Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force February 20, 2009

Here are my notes from yesterday’s Broadband Task Force meeting. I had to leave early – but this morning I saw that they now have video archives of the last few meetings available online. So, I was able to catch up a little – it’s very difficult at times to hear the conversation on the recording. In fairness, it can be hard in person too.

One quick aside, I had to leave to present at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, New Times – New Technology conference. While there I met a woman from the Minnesota Commission Serving Deaf & Hard of Hearing People. She was curious about BB Task Force and how they would be considering the needs of her constituents. As she pointed out remote classes by video is great – but without subtitles or sign interpreters, they close the door to some students. I don’t know if this is an issue for the Task Force; I don’t know that it isn’t. I know it’s an issue worth addressing.

OK back to the meeting…

Last meeting we entered a contentious area. So let’s look at the meeting guidelines. The panels are intended to bring viewpoints forward. We want them to talk and give their perspective. As panels present they will be disagreements but it behooves us to listen and let them say their piece. We need to remember to be civil – not to ask easy question but to be civil.

Approve agenda: – done

Approve Jan 16 meeting minutes – done

Approve Feb 16 meeting minutes – done with the following caveat.

  • – Brett Legg was asked about municipal networks. Request that we consider the expertise he might have as a map builder and object to his answer. The full transcript is apt. It is his opinion. Other folks chimed in with the fact that the question was not appropriate for the speaker.
    Public Comments

Correspondence (Letter sent to TF members)

  • Chris Swanson received several notes from constituents saying the Brett Legg’s comments regarding municipal network should have been prefaced with a disclosure of Conencted Nation’s relationship with incumbents. There are successful muni networks: such as Reedsburg, Windom, and others. Also there are commercial providers who have failed.
  • Vijay Sethi heard from MN Counties – what kind of recommendations will come out of Task Force given that Minnesota will have a financial shortfall. The governor has proposed consolidation of human services. Counties are having a hard time. Do we have a high-speed network to facilitate flow of info among Counties? Many counties need more than what is currently available. (This resulted in some discussion, which I tried to capture:)
    o Note: all 87 counties are connected – but to varying degrees.
    o Do we have the capability to sustain business required on those network connections?
    o Yes
    o There are last mile issues but the backbone is sufficient – but in the long term there is probably need for fiber.
    o Grand Rapids neighbors all have T1s and it’s not enough for the court info, education… We could not handle consolidation-caused traffic.
    o Affordability is an issue.
    o So maybe there isn’t real saving with consolidation and that need to be considered.
    o If we could take advantage of this moment to drive issues forward we could kill several birds with one stone. Maybe we need a study to clarify the situation. It would help legislators and practitioners. What’s the difference between available and affordable?
    o One important value statement – is the adequacy of bandwidth is tied to function. If “services are consolidated regionally” isn’t enough info – we need to know what are the functions that need to be done through the network.
    o It’s not just capacity. It is cost. It’s something that everyone is considering especially at a county level. The governor’s office is suggesting that this is a first step in this direction. Maybe we do need a survey.
    o Is bandwidth available?
    o How long has T1 been there? Internet use is going up 40 percent per year.
    o 6-7 years
    o So you’re due to an upgrade.
    o Yes, funding is really the issue. And when you shift the responsibility of cost from on-the-ground to online there are real costs.
    o Bandwidth and who pays for it is the least of the concern with consolidation of human services. The AMC has supported (proposed) this idea.
    o This is another example where we broaden the list of reasons of why a city needs BB.
    o Is there something the TF could do to help?
    o Just remember them when we draft recommendations.
  • The Range Municipalities & Schools – they need expanded BB coverage and look forward to working with the TF
  • Steve Downer MMUA – again related to muni network comments. He says that munis are important. Often interest by a muni can spur competition. We need to upgrade electric infrastructure.
  • A reporter from Strib was at the last meeting. There was concern about TF members speaking to the press. The reporter wrote down what they wanted so perhaps no one wantonly spoke to the press. So the Chair is going to speak to the press.

Public Comments

Eric Lampland – be wary of Connected Nation’s maps

Chris Mitchell – remember to focus on Ultra High-Speed. Municipalities can help with the investment required to drive those speeds.

Bill Coleman – introduced the Minnesota Broadband Coalition


Gary Shelton, Interim County Administrator, Scott County MN (See his presentation)

Scott County built a backbone with 146 strands of fiber (10Gbit). The county owns conduit but has contracts to share with public and private entities. This solves a lot of internal communications issues but they need to get out to the Internet. So they lease fiber with McCloud and connection to commercial providers through that and the 511 building (big telecom hub).

They ended up developing more than they wanted to build because providers were not as interested in helping them build a connection that might reach their potential clients. Also it ended up being cheaper to build.

Network is fully operations to all schools, libraries, government buildings in the County. They attracted the MNET. The ROI was immediate due to reduced charges to the County. The private providers are running it. For example, the schools were paying $58 per Mbit per student now they pay $6.83 per Mbit per student.

Request for Task Force

  • Please pay attention to under-served.
  • Please pay attention to affordable
  • Please focus on government as a conduit.

Danna MacKenzie, IS Director, Cook County

Invited because Danna has been doing work on BB for 15 years. Involved since Extension Service put 56K connections in each county seat. In 1995 there was no dialup access in GR that didn’t include a long distance phone call. So they went out to sell the Internet to citizens – without being able to show the Internet. They got businesses to sign up for service. And then MRNet came in the Rural Datafication project but they still need to get other, local partners.

We hope that there will always be a toolkit available for people who want to build it themselves. There is a greater need for government intervention where the market has not brought in broadband. We’re looking for public-private partnerships. We need to keep investment local.

Grand Marais does not have real BB access. They have a single fiber loop up the North Shore. When that goes out everything goes out – no 911, no credit card transactions, no medical records…

There is little local responsibility. The Gunflint Trail has lost phone service many times over the last year. We are better able to provide continuity of services when there is more localized control.

They are stewards of the environment and broadband is a great approach. They need to be able to get kids to more home – but not without BB.

  • We need our voice to be represented in the current Connected Nation Map. The map is too big to download for anyone who doesn’t have BB.
  • Ultra high-speed is important to everyone even if they don’t see it. We need leadership to carry that view.
  • We are insulted that 768K defines BB. Especially when the Twin Cities speed is so much higher.
  • We are hoping for infrastructure funding – not all but some.

Questions for Panel 1

Question: About the bonds used in Scott…

There are 2 providers in the areas one does dark fiber and one provider who uses Scott network. They issued capital improvement bonds. The citizens of the county pay for bonds.

Question: How will you serve residents in Scott County? And if you don’t, how can a provider come in when the anchor tenants are gone?

We built an open network so that private providers could come in to reach residents.

Question: What was the cost of fiber ring?

$3.8 million

Question: Is there a property tax increase?

No it has been entirely offset by county savings. The State provided the equipment. (And that’s only the County savings.)

Question: Need to remove all barriers – what are they?

There wasn’t an inclusive study. Franchises can limit possibilities.

Question: What innovation have you seen?

28 IT projects are trying to move forward. Consolidating services and interconnectedness has been helpful. We need to improve human services. Created a disaster recovery site.

Second Panel

Steven Mielke, Administrator, City of Lakeville, MN (See his presentation)

They formed the Business Telecommunications Technology Task Force (BTTTF) looked at current telecommunications and emerging technology and need. They found that 12% of residents have home-based businesses and 23% telecommute (at least occasionally). Businesses need BB. BB is more expensive in Lakeville.

Core recommendations:

  • Need to look at community as a whiole
  • Public-private open network

Dakota County’s Mission – be the choice for BB technology
– Goals
– High speed
– Reasonable costs
– Reliability
– Access (multiple providers)

Consultant hired to recommend
– Costs associated with connect all City facilities with fiber
– Feasibility of extending FTTP to industrial parks

What do we want for state policy?

  • Be globally competitive
  • Recognize fiber as vital
  • Encourage community efforts to lower costs on obtaining fiber, obtain multiple pathways, work with government organizations.

Jeff O’Neil, FiberNet of Monticello (see his presentation)

Background on Monticello

  • Regional center for shopping and healthcare
  • Drop if living wage job creation
  • Large community workforce

Monticello provides the following services:

  • Sewer & water, refuse & sanitation, Police & fire, roads & bridges, BB…
  • Monticello’s communications costs among highest in the nation for years. Folks weren’t happy with current providers. They realized that their future was at risk. They talked to provider but they were not interested in upgrading service to the extent that Monticello wanted. They did a feasibility study. They wrote a business plan. In 2007, they did a referendum, which passed with 74% in favor. $26 million revenue bonds sold. TDS sued saying BB wasn’t public convenience. The City plaus along.

Advice for State Policy:

  • Rapids deployment of Ultra-fast BB is essential
  • Respect citizens’ mandates to protect local health
  • Endorse legitimate role of cities.

Ruthe Batulis, Eagan Tech Task Force

Serves member of Dakota County. They lead the State in job creation. They want to remain a job magnet and tech center. Task Force decided that wireless was not fast nor secure enough. They have big and savvy users. They’ve done surveys and mapped connectivity.

Employers who want to have employees work from home. Site selectors say businesses skip areas without BB and redundancy. We study the reports that say the US needs more BB. You can debate ‘em or prove them wrong. Other counties are making strides – we do too or we’re left behind.

How can your business grow using worldclass technologies?

Comments have been made to indicate that lack of BB will lead to a decline in economic development.

Questions for Panel 2

Question: How did you feel about a referendum in Monticello?

The referendum appeared to be a barrier – but it didn’t turn out that way. There is benefit in having electoral input – but maybe 50% pass rate is more reasonable than the current 65%.

Question: If we need to help home-based businesses why did Lakeville help industrial parks?

The implementation was too overwhelming.

Successful muni fiber projects seem to nder 1000 – 10,000

Feasibility project looked at take rates experienced in other communities with similar indicators that we had in Monticello and we extrapolated.

Question: Revenue bonds – what happens to bonds when projects fail?

If there is a default then that responsibility goes to bond holders. The city is not responsible.

Question: So if you fail, it doesn’t really matter?

The impact is on credibility on City and can have an impact on bond rate.
GO (government obligation) bonds = if they default the city will use tax dollars to pay revenue.

Investment with city’s name behind it but public does not need to repay if there’s a failure.

Question: Why were Monticello communications costs so high?

Probably because they had one provider. Most of metro area was available for free. There was a referendum when they went to free dialing for Twin Cities locations

Geoff Daily – App-Rising

Geoff defines BB (base level as 1Mbps), 10 Mbps is better, Ultra high-speed is 100Mbps. BB is infrastructure – so you want to build for the future. So let’s look ahead.

We don’t need 100Mbps today. They’re not using that in Korea either. Developers aren’t even considering it.
Why will we need it? Video – interactive, such as in-home doctor’s visits, in-home tutors…

BB we have won’t support HDTV – Ultra HD is 16 times the resolution it requires 128Mbps. New screens are coming and they’ll be as ubiquitous as paper. Japan is looking at this in the next 5-10 years. [Ann’s note: as I was uploading the video for this post I noticed that you can now upload HD video on YouTube!]

We need symmetrical access. We are creators. Do we want to be importers only in the digital economy? When everyone goes online – will the network fall apart?

The solutions need to be evolvable. So we’re not doing this every 10 years. Plan for the future.

We need fiber to every last year. How we get there – that’s up for discussion. That we need to be there – that shouldn’t be.

Wireless is great – in the same way an extension cord is great. You wouldn’t power your house with it but it’s sure helpful to have. Only 2 technologies can handle 100Mbps – fiber and DOCSIS 3.0. But you can’t be technology neutral. Not all technologies are creating equal.

We can’t wait around for technologies. So giving folks are lesser access isn’t all that helpful.

Need to be united; need to get aggressive. Blair Levin said recently that because we have no national strategy – we could have gotten more  money as if a national strategy. More money is going to be coming. We have something to shoot for – let’s get united. Or let’s at least recognize that there are folks who are ready. Don’t plan to just give at least 1 project per state. Some states don’t deserve it.

Korea will have 1Gig by 2012. They are putting money in place to do this. So we’re losing ground.

Rural areas need this or they will be left behind. To not give them BB is to say rural areas don’t matter.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

We need to increase demand. We need to make the pie bigger rather than fight over the smaller pie. Need more data and better mapping – more granular.

A Failed municipal network isn’t the worst thing – ‘cause someone can take over the network. The infrastructure doesn’t go away.

Andrew Cohill – Design Nine (see his presentation)

Step One: define broadband appropriately instead of letting some use the term to mean only Internet access.
Telecom is essential infrastructure – broadband is having enough to do what you need to do. Fiber can build capacity. 100Mbps is the lower bar.

BB brings better health care, distance learning (especially for displaced workers), new job opportunities,
Forget about the Exabyte flood – it’s the zettabyte. Video changes everything.

Businesses need BB and they need symmetric BB.

BB Myths:
There’s no money for BB
Fiber is too expensive
Wireless is good enough
Rural areas will never be served, it’s too expensive.
Community BB competes with the private sector.
Business case for Rural Fiber
Every rural house has 2 cables – phone and electric
One more connection is possible
Density is not as important and market size
Create a larger enough marketplace and it will work.

It’s even easier in Cities and Suburbs but local government has an important role to play. Maybe we need a public-private partnership. Think about one road with multiple players to offset costs and increase profit.

Public Policy Goals
– Universal access
– Multiservice Open Networks
Broadband is like the roads. They work because we share the cost of the roads.
NATOA reports that every $1 investment has a ROI of $10.


Question: Made the case for equity. We have roads everywhere but that aren’t all equal. Are you suggesting that we need the Autobahn everywhere?

Fiber is cheaper. Rural areas need the connectivity more to break down barriers of distance. If you can get the same speeds as urban counterparts – you’re equal.

Question: In Minnesota we have 5 million; 900,000 live outside municipal boundaries. That’s where access is most dire. Can we really serve those people to the same extent?

We’re doing it today. Jaguar is doing it in Minnesota. They have one community of 8 homes.

Question: How many people outside that town are served?

It varies. You can’t make a viable service model serving only unserved areas. You have to be able to balance out density of areas.

You need to aggregate demand. Then you can afford to build. It’s less risky to put a stake in the ground and serve everywhere – as opposed to building islands from a political and financial perspective. You have more customers buying more services.

There are advantages in rural areas. Maybe people can dig their own trenches. There’s less infrastructure getting in the way.

Question: What’s the definition of everywhere?

Every last home.

Question: Case for rural fiber – you want government entities to be anchor tenants – can they also be providers?

Some communities that have built government-only networks are looking at opening up the network. Statewide networks do close some doors. But more governments are looking at turing that around with an Open Network.

Government grants become available and people tend to spend foolishly. We don’t need to duplicate efforts.
Broadband is not just Internet access. It can develop news ways of communications and give a voice to more people.

Rick King on Connected Nation

Connected Nation was hired/brought about just as the Task Force was but they are not necessarily related. CN gave reports to us – that’s the relationship. It’s not directed by this group.

Shovel-ready – there is a shovel-ready list. It has been sent to folks by nature of the public record. The hard thing is that creating a list pushes us to make decisions that we have planned to make in November. So maybe we need to focus on the longer term.

Right now people have the list but no caveat saying there has been no vetting of the list. So maybe we need to write that up. Also the parties who asked for the list and still asking for it….

…. they will hold onto the list.

Rural Visits

There was talk about the rural visits this summer. One goal is to promote a little equity both for the TF members who live in rural areas and for the public. It’s much easier to come to the sessions in your in the Twin Cities than if you are in rural areas.

But we still need to get work done during those meetings.

It might also be a good chance to hear from the folks in North Dakota who are doing excellent work.

Blandin has offered to help.

It makes sense to have a group that handles details of the rural visits. There are details involved even with any receptions – such as how to handle the open meeting rules, how to advertize/promote…

March Meeting

Healthcare focus for March

April has been changed to April 24 (back at Inver Hills for local folks)

April will focus on ultra high-speed users

This entry was posted in Community Networks, MN, Open Networks, 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.

5 thoughts on “Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force February 20, 2009

  1. Pingback: Rural Areas: from dialup to fiber? « Blandin on Broadband

  2. Pingback: Value Statement from the Minnesota Broadband Task Force « Blandin on Broadband

  3. Pingback: March 20 Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Task Force Meeting Minutes « Blandin on Broadband

  4. Pingback: Send your national Broadband ideas to the FCC now « Blandin on Broadband

  5. Pingback: Speed bumps in Moorhead « Blandin on Broadband

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s