MTA Fall Conference: Thank You to Those Who Attended
MTA thanks everyone who attended this year's Fall Conference. Your participation helped make this year's event a resounding success! Plans are already in the works for future events, so stay tuned for developments.
We also send a special thank-you to our sponsors, whose support helped make this event even better.
Thank You, Sponsors
Cooperative Network Services, LLC
Interstate Telcom Consulting, Inc.
Power and Tel
BEC Technologies, Inc.
Corero Network Security
National Information Solutions Cooperative
Customer Service Peer Group Fall Conference
October 28–29, 2015
Jackpot Junction Casino
MTA is excited for the upcoming Fall Customer Service Peer Group Conference. It will be held October 28 & 29 at Jackpot Junction Casino Hotel. This event is for any and all individuals who deal with customers in the telecommunication industry. This is a great opportunity to attend (or send your staff) for very little cost.
We will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday evening with an icebreaker. We will serve appetizers in the Players Sports Bar & Grill, 6:30–8:30 pm. We will also have some Jackpot Casino Cash as a complimentary part of the Ice Breaker. Attendees will be able to try their luck in the Casino! The morning of learning will include a message from our own MTA President, Brent Christensen; and Cecilia Ray, attorney with Moss & Barnett Law Firm, will give us a refresher on CPNI rules.
Before lunch, Catherine Rasmussen, Extension Professor, Leadership & Civic Engagement at the U of M, will begin speaking on "Navigating Conflict More Successfully,” and return again after lunch on the same topic.
In the afternoon, we will break out into groups and do the ever-so-popular Peer to Peer Breakout Sessions.
We invite you to meet old and new friends and share your customer service experiences in the telecommunications business. Register now to attend this educational conference. The MTA registration fee is only $125. Rooms will be held until October 15.
You and your staff won’t want to miss this conference! Find the full agenda and registration form on the MTA calendar. You will register with MTA and then make your own hotel reservation. We look forward to seeing you on October 28 & 29.
P.S. Please consider joining the planning committee. Our committee consists of 4 people with 1 leaving each year. You would help plan four conferences. We communicate with each other through email and conference calls. It is a great way to get involved. If interested, please let one of the committee members know. We would like to have someone onboard before the end of this conference.
View Details and Register Online
Administrative Assistants Peer Group Fall Conference
November 4–5, 2015
Otter Tail Telcom
Fergus Falls, MN
View complete details and register online
We are excited for the upcoming MTA Administrative Assistant Peer Group Fall Conference scheduled for November 4–5, 2015 in Fergus Falls! This is a great opportunity to attend a very informative meeting (for a very minimal cost) and take advantage of the knowledge and resources that our Administrative Assistant peers have.
Best Western Fergus Falls
925 Western Ave.
Fergus Falls, MN
$98.99 plus tax for Double non-smoking. King non-smoking $103.49.
Call (218) 739-2211 for reservations. Mention MTA to get discounted rate.
Deadline for discounted rates: October 3, 2015.
Broadband Applications Increase in Latest Funding Round
Forty-four entities request $29.06 million
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has closed the application process for $10.58 million in funding that is available to build out broadband infrastructure in Greater Minnesota.
The agency’s Office of Broadband Development said it received requests for $29.06 million from 44 entities by the Sept. 15 application deadline. During the previous application period, the state received 40 applications. Funding for the agency’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program was approved during the 2015 legislative session.
“With grant requests nearly triple the available funding, it’s clear that the need for investment in rural broadband access is significant,” said Lt. Governor Tina Smith. “The $10.58 million available this year is a start, but it’s essential that the Legislature provide sufficient funding next session.”
A list of entities seeking funding and the areas that would be served is available here.
Under the program, entities can use the funding to pay for up to 50 percent of the cost of expanding broadband service in unserved or underserved regions of Minnesota. The maximum grant available to any single entity is $5 million.
"The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program is serving an important need throughout Minnesota by providing access to high-quality, high-speed broadband service to our citizens, businesses and public buildings,” said DEED Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben. “The increase in applications during this funding round is a reminder that there are still a number of communities that lack high-speed broadband access.”
DEED officials said internal review of the 44 applications and scoring are now under way. The agency expects to announce which entities are approved for funding in November.
Under a three-week challenge process that runs through Oct. 9, existing broadband providers can review project areas that are proposed for funding and determine whether they believe an area’s eligibility for the grant program should be challenged because adequate broadband service is already available in that area.
Read more details about the challenge process.
In the first round of Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program funding that was announced in February, DEED awarded grants totaling $19.4 million to help 17 entities in Minnesota develop broadband infrastructure in their communities. The awards will help serve 6,095 households, 83 community institutions and 150 businesses in unserved or underserved regions of the state.
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Klobuchar Recommendations Included in New Report from Broadband Opportunity Council
As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and a long-time advocate of expanding broadband, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar wrote to the Broadband Opportunity Council in June offering ways the federal government can improve access to high-speed broadband for all Americans.
Sen. Klobuchar’s recommendations have been included in a new report issued by the Broadband Opportunity Council, including plans to improve coordination with states, advance investment through the Rural Utility Service, streamline the permitting processes for broadband infrastructure on federal lands and buildings, and support greater adoption of “Dig Once” for federal projects.
Recommendations provided by Sen. Amy Klobuchar on how to improve high-speed broadband access for all Americans have been included in a recent report from the Broadband Opportunity Council. The Broadband Opportunity Council was formed earlier this year to provide government agencies, businesses, states, and other stakeholders with the opportunity to give suggestions about ways the country can continue to increase broadband investment and adoption, and it is chaired by the Secretaries of Commerce and Agriculture. As a member of the Senate Commerce and Agriculture Committees and a long-time advocate of expanding broadband, Sen. Klobuchar wrote a letter in June to the Council offering ways the federal government can increase access to reliable broadband.
Sen. Klobuchar’s recommendations that were included in the new Broadband Opportunity Council report include continuing to advance investment in rural America through the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service (RUS), improving and streamlining the permitting processes for deployment of broadband infrastructure on federal lands and buildings, improved sharing and coordination of information with all levels of government, and supporting greater adoption of “Dig Once” for federal infrastructure projects. The full report can be found HERE.
“As I travel around Minnesota, I hear too often from community leaders, residents, and businesses about their urgent need for access to reliable broadband,” Klobuchar wrote. “The Broadband Opportunity Council was formed to help improve broadband for all Americans and I am encouraged that its new report contains recommendations I offered to invest more in rural broadband, streamline the permitting process, and improve coordination of information among all levels of government. I will continue advancing efforts to improve broadband, including encouraging adoption of the Council’s recommendations across the federal government.”
Klobuchar is a leader in Congress on promoting widespread broadband access and increasing America’s competitiveness in the global economy. She is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction on telecommunications issues. She led a bipartisan letter with Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and 59 other senators calling on the Federal Communications Commission to modernize rules intended to ensure that Americans in rural areas have access to affordable broadband services. She has introduced the Rural Spectrum Accessibility Act with Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) to increase wireless broadband access in rural communities by providing incentives for wireless carriers to lease unused spectrum to rural or smaller carriers.
She also authored the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act to require that states simultaneously install broadband conduits as part of certain federal transportation projects, including building a new highway or adding a new shoulder to an existing highway. The president issued an executive order in 2012 that included an initiative known as “Dig Once,” which was derived from Sen. Klobuchar’s legislation and is highlighted again in the Broadband Opportunity Council’s recommendations this year.
The full text of Sen. Klobuchar’s June letter to the Broadband Opportunity Council follows.
Dear Secretaries Pritzker and Vilsack:
Broadband services are transforming the way Americans live, do business, and communicate. Ensuring access to high-speed broadband boosts American competitiveness. I am pleased that President Obama continues to focus on the need for investment in 21st century communications infrastructure. The creation of the Broadband Opportunity Council (Council) is an important opportunity for government agencies, businesses, states, and other stakeholders to weigh in on how we can continue to increase broadband investment and adoption. As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and a long-time advocate of expanding broadband, particularly to rural areas, I would like to offer my comments to the Council on this important issue for our country.
As I travel around Minnesota, I often hear from community leaders, residents, and businesses about their need for access to reliable broadband. However, their ability to attract these services varies. Rural residents often have lower speeds than those in urban areas. Additionally, there are still lower adoption rates among seniors and low-income households. The federal government can encourage investment and adoption of high-speed broadband, both wired and wireless, by promoting and strengthening existing federal programs, improving coordination with states, advancing public-private partnerships, and modernizing infrastructure.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has successfully overseen the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) which has invested $4 billion into broadband projects around the country. An independent study released by NTIA shows that these grants are projected to increase economic output by as much as $21 billion annually. BTOP also supported broadband adoption programs to encourage more people to realize the benefits of Internet access. I believe that the Administration should support efforts to reauthorize the BTOP program and continue investment in broadband deployment and adoption programs.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service (RUS) continues to be a vital program for many rural telecom providers by providing financing and long-term loans that support broadband investment. I encourage the RUS to continue to find ways to advance investment by rural service providers.
Coordination with states is also an important tool to advancing broadband. Minnesota continues to invest state funds into new broadband projects. Minnesota’s Office of Broadband within the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development should be a resource to the Council. Last year they invested nearly $20 million in grant funds to projects across Minnesota. NTIA and RUS should partner with these state investment initiatives and provide any matching or additional funding support. Collaboration can help leverage investments that will make overall investment in our nation’s broadband stronger.
Collaboration and streamlining investment in broadband deployment projects also depends on having access to service information. The National Broadband Map is an important tool for communities, businesses, and local governments. It was created to encourage economic growth through information. States are contributing information to this interactive tool on an ongoing basis. The federal government should continue to support the National Broadband Map going forward through partnerships with all 50 states, territories, and the District of Columbia.
In 2012, President Obama issued an executive order (EO) entitled Accelerating Broadband Infrastructure Deployment to streamline broadband deployment on federal lands, buildings, rights of way, federally-assisted highways and tribal lands. Included in this EO was an initiative known as Dig Once, which was derived from my legislation the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act and aims to promote the simultaneous installation of underground broadband conduit with federal transportation projects. Since the 2012 EO was issued, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has worked in conjunction with state transportation officials to identify best practices to accommodate broadband infrastructure. I believe that this was a positive first step, however, a 2013 report by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) states that “very few states have implemented statewide Dig Once policies.” Therefore, I urge the Council to include a recommendation in their review that furthers Dig Once policies and encourages more states to adopt policies that will expand high-speed broadband by cutting costs and streamlining construction.
Opportunities to streamline deployment are not limited to construction and wireline based broadband service. More and more consumers are dependent on mobile broadband access through devices like smartphones, tablets, etc. Therefore, NTIA should continue to work with federal agencies to identify spectrum that could be made available for commercial use. I applaud the efforts of NTIA Administrator Larry Strickling in this area and urge continued action.
Additionally, mobile coverage in rural areas continues to be a challenge. One of the reasons for this is the need to invest in cell sites in areas with low population density. However, rural Americans deserve to have access to the same services and technologies as those who live in urban areas. For example, more and more farmers are using mobile broadband services to improve their productivity and conduct business. The federal government can help streamline the permitting processes for placing broadband infrastructure on federal buildings, lands, or rights of way by creating a standard application process for all federal agencies, setting a predictable fee structure, and better utilizing electronic applications. Additionally, it should be a priority to share information with state and local authorities as well as wireless carriers interested in deploying advanced communication services in rural America.
Public-private partnerships are a way to promote broadband expansion and adoption. FirstNet, is one example. As FirstNet deploys the vital, interoperable public safety network across the country, there could be additional opportunities to expand mobile broadband coverage in areas lacking adequate access.
As you hear from stakeholders, I also urge you to also seek comments from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). While the FCC is not a part of this Council, I believe that the FCC’s expertise and experience in meeting their statutory mandate to advance the availability of advanced communications services like high-speed broadband will be beneficial to the goals of the Council. The FCC also continues to protect the public interest and competition in the broadband marketplace.
Finally, I encourage the Council to make the comments it receives from all stakeholders public so that they can contribute to a pervasive national conversation about broadband that extends beyond Washington, DC.
Thank you for your ongoing attention to these important issues. I look forward to your report. Please let me or my staff know if we can provide any further information as you make your recommendations to the President.
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Chairman Wheeler Discusses Rate-of-Return Reform at NTCA Fall Conference
From NECA’s Washington Watch
Chairman Wheeler spoke at the NTCA Fall Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, on September 21, 2015, to discuss broadband deployment and high-cost reform. Chairman Wheeler said he is circulating a public notice on the efficient use of USF support and that support should only be used for getting communications networks to rural America. Chairman Wheeler also said he and Commissioners Clyburn and O’Rielly and FCC staff have been working together with various organizations, including NTCA, on the establishment of a new Connect America Fund for rate-of-return carriers, and said the Commission would move forward with rate-of-return reform by year end. Chairman Wheeler said reform should include: a voluntary path to a cost-model-based support mechanism; a new mechanism for all loop costs to completely replace HCLS and ICLS; a transition period to phase in this new plan in a timely but reasonable manner; and a program budget and other measures to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the program.
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From Watchdog Minnesota, by Tom Steward
A quiet settlement of a $120,000 lawsuit over a taxpayer-funded broadband network will come, ironically, from $8 million in bonds issued this summer to start construction on a scaled-back network.
The $120,000 lawsuit over legal fees blindsided Renville and Sibley counties, as well as 12 area cities, which simply wanted to move on from the failed first attempt to bond for the controversial network in 2012.
But those involved in the agreement aren’t saying much.
“I can’t talk about it,” said Mark Erickson, Winthrop economic development director and the fiber network’s biggest booster. “… All I know is they settled it. I can’t talk about it at all.”
The local governments, under the mantle of the Renville-Sibley County Fiber Joint Powers Agency, owe Minneapolis law firm Best and Flanagan $120,000 for work on an unsuccessful 2012 effort to obtain a $66 million bond to finance the RS Fiber broadband network, legal documents obtained by Watchdog Minnesota Bureau say.
“The Renville-Sibley Contract did not condition the payment of Plaintiff’s legal fees or costs on the issuance of the Bonds,” the complaint says. “… Defendants have never contested their obligations to pay for Plaintiff’s legal services, the amounts of Plaintiff’s invoices, nor the reasonable value of Plaintiff’s legal services.”
Yet officials in several communities only learned about the alleged breach of contract after getting a court summons. RS Fiber representatives kept them out of the loop.
“That is correct. I did not know anything about it. I can only say what happened here in our city, and I know we were not real happy with it,” said Rhonda Huls, Stewart city clerk and treasurer. “Our council talked about it at the last council meeting, and we were leaving it up to the attorneys to take care of the issue.”
Besides Renville and Sibley counties, a summons went to the cities of Arlington, Brownton, Buffalo Lake, Fairfax, Gaylord, Gibbon, Green Isle, Henderson, Lafayette, New Auburn, Stewart and Winthrop. RS Fiber Cooperative, the entity formed after the first attempted network fell short, was also named in the legal action.
“No, I really wasn’t aware of it, until we got served notice. And, of course, they told us that we needed to pay up this money,” said Ella Kruse, Brownton city clerk and treasurer.
A cover letter signed by Best and Flanagan attorney Edward Sheu indicates the cities and counties contracted in March 2012 to pay up to $120,000 of legal fees, regardless of whether the bond offering by Oppenheimer and Co. panned out. The actual cost of legal fees totaled some $145,000, according to the document.
“If payment is made now, no interest or collection costs will be demanded. Upon payment, we will issue you a release and notice of dismissal of this action,” Sheu said in the letter. Sheu did not respond to requests for comment.
The complaint chastises local governments and RS Fiber for failing to more quickly pay off their debt.
“Defendants have not responded to Plaintiff’s many requests for payment except to offer to pay lesser amounts,” the document states.
The notification caused confusion as to whether local governments were responsible for paying a portion of the debt. Sibley County was billed separately for $44,763.27 of the legal bill.
In the end, RS Fiber v. 2 apparently agreed to pay the attorney’s fees, as an extension of the original project. City councils are expected to approve the proposed settlement at their next round of meetings and move on.
“This was a debt of the joint powers entity. It wasn’t a debt of the individual members,” said David Schauer, Sibley county attorney.
RS Fiber broke ground in July on the first phase of the rural central Minnesota fiber optic network. It could take six years to complete.
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Watch Out for those Tractors!
Autumn has arrived and for many of us, our favorite time of the year! As we hit the road to attend those football games, fall festivals, and fall drives to view the changing colors, we also encounter an increased danger — as it also means the arrival of fall harvest for farmers and more farm equipment on the road. Slow-moving farm equipment and a fast-moving car can be a deadly combination. National data show that incidents involving farm equipment have been on the rise over the years due to the increased size of the farm equipment being used and the greater distance some farmers are traveling to get to their land. The most frequent types of accidents include:
- A car striking farm equipment from the rear.
- Vehicles striking farm equipment making a left turn while the vehicle is attempting to pass on the left.
- A vehicle striking farm equipment as it enters a public roadway at a slower rate of speed.
Fortunately these types of accidents can be avoided if we all do our part and remember the following tips:
- Anticipate you may get behind farm equipment during your trip, so leave early and give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination.
- Slow down when you first see farm equipment on the road ahead of you. Farm equipment usually travels less than 25 miles per hour. It takes less than seven seconds for a car traveling at 55 mph to crash into the back of a tractor 400 feet away.
- When you get behind a piece of equipment, be patient and wait for a clear opportunity to safely pass. Equipment operators may not be able to see you due to the size of the equipment they are operating, so make sure they can see you too. Remember, if you can’t see the other driver, he can’t see you.
- Don’t pull out in front of farm equipment as you may misjudge their speed and distance. They won’t be able to slow down or stop as quickly as a smaller vehicle to prevent an accident.
- Drive defensively when approaching oncoming equipment. They may have an impatient driver behind them who may suddenly pull out to pass and not see you coming from the other direction.
- Look out for those deer, too, as farmers will be pushing them out of the field.
Be safe and get out there to enjoy the beautiful fall weather because before we know it, it’s going to be cold and snowing again.
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