Today’s post is just a little different but it’s a Sunday and I just thought this might be valuable to some readers and a handy thing to pass on to others in your community because it addresses the life and death prospect of the broadband economy.

Some people hang back from technology because they are a afraid of change. Think of Kodak, (many) local book shops or Encyclopedia Britannica. Libraries ran the risk of joining the list except librarians said – we’re not books, we’re information. There was a fundamental shift in what became the core competency based on how technology changed the need and role of libraries.

Forbes Magazine recently ran an article (Do we need libraries?) that outlines the shift that libraries made. I think the questions they pose would be helpful to anyone looking down the barrel of technology. Because technology can be a liability or an asset it all depends on how you use it.

The article poses three questions that don’t make sense…

One wrong path involves merely computerizing existing services. This is a common mistake with every new technology: applying the new technology to what is currently being done. Thus when it was realized in the 19th century that an engine could replace a horse, the first “cars” were strange looking contraptions with an engine on wheels pulling a cart with passengers. The designers hadn’t rethought the concept of a horse-and-cart or imagined what would be possible with the new technology: the engine could be integrated with the passenger cabin to produce a comfortable car. Similarly, computerizing existing library services will result in redundancies that will limit any gains to be made from computerization. There is a need to rethink what services are possible with the new technology, as well as what is no longer needed.

A second wrong path involves applying the 20th century preoccupation with efficiency to the organization and merely using computers to reduce costs. The sad history of technology efforts over the last 50 years is that computerization by itself doesn’t reduce costs. Unless the work is redesigned, the costs of introducing the technology almost always outweighs the seemingly obvious gains in efficiency. So computerization by itself is unlikely to result in an overall net reduction of costs, nor will it save libraries from extinction.

A third wrong path involves a frantic effort to “build apps” for smartphones, without thinking through what the apps will enable users to do and whether users want that. The banking industry, for instance, is spending large amounts of money “building apps” for smartphones: it is a safe prediction that most of the apps will be unused because they are not grounded in users’ needs and focused on making users’ lives better.

And five questions that do make sense…

The first and most important question for libraries is to ask: How can we delight our users and customers? This is a tricky question to answer. Answering it will require all the capabilities and ingenuity of the talented library staffs. Libraries will be unable to answer it if they continue to be run as vertical bureaucracies focused on producing outputs. In that form, libraries simply won’t have the agility or the institutional smarts to figure out what users really want and then deliver it.

This recognition leads on to the second right question. How can we manage the library to enable continuous innovation? This will involve a shift to the management practices of the Creative Economy, including the shift in the role of managers from controllers to enablers, the shift in coordinating work from bureaucracy and counting outputs to Agile approaches to coordination and assessing outcomes, the shift in values from efficiency to continuous improvement, and the shift in communications from top-down command-and-control to horizontal conversations.

The third question is: What will make things better, faster, cheaper, more mobile, more convenient or more personalized for our users? The most important words in this question are the last three: “for our users.” Changes that make things better for the library, but make things worse for users, are not the answer. We have all experienced how airlines have introduced changes that make things better for the airline, but make things worse for us as passengers. The moral of this story: don’t emulate the airlines!

The fourth question to ask is: What needs could libraries meet that users haven’t yet even thought of? We can’t solve the mystery of the future of libraries by asking users what they want: they simply don’t know! They can’t imagine the possibilities, just as users couldn’t have told Steve Jobs the future of music or mobile phones if he had asked them. Apple had to invent the iPod and the iPhone. Once users saw those devices, they said, “Yes, I must have them.” So libraries must imagine a future that users will truly want, even though users themselves don’t yet know what that is.

Using the right metrics to track customer delight will be important here. A informal poll at this week’s conference suggested that relatively few libraries are using the Net Promoter Score (NPS) methodology. Instead, the metrics in use seem to focus on outputs, like numbers of users or circulation figures. Although we all love librarians because they are instinctively helpful, getting feedback from users about the overall utility of the library as a whole, using the NPS methodology, would give libraries a handle on whether their efforts to delight users are paying off—or not. There are no points here for librarians putting in exceptional personal effort, as they do. The only question is: are those efforts resulting in exceptional user outcomes in comparison to other alternatives that users have?

This inquiry would lead to the fifth set of questions. What are the things that libraries are currently doing that users already love? How can libraries do more of those things, and do them sooner, better, faster and in a more convenient, more personalized way? And how can libraries stop doing things that users don’t value or that even annoy them? In other words, libraries may not have to invent the future. They may be able to discover it. “The future is already here,” as the science fiction writer William Gibson said. “It’s just very unevenly distributed.”

Posted by: Ann Treacy | May 2, 2015

Public Private Fiber optic expansion coming to Mankato

The Mankato Free Press reports on new fiber going into Mankato, which will bring better broadband and a new provider to the area. It’s a public-private partnership between Blue earth County and Jaguar Communications that won’t cost the taxpayers more money. It’s a good example of looking at everyone’s assets (including expertise) and coming up with a win-win solution.

Here’s the scoop on the fiber…

The agreement will involve installing underground about 7 miles of fiber optic communication infrastructure along a “south fiber ring” from the far eastern edge of Mankato, south along Highway 22, west along Stadium Road and to downtown along Stoltzman Road and Riverfront Drive. Fiber, which allows large amounts of data to be transmitted at very high speeds, is already in place from downtown to the far east side along a “north fiber route” that runs mostly along Marsh Street and Madison Avenue.

Like the north fiber route, the new fiber installation was spurred by local governments with the help of the state of Minnesota. The governments’ interest involves connecting most city, county and state buildings with a ring of fiber optic cable, which will create a backup route for communications even if either the northern or southern cable is accidentally severed or otherwise disrupted.

Another government fiber route runs along Victory Drive from the far northeastern edge of Mankato to Balcerzak Drive to Minnesota State University.

Government buildings along the ring include the county Justice Center at the eastern city limits of Mankato, the county highway department off of Stadium Road, the courthouse and county Government Center on Fifth Street, the city public works center at Victory and Hoffman Road, the city Public Safety Center on Front Street, the MSU campus, the Intergovernmental Center (which includes city and school district offices), city fire stations and state offices in Mankato Place downtown.

The cost saving for the state (aka investment for Jaguar)…

Unlike the previous projects, the construction of the south fiber ring won’t cost taxpayers a penny.

“They’ll build that entire south ring for us for free,” Storm said of Jaguar Communications.

The value of the work has been estimated at $450,000.

While Jaguar is placing fiber for the local governments, it also will be laying parallel fiber of its own that the company will use to enter the Mankato private sector telecommunications marketplace.

“Jaguar really wants to get down into the downtown area,” Storm said. “… It’s going to open up more competition for everybody.”

The company also will provide maintenance of the system over a 20-year contract approved by the council and county board this week. Charlie Berg, Storm’s counterpart at Blue Earth County, said the value of the maintenance services provided by Jaguar is roughly $30,000 a year, which means it would approach $600,000 in value over the length of the contract.

And part of the potential ROI for Jaguar…

“In exchange for (installing and maintaining the south ring), they’ll be granted ownership of one of the empty pipes in the north route,” Berg said of Jaguar, which will be a new player in local telecommunications. “… Basically, what this does is give them a direct route right into the heart of downtown Mankato.”

And the county’s unique approach to a solution…

The city and county used a nontraditional approach to reaching the deal with Jaguar. Rather than the standard bidding process, where private companies offer to do a job for a certain dollar amount and the lowest qualified bid wins, a request for proposals was issued.

“You pose a problem and say, ‘Vendors, how would you solve this problem?'” Berg said.

I’m trying to catch up from a busy week – and apparently get a jump on next week as this update is dated May 4, 2015. It’s the S.F. No. 826 – Omnibus Tax Bill (First Engrossment). I’ve pulled out Article 12, section 23…

Section 23. Broadband service public-private partnerships.  Authorizes a local unit of government, alone or through a joint powers agreement with other local units of government to finance, acquire, and construct broadband equipment. Each local unit may issue general obligation bonds for this purpose or one of the local units acting through a joint powers agreement may issue the bonds and all other local units shall levy a tax and pledge the collection of the tax to the issuer of bonds. Bonds may only be issued by a local unit upon obtaining the approval of a majority of the electors voting on the question of issuing the obligations, and only when a local unit of government partners or enters into an agreement with a private provider or cooperative to operate and maintain broadband service and equipment. Effective the day following final enactment.

Last fall I mentioned that Frontier Communications and Dish Network had developed a $10 million partnership set on driving growth and revitalization in rural towns and cities within the telco’s 27-state territory – including Minnesota. It’s called the Americas Best Communities.

Eligible communities had to apply by Jan. 12, 2015, to qualify. Then judges selected up to 50 qualified applicants; each of which was awarded $35,000 to develop their plans and proposals. These communities have months to refine and submit their final proposals in September 2015.

Good news – Chisago Lake Area made the cut!

Frontier Communications announced the Chisago Lakes Area is 1 of 50 recipients of the America’s Best Community (ABC) award.  It is a $35,000 grant.  They also have a Corporate sponsor now that will provide the $15,000 grant match as well as technical assistance and expertise.  It is a very exciting opportunity for the Chisago Lakes Area.  The funds are used to prepare extensive plans to go on to be 1 of 8 for the $100,000 grant. The winners then go on to take 1st , 2nd , or 3rd place for a $3, $2, or $1 million grant respectively.

I know that they got support from the Blandin Foundation in the form of consulting from Bill Coleman for the effort. It would be great to see Chisago go all the way. It seemed like a long shot in September but the odds are getting better and they are learning more and getting closer to the funds but also to iterative improvement at every step of the game.

The next phase of Connect American Fund is rolling out. I just wanted to share the lasted from the FCC. I’m glad to see the influx of funds. I wonder why they are not using the “new” FCC definition of broadband for the funds. (New definition being 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps down.

Carriers Have Four Months to Accept or Decline Offers on State-Level Basis

Washington, D.C. – Taking a major step to close the rural broadband gap, the Connect America Fund today offered carriers nearly $1.7 billion to expand and support broadband service in rural areas where market forces alone cannot support deployment.

The offer to the rural operations of the largest telecom providers – known as price cap carriers – would provide ongoing support for networks that can deliver broadband at speeds of at least 10 Mbps for downloads and 1 Mbps uploads to nearly nine million rural residents nationwide. The funding represents a 71% increase from current funding for these areas, but is accomplished without increasing the size of the Universal Service Fund – or increasing ratepayer fees.

“Today’s offer of $1.675 billion for rural broadband deployment will connect millions of rural Americans who lack access to modern high-speed Internet service,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “The Connect America Fund is tackling the rural digital divide so that all Americans can have access to the jobs, education and opportunities provided by broadband, no matter where they live.”

Carriers now have 120 days to determine whether or not to accept the funding on a state-by-state basis. In states where carriers decline the offer, the subsidies will be offered to providers on a competitive basis.

Like telephone service in the 20th Century, broadband has become essential to life in the 21st Century. But, according to the FCC’s latest Broadband Progress Report, nearly one in three rural Americans lack access to 10/1 broadband, compared to only one in 100 urban Americans.

The FCC’s traditional universal service program succeeded in ensuring telephone network coverage in rural America. In late 2011, the FCC modernized the program to support networks capable of providing broadband and voice services, and created Connect America to efficiently and effectively administer that support.

Since then, Phase I of Connect America has provided $438 million to expand broadband to nearly 1.7 million people in over 637,000 homes and businesses in 45 states and Puerto Rico. Over the next six years, Phase II of Connect America will provide more than $10 billion to expand broadband-capable networks throughout rural America.

Funding in Phase II is targeted to census blocks (a) where the cost of providing service according to our cost model exceeds $52.50 a month, and (b) that are not served by unsubsidized competitors offering services at speeds of at least 4 Mpbs downloads/1 Mbps uploads. Carriers receiving this support must build out broadband to 40% of funded locations by the end 2017, 60% by end of 2018, and 100% by the end of 2020.

Overall, the FCC’s Universal Service Fund allocates $4.5 billion annually through various universal service programs or high-cost areas to support voice- and broadband-capable networks in rural America.

A Public Notice providing the annual amount offered each carrier is available at http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-15-509A1.pdf

Thanks to Mark Erickson for sharing a handout from a presentation he put together (with Bill Coleman and Doug Dawson) for his RS Fiber financing presentation at the Broadband Communities conference in Austin a few weeks ago….

Before you go down the financing road, you will need to have a plan that is not only credible, but well-received.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

In general you must be able to demonstrate that 1) you have a well conceived plan and 2) people in your community support your efforts. Your path from concept to deployed fiber project will probably take longer than you expect and look something like this:

Do you have a champion?

Is there one person or a team of people who are willing to step up and devote the considerable amount of time needed to undertake the necessary steps?

What is the competitive landscape?

Do the incumbents do a good job? Are they well liked? Have you talked to the incumbents about upgrading their network? Is there an opportunity to partner with the incumbent?

What are the specific benefits to the people/businesses in your community from the network you want to build?

Beyond just better streaming on Netflix or Hulu, will the network improve the delivery of health care in your community? Will it provide new educational opportunities or improve the quality of life for senior citizens? Will the presence of a fiber network improve the ability of local businesses to compete in the marketplaces? Are your businesses and institutions ready to step up and make use of new network capabilities?

What kind of support do you have in the community for the project?

How do local businesses feel about the city becoming involved? Are your schools on board? Have you talked with the health care providers? You will need to be able to demonstrate support, meaning customers, before you can attract financing.

Who’s going to help you?

Have you selected a consultant to draft a business plan? You also might need an engineering firm to provide an estimate of network costs to verify the numbers suggested by your initial consultant.

You are going to want to find a financial advisor who is appropriate to your planned form of financing. Get their opinion early to make sure that what you have in mind is feasible and legal. Be prepared to be flexible on many aspects of the business, because the realities of getting funded may make you do things differently than what you had planned.

You also need a plan to bring the public on board. Educating residents about the benefits of a fiber network is key to gaining their support. If they see the benefits they will be more inclined to support your efforts. This is going to require efforts like surveys, mailers and newsletters, websites and lots of public meetings.

You will need a team of local volunteers to handle the early work that needs to be done. Somebody has to take charge of working with the consultants and working with the public.

Who’s going to pay for the development costs?

Expect that before you go for final financing that you are going to have to pay for feasibility reports, engineering, legal advice, advertising and public awareness, etc. This cost can be considerable and generally is proportional to the size of your project. Make sure you know up front how you are going to raise the needed money. These upfront costs can often be repaid from final financing, but somebody is going to have to write the checks to get the project to the point of being financeable and shovel ready.

How will you be organized?

You need to know the business structure you are planning to use to own and operate the business. This means determining things like structure (municipal, cooperative, non-profit or forprofit corporation).

If it’s going to be a municipal business this means getting the local politicians involved, holding public hearings and asking them to vote to support and fund the project. If more than one municipality is involved then you will probably have to create some sort of Joint Powers Board as a way for the communities to act together to get this done. Expect in every community that there will be naysayers for using public funds to pay for fiber.

If it’s going to be some sort or corporation or cooperative, then you need to create the operating entity, choose the people to lead the effort, create and implement governance rules.

How is this going to operate?

How will you operate – by hiring employees or bringing in an outside firm? In either case you will need a detailed plan of how this will work before you get funded.

Will you have any partners?

If the project is going to involve multiple entities, those agreements must be reached early.

If this is to be a public private partnership, then all parties must be on board early in the process with a clear understanding of roles, risk assignment and limitations and governance.

In the end you are going to ask someone to lend you a substantial amount of money, either from a private or public source or a combination of sources. More sources equals more complexity.

Cities need to understand that borrowing money for fiber projects is never easy and that the final step of getting financed is the hardest step in the process.

Submitted by Doug Dawson, CCG Consulting; Bill Coleman, Community Technology Advisors and Mark Erickson, RS Fiber.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | April 29, 2015

Two views on regulation/deregulation of landlines

With all of the discussion of the broadband budget, other telecom bills haven’t been coming up as much. But I did notice an editorial in the Brainerd Dispatch yesterday and today a letter in the Minneapolis Star Tribune from folks who were unhappy with the proposed regulation of landlines (SH736/HF1066)…

To that end, for 100 years, Minnesota has regulated the price and service quality of local telephone service. Minnesota law also requires phone companies to extend service to all Minnesotans, no matter where they live. These laws have served Minnesota well.

Unfortunately, the Legislature is considering bills — H.F. 1066 and S.F. 736 — to eliminate these price and service quality regulations. The bills would allow phone companies to charge higher rates with degraded service and access. Capitol insiders have dubbed the measure the “CenturyLink bill.” A similar deregulation measure in another state is called the “AT&T bill.” It speaks volumes that these bills are named after the phone companies that are pushing them. In one state, prices more than doubled after local telephone service was deregulated.

As representatives of AARP-Minnesota, the Minnesota AFL-CIO and the Minnesota attorney general’s office, we call on the Legislature to reject these bills.

Under the bills:

  •  Price protections would end. Telephone companies would be able to charge and raise prices as they desire.

  •  Quality would be unregulated. Service quality — such as how often people get a “busy” signal, how long the telephone company has to repair outages and how quickly operators answer calls for assistance — would no longer be regulated.

  •  Companies could drop or refuse to take customers, for any reason. This would be especially tough on rural residents, since it costs phone companies more to serve these customers.

I asked Brent Christensen from the Minnesota Telecom Alliance for his take on the issue…

HF 1066 does not de-regulate landline telephone service.  Once an incumbent provider proves to the MNPUC that they have real competitors (not just cell providers) then they can be designated the same their landline competitors.  To think rates will increase because of competition is just plain crazy.  All you have to do is look to the cellular industry to see that isn’t true.

The examples of the other states where rates have drastically increased were based on either measured service (which is different than residential service) or rates that weren’t in compliance with the FCC’s 2011 Transformation Order which established a residential rate floor which is now at $20.65/month.

This bill also doesn’t apply to anyone who gets their service from a cable provider, cellular provider, or VoIP provider like Vonage or Magic Jack.

It raises a lot of questions on the difference in competition in rural versus urban areas, growing issues  of technology traversing a widening digital divide and the role of technology as a lifeline. We want landline access, we want e-911 because we also want to be able to use the latest technology in a disaster. The problem is cost. Who, how, where and when are we willing to pay for everyone to have access.

murrayI’m working on a County-by-County look at the State of Broadband in MN. My hope is to feature a county a day (in alphabetical order). In November, Connect Minnesota released their final report on broadband availability. Here is how Murray County stacked up:

  • Household Density: 5.2
  • Number of Households: 3,717
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 43.53%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 43.53%

Murray County clearly has work to do. Back in 2010, Economic Developer John Shepard made the case for supporting broadband in Murray County. (John was involved with the Southwest Regional Development Commission and their Blandin-supported MIRC Project.) His argument stands today – maybe even more so…

As agricultural producers, this project may not directly affect broadband access at your farm. However, it is intended to benefit you in two direct ways.

  1. First, providing opportunities to create new jobs may help your kids, or even yourselves, stay in Rural Minnesota. More and more farm families have to have off-farm employment to survive, not to mention providing options for spouses. 2. Second, creating additional demand for broadband will help providers offer the latest and greatest telecommunications services that you do directly need—from video cattle auctions to simple social media.

When we help each other out in rural Minnesota, everybody wins.

Some efforts have been made. In 2013, Mediacom made upgrades in the area and CenturyLink signed on for CAF funding for the area. But clearly more needs to happen.

My hope is that these county-specific posts will help policy makers and county residents understand where they stand in terms of broadband access. Assuming it might get forwarded to folks who don’t eat and sleep broadband I wanted to provide a little background on broadband to help set the stage… Read More…

Posted by: Ann Treacy | April 28, 2015

Looking at the neighbors: Connect Every Acre in Iowa

It’s interesting to get a look at what other states are doing in terms of broadband. According to Government Technology, this is what’s happening in Iowa…

Iowa is one step closer to expanded broadband connectivity in the state. House File 641, Gov. Terry Branstad’s “Connect Every Acre” initiative, passed the Iowa House of Representatives by a 90-5 vote on April 21.

The measure, which uses a litany of income and property tax breaks to incentivize the build-out of broadband networks in the state’s underserved areas, now must be ratified in the Senate.

This is the second time around for Branstad’s proposal. It was initially defeated in the House during the 2014 legislative session over concerns that the tax breaks were too high and skepticism that providers would take on projects in Iowa’s rural areas. The legislation was re-introduced on Jan. 13, during Branstad’s “Condition of the State” address.

Here are some details from the House bill

Cownie explained that HF 641 would establish a grant program to coordinate and facilitate broadband access in targeted areas of the state. No state dollars would be involved, but providers who put in 90 percent of the cost of building out their broadband infrastructure could qualify for federal money to cover the remaining 10 percent.

The bill also includes a 10-year property tax relief program to help offset costs for qualifying service providers who expand broadband in unserved or underserved areas of Iowa.

Removed from the original bill was a provision to provide $5 million in state money for broadband expansion and another making the incentives retroactive.

Without digging deep into the details it’s difficult for me to see how the proposed incentives compare with Minnesota’s investment in terms of proposed dollar amount. But it’s worth noting that Iowa seems to have an increased interest in broadband this year – compared to the Minnesota Legislature, which while making strides in 2014, has back down from the $20 million reserved for broadband grants last year and the $200 million suggested by the Minnesota Broadband Task Force to work toward the $900 million and $3 billion estimated cost of developing border to border broadband in Minnesota.

mowerI’m working on a County-by-County look at the State of Broadband in MN. My hope is to feature a county a day (in alphabetical order). In November, Connect Minnesota released their final report on broadband availability. Here is how Mower County stacked up:

  • Household Density: 22.2
  • Number of Households: 10,166
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 90.22%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 90.87

Mower County is one of those counties that looks like it’s in good shape; and it is unless you are one of the 9 percent. Austin, the county seat, is a community that been focused on broadband for a while. They made a serious bid to become a Google Fiber community back in 2010. Before that they were looking at municipal wireless hotspots.

More recently they stay focused on fiber. Last summer they released their community vision based on a fiber feasibility study they commissioned…

Vision 2020 released the results of a feasibility study Friday which showed Austin could support a fiber Internet service. According to the study, the high-speed broadband Internet service could be built for about $35 million and could be run by all kinds of organizations, from public utilities to a private co-op.

Under the Gig Austin plan, all of the Austin Public Schools district could access fiber Internet. Laura Helle, director of vision creation at Vision 2020, said the committee believed rural properties near the city that were still part of the district would need access as some providers don’t cover those areas.

They just need to find a way to broaden their view to include the whole county.

My hope is that these county-specific posts will help policy makers and county residents understand where they stand in terms of broadband access. Assuming it might get forwarded to folks who don’t eat and sleep broadband I wanted to provide a little background on broadband to help set the stage… Read More…

Posted by: Ann Treacy | April 27, 2015

Lifeline Program: an investment in our future

The nature of the digital divide is simple – some folks have access to technology, others don’t. Pew Research ran an article last week that reframed the digital divide as the homework gap. Again it’s simple, ids either have the technology they need at home to do homework or they don’t. The article points out that it’s hugely an affordability issue…

How big is the homework gap? A new Pew Research Center analysis finds most American homes with school-age children do have broadband access – about 82.5% (about 9 percentage points higher than average for all households). With approximately 29 million households in America having children between the ages of 6 and 17, according to Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data, this means that some 5 million households with school-age children do not have high-speed internet service at home. Low-income households – and especially black and Hispanic ones – make up a disproportionate share of that 5 million.

Compare that to results of a recent survey on technology trends in education

According to the latest data, video for homework is on the rise; mobile computing is “beyond the tipping point”; and most kids don’t use traditional computers to connect to the Internet at home.

On a house-by-house basis the kids without access are clearly at a disadvantage and unfortunately those are the kids who already at risk. They don’t need another strike against them. Look at it from a community perspective and the same is true, it’s another strike they don’t need. There are some communities where affordability is a bigger issue than other communities either because of the high percentage of lower income families OR because in some (especially rural) areas the cost of connectivity is so much higher that even families that aren’t low income households have trouble affording the rates.

From a teacher’s perspective, what do you do? Teach to the lowest common technology denominator or leave some students behind. From a parent’s perspective what do you do? Take the kids to the library every night. That is a huge commitment that assumes that the library is open and has available connectivity. From a policymaker’s point of view what do you do? That is what we will see in the future as they discuss how to merge broadband access into the Lifeline telecom policy.

I think there’s an opportunity for policymakers to look into the issue and really make a difference to the students, teachers, parents and communities. A chance to invest in the future of all four.

meekerI’m working on a County-by-County look at the State of Broadband in MN. My hope is to feature a county a day (in alphabetical order). In November, Connect Minnesota released their final report on broadband availability. Here is how Meeker County stacked up:

  • Household Density: 14.2
  • Number of Households: 9,176
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 98.31%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 98.31%

Meeker County is well served. Mediacom made upgrades to service in some of the smaller towns in Meeker County in 2013. Some of the county is served my N-U Telecom and other portions of served by CenturyLink. PCs for People make a few stops in the area years ago to promote broadband adoption with free computers to low income families. Otherwise I haven’t tracked much happening in the area.

My hope is that these county-specific posts will help policy makers and county residents understand where they stand in terms of broadband access. Assuming it might get forwarded to folks who don’t eat and sleep broadband I wanted to provide a little background on broadband to help set the stage… Read More…

Just wanted to do a quick weekend catch up on what folks around the state are saying about the current state of the broadband budget at the Legislature. (If you have an opinion, you can still contact your legislator. Just let them know you think it’s important!)

One of my favorite comments comes from my Iron Range friend and great writer, Aaron Brown, as posted in the Minnepaolis Star Tribune

Waiting for the Minnesota legislature to act on broadband infrastructure for rural Minnesota is a lot like trying to update your operating system on a rural computer. It takes forever and halfway through you have to start over because of some stupid error message.

He goes on to make his case for broadband investment…

As I wrote recently, failure to invest in broadband at this juncture in our economic and political history would be a historically epic mistake. Some skeptics argue that physical wires aren’t the future of broadband, but that seems more an excuse than anything. Cellular data and satellites can deliver internet to millions, but at great expense and not at the universal download and upload speeds necessary for modern commerce. Ask my wife and I; we deal with these issues daily with home-based business, freelance work and online teaching that actually pay our taxes and enroll our boys in a Greater Minnesota public school. Or don’t, I guess. We’re actually used to that.

The political roadblock to rural broadband is, pure and simple, control issues. Some simply refuse to acknowledge that the people, by way of their government, have an important interest in fostering access to the modern internet. These slow actors will have lots to talk about with the politicians who opposed rural electrification 100 years ago when they get to Heaven for Dummies. Meantime, the campaign continues and I know who’s going to win … eventually. The question is how much damage will be done to the economy of rural Minnesota on the way to happy victory.

Winona Daily News  asks Legislators to remember rural (other rural papers published the same plea) …

Today, we kind of feel like whistling as loud as we can to see if we can get their attention to expand outside of St. Paul. Psst. Hey. Over here! Remember us, from Greater Minnesota?

There’s all kinds of disagreement about how much money to put into broadband Internet development. Lawmakers can’t even seem to settle on an amount somewhere between $8 million and $17 million, which would be a magnitude less than the $200 million a nonpartisan state panel recommended— seems like those at the Capitol don’t quite get it yet that broadband is one of the most essential economic development projects the state can undertake in the modern technological age, beneficial to everyone from farmers to hospitals.

How about a comparison to Wisconsin from the Duluth News Tribune?

Like their neighbors to the west in Northeastern Minnesota, residents of Northwestern Wisconsin are eager for broadband and for their state officials to lay the groundwork for its infrastructure the way state officials did a century ago for electrical service and telephone connections.

The Wisconsin Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee last week offered funding for broadband expansion grants “by a modest but crucial $7.5 million per year,” state Sen. Janet Bewley of Mason reported in a column submission received by the News Tribune on Friday.

“Even more importantly, it would have reserved these new funds for counties with high unemployment and limited broadband access. The motion would have doubled funding available for Broadband Expansion Grants,” Bewley wrote. “Unfortunately, our reasonable proposal was rejected by majority Republicans on the Finance Committee.”

Frustrating for Northwestern Wisconsin and other rural areas of Wisconsin, elected leaders in the Badger State seem to be moving even more slowly on broadband than their counterparts in the Gopher State, whose pace has been criticized.

Finally, a quick roundup from MinnPost

In the Grand Forks Herald, Dan Dorman and Gary Evans bemoan the lack of interest in the broadband expansion program. “Clearly, Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators don’t fully grasp the level of need and the importance of upgrading broadband in Greater Minnesota. Last week, the jobs committee of the House Republican majority included no funding in its budget for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, a fund-matching program aimed at getting private companies to invest in broadband infrastructure. The DFL-controlled Senate jobs committee put only $17 million into the program. The governor, who campaigned on the notion of ‘border-to-border broadband,’ included only $30 million for broadband in his budget plan, far less than the $200 million recommended by his own task force.”

What if you lived in a telephone dead zone? Where people called you and you never got the ring? How would you do business? What if there was an emergency? How would you get asked to prom?

Some rural areas are experiencing this problem with dropped calls. The Minnesota Star Tribune recently ran an article about it. (I have written about it too – because it’s an ongoing problem.)

They describe the problem…

Rural telephone connection problems continue to plague remote communities in Minnesota and across the country. A national test of 2,150 rural calls in 2011 showed that 344 never reached their destination and another 172 were “unacceptably delayed or of poor quality,” according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Critics claim that some cut-rate long distance routers moving calls in the middle of the nation’s telecommunications network simply do not connect rural calls to avoid expensive connection fees. No one is sure how many of these intermediate carriers exist because they don’t have to register with the government. They can set up operations simply by downloading free software on the Internet and filing a rate plan with phone companies.

“It’s outrageous to have fly-by-night carriers just dump the calls,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who with Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., recently introduced legislation to try to fix rural call problems that she calls ­“literally devastating.”

And what Senator Klobuchar is trying to do to solve the issues.

Klobuchar, Tester and Merkley hope to get the FCC to establish basic quality standards for rural phone calls with their “Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act.”

Tester sponsored a similar bill last year that did not get out of committee. Klobuchar helped get a different resolution about rural call completion passed in 2013 by the Senate Commerce Committee that led to some FCC action, but did not completely resolve the problems. Pushing for carrier registration and the disqualification of carriers who do not complete rural calls are keys to combating a destructive technological breakdown, she said.

I was looking up a statistic for someone and I thought others might be interested too in how Minnesota rural broadband access compares with the rest of the US. Here’s the quick answer:

National Numbers:

  • Rural fiber access: 11.1 percent
  • Urban fiber access: 28.5 percent

Minnesota Numbers:

  • Rural fiber access: 13.1 percent
  • Urban fiber access: 26.8 percent

Also I looked at percentage of users with access to better than 25 Mbps download speed and better than 6 Mbps up. (That’s combination of the FCC definition of broadband at 25 Mbps down and 3 up and the Minnesota definition of 10-20 Mbps down and 5-10 up.)

National Numbers:

  • Rural: 54.6 percent download and 45.5 percent up
  • Urban: 94.0 percent download and 92.5 percent up

Minnesota Numbers:

  • Rural: 66.1 percent download and 62.1 percent up
  • Urban: 99.2 percent download and 88.2 percent up

I got this info from a National Broadband Map report with data from June 2014; published March 2015.

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