I’m pleased to be able to share the following from Brent Christensen from MTA (Minnesota Telecom Alliance). It’s view of President Obama’s broadband announcement from the industry perspective…

Last week the President spoke in Cedar Falls, Iowa about Broadband and his administration’s ideas on how to get it to rural America connected and by whom. The President’s (and many in DC) solution is for local units of government to build competitive networks.

There are three problems with this concept. First, how does a municipality overbuilding a community where there are already one or more private providers help solve the problem of getting broadband to the areas without it? The remaining unserved areas, in Minnesota and other states, are in the most rural parts of the state. In most cases, municipal networks do nothing to get broadband outside city limits which means these networks do nothing to get broadband to rural farmers and telecommuters. Municipal networks do nothing to get advanced broadband services to these difficult to serve areas where it is the most expensive to build.

Second, telecommunications is not like other utilities. Unlike electricity, water, wastewater, and gas, telecommunications is a competitive utility. Until 1996, the telecommunications marketplace was considered a monopoly, especially in the rural markets due to the demographics, geography and economics of serving rural areas. With the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (TA96) and introduction of local competition, all markets – even rural ones – began to experience competition. Prior to the TA96 and more recently the 2011 FCC Transformation Order, telecom providers, especially in rural areas, were generally the only providers in their areas. They were required to build and maintain their networks and provide telephone service to anyone that requested it. While competition is generally good for consumers, it also puts pressure on the companies to operate more efficiently and it can act to limit the amount of capital resources that a company can reinvest in its network to provide services, including broadband. Companies must balance re-investing in their networks with finding new ways to pay for it and growing their customer base. In today’s world, you cannot just overbuild a neighborhood and hope the residents will purchase your services. You have to market to them in advance and clearly identify who is going to sign up for your service, not just who may be interested.

Municipal entry creates further uncertainty in the market place, which leads to decreased investment by the private sector.   Units of local, state, and even federal government are not designed to compete in competitive markets. Sure the argument can be made that government competes against other units of government for economic development projects or attracting businesses, but that is a far cry from competing with the private sector and impeding private providers’ ability to invest in rural networks to bring services to unserved areas. Competition is not always the answer, but it is the way of the world today. Competition is great is urban areas, but not always in rural areas. If it were, you would see more Mom and Pop stores in small towns. Madelia, with its population of 2,340 once had 4 implement dealers, 3 car dealerships, 5 gas stations, 2 grocery stores and 3 hardware stores. Today, there is 1 grocery store, 1 hardware store, 1 car dealership, 0 implement dealers, and 3 gas stations.

Third, there is no transparency of process for taxpayers. Right now in Minnesota any local unit of government can spend millions of dollars on overbuilding broadband networks. They usually issue Revenue Bonds for the project, and when they can’t pay the bonds back, they default on the bonds, like the City of Monticello did. Ultimately, this affects the City’s bond rating and makes borrowing money more expensive in the future, which means taxpayers have to pay more. The other option is to take money from other enterprise funds, like electricity or water which translates to higher rates for consumers who have no other choice for their service. In other words, a city’s monopoly utility is subsidizing their competitive utility.

Today in Minnesota, the only consumer protection in place from municipalities making bad business decisions is a section in State law that requires communities to hold a referendum before it can begin providing landline telephone service. There is no requirement for communities who wish to compete in the private sector to show a business plan, hold community meetings, or anything that would provide transparency in the process. Traditional telephone companies have become broadband providers. This means telephone service is no longer their core business. At the same time municipalities think their business plans must have landline telephone service to be successful, where does that makes sense?

Today’s telecommunications environment is complex, so what is the answer? First of all, local government needs to do what it does best, economic development. And if it makes sense, explore true partnerships with existing providers to expand broadband networks to rural areas. Figure out a partnership arrangement that allows all parties to benefit. There are several examples around Minnesota where local units of government have gone to existing providers and said “what can we do to help you deliver your services to truly rural areas?” Not one of them has involved building their own network or put taxpayer or consumer money at risk. Not one of them has involved a local unit of government “telling” the expert what to build or how. Every one of them has resulted from conversations where the experts get the job done and government assisting with resources the private sector does not have.

In those rare cases when there is no other viable alternative, there has to be transparency in the process for local units of government to complete against the private sector. Why should there be any difference between a local school district going after an override levy and a city who wants to get into the telecom business? School districts are required to hold a specific number of public meetings, follow a pre-described time line and process to ensure taxpayers are properly informed before they vote. Municipalities should have to do the same thing before they risk taxpayer money. The better question is who could possibly be against transparency of government process and why?

We are all on the same page when it comes to concept that all Minnesotans deserve access to quality broadband. The question is what is the best way to overcome the high cost of delivering services to the most rural parts of our state. Government can either use their resources to help overcome that high cost to extend existing services or duplicate a network that serves only the easiest ones to serve.

Looks like an interesting session…

When:  11:00am to noon, January 28, 2015

Where:  Room 181, State Office Building

Contact: Matt Ehling – 651-556-1381; mncogi@gmail.com

The 2015 Minnesota legislature will be making key decisions about how to deal with issues such as body cameras, license plate readers, and data related to HMO-administered public health care programs.  The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) is hosting a discussion on such data policy issues on Wednesday, January 28 at the State Office Building.

MNCOGI board member Don Gemberling will present MNCOGI’s perspective and invite legislators, public officials and citizens to express their thoughts on what’s best for the public. Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover) and John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) and others will also outline their views on current legislative issues.

The event is free and open to the public. MNCOGI is an all-volunteer, non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to government transparency and accountability.

Sent on behalf of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI). Board members include Bill Bushey, John Borger; Helen Burke, Treasurer; Hal Davis; Pat Doyle, Duchesne Drew; Matt Ehling, Don Gemberling, Nancy Herther, Gary Hill, Chair; Art Hughes, Secretary; Jane Kirtley, Sharon Schmickle, James Shiffer; and Amy Springer.

The Task Force met at the History Center this month. It was a fun opportunity to see History Live – the History Center’s online class offerings. It was great to see a class of fourth graders enthusiastically learning about the MN history with the help of a great teacher and a lot of technology.

A couple of legislators stopped in with updates and predictions. They mentioned that there is strong, bipartisan support for continued broadband funding. There were a couple of numbers batter around from $100-200 million.

The Office of Broadband Development will soon announce the recipients of the MN Broadband Fund. The decision is currently in the hands of the Governor. Read More…

Posted by: Ann Treacy | January 21, 2015

Minnesota Broadband Industry Conference: Feb 19

For what I think is the first time, Minnesota providers are collaborating on a joint conference. Partners include MCCA, MTA, Comcast, CenturyLink, Verizon, AT&T and others. So telecom, wireless, cable. I think it will be interesting to hear what they say collectively and about each vein of the broadband industry.

These are the guys in your neighborhood! They have invested in broadband for decades. Some are more involved with their local communities than others but if you are looking at expanding broadband in your area chances are they will be part of a broadband strategy. It makes sense to check out what they have to say and get to know them as potential partners.

[Note added Jan 24 – you will need to register for the  site before registering for the conference BUT registration is free.]

Here’s the agenda…

Minnesota Broadband Industry Conference Agenda

7:30 a.m.              Gather (coffee and rolls)
8:00 a.m.              Welcome – Mike Martin, Executive Director MN Cable Communications Association and Brent Christensen, President, MN Telecom Alliance
8:15 a.m.              Federal Keynote – United States Senator Amy Klobuchar (invited)
8:35 a.m.              Net Neutrality – Sam Feder, Partner, Jenner & Block Washington DC, Former General Counsel, Federal Communications Commission
9:00 a.m.              Panel — Industry Perspectives

  • Sam Feder, Jenner & Block
  • Bill Jenson, President, Mediacom
  • TBD, MTA Member
  • Al Juhnke, staff Senator Al Franken (Invited)
  • Margaret Anderson Kelliher, President, MHTA (Moderator)

9:45 a.m.              Break
10:00 a.m.           Minnesota Broadband Coverage: Connected Nation
10:30 a.m.           Panel — The Government’s Role in Broadband

  • Representative Ron Kresha, MN State House
  • Senator, MN State Senate
  • Representative, Office of MN Broadband Development
  • Representative, USDA MN Office of Rural Development
  • Representative, Center for Rural Policy and Development (Moderator)

11:15 a.m.           Panel — The Wireless Spectrum/First Net

  • Steve Kelley, HSPA, Moderator
  • TBD

Noon     Lunch
12:20 p.m.           Welcome and Keynote Speaker Intro – Emmett Coleman, VP Government Affairs, Comcast, Michael Willner, CEO Greatland Connections
12:30 p.m.           Speaker: Jonathan Adelstein, President, PCIA – The Wireless Infrastructure Association; Former Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission
1:20 p.m.             Introduction Lt. Governor Tina Smith – Andy Schriner, VP Government Relations, CenturyLink
1:25 p.m.             Minnesota Leaders in Broadband – Tina Smith, Lt. Governor, Minnesota
1:45 p.m.             Technology Advance and the Future of Telecom Cable Labs
2:15 p.m.             Panel: Broadband – The Backbone to Driving Our Future

  • TBD
  • Moderator, MN Public Affairs Reporter

3:00 p.m.             Closing Comments and Wrap-up

Aaron Brown has long been a vocal supporter of broadband on the Iron Range. In a recent article is dissected the reason that policymakers in his area need to rethink broadband funding.

Aaron’s article is in response to an article in the local paper that flip flops between saying broadband is essential and expensive. Well, it’s both he notes but it’s an investment and one that we need to get smart about – not avoid…

To address a few of the points from the story, I’d like to start with Rep. Dill’s discussion of how he gets his internet through wireless providers.

Yes, many people can now get their internet “through the air” using cellular service. This service is capped by the providers. That means the kinds of things David Dill does on the internet (checking e-mail, reading things) are fine, but any kind of large file creation and dissemination — the kinds of things businesses do on the internet — are not supported by cell towers. These towers simply can’t handle the coming tide of streaming media and video conferencing. For that matter, neither can the expensive satellite internet services like HughesNet or Exede, who despite increasing bandwidth capacity in the last year are simply incapable of handling significant volume.

Yes, this technology does change fast. That’s why I’m not sure that schools should be investing so much in iPads or specific delivery methods. That’s also why in infrastructure we should now err on the side of maximum capacity: fiber optic lines in the ground.

Aaron speaks as a voice on the front-lines as he notes for policymakers…

Note to any interested politician: Want to know what a loyal supporter looks like? A constituent who needs broadband that you help bring to his or her house for an affordable price. It’s better than a paved road. (In my case, preferable). Who are these constituents? Nearly all of them, in 10 years or less. Pretending that it’s just a fad for young people isn’t cute anymore. Those “young people” are in their 40s.

He paints a powerful picture for rural communities. If you want to retain “young people” you have to invest in young people utilities. But the biggest news might be that “young people” are getting older, which means if you don’t invest soon, your community may feel the drain sooner rather than later.

I will be there to take notes – but always good to see others there too…

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
January 21, 2015
Minnesota History Center—Irvine Conference Room
345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55102

  • 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM
  • 10:00 AM – 10:10 AM Welcome/Approval of Minutes and Public Comments
  • 10:10 AM – 10:30 AM Update from the Office of Broadband Development
  • 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM History Live! Presentation from MN History Center
  • 12:00 PM – 12:45 PM Lunch; on your own. Café Minnesota on site.
  • 12:45 PM – 2:00 PM Discussion/Q & A with Legislators
  • 2:00 PM – 2:45 PM 2015 Work Plan, Meeting Dates, Topics and Locations, and Task Force Appointment Process
  • 2:45 PM – 3:00 PM Other Business, Adjournment
Posted by: Ann Treacy | January 20, 2015

Free Municipal Broadband Webinar Series starts January 27

I figured there’d be folks interested in these webinar sessions…

SALT LAKE CITY, January 14, 2015 – President Obama’s vigorous support of a growing national movement to build Gigabit Networks highlights the need for municipalities to prepare wisely for their high-speed Internet future, said Kirton McConkie attorneys Drew Clark and David Shaw.

In light of the current discussion of municipal broadband networks, Kirton McConkie has announced a practical four-part webinar series on “How to Build Your Gigabit Network,” beginning on Tuesday, January 27, 2015, from 2 p.m. ET to 3 p.m ET. Subsequent webinars will take place on following Tuesdays: February 3, February 10 and February 17.

Registration for the webinar, which is free to the public, is at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6437609058631730178

On Wednesday January 14, President Barak Obama was set to travel to Cedar Falls, Iowa, the White House said, to “announce steps he will discuss in the State of the Union to help more Americans, in more communities around the country, get access to fast and affordable broadband.”

Among those steps include the creation of a national Broadband Opportunity Council charged with “speeding up broadband deployment,” a Community Broadband Summit of mayors and county commissioners in June 2015, the launch of BroadbandUSA by the U.S. Department of Commerce, and urging the Federal Communications Commission to support local broadband competition.

“There are many ways that cities can build Gigabit Networks, and President Obama is smart to highlight this bi-partisan issue in the State of the Union Address,” said Drew Clark, Of Counsel at Kirton McConkie. “Whether municipalities choose to support traditional telecom companies or new entrants, local governments play a central role in facilitating next-generation networks. A municipality that isn’t thinking about Gigabit Networks isn’t being a good guardian of its rights-of-ways.”

“Municipalities know they need to plan for deploying fiber-optic infrastructure, but many are daunted by perceived financial and legal obstacles to constructing such networks,” said David Shaw, Shareholder at Kirton McConkie. “Hundreds of cities have constructed or operate high-speed broadband networks by themselves or through public-private partnerships. We expect that number to grow to thousands of cities – if they follow best practices for building Gigabit Networks.”

Because of Kirton McConkie’s unique position in regards to broadband knowledge, we created a place for municipalities interested in creating their own network to receive help and get questions answered.

The agenda for the “How to Build Your Gigabit Network” webinar series is below. All four events will be hosted and moderated by David Shaw, shareholder, and Drew Clark, of counsel:

Webinar 1, January 27 – “How to Build Your Gigabit Network: Avoiding Mistakes Before You Begin”

Addresses the nuts and bolts of cities’ efforts to build next-generation infrastructure. How many municipal networks are there? What key things do municipalities need to know before they begin?

Guests:
David Evertsen, CEO, Municipal Solutions
Masha Zager, Editor, Broadband Communities

Webinar 2, February 3
– “How to Build Your Gigabit Network: Lessons from Municipal Success Stories”

Brings together some of the lessons learned by municipalities in building their Gigabit networks. Officials from cities that have designed and built networks discuss their goals and expected outcomes. How can we measure the success of these networks?

Guests:
Andrew Cohill, Danville, Virginia
Bruce Patterson, Powell, Idaho
Deb Socia, Executive Director, Next Century Cities

Webinar 3, February 10 – “How to Build Your Gigabit Network: Resources for Municipalities”

What resources are available to cities as they approach Gigabit Networks, alone or in public-private partnerships? Interest in Gigabit Networks is growing and municipalities that go down that path are not alone.

Guests:
Ron Corriveau, Business Development, Cos Systems

Webinar 4, February 17
– “How to Build Your Gigabit Network: Selling the Benefits to Users”

What are the benefits to cities, citizens and businesses from building Gigabit Networks? Emerging high-bandwidth apps require greater connectivity speeds, made easier by fiber networks. Who is experiencing such benefits today, and how we can use their stories?

Kirton McConkie is a leader in legal issues surrounding building, financing and operating municipal broadband networks. We enhance state and local governments’ ability to deploy broadband infrastructure in their economic development activities. We represent municipalities, inter-local entities and cooperatives from an exploratory phase, through bid processes and beyond.

Additionally, we assist clients as they construct and operate their high-speed broadband networks by negotiating with public-private partnerships. We know the players in the broadband community, the financial options available to cities and local governments and the best practices for building Gigabit Networks.

To Register, go to: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6437609058631730178

For further information, please contact:
David Shaw, dshaw@kmclaw.com, 801-426-2108
Drew Clark, drewclark@kmclaw.com, 801-426-2123

CookFor the upcoming weeks I’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 Cook County stacked up:

  • Household Density: .7
  • Number of Households: 2,494
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 20.70%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 99.64%

Cook County has been working on broadband for as long as I’ve been involved in broadband (formerly, just Internet) in 1995. I can remember working with Danna Mackenzie (now at the Office of Broadband Development) on efforts to get dialup access back in the day. Part of the problem in that area is low population density, remote areas and a foundation of solid stone, which makes for difficult deployment.

BUT Cook County was a MIRC community. They are broadband adopters. They just need connectivity. It seems as if the county will get better service now that the ARRA-funded Lake County connection is done and Arrowhead Electric has completed their middle mile infrastructure. It is a county worth watching. The video below tells their story…

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…

ClearwaterFor the upcoming weeks I’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 Clearwater County stacked up:

  • Household Density: 3.4
  • Number of Households: 3,527
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 99.64%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 99.64%

Like Clay County, Clearwater is another county that went from one of the least served in an FCC report in 2010 to pretty good coverage in 2015. Actually it looks like it didn’t take that long for Clearwater to catch up. In October 2010, the Minnesota Broadband Task Force met and discussed the first release of the Minnesota Connect data – back then it indicated that at the time only 4 percent of Minnesota had access to fiber – yet 90 percent of Clearwater County had access to fiber. It’s a small state with a small population, but it’s still doing quite well.

I think it’s worth noting that MN House Telecommunications Committee visited Clearwater in 2007. So they have been talking about broadband for a long time. Talk can often lead to action!

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…

After President Obama’s speech last week asking FCC to look at state law’s that act as barriers to municipal networks, Minnesota Public Radio’s Tom Weber spoke to Danna MacKenzie (Office of Broadband Development) and Chris Mitchell (Institute for Local Self Reliance) about what the request may mean for Minnesota.

They had a detailed conversation on Minnesota’s law that hinders municipal broadband networks- specifically municipalities need to hold a referendum to vote on whether they can provide telephone service to the community and the vote requires a super-majority(2/3 approval) to pass.

Mitchell points out that this proposed change really puts the decision into the hands of the most local government – a movement that has bipartisan support. It doesn’t mean everyone wants to build a community network but they’d like to be able to make their own decision.

The Office of Broadband Development is seeing more public-private partnerships. The partnership can make it easier to get past some of these restrictions but there’s no guarantee that it won’t’ lead to lawsuits and the lawsuits can drag on and cause networks to fail regardless of who wins (and/or is in the right).

There was an interesting discussion on the need to not only have ubiquitous broadband coverage, but to ensure that there is competition throughout the state. And a discussion on fiber and wireless.

Last week I attended the Gigabit City Summit in Kansas City. I’m ready to move there! And while service from Google Fiber would be nice – it’s not really a factor except that Google Fiber sparked a whole lot of community that is compelling enough to make a person move.

The question for me becomes – how can we replicate that buzz in Minnesota? (Spoiler alert – to be unique I think we ought to focus on statewide goals, not just local community goals!)

KC googlefiberFirst – what is the buzz?

It’s part established assets like the University and the Nelson Atkins Art Museum. It’s part new assets like the Kansas City Startup Village, an effort in an area where housing was cheap and homes not always well-maintained. Entrepreneurs started to move in – to live and work. One example is the Home for Hackers. Founder Ben Barreth bought a house, the community fixed it up and now hackers are welcome to live there rent-free for three months with access to Google Fiber. Apparently about 30 hackers have come to stay and about 40 percent have ended up staying in the area. (I didn’t meet Barreth but – it sounds like he’s a regular guy with four small kids who had a vision to “give now, get later.”)

KC has a program (LaunchKC) that awards funds to entrepreneurs with good ideas who will move to KC. KC Digital Drive have a Playbook that helps a community better use technology for education. Government, health care and economy. Mozilla has brought their Hive Learning Networks to the community spurring events like Maker Parties and increasing digital literacy and skills. Code for America had a strong presence (in the community and conference) promoting civic engagement and US Ignite was promoting doing things different (not just faster) with a Gig. So many interesting and energizing things happening.

Technology is the excuse but community is the end game.

KC speed testSecond – can we create the buzz without Google?

Google released their list of Google hopeful communities a year ago. (Apparently the list of final cities is coming soon!) Minnesota did not make the list. So we better find another way. One of the non-Google providers at the conference remarked that many communities do not trust their incumbent providers despite the fact that often they are the most likely partner and have probably already invested boatloads of dollars in infrastructure. In Minnesota I’ve seen communities where the relationship between the city, the citizens/business and local provider is strong. (Lac qui Parle and Federated comes to mind.) And I’ve seen areas where there do seem to be trust issues. (East Central Minnesota.)

Third – how can we support deployment?

Former KC Mayor Joe Reardon talked about how he worked to get Google to the area and then how he worked with them once they started deploying. He pointed out that fiber isn’t politics but policymakers play a role. In Minnesota the role might be to provide enough funding to spark the conversations that Google sparked in KC. (Just look at the list of providers interested in the $20 million appropriated by the legislature last year!)

KC polesQuick aside: Policymakers might also look at any regulations that serve as barriers to deploying fiber. President Obama may have made that conversation mandatory with his speech last week asking the FCC to look at regulatory barriers stopping municipalities from getting better broadband.

Fourth – will that be enough?

I think technology is necessary, but not sufficient. To be practical I think fiber technology is aspirational, but not realistic for much of Minnesota (today). So I think we move toward the better solutions with technology and throughout the community. Boyd Cohen, a leading expert on Smart Cities show us his Smart City Wheel. Technology plays a role but so does: Smart People, Smart Economy, Smart Environment, Smart Government, Smart Living and Smart Mobility. Technology can help us be smarter in all of those areas. We need to look at technology as part of the solution – not a problem. It’s an investment. It’s our foundation. But we need to know how to use it, which means everything from closing the digital divide to help more people make use of the network to opening up the data and the technology so that technologists can streamline processes and innovate solutions – which should reduce community costs and create economic opportunities.

Fifth – can Minnesota do this on a statewide level?

Joe Reardon also talked about fiber being the foundation of the future and a unique economic development tool. Traditional economic development, he noted, was a game of natural winners and losers. The new factory locates in KC Missouri or KC Kansas. The two Kansas Cities become competitors. In the new economy the best jobs can come from anywhere – often from the basement or garage of local citizens. And Metcalfe’s Law demonstrates that the more people connected, the greater the value. Working together, the two KCs can work together to build better infrastructure for their shared economic development.

So maybe there’s room for the whole state of Minnesota! There weren’t many very rural communities at the conference. (Nor were there very many Minnesotans – but that’s a different, more shaming post I’ll just write in my head! I will give props to RS Fiber for being there and being the one Minnesota community listed on the Next Century Cities roster – a roster mentioned by Obama.)

Back to MN, we have a lot of unique assets. In his speech, Obama talked about pluck as what differentiates Americans from the rest of the herd. With pluck we can again become winners in the broadband innovation game. Minnesotans have pluck. Folks at the conference were impressed with our unusual array of plucky assets –the BWCA, Mayo Clinic, universities, St Paul Winter Carnival, Trampled by Turtles, Crashed Ice and Flutag events. We just need a cohesive plan to get the conversations going about fiber to build community. Succeeding on a statewide scope would make us unique.

I’ll end with a conference highlight for me – listening to the optimism of Susan Crawford. I’m a huge fan and I have never heard her be so enthusiastic about the future of the US and fiber as after’s Obama’s speech. At lunch she allowed that her was very serious about making things happen.

ClayFor the upcoming weeks I’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 Clay County stacked up:

  • Household Density: 21.2
  • Number of Households: 22,279
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 82.5%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 82.5%

There aren’t a lot of cities in Clay County. I suspect once you filter out Moorhead, the county seat, the population density lowers but Clay County borders North Dakota. As the oil boom in North Dakota continues, it makes sense that it would mean greater opportunity for Clay County and hopefully that will be reflected in the broadband access.

Back in 2010, Clay County made the list of the 9 unserved counties in Minnesota based on the FCC Annual Broadband Report, which defined broadband as 4 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up. Clearly Clay County has improved since then. Maybe the North Dakota proximity has helped. Last summer (2014), Barnesville was added to a projects in North Dakota that was awarded USDA funds and subsequently Barnesville will be getting Fiber to the Home connections.

With any luck the project in Barnesville will be successful and build a momentum for more access and/or the excitement in North Dakota will lead to more investment and/or demand for access.

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 | January 16, 2015

Job Posting in St Paul: E-Learning for Better Jobs Coordinator

This job just looked too good not to share…

The Saint Paul Public Library (SPPL) seeks a half time coordinator for an E-Learning for Better Jobs Initiative. The E-Learning for Better Jobs Initiative, a joint project of the Library and the Saint Paul Community Literacy Consortium (SPCLC), is grant-funded for one year through spring, 2016.
The E-Learning for Better Jobs Initiative seeks to increase workforce skills and access to good jobs by supporting adults and youth pursuing on-line learning and job-related certifications. The Initiative will target lower skilled adults and youth seeking pathways to post-secondary and career success, higher paying jobs, and entrepreneurial opportunities.
The goals of the Initiative are to:
  • Expand the workforce education and training options available in the community at public libraries and community-based literacy organizations.
  • Connect with micro- and small-business entrepreneurs who seek to improve their skills.
  • Strengthen the cross-system connection in Saint Paul among organizations tackling unemployment, low literacy, and low educational attainment among disconnected youth and lower-skilled, lower-income adults and parents.

The Initiative will experiment with Metrix Learning, an e-training and learning platform that integrates information on the local job market, job pathways, on-line learning, and industry recognized certifications.

Metrix Learning makes available information about current openings and trends in a given community, leading users toward actual opportunities. Learners identify jobs of interest, discover the pathway and competencies required for that job, and take courses and earn certificates where appropriate. Participants manage the learning at their own pace.
A part time coordinator will help design and organize the Initiative with adult basic education providers, organizations helping job seekers and entrepreneurs, and certain SPPL community libraries. The coordinator will develop a program that mixes opportunities for learners comfortable with distance learning and learners who need more in-person support.

 

Earlier this week the NTIA released the results of the ASR Analytics evaluation of the social and economic impacts of the BTOP awards and a brand-new Public-Private Partnerships Guide. The NTIA will be hosting a webinar about BroadbandUSA and the PPP Guide on January 28. (BroadbandUSA is a new initiative at the Department of Commerce to promote broadband adoption and deployment.) The timing of these reports coincides with President Obama’s announcement to support community broadband.

Locally the excitement in the evaluation is the case study on the Blandin Foundation’s BTOP project – the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) initiative. The ASR folks came out to visit the MIRC projects at the onset of the initiative and then again as projects were winding down. I’m not sure they were prepared for what Blandin had going. Most of the other BTOP projects they visited were geographically contained to smaller space and had few moving pieces. MIRC spread out in 11 communities around the state.

Here’s what they report on the projects in aggregate…

Increased Economic Output: The largest long-term social or economic impact due to BTOP infrastructure spending is a yearly increase in GDP in the areas served by the new broadband infrastructure. ASR used two studies, Czernich et al. (2011) and LECG Ltd. (2009), to extrapolate the increase in economic output that could be expected in counties receiving BTOP funded infrastructure. For the base case of a 2.0 percent increase in broadband availability, BTOP infrastructure spending could be expected to yield $5.7 billion in increased output annually, using Czernich et al. (2011) as a basis for extrapolation, or $21.0 billion annually using results from LECG Ltd. as the basis for extrapolation. BTOP infrastructure spending could be expected to yield $5.7 billion in increased output annually, using Czernich et al. (2011) as a basis for extrapolation, or $21.0 billion annually using results from LECG Ltd. as the basis for extrapolation.

Long-Term Increased Levels of Employment: Kolko (2010) and Gillett et al. (2006) provide a basis for estimating the increase in employment due to broadband infrastructure spending. Based on Kolko’s estimates, the additional broadband infrastructure provided by BTOP could be expected to create more than 22,000 long-term jobs and generate more than $1 billion in additional household income each year. Results from Gillett et al. (2006) suggest at least 6,900 long-term jobs could be created in the year following the construction of BTOP infrastructure, and potentially each year for at least the next four years due to increasing employment growth in areas with new broadband availability. These employment increases would result in an increase in household income of more than $300 million for each year employment increases by the estimated amount in newly served areas.

Value to New Broadband Subscribers: The Allen Consulting Group (2010) finds the value of broadband Internet access to the average American household is about 3.4 percent of average household income. Based on the number of households and a 2 percent increase in broadband availability, the estimated value of broadband to new subscribers is approximately $2.6 billion per year.

Reduced Prices and Improved Service for CAIs: Where available, the evaluation study team collected subscription speed and price data from CAIs connected by projects in the evaluation study sample to quantify improvements resulting from BTOP connections. Representatives of sixty CAIs provided ASR with broadband subscription speed data for eight-six individual sites; forty-seven of these sites also provided pre- and post-BTOP broadband subscription price data. In general, CAIs connected by projects in the evaluation study sample saw a decrease in their monthly Internet subscription costs per Mbps. Community anchor institutions served by BTOP infrastructure experienced a decline in broadband prices of approximately 95 percent, regardless of institution type. As an example of the potential importance of price reductions of this size, K-12 schools connected by BTOP grantees could experience a cost difference of $2 billion annually, or approximately $268,000 per CAI, assuming that existing infrastructure could support this level of service and that the prices per Mbps reported in the evaluation study sample are representative across all K-12 institutions.

Improved Availability for Those Living in Rural Areas, Seniors, and Those Living in Poverty: As shown in Figure 1, BTOP infrastructure projects led to increases in broadband availability, especially in rural areas and areas where seniors and those living below the poverty line resided. Based on the estimated 2 percent broadband availability increase from BTOP infrastructure projects, more than 4.3 million people across the United States gained broadband availability from June 30, 2011 to June 30, 2013 due to BTOP infrastructure projects.

And here’s a summary of what they found with MIRC

  • Demonstration Community staff report multiple instances of individuals retaining jobs or moving up in their positions as a result of attending a Digital Literacy training or using another grant resource such as PCCs or a PCs for People home computer. The total number of individuals obtaining jobs is not known, as no grant-wide mechanism was in place to track job placements resulting from the grant.
  • Small businesses throughout rural Minnesota have benefited from the increased digital presence. They gained knowledge and skills through statewide partner courses and technical assistance in several Demonstration Community projects. This impact was particularly large in tourist areas, where many customers rely on the Internet to discover, navigate to, and access information about local businesses. In addition, networks of businesses have formed to share resources and best practices, supporting innovation in the use of digital tools into the future.
  • Several Demonstration Community projects have increased the skills of individuals hired to implement the projects. For example, high school students in Benton County learned how to use global positioning system (GPS) tools and geographic information system (GIS) software to help farmers and other agricultural businesses. In at least two other communities, projects trained high school students and paid them to help get businesses online, increasing students’ digital and entrepreneurial skills in addition to facilitating community participation.
  • The 2,067 PCs distributed to low-income households resulted in many impacts. Some of the stories the evaluation study team heard included parents pursuing higher education while they took care of their children at home; parents being better able to communicate with their children’s schools using the Internet and email; and individuals searching for and finding jobs.
  • Local governments around the state created websites and community portals to make information and processes more readily available online. This resulted in increased community and civic engagement by residents in these communities.
  • In each Demonstration Community, representatives reported increased partnerships, relationships, and capacity that resulted from many institutions working together on the same goal. It has also given much of rural Minnesota the understanding and framework to drive change through a broadband-based economic development model.
  • MIRC set the stage for the increased efficacy of statewide partners working toward broadband adoption. For example, through grant activities PCs for People was able to increase its distribution networks in rural Minnesota, opening new offices and depots in several Demonstration Communities. This has increased the capacity for distributing free and low-cost computers to low-income individuals throughout the state

Yesterday was a big day in broadband! I was happy to hear the big news about President Obama’s plans for broadband while attending the Gigabit Cities Summit in Kansas City. (More on that later!) For sake of archive I will do multiple posts on the announcement and a couple of other big details. Starting with…

President Obama visited Cedar Falls to congratulation them on their Gigabit broadband and unveil some details on his community-based broadband plan. Here are the highlights:

  • Calling to End Laws that Harm Broadband Service Competition: Laws in 19 states — some specifically written by special interests trying to stifle new competitors — have held back broadband access and, with it, economic opportunity. Today, President Obama is announcing a new effort to support local choice in broadband, formally opposing measures that limit the range of options available to communities to spur expanded local broadband infrastructure, including ownership of networks. As a first step, the Administration is filing a letter with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging it to join this effort by addressing barriers inhibiting local communities from responding to the broadband needs of their citizens.
  • Expanding the National Movement of Local Leaders for Better Broadband: As of today, 50 cities representing over 20 million Americans have joined the Next Century Cities coalition, a nonpartisan network pledging to bring fast, community-supported broadband to their towns and cities. They join 37 research universities around the country that formed the Gig.U partnership to bring fast broadband to communities around their campuses. To recognize these remarkable individuals and the partnerships they have built, in June 2015 the White House will host a Community Broadband Summit of mayors and county commissioners from around the nation who are joining this movement for broadband solutions and economic revitalization. These efforts will also build on the US Ignite partnership, launched by White House in 2012, and which has grown to include more than 65 research universities and 35 cities in developing new next-generation gigabit applications.
  • Announcing a New Initiative to Support Community Broadband Projects: To advance this important work, the Department of Commerce is launching a new initiative, BroadbandUSA, to promote broadband deployment and adoption. Building on expertise gained from overseeing the $4.7 billion Broadband Technology Opportunities Program funded through the Recovery Act, BroadbandUSA will offer online and in-person technical assistance to communities; host a series of regional workshops around the country; and publish guides and tools that provide communities with proven solutions to address problems in broadband infrastructure planning, financing, construction, and operations across many types of business models.
  • Unveiling New Grant and Loan Opportunities for Rural Providers: The Department of Agriculture is accepting applications to its Community Connect broadband grant program and will reopen a revamped broadband loan program, which offers financing to eligible rural carriers that invest in bringing high-speed broadband to unserved and under served rural areas.
  • Removing Regulatory Barriers and Improving Investment Incentives: The President is calling for the Federal Government to remove all unnecessary regulatory and policy barriers to broadband build-out and competition, and is establishing a new Broadband Opportunity Council of over a dozen government agencies with the singular goal of speeding up broadband deployment and promoting adoption for our citizens. The Council will also solicit public comment on unnecessary regulatory barriers and opportunities to promote greater coordination with the aim of addressing those within its scope.

What does this mean in Minnesota?

Minnesota does have a law on the books that hinders municipal broadband networks- specifically municipalities need to hold a referendum to vote on whether they can provide telephone service to the community and the vote requires a super-majority (2/3 approval) to pass. I’m sure this will come up.

Minnesota already has one city participating in the Next Century Cities coalition (Winthrop). Perhaps we’ll see more joining.

And of course Minnesota communities will be welcome (and I’m sure interested in) applying for federal funding.

Has Minnesota had had an influence on these announcements?

I was pleased that the White House document, Community-Based Broadband Solutions featured Minnesota’s own Scott County and their network…

Scott County, MN: Municipal government sees savings for county, school operations

In the early 2000s, Scott County started exploring options for increasing broadband services for county government buildings and schools. In 2007, the County issued $3.5 million in bonds to install a high-speed middle-mile network. The network connects all county-owned facilities, including schools, libraries, city halls, policy and fire departments and public safety towers. It also connects with the state’s high capacity backbone network and with multiple private providers. From the beginning, the project was a joint effort between local and state government and the private sector. While the county paid the upfront costs, the state pays for the network’s operating costs in exchange for use of the network. The open architecture of the system allows private companies to offer their own services; private providers, in turn, cover the network’s maintenance costs.

The network has achieved significant benefits. Scott County’s annual bond payment for the construction of the backbone is $35,000 less than what the County was paying for leasing private sector lines. Local schools have seen even greater savings. The costs for Scott County’s school districts per megabit of Internet service went from an average of $58.00 to $6.83 per megabit for all school districts—a cost reduction of nearly 90 percent per megabit. The net effect was a tripling of availability (100 to 300 megabits) while costs fell from $5,800 to $2,049 a month. At the state level, the government is saving approximately $1 million per year from access to the public network. The network has also helped attract significant private investment and fostered job creation. In 2010, for example, Emerson Process Management was finalizing a decision on where to site a new $70 million investment that would create 500 jobs. Emerson’s two finalist sites were the town of Shakopee in Scott County, Minnesota and Chihuahua, Mexico. Recognizing the savings from the high-speed broadband network, Emerson chose Scott County.

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