penningtonI’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 Pennington County stacked up:

  • Household Density: 9.4
  • Number of Households: 5,836
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 91.64%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 91.64%

Pennington is doing pretty well. And we have a unique look at the situation in Pennington because it was used as an example in the last Minnesota Task Force report to demonstrate the inequity in cost to a provider to connect to the Internet backbone based on location…

A provider in metropolitan Hennepin County currently pays about $.50 per Megabit to connect to the Internet backbone; the average cost of three providers in rural Pennington County is $15.33 per Megabit to connect to the Internet backbone.

Making the situation more challenging for all providers, there is a great discrepancy in the number of potential customers in Hennepin County versus Pennington County; population density in Hennepin County is 2,081.7/sq. mi and in Pennington County it is 22.6/sq. mi. Median income (2009-2013) also differs: in Hennepin County it is $64,403 and in Pennington County it’s $45,633. For these reasons and more, the business case for offering broadband in Pennington County Falls is far more challenging than in Hennepin County.

Using Pennington as the example also demonstrates that while it’s tougher to make a business case, clearly someone has. Pennington is better served that many other counties.

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…

I had a few emails last week asking me about what it means to define broadband as a utility. So I thought I’d try to tackle the question, which came up after the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) meeting on broadband.

At the meeting, someone compared the drive for border to border broadband to the Rural Electrification Act, which provided federal loans for installation of electricity to rural areas, often through cooperative electric power companies. Someone else asked if that was really what the country needed.

Here’s the catch 22 – metro areas are often angling for competition while rural and remote places are hoping for one, good solution. When visiting Minnesota last year, FCC Chairman Wheeler talked about competition being ingrained in the American psyche.

But in very rural areas, where it’s difficult to make a business case to serve so few homes in such large geographic areas, competition can be detrimental. For example, someone at the conference mentioned FirstNet as way to bring better broadband to anchor institutions in rural areas. On the one hand, it’s a great way to serve those institutions and maybe save money by allowing government entities to share connectivity. On the other hand, you risk taking away a “big” customer from a potential broadband provider who might also serve local homes and businesses. The amount they can charge the big guy offsets the cost they charge home users.

It might be easier in such a case to think of broadband as a utility. Share the connection not only with anchor institutions but local residents and businesses as well. (And there is a growing interest in using a cooperative model to provide services.)

Looking at that conundrum, there aren’t many rules or regulations that lead to an answer. Universal Service Funding (Connect American Fund) strives to fund only one provider in any given area. But recent open internet regulation promotes competition in several ways – for example striving to regulate broadband similarly regardless of platform (wired, wireless). And in practice it certainly seems that while there is often not enough business for one provider to upgrade connectivity, there’s business for two! (One example is Monticello. They have had issues but the local provider was not interested in providing fiber until the local government expressed an interest.)

In February, the FCC declared that broadband is a utility. So how does that fit in with the discussion of rural deployment? It doesn’t much. Weeks before the decision Chairman Wheeler lined out his plan

“Using this authority, I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband. My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.”

The decision provides protections to customers. It treats wired and wireless similarly to wired broadband. One goal was to promote competition. But it really focuses on making sure that the providers offer and maintain unfettered access through broadband more than to broadband. It ensures that once online, each user shall have equal access to materials, services and each other. BUT it doesn’t as directly address the folks who can’t get online. To build on the analogy of the superhighway, it prohibits providers from creating tolls roads or privileged pay-lanes but it doesn’t push roads everywhere and it expressly does not address price. It does safeguard against the idea of an “Internet Junior” for some areas but it doesn’t promote more infrastructure.

To add more fodder for thought…

Doug Dawson makes the point today that the competition is shrinking. I don’t know if that will help promote better service in markets that are served or better access to unserved areas. I can remember discussions with the original Minnesota Task Force on broadband as a natural monopoly. They refer to one provider more than unfettered access…

Need to think of the future – we’re setting a goal to be reached in the future, not immediately. In you look out 10 years, there’s going to be 1 pipe into houses and that’s going to be fiber. The notion of building 2 mediocre networks for the sake competition is short sighted. The pipe is a natural monopoly. We need to set the goals for the future – not next year. We need to be aggressive – we need to protect consumers. Consumers have been screwed by provides for so long that we need to protect them.

No we don’t have a monopoly; it’s just not true. We have more than one pipe in the house now. There are implications in the statement that will have an impact on policy.

From the rural perspective I think communities and policymakers need to think about who and how promote access. It seems like funding helps – again at the MSBA both providers and policymakers alluded to the collaboration occurring because of the State Broadband Funds maybe a hybrid solution is best – a little bit utility, a little bit free market. BUT these issues are different than the issues addressed by the FCC in their Open Internet policy.

pineI’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 Pine County stacked up:

  • Household Density: 7.9
  • Number of Households: 11,393
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 24.63%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 24.63%

Pine County is sitting at less than a quarter coverage. But they are working on better coverage. Pine County is actively working to pursue better broadband as a partner in the East Central Broadband Initiative. They were part of the East Central Broadband conference in April 2014; the conference is planned primary by community leaders and attended by community leaders, member and providers. One topic that came up was talking about broadband as a utility.

In January, MidContinent announced good news for Pine County, if they’re patient…

At the Dec. 17 city council meeting, MidContinent Communications announced that it plans to bring “gigabit internet” to the Pine City area by the end of 2017. The new service is 35 times faster than the national average and five times faster than MidContinent’s current top speeds.

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…

Earlier this week at the MSBA meeting I heard that legislators (and others) need to learn more about how the technology works. Here’s a great opportunity – and it’s open to the public. Senator Klobuchar is going to East Grand Forks to learn more about call completion. It’s wonky but important for folks in rural areas who are sometimes unable to get calls from those free/cheap online phone services.

Here’s the invitation…

On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar will meet with local businesses, telephone cooperatives and members of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance to discuss call completion challenges and the potential commercial and safety implications. In March, Klobuchar and Senator John Tester of Montana introduced bi-partisan legislation to address these challenges. The Improving Rural Quality and Reliability Act­ would direct the Federal Communications Commission to establish basic quality standards for providers that transmit voice calls to help ensure that businesses, families and emergency responders can count on phone calls being completed.

And details…

It’s Wednesday July 1st…10:15am East Grand Forks City Hall, 1st floor training room

A couple of years ago I wrote a more detailed piece on Call Completion. If the concept is new, the post might be useful.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | June 25, 2015

Good enough for NY broadband? Then maybe MN should try it!

I loved the following idea- the NYC Broadband Bold Ideas. The Blandin Broadband Communities initiative is similar – get people in the community to propose projects. (Although the BBCs also get some coaching and technical assistance.)

THE CHALLENGE:

Many of us take Internet access for granted. It can be hard to imagine going a day without it. Yet for large numbers of New Yorkers, broadband service – at current rates of roughly $1,000 per year – is simply too expensive to bear.

It’s time to change this.

NEW OPPORTUNITIES:

In 2015, New York City will take an important leap forward toward closing this digital divide with the launch of LinkNYC, the largest and fastest municipal Wi-Fi network in the world. In addition to providing New Yorkers with free Internet access at up to gigabit speeds, LinkNYC will also generate new revenue that can be invested in complementary efforts to extend free or low-cost broadband to the home.

Today I attended the MN State Bar Association Communications Annual Forum. It’s always an interesting event, perhaps because the technical and wonky people are pretty plain spoken and the policymakers are pretty frank.

I have my full notes below but wanted to start with a few highlights:

  • There was a general recognition from the policymakers that broadband lost momentum in the Legislature. Too many people thought greater funding for next year was a forgone conclusion. To stop that from happening people need to contact their representatives early and often. (Think of your representative as your lobbyist!)
  • The Broadband Task Force is going to focus on changing the speeds goals and helping schools optimize e-rate funding.
  • We need to do more teaching to policymakers and others. Technology can be difficult to understand – we need to make the nuances accessible. (For example wireless connections require wired infrastructure.)
  • A basic question came up – is broadband a utility? It’s difficult to promote it as a utility and promote competition.

Read More…

When I was a kid, my dad always said to succeed in business be the best at something. Wouldn’t it be something if Minnesota could be the best at statewide broadband? I think one way to clinch the title would be to be best with rural coverage. So it’s fun to see a Minnesota broadband provider get an award for their work in the effort. (And it’s worth noting that the award didn’t specifically target rural solutions nor rural providers.) Congrats to Paul Bunyan!

Paul Bunyan Communications Wins 2015 Leading Lights National Award: GigaZone Named Most Innovative Gigabit Broadband Service

(Bemidji, MN) (June 22, 2015) – Paul Bunyan Communications has been named the winner of the Most Innovative Gigabit Broadband Service for its GigaZone project in the Light Reading 2015 Leading Lights awards program. The national award recognizes the communications provider that has launched the most innovative Gigabit Broadband service during the past year. The other finalists for the award were large national or regional corporations including AT&T, C Spire, and TDS Telecom.

The cooperative announced the gigabit project last fall and it will be one of the largest gigabit networks in rural America when the project is done. Already over 7,800 locations in northern Minnesota are in the GigaZone and an estimated 20,000+ will be reached by the end of this year. The project is expected to take a few years but is progressing ahead of schedule. Once completed it will include the cooperative’s entire service territory of over 5,000 square miles.

“We are honored to receive this award for our GigaZone project. It is one of the first gigabit network initiatives that will encompass 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. That’s not the case here in northern Minnesota and we are thrilled that Light Reading acknowledged our efforts.” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager

The Leading Lights program, the telecom industry’s most prestigious awards program, focuses on next-generation communications technologies, applications, services, and strategies. The Leading Lights winners were announced at an awards dinner at Chicago’s Field Museum on Monday, June 8 to coincide with the Big Telecom Event (http://www.bigtelecomevent.com)

“The volume and quality of the entries we received across our 24 categories shows how seriously the industry takes these awards, which are now in their 11th year,” stated Light Reading Editor-in-Chief Ray Le Maistre. “The winners are an exceptional group of companies that have every right to be proud of their achievements and progress during the past year.” added Le Maistre.

Judging was conducted by Light Reading’s editors and the analyst team from Heavy Reading (http://www.heavyreading.com).

The Lake County News Chronicle reports on the latest on Lake Connections, the ARRA supported fiber project in Lake County…

After five years and more than $70 million dollars, the Lake County broadband project, dubbed Lake Connections, is nearing completion.

“We’re working to try to get everything done,” said County Administrator Matt Huddleston last week.

Contractors are working furiously to finish the main fiber network, using up $66 million in federal loans and grants before the June 30 construction deadline. The county will then foot the bill for “drops,” or hooking homes directly up to the network, that must be completed beyond that deadline. Last December, the county board pledged up to $15 million of its own dollars for that purpose. They have already spent more than $6 million.

The article highlights the projects ups and downs, of which there have been a few. The construction had barriers, but customers are being served and are increasing…

It remains to be seen if Lake Connections will get enough subscribers to pay the county’s loan payments. Officials say they need 44 percent of eligible residents to sign up for the service to make the network viable. So far, the Lake Connections office has received 1,800 applications for service and are averaging about 100 applications a week.

I imagine they are working furiously and are grateful for good weather, but that the project will continue regardless and hopefully continue to sign up 100 new customers a week…

For now, it’s a rush against the clock for contractors as the fiber network gets laid across Lake County and into eastern St. Louis County and as officials in the Lake County courthouse work on how to complete the project with federal funds being cut off on June 30.

“I think that’s what we’re looking at right now is how to continue on … after the close of bids,” Huddleston said.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | June 23, 2015

Reactions to the Minnesota Broadband Budget

I mentioned it last week but I thought it might be interesting to note who is saying what about the budget for the Office of Broadband Development and the Minnesota Broadband Fund. (6/26/2015 Addition: Reactions are still coming out. Rather than create a new post, I will add here and Retweet. I’ll add to the top.)

New! From the Owatonna People’s Press

The scorecard for outstate Minnesota provided by the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton can be summarized as significantly under a .500 win-loss record.

That came on the hope that outstate Minnesota would for once have a winning record. The results are disappointing at best and confounding at worst. That’s because outstate Republicans who helped the party win the majority in the House touted their goals to shore up the needs of a long neglected outstate.

Wins stacked up like this: More money for nursing homes ($138 million), relief for farmers facing bird flu losses, and maybe a smattering of other things so insignificant that don’t register on anyone’s radar.

Losses that impact greater Minnesota most included: Broadband grant funding that was cut $10 million from last year’s $20 million, no tax bill that would have provided farmers property tax relief, no transportation bill that would have shored up crumbling roads in outstate Minnesota, no increase in local government aid to small towns, no funding for workforce housing tax credits.

New! From Duluth News Tribune

State Rep. Tom Hackbarth fooled many Minnesotans in 2014. In his June 22 editorial (“A Lawmaker’s Response: ‘Growlers’ overlook provisions good for Duluth, Greater Minnesota”) he is trying to fool us again.

Greater Minnesota organizations and newspapers, even those with strong GOP leanings, have pointed out that the GOP broke its promise to help Greater Minnesota in 2015. A review of Hackbarth’s discussion shows why.

The GOP tried to end the Greater Minnesota broadband program completely, and reluctantly agreed to a program that provides half of last year’s funding and one-third of Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget recommendation.

From the Office of Broadband Development (via newsletter) …

During the special session, the Legislature included funding for the Border to Border Infrastructure grant program in the amount of $10,588,000. The Office will be using its experience administering the 2014 program to fine tune the grant process and anticipates the application will be available in July with a submission deadline in September. More details soon!

From the Albert Lea Tribune

City officials and Greater Minnesota lobbyists are frustrated with what they say was a legislative session that didn’t live up to the hype. ‘This certainly wasn’t the session for Greater Minnesota,’ Austin City Administrator Craig Clark said. … Lawmakers allocated $10 million for broadband funding this year, short of Gov. Mark Dayton’s request for $30 million and much smaller than the $100 million Greater Minnesota officials requested. That funding doesn’t match the $20 million legislators gave to broadband funding last year, and Greater Minnesota lobbyists say the lack of broadband funding is hurting outstate communities with business opportunities from expanding. ‘Minnesota did not become a great state by nursing the status quo,’ Heidi Omerza, president of the Coalition for Greater Minnesota Cities, said. ‘We’re still patiently waiting for broadband to come to fruition.

From the Grand Rapids Herald (Also posted in Duluth Tribune)…

“From our perspective, 2015 was a great disappointment,” the coalition’s Bradley Peterson told reporters during a Thursday conference call.

Worst, he said, was failure to increase Local Government Aid the state pays to cities. Also, he and others in his organization said, too little was put into broadband expansion in rural Minnesota: $11 million instead of $100 million the coalition sought.

Without state broadband help, there will be serious small-town consequences, said coalition President Heidi Omerza, an Ely City Council member.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune

Eyeing a projected surplus that swelled to nearly $2 billion, advocates like the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and allied groups came into session in January with an ambitious agenda — inflationary increases in state aid to local governments, big new spending boosts to expand rural broadband access, workforce-geared housing development in small towns and cities, a transportation spending package and property tax relief.

“Very little ended up being done on that agenda,” said Bradley Peterson, senior lobbyist for the Coalition. Specifically:

  • The state Office of Broadband Development got $11 million to expand access, from a request for more than $100 million.

Last week I wrote about Frontier and their decision to accept CAF money to serve rural homes, including almost 50,000 in Minnesota with better broadband. Here’s the breakdown on where those upgrades will take place

Frontier Communications Corp. accepted $28 million from the Federal Communications Commission to extend broadband Internet access to 46,910 homes and businesses in rural Minnesota, the FCC announced Tuesday.

This includes 131 in Blue Earth, 87 in Brown, 268 in Faribault, 1,748 in Le Sueur, 2,067 in Martin, 1,039 in Sibley, 665 in Waseca and 353 in Watonwan counties.

I didn’t attend the Broadband Task Force yesterday, but I did get notes to share. And I’ve been to a few meetings so I fleshed it out a little. The meeting is the first for the latest iteration of the Task Force. A couple of bright spots include – the added focus on broadband availability and the interest in redressing state speed goals, which were defined more than a few years ago now.

The meeting opened with introductions of Task Force members. You can see list of members; about half are new, especially when you know that one of the new really served as substitute for a former member most of the time.)

Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who remains Task Force Chair, gave an introduction to the Task Force, including a history and talk on their mandate. I’ll borrow from the Task Force website to fill in…

The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband develops policies to promote the expansion of broadband access throughout Minnesota.

The task force is responsible for developing an action plan to identify and correct disparities in access and adoption of broadband in all Minnesota communities, with a goal of ensuring that homes, schools, hospitals, and businesses have access to the technology and information resources they need.

The goal is to focus on broadband access, adoption and affordability. One bright spot is the addition of affordability to the shortlist. Again having been to a lot of meetings, I can tell you that affordability often comes up but few groups have resigned to take it on I think it part because affordable can be subjective. I heard someone in a meeting in Chisago Lakes correct himself and change “affordable” to competitive. I think that was an astute correction.

The spoke about who was the audience for the work of the Task Force:

  • Governor
  • Legislature
  • Other policy makers

These are the folks who read the reports generated by the Task Force and it seems like th Task Force gets the opportunity to speak to/with these groups on various occasions.

Danna MacKenzie gave and introduction to the Office of Broadband Development. Again I’ll borrow from the website to flesh out the answer…

Border-to-border high-speed Internet access is the goal throughout Minnesota. The Office of Broadband Development helps Minnesota residents understand broadband options available.

The OBD is a resource to Task Force. For example, Jane Leonard is drafting white papers on the economic impact of BB to MN’s economy. It’s due out in the fall and could help inform the Task Force report and recommendations.

They reviewed the 2015 work plan.

The recognized 2015 priorities:

  • 1) Make new recommendation for new speed goals for MN (TF will address at July meeting , and pick up discussion at Sept TF mtg)
  • 2) Set goals for K-12 connectivity

The Task Force will again do much of their work in sub-committees and members will figure out which committees they would like to join before the next meeting.

I want to share the following conference announcement for the Minnesota State Bar Association. I have been to a few of their events in the past and I think they are excellent. It is definitely deep end of the pool material so if FTTH is an acronym that’s new to you it might be a lot to take in. But if you want to hear from people who read through the details of FCC reports and USDA awards – this is a great opportunity…

When June 24 ( 8-11 am)
Where Presidents Room / Minnesota State Bar Association  600 Nicollet Mall #380 Minneapolis

MSBA Communications Annual Forum

Attorneys, consultants, lobbyists and all those interested in the dynamic and rapidly evolving areas of Communications and Technology will want to attend the 2015 Communications Law Annual Forum. The Forum will feature a diverse selection of speakers from industry, private practice and government.

SCHEDULE

7:30 – 8:00 Breakfast and Check In

8:00 – 9:00  Keynote Presentation: The Rapid Evolution of Broadband in the United States, Five Years After the National Broadband Plan

In 2010, the FCC published the National Broadband Plan.  Five years later, where do things stand on the successes, challenges, and remaining milestones involved with meeting the plan’s ambitious goal of ensuring that every American has access to broadband capability?

Welcome:  Jason Topp, Associate General Counsel, CenturyLink

Speaker: Chin Yoo, Deputy Division Chief, Telecom Access Policy Division, FCC Wireline Competition Bureau

9:00 – 9:45 Broadband in Minnesota: An Update and Vision

The Office of Broadband Development is the new kid on the block in Minnesota broadband law, policy and program.   The Border to Border Broadband grant program is a key feature of the agenda for the Office.  Danna MacKenzie will discuss the work of the agency.   Margaret Anderson Kelliher will highlight the work of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband.  Their comments will provide a perspective on the future of broadband development in Minnesota.

Speakers:  Danna MacKenzie, Executive Director, MN Office of Broadband Development and                      Margaret Anderson Kelliher, President and CEO, MHTA and Chair, Governor’s Broadband Task Force

9:45 – 10:00 Break

10:00 – 10:30 FCC Panel: Where are They Now – A Big Picture Look at Recent Regulatory Developments in the Federal Universal Service Programs

The telecommunications regulatory world is rapidly evolving and savvy telecommunications practitioners know that a cutting edge knowledge of the changes in broadband and federal universal service regulation is a must.  The panel will discuss recent changes in FCC broadband and federal universal service regulation and what they mean for telecommunications and broadband providers in the broadband era.

Speakers:  Chin Yoo, Deputy Division Chief, Telecommunications Access Policy Division, FCC Wireline Competition Bureau  and
Shannon Heim, Senior Counsel, Government Policy and Telecommunications Regulatory Attorney, Dykema Gossett PLLC
Moderator: Kristin Berkland, Associate, Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs Attorney, Dorsey & Whitney LLP

10:30 – 11:30 Legislative Wrap Up:  The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Legislators and lobbyists who are leaders in telecommunications and broadband issues will share their views on the results of the 2015 legislative session and provide perspective on next steps.

Speakers:

Representative Sheldon Johnson, Minnesota House of Representatives
Representative Ron Kresha, Minnesota House of Representatives
Senator Matt Schmit, Minnesota Senate
Brent Christensen, President and Executive Officer, Minnesota Telecom Alliance
Dan Dorman, Executive Director, Greater Minnesota Partnership
Moderator:      Milda Hedblom, Dain Legal Services & Professor, Augsburg College

REGISTRATION

TISP PARTICIPANTS      $25
Non-profits/Government/Law Students $25

Here are the notes, video and materials from yesterday’s webinar…

Description:

Breeden_photoJoin Laura Breeden from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to learn more about their BroadbandUSA program, and their role in coordinating the President’s overall Broadband Initiative, including the anticipated White House-hosted broadband summit. Hear about the newly formed Broadband Opportunity Council, and opportunities for citizen-champions to provide input and feedback to the mapping of broadband-related work being undertaken by the federal government.

Laura Breeden, Program Director for Public Computing and Broadband Adoption, joined NTIA in May 2009 to lead the public computing and sustainable broadband adoption components of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), a $4.7 billion competitive grant program that is part of the Recovery Act. Under her leadership, BTOP awarded more than $450 million for projects to make 21st century computer and Internet services more available, affordable, and useful. More than $250 million of these funds support “sustainable broadband adoption” projects in low-income urban and rural areas throughout the US. Since 1983, Ms. Breeden has worked in the public, private and non-profit sectors to advance the use of modern digital communications for the public good. Ms. Breeden holds a B.A. in Urban Studies and Education from Oberlin College.

Archive:

Posted by: Ann Treacy | June 18, 2015

Frontier accepts $27.5 million in CAF funding for Minnesota

According to a recent press release, Frontier accepted more than $283 million in Connect America Funds to serve 1.3 million rural Americans. In Minnesota that means $27,551,363 to serve 46,910…

Frontier Communications Accepts Over $283 Million Connect America Fund Offer to Expand and Support Broadband for 1.3 Million Rural Americans

Washington, D.C. (June 16, 2015) – Frontier Communications Inc. has accepted $283.4 million from the Connect America Fund to expand and support broadband to over 1.3 million of its rural customers in 28 states.

The Connect America Fund will provide ongoing support for rural broadband networks in Frontier’s service area capable of delivering broadband at speeds of at least 10 Mbps for downloads and 1 Mbps uploads in over 650,000 homes and businesses nationwide “The Connect America Fund will enable Frontier to expand robust broadband in its rural service areas, benefitting its customers and their communities,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “This is a major step forward in the FCC’s efforts to ensure that all Americans have access to modern broadband and the opportunities it provides, no matter where they live.”  (The press release includes breakdowns by state of amount received and households served.)

I’m also including a map that the FCC recently posted; it doesn’t appear to include the latest funding announcements but it gives an idea of who has accepted money, which areas are out of the running and who is still undecided.

FCC Map

Last week I posted responses from the Blandin Foundation and Senator Klobuchar to the Broadband Opportunity Council. This week I’m happy to share notes from the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development. Their notes are considerably longer, so I’ll excerpt some below and link to the comments in their entirety

How can the federal government promote best practices in broadband deployment and adoption? What resources are most useful to communities? What actions would be most helpful to communities seeking to improve broadband availability and use?

MNOBD Response: The MNOBD has several suggestions to assist in overcoming the challenges related to the deployment and adoption of broadband that would be helpful to states and communities. A useful tool would be a one-stop website that identifies resources that are available across all federal agencies for broadband deployment and adoption. With one website to link the resources available at the federal level, users, providers and communities would be readily able to identify information and support to assist in their individual situation. Federal programs would also be better able to connect the resources they have available to the population that is most likely to benefit. NTIA, with its expertise on broadband, could be tapped to lead and coordinate the development of this website.

Continuing federal support and maintenance of a national broadband map at a higher granularity than census block level would also be a useful endeavor. If federal agencies truly are interested in assuring that broadband deployment and competition are available to more people and more communities, than there must be a mechanism to measure that availability. What gets measured gets done!

The MNOBD would also recommend that the BOC enable the development of a framework for “It Takes All Hands” approach to closing the gaps in access and adoption. In addition to federal resources, “All Hands” include large and small providers, along with state and local governments. Agencies should be freed or directed to work with states on coordination of strategies and tactical moves. NTIA’s BroadbandUSA program, which has already developed expertise on broadband, could be expanded to lead the “All Hands” framework at the federal level. Included within this framework would be a continuation of NTIA’s role in creating, collecting and maintaining aggregated on-line best practices resources.

Federal agencies should also confer with states before awarding grants and be open to additional inputs when evaluating investment opportunities. There should be an awareness of state broadband development plans and priorities so that opportunities to leverage each other’s investments can be identified.

When federal agencies are interacting with state partners as part of their normal working relationship and broadband issues arise, our federal partners can help reinforce the value of including state broadband planning representatives in the discussions and planning processes.

Another area where the federal government can coordinate with states is by sharing data that can be used to create broadband investment priority maps. Examples include geospatial E-rate data, locations of veterans eligible for telehealth services, FirstNet RAN network map with areas of sub-optimal coverage identified so state investments can give them a priority ranking, and high priority agricultural management areas that could benefit from connected Ag tech applications.

In addition to the above thoughts on best practices, the MNOBD also supports the following specific ideas for resources and actions that would be useful to communities and providers working to improve their broadband situation and demonstrate the federal agencies see broadband as a priority:

  • The standardization of permitting forms, policies and standards across federal land management agencies. 
  • The creation of standard agreements between federal agencies to ensure interagency cooperation and coordination. 
  • The allocation of federal staff specifically for telecommunications permitting to minimize processing times.  The development of standard processing times (less than one year) so providers can schedule construction projects in a timely manner. 
  • The easing of permitting requirements in previously disturbed areas such as dedicated corridors and roadways. 
  • The implementation of a tool that would allow broadband providers the opportunity to learn about, with appropriate lead times, and be able to install infrastructure during other construction projects. 
  • The designation of corridors to install backhaul fiber to existing communications sites. 
  • The establishment of an electronic application system that tracks the permitting process and have staff input requests for information and applicants allowed to supplement documentation to ensure applicants do not have to resubmit information. 
  • The designation of a state contact for each state to ensure consistency across field offices, forests, national parks. 
  • In coordination across federal agencies, and with significant input from state officials, have land management agencies designate broadband corridors that would connect communities, cell tower sites, government facilities and other areas of economic activity. These corridors should be included in planning documents (e.g. Resource Management Plans). State and federal agencies could assist broadband providers to help determine areas of need and proactively encourage them to install services in these broadband corridors through a simplified permitting process. 
  • Federal agencies could be provided with funding to connect government facilities and allow broadband providers the opportunity to bid on projects. These agencies could serve as anchor tenants, and additional conduit installed during projects that may be used to serve future needs. These agencies could also encourage colocation opportunities on communications sites (e.g. existing towers).
  • An inventory of federal assets accessible by providers or communities interested in improving their broadband services would also be a useful tool at the local level.

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