Mesabi News reports on MN State Broadband funding issues

Mesabi Daily News reports on how budget talks were going at the Capitol…

Broadband funding varies in the three budget proposals on the table.

Dayton suggests spending $60 million, the Senate $20 million and the House slightly more than $7 million.

Miller indicated that he wants to spend more than his bill’s $20 million. “Hopefully, we will be able to find more resources.”

Communities with little money and little broadband connectivity would especially benefit from Miller’s bill, he said. It lowers local contributions the state requires from the existing 50 percent to 35 percent.

The $20 million in Miller’s bill would provide broadband to 8,000 more Minnesotans.

Rural counties with the highest levels of broadband have the highest levels of income

Agri-Pluse is publishing a series of articles – “The seven things you should know before you write the next farm bill.” Last week their article on Rural Development touched on the importance of broadband – using a Minnesota example…

Bob Fox, a Minnesota farmer and Renville County commissioner says that businesses looking to plant roots in a rural community often ask about the quality of roads first and the speed of broadband, second.

“It just makes a world of difference in what you can do as a business person with that broadband speed,” he told Agri-Pulse. “We have to find a way to get broadband across all of the United States.”

A study conducted for Cornell University’s Community and Regional Development Institute underscores his point. It found that rural counties with the highest levels of broadband have the highest levels of income and education and lower levels of unemployment and poverty.

But according to the most recent Broadband Progress Report, 34 million Americans still lack access to broadband benchmark speeds. This baseline map (below) visualizes broadband access at the county level and identifies connectivity gaps — the lighter the color, the lower the percentage of households with broadband access.

They recognize that reaching those 34 million is tough work…

Building out high-speed broadband in rural areas is not easy or cheap, as Catherine Moyer, CEO of Pioneer Communications, pointed out during a recent Senate Agriculture Committee field hearing.

Pioneer is a local telecommunications provider located in southwestern Kansas, serving a 5,000 square mile area – roughly the size of Connecticut but with over three million fewer people than that state.

“We provide 21,000 total connections to wireline voice, high-speed broadband and video services over a network that utilizes a mix of fiber, copper and coax facilities,” Moyer testified. “On average, we have just over two subscribers per square mile. However, when considering that 81 percent of our customers live in our small population centers, the “density” of our rural subscribers per square mile drops to just under 0.5.

“Put another way, 81 percent of our customers reside in approximately 15 square miles, while the remaining 19 percent reside in the other 4,985 square miles.

One might ask why we serve these areas, she noted in her testimony. “We are the provider of last resort –in addition to legal obligations to serve these consumers and businesses who were left behind long ago when larger companies picked first where to serve. If Pioneer does not provide them now with service, there is no one else available to do so.”

They also recognize that broadband is one facet of rural development. There are many. Agri Pulse seems to be suggesting a united front for building better awareness…

While a wide array of Rural Development programs can offer many options for helping keep farmers on the land and rural businesses growing, this part of the farm bill is often not considered to be a high priority for national farm organizations. For commodity groups, it’s usually something that surfaces after the commodity, crop insurance, and conservation titles.

And even among its most stalwart advocates, congressional staff say that support for RD is often splintered in respective silos. For example, rural water advocates do a great job lobbying for water programs and the same is true with the rural electric cooperatives, advocating for low-interest loans. And organizations like NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association have been actively promoting expansion of broadband.

But during the last farm bill debate, rural advocates say there was not a strong enough coalition of all rural and farm groups “beating the drum” for a more comprehensive approach to job creation in rural areas.

Rise in Tech Companies in Brainerd Area Due to Broadband

Earlier today KAXE (public radio out of Grand Rapids) interviewed Sheila Haverkamp (Executive Director of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation about how a private-public partnership over 13 years ago has created a fiber optic network that is attracting new people and new businesses to the Brainerd Area.

 

Sheila reports that Tech companies are employing 1000 people in and around Brainerd, MN. Broadband helped local businesses grow and encouraged new businesses to start – especially some home-based businesses. She tells the story of several businesses in the area…

Homegrown entrepreneurs are taking advantage of it but the area also is attracting others from outside the market for the same reason, said Sheila Haverkamp, executive director of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation (BLAEDC).

“The area’s high-speed Internet service plays a critical role in the decision-making process of many entrepreneurs considering markets in which to start a technology-related business,” she said. “For the last decade, our fiber optic network has been an important factor in helping start-up companies grow and succeed here. And now we’re getting noticed from others throughout the state.”

Ben Gibbs is another successful entrepreneur who owns online businesses that require high-speed Internet. The founder and owner of Crosslake Sales, Gibbs moved his family to the Crosslake area in 2003. While cell phone coverage was spotty at the time, “we had better Internet service here than we did in the Twin Cities,” he said. “We needed high-speed Internet when we started the business, and we knew Crosslake had it, so it made our decision easy.”

Crosslake Sales specializes in liquidating bicycles and bicycle components and accessories. Gibbs buys and sells products from around the world. He also has two other sporting goods-related companies to complement his online businesses.

Jim Mayne was in the same boat in 2000 when he moved to Deerwood from the Twin Cities to start Deerwood Technologies. Offering technical services requires reliable and fast Internet service, he said, which allows him and his five technicians to easily connect with customers. The company helps companies move their business systems to the Cloud, manages computer security services and provides network and server support.

“We don’t require the bandwidth of high-speed Internet here because we don’t host client data or systems on the premises,” Mayne said. “What we need is reliability.

Satellite – 25/3 access – with prohibitive costs, interference and no scalability

Everyone is looking for a cheaper, easier, better way to bring broadband to rural Minnesota. 5G isn’t it. Industry experts have confirmed that 5G isn’t a solution for rural areas and a speaker at a recent US House Energy and Commerce Committee confirmed it.

I’ve been hearing a lot about satellite lately so I thought I’d declare today satellite Monday and post what I’ve learned – starting with this basic 101 post, then a post on scheduled satellite upgrades and finally a guest post from a satellite user.

How does satellite work? I found a good, brief video ….

As they video says – satellite is a better choice than dialup – but there are some issues: costs especially given data allowances, latency, interference and speeds.

Let’s start with cost. It’s difficult to get pricing. Most providers will only show their current deals and often that requires a two-year contract. I was able to get pricing from Reviews.com:

HughesNet:

  • Monthly Price: $49.99 – $129.99
    Price is based on data allowance and download speed
  • Additional fees:
    • Early Termination Fee: Up to $400
    • Equipment Lease Fee: $14.99/month
    • Standard Installation Fee: $199.99 with Equipment Purchase
    • One-Time Setup Fee: $99.00 with Equipment Lease

Exede

  • Monthly Price: $49.99 – $129.99
    Price is based on data allowance
  • Additional fees:
  • Early Termination Fee: $15/remaining month of contract
  • Equipment Lease Fee: $9.99/month
  • Installation Fee: $0, $49, or $99 depending on your region

There are overage fees for surpassing data or you need to essentially turn off broadband until the end of the month.

I think the video does a nice job if describing the latency. The FCC recognizes improvements in satellite latency, as well as the limitations…

While the physics that limit signal speed cannot be altered, technical improvements, such as protocol acceleration and information caching, reduce the number of  times communication must occur between  the earth-based systems and the satellite thus minimizing the effects of latency.  Regarding these techniques, the FCC state: ViaSat and other satellite industry operators have lowered overall latency by making improvements to other elements of their architecture, such as by dispensing with the need to  request communication channel assignments, adopting advances in consumer satellite terminal equipment, incorporating protocol acceleration technology, and developing new error correction technology to provide resiliency to rain fade. Despite these many improvements, latency for this new generation [of] satellite‐delivered broadband remains high.

Interference is an issue based on “terrestrial blockage”…

Since geostationary satellites orbit the earth over the equator, subscribers at the equator point their  satellite dishes nearly straight up to communicate with the satellite. As a subscriber’s distance from the  equator increases, the elevation of the dish relative to the horizon decreases. Therefore, the likelihood of an object obscuring the direct view of a satellite also increases as the subscriber’s distance  from the equator increases, as shown in Figure 4‐2.  Thus, terrestrial blockage is a more significant issue  in the northern states than in the southern states.

And weather interference

Weather can also affect the reliability of satellite communications.  The frequencies used by satellite  systems are susceptible to weather degradation. Transmission errors can  be caused by heavy rain and  the accumulation of ice or snow on dishes.  Weather interference occurs more severely in northern  areas of the United States where there are lower dish elevations, since the signals must travel a greater  distance through the atmosphere before reaching the satellite.

To mitigate weather effects, satellite providers have implemented adaptive power control and more robust modulation techniques; however, weather interference problems persist.

And then with speeds – the problem today is the upload speed limitation – 3 Mbps. The bigger problem is that these speeds aren’t scalable.

Border to Border Broadband meeting in Spicer

According to the West Central Tribune there’s a meeting in Spicer to discuss the recent Border to Border broadband grant (next meeting April 4)…

The second in a series of meetings on broadband expansion in northern Kandiyohi County will be at 5 p.m. [yesterday] today at the Dethlefs Center in Spicer.

Representatives of Consolidated Telecommunications Co. will be on hand to explain the project and answer questions. Those who live or do business within the proposed project zone also will have an opportunity to sign up for future services.

Consolidated Telecommunications was awarded a grant earlier this year through the Minnesota Office of Broadband Technology to bring high-speed internet to unserved rural neighborhoods in north central Kandiyohi County.

They were talking what they need to happen to help the project succeed…

Connie Schmoll, business development specialist for the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, said 53 people attended the first meeting, which was held Monday evening.

Consolidated Telecommunications Co. needs at least half of the potential customer base within the target area to become subscribers in order to make the project financially feasible. Because of the state grant funds, those who sign up during the project deployment will not be charged installation fees, Schmoll said.

Monthly fees are competitive with services offered by other local carriers. Bundles that include landline telephone service and TV also will be offered if there’s enough interest.

A final informational meeting with CTC will be held at 5 p.m. April 4 at the Dethlefs Center in Spicer.

MN House Job Growth Budget – $7 million for broadband grants for one year only

Earlier today I posted the Senate budget for broadband ($10 million a year for 2 years). Now I have the House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee posted proposed budget today.

Here’s what they have for broadband: Broadband (HF1618 Baker/HF841 Sandstede) (Border to Border Grants)

  • FY 2018 – $7 million
  • FY 2019 – 0
  • FY 2020 – 0
  • 2021– 0

They budget $250,000/year for the Office of Broadband Development from 2018-2021.

Both the Senate and the House are far from the $50 million a year proposed by the MN Broadband Task Force and the $30 million a year proposed by the Governor.

MN Senate Jobs Omnibus Budget Spreadsheet – Broadband Grant funding through FY 2018-19

I try to follow what’s going on at the State in terms of funding for broadband. Yesterday I ran across the Senate Jobs Omnibus Budget Spreadsheet. There are a couple of interesting items related to broadband.

  • The Governor’s proposed appropriation for Border to Border grant for 2018-19 is $60 Million ($30 million per year) with $500,000 ($250,000 per year) for the Office of Broadband Development
  • The Senate’s proposed appropriation for Border to Border grant for 2018-19 is $20 Million ($10 million per year) with $500,000 ($250,000 per year) for the Office of Broadband Development
  • Neither have proposed funding for the grants for FY2 20-21
  • Both have proposed funding of $500,000) ($250,000 per year) for the Office of Broadband Development for 2020-21