Broadband Policy Seminar Grand Rapids June 18, 2009

About 30-40 people came to the Blandin Broadband Policy Seminar, including journalists (some from the Twin Cities), Task Force board members, representative from Senator Klobuchar’s office, community leaders. Technologists and folks interested in relocating their new businesses.

There are people who are involved with infrastructure and there are people who are interested in making sure that underserved – get access both in terms of infrastructure and training. People have seen the impact of well used technology and they have lived the results of limited access to technology.

In an effort to get these out in time, I’m rushing this. Hopefully it won’t be too rough. But I thought some folks might want to see it before the meeting tomorrow.

Question about Connected Nation – if provider has cell service – that seems to skew the maps. Is that the case?

Answer – yes or no. The map will show the best available broadband. So if the best showing is mobile wireless – that’s an indication that the area isn’t well served. (Right now mobile wireless is not really broadband but it may be in a couple of years.)

Comment from attendee: The Connected Minnesota maps will be updated by the end of the month. From a provider’s perspective, it is difficult to provide good info. Most providers gave info as time allowed. Some providers didn’t provide any info. Some providers may update their network.

How much broadband do you need? There was an activity where attendees stood on a spectrum of speeds – indicating how much broadband they felt that they needed. Then they were asked how much they would spend for that broadband.

How much broadband will you need? Same activity as above – except a look into the future.

The conversation was really all over the place – but I think a lot of good issues were raised – issues that are valuable for the Task Force to consider. I’m going to post asis and try to do some grouping.

  • When talking about speeds there are many components. How fast is your computer? How fast is the site? How fast is your local network? How fast is the provider’s network? How fast is the backbone?
  • What kind of volume would be required for a teacher to connect with students?This is happening in Itasca County. They have good school building-to-school building connection. They have fiber.But what’s required for the students at home to access the classroom? One issue is the commercial Internet. They don’t have the same quality of service as something like Internet2.

    Schools at IASK are talking about this.

  • The speed of the connection isn’t the only factor. There are some compression technologies that will help. Can we know what we need in 10 years? Bill Gates couldn’t foresee the power that computers would need back in the day – how can we foresee?
  • That is the challenge of the Task Force and that’s the challenge for the providers. Their job is to do the best they can. Is it a technology discussion or a school discussion? We need to talk about what we can do – not the bytes and bits.
  • We need to get that message out to the public and the policy makers. Until we know the benefits
  • What is core infrastructure for the state? That’s an important discussion.
  • What is the message that we want to get to the Task Force tomorrow? There are folks who are committed to talk tomorrow but there is still time for others to step up.We need to do a bottom up need analysis. There needs to be a multidimensional needs analysis. Where is the needs analysis? We need the mapping that demonstrates need.We need to get institutions to work together. And then we need to take a look at going beyond the institutions.
  • Affordability is another issue. How will schools pay for technology? Will it be subsidized? How do we provide access to everyone – rich and poor?In the 1930s, there was a push to make sure that everyone had a phone. Is this that important?
  • The Internet is a tool. You have to be trained to use it – like any other tool. Blandin has had a number of programs that have funded programs to build use and market demand. That is the key. Once the Internet becomes we all have to have. The infrastructure will follow the need.
  • The big cities in the area have FTTH systems, funding largely by feds. But the unemployment is still higher in those areas that other areas in the state. People have the facilities but they aren’t necessarily using them. It’s an education/training issue.
  • We do need to focus on infrastructure and training.
  • The Task Force is talking about tiers. Does it make sense for core cities to have higher access to the Internet while surrounding areas have slower speeds?
  • It’s a dangerous discussion. When phones were deregulated, policy said that rural areas needed phones too. In one community the school said 20 years ago that they needed the fiber. Business people said it was too expensive. Finally someone said call the phone company. Then call the PUC. The phone company will then tell you why they can’t provide the service. Then call the PUC again and petition to provide your own service. So they did it – and the school got fiber.In the same community the a local business ran into trouble because they only had satellite. So we got a private-public partnership to get fiber for the business. Then homes wanted access, we went through a similar process and got the provider to offer DSL. Now we need more broadband. We have connections with state and county folks and we need to be able to transact with them online. We need to service surrounding townships.How much we need depends on what we need to do.
  • As a provider, it’s tough to offer large capacity. We can’t surpass the backbone. We can’t foresee what folks will want to do.
  • Someone has an elderly aunt. Her family got electricity before the ERA (electricity folks) because a private provider ran a line to their farm.Partnership is important. We have folks who were involved with fibernet (Iron Range Fibernet) project. What’s the reality of bringing the providers to the table to regard their entrepreneurship and create a win-win situation? Will the telecom providers join the conversation in earnest?There should be ways to work in the region with telecom providers? Is there a way to use the new playing field (ARRA funding) to allow us to bring the providers to the table in a more effective way?
  • 70 years ago people must have talked about electricity this way. The reason we have it is because federal incentives were provided to created co-ops. But it didn’t happen until the public decided electricity was a public right.
  • Back to tiered approached. As an educator, rural areas need broadband more to reach more remote students. Kids who live down the street have different issues.
  • Fiber is often too expensive. So we have a technology center to make it affordable. Electricity isn’t too expensive to light a room – but it’s really expensive to pump water. Right now we’re looking at broadband to pump water. It’s a whole new delivery system. We need a larger change than just technology.
  • Policy formation – in 1996 the FCC was supposed to handle these issues, and they didn’t. Market forces have not worked. The government has not helped. The USF no longer needs to be reconstituted. Private companies can’t invest without payback. We need a mixture of public and private. We are ill-served at a federal level in terms of offering public subsidies. Australia has advocated $30 billion for broadband access. Canada offers $225 million. Beijing is going to spend $12 billion.
  • The community needs to be vendors neutral. The needs need to be determined without an expected answer.
  • The Task Force doesn’t have any prickly pears to get the message of the people. We’re not looking for Mayberry 2.0; we have real needs and they impact the State. We can’t work with and/or provide data to state & feds without broadband.
  • Elephant in the room – the providers have a huge investment in legacy technologies that compete with fiber. The providers have an interest in slowing down the movement to FTTH. If we let the providers decide they will come up with a plan that suits them, not necessarily the consumers.
  • Paul Bunyan is provided with RUS they can provide FTTH. Qwest doesn’t get help – they can’t/won’t upgrade their legacy technology. It’s doesn’t make business sense.
  • One idea is to get providers on a scheduled to deal with right of way once – much like Senator Klobuchar’s suggestion.

3 thoughts on “Broadband Policy Seminar Grand Rapids June 18, 2009

  1. Pingback: Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force June 19, 2009 « Blandin on Broadband

  2. Pingback: Broadband Policy Seminar in Mankato « Blandin on Broadband

  3. Pingback: Community Technology Advisors » Broadband Policy Seminar

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