Why do farms need broadband? MN farmers will let you know

KSTP TV reports on the need for broadband in rural areas…

Growing up, Joe Sullivan envisioned a life behind the wheel of a tractor.

But the farmer from Franklin, Minnesota spends most days at a computer with his smartphone nearby.

An app tells Sullivan the location and status of every piece of equipment on the farm. Software maps every acre of land, revealing detailed information about crop yields and soil health. Each building, including the large pole barns that store tractors, is hooked up to Wi-Fi.

“We’ve been pretty early adopters of technology,” Sullivan said. “It’s a complete game changer once you are connected and can actually utilize all the tools that are out there.”

Many other farmers in rural Minnesota want to incorporate the latest technology into their operations, like Sullivan, but unreliable internet and non-existent broadband infrastructure make that impossible.

“It is a huge, huge disadvantage if you’re the ‘have nots,’” Sullivan said.

$4.8 M Aitkin County Broadband scheduled completion in fall 2023

Mille Lacs Messenger reports

The final engineering plans have been created and the project is moving forward and on schedule according to Aitkin County Economic Development. This $4.8 million project is scheduled to be completed by fall of 2023. The McGrath project is the purple shaded area above.

Broadband is a priority for Minnesota Farm Bureau

Brownfield Ag News reports…

Minnesota Farm Bureau has set legislative priorities for 2023.

Vice president Carolyn Olson, who farms near Cottonwood, tells Brownfield rural broadband connectivity, supporting research and development at land grant universities, and funding the veterinary diagnostic lab emerged during grassroots discussion.

“To continue research for prevention of animal diseases. As a pig farmer, that is something that is pretty important to me and our neighbors that also raise livestock.”

On broadband, she says Farm Bureau can encourage lawmakers to speed up implementation by sharing their stories.

“It’s important to share how much our tractors rely on cell signal, for example. And if they don’t know, they don’t know how to fight for us either.”

OPPORTUNITY: Office of Broadband Development looks for Grants Specialist Coordinator

OK this is really notice of an extended deadline – but maybe you have someone coming home for the holidays that needs to know about it. The deadline was Nov 28; it’s now Dec 2. (The website may not be updated to reflect that yet.)

The Office of Broadband Development is looking for a Grants Specialist Coordinator

Working TitleBroadband Program Administrator
 Job Class: Grants Specialist Coordinator
Agency: Department of Employment & Economic Development 

  • Who May Apply: This vacancy is open for bids and for all qualified job seekers simultaneously. Bidders will be considered through 11/12/2022.
  • Date Posted: 11/04/2022
  • Closing Date: 12/02/2022
  • Hiring Agency/Seniority Unit: Department of Employment & Economic Development
  • Division/Unit: Business & Community Development / Broadband Development
  • Work Shift/Work Hours: Day Shift
  • Days of Work: Monday – Friday
  • Travel Required: Yes – 10% local and occasional overnight travel
  • Salary Range: $27.93 – $41.24 / hourly; $58,317 – $86,109 annually
  • Classified Status: Classified
  • Bargaining Unit/Union: 214 – MN Assoc of Professional Empl/MAPE
  • FLSA Status: Exempt – Administrative
  • Telework Eligible: Yes – May be eligible to telework up to five (5) days per week
  • Designated in Connect 700 Program for Applicants with Disabilities: Yes

MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF MINNESOTANS

The work you’ll do is more than just a job. Join the talented, engaged and inclusive workforce dedicated to creating a better Minnesota.

Will BEAD fund unlicensed spectrum? Good question and it will matter in Minnesota!

So many posts about the FCC maps and funding and details because the details will impact how much money communities will receive for broadband in the next few years. The issue this post – unlicensed spectrum versus licensed spectrum. Telecompetitor reports

The BEAD program is designed to cover some of the costs of deploying broadband to unserved rural areas. In establishing rules for the program, NTIA omitted fixed wireless service that relies totally on unlicensed spectrum for last mile connectivity from its definition of reliable service – a decision that impacts the BEAD program in two ways.

It makes FWA deployments using unlicensed spectrum ineligible for funding. And it makes areas that have high-speed broadband eligible for overbuilds if the only high-speed broadband available is FWA that relies on unlicensed spectrum.

But some folks want that changed…

Seven U.S. senators sent a letter to Alan Davidson, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, today urging NTIA to revise its definition of reliable broadband for the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.

So what’s the difference between licensed and unlicensed spectrums?

Here’s a definition from IotaComm. I was hoping for a less commercial perspective but also high level enough to take in easily.

Most of the radio spectrum is licensed by the FCC to certain users, for example, television and radio broadcasters. Individual companies pay a licensing fee for the exclusive right to transmit on an assigned frequency within a certain geographical area. In exchange, those users can be assured that nothing will interfere with their transmission.

Alternatively, organizations can still use the airwaves to transmit communications without getting permission from the FCC, but they must transmit within those parts of the spectrum that are designated for unlicensed users. The amount of spectrum that is available for public and unlicensed use is very small—only a few bands. Both the size of the area and the lack of exclusivity mean there’s greater potential for interference from other users located nearby. (It’s like the “wild west” of radio communication.)

The Telecompetitor article touches on it a little…

NTIA hasn’t said much about why it defined reliable broadband as it did. But David Zumwalt, CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) told Telecompetitor a few months ago that NTIA’s primary concern was the future availability of unlicensed spectrum.

WISPA is particularly concerned about whether areas that already have unlicensed high-speed FWA will be eligible for overbuilding through the BEAD program, as many WISPA members already have made high-speed FWA deployments that rely on unlicensed spectrum.

Folks in Minnesota may have a special interest in this issue. According to the FCC map, LTD Broadband is serving a large portion Southern Minnesota with unlicensed spectrum, as the map below indicates.

EVENT Nov 30: FCC maps – the devil and the money are in the detail – real time tutorial happening November 30

I’ve been talking about the new FCC maps a lot because future funding is going to depend on them. So, it’s important that they are right. It’s so important that the FCC is posting tools and offering tutorials…

By this Public Notice, the Broadband Data Task Force (Task Force) announces the availability of technical assistance resources, including an upcoming November 30th workshop, to assist entities in preparing to file bulk challenges to fixed broadband availability data as part of the Broadband Data Collection (BDC).

Challenging the Map by Household

It seems like the easiest way to report an error in the mapping is to report it from the address from the map itself. You can enter an address then there’s a map where you can toggle easily from Fixed Broadband (wired and fixed wireless) and Mobile (think cell phone, hot spot) Broadband. If you think the information they are reporting is wrong you can submit a Location Challenge. Now when I looked at the map the other day that option popped right up. This time I had to click on my address on the map and then it showed up – in that sidebar section. It’s a simple form asking for name, email address, phone (optional), challenge type and two places for more information. Inherent in the form is the idea that they might contact you.

Bulk Challenge of the Map

If you think that swaths of your community are not fairly represented, you can submit a bulk challenge. Bulk challenges are much more complicated. I’m not a GIS expert or even that great with maps but I watched the first tutorial (below) and realized if it were up to me to submit claims, I’d need to phone a friend. I gleaned a few things that are helpful to know before you dive in.

  • The data that you submit to challenge must have been collected after June 30, 2022.
  • They will ask for contact info for every address.
  • The data they collect will go to the provider that seems to represent the location. They will have 10 days to offer the service or the location status is corrected as unserved on the map.
  • Inherent here is that submitting an address is tantamount to ordering service from the provider, which is quite a leap. Also, the provider will see who has reported on the service.

The process to submit data seems arduous to me. To be fair the process may be less arduous to someone who is better with maps and I am open to correction if I have misunderstood aspects of the tutorial.

The maps are created using data supplied by the providers. I’ve heard the process for submitting the data is time consuming so I recognize that they have put in effort but it seems like the process to make any corrections rests solely on the households or communities. I know with the Minnesota maps, the process is a little more equal. Someone reports a questionable address and the Office of Broadband Development follows up. I think the process is pretty similar with “bulk” reporting. (Another example of Minnesota being well above average?)

Here’s more info on the tutorials and tools from the FCC…

To help state, local, and Tribal governments, ISPs, and other entities compile their data and file fixed availability challenges, the Task Force has released two video tutorials. The first video provides an overview of the fixed bulk availability challenge process, and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKL_p8ieFDo. The second video walks filers through the process of submitting bulk fixed availability challenge data in the BDC system, and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaOlwJN_1RY. The Task Force previously released its Specifications for Bulk Fixed Availability Challenge and Crowdsource Data on September 15, 2022, which provides guidance on the requirements for filing bulk challenges to fixed broadband availability data.3 We encourage parties interested in submitting bulk fixed availability challenges to review this document in conjunction with the tutorial video. Additionally, the Task Force will hold a virtual technical assistance workshop on November 30, starting at 4:00 p.m. EDT to assist potential bulk filers in submitting their data. To participate in the workshop, interested parties should register to attend at: https://fcc[1]gov.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_F37YX5hRQJCHrVmLZsnqAg. Questions about bulk fixed availability challenges may be submitted in advance of or during the workshop to BDCWebinar@fcc.gov.

OPPORTUNITY: You could be living in the next Intelligent Community

The Intelligent Community Forum report…

ICF has opened nominations for the 2023 awards program. Click here to access the questionnaire for your chance to join the Smart21 Communities of 2023! Data submitted for awards consideration remains valid for three cycles.
The Intelligent Community Awards Program will name its 25th Intelligent Community of the Year at the 2023 ICF Global Summit in October 2023.
ICF publishes research based on the data provided by communities like yours around the world. The goal is to provide cities, towns and regions of all sizes with evidence-based guidance on achieving economic, social and cultural growth in the challenging digital age.

Want to attract and retain broadband customers? Be up front about costs

Doug Dawson (POTs and PANs) talks about broadband pricing…

There are three billing practices that are routine for the large ISPs that smart competitors avoid. First is offering special low prices to attract new customers. The second is bundling, which means giving a discount to customers buying multiple products. Third is what has become known as hidden fees, where there are routine monthly fees that are not included in the online advertised price offers to customers.

A lot of smaller ISPs wonder if they should match these same tactics. The argument for copying the tactic is that it allows advertising rates that can be compared to what the big companies advertise. The main argument against matching these tactics is that the practices are deceptive, and customers have made it clear that they don’t like these tactics. Fiber overbuilders tell me that the first customers they win in a new market are those who feel deceived and mistreated by the bigger ISPs.

Big ISP online advertising has felt sleazy for many years. I wrote a recent blog where Charter in Los Angeles offers customers drastically different introductory rates depending upon neighborhood – with the highest rates being offered to the neighborhoods with the highest level of poverty. It’s common to see broadband specials advertised for less than half of the list price. A customer has to click through multiple levels of footnotes to find out the rate at the end of the special – if it is online at all. It’s not hard to think that somebody could be attracted to low rates without understanding that big increases will be coming in a year or two.

I have spent much of my career saying, I want to help people understand the Internet in a way in which I’d like to understand my car. I don’t want to rebuild it but I’d like to drive efficiently and know how much it costs to fix or fuel. I have a mechanic who I’m sure is not the cheapest but I trust him to tell me how much it’s going to be, to stick to that and tell me when it’s time to upgrade. That level of customer service buys you a customer for life. Frankly, most customers would rather stay put that ride out change after change to save a few bucks.

Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities talks up Broadband success

The Worthington Globe reports

While bonding-related projects regarding water infrastructure and housing, and grant programs for business and childcare facilities, remain an ongoing priority for CGMC, Seifert said there was success last session with their broadband goals. A total of $210 million was received for broadband funding, more than double the amount the CGMC lobbied for, as a result of federal COVID bills relegating extra funds.

“This was one area where Minnesota came out with $160 million from the feds,” Seifert said. “We had to match it up with $50 million from our budget surplus.”

While Seifert warned that deployment has been slow, it is underway and one of the “good news items” from the last session.

In addition to seeing work start again on matters left over from last year’s legislative session, Mayor Mike Kuhle asked about the state’s budget surplus, which Seifert projected to be north of $7 billion.

Broadband price disparities in Minneapolis are some of the worst

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

A house in the Audubon Park neighborhood of northeast Minneapolis, once redlined by federal agencies, pays $50 a month to CenturyLink for internet service with speeds up to 80Mbps.

Not far away, in a neighborhood that wasn’t redlined, that same $50 to CenturyLink buys high-speed fiber internet with speeds up to 200Mpbs.

Similar differences have been found in other Minneapolis neighborhoods as well as cities throughout the country, according to data released and analyzed by the tech news nonprofit the Markup. But Minneapolis has “one of the most striking disparities” among 38 U.S. cities examined, the nonprofit found.

“Formerly redlined addresses were offered the worst deals almost eight times as often as formerly better-rated areas” in Minneapolis, the report said. The group’s analysis focused on CenturyLink in Minneapolis, the provider offering the most fiber service in the city, but did not compare service offers among other providers in town.

In cities across the country, people living in homes in redlined areas got worse dollars-per-megabit internet deals, according to the nonprofit, which analyzed more than 800,000 internet service offers from AT&T, Verizon, EarthLink, and CenturyLink. It found that “all four routinely offered fast base speeds at or above 200Mbps in some neighborhoods for the same price as connections below 25Mbps in others.” The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines broadband as 25Mpbs or more.

Redlining was a government-backed effort that segregated Black families into particular neighborhoods deemed “undesirable” by the now-defunct Home Owners’ Loan Corp. Though the practice was outlawed in 1968, the impacts remain, affecting homeownership, education and other quality-of-life issues.

This was a hot topic on the Black Broadband Summit last week. Attendees talk about their own experience with high bills and slow speeds and the exacerbated need for broadband during the pandemic and civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd. One solution notes was to treat utility as a utility…

“We allow monopolies for internet service because internet isn’t considered a utility like it should be,” Augustine said. “It should be like water. If you want to be a modern citizen of the world, you need high-speed internet. Otherwise, you’re automatically a second-class citizen.”

According to new FCC map Minnesota has ubiquitous broadband at 25/3 – hmm

I have good news and bad news. According to new FCC map, Minnesota has ubiquitous broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. It’s good news if it’s true. It’s bad news if it’s not true and we lose out on federal broadband funding because the maps were wrong. According to maps from the Office of Broadband Development, the FCC maps are wrong. The areas shown in pink in the map below (on the right) do not have broadband at 25/3.

If you live in one of these areas, check out the map and report a location challenge if you think they FCC map is wrong. Once you look up your address, you’ll see the where to make a location challenge on the website.

If you are a community leader or a (potential?) provider in the area, you might think about how to get your neighbors to report overrepresentation or think about attending the tutorial from the FCC on how to file bulk challenges to the FCC’s broadband map on November 30.

MN Lower Sioux gets almost $2 million for broadband

National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announces…

The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced today it has awarded 18 grants as part of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP). These new grants, totaling $224,479,717.83, bring the total of the program to $1.5 billion awarded to 112 Tribal entities. …

The projects funded by these awards will directly connect 21,468 unserved Native American households that previously had no connectivity to high-speed Internet as well as businesses and anchor institutions. Additionally, the 18 grants will create 137 new jobs.

Here’s the award in Minnesota:

  • Lower Sioux Indian Community in the State of Minnesota
  • Broadband Infrastructure Deployment
  •  $1,995,787.00
  • The Broadband Infrastructure Deployment project proposes to install fiber directly connecting 47 unserved Native American households, 3 businesses, and 13 community anchor institutions with fiber to home qualifying broadband service at speeds up to 10 Gbps symmetrical.

RESOURCE: Asset Mapping for Digital Inclusion

Have you ever had to do asset mapping? I can tell you from experience it’s easier and more efficient to have tools in front of you and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) could not have made it easier. And as folks are creating digital inclusion plans, digital inclusion asset mapping will help make informed decisions. Check it out…

Below, we have made our Asset Inventory Template available as a Google Sheet and as an Excel (xlsm) file, as well as our Survey Template available as a Google Form. Please see NDIA’s Creative Commons policy – you are free to use, replicate, and alter materials, we just ask that you credit NDIA when sharing.

You will find a full explanation of each field in the “Data Dictionary” sheet on the Asset Mapping Inventory Template. Once you have an understanding of what each field is for, feel free to edit, delete, or create fields as you need. These tools are fully customizable. No changes you make will affect the original version, so please make them your own!

Willmar to invest $42,000 in broadband mapping

West Central Tribune reports

The city of Willmar will soon have a detailed map of the current internet infrastructure throughout the entire city after the Willmar City Council on Monday approved contracting with Hometown Fiber to conduct an audit of those services.

The cost of the audit is $42,486 and will be paid from the Industrial Park Fund, since the industrial park will also be mapped, according to Willmar Planning and Development Director Justice Walker.

The recommendation to conduct such an audit came from the Broadband RFP Selection Committee after it reviewed three broadband proposals and conducted interviews with the respondents.

The Broadband RFP Selection Committee was established by the Willmar City Council in July to review requests for proposals for internet providers interested in expanding broadband services to Willmar households.

FCC unveils pre-production broadband maps and speed test – try them out!

According to an FCC press release

The Federal Communications Commission today released a pre-production draft of its new National Broadband Map.  The map will display specific location-level information about broadband services available throughout the country – a significant step forward from the census block level data previously collected.  This release of the draft map kicks off the public challenge processes that will play a critical role in improving the accuracy of the map.  An accurate map is an important resource for targeting funding and other efforts to bring broadband to unserved and underserved communities.

“Today is an important milestone in our effort to help everyone, everywhere get specific information about what broadband options are available for their homes, and pinpointing places in the country where communities do not have the service they need,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel.  “Our pre-production draft maps are a first step in a long-term effort to continuously improve our data as consumers, providers and others share information with us.  By painting a more accurate picture of where broadband is and is not, local, state, and federal partners can better work together to ensure no one is left on the wrong side of the digital divide.”

The public will be able to view the maps at broadbandmap.fcc.gov and search for their address to see information about the fixed and mobile services that internet providers report are available there.  If the fixed internet services shown are not available at the user’s location, they may file a challenge with the FCC directly through the map interface to correct the information.  Map users will also be able correct information about their location and add their location to the map if it is missing.  The draft map will also allow users to view the mobile wireless coverage reported by cellular service providers.

The FCC today also announced the launch of an updated version of the FCC Speed Test App that will enable users to quickly compare the performance and coverage of their mobile networks to that reported by their provider.  The app allows users to submit their mobile speed test data in support of a challenge to a wireless service provider’s claimed coverage.  New users can download the FCC Speed Test App in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.  Existing app users should update the app to gain these new features.

A video tutorial and more information on how to submit challenges is available at fcc.gov/BroadbandData/consumers.

For more information about the BDC, please visit the Broadband Data Collection website at fcc.gov/BroadbandData.

I found an interesting perspective from Christopher Terry, a professor at the University of Minnesota

“More than 4,600 days after the Federal Communications Commission launched its National Broadband Plan, the agency is finally trying to correct its shortcomings of the last decade by more accurately mapping broadband deployment. The updated data will be used to make grants intended to resolve the digital divide across Minnesota in urban, rural and even Tribal areas. This is the agency’s last chance to achieve universal broadband deployment, and the success or failure of the FCC will have long term impacts on Minnesota’s economy.”