FCC Connect2Health Task Force to host virtual listening sessions

Announcement from the FCC… (Note – Parties interested in participating in these virtual sessions should contact the Task Force by July 28, 2017, by sending an e-mail to connect2health@fcc.gov, and inserting “Virtual Listening Session” in the subject line.)

The Federal Communications Commission’s Connect2Health Task Force announces that it will convene several virtual listening sessions over several weeks, starting the week of August 7, 2017, to more efficiently facilitate targeted input on broadband health issues (including on the rural/urban gap and other digital divide issues) from non-traditional stakeholders and those outside the Washington, DC area. This effort specifically relates to the Task Force’s development of recommendations on critical regulatory, policy, technical, and infrastructure issues concerning the emerging broadband-enabled health and care ecosystem described in the April 24, 2017, Public Notice issued in GN Docket No. 16-46 (FCC Seeks Comment and Data on Actions to Accelerate Adoption and Accessibility of Broadband-Enabled Health Care Solutions and Advanced Technologies).

In addition, the formal comment period for GN Docket No. 16-46 will remain open until September 29, 2017, to give interested parties an opportunity to file additional comments and information following the completion of the virtual listening sessions.1 Parties have also expressed interest in submitting comments and suggestions for enhancements related to the Mapping Broadband Health in America platform released on June 8, 2017, and this extension will facilitate such filings.

The scheduled virtual listening sessions will serve to supplement the Commission’s typical in person, ex parte meeting process and will be conducted via teleconference with participants from specified stakeholder groups as detailed below. We anticipate that each of the sessions will last for about an hour. Conducting these sessions via teleconference will help ensure that interested parties based outside the Washington, DC area can participate. The calls will be led by Task Force staff and will be recorded and transcribed for the record. The resulting transcripts will be publicly-available in the above referenced docket on the FCC’s website. Interested parties may submit comments and any additional input in response to the discussions reflected in the transcripts.

Parties interested in participating in these virtual sessions should contact the Task Force by July 28, 2017, by sending an e-mail to connect2health@fcc.gov, and inserting “Virtual Listening Session” in the subject line. Please identify the session(s) of interest; provide a brief personal biography; your contact information; a description of your organization (and/or link to your organization website), if applicable; and the extent of your availability (specify days and EST times) during the specified week.3 Please note that the stakeholder groups listed below are based on stakeholders that have submitted comments in the above-referenced docket and/or have engaged the Task Force; the list below is not intended to reflect the full range of stakeholders relevant to broadband health issues. The Task Force welcomes the participation of any interested party. Once final schedules are determined, the Task Force will notify participants of the date and time of their selected session(s), as well as any additional information and instructions.

Virtual Listening Sessions — TENTATIVE SCHEDULE AND STAKEHOLDER GROUPS

Week of Aug. 7: Health Care Provider Forum: e.g., Health system administrators and CIOs, clinicians and other health care providers (including allied health professionals); community health officials and clinicians; small medical practices; public safety and EMS professionals; and researchers

Week of Sept. 11: Rural and Consumer Issues Forum: e.g., Associations and advocacy groups representing rural interests, Tribal lands, people with disabilities, veterans, and older Americans

Week of Sept. 18: Technology and Broadband Services Forum: e.g., Telecommunications carriers, broadband services providers, manufacturers, innovators, and entrepreneurs

Week of Sept. 25: Policymakers Forum: e.g., Federal policymakers; state and local health officials (or their representatives) and other policymakers; associations representing state, county, and city health officials and policymakers; state and local officials involved in developing technology and broadband policies and strategies

For questions and additional information about these virtual listening sessions, please contact Ben Bartolome, Special Counsel, Connect2HealthFCC Task Force, at (770) 935-3383, or via e-mail at Ben.Bartolome@fcc.gov.

Looks like Kandiyohi County residents are putting their hands up for fiber

The West Central Tribune posts an update on progress of the CTC-Kandiyohi County broadband project. They were awarded a MN broadband grant but needed community support to take the next step. It’s not a done deal yet, but it looks good…

Customer signups for a broadband project in north central Kandiyohi County appear to have reached the goal.

It may still be a few more days, however, until Kandiyohi County officials learn whether the project is officially moving ahead.

The county is partnering with Consolidated Telecommunications Co. of Brainerd to bring high-speed internet to approximately 1,600 households, businesses and institutions in the north central part of the county.

The unofficial count looks good; they are waiting to see if people put their money where their mouths are..

A deadline of July 21 had been set for eligible Kandiyohi County residents to sign up for CTC’s service and pay a $25 refundable deposit. The company has said it won’t go forward with construction of a fiber line until it has commitments from at least 50 percent of the homes and businesses in the project area.

As of Monday, the goal of 810 customers has apparently been met. County officials said Tuesday that deposit payments are still trickling in. It’s likely to be a few more days until all the payments are received and CTC makes a final decision on whether to proceed.

Sen Franken’s Better Deal Economic Plan for Americans includes $20B broadband

Earlier this week, Senator Franken announced…

Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) helped unveil a new economic agenda to support workers and families in Minnesota. The “Better Deal” plan would help to boost wages, create jobs, bring down people’s expenses, and make sure that the economy works for all Americans—not just those at the very top.

The agenda would hone in on several policies that Sen. Franken has either championed or written legislation on in the past, including measures to brings down prescription drug costs, raise wages, close tax loopholes, invest in infrastructure and high-speed internet, and crack down on trade cheats.

Part of the plan is A Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure Creating Over 15 Million New Jobs

The Senate Democrats’ “Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure” would make a historic $1 trillion federal investment to modernize our crumbling infrastructure and create more than 15 million jobs that our economy desperately needs. Our Blueprint will improve the daily lives of millions of American families by creating a 21st century transportation network, rebuilding water systems and schools, making our electric system stronger and our communities more resilient, and much more. Our Blueprint will invest directly in communities because Democrats know that we can’t fix a problem of this magnitude simply by tolling more highways or privatizing water and sewer system that profit on ratepayers. We will prioritize projects and communities all across the country. We will have robust set-asides for small towns, rural communities, tribal lands, and underserved populations.

Here’s what is says about broadband…

Connecting America’s Communities $20 billion – Creating 260,000 New Jobs

Problem: Access to quality and affordable high-speed internet is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity for 21st century commerce, education, telemedicine, and public safety. High-speed internet can unlock communities’ full economic potential, help rural areas attract new employers, improve healthcare outcomes, and help students succeed. Yet, despite its importance, according to recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data, as of January 2016, nearly 40% of Americans living in rural areas and 10% of Americans living in urban areas lack access to quality high-speed broadband. The Organization for Economic and Co-Operation Development (OECD) ranks the U.S. 16th in the world in terms of broadband access, and we are 12th in terms of average broadband speed.

Solution: To close the rural-urban divide, and to push toward ubiquitous access to high-speed broadband, we will invest $20 billion to fund the build out of high-speed broadband in unserved and underserved areas. This funding will be available to projects currently eligible under programs at both the Department of Commerce and the US Department of Agriculture. We also propose expanding the programs to enable grant recipients to use grant funds to deploy various types of infrastructure capable of offering, middle-mile, last-mile wired and wireless broadband access, and adding evaluation criteria in the awards process to ensure that the funding goes to the most effective and efficient uses. Finally, we propose ensuring additional funding is available to help upgrade our nation’s aging 9-1-1 system and other critical infrastructure technology.

Minnesota Broadband Grant application reminder – pre-application deadline is July 31

Just got word from the Office of Broadband Development…

This coming Monday, July 31, is the deadline for potential broadband grant applicants to notify existing wireline broadband providers in their proposed grant project area of their intention to file a grant application.

Potential applicants are required, by statute, to do this a pre-application notification. And they must do so on or before July 31, 2017 (at least six weeks before the application filing deadline of September 11, 2017).

Templates and other info/instructions for notification letters are provided in the grant application document. Here’s are high level details from the Grant website.

Application Process

For the 2017 Border-to-Border Broadband Grant application, the legislature appropriated $20 million in funding. The application period for the 2017 grants program is July 3, 2017 through 4:00 p.m. on Monday, September 11, 2017.

I encourage folks to pre-apply! A grant is a game changer when you’re creating a business plan. Applications for funding are an indicator to legislators of interest and need for funding. The folks at the Office of Broadband Development could not be kinder! So if you have any questions you can contact them.

Pope County gets results of broadband feasibility study including fiber wireless hybrid option

Pope County Tribune reports…

Pope County continues to work toward increasing broadband access and Internet speed for all residents and businesses in the county.

The county recently utilized grant money to fund a feasibility study on broadband to improve Internet access and speed in underserved or unserved areas of Pope County.

Pope County Commissioners, along with about 50 residents of the county, heard the results of that study last Tuesday and learned about the next steps needed to improve broadband throughout the county.

The study area excluded most of the western part of the county, including Starbuck, because areas served by Federated Telephone Cooperative already have fiber, and the area served by Runestone Telephone Company are expected to get fiber in the near future.  The city of Starbuck is currently served by Mediacom and that area has speeds greater than 100 megabytes per second (MBps).  The goal is to bring all areas in the county to Internet speeds of at least 10-25 MBps, according to Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting, the firm that did the study along with Finley Engineering.  The study concentrated on Glenwood, Sedan, Villard and all other rural parts of the county, it was stated at the meeting.

They talked about a network plan…

CCG Consulting and Finley Engineering found in the study that bringing all-fiber to the 4,626 households in the underserved area of the county is expensive.  That’s why they designed a scenerio that includes a fiber ring around the county and utilizes wireless technology to serve portions of the county within that ring.  On that scenario, there would be about 1,358 households on fiber and 3,226 served through the wireless technology.  “This would be far and away better than what is out there now, but the goal is to bring fiber to each household,” Dawson explained.  He also said that the wireless technology has improved drastically over the past few years and is a viable system.

So, the plan would be to construct a 67.6-mile long fiber ring to cover the service area (the entire county).  That would mean there would be 765 miles of roads that would need fiber and the engineers stated that it would be more cost effective to bury that whole fiber network, so it would not be placed on rural poles.

Adding the wireless scenario would mean utilizing new and exiting towers throughout the county that would be served by fiber.  The wireless system being considered would delver speeds of at least 25 mbps.  “That’s the minimum and the goal would be to upgrade the white space spectrum to increase bandwidth,” he explained.

And costs…

Installing fiber everywhere in the county would cost about $29.3 million, according to the study.  If the combination of wireless and fiber were used, the cost would drop to about $9 million.  And in another scenario, the study excluded the city of Glenwood and used a wireless and fiber combination for the rest of the county and that was estimated to cost about $6.5 million.

For customers on the fiber network, that would provide fast Internet, cable TV and telephone.  For wireless customers, it would provide Internet and telephone service only.

It was stated at the meeting that there is “no reasonable scenerio to immediately finance fiber to the entire county.  That would take at least a 75 percent state or federal grant to make it possible.  Today, most of the state grants funded to broadband expansion are about 50 percent grant.

But, the study found, it is financial viable for a local telephone company to do the combination of wireless and fiber, especially with some state grant money.    According to the study, it would take a 43 percent penetration for the company that would provide the service to break even.  A 60 percent penetration would return about $12.1 million over 25 years, and a 70 percent penetration would return about $17.8 million over the same period.

US House Agriculture Committee finds that rural Infrastructure includes transportation, water and broadband!

US House Agriculture Committee finds that rural Infrastructure includes transportation, water and broadband!

The Worthington Globe highlights the House Agriculture Committee last week including the need for non-transportation infrastructure – water and broadband…

“A strong rural infrastructure is necessary for our rural areas to remain vital but our rural economy faces unique infrastructure challenges,” U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said as the House Agriculture Committee discussed the topic on Wednesday, July 19. …

Transportation always comes to mind when infrastructure is mentioned, and it is important to rural America. But it is not just highway transportation for rural residents. Farmers also depend on water transportation to get their products to market, and more and more they need better high-speed internet connections, known as broadband, to compete.

“It’s surprising to a lot of folks but broadband access is lacking in many of these areas,” Peterson said.

It was a good reminder to be to watch the archive of the meeting:

One warning – the sound is intermittent at least for the first 30 minutes. They fixed it after that. I’m just going to post rough highlights I caught as I listened – and I’ve tried to include the time when helpful. I’ve also highlighted the parts I found most interesting. Continue reading

Help us determine the community ROI of better broadband

Bill Coleman and I are hitting the road to talk to a few communities about their success with broadband. Our purpose is to put our arms around what are the community benefits of better broadband. We often talk about the business ROI (return on investment) and there is no question that it is difficult to make a business case to see a ROI if you are only looking at metrics for the broadband provider.

But there are community benefits. Just last month the MN Broadband Task Force heard from the radio station in Rock County that their new fiber connection costs $85 per month. Their old connection was close to $1800 per month!

It doesn’t take too many stories like that to help community leaders and policymakers recognize the community benefits of better broadband.

I’m looking for more Minnesota stories like the radio station. If you have a good story on saving money or earning more money or saving time or other tangible benefits – please let me know by competing the Broadband Benefits to the Community survey.