Minnesota Broadband Task Force Special Meeting

It was tougher to take notes at today’s meeting than it has been at previous Task Force meetings – especially when they discussed the shovel-ready projects because there was a lot of back and forth dialog and I’m a blogger not a stenographer. I’m going to include all of my notes – but I wanted to add a couple of notes.

First – I didn’t take great notes on the Broadband Mapping presentation because it was remarkably similar to the sneak preview I wrote about on Thursday. I just added notes and questions that were new.

Second – I just read an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (Broadband task force drops plan to get stimulus funds). I think the tone of the article is misleading. I don’t think the Task Force dropped the list of projects so much as they decided that realistically they couldn’t be the ones to decide which projects should be funded – and if they handed over a list of projects that the powers that be would assume that the Task Force had made some qualitative decisions to create the list.

They couldn’t decide which projects should be funded because (1) they don’t know the rules for funding yet because Congress is still creating rules and (2) they don’t have the time to delve into these projects and create a recommendation for the future of broadband in Minnesota, which is their primary goal. So instead of providing a list, it sounded to me at if the Task Force decided to provide benchmarks or guidelines for Legislators to decide which projects to fund after they gather their own list of potential projects.

Third, the Star Tribune article did pick up on the tension in the room between potentially opposing views on how and where to increase broadband in Minnesota. I think we saw a touch of this last month – I think we’re going to see a lot more as the group moves forward to make recommendations on how and where to increase broadband in Minnesota.

On with the meeting notes…

They approved agenda of special meeting (BB Mapping – then shovel-ready projects)

Topics for Feb 20 (to meet at Inver Hills – for TC attendants)

• Stimulus Funds
• Municipal Panel is set
• Option for more panels
• Talk about specific chapters

March 20 (to meet at Inver Hills – for TC attendants)

• Healthcare panel
• Speaker on economy
• More form Connected Nation (post economic data over BB maps)
• Possibly look at CWA research

Connected Nation

Brent Legg, Chip Spann, and Wes Kerr spoke. This is their fifth time through the presentation in the last 2 days. It’s my second time seeing it. I posted detailed notes on yesterday’s meeting last night. I’m just going to post new notes today – or notes I missed yesterday.

They are working with several other states; sometimes they are just doing mapping, as they are in Minnesota. In some states they work towards stimulating broadband demand.

One thing I forgot from yesterday – 92 percent of Minnesota has broadband (again as defined by 768 Kbps) but they expect that could increase by 2 percent once they hear back from more providers.

They will be providing info on average speeds in Minnesota outside the Twin Cities soon. Right now the average download speed is 6.5Mbps – which as I remarked yesterday is high.

One correction from my notes yesterday. They have heard from 98 providers. They think that there are probably 150. Earlier they thought there were 225 – but once they culled through the list they realized that some providers were listed multiple times with multiple names.

Questions:

Question: On the map we see patches of fiber in rural areas – what’s the deal there?

They were surprised with the patches of fiber in rural areas too. It sounds as if there may be some skepticism in the fiber maps. So CN will follow up with those providers.

Question: Speed Matters (2008) indicates that median download speed was 1.5 Mbps, upload was .5Mbps. BB without Boundaries (2007) showed speeds of 3.3 Mbps. CN is coming up with rates that are considerably higher. How does that compare? What does that indicate?

We need to extract the TC data and see what we get. Comcast and Qwest have deployed high speeds in the TCs and that skews the results. The average download speed in Kentucky is about 3.5 Mbps.

The difference may also indicate that the incumbents have stepped up since the last surveys have been taken. The CN surveys were done in November.

Question: How is the speed test impacted if folks take this at the office with ultra high-speed connections?

It skews the results to appear artificially high. They do extract the very high results and often can track by IP address test that are clearly special cases and not reflective of residential or home business connections.

Gauging speed by geography helps. It makes it easier to pull out counties or zip codes that are anomalies.

Note: Others have seen a dramatic increase in speeds according to other speed test results in the last few months too – again due to Comcast’s recent offering of high bandwidth options. Comcast probably decided that this was worth the investment after doing market research – that research might indicate that other providers will follow suit – in the TWIN CITIES.

It would be interesting to see when tiered services are offered which service is most popular.

What are you using to gauge speed: provider info, speed tests, other?

They have used about 200,000 tests for the current map. They have talked to providers. They will be taking on new data through Connect Minnesota tests and will be talking to more providers and talking to included providers again.
There are two aspects of the differential between what’s offered and what folks get. First – customers don’t always take the highest service available. Second – customers might not actually be experiencing speeds advertised.

Is there a minimum number of speed tests required?

Lake of the Woods needed more testers – so they draw back further than November to make up the difference.

Note: Collecting and integrating pricing info was not part of the contract. Maybe it should have been maybe it would be added.

Note: A histogram of the speeds would be a good way to present that info too.

Note: Non-disclosure agreements with providers make it difficult to share some levels of information.

Note: The hope from CN is that the contract will continue to update the maps even after the contract.

Question: Do the speed tests take into consideration IP address? Sometimes IP addresses in rural areas are not representative of location.

When folks take the test, they are asked to provide an address – that information helps track tester location.

We need as many people as possible to take the test! (You can take it here: http://speedtest.connectedmn.org/)  

Question: If one person in a zip code takes the test – does that represent the entire zip code?

Nope. They go to a more granular level and look at an aggregation of tests.

Data on availability comes entirely from providers. Speed tests feed into the maps that track speed.

Note: Akamai speed testing seemed to show different results – they plan to update those monthly.

Question: Reliability – does that get tested?

They want to look at that. Much of the data comes from providers but the preliminary maps are a great way to air the maps and get public validation.

They also want to look at standards of reliability, which is difficult because what consumer think is network error can often relate to consumer error or a network problem beyond the scope of any one provider.

What is reliable for a home might not be the same as for a business or hospital. You get what you pay for. A business making $2 million a day needs to pay for better connection than the college student. (Ann’s Note – the last comment comes from a board member.)

Question: Are there many municipalities providing service?

Some are successful, many aren’t. Generally they aren’t successful when there is competition. It’s tough to think of a provider that hasn’t struggled at some point. Difficulties are a consistent theme.

Williamstown is an example – they provide service in the city. They went with a fixed wireless service to outskirts and have run into troubles.

What happens when municipal provider fails?

Municipal providers have run into troubles when they have had to deal with consumers. Many cities have then left the project or sold it for pennies on the dollar. It makes great sense when there are other providers but not when there are providers.

Does an Open Access Network model work?

Nope. Owensburg Municipalities did that but it didn’t work out.

Notes: They are working at breaking up the data in different ways. But they plan to go to a county level for final maps – the difficulty with providing more granular level is getting a good sample size of testers in more granular levels.

Question: Are there plans to add performance in future tests? www.measurementlab.net would be a helpful tool.

None yet – but worth looking into it.

Question: What’s the difference between fixed and mobile wireless?

Fixed Wireless – typically licensed providers that use BB radio license to broadcast off a tower to a certain, defined area

Mobile Wireless – iphones (et al) use mobile wireless (3G)

Surprised to see DSL coverage in rural areas – is that accurate?

The co-ops have built out a lot. So many coops do have 100 % availability in their areas. We may need to get back to those folks to double check.

Note: The Task Force wants to see CN in June or July to discuss the final map.

Question: How can people offer feedback?

Use the web site and flag any potential inaccuracies.

LUNCH

Shovel-Ready Projects

Public comments:

Jeff O’Neil from Monticello

They could be ready this spring – which would mean jobs this spring. In May 2005, the citizens wanted FTTH for economic development reasons. The talked to incumbents – not much happened. The City Council investigated the opportunity with a feasibility study. They held a referendum in Fall 2007 – it passed with 74%. Money would come through revenue bonds – then go for private investment.

They worked with HBC to create a plan. May 2008 they sold bonds worth $26 million. The incumbent, TDS, sued because they felt the use of revenue bonds was bad. The lawsuit is still happening. The $26 million is still in hold but the fear is that the lawsuit will drag out rendering the bonds useless.

So Monticello is looking for money to get that job going.

Question: More on job creation please…

They had a specific number of jobs, which I kind of missed. I heard 104 construction jobs.

Question: How is Windom successful and how does that compare to Monticello?

Windom says the program is working well and they are taking on new subscribers. They are meeting their projections. Monticello needs a certain take rate – surveys and the results of the referendum indicate that the market is there – though they know they need to market. They have the expertise of HBC.

Note: This is not a discussion of Municipal model – but a time to talk about shovel-ready project.

Question: Do you feel like your success might lead to less revenue for the existing provider and therefore might lead to job loss?

We haven’t taken that into consideration but we also haven’t looked at the increase in jobs due to added efficiencies with FTTH – which is why they initially went into this.

Note: The Task Force asks, Is it our job to move forward projects that would be built anyways or is our job to move forward projects to get access to the 8 percent of the State that doesn’t have access?

Note: The money will go through traditional means – which may require the city to adhere existing rules and regulations.

Note: The stimulus money should go to projects that will offset costs to build out in areas without access.

Most federal programs are loans; it isn’t clear what will be the issue with the stimulus proposals.

What are the rules? What are the goals?

Kathy Lucas Embarq, a Midsize CLEC –

Here are some important public policy points:
1. They have been working with Congress to get folks to prioritize unserved areas. Minnesota has those areas.
2. They are working on shovel-ready projects to get 1.5 Mbps upload speeds in areas that are currently unserved.
3. Public money could help serve those areas.

Note: Need to talk to providers who say they provide service but not to everyone. For example a provider who offers service within a city but not to homes just outside the city boundaries.

Question: Would you run copper or fiber?

We currently run copper to those areas but we’d need to look into those options.

Note: We need to look at different levels of unserved. There are people who can’t get access because there is no broadband. There are people who don’t have computers and/or knowledge to get online.

Note: They are looking for money to get to those people who need computer and training.

The Legislature asked the Task Force to create a list of shovel-ready projects. Today we’re going to look at that list and hope to finalize it at the next meeting.

Projects need to be:

• Shovel-ready – projects that are ready to go and just need money
• Replacing 80/20 money (local/federal mix)

However

• The money will go through existing channels (USDA, NTIA for example)
• Not a ton will come through state for broadband
• Maybe we need to brainstorm yardsticks and processes if the State does get money
• Minnesota is supposed to get $500 million for Infrastructure

Question: Do we agree that it doesn’t make sense to give the Legislators a list of projects today?

Yes

Ann’s Note: There was a lot of discussion about what the rules might be for shovel-ready projects. Task Force members had different information based either on their knowledge of how things are going with the federal discussions or their past experience with federal funding. There was a lot of discussion about who would most likely be responsible for dispersing the funds. There was very little – actually no discussion of the actual projects except as they were brought up by members of the public (Monticello and Embarq).

Question: Do we want to provide guidelines to Legislators to look at broadband projects?

Mostly yes!

So the plan is to shelve the list of projects but to create some guidelines for the legislators. Towards that end the Task Force members brainstormed characteristics or qualities that would most likely be desirable in shovel-ready projects. You can see that list below – I listened but wasn’t able to see what they listed so this list isn’t perfect. After they brainstormed each Task Force member voted on the items they felt was most important. I have highlighted the biggest vote-getters.

One astute observation by a board member was that no one checked shovel-ready, which is presumably one characteristic we can assume will be part of the federal equation. (Ann’s note: I think the silver lining is that the Task Force is clearly thinking about the long term impact of their decisions. That’s good for the long term but perhaps not as helpful for the quick turnaround needed for the list of shovel-ready projects.

Characteristics that will likely be desirable in project categories

  1. Rural
  2. Unserved
  3. Underserved
  4. Job creation
  5. Education
  6. Healthcare
  7. “Digitally Disadvantaged”
  8. Shovel-Ready
  9. Passed regulatory & environmental hurdles
  10. Ready to go but don’t have funding
  11. Engineering docs
  12. Construction docs
  13. Right of way
  14. Creating a benchmark Idea
  15. Education (rural, unserved & underserved) – got 8 votes
  16. Healthcare
  17. Libraries
  18. Government
  19. Community
  20. Security
  21. Rural
  22. Unserved – got 14 votes
  23. Underserved – got 7 votes
  24. Economic Impact
  25. Job creation (prevailing wage) (public & private)
  26. Long term
  27. Sustainability – got 8 votes
  28. Private Capital Investment
  29. Public/Private Partnerships
  30. Concern about spending public dollars where private money might go
  31. Non-duplication
  32. Economic Development
  33. Advanced (45-101 Mbps)
  34. Market Enlargement/Development (BB stimulation/use)
  35. Affordability – got 4 votes
  36. Subsidy
  37. Customer Awareness
  38. Roll of government
  39. Lessons Learned
  40. Increasing demand with applications
  41. Increasing speed & quality
  42. Open Networks

The plan is to compile these results and look again during the next meeting. Also keep an eye on the situation with Congress.

Back to mapping – it would be a good idea to take a look at the maps. The folks in the legislative meetings had questions but were glad that the Task Force was there to ask even better questions.

Rep Sailer was glad to hear about the rural meetings planned for next summer. Rick King spent time with someone from the Governor’s office and they were curious about what was happening.

3 thoughts on “Minnesota Broadband Task Force Special Meeting

  1. Pingback: What about Rural? « Blandin on Broadband

  2. Pingback: End of the Broadband Task Force « Blandin on Broadband

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