Public complaints on USDA’s Rural broadband plan

Investigate Midwest reports on public comment to proposed federal investment in rural broadband. The quick take on the action (or proposed action) in question: in January 2017, the President promised better broadband for rural areas. Following the promise, U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed the Rural Broadband Pilot Program. There was a budget (in 2018) of $600 million and a proposed budget in 2019 of $425 million BUT the Office of Management and Budget called out that amount given, the 2018 funds hadn’t been used.

That’s a very quick take because the real story is the comments on the action and proposed action. Investigate Midwest reports…

While nearly all the comments were in favor of the Rural Utilities Service’s efforts to expand broad internet, there were 3,659 references to the idea that the pilot program’s standards for speed were either not fast enough, they were focused on speed but not bandwidth, or the speed at which technology is advancing would leave those speeds obsolete in just a few years.

There were a few categories of complaints

  • Inadequate speed goals
  • Eligibility for funding (unserved vs served)
  • Accuracy of broadband maps
  • Cost

It sounds a lot like what I hear in Minnesota. One quick number I picked up in the article…

Rural Americans can pay as much as $155/month for service slower than the Federal Communications Commission classifies as “high speed internet.”

I have heard of people paying more – especially when they end up using a mobile hotspot for coverage. (Right now I have a college kid using a mobile hotspot for her broadband; I cringe with each text telling me about the $5 surcharge for additional coverage.)

Finding sufficient funding available, FCC directs USAC to fully fund E-rate funding requests

From the FCC

In this Notice, the Wireline Competition Bureau (Bureau) announces that there is sufficient funding available to fully meet the Universal Service Administrative Company’s (USAC) estimated demand for category one and category two requests for E-Rate supported services for funding year 2019.1 On April 1, 2019, USAC submitted a demand estimate for the E-Rate program for funding year 2019.2 It estimates the total demand for funding year 2019 will be $2.896 billion, which includes estimated demand for category one services of $1.91 billion and of $985 million for category two services.3 The Bureau announced that the E-Rate program funding cap for funding year 2019 is $4.15 billion.4 Additionally, according to USAC projections, $1 billion in unused funds from previous years is available for use in E-Rate funding year 2019.5 The Chief of the Bureau is delegated authority to determine the proportion of unused funds needed to meet category one demand and to direct USAC to use any remaining funds to provide category two support.6 In light of the current funding cap of $4.15 billion and available carry forward funding of $1 billion, there is sufficient funding to fully fund all category one and category two funding requests. We therefore direct USAC to fully fund eligible category one and category two requests, using the $1 billion in E-Rate funds unused from previous years, and any additional funds needed under the current cap to fully meet demand for such services.

A quick reminder for those of us less steeped in e-rate, category one services include telecommunications, telecommunications services and Internet access. Category two services include internal connections, basic maintenance of internal connections and managed internal broadband services.

CenturyLink under state investigation after hundreds of complaints of not responding to “call before digging” requests

MPR News reports…

The Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety is investigating CenturyLink over hundreds of complaints that the utility failed to respond to requests to locate underground cabling.

CenturyLink faces more than $780,000 in fines for its alleged violations of a law intended to protect the safety people and utility infrastructure, according to a state Office of Administrative Hearings document. …

In Minnesota, Gopher State One Call manages requests to dig underground.

State law requires homeowners, farmers and professional contractors to notify the office before digging. Utilities like CenturyLink must respond to the request, often by marking the location of underground infrastructure on the surface.

The Legislature established the office after a liquid pipeline erupted in flames in Mounds View, Minn., killing two people.

In the current case, CenturyLink allegedly didn’t respond to hundreds of requests beginning in April.

FCC gives tips on how to stop robocalling

The FCC outreach team was traveling in Minnesota a couple weeks ago. Turns out a lot of what they talked about was robocalling because apparently that is the number one complaint received by the FCC. And even though it’s not broadband I thought I’d share the FCC’s tips

  • Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. If you answer such a call, hang up immediately.
  • You may not be able to tell right away if an incoming call is spoofed. Be aware: Caller ID showing a “local” number does not necessarily mean it is a local caller.
  • If you answer the phone and the caller – or a recording – asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, you should just hang up. Scammers often use this trick to identify potential targets.
  • Do not respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with “Yes.”
  • Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious.
  • If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company’s or government agency’s website to verify the authenticity of the request. You will usually get a written statement in the mail before you get a phone call from a legitimate source, particularly if the caller is asking for a payment.
  • Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately.
  • If you have a voice mail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for it. Some voicemail services are preset to allow access if you call in from your own phone number. A hacker could spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voice mail if you do not set a password.
  • Talk to your phone company about call blocking tools they may have and check into apps that you can download to your mobile device to block unwanted calls.
  • If you use robocall-blocking technology already, it often helps to let that company know which numbers are producing unwanted calls so they can help block those calls for you and others.
  • To block telemarketing calls, register your number on the Do Not Call List. Legitimate telemarketers consult the list to avoid calling both landline and wireless phone numbers on the list.

Office of Broadband Development to Host Informational Webinars for 2019 Broadband Grant Application Process

Sharing an invitation from the Office of Broadband Development…

On July 24 and July 25, the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development will host a series of three webinar/WebEx toll-free calls to support the 2019 broadband grant application process and to answer potential applicant questions. We will introduce this year’s changes to the program, walk through the application requirements, review the scoring criteria, and answer questions. Please join us on any one of the following scheduled webinar sessions:

• Wednesday, July 24, at 1 to 3 p.m.
• Thursday, July 25, at 9 to 11 a.m.
• Thursday, July 25, at 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

To register, please send an email with your contact information (your name, organization, address, email and telephone number to david.j.thao@state.mn.us, also copying DEED.broadband@state.mn.us.

Please indicate which session you plan to attend. You must register to receive further instructions on how to access the meeting and the associated materials. The information presented on each call will be the same, so you only need to select one session in order to participate fully.

If you have questions about registration, you may also call David Thao at 651-259-7442. If you have specific questions about the grant program, please contact Cathy Clucas at cathy.clucas@state.mn.us or 651-259-7635.

As always, any general questions can be directed to our DEED e-mailbox at DEED.broadband@state.mn.us, or our Staff at 651-259-7610.

Good luck!

Office of Advocacy announces new funding for Small Business Research – deadline Aug 16

The Small Business Administration (SBA) announces opportunities for business research…

The Office of Advocacy is pleased to announce new funding opportunities for small business research.  The Office of Advocacy periodically funds economic research on small business issues, and is currently seeking research proposals in six areas: bank formation, cybersecurity, population dynamics, entrepreneur demographics, veteran entrepreneurship, and miscellaneous small business topics.  Links to each solicitation are below, and are also accessible by searching FedBizOpps for Small Business Administration listings or the solicitation numbers below.  Proposal submissions are open until Friday, August 16.

Some topics have a clear broadband connection; some seem like opportunities, especially to study the impact of broadband adoption (digital equity) initiatives…

Register Now: Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work

Register Now: Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work
October 8-10
Grand View Lodge – Nisswa MN
#mnbroadband

Please join us October 8-10, at the gorgeous Grand View Lodge in Nisswa for our annual broadband conference, Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work. Broadband access today is as varied as communities across Minnesota. Some enjoy a gig, others are working hard for any service, and the rest are somewhere in between. This conference is for all communities, regardless of where they are on the spectrum – because we’ve learned that having broadband isn’t enough. It takes inspiration, encouragement and guidance to reap the full benefits. We’ll be talking about how to make the most of what you’ve got and/or get more.

This year’s conference will shine a light on local broadband heroes as well as look at several aspects of broadband:

  • Getting Connected
  • Community Vitality
  • Economic Development
  • Digital Equity

Check out the conference website for more details, including the preliminary agenda. (Or learn about opportunities to sponsor or exhibit.)

Register Today!

Join policymakers, economic and community development professionals, and community broadband champions from across the state for this annual opportunity to learn, connect, and engage.

We hope to see you there!