Steve Kelley’s take on federal funding and rural broadband

The University of Minnesota recently interviewed Steve Kelley about President Trump recent Executive Order to expand access to broadband internet in rural America.

Here is one of their questions…

How likely do you think it is that the federal government will provide the level of funding necessary?
“The recent tax cut legislation will put limits on the federal budget, limiting the resources available from the federal discretionary budget.  The FCC has not shown an inclination to increase the fees that help subsidize rural telecommunications so it seems unlikely that the federal government will play a role.  The President has floated the idea of using tax cuts or credits to increase infrastructure investment but it is uncertain whether such new tax benefits will be large enough to increase rural investment.”

Lyon County gets results of broadband feasibility study

The Marshall Independent reports on the results of Lyon County’s broadband feasibility study. Lyon County was part of a project with Chippewa, Lincoln, Murray, Pipestone and Yellow Medicine counties who collectively hired CCG Consulting and Finley Engineering were selected to look at possibilities for expanding broadband Internet in the area…

At Tuesday’s meeting, engineer Chris Konechne of Finley Engineering and Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting presented a draft version of the Lyon County study.

Some areas of Lyon County already have broadband Internet access, including Marshall and Tracy, the study said. Parts of the county served by Woodstock Communications have fiber access, and Minnesota Valley Telephone had plans to build fiber lines, the study said. In addition, Midcontinent Communications received a grant last year to improve broadband speeds in Taunton, Minneota and Ghent.

The study looked at rural areas of Lyon County served by CenturyLink and Frontier Communications, including the communities of Green Valley, Cottonwood, Amiret and Florence. The study also looked at the possibility of building fiber lines in Balaton and Lynd.

The study looked at two main options for expanding broadband access in Lyon County. One would be to build buried a fiber network within the area of the study. However, that plan would require running fiber along 811 miles of streets and roads, the study said. It would also be much more costly, Konechne and Dawson said.

The second option the study looked at would be to bring fiber access to towns in the study area, and serve rural customers with wireless broadband.

Dawson said one of the positive aspects of building a hybrid network was that it would bring fiber access to more people in Lyon County, while leaving infrastructure that could be expanded later.

They also went over costs…

The draft study also included costs of assets like fiber and wireless towers needed to launch the different plans, assuming the project would have a 70 percent customer penetration rate. Asset costs for a fiber network in the rural study area were about $19.98 million, or $21.99 million if the cities of Lynd and Balaton were included. Asset costs for a hybrid network of fiber lines and wireless Internet were about $5.87 million, or $7.89 million if Lynd and Balaton were included.

Next step is public meetings, which they are planning.

Why is Lori Swanson suing the FCC over Net Neutrality repeal?

MPR News recently interviewed Lori Swanson on her decision (with 20 other attorney generals) to sue the FCC. I’m going to share a chunk of that interview here…

Now, internet service providers have come out and said they don’t plan to change people’s browsing or streaming speeds now that net neutrality has been repealed. They don’t want to anger their customers. What is the concern there?

Internet service providers claim they don’t want to change it, yet they’re against a federal law that would prohibit them from changing it. And in fact, in the past, before we had net neutrality, internet companies have done exactly the kind of things I’m talking about, where they’ve blocked content of potential competitors to be able to favor their own interests.

The concern really here is a consumer protection issue, because the concern is that the price of internet will go up for people when internet companies can charge fees or gerrymander the way in which people access the internet. But it’s bigger than that. It’s really a democracy protection issue, too. The internet is the way that many people access information, and it’s important in a democracy to have access to a wide range of viewpoints to have an informed electorate.

Isn’t all of this something the marketplace can regulate? If you don’t like how your provider delivers internet service, you can switch to a different one.

You know unfortunately, that’s not the case because there really isn’t much competition with Internet companies. You look in rural parts of the state, we’ve got a major problem in Minnesota with broadband access, where many communities have no access to the internet or if they do, you might have one internet provider. Even in many other communities, maybe you have two providers. Well, if either one provider or two providers are doing the same things, you really can’t shop around as a consumer and go somewhere else.

Conversely, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said that net neutrality has led to less investment in high speed internet infrastructure and made it hard for small Internet providers to stay competitive — such as the rural parts of Minnesota.

My concern is just the opposite, that actually this is going to have a detrimental impact on rural Minnesota even more so, because this isn’t the type of access to the internet — you know, one of the concerns is actually Mr. Pai, who is now the chairman of the FCC, used to be a lawyer for Verizon, one of the very companies that would substantially benefit from the repeal of net neutrality. And one of our concerns in the lawsuit is that the FCC claimed that they were relying on various comments submitted to them to make their determination. And in fact, under federal law, when an agency passes or gets rid of regulations, they have to do it based on evidence and based on facts and what’s in the public record.

Broadband Efforts in Orr, Cook and Bois Fotre Band – digital inclusion classes, broadband upgrade and new equipment

This month I am traveling with the Blandin crew to visit various Iron Range Broadband Communities – communities that have been making a concerted effort to improve broadband access in their area. We rounded out our trip to day with the Grizzlies – aka the communities of Orr, Cook and Bois Forte Band.

Here’s the presentation:

Notes (these notes are rough because they mirror the PPT – I tried to add points of the conversation that might be helpful to other communities):

Grizzlies Classes

  • A wide range but for the community and in the school.
  • Classes went well. We were surprised at which ones really took off. QuickBooks, iPad/iPhone and Basic Windows were a popular classes. Less popular classes were: email accounts, buying and selling and computer protection. Other classes that didn’t work out well – social media, bring your device, web design and online employment opportunities.

How were classes advertised?

  • Local papers
  • Via social media
  • Weekend training
  • Provide 1 on 1 training for Quickbooks for business owners
  • Have second training on hand for more than 5 attendees
  • Incentive such as purchasing software for Quickbooks for business owners.

Lessons Learned:

  • Don’t schedule of football/volleyball…
  • Advertise more effectively
  • Never schedule a class on Thanksgiving
  • You’re not going to make everyone happy
  • Trainers were terrific

Equipment

IN Library – WiFi hotspots in library – they have 5 with 24 checkouts. Mostly folks from townships are checking them out. People are amazed at the opportunity and how fast they are. They have questions about cost (there is none for patrons). There’s a 7-day checkout period and people have been pretty good about getting it back. The supply and demand are well matched now.

At Orr Center – Switches for internet connectivity, TV and rolling cart and 5 laptops.

Telecom/Broadband Update

  • All new fiber was dropped from Cook to several areas (along highways) (used CAF 2 from CenturyLink)
  • New fiber into the reservation – VBSL drops by summer. So anyone within miles of the highway will get DSL (speeds dependent on distance)
  • They are building based on population density.
  • T-mobile is installing equipment in towers (then going through NESC) – hope to be a cheaper options. Verizon is part of some conversations.

We should require  broadband providers to look for existing fiber before they build out with public funding.  A provider recently overbuilt a network using CAF 2 funding – if they had used existing infrastructure they could be offering FTTH instead of DSL to community members.

Cell access to shaky in Orr.

We might be looking at wifi on the buses in the future.

And video:

Chisholm MN Broadband Efforts – wifi on buses, in parks, to check out and an upcoming coworking space

This month I am traveling with the Blandin crew to visit various Iron Range Broadband Communities – communities that have been making a concerted effort to improve broadband access in their area. We started in Chisholm.

Here’s the presentation:

Notes on  their projects:

Chisholm/Balkan Broadband Projects:

Wi-fi on Busses:

Organization:  Chisholm Public Schools ISD #695

Coordinator:  Joe Phillips, Chisholm Public Schools IT Director

Wi-fi to be installed on two school busses owned by the district.  Allowing for students taking longer bus trips to have access to the internet.  Busses may be used for community events such as the Chisholm All Class Reunion or Doc “Moonlight” Graham Days.

Completed

Community Website/Portal:

Organization:  City of Chisholm/Chisholm Area Chamber of Commerce/ISD #695

Coordinator:  Amy Rice, Chisholm Development & Economic Director

Developing a Community Portal and Calendar to provide a “go to” website for all community activities.  The portal will be used to market for economic development, tourism, growing population, the school district, city and chamber.  The three main entities involved will also develop websites that will interact with the portal.  Uploading calendar events and keeping information current.

In-process

Community Hot Spots:

Organization:  Chisholm EDA

Coordinator:  Amy Rice, Chisholm Development & Economic Director

Installing community hot spots in three locations, Chisholm Public Library, the Lake Street Pocket Park and the Balkan Community Center.  Each organization will be responsible for the ongoing maintenance and costs associated with the hot spots.

Completed

Ipad/Portable Hot Spot Check-out @ Chisholm Public Library:

Organization:  Chisholm Public Library

Coordinator:  Katie Christensen, CPL Director

Purchased ten portable hot spots as well as web access for each device.  The devices will be checked out of the library.  Security features and insurance will be provided on devices.   The Library will be responsible for continuing costs associated with the project.

Completed

Chisholm/Balkan Broadband Projects:

Community Training Project:

Organization:  Chisholm Community Education

Coordinator:  Dr. Janey Blanchard, Chisholm Community Education Director/Superintendent ISD #695

Monthly community training on all things broadband.  A monthly presenter will train on a specific topic relating to broadband, internet, social media, security and many more.  Student aides (CHS Seniors) will be trained by a mentor in order to provide help to attendees.  Monthly meetings for the first 12 months are planned, additional topics will be added depending on community input.  Our Community Portal will be showcased as well as the Hot Spot Checkout System at Chisholm Public Library.  Other partners will include the Chisholm Area Chamber of Commerce, ISD #695, Chisholm Public Library and area banks and medical facilities.

In-process

MDC Broadband Access:

Organization:  Minnesota Discovery Center

Coordinator: Ethan Bexell, MDC

The Goal is to provide broadband access at the Minnesota Discovery Center that is reliable, affordable and provides speeds adequate for a museum, educational facility, premier meeting facility and area attraction.

In-progress

“Business Perks” Building:

Organization:  Chisholm EDA

Coordinator:  Amy Rice, Chisholm Development & Economic Director

We plan to create rental space for part-time/temporary/startup businesses with access to technology.  For example high speed internet service, webinar access, skype, google hangout and other options.  Staffed by an intern from our local community college, in addition to an intern opportunity with UMD-CED we plan to have that person also provide social media marketing and e-commerce training to our downtown businesses free of charge for the first year of operation.  We are looking at a building that is adjacent to our new downtown Pocket Park, with the recently installed Hot Spot equipment in the park we plan to expand that to cover the building. Plans call for a coffee hub in the front of the building that will have a side door opening to the Pocket Park.  The coffee shop will be open for the facility renters and eventually we hope to have it run as a viable business.  The space will be an incubator/business development tool, training center and brain hub for the community.  In-Kind partners will provide art work/decoration for the property.  Partners will include the IRRRB, AEOA Business Energy Retrofit Program, the Chisholm Community Foundation, Chisholm EDA, Chisholm Downtown Revitalization Committee, UMD-CED, Hibbing Community College and the Chisholm Area Chamber of Commerce.

In-process

And video of the meeting:

 

Ely MN Broadband Efforts – Feasibility study, community portal and helping local businesses do online marketing

This month I am traveling with the Blandin crew to visit various Iron Range Broadband Communities – communities that have been making a concerted effort to improve broadband access in their area. Here are some of the highlights from Ely…

Feasibility Study – still in process with Design Nine. We’ve had some pole ownership issues and we have some pre-engineering work done. We’re looking at wireless in remote areas, such as YMCA camp. Now – how do we go from study to doing? We will be meeting with Frontier soon. The Timber Jay New had an article on the provider lately – that helped start a conversation.

PCs for People – distributed 50 PCs to families. Everyone loved them. No problem solving was involved. The project has helped the school talk about using more technology. It’s making parents happy. We selected the families not only by first come, first serve so that folks with perceived needs had a greater opportunity. We still have more folks who could use a PC. We are looking at bringing computers to older folks. In fact we’ve had school kids working with seniors to help them get on Facebook, email and use other tools that keep them engaged. The PCs for People folks are really nice.

We’ve got money from the Northland Foundation to continue on with the high schoolers working with seniors.

Ely Portal – http://elyite.com/ for tourism and recruitment. Includes videos with Ely community members. We’re hoping to be done March 1. We won’t be doing a community calendar because we already have several in the area. Mission is to recruit people to visit as tourists, as new community members and drawing from retired community.

Tech Center – newest project. There is a site established. Space has been donated by a local law firm. We have local hardware and software experts – to help us get started. There’s a committee and we’re starting this like a business. Hope to open April 1. There is fiber to the building – but it’s 15 years old. We have a new Executive Director at Incredible Ely.

Helping Local Business Better Use technology – funding for 7 businesses; got 31 applications. Created a website for online applications. Half the people who visited the site went to apply. Hoping to grow revenue through

Businesses in the area spend about $1400/month on digital marketing. That’s more than other areas so we could help get them smarter. Each business will get about 20 hours or consulting.

Klobuchar, Capito, King, Boozman, Heitkamp Urge President Trump to Include Dedicated, Stand-Alone Funding for Broadband Deployment

According to Senator Klobuchar’s website

In a letter to President Trump, Klobuchar, Capito, King, Boozman, and Heitkamp—the co-chairs of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus—call for the prioritization of direct funding support for broadband deployment in an infrastructure package that will help close the digital divide and ensure our country maintains its global competitiveness

Without dedicated funding for broadband deployment, proposals to bring broadband to unserved areas may struggle to compete with other larger infrastructure projects; Stand-alone funding for broadband will ensure that telecommunications infrastructure is advanced alongside needed upgrades to our roads, rail, bridges, ports and waterways

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Angus King (I-ME), John Boozman (R-AR), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), the co-chairs of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, have urged President Donald Trump to include dedicated, stand-alone funding for broadband deployment in an infrastructure proposal. Without dedicated funding for broadband deployment, proposals to bring broadband to unserved areas may struggle to compete with larger infrastructure projects. Stand-alone funding for broadband will ensure that telecommunications infrastructure is advanced alongside needed upgrades to our roads, rail, bridges, ports and waterways. In a letter to President Trump, the senators call for the prioritization of direct funding support for broadband deployment in an infrastructure package that will help close the digital divide and ensure our country maintains its global competitiveness.

“As you consider a plan to address the infrastructure needs of our country, the co-chairs of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus write to urge you to include dedicated, stand-alone funding for broadband deployment. Our rural communities have connectivity needs that are not being met, limiting economic opportunity and growth,” the senators wrote. “In parts of the country where geography or population density make deploying and maintaining broadband networks a significant challenge, stand-alone support will help bring economic and social benefits for rural consumers.”

The senators continued, “There is strong bipartisan support for including broadband funding in an infrastructure package. Boosting current investments in broadband deployment will provide new economic opportunities in communities that are struggling to compete. Expanding access to broadband is the infrastructure challenge of our generation and an infrastructure plan for the 21st century must address the broadband connectivity issues facing rural America.”

Last year, the co-chairs of the Senate Broadband Caucus led 48 senators in urging President Trump to prioritize policies that will promote the deployment of high-speed, reliable broadband for all Americans as part of any infrastructure initiative.

The full text of the lawmakers’ letter is below.

Dear Mr. President:

As you consider a plan to address the infrastructure needs of our country, the co-chairs of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus write to urge you to include dedicated, stand-alone funding for broadband deployment. Our rural communities have connectivity needs that are not being met, limiting economic opportunity and growth. Prioritizing direct funding support for broadband deployment in an infrastructure package will help close the digital divide and ensure our country maintains its global competitiveness.

Policies that encourage investment in communications infrastructure and streamline the construction process will help speed up the deployment of high-speed broadband. However, these policies must support, not replace, investments in rural America. In parts of the country where geography or population density make deploying and maintaining broadband networks a significant challenge, stand-alone support will help bring economic and social benefits for rural consumers.

Bringing new telecommunications infrastructure to unserved consumers in the most rural, low-density parts of the country can be aided by direct federal investments. In these communities, generating private investment can be difficult. Without dedicated funding for broadband deployment, proposals to bring broadband to unserved areas may struggle to compete with other larger infrastructure projects. Stand-alone funding for broadband will ensure that telecommunications infrastructure is advanced alongside needed upgrades to our roads, rail, bridges, ports and waterways.

There is strong bipartisan support for including broadband funding in an infrastructure package. Boosting current investments in broadband deployment will provide new economic opportunities in communities that are struggling to compete. Expanding access to broadband is the infrastructure challenge of our generation and an infrastructure plan for the 21st century must address the broadband connectivity issues facing rural America.

Thank you for your attention to this important request. We look forward to working with you on this critical issue.

Sincerely,