Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Task Force January Meeting

Here are the notes from the Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Task Force January Meeting. I’ve done my best to track the main action.

The first meeting with remotes sites seems to be going well and they couldn’t have chosen a better day for it, since it was about one billion degrees below zero. Here are the quick open meeting/technology ground rules related to the remote sites: Folks on audio-only can talk but are not official attendees; they cannot be counted towards the quorum. Folks on video are full participants. It sounds as if the streaming video will be a part of the meetings soon too.

One personal note: I think these are starting to get interesting because I’m not the swiftest bunny in the hutch and even I got that there were some undercurrents happening in regards to everyone having their own ideas and agendas.

First item – approve agenda – done
Second item – approve minutes from last meeting – done
Public comments – none

Shovel Ready Projects

The Legislature wants shovel-ready projects for the stimulus package proposals. It sounds as if the government IT department is looking at possibilities – but no word to report now.

This may be beyond the scope of the task force – but we do want to be respectful. Maybe we could use the Task Force web site to disseminate info and get feedback. It would expose the advantages of using technology/BB to work with the public and improve transparency.

The counties are looking at this issue too. There are 2 rounds of projects: first the shovel-ready; then projects over the next 2 years. But decisions on those second round projects will be 45-60 days out.

The Legislature, it seems, is asking for this even though it is beyond the charter – because the opportunity has arisen. There are ways to respond without prejudice. Maybe we could create a list of alternatives as far as people can pick for projects – for example low-cost loans, grants… So leave the decision to the policymakers but give them something from which to work.

There’s an urgency here. We need to respond quickly in an aggregating way that could do the state a lot of good. A long list of projects too late is simply too late. Legislators are busy and don’t have the expertise – we should jump on this opportunity.

Maybe we need a special meeting to do this.
Let’s brainstorm shovel-ready projects.
Offer the list as a tool to the Legislators.
We can offer help with process if they want it.
It’s a plan. Let’s get it done.

We need to know what the parameters of the projects should be before we get ideas from people – otherwise you open the door. Unfortunately we don’t yet have guidelines. We have some ideas – need to get jobs in the market quickly, need to get local contribution…

Funds will (probably) use existing infrastructure, go to existing/proven resources and need to be personally certified by local official, no earmarks. $6 billion is going to broadband – but there are other possible pockets too – such as funding to schools. So it may make sense to look at RUS and other programs. Interest free loans are another tool that will be used.

[Ann’s note – here’s a blub taken from yesterday’s Baller list that outlines part of the summary stimulus package that pertain to broadband.

Broadband to Give Every Community Access to the Global Economy

• Wireless and Broadband Grants: $6 billion for broadband and wireless services in underserved areas to strengthen the economy and provide business and job opportunities in every section of America with benefits to e-commerce, education, and healthcare. For every dollar invested in broadband the economy sees a ten-fold return on that investment.

Transform our Economy with Science and Technology: We need to put scientists to work looking for the next great discovery, creating jobs in cutting-edge-technologies, and making smart investments that will help businesses in every community succeed in a global economy. For every dollar invested in broadband the economy sees a ten-fold return on that investment.
• $10 billion for science facilities, research, and instrumentation.
• $6 billion to expand broadband internet access so businesses in rural and other underserved areas can link up to the global economy.]

For February maybe we need to think about what MN might do with a stimulus package. It might help funnel tax payer dollars in a way that goes more directly to taxpayers and consumer side. We need to come up with supply and demand projects.

Maybe we can structure things so that grant money can help incumbents reach the final 10 percent of the population. Then maybe grants could go to training. (In Korea they train prisoners and housewives; that’s thinking out of the box.)

Another business plan is to help incumbents reach more customers by building demand by helping consumers get the equipment of training they need to become customers. There’s a lot of opportunity in building demand – and that would create jobs too.

We need to make sure that government money does not discourage investment. It needs to enhance local investment.

The mapping is a pre-requisite to the discussion we are planning to have. We need to know about areas of the state that aren’t currently covered. Otherwise we jeopardize discouraging private investment. How do we balance un-served versus under-served areas?

The maps are due Feb 2 – so maybe meeting after that makes sense.

There was a lot of conversation about how to fit in so much info into such a short time. The plan is to meet on February 6 at 9:30. The hope is to use the technology again to get as many people as possible in the room. Also the plan is to not have any “vote-able” moments planned for the day.

Broadband State Reports

Clearly folks have taken a huge amount of time to read through and distill info on other state broadband reports. The info is terrific. Luckily it’s all online so I didn’t have to try to take too many notes – because really it’s the kind of info you have to read.

There’s a lot of conversation in the reports on how we want to get there – that’s a great start for MN.

screenshot of state broadband reports study

screenshot of state broadband reports study

Links to the state summary reports are available on the TF web site.
Mike has posted the graphic form of the reports online too.
They looked at 25 states, DC, and a report by Connected Nation.

Key recommendations

  • 31 states mentioned leadership ranging from support at the local level, statewide resources and 14 states that there was a permanent coordinating entity (Each entity is different – and some have fizzled)
  • TF members should take this list and look further – see if there are ideas that make sense to you and see how it has worked for them.
  • Interesting to look at Ways & Means. We don’t want more pilot projects that get dropped despite success. May need to update regulation – finance isn’t only means.
  • Key programs initiated is also interesting – such as state supported advocacy agencies.
  • CWA also have a summary of reports.
  • Statement of values – everybody approaches this differently. Is it a place to list goals, a mission statement, or statement of values?

Values Discussion

TF members sent value statements ahead of time. They are available online.

Here are the Common denominators/Points of agreement

  • Ubiquity – everyone is served (appropriately but not necessarily equally)
  • Technology Neutral
  • Rural Metro Equity – everyone in the state has access to the capability they need
    Minimum Standard– All MN has access to specified speed yet TBD (although only 1 state kept to a specific speed – otherwise they went with a tiered answer. (The TF board seems to be leaning towards a tiered/smart standard)
  • Affordable
  • Cooperation among players
  • Public/private partnerships
  • Spur supply and demand
  • Public good (education, gov issues, healthcare, economic development)
  • Need to look ahead
  • Symmetrical speeds

Sticky point – broadband should be treated a utility? That’s a loaded term. What does utility mean here.
We need to use common sense and reality. For example setting a standard that is too high eliminates the ability to use some affordable means to provide services that doesn’t provide that minimum.

In Thief River Falls we’re running into that trouble. The schools can’t afford the equipment to take advantage of the board that has been installed.

Standards that have been set have always been outdated soon after decided – such as the 56K mandate for libraries in the 1990s. However we need to have some kind of yardstick.

We can look at the maximum speed available too. We need to be able to serve people who need broadband at any cost. However we have learned that if someone is willing to pay – we have been able to meet those needs. That’s one take away from the meeting from last month. The industry has said that they are ready, willing and able to meet the high end needs.

(This issue has been shelved.) Need to think of the future – we’re setting a goal to be reached in the future, not immediately. In you look out 10 years, there’s going to be 1 pipe into houses and that’s going to be fiber. The notion of building 2 mediocre networks for the sake competition is short sighted. The pipe is a natural monopoly. We need to set the goals for the future – not next year. We need to be aggressive – we need to protect consumers. Consumers have been screwed by provides for so long that we need to protect them.

No we don’t have a monopoly; it’s just not true. We have more than one pipe in the house now. There are implications in the statement that will have an impact on policy.

Other shelved issues – symmetrical speeds & encouraging competition. Minimum standards has kind of been shelved too.

TF members need to look at compilation of values and decide what makes sense to them, what doesn’t and what might be missing.


Broadband for k12 Education & Public Libraries

Mary Mehsikomer, NW-LINKS Coordinator – K-12 Education

Peter Royer talks about Little Crow Telecommunications Network

Started in 1989, merged in 1999, they have 1 network with 1200 miles of network. They worked with local companies. No fiber in ground prior to 1988, which has been a big boost. They have 1Gig network. $140/per school/per month for Internet access.

They do tons of cool things with the network. They did a knee replacement and autopsy this week. They have video conferencing. They have servers for shared services. They do staff development, curriculum development, and more.

Standards have been for K12.

Dep of Ed MTPT – they talked about what would be passable, good, better and best to help folks go in the right direction. Mandating speed didn’t help unless you brought in funding.

SBTBA gave a speed per student as a gauge.

Marla Davenport, TIES

Ken Behringer, Dakota County Library – Public Libraries (MNLink)


As you look ahead – what capabilities do you think you’ll want and need to keep edu and libraries competitive?
The issues are school network, district network, state networks. We’re heard 1 Gig or 10 Gig between schools. MN Education Task Force has recommendations per student. Applications are getting more bandwidth intensive so the demand is growing. The libraries are finding the same.

The libraries are finding that if you build it, they will come. Even in Dakota County people are coming into the library because of the bandwidth speeds. Business people who need to transfer big files come in to get their work done.
In NW Minnesota, we still have T1s. The infrastructure varies greatly. In some schools they can’t run the network and video and that’s a big problem. We need to be able to do ITV and have the computers work.

Statewide testing is another broadband drain. Having to do testing online for both statewide test and federal tests takes computers out of commission for teaching and drains broadband.

To make this better we need to build into the project any plans to increase online testing. Education Minnesota will be doing surveys at the end of this month to see what infrastructure exists.

How does MN fall with other states?

The main difference is that our network is more local. Other states have statewide models. Sophistication-wise we’re in the middle. Rural states don’t have the fiber networks.

Application-wise the library is far ahead but network-wise we’re still middle.

Do you deal with individual students remotely accessing school resources?

No specific data. The concentration of students working from home is fairly high. The equity of access is a big issue. Some schools will allow laptops for check out – but still families need Internet access. (So maybe this is a shovel-ready project.)

Homework help in libraries have been a good way to help students.

ssessing students’ access to computers and home access is a big issue.

Is there a clearinghouse for recycling computers? Yes – and MN Computers for Schools programs is good.

Review draft of History chapter

OK I missed some of this – had to make arrangement for kids getting home since again it’s a billion degrees below zero. They have a ton of good info out there – and like the state reports – I think we just need to read it.

How did videoconferencing go?

The videoconferencing can make the difference between being able to attend or not attend. So we’ll keep doing this at least through the bad weather. Also it gives an easier way for onlookers to join.
Greater MN Locations – Mankato, Fergus Falls,

Lots of discussion on how to get the word out from the TF to the people in Minnesota – especially based on the meetings to be held in rural Minnesota.

The calendar details were fleshed out. Still need to talk with some consumers to talk to the group.

This entry was posted in Conferences, MN, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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