The Broadband Communities Conference ended yesterday with a focus on public private partnership, digital inclusion and county-level stats on broadband regulation vs population growth.

Steve Ross gave a sneak preview of his research on county growth and broadband regulations. Turns out that policy restrictions on municipal broadband correlate with rural counties that lose populations. The same isn’t found for urban counties. I’m hoping to get Minnesota data soon and I’ll dig in deeper but it helps make the case that what works in urban areas – where there’s a market case for broadband – does not work in areas – where it’s tough to sustain a commercial broadband venture.

We heard from providers and communities that have gone into providing better broadband in rural areas. Here are some quick lessons I picked up:

  • Cooperatives are key assets
  • Broadband providers value ease of entry over financial incentives
  • Governments save money by owning the network (at least to anchors). Lincoln Nebraska now pays $100,000/yr for Gig for 150 anchor institutions versus $4000/month/institution in a commercial market.
  • Stock-led companies couldn’t look at FTTH in rural areas because a 10yr ROI doesn’t work for them!

We also heard from folks in the adoption field. Adoption always makes for good stories – because adoption improves the quality of life – deployment makes it possible but adoption does it. We heard about the computer refurnishing program funded by lemonade stands. We got to try out virtual reality goggles and learn about how VR can increase empathy. We heard about tech internship programs in rural areas giving students more responsibility, businesses real assets and creating ties between techie kids and the rural communities. We also heard from a teacher from the Fond du Lac reservation speak about the disservice we do to kids when we assume they know everything about technology. No one knows everything – there should always be room for questions and an open door for learning.

Here’s video from the day…

Another great day of stories of success and some hardship from people who are willing to share their advice. We heard about how to build a business case to get a community broadband plan off the ground and keep the public engaged and the importance of getting people to use the broadband once it’s there. There were a few sessions on funding.

A few high level observations:

  • Every community is different until it isn’t. You can learn from the experience of others but there are no cookie cutter solutions.
  • Local, local, local – bringing decisions down to the local level helps and at the local level you really have no one else to depend on.
  • Broadband is a selling point for a community and lack of it will drive people away.
  • Cooperatives will be will to getting broadband to rural areas.

Here’s a short list of some of the funders mentioned (borrowed from Tweets):

Posted by: Ann Treacy | October 20, 2016

What would Ely do with money for broadband?

According to the Ely Echo, Ely is waiting to hear if they will become part of the Blandin Broadband Communities program…

The initiative has picked up steam the last several weeks with the city looking to the Blandin Foundation, which is partnering with the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board to select four Range communities and assist them in bringing broadband service.

Of the city’s application, Fedo said “it’s a proposal that if approved gives us a leg up to begin a meaningful process to solve our downtown issues.”

The article gives a glimpse of what they would like to do…

“Phase one would be to bring fiber to the Sheridan area and phase two would be to reach out further from there,” said Langowski.

Hailed as an “essential utility” by Fedo and other city officials, broadband or high-speed internet has been cited as vital for economic development, community vitality, health care, education and government.

Numerous projects have failed to come to fruition, and council members have been openly frustrated with private service.

Various area entities, ranging from the Ely School District and Morse Township to Vermilion Community College, have endorsed Ely’s efforts to become one of a handful of regional communities to obtain Blandin funding.

It’s nice to have so many homegrown and visiting broadband experts in the Twin Cities this week for the Broadband Communities Magazine Conference. There were two main tracts on the first day – a day on rural cooperatives and sessions set up by the Coalition of Local Internet Choice.

It was great to have Senator Amy Klobuchar welcome the crowd and give a rundown on federal broadband activity:

And we heard from a lot of folks in the field who have been successful at bringing broadband to their areas. Public education and engagement were key strategies to getting policymakers to see the importance of broadband. It’s an uphill battle if you are working against an incumbent – especially if the incumbent has deep pocket but as one presenter noted – a voter is as powerful as a lobbyist BUT those voters much understand the issues and implications.


They talked about how to engage people who are happy with what they have and they need to help them see that what works today may not be sufficient tomorrow. They quoted Wayne Gretzsky – don’t go to where the puck is go to where it’s going to be.

They talk about how to engage people who are conservative – by speaking to their appreciation of self-reliance.

And many of the provider here talk about the power of customer service. It’s important to them and they strive to make it an asset.

It was fun to see the winners of the CLIC awards. I was able to catch much of Gigi Sohn’s presentation (video above), which is also available online.

arcLast summer, the ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission) released a Broadband Planning Primer and Toolkit. I’ve been waiting for a chance to check it out. The day finally came.

I think it will be useful to a wide range of audiences.

It’s a primer so it includes the what and why of broadband. I’ll just copy my favorite line:

Try to imagine communities that never developed roads and electricity and you will understand the dismal prospects that confront unconnected communities.

They do a nice job of explaining backbone vs middle mile vs last mile and the range of transport options.

They include some policymaker-ready statistics…

  • Increasing broadband access 10 percentage points increases Gross Domestic Product 1 percent
  • Doubling broadband speeds for an economy can add 0.3 percent to GDP growth
  • 80 new jobs are created for every additional broadband 1,000 users

And at the local (home) level

  • Broadband speed upgrades affect development: Upgrading from 0.5 Mbps to 4 Mbps increases income by around $322 per month
  • Online job searches result in re-employment 25 percent faster than traditional searches

They go detailed for community leaders that may find themselves in a position to have to understand the technology, policy and funding aspects of broadband. They outline the various types of connectivity in the Appalachian Region, which with a few exceptions, is pretty similar to rural Minnesota. (We have trees and cold; they have mountains.)

The information is practical and easy to read. For example here are two segments from the report that help explain the problem with getting broadband to rural areas…

In areas where DSL service is not available, a number of factors can conspire to make the infrastructure inappropriate or insufficient to support new deployments. In some areas where homes are more than two and half miles or so from the central office or are remote, the distances are simply too great for DSL to be deployed. While DSL can potentially traverse copper for 15,000 feet, the quality and thickness of that copper often restricts providers to serving homes within 10,000 feet of their facilities. There are also instances in which copper has been overleveraged or shared between multiple customers using things like multiplexers, which can use a single pair of copper to carry multiple voice signals. The very measures that once allowed for economical deployment of voice service now stand in the way of deploying DSL service. This leaves some rural providers in the unenviable position of deploying new copper into rural areas.

Cable television service has proliferated in areas where household density is in excess of 10-15 households per mile. There are areas where the cable infrastructure penetrates areas of lower population density, but they often involve special circumstances and/or subsidy. … Many people in rural areas are disconnected from the cable infrastructure even though the cable infrastructure passes their residence. Many farms and homes in rural areas are hundreds if not thousands of feet from the roadway, and the cost of bringing the cable up their driveways is in the thousands of dollars, which often prevents them from becoming customers

Then they outline models of broadband deployment:

  • Public-Private Partnership
  • Private-Sector Led
  • Private-Supported and Government-Led
  • Joint Ownership
  • Municipal, Electric and Telephone Cooperatives
  • Municipal Deployments

They go into the same depth with financing models. Again, there’s a focus on the Appalachian – but much of the info works here too.

The New York Times recently talked about a few companies (national and large regional companies) that are offering or plan to offer free or reduced services to low income residents. Here are a few of the opportunities they mention…

… Sprint announced that it planned to give one million low-income high school students a free device and a free high-speed data plan until graduation. Facebook is also working to bring to the United States a service known as Free Basics, which gives people free access to certain websites, including Facebook. Comcast recently loosened requirements for its low-cost broadband service, expanding it to anyone in public housing. …

Free and low-cost broadband programs have been around for a while, with Comcast rolling out one called Internet Essentials in 2011, Google offering free broadband in public housing, and Dell and Microsoft providing free or discounted devices to schools.

I’ve written about local efforts are well. What I really like about the article is the recognition that while it is good citizenship to work to get all people online, it’s also good business…

Yet while telecom and web companies cite altruism as propelling free or low-cost broadband programs, what is often left unsaid are the benefits the services bring to the companies. It’s part of a textbook business strategy known as “loss leader,” when a company provides discounted or free goods to get customers to buy more once they are in the store.

They elaborate on the strategy…

The strategy is increasingly important for the telecom industry, where growth has slowed and new broadband customers are harder to find.

Internet service providers “are trying to go after those folks who are willing to pay less, but not to appeal to those willing to pay more,” said Robert Seamans, an associate professor at the New York University Stern School of Business and a former economist at the Obama White House.

It seems like there’s probably a sweet spot price for people who don’t qualify for low-income status yet cannot afford “full price” options. Lisa Peterson de la Cueva writes eloquently on that need. A provider who could find that sweet spot could really make a difference to a wider group of people – and maybe  make up in volume what they might lose in the potential for full price customers. Or maybe folks would eventually upgrade to that status.

Aaron Brown writes about life on The Iron Range in Northern Minnesota. (He also hosts a great radio show on KAXE.) He has been vocal about the need for better broadband in his community. Today he celebrates the history of technology in Minnesota (fun to read as I remember working with the early providers in the area) – and recognizes that now is the time to really get serious…

Minnesota’s relationship with the internet has come a long way in 25 years. And while it still has some immature tendencies (I’m looking at you, creepy clown videos), now is when life in the Information Age starts to get serious.

The whole article is worth a read! But I wanted to point out that the timing of a recent hefty broadband upgrade in Aaron’s area has everything to do with “getting serious” …

Earlier this month, my family and I attended a community open house for Paul Bunyan Communication’s Central Itasca Fiber project. You might recall that I wrote about this last winter when the project sought funding. The interest then was great then, but now thousands of rural Iron Rangers will actually connect to gigabyte speeds — from Balsam and Lawrence townships to areas North of Nashwauk. Thus, the mood at the event was jubilant. Almost 300 people packed the Balsam Hall to hear project updates.

Before the upgrade, they were waiting on deck – hard to start a business without broadband, hard to recruit young families without broadband, hard to deploy telehealth practices, upgrade homework options, the list goes on. Now they can get serious – now they can compete with other communities that have broadband. Before the just weren’t contenders!

It’s great news for The Range – but a cautionary tale for any community that doesn’t have broadband or any community that is looking at an incremental upgrade that will still leave them out as serious contenders to compete for business, residents, health care, education upgrades. Because other communities are ready!

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of attending the second annual Hack2o in Willmar. There were 20 some guys who met to code. The event started with a dinner and ideation on Friday. The attendees were mostly students – the youngest was 9th grade, there were a few from Ridgewater College, a few from St Cloud State, a few recent graduates and a handful of folks from the work field.

Saturday we gathered again – more brainstorming, selection of projects, got into teams and took off. We started with a list of 5 topics. By 9:30 some ready-make solutions had been found for some those topics so some new ones got added. The teams mostly worked on their focus projects but there was some crossover help too.

I have PowerPoints and videos of the presentations that each team gave so you can get the details there. They came up with some cool things. But from an engaged observer, it was fun to see everyone work together and learn something new. On the first day we asked everyone what they wanted to learn – my favorite answer was socialization! That being said, it was a very collegial group.

On a typical team, one guy knows the server environment, one guy knows graphics and someone else knows everything in between and not only does everyone bring a talent, they really teach everyone else at least a little bit about how the best tools of their trade. Or maybe the whole team is taking on a new tool – then there’s one person driving while the others are looking up solutions on Google. In fact someone pointed out that over the weekend there was a lot of trial and error and about a billion Google searches.

These guys work late and get up early to start it all over again. We heard from Jennie-o about what they look for in IT staff. (Experience with legacy software is a plus!) It would have been a good opportunity for more employers to come check out the local talent. (That’s a hint for anyone who does hire IT staff – look for local hacks!) And it would have been nice to have a few women show up. We’ll have to work on that for next year.

Otherwise it was a great weekend, meeting a great group or guys and be really impressed with their processes and projects. The hack was hosted by Ridgewater College, MinnWest, Kandiyohi County EDC, Work Up (local coworking space), Blandin Foundation and RITA Consortium.

I think you can find contact info for the attendees on their PPTs below – but (especially if you are employer) I can help you track down someone if need be.)

(*note I am missing one video and will add it ASAP)

Read More…

Doug Dawson recently wrote about the emerging need for 10 Gig networks as home. I wanted excerpt his article and share the video he mentions…

Historically we saw home Internet speeds double about every three years, dating back to the 1980s. But Google Fiber and others leapfrogged that steady technology progression with the introduction of 1 Gbps for the home.

There are not a whole lot of home uses today that require a full gigabit of speed – but there will be. Home usage of broadband is still doubling about every three years and homes will catch up to that speed easily within a few years. Cisco recently said that the average home today needs 24 Mbps speeds but by 2019 will need over 50 Mbps. It won’t take a whole lot of doublings of those numbers to mean that homes will expect a lot more speed than we are seeing today.

There is a decent chance that the need for speed is going to accelerate. Phil McKinney of CableLabs created this video that shows what a connected home might look like in the near future. The home owns a self-driving car. The video shows a mother working at home with others using a collaboration wall, with documents suspended in the air. It shows one daughter getting a holographic lecture from Albert Einstein while another daughter is talking with her distant grandmother, seemingly in a meadow somewhere. And it shows the whole family using virtual / enhanced reality goggles to engage in a delightful high-tech game.

This may seem like science fiction, but all of these technologies are already being developed.

Suddenly the 2022 Minnesota speed goals of 25 Mbps down and 3 up (25/3) makes a lot less sense than 100/20 by 2026.

Local political candidates for the office of Minnesota Senate District 21 and Minnesota House District 21A held a political forum last week. According to The Kenyon Leader, here’s what happened related to broadband…

Bayley likened broadband to rural electrification – necessary to level the playing field and keep outlying areas of the state competitive. Schmit, who has focused considerable energy into broadband development in the state, said it is an important issue in day-to-day life. He cited distance learning, precision farming, tele-health and business development as being dependent upon broadband.

Drazkowski, Haley and Goggin downplayed the need for state intervention in broadband development, favoring private enterprise and federal funding. Drazkowski said the government keeps raising the bar for what is acceptable broadband service. Haley questioned the need for everyone to have high performing internet access, including schools.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | October 15, 2016

Dakota County has applied for an MN Broadband grant

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

Limited high-speed internet in rural Dakota County has created a digital divide that officials are hoping to bridge with a $1.9 million project, installing fiber optic cable in tiny townships on the county’s southern edge.

Dakota County is partnering with Hiawatha Broadband Communications and Dakota Electric Association to build a fiber optic “backbone” south of Hastings — the final step in a years long effort to provide broadband countywide.

To help fund the project, Dakota County is seeking $912,000 from the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, a $35 million pool that funds the expansion of broadband service across Minnesota. In previous years, most of the grant money has gone to outstate projects.

“There’s been somewhat of a disadvantage in the metro area, because there’s an assumption that … you’re going to have very good, high-quality service,” said Commissioner Mike Slavik, who represents rural Dakota County. “There are sections of southern Dakota County that are actually in a worse service level than many parts of greater Minnesota,” Slavik said.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | October 14, 2016

AT&T launches fixed wireless trial, targets apartment complexes

Good news for Minneapolis as I’ve heard from local AT&T folks that they are testing in Minneapolis too…

AT&T has begun a hybrid millimeter wave (mmWave) wireless and wireline technology trial, targeting apartment complexes outside of its wireline service area to deliver up to 100 Mbps in areas where it has not been able to reach potential broadband users.

But 100 Mbps is just the start of its bandwidth ambitions. AT&T indicated that it plans to make faster speeds available, including a possible 500 Mbps tier that it will test through this fixed-wireless solution.

To deliver the service to each user, AT&T is using mmWave wireless technology to send a multi-gigabit signal from a central building connected to fiber to neighboring locations, and then is connecting each unit over the existing in-building wiring. When a neighboring building receives the multi-gigabit mmWave wireless signal, AT&T converts it to a wired internet connection. The telco then uses existing or new wiring in the property to offer internet access directly to each unit.

When customers that reside in these properties sign up for service, they can plug their Wi-Fi router into an existing wall outlet to get internet service in their apartment.

AT&T did not specify what millimeter wave spectrum band it is using for this trial.

Perhaps not surprisingly, AT&T is keen on being able to offer a bundle of internet, DirecTV and wireless services to apartment complexes and multifamily communities in a variety of metro areas.

AT&T said residents in these trial properties will be able to access its DirecTV service. By using a single satellite dish on the building to send a video signal to a centralized distribution system for the property, AT&T can offer DirecTV service in every unit without satellite dishes on balconies.

While the service provider did not specify exactly the first market that could get the service, AT&T did cite some large cities like Boston and Washington, D.C., as potential candidates.

“We’re evaluating the expansion of this fixed-wireless millimeter wave solution to connect additional properties outside of our traditional wireline service area,” AT&T said in a statement. “Additional areas under consideration where we might connect more properties include, but are not limited to, Boston, Denver, New Jersey, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Seattle and Washington D.C.”

AT&T’s mmWave goals aren’t just relegated to apartment buildings.

In September, the service provider unveiled Project AirGig, an initiative to extend gigabit wireless internet speeds over existing power lines.

The telco plans to use the technology to potentially deliver multi-gigabit speeds in urban, rural and underserved markets by distributing bandwidth over low-cost plastic antennas and devices located along or near the power line to regenerate mmWave signals that can be used for 4G LTE and 5G multi-gigabit mobile and fixed deployments. But there’s no direct electrical connection to the power line that’s required.

mn-gig-mapSome parts of rural Minnesota have amazing broadband! Specifically those areas area shaded in darker colors on the map on the right, which track access to a Gig!. BUT many areas are still without adequate service.

Redwood County was kind enough to share the results of a recent survey they did in their community.

Here are some highlights from the survey – it’s typical of what I hear when I talk to folks.

  • 7% report that their cell phone is their only Internet access
  • 89% of folks without broadband report they would subscribe if it were available
  • Average reported download speed 20 Mbps
  • Average reported upload speed 9 Mbps

I think the real story, however comes from the “essay” portion of the survey “Tell us about your broadband story (your experiences positive and negative) in Redwood County”. Here are some of the 85 responses.

Some happy…

Good residential experience.

We are lucky because we live 2 miles out of town and can get DSL. If that wasn’t there I would be stuck in an office environment that was difficult to work in because of cubicle space. The noise level was very distracting to me.

I am satisfied with service in Redwood Falls – however, faster is always better.

I was able to get fiber access to our home via Arvig as we found out they were digging fiber past our place. Other service options would not have worked for me to run my business out of my home. I’m technically in Renville county but have a Redwood Falls mailing address.

Broadband is great but it would be wonderful if Belview had more options for providers.

Most not so happy…

The internet service in Morton from Century Link is the worst I have ever experienced. We have to reset our router 5-6 times PER DAY and hope that it comes back up. We just went 3 weeks without service as they could not resolve the issue

No service where I live. We took part in a survey 3 years ago maybe. Still no improvements in our area.

We cannot get decent landline service, marginal cellphone service and very slow Internet. We have 10-12 people at this address all the time. We get very frustrated. I tried to do this online and survey monkey never was able to finish the submission on this. So I am sending it in snail mail — that is our BEST speed – Wow!

I have needed service for 17 years since I moved here. All systems are unreliable and expensive. I took part in your survey 3 years ago with no changes made as of yet to my community. Kids have a difficult time doing homework as speeds are too slow. Business is also unreliable no service in our community of 500+ living just 7 miles from Redwood Falls in Redwood County. The clinic in my area also has issues with slow speeds and unreliable service providers. NEEDS to improve !!🙂

They say I live in a bad spot. To far out for quality dsl & wireless. The we’re billing me for a speed they knew they couldn’t physically provide. I believe that is called theft.

We live in a slightly lower elevation, it was difficult for both mvtv and Arvig to bring us wireless internet due to poor line of sight with a nearby tower. Our internet is fair to good on a clear day, but on days of rain or blowing snow the speed can go 3mb to 1 or no internet whatsoever…

Our speed test shows 3.05 download and .22 upload. We lose internet and cell service when the weather is stormy. Our internet has a maximum usage per month. Our cell phone data plan has a maximum usage per month.

… I am disabled and I rely heavily on an Internet connection in order to perform accounting, reservation, and research for a number of employers throughout MN. Because we can only get set-up with wireless internet connection (not DSL, cable or fiber optics) I have also had to forgo a number of work-from-home opportunities from businesses that required a more secure and grounded connection (DSL or cable) than wireless…

Sometimes slow or no service. Sometimes get kicked off of phone when talking. No access to emergency systems in outage due to storms.

We do have a business that we are seriously considering starting online and have it registered with state and would be able to launch it online once we would build the website and upload images of our products, which takes quite some time right now. Also the Upload speed of our DSL line was 0.60 Mbps

Slow….even tho supposed to be higher speed. Told it is because of existing lines (old) in our area. Works okay if one device connected but deteriorates when more than one.

I currently have (I think) a DSL connection. My son (who does a lot of gaming via XBox) complains ALL THE TIME about the speed and losing his connection. When my older children come to visit, they complain about our speed/service compared to what they have in their own homes.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | October 13, 2016

GigaZone Comes to Turtle River, Puposky, and Tenstrike

Good news from Paul Bunyan…

The GigaZone Comes to Turtle River, Puposky, and Tenstrike
One of the largest rural all-fiber optic Gigabit networks in the United States continues to grow; Now available to more than 21,600 in northern Minnesota

(Bemidji, MN) (October 13, 2016) – Paul Bunyan Communications has announced that for the first time, the GigaZone has come to areas of Turtle River, Puposky, and Tenstrike along with additional areas of Bemidji. As a result of continued upgrades to the Cooperative’s all-fiber optic communications network over 2,800 more locations now have access to GigaZone services including Internet speeds up to a Gigabit per second.

“We’re making great progress on upgrading our network to incorporate even more members into the GigaZone and over the next several months we’ll be activating the GigaZone in many more areas. I’m very proud of all the hard work our cooperative has put in so far as we put our membership and region at the forefront of the very latest in communication networks. We will continue to do as much as we can to bring the GigaZone to all our members and the communities we serve as fast as we can.” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.

The GigaZone is currently available to over 21,600 locations including all of the cooperative’s service area of rural Park Rapids, Lake George, Trout Lake Township east of Grand Rapids, most of Grand Rapids, and areas of Bemidji, Cohasset, LaPrairie, Turtle River, Tenstrike, and Puposky.

Paul Bunyan Communications recently mailed out information to the new locations that are now in the GigaZone and the cooperative has an online map available at showing the active areas of the GigaZone as well as those areas that will be constructed/upgraded in the future.

“If you are wondering when the GigaZone will reach you, the online map of the active areas and plans for this year is a great resource.” added Brian Bissonette, Paul Bunyan Communications Marketing Supervisor.

GigaZone service options include unprecedented Broadband Internet speeds of up to 1000 Mbps – a Gigabit. Members who subscribe to GigaZone Broadband can also add PBTV Fusion and/or low cost unlimited long distance service. All current service options also remain available to cooperative members within the GigaZone.

Most current wireless routers cannot support blazing GigaZone Internet speeds. To help, the cooperative is offering GigaZone Integrated Wi-Fi that uses the latest in advanced Wi-Fi technologies to maximize the in-home wireless experience. This service is free to all new GigaZone customers for the first six months, with a minimal charge thereafter.

Paul Bunyan Communications has the region’s largest and fastest all fiber optic network with over 5,000 square miles throughout most of Beltrami County and portions of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties. The Cooperative provides Broadband High Speed Internet Service up to a Gigabit per second, digital and high definition television services, Smart Home services, digital voice services, and more. Service availability depends upon location, some restrictions may apply.

It is with some sadness I report on our last Blandin Broadband Community meeting. It has been great to learn about all of the projects happening throughout the communities.

Carlton County has been focused on getting people using devices. I really liked the idea of a Community Education class that invited attendees to come in with their new devices (post-Christmas) to work with students and others to ask questions and learn on a one-to-one basis.

They knew part of their mission was to improve broadband outside of towns so they’ve done a good job with hotspots you can check out at the library. Somehow they have a special government account with Verizon that offers unlimited access!! That’s worth looking into! And they are working on a feasibility study to make more systemic changes. Preliminary reports put  $70.5 million price tag on FTTH throughout the county – but what an investment!

Read More…

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