing network and create potential connections to an industrial park. By sharing the cost of the expansion and the maintenance, each participating entity will see many benefits at a fraction of the cost from leasing from an incumbent provider.

The Dakota County Broadband Initiative recently began a campaign to approach local community leaders in order to offer info on the potential benefits of further leasing fiber to private businesses. Nearby Scott County, which offers connectivity to a number of businesses, has successfully used their fiber for economic development.

The SunThisWeek reported on a March Burnsville City Council meeting where Consultant Craig Ebeling spoke on behalf of the Initiative:

Private-sector telecom providers don’t have the capital to extend fiber widely, he said, echoing findings in the Design Nine study. Meanwhile, Scott County “smacked us in the face” with its fiber advantage, he said. It’s no time for a “hide your head” approach, [Council Member Dan] Kealey said.

“Shame on us for not being long-sighted enough to figure that out before,” he said.

The County has also realized that the network could be used to improve residential access. An Star Tribune article in March reported...

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Posted May 4, 2015 by lgonzalez

The northern half of Minnesota, despite its rural character, is rapidly improving in high quality Internet access. Paul Bunyan Communications, the cooperative serving much of the Bemijdi area, began work on its GigaZone network last fall and the network is snaking its way across the region. According to an April 20th press release from the cooperative, GigaZone is now available to 500 more locations from the rural areas near Lake George to Itasca State Park. This brings the number of customers with access to GigaZone to 5,000.

Rates for symmetrical Internet access range from $44.95 per month for 20 Mbps to $74.95 per month for 50 Mbps. Higher speeds are available, including gigabit Internet access, but the cooperative asks potential customers to call for pricing.

We first reported on Paul Bunyan Telephone Communications in 2009. The cooperative began expanding its existing fiber network in 2007 but gigabit connectivity did not become available to members until earlier this year. Upgrades began in Bemidji and will continue to include the cooperatives entire 5,000 square mile service area. As new lines are installed, older lines will also be upgraded to fiber to transform the entire network. 

The cooperative began offering Internet access in 1996 as Paul Bunyan Telephone. Three years later, Paul Bunyan began infrastructure upgrades that allowed it to offer phone, high-speed Internet access, and digital television. The network expanded incrementally and continued to implement technological improvements. In 2005, the cooperative expanded with fiber technology for the first time. In 2010, Paul Bunyan Telephone changed its name to Paul Bunyan Communications.

At an event to announce GigaZone last fall, leadership from the region's economic development commission noted the new unleashed potential:

Greater Bemidji Director Dave Hengel compared Paul Bunyan to pioneering software giant Apple.  

“In many, many ways, Paul Bunyan Communications has become the Apple of greater...

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Posted April 10, 2015 by rebecca

Representative Pat Garofalo’s (R-53B) proposal to cut funding for broadband grants is the wrong move for Minnesota. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is absolutely opposed to any suggestion Minnesota should have two-tiered Internet access - a fast standard in urban areas and slower, less reliable access in Greater Minnesota.

Wireless technology and satellite Internet are not sufficient for homes and businesses in the modern economy. They certainly won’t lead to the kind of job creation or retention that Greater Minnesota needs. Modern jobs require modern connections.

ILSR has long fought the notion, often advanced by the cable monopoly lobbyists in Saint Paul, that wireless is good enough for people that don't live in the metro. Nearly 100 years ago, the United States wisely pursued policies to electrify farms and the boosts to the economy were staggering. Given the significant budget surplus, now is the not the time for the Legislature to turn its back on Greater Minnesota.

“It’s outrageous to us that a lawmaker who is supposedly in favor of needed job creation for our communities would turn around and slash the very thing that could support it,” says Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). “Rural Minnesotans should not be constantly moved to the back of the line for 21st century connectivity. We can’t wait any longer for the kinds of investments that will carry our schools and businesses across the digital divide.”

In Windom, Minnesota, for instance, the community has seen strong job growth, including at the Toro Manufacturing plant, because it could get better Internet access from the small city's utility than it could get at Twin City locations. Those jobs would not exist if local employers relied only on wireless or satellite technologies.

More information:

ILSR published All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access, a detailed report on how local communities across the state can improve Internet access for government,...

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Posted March 9, 2015 by lgonzalez

In a recent meeting of the Dakota County Administration, Finance and Policy Committee, Dakota County's Network Collaboration Engineer David Asp provided an update to Commissioners on the status of their broadband plan. Dakota has saved millions of dollars with their network through collaborative efforts, innovative dig-once approaches, and specially deveoped software.

As part of its long term strategy, the county is now considering ways to offer connectivity to local businesses and residents via open access infrastructure. Blandin on Broadband's Ann Treacy attended the February 3rd meeting and, thanks to Asp, posted the PPT from his presentation.

We spoke with David Asp in Episode #117 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In 2011, Dakota County was named one of the Intelligent Community Forum's 21 Smart Communities. 

We learned while developing our case study on Dakota County that their efforts to coordinate excavation, including specialized software they developed themselves, has reduced the cost of installing fiber by more than 90 percent. We estimated the County has saved over $10 million in fiber and conduit deployment costs.

For more on this network, download a copy of our case study that includes the stories of Dakota County and eleven other Minnesota communities: All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber internet Access.

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