Democratic candidates question Trumps success bridging rural digital divide

Politico reports…

Democrats are offering President Donald Trump’s rural supporters a reason to turn against him in 2020 — his failure to bring them the high-speed internet he promised.

Several presidential candidates including Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg have rolled out proposals for tens of billions in new federal dollars to bring fast broadband service to rural America, with Warren’s $85 billion plan leading the spending pack.

They call broadband yet another example of Trump letting down people who helped send him to the White House in 2016, including people in the same farm-heavy states suffering from the president’s trade wars. Trump’s challengers also say the slow internet speeds that prevail in much of the nation are a drag on the economy and a threat to U.S. competitiveness.

“I see that the country of Iceland has all hooked up, and we’re not,” Democratic hopeful Amy Klobuchar told POLITICO when asked about Trump’s record. The Minnesota senator pledges to connect all U.S. households to broadband by 2022.

Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work for Digital Equity – Oct 8-10

A message from the Blandin Foundation…

You’re Invited!

October 8-10, 2019
Grand View Lodge – Nisswa, MN

#mnbroadband

 

Please join us October 8-10, at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa for our annual broadband conference, Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work.

Broadband is a powerful tool for innovation, and we’re going to show you how to best use it to improve quality of life and increase community vitality.

We’ll start with a fast-paced show and tell session where 12 practitioners will show you how they are maximizing the benefits of broadband. Expect to hear about big gaming (for money!), virtual reality, turning a laundromat into a digital information center, and more. Then we’ll take a closer look at how broadband technologies are transforming healthcare, education, and precision agriculture.

You’ll get an opportunity to mix and mingle with presenters and attendees. Pick up some ideas, and start some new partnerships!

Check out the conference website for more details.

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!

State of Broadband: better but not good enough

Craig Settles has released a new report (Revving the Community Broadband Economic Engine) on the state of broadband from the perspective of a community. He surveyed members of the International Economic Development Council  (IEDC), and looks at:

  1. the state of broadband
  2. broadband’s impact on local economies
  3. broadband-driven education and healthcare
  4. community broadband money matters

Hard to summarize such an expansive report – but I think the key is asking community members about broadband not the providers. As I found when we looked at community return on public investment in broadband – it doesn’t always coincide with profitability for a provider; just because a home or business is better off economically with broadband, that doesn’t mean they want to send a bigger check to their provider. But what providers with local roots have seen is that the investment is creating greater need (new startup businesses) and stability (greater stability for local residents, means less chance of someone leaving).

Here are some points I found interesting:

Reliability is an issue

It seems that when many communities talk about broadband quality in their area, they often are referring to network speed. But in reality, communities need to focus on reliability as much or more than speed. If kids are relying on the network to take their finals, or parents are relying on telehealth to keep them alive, being 99.99 certain that their network won’t go south tomorrow matters. A lot!

Affordability is an issue

In this year’s IEDC survey, 28% of respondents felt their constituents got great value for the money they spent for broadband. However, 27% say constituents pay too much for too little. Another 27% feel broadband in their area, if they can get it, is so expensive many cannot even afford to subscribe. 17% are happy they can get broadband but feel they should be able to get faster speeds and better service

Supply and Demand creates a vicious cycle in rural areas

On the business side of the equation, the three top barriers to broadband for businesses are codependent on each other. Rural population density, or the lack thereof, is the crux of the problem because without density it’s hard to make the financial case that draws ISPs to the table.

Without core broadband technology, it is hard to attract and retain talented people in the community. And the lack of innovative broadband enhancements after/if a community gets an initial network (because of a weak business case) just starts the circle again.

Broadband is key in economic development strategy

The percentage of respondents who are not sold on community broadband as an economic engine decreased significantly from 29% in 2014 to 13%. However, 38% say broadband is a big part of their current plan, and another 24% are incorporating broadband into their upcoming plans. 25% of respondents report that they do not have plans for using community broadband in their activities, so this stat has changed little in five years.

More on FCC Funding – Freeborn County receives almost $2 million

I wrote earlier about the $28.5 million coming from the FCC to Minnesota for broadband. BUT I want to follow up with any specific info related to providers or areas getting the funding. The Albert Lea Tribune reports…

The Federal Communications Commission has authorized over $28.5 million in funding over the next decade to expand broadband to 8,089 unserved homes and businesses in Minnesota, part of the fourth wave of support from last year’s successful Connect America Fund Phase II auction. The providers will begin receiving funding later this month.

 

Nationwide, the FCC authorized over $121 million in funding over the next decade to expand broadband to 36,579 unserved rural homes and businesses in 16 states in today’s wave of funding. …

“In Minnesota, this round of funding takes yet another step toward closing the digital divide, providing access to digital opportunity to nearly 8,100 unserved rural homes and businesses.”

Freeborn County will receive $1.9 million, according to a press release.

Fast-Tracking the T-Mobile and Sprint Merger Undermines Public Interest

A press release from Next Century Cities

Fast-Tracking the T-Mobile and Sprint Merger Undermines Public Interest
Washington DC (August 14, 2019) — Today, Federal Communications Commission leadership recommended the approval of the proposed merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, a move that would further consolidate the wireless market and eventually raise prices for consumers.
T-Mobile and Sprint are two maverick companies that have competed head-to-head to offer innovative low-cost products to consumers and create a vital resale market. Combining the two would likely raise prices across the market, and would be particularly harmful for low-income consumers who rely on mobile service as their sole connection to the internet.
Both companies have told the FCC and Congress that the merger is necessary in order to build out next-generation wireless networks, yet have simultaneously touted independent 5G deployments to the public. It remains true that ultimately, competitive pressure — not consolidation — is what will drive network upgrades.
“The FCC’s charge is to protect the interest of the public, not of private companies,” said Cat Blake, Senior Program Manager. “This deal is good for T-Mobile and Sprint, but will ultimately make it harder for Americans to access affordable, high-quality essential mobile services. Further, it is unacceptable that the FCC would move to approve a deal without first soliciting public comment on the significant divestiture package required by the Department of Justice.
The public has a right to weigh-in on whether restructuring the deal with DISH would provide adequate consumer choice in the wireless market.”
A merger between T-Mobile and Sprint would be against the public interest. The FCC should follow the 16 state attorneys general in blocking the deal.

Minnesota is one of those states striving to block the deal.

Telehealth and regular face-to-face visits bring orthopedic care from the Twin Cities to Nebraska kids

I love these stories when broadband just makes someone’s life better. The Omaha World Herald reports…

Jennifer Olsen has been traveling back and forth between Lincoln and Minneapolis regularly since her daughter, Maylena, was 8 months old.

At first, they made about two trips a year. The number peaked at 16 in the last half of 2013 when Maylena had the first of three procedures to lengthen a leg that’s shorter than the other. Last year, they made the drive 13 times and this year three — so far.

But Jennifer Olsen is hoping a new collaboration between Boys Town National Research Hospital and Shriners Healthcare for Children-Twin Cities will cut their drive time for some routine visits from seven hours to an hour.

The two organizations announced Thursday in a room packed with fez-wearing Shriners — and a clown — that orthopedic specialists from the Minneapolis hospital will travel to Omaha to hold regular face-to-face clinics at Boys Town, beginning in September.

Boys Town also will serve as the first telehealth site in the Minneapolis hospital’s service territory, which covers six states and parts of Canada.

The aim is to provide greater access to orthopedic care for existing and new patients in Nebraska and surrounding states. Maylena Olsen, now 15, is among more than 500 patients who already travel regularly from Nebraska to be seen at the Minneapolis hospital. She has a rare genetic condition that causes skeletal malformations and other problems.

Mother and daughter participated in a demonstration of the telehealth technology last week from Minneapolis before getting on the road back to Lincoln.

DEED Commissioner Grove promotes broadband for better local economy

In a column in the Red Wood Falls Gazette, DEED Commissioner Steve Grove talks about the importance of farming and how Minnesota can support farming and all economic efforts…

One of the best ways to empower the growth of the Minnesota economy for our state’s farmers is to ensure that local rural communities have the resources they need to thrive. There is a strong demand for these communities to support farmers through both difficult and prosperous times. Without these communities, it’s all the more difficult for farmers to get the tools they need for their business.

That’s why we have a number of initiatives and programs at DEED working to support rural communities in Greater Minnesota.

The Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program has invested more than $85 million and helped connect more than 39,000 homes, businesses and farms to fast, reliable Internet access over the past five years. This year, we were able to pass an additional $40 million in grants for the program.

Then there’s the Greater Minnesota Public Infrastructure program, which helps rural communities fund infrastructure projects, such as street construction, water infrastructure and utility improvements.