Broadband Task Force meeting in Fergus Falls Aug 21, 2009

It was nice to see the local paper encourage Fergus Falls area residents to come out to speak at the public portion of the Minnesota Ultra High Broadband Speed Task Force today. As the article pointed out, broadband access in this area is spotty,

It’s surprising how many Otter Tail County residents are unable to receive broadband because they live in pockets, such as on a lake, on the end of a rural road or the phone or cable companies haven’t gotten there yet, task force member Peg Werner said. Yet there are some areas that have broadband available for all residents.

Also there’s an interesting comment from a heated reader on his impression of how well the market has served the area.

The article must have helped – they had a great crowd.

9:00 – 9:15 – Opening comments

[As always the TF has been good enough to share latest draft recommendations and an added file for the role of government discussion.]

Sent a letter to Native American community about their interests with broadband. They are looking at the issue further.

Blandin is scheduling a broadband conference in Duluth Nov 18-19 and would like to hear from Task Force report and members.

We’ve scheduled three meetings in October. We’ve had great efforts by subgroups. The first meeting in October we should have something close to a final draft. Please start reading the report as a full report with a critical eye. In September we’ll look at the document as a whole.

We left room for minority reports. So far we have been able to come to agreement but we have room if we need it. If you have a minority report please give it to us by October 1, 2009. We’ll need to go through the same process with minority reports.

The local Public Access TV folks are taping us. So it will be available to everyone. The reception last night went well; thanks to Park Region Telephone for sponsoring food.

November 3 and 5 has been reserved with Legislators to offering briefings on the report at the Science Museum. First we’d like to talk to legislators; then press. Details to follow.

Question: Does that sound more like a political statement tan the submission of a report? Having this at the museum makes it seem more like propaganda.

Answer: It’s not meant to sound like that except that we want to be politic enough to get this the attention it deserves. There is anticipation for the report so this seems appropriate. It makes good sense from a project management standpoint too – we’ve worked hard and it would be nice to celebrate the completion. Also it’s easier for reporters to get the store if everyone involved is in one room, at least for a while. It continues he openness to the info.

9:15 – 9:45 – Public comment (see videos)

Darryl Ecker – Park Region Mutual Telephone  

Mary Mehsikomer – NWLinks

Mark Birkholz – Arvig 

And a couple from 6 miles from Underwood

9:45 – 10:15 – Bonnie Neas, VP Information Technology, North Dakota State University

Broadband is in the eye of the beholder – home users have one need, businesses another. That’s true in ND as well as MN. Networking is about people and technology. To reach goals we need to involve people.

Providers said they couldn’t’/ make a business case for providing necessary network. So we decided to do it ourselves. We built partnerships to accomplish the goal. We have 10 10 Gbit backbone fiber connections to NAPs.

The Northern Tier is not a state network, it’s part of our national network that happens to come across the state to serve research and other educational institutes. We have off/on ramp capabilities in:
Fargo, Fergus Falls, Locke Lake Freeport and Minneapolis – and on into the Dakotas. Each partner has its own funding source.

Email was the early killer application and it remains strong. There has been investment and return on investment over the years in the network – and in local business. On campus we are challenged by lack of resources. On campus we see 50 percent a year growth. We just upgrade to 10Gbit/sec. The high end researchers need more to access applications required. Schools in ND have a 10Mbit connection at a minimum.

On campus we just converted phone to VoIP to consolidate services. Cable also comes through the network. Security and surveillance is done over the network.

Question: Who pays for school connections?
Answer: The State. Higher Ed helps manage and plan for the network and we then submit plan to Legislature. The network is built by consortium of co-ops.

Question: What’s the opportunity for collaboration?
Answer: AT&T donated miles of fiber to the Universities and through a consortium made it a gift. Many states took advantage of it. We use the donated fiber from Seattle to Minneapolis. We pay for equipment and maintenance but it runs on that dark fiber.

The Legislature requires that there are no restrictions. AT&T says no competition. But the University can use the network with private partners. So for example, there’s a research branch of Microsoft in ND. They can use the network when they are working in the project with the UND.

Stagenet is the network paid for by the State. It’s run by the consortium of co-ops. It’s multi-gig and redundant. The redundancy is key!! The Eastern ring is more active because there’s more population there. It’s only for schools and government. Local providers meet the needs of residential and business users.

10:15 – 10:30 – Recommendation #1 – Identify the level of service
• Approve report language for speed goals and symmetrical service
• [Craig Taylor, Brent Christensen, Dan McElroy, Peg Werner, Shirley Walz]


Not much change from last time – mostly word smithing.

Need to make sure that this gels with the rest of the report.

Didn’t we talk about not giving a number?

Yes – but that’s when we were talking about an aspirational speed. [Ann’s note two months ago I think they agreed on this – but last month they talked about aspirational numbers – which turned into the ranking goals.]

We dropped the goal date. Maybe we need to put the date back.

But some people at the table feel like the minimum speeds should be applicable today; after all some providers already reach the minimal goals.

Remember the minimal goal is the baseline minimum.

We talked about the balance of speed versus ubiquity. But these speeds are more at an onramp level – not what we want to recommend.

But that’s why we added the aspirational goal. We talked about the difficulty of setting a numeric speed – how can we measure, how can we predict…

Why do we have the 10-20/5-10 speeds? This was a tie into ubiquity. This was a compromise – that this minimal speed would be available to everyone.

But the legislation needs to see a number. We might say why bother but this is what the legislators asked for.

This seems too low. We need to make clear that this reflects the fact that some areas are harder to serve.

Is the question what do we think will be needed in 2015? Maybe we need to edit this – it may be an issue of editing – not real difference in context.

We need to couch the minimal speeds in terms of the goal of ubiquity.

When the legislature asked for speeds they asked for reasonable speeds for all citizens. This gets into the definition of broadband. Ubiquity, speed and the definition of broadband are entwined.

We need to be stronger in saying that we understand that 10-20/5-10 is required as a minimal speed to get everyone on but that’s not where we’d like everyone to be.

Eight percent of Minnesota is stuck with dialup – and we have to remember them and remember the costs to get them broadband. The University has great speeds but we can’t expect that everyone gets those University speeds.

It would be useful to talk about the fact that institutional speeds are different from residential goals.

Can we add to the resort a table that talks about what can be done over what modes of broadband?

Whether you’re using copper, coaxial or fiber – the big cost is what you have for equipment. When you have fewer customers it’s tougher to make the business case to buy the more expensive equipment and/or to upgrade often.

Symmetry .. The language we have here still isn’t right. We need to edit more. Some folks have added comments since the last revision and we don’t all agree.

The government shouldn’t get into setting business practices for providers. We need to move away from using “mandate”.

Here’s a statement that people like from the recommendation:
“When that upload need is met, whether the download speed is symmetrical or faster, the consumer has a solution to their problem.”

There’s a distinction between the use and the pipe. We talked about this last month and may need to re-edit. Maybe we need to strike the current recommendation and create one that gets to the point that we need for providers to meet the broadband required (up and down) to use applications.

So let’s rewrite and bring it back next month.

We want date associated with 10-20/5-10 minimum. We want to talk about how ubiquity fits in here. And we want to re-write the symmetry part.

One question – will this rule out wireless? We’re supposed to be technology neutral. Does this speed by default rule our wireless?

Maybe we need to set the goal and just not worry about technology modes.

But in this state we need to consider wireless. There is a difference between fix wireless and mobile wireless. Do they both provide the minimum speeds?

Australia seems to think that wireless can do 10Mbit. They are aiming for 100Mbit in towns with populations of 10,000+ and 10Mbit for lower populations.

One issue is that we might have set out goals that sound like they should be mandates but maybe we don’t mean that. Providers are potentially worried that mandates will come down. If the definition of broadband is 10-20/5-10 – does that mean that wireless isn’t broadband?

We don’t want to put anyone is a bad position here – where they aren’t able to reach goals. But it seems as if minimal speeds are low enough that that shouldn’t be a problem.

Can we agree that this is what we want to say – that we just need to re-edit?

10:30 – 11:00 – Recommendation #2 – Policies and actions necessary to achieve ubiquitous broadband – sub-group report
• Review sub-group recommendations
• [Mike O’Connor, Brent Christensen, JoAnne Johnson, Diane Wells, Peg Werner, Mary Ellen Wells/Joe Schindler, Carlos Seone]

They have set out an actual plan to reach the ubiquitous goal. The idea is that that the government would get this done but that everyone would do that – perhaps a little bit like the Task Force is working.
There are 3 pieces to the leadership of the effort (see page 43 of draft recommendations):
• Mobilizing
• Empowering
• Managing
This is a plan to build public-private partnerships, build infrastructure, build momentum. [Ann’s favorite line – the stimulus helps this but it stands on its own!]

There’s a plan to evaluate how this is going – but not in the mandate sense, in the what’s working and what’s not and how can we build upon the good kind of way.

The private model can’t serve remote places – so let’s make a plan that can.

Can we change community organizer to community leader? That term can me politically charged.

There are a lot of committees like this now (not for broadband but other topics). It’s hard to sustain an effort like this for more than a couple of years – usually two. Politics is a two-year cycle. To set up a committee for 5 years is tough. Maybe we need to talk about a way to get a cycle of folks involved to keep folks involved and interested.

There have been committees set up for a finite time period and some that have dissolved themselves once the goal has been met. We could look at one of those approaches.

Goal approved (first paragraph) – quickly and easily!

Looking at the next two paragraphs..

Mostly I see philosophy. It that right? (Yes)

It’s setting out a collaboration rather than a mandate.
Next 2 paragraphs approved!

This section is a different animal. It is much more detailed. So perhaps we need to hold off on discussing it in its entirety. Also there is a lot of overlap in this and other sections.

These issues came up with role of government group too. We talked about whether or not to have a government entity of a free-standing group. If we already have a goal of 2015, then a group that expires in 5 years makes sense.

We’ve had great success with this group – the state could benefit from an ongoing entity. But it is very time consuming – a 5 year commitment from the individual’s perspective might be too long.

It’s hard to figure this out because we have some things that are like projects and some are more like a function. Parts are finite, parts are infinite. We may need to look at the difference in those aspects. Functions needs ongoing continuity. Projects need energy.

We came out here to listen to people today. We’ll reach our goals if we can provide service to the couple who spoke earlier. Our main goal should be looking at how to provide service to a house 6 miles from Underwood and 12 miles from Fergus Falls.

But then what? The global competition battle doesn’t stop there. As we try to reach that goal so does everyone. We also need to worry about the entrepreneur with the tremendous broadband need and tremendous potential. Our responsibility is broadbander than

How many like the idea of an ongoing entity?

Most do. But from those who don’t…

The commissioners already can create committees. When the legislature calls for such a committee it doesn’t work as well. There are a lot of committees already.

There is a Department of Commerce now and the PUC. It might be another layer of government as well as some overlap issues. We have $8-9 million invested – almost all private. If we do this are we more or less likely to attract private funding? My water cooler experience says we’re less likely. Fewer committees and regulation brings in more private funding.

From a provider perspective the cost of dealing with a commission can be expensive.

The law of economics will move things forward. Also isn’t some this already addresses in professional association to which the providers belong? Once everyone has it, won’t private industry have the innate desire to invest?

But what’s in a private business’s interest in 3-5 years is not necessarily the same as what’s in Minnesota’s interest in 20 years. In ND, they were able to convene an interest and look at what they accomplished as mentioned by this morning’s speaker.

Careful minded collaborative individuals can reach goals.

What if we made this temporary and focused on meaningful collaboration for broadband? Can we think about that for next month?

Maybe add a sentence that applauds collaboration would be useful to set the tone to move Minnesota forward.

We need to be able to get to ubiquity – and that will take a lot of work. This approach makes sure that this report does more than capture dust. We didn’t want regulation – collaboration seemed like a better solution.

We didn’t mind whether the committee was formed by legislation or existing resources.

We have a lot of systems deploying broadband. And they have been good – but they won’t get us across the ubiquity finishing line. We need leadership for that. We want to create a committee that works beyond government.

There is great value in having some kind of ongoing body to look at broadband. But attaching it to legislation or even a commissioner creates concerns. Could we create an industry collaboration? How we create the group doesn’t matter as much as creating the group.

Going forward you need a clearinghouse and a reason to think about the topic. We need a forum to think about this. Maybe an industry-specific group is a good direction.

I think of it with economic development. If this were a BB leadership council it would attract businesses to the area. I spoke to folks who served on the California Task Force. They were proud of their work but they said nothing has happened since it.

Yes they may feel that nothing has happened – but we’ve seen action in California.

Government is us. And when government calls a meeting – people come. That’s an advantage with using the government in a leadership role.

Let’s take a closer look at this for next month. It might be helpful to take a look at a couple of potential models. The ongoing council group has been officially formed.

Back to speeds —

We need to look at our International ranking in the world even if we don’t currently have a reliable methodology for gauging it. Maybe we need to recognize the difficulty of measuring but mention that we think that International ranking is important.

Can we change the minimum speeds paragraph to: “We recommend the following ubiquitous minimum speeds by 2015…

11:15 – 12:30 – Role of Government – sub-group report
• Discuss and decide on language for the report
• [Tom Garrison, Mike O’Connor, Vijay Sethi, Karen Smith, John Stanoch, Robyn West]

You mention establishing low-income assistance. Did you have an idea of how to define low income?

No – we thought we might use some existing standards, such as the subsidy for phone help (TAP), heating assistance (Lihei) or free lunches. However there is an issue with data-sharing. We could pull the info on those requirements.

If there any group has cost info on the items you are recommending that would be very helpful.

Broadband Safety & security: We had a conversation in Eagan with mid-level state security folks. They haven’t really visited policies since their post 9/11 meeting. They felt they were pretty redundant and secure for government systems. They acknowledged that they have no self assessment for businesses. The business folks said they lose a lot of money every minute they are down. But increasingly government is using private third party applications, which means that maybe in terms of workflow government isn’t as secure as they would like to be.

In terms of keeping the whole state up and running, the U of M has been able to help keeping businesses running. Statewide redundancy on a broad level is important.

Consumer Protection: The feds probably play a larger role here. There were some concerns in single-provider markets. (This came up in the ubiquity group too.)

Technical Improvements: is a list of things that the government (often in partnership) could do to improve broadband. We’ve included a list of potential positive roles for local and federal governments.

Was there more discussion on the role of department of edu or others for utilization?

There may be more people who should be at the table to discuss broadband.

We have many agencies that help low incomes folks; maybe they could help get any assistance to those folks.

There are programs to get phones to low incomes people – can we build upon that? It would be a matter of simply changing a couple of words. They are funded through USF.

Getting the computer might be the biggest hardship. There are organizations that can help.

Is broadband as basic a need as phone service? Maybe, maybe not. But to compete with the rest of the world do we need to help folks? TAP only pays for basic service. There are also federal programs that help pay for phone service.

Government is putting their info online – and once they do that they have to play a role for making sure that citizens can access it.

Libraries can do that.

Is the role of government to work for the common good? Do we meet only needs?

Is there a number that is essentially how much money people spend on broadband?

Nope it’s not regulated. That’s why the NTIA clarified their NOFA. That info wasn’t available. But we could make an educated guess.

We need to know how much this would cost. How much of a voucher would a low income person need to decide to get broadband?

Some people need the computers, some people need the skills, some people need the broadband subscription.

Let’s not start brand new programs; let’s build upon successful programs.

So let’s try to gather some of the info we need.

Consumer protection might be an issue because in the state some providers are governed, some aren’t. That’s an issue.

(Looking at county and city)

Scott County was a model of sorts.

Municipal provision of service – there was recognition of it is what it is. Right now folks can do it but you need a referendum. Municipalities should have the same benefits and challenges as commercial providers.

We need to specify that public/private partnerships should specify public/private providers – not that public folks would try to sign up customers. There’s a concern that government start as a public entity and then serves as commercial provider.

A private provider will not be that interested in working with public infrastructure. It works best when the provider controls the asset but turns over some control to other entity.

A 1-3 year ROI requirement can mesh with the longer term outlook of government entity.

The partnership is probably good – it’s the specifics that are getting people hot and bothered.

There’s a lot of good stuff in here about communicating!


We should be able to advocate at a state level for national strategy.

Let’s look at USF.

A lot of progress has been made here – but one more phone call might cinch it.
1:00 – 1:45 – Recommendation #3 – Opportunities for public and private sectors to cooperate to achieve goal – sub-group report
• Review sub-group recommendations
• [Brent Christensen, Steve Cawley, Tom Garrison, Tim Lovaasen, Vijay Sethi, Robyn West, Mary Ellen Wells/Joe Schindler, Diane Wells]

At the last meeting we were asked to look at a few things. We need to come up with a term for Public/Private partnerships.

We added into on education collaborative.

Approved – with little ceremony.

1:45 – 2:45 – Recommendation #4 – Evaluation of strategies, financing, financial incentives used in other states/countries to support broadband development & Recommendation #6 – Cost estimate – sub-group report
• Review sub-group recommendations
• [John Gibbs, Dan McElroy, John Stanoch, Dick Sjoberg, Diane Wells]

We wanted to lay out some benchmarks for Minnesota. We’re gathering data. There are opportunities out there that Minnesota doesn’t yet use. The plan is to include references so that folks can get more info.

There are approximately 45,000 households who don’t have access. If we say 45,000 – that’s primary households. What do we do with secondary homes or snowbirds? How far do we need to go and how far do we need to offer subsidies?

We’re looking at $2-5,000 per home to provide access. The costs vary depending on the terrain and density. The problem is that if you have to reach remote areas – you have to pull the wire/fiber to remote areas?

Do we assume that everything needs to be underground?

In some areas the poles are not regulated. It could cost anything from $3-15/month per pole. The problem is that it’s the cost of doing business. In rural areas, it’s a much larger issue. An underground solution may be cheaper if you can’t get a good pole contract. There’s maintenance too.

Is there a plan for grant programs? Yes listed in the Appendix.

The cost of serving the state with wireless service $90-200 million. The cost to rewire the state with fiber is $2 billion. The problems is that the last 6 percent is not economically viable.

But what would be the impact of getting those people online.

What is we focused on take rate and got that up 6 percent? That might be a bigger jolt.

Wireless is more cost effective, which is what spurred the discussion of defining broadband in such a way that would be sure to include wireless.

2:45 – 3:00 – Plans for Upcoming Meetings (reference Planning Calendar)
• September 18th Thomson Reuters
• October 2nd,16th, 30th Thomson Reuters

September – we’ll have Connected Nation.

3:00 – Closing comments, adjourn meeting

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

About Ann Treacy

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

3 thoughts on “Broadband Task Force meeting in Fergus Falls Aug 21, 2009

  1. Pingback: Task Force meeting audio available « Blandin on Broadband

  2. Pingback: Say no to dialup in Fergus Fall « Blandin on Broadband

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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