MIRC Broadband Success: Dawson Boyd High School

On the MIRC tour last month, we stopped in to see the Dawson Boyd High School. They received funding through the UMRVDC as part of the MIRC project.

Here is a quick summary of their project:

Community Digital Literacy will connect businesses, community members and students to support the creation of a digitally literate community through a Multimedia Collaboration Center, a Student Tech Team, and a hybrid (online and classroom) Teacher/Community Training Academy.

It was great to hear the teachers, principal and tech coordinator talk about how the projects has been going. It was particularly interesting to hear that they recently upgraded their broadband connection from 100 Mbps to a Gig! The National Broadband Plan calls for 1 Gbps of affordable broadband to all community anchor institutions. It’s great to see we’re there in the Dawson Boyd school district – but makes me wonder if that goal is going to suffice too far into the future.

You can also hear from some of the teachers: Continue reading

USF and ICC – changes are unveiled

ON Thursday, the FCC held an Open Commission Meeting that included a discussion of the reform on Universal Service Funds and Intercarrier Compensation (USF starts 30 minutes into the archive – and ends at minute 122). I finally found some time to listen. I thought I’d take very high level notes and point folks to PC World, which did a nice compilation of who likes the change and who’s not so thrilled.

Executive Summary –

The plan is to move to the Connect American Fund (CAF) which will allocate a $4.5 billion budget annually for rural, insular and hard cost areas.

One the transition is complete that will mean up to $2 billion for rate of areas with return carriers; $2.8 billion for price cap carriers; $500 million for wireless and mobile voice services – including up to $100 million for tribal areas and at least $100 million for remote areas fund.

CAF recipients will be required to send reports to state and federal overseers. The State Commissions will work with carriers of last resort and ETCs (eligible telecommunications carriers).

Price cap – CAF will support broadband in two phases:

  • Legacy cost support will be frozen & subject to broadband obligations ($300 million to commit broadband deployment to areas)
  • Creates a framework to provide support on forward looking price model. Incumbents will need to overtake statewide commitment (Except very high cost areas and areas with competitors). When incumbents says no – there will be a bidding mechanism for all ETCs)

Rate of return

  • Changes rules to support continued broadband deployment/investment
  • Allows them predictability of continued funding but requires more stringent monitoring
  • Looks to reduce interstate compensation 11.25%

Mobile

  • Eliminates identical support rule
  • Phases down existing support

More on mobile

  • Phase I $300 million and $50 million in tribal areas and reverse auctions with a goal of 4G
  • Phase II $500 million per year to extend and support mobile networks ($100 million to tribal areas) in high costs areas

ICC

  • Arbitrage – combating phantom traffic
  • Billing key methodology for all ICT traffic with unified national framework
  • Caps all interstate and most intrastate effective on date of this order and establishes a transition path for the reduction
  • Some carriers will be eligible to receive cap support
  • VoIP/PSTN – will be subject to transitional ICC; will be considered equal; expect all carriers to act in good faith for IP calls

Copps Comments:

Re: USF

  • I would have much preferred a higher budget for the Fund—a budget that I believe consumers would accept because of its importance to putting the nation back to work and providing our kids with the tools they need for their futures.
  • The course we adopt today has two auction phases, with the second installment of mobility support dependent upon further Commission decision-making. Understanding the need for maximum predictability throughout these transitions, we will halt reductions in legacy support if for some unlikely and unanticipated reason the second auction phase does not take place as planned.

Re:ICC

  • My enthusiasm here is tempered by the fact that end-user charges (under the label of “Access Recovery Charges”) are allowed to increase, albeit incrementally, for residential consumers.
  • While I understand the need for predictability in an ICC regime, I am pleased that my colleagues have retained a key role for states, including arbitrating interconnection agreements; monitoring intrastate access tariffs during the transition to bill-and-keep; and helping to implement our Universal Service Fund as well as, in many cases, their own state universal service funds.
  • There is inherent inequity in a system that funds the deployment of broadband off of assessments on interstate telephony. Once we ensure that double, triple and quadruple play services that benefit from Universal Service bear their fair share, we will not be subject to the unnecessary financial constraints that our current approach imposes. We also need
  • spectrum management decisions that avoid putting still more spectrum in too few hands. Among other good results, that would drive better mobility auctions.

McDowell Comments 

  • Also, today we are only addressing the high cost program of the distribution side of the Universal Service Fund. We are not addressing the entire Universal Service Fund, which currently distributes over $8 billion per year. To put that figure in context, USF is larger than the annual revenues of Major League Baseball. In separate proceedings, we will also reform the other USF spending programs. I cannot stress enough that all of the fiscal efficiencies that we will realize in the wake of today’s reforms will be lost if similar fiscal discipline is not applied to all Universal Service programs as well.
  • It is no secret that for years I have been pushing for contribution reform to be carried out at the same time as distribution reform. Obviously, that is not happening today; therefore we must act quickly. The contribution factor, a type of tax paid by consumers, has risen each year from approximately 5.5 percent in 1998 to an estimated 15.3 percent in the fourth quarter of this year. This trend is unacceptable.

Clyburn Comments

  • As you all know, I have a deep connection to rural America. Without comparable modern communications services enjoyed by their urban counterparts, those citizens will never adequately compete in our global economy. They need and deserve reliable fixed as well as mobile broadband in order to thrive. Without this critical broadband infrastructure, rural Americans would be forever left behind.
  • Most importantly, we have provided for replacement funding as intrastate access rates decline as a result of our reform which relieves the financial burden that would have been on states in their own attempts at reform. To that end, we also have carefully balanced ICC revenue replacement for providers, with the important goal of not burdening consumers with significant increases in their bills or overburdening the USF which is ultimately paid for by consumers.
  • Although the reforms we adopt today are extremely important for ensuring that basic and advanced communications services are physically available to all Americans, those services cannot be
  • truly available, if consumers cannot afford to purchase them, the devices they need to access them are not available, or if they cannot obtain the skills they need to know how to use these services. I appreciate those who have called for us to address these consumer needs today, and I agree with you that we need to do more in this area. Our broadband adoption task force is working diligently to find solutions to these issues, and I fully expect that we soon will be addressing the proposal in our Lifeline proceeding to adopt pilot projects for broadband adoption to benefit low-income Americans who qualify for the Lifeline program.

Genachowsi Comments

  • Over the next year, the Connect America Fund will bring broadband to more than 600,000 Americans who wouldn’t have it otherwise. Over the following five years, millions more rural families will be connected. And today’s Order puts us on the path to get broadband to every American by the end of the decade – to close the broadband deployment gap which now stands at close to twenty million Americans. We are also extending the benefits of mobile broadband coverage to tens of thousands of unserved road-miles, areas where millions of Americans work, live, and travel.
  • Today’s action will help connect anchor institutions, which can play a vital role – for example, in expanding basic digital literacy training – in a world where broadband skills are necessary to find and land jobs.
  • We did not rubber stamp or adopt wholesale the proposals of any stakeholder or group of stakeholders. Instead, we made our decisions on what’s right for the American people and our economy based on facts and data gathered in one of the most extensive records in FCC history, including hearings and workshops across the country, and more than 2,700 substantive comments totaling tens of thousands of pages.

Governor Dayton calls out Border to Border Broadband

It’s been too busy in the last few weeks to be highlighting every mention of broadband – the way I did a couple of years ago. But when the mention comes from the Governor I still like to call it out. The Star News (newspaper of Elk Rover, Otsego, Rogers and Zimmerman) posted an article on Dayton’s commitment to make more money available for small banks – but added this observation as well…

“One person at a time; one family at a time,” he said of how the economy will turn around.

Access to capital was just one of the themes to emerge from a jobs’ summit the governor sponsored on Tuesday.

Other themes include ensuring border to border high-speed broadband, increasing state exports, better aligning higher education to job opportunities, closing the employment and learning gap, among other themes.

IBM Smarter Cities Challenge – Opportunity for Help

I just got word on the following opportunity. I’d love to see some Minnesota cities apply.

Cities across the world can now apply for year-two of the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge – a 100-city, $50 million grant program that furnishes expert advice from IBM consultants to 100 progressive municipalities.

I asked the planners about using a county focus versus a city focus since so much broadband planning seems to be at a countywide level – and they were OK with it. Here’s their caveat…

Both county and city leaders are welcome to apply as long as the topic they want to cover is under that region’s jurisdiction. For example, a city in California wouldn’t list social services as a topic, since that is covered at the county level.

And here’s more info on the overall project…

This grant program provides progressive cities with access to IBM’s top talent, who devote weeks of their time analyzing unique opportunities and challenges facing urban centers. Issues addressed include jobs, health, public safety, transportation, social services, recreation, education, energy and sustainability. After conferring with officials, citizens, businesses, academics and community leaders, the IBM teams recommend steps to make the delivery of services to citizens more efficient and innovative. The value of the talent provided for an individual engagement in a given city is approximately $400,000.

The program is already helping cities that engaged with IBM in 2011. For example, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina is now planning its budgets and improvements with all its towns and villages in a more coordinated way. St. Louis, Missouri has hired officials to better share of information among agencies involved in criminal justice so that they can make better legal decisions. And Edmonton in Canada is using data more effectively to improve traffic and pedestrian safety.

In order to be eligible for the IBM grant, city mayors need to apply before December 16, and the application is online: https://smartercitieschallenge.org/reg.do.

To find out more, please visit http://smartercitieschallenge.org or http://www.youtube.com/user/citizenIBM for videos from some of the 2011 Smarter Cities Challenge grant winners.

MIRC Broadband Success: Somali Center and PCs for People make connections in Willmar

On our tour of MIRC Communities we learned about two programs that are working together to bridge the digital gap in Willmar – first the Somali Women Center. It is the go-to place for recent arrivals to Willmar from Somalia. They provide a wide range of services from legal advice, English lessons, medical support and now they have a small computer lab and broadband.

Lul Yusuf is the heart of the Center. While her background is in healthcare she seems to take on many of the tasks. Her husband work in IT at a local company; so he too is busy with Center tech support. Lul said there were about 2000 Somalis in the community with three to four more families arriving each month. She offers support and through a local chapter of PCs for People she is sometimes able to send folks home with a computer too.

We heard from the Stiff family who operates the PCs for People locally. They have been working on the effort for about three months and have already been able to process and donate 60 computers – and that’s with no advertising! The Stiffs welcomed the opportunity to give back to the community – although the decision to get involved with PCs for People also helped them to move from a home-based business to a shop front in town.

Akamai Reports: we’ve a long way to go to the top ten!

The Akamai quarterly reports have come out this week. I always think that they are a good gauge of how Minnesota is doing with broadband speed and deployment because I feel like the folks doing the reporting are pretty far removed from any Minnesota stakeholders – and it’s global comparison. As you may recall, the Minnesota Broadband Bill pushes us to compare our state’s broadband access and penetration to other states and counties:

It is a goal of the state that by 2015 and thereafter, the state be in:

(1) the top five states of the United States for broadband speed universally accessible to residents and businesses;
(2) the top five states for broadband access; and
(3) the top 15 when compared to countries globally for broadband penetration.

So here are some of the global highlights:

Broadband General Stats:

  • 3.4% increase (from the first quarter of 2011) globally in the number of unique IPv4 addresses connecting to Akamai’s network, growing to over 604 million.
  • The global average connection speed was 2.6 Mbps, and the global average peak connection speed was 11.4 Mbps.
  • High broadband (>5 Mbps) adoption grew to 27% in the second quarter
  • Broadband (>2 Mbps) adoption increased to 65% globally

Mobile General Stats:

  • Average connection speeds on known mobile providers ranged from 5.3 Mbps down to 209 kbps.
  • Average peak connection speeds ranged from 23.4 Mbps down to 1.2 Mbps

Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, the Netherlands are all doing well. The US is not doing that well as demonstrated by the charts below.

Minnesota is also not rocking it – as the following charts demonstrate:

Minnesota was mentioned as the stats with the lowest growth of peak speed – but that’s better than the 7 states that didn’t see a growth in peak speed. I think I would feel less discouraged by these stats if Minnesota had not made a couple of these top ten rankings in the 2010 Q3 report, when we were #10 for average connection speed and St Paul was #7 for average connection speed by city.

There is a new feature to the Akamai reports that allows us to track progress in Minnesota over the last couple years (from 2007 Q3 to current 2011 Q2):