3-6 million unserved by broadband

Thanks to Ann Higgins for sending me a recent article from Broadcast & Cable that says that – according to the FCC – three to six million people in the US are unserved by broadband. That’s not the bad news – the bad news is that we don’t have enough money to change that; he current Universal Service and stimulus grants and simply not enough.

The other bad news is that the FCC has used the FCC definition of broadband to reach that conclusion so broadband is defined by 768 kbps (download speeds).

The FCC also found that even where basic and high speed broadband is available, advertised speeds lag actual speeds by 50% and perhaps more during peak periods. They are funding that the 80/20 rule applies to congestion; 80 percent of the traffic is coming from 20 percent of the users. In fact it seems that one percent of the users are responsible for 20 percent of the traffic. Those are the folks fondly known as broadband hogs. The providers want to find a way to manage or charge those folks differently.

This is an interesting time for that report to come out when Net Neutrality has been building steam in the last few weeks. The providers maintain that Net Neutrality may infringe on their right to network management. The FCC seems super pro Net Neutrality so as I said, very interesting.

The article and report go on to say that one third of the folks who have access to broadband do not subscribe. A less controversial stand is to say that we need to work on getting these folks on board with broadband. The FCC has commissioned a survey to determine the barriers. (Is it cost of access, training, cost of a computer, disinterest?)

Converting the unconnected third would be a great boon to the business plans of providers and would therefore help to offset the cost of upgrading broadband connectivity. But more importantly, it would help bridge the digital divide – as more government and commercial service move to an online-only model it becomes more and more important to get people using technology or I’m afraid they will become the unserved in many facets of their life.

Blandin’s free webinar series

Please help spread the word. A Webinar Series: Realizing Our Broadband Future, is being offered this fall by the Blandin Foundation – Broadband Initiative, prior to the annual Blandin Foundation Broadband Conference.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009, 8:00-9:30AM
A Futurist’s View of Rural Minnesota

Tuesday, October 20, 2009, 8:00-9:30AM
Broadband Best Practices in Greater Minnesota

Tuesday, November 3, 8:00-9:30AM
Telling a Story with Social Media

Wednesday, November 18 – Thursday, November 19, 2009
Blandin Foundation’s 2009 Broadband Conference Continue reading

The Lake County Fiber Network story

The Lake County Fiber Network project is an initiative to connect homes and businesses (schools, hospitals, everyone) in Lake County with a fiber optic cable to provide telephone, high-speed internet and television services.

The federal stimulus funding actually stimulated the effort in Lake County. Local providers were talking about it taking 10-15 years to build out a fiber network. So the county decided to take action. They engaged each local unit of government in Lake County to support them in an effort to apply for the BIP for low interest loans and grants.

The County realized that while they want and need the service; they didn’t want to be the actual providers. So, they will not operate the network; they wanted contract with a third party to operate the network. They had talked with providers but again found out that fiber was not in their short or midterm strategic plans. This point was highlighted at a Two Harbor City Council meeting in which a Frontier representative said that if the project went through he would give away service for free for two years.

Lake County will be working with National Public Broadband, Inc., NPB a non-profit company comprised of a team of people who have already built and operated publicly-owned networks. NBP started with a market study that indicated that the market is there to provide service. Specifically,

  1. People want faster Internet and higher quality communications. Recognition that fiber is critical infrastructure.
  2. People want service close to home and they want to be able to talk to someone pretty local to get their issues resolved.
  3. People want less expensive connectivity for communications.

Lake County applied for ARRA stimulus funding; they requested $11,050,770 in grants and $22,436,409 in loans. Here’s the summary from the application:

The Project will be the first rural county fiber network in the U.S. to fully serve every home and institution that is currently served by wired telephone or electrical service. The advanced services offered will be priced lower than the very limited services currently available. The Project will be a public-private partnership between Lake County and National Public Broadband, a non-profit org.

If funding is achieved as expected in 2009, construction could begin in 2010 with full scale operation available in 2011.

Chris Swanson has been very active through the process and was kind enough to share some simple advice for communities who are considering their broadband future:

Communities need to figure out creative ways to get high end telecommunications infrastructure into their communities for the delivery of Internet to each home and business. Otherwise like the railroad, highways or electricity if it passes you town and doesn’t stop it will leave you behind.

Broadband Task Force to meet on Friday Oct 2

blog_taskforceThey are getting so close to producing a final report. Having attended most of these meetings I have to tell you that it’s fun to watch as they get down to the brass tacks of the issues. They will be meeting on Friday. Here’s the meeting info and agenda:

9:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m Friday, October 2, 2009. Location: Thomson Reuters D4 – Special Events Room 610 Opperman Drive Eagan, MN 55123
Agendas and meeting dates available at www.ultra-highspeed-mn.org  

9:30 – 9:45 – Opening comments; review meeting agenda
Approve meeting minutes from September 18th meeting

9:45 – 10:00 – Public comment

10:00 – 10:30 – Ongoing Council – sub-group report
• Approve recommendations
• [Mike O’Connor, Steve Cawley, Mary Ellen Wells, John Stanoch]

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

1:00 – 11:15 – Break

11:15 – 11:45 – Recommendation #5 – Evaluation and recommendation of security, vulnerability, and redundancy actions necessary to ensure reliability – sub-group report
• Provide updates since September meeting; finalize and agree on recommendations if possible (if not, agree on what has to happen to come to agreement)
• [Mike O’Connor, Steve Cawley, Craig Taylor, Jack Ries/Gopal Khanna, Shirley Walz]

11:45 – 12:30 – Recommendation #7 – Economic development opportunities & Recommendation #8 – Evaluation of how broadband access can benefit organizations and institutions
• Approve recommendations

12:30 – 1:00 – Break for Lunch

1:00 – 1:30 – Discuss sections of version 5 of the report
• Review and approve Connected Nation language (existing language on page 25)
• [Brent Christensen, Mike O’Connor, Diane Wells for any new/changed language]
• Source for penetration and speed measurements
• Expectations for raisings concerns or issues with existing content
• Agree on final report review process; discuss how full review of version 6 will work at the October 16th meeting

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

2:45 – 3:00 – Plans for Upcoming Meetings
• October 16th and 30th at Thomson Reuters
• Report release on November 6th
o Press conference and joint legislative hearing
• November 9th breakfast event
• Blandin Conference in Duluth November 19th 10:45-11:35 a.m. – Panel

3:00 – Closing comments, adjourn meeting

Minnesota Broadband Task Force Draft Recommendations

BBTF_draftDo you know what I like best about the Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force? Their transparency!

Over the weekend they sent me the latest draft recommendations for their report, which should be coming out in November. It’s not the whole report but the recommendations are there – and the introduction. I encourage you to read it. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing – read the Letter from Chair.

I summarized the recommendations for someone last week so I thought I’d post that here too. My goal was not to pinpoint potential sticky issues – but to provide a fairly high level abstract. So for a more careful reading again I encourage you to read the report. If you have any questions or comments you could send them to the Task Force or show up to the meeting on Friday (Oct 2, 2009).

I think they’re at a stage where they’re really finalizing the report. And I don’t think there are any red flags here. But I also think that if you agree or especially if you disagree the best time to say it is now before it goes to print.

Here’s a summary: Continue reading

Wireless gets better for Alexandria, MN

Good news for Alexandria or anyone who makes the drive down 94 through Alex. According to the Alexandria Echo Press, AT&T has expanded its 3G mobile broadband network in Alexandria, which should improve voice quality and data speeds for the area.

The increased coverage should be most beneficial to iPhone and Blackberry users, who should now be able to use a wider range of interactive applications. According to comments posted to the Each Press site, people are anxious to see this work.

Anoka County looking at better broadband

According to the Star Tribune, Anoka County is looking into improved broadband access. It sounds as if they are considering seeking federal money – but before they go down that road or any other they are wisely doing a market survey. They have sent surveys to 900 Anoka County residents and have planned three public meetings scheduled for 7:00 pm on September 29, October 1, and October 8; the first meeting is at Spring Lake Park High School.

You can get more info on all three meetings on Connect Anoka County web site. In fact they have a lot of useful information. They have their questionnaire online. So if you’re from the area you can chime in; if you’re not from Anoka you might borrow their form for your area.

Back to the article, I have to include my favorite quote in the article from Commissioner Robyn West. She is on the Minnesota Ultra High Speed Task Force. Many of the members of the Task Force are long standing super geeks. (I type that with admiration.) I’m going to say that Robyn was probably not a lifelong super geek, so it has been interesting to hear her take on things; I think she values the investment of broadband more after a year with the Task Force – as demonstrated in the quote.

“When I got on the High Speed Task Force, my attitude was: ‘You want high-speed broadband, you move where they have it.’ But this generation that we have raised, they’re already doing a majority of their business on the Internet. They buy things, sell things, bank on the Internet, take classes on the Internet.

If there’s a way to pave the way and improve broadband service for the people of Anoka County, we’d like to be on track to prepare the next generation.”