MN Broadband Task Force Report is Out: Work to be Done

A big congratulations go to the hard-working team that crafted the latest MN Broadband Task Force report. It was done in record time. Margaret Anderson Kelliher (Task Force Chair) sets the tone and expectations in her introduction…

The report we present today is a high-level analysis utilizing existing data and information that will allow the Task Force to move forward into 2012 with a foundation upon which we can develop a more comprehensive approach to broadband policy development. This process will begin in January 2012 when the Task Force will release a Minnesota Broadband Plan Outline.

But even from a high level, the report indicates that there is work to be done if we want to hit the Minnesota Broadband Goals set out in the Minnesota Broadband Law in 2010:

Universal access and high-speed goal. It is a state goal that as soon as possible, but no later than 2015, all state residents and businesses have access to high-speed broadband that provides minimum download speeds of ten to 20 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of five to ten megabits per second.

The recent report indicates that (as of Oct 2011) only 57.4% of Minnesota households meet that goal. The Law also includes goals to make Minnesota a broadband leader – but the report indicates that in the US we rank 24 in terms of universally accessible broadband speed and 28th in terms of availability.

That’s not so hot. But the group seems ready to hit the ground running in 2012 to close that gap. I know that they are looking at the original Task Force report for some guidance; I think that’s a good place to start.

I suspect policymakers will stick with the Executive Summary so I’m glad that the need is spelled out (no one wants to be at 60 percent of goal). But for staffers and wonks – there’s more detail. Continue reading

SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act): A Primer

I’ve been meaning to write this article for a while – certainly before the December 15 meeting but time slipped away. The House Judiciary Committee will pick this up again after the holidays so I figured now would be a good time too – and now I have a little time. I have to say that I usually try to find neutral sources for any primer – it’s been very tough to find anything neutral on SOPA. The people who really care about the topics control the airwaves one way or another. As ReadWriteWeb said…

Big Media (the record labels, movie studios and TV networks) support the bill while Big Tech (search engines, open source platforms, social networks) oppose it.

Here are the facts (thanks to Wikipedia):

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), also known as H.R. 3261, is a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 26, 2011, by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) and a bipartisan group of 12 initial co-sponsors. The bill expands the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Now before the House Judiciary Committee, it builds on the similar PRO-IP Act of 2008 and the corresponding Senate bill, the Protect IP Act.

The House Judiciary Committee held hearings on SOPA on November 16 and December 15, 2011. The Committee is scheduled to continue debate when Congress returns from its winter recess.

The quick take – SOPA wants to find ways to prevent US residents from accessing info (web sites, drugs, media) that infringes on US copyright. Plan A is contact the suspected offender in question. Give them 5 days to remove any offending materials. However, there are times when it’s not easy to contact the person/corporation responsible for the infringement. It’s particularly hard if the person is not in the US and is probably looking to be found. Plan B (when the person does not comply or can’t be tracked down) is to make it more difficult to be found (and/or get paid) by US companies. So search engines, website hosts, advertisers, payment processors and some website owners (especially those who support online discussion/interaction) will be asked to remove access to the offending material. These accidental abettors are not expected to monitor for copyright materials – but are expected to remove access to copyright materials once notified.

The proponents claim that the US is currently losing revenue and jobs due to copyright infringement and that SOPA will help curb that loss. The opponents claim that SOPA will dampen innovation at a time when innovation (leading to new jobs) is most necessary and will set back the US reputation as a tech leader.

Tech.MN recently posted an article that outlined (among other aspects) the financial pros and cons…

The MPAA suggests “more than $58 billion is lost to the U.S. economy annually due to content theft, including more than 373,000 lost American jobs, $16 million in lost employees earnings, plus $3 billion in badly needed federal, state and local governments’ tax revenue.”

Entrepreneurs and investors have their own reasons for concern. A Booz & Company report released in November a study shows that that 80% of venture capitalists and angel investors interviewed said they would rather invest in a risky, weak economy with the current laws than a strong economy with the proposed law in effect. Over 50 prominent tech angel investors believe “PIPA will ultimately put American innovators and investors at a clear disadvantage in the global economy.”

SOPA (HR3261) is currently making its way through the House. Discussion is expected to continue in the House Judiciary Committee after the winter break. SOPA has a cousin in the Senate (S968) called PIPA (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011). The bills are similar although with PIPA the focus seems to be on the domain name servers although the key terms seems to be ” information location tool” which seems as if it could be applied more broadly when desired.

While PIPA did not seem to capture American’s attention as much as SOPA – it did not go unnoticed. Many of the proponents and opponents are the same. One issue raised with PIPA (as well as with SOPA) has been the potential technical concerns. First – there are concerns that obscuring access to materials will make it more difficult to find offending material – but does not get to the root of actually removing material. Also there are concerns that modifications made to DNS (domain name system) will decrease security and stability of the Internet. PIPA is out of committee and is on its way to the full Senate.

I think we will hear more about SOPA over the next few weeks – just search SOPA video if you want to see a huge outpouring of response from a wide range of content providers. I haven’t heard as much about either bill on TV; it will be interesting to see what the coverage is as online coverage ramps up.

Duluth’s push for Google pulls more IT

Last year about this time everyone involved with broadband or technology or even anyone hoping to get involved was watching Google closely as they were making the decision of which lucky community would become the Google Gig Community. According to just about everyone’s estimation, Duluth made the shortlist – but they weren’t selected. So what happens to a town that almost make the big time. Well, according to the Duluth News Tribune, they’re doing just fine.

Attendees to the Fall Broadband Conference post-conference session led by Duluth resident and Google Gig Champion Ben Damman got to hear a lot about the process of becoming a Google Gig contender. The planning, the rousing, the excitement and some of the luck. I’ve written before about their efforts and their plans for success…

So there you have it – some of the magic beans for driving a community broadband effort: get diverse group involved, make the goal clear, communication, transparency and social media to mobilize.

The Duluth News Tribune article looks at what has happen since – and perhaps because of – the push for Google Gig.

In Duluth, the effort brought the technology community together with a common mission, Ness said. And that created business connections and an assessment of the city’s existing IT infrastructure.

“Never before has Duluth seen the sort of IT investment as we have in the past 18 months and that continues,” Ness said last week. “We are seeing a massive expansion in inter-city transmission fiber lines, several middle-mile fiber projects and Involta building Duluth’s first-tier, one-level data center. Leaders in Duluth advocated for this investment and made it happen themselves — we didn’t need Google to make it happen.”

And bringing Google Fiber to Duluth could still happen.

Broadband deployment means jobs

The Red Wing Republican Eagle reports…

A $200,000 grant will boost Hiawatha Broadband Communications and give Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical a new curriculum niche.

The Minnesota Department for Employment and Economic Development recently awarded the grant under its Minnesota Jobs Skills Partnership. Southeast Technical will train 140 HBC workers, DEED said, starting with 35 people to maintain licensure as power limited technicians. Riverland Community College will assist with the licensing classes.

It’s nice to see that broadband deployment is creating new jobs. It would be nice to see Minnesota train folks for the region – and it would be nice to see those folks keep busy deploying broadband across all corners of the state.

Do you check online before choosing a restaurant?

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 51 percent of adults look to the Internet when looking for information on local restaurants, bars and clubs. I would love to hear from the 49 percent who don’t’ go online to get info. Does that means they get the info somewhere else or that they never look for info on local restaurants, bars and clubs?

The report actually indicates that people use the following:

  • Internet: 51% of those who get information about local entertainment businesses rely most on some kind of online source for that material.
  • Newspaper: 31% of them say they rely on newspaper material either in printed form or the website of their local newspaper for information about restaurants, bars, and clubs
  • Word of mouth: 23% of them say they rely on other people most of all for news and information about for information about restaurants, bars, and clubs
  • Local TV: 8% of them say they rely on TV for news about for information about restaurants, bars, and clubs – either broadcasts or the stations’ websites

For other businesses, 47 percent report using the Internet to get more info.

Kind of fun to read the full report – but important I think for restaurant and shop owners to recognize that half of their potential customers are going online to get info. And if Google is right that 60 percent of small businesses don’t have a web site – that means a lot of lost opportunity.

MN strives for ubiquitous broadband in 2015; we’re 85% today

[12/29/2011 note from Ann: Sorry! It turns out this link to the report below is wrong. You can get the updated data here: http://www.connectmn.org/planning Then this is a hyperlink that says “This initial report” and that is a link to a report from January 2011 unfortunately that’s the link I initially used. I think they may be working on rewording that.]

This week Connect Minnesota published their latest report from a summer of surveying Minnesotans about broadband adoption. It also estimates availability and speed. I think it’s a precursor to the Task Force report due at the end of the month, which will probably highlight much of the same information. So if you want a sneak preview of what’s to come – this is it.

Here’s the speed synopsis for anyone looking for facts and figures

Access

  • 93.76% of households have access to broadband of at least 3 Mbps download speeds (50 up. The National Broadband Plan strives to get
  • 100 million people access to 100 Mbps by 2020; 4 Mbps to the rest.
  • 84.10% of households have access to broadband of at least 10 Mbps download speed. The Minnesota Bill strives for 10-20 Mbps download speeds (5-10 up) by 2015.
  • 55.13% of households have access to broadband of at least 25 Mbps download speed.
  • 46.86% of households have access to broadband of at least 100 Mbps download speed.
  • 3.98% of households have access to fiber

One factor stressed in the report is that these numbers would be very different if you were looking at availability by location. About 60 percent of Minnesota’s population lives in the Twin Cities and the Twin Cities generally have pretty good access. Access across rural parts of the state is not as good and very uneven.

Adoption

  •  72% of Minnesota residents have a broadband connection in the home
  • 15% of Minnesota residents do not own a home computer.
    91% report accessing the Internet from either the home or someplace else
  • 81% of surveyed adults report accessing the Internet from home; 44% from work; and 16% from a library
  • 26% access the Internet via a cell phone or mobile device
  • 9% don’t access the Internet

FCC national data indicate that non-adopters are generally senior citizens, members of ethnic minorities, rural dwellers, people with disabilities, people of low income, and/or people with less education.

Uses of Broadband

Healthcare
37% communicate with their health insurance company
31% interact with doctors or healthcare professionals online

Government
52% report that they search online for information about government services or policies.
48% conduct online transactions with government offices (such as e-filing taxes or filling out forms),
37% interact with Minnesota state government offices,
28% interact with local government offices, and
25% interact with elected officials or candidates online.

Education
46% conduct research for schoolwork online,
39% interact with teachers online,
22% take classes online

Jobs
46% go online to search for jobs or employment,
37% report that they go online to work from home at least occasionally.
20% of employed adults report that they telework
17% of retirees, nearly three out of five unemployed adults, and almost one-third of homemakers say they would likely join the workforce if empowered to do so by teleworking

The report includes a list of strategies to address the broadband availability gap:

  • Research the impact of recent policy changes Universal Service Funds and Intercarrier Compensation (USF/ICC);
  • Encourage statewide coordination and planning;
  • Create planning activities across the state;
  • Streamline local/state rules for wireless deployment
  • Encourage smartgrids
  • Streamline local/state rules for rights-of-way, access to poles…
  • Promote public-private partnership
  • Measure and map

They also have suggestions to address the broadband adoption gap

  • Promote/coordinate local efforts
  • Promote public-private partnerships to promote adoption and warn of risks
  • Expand digital literacy programs
  • Use national portal of digital literacy tools
  • Measure and map
  • Work with tribal communities

*Several specific grant/funding opportunities were mentioned such as getting funds through E-rate (education), Institute of Museum and Library Services and State Broadband Data and Development grant program (SBDD) funded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)

My favorite part of the report

The report includes some statistics at the county level too I know in the past these county maps and data have spurred some action at the local level. I think that’s very valuable because at the end of the day I think it takes a local champion to get traction for local broadband. The case is made that broadband is most sparse and most expensive to deploy where the household density is low. So it’s difficult for national providers to create a business plan that makes it attractive to come into an area. Local folks have the “advantage” of a broader view; they can’t just focus on cost to deploy – they need to recognize the cost of not deploying too. That cost comes in added expense to reach healthcare to seniors, reduced access to education for local kids, loss of business certainly in persuading business to come into the area but even retention.

County folks may also be interested in section on FCC Availability Gap (starting on page 47). The FCC assumes that 95 percent of the country will have its broadband needs met by market solutions; they figure it will cost $23.5 billion to help the remaining five percent. If you are in that five percent, you want to make sure the numbers are right to improve your chances at receiving your support. The FCC has used a statistical model to estimate broadband coverage, but recognize that their model is imperfect. The chart on page 49 highlights discrepancies between the FCC model and Connect Minnesota research.

One thing I’d like to change

The report still provides information on access and adoption to slow connection (768 Kbps to 3 Mbps). This came up at the last Task Force meeting. I think once you list those speeds in a broadband report it elevates that speeds to broadband status and gives folks an opportunity to misinterpret them. It would be nice to eliminate them. Right now these speeds of 768 Kbps to 3 Mbps seem to represent the underserved. (This goes beyond the scope of this report but) I’d love to see the 4-100 Mbps represent the underserved. Really if the rest of the country is striving for 100 Mbps – how can we thin 4 Mbps for some is adequately served?

Also it would be nice if the speeds matched up with goals. We have speeds up to 3 Mbps when the National Broadband Plan goal for second tier service is 4 Mbps. We also have speeds measured at 10 and 25 Mbps when the state goal is 10-20 Mbps.

Again I think this is a decent sneak peek at the upcoming Task Force report. (I got a very tiny sneak peek at the report earlier this week – but not enough to know how much would be overlapped and enveloped from this Connect MN report.) This report is 143 pages; I think the Task Force was fewer than 30.

MN Broadband Task Force Meeting December 19, 2011 – Full Notes

Yesterday I attended the Minnesota Broadband Task Force meeting. This is their second meeting – and the last meeting before their first report (on the state of the state on broadband in Minnesota) is due at the end of the month.

Here are some highlights:

  1. The Task Force went over the latest version of the draft report
  2. Commissioner Rothman stopped by to get an update and offer encouraging words. He suggested that for the January strategic report that the task force need only to provide an outline – akin to the National Broadband Plan outline.
  3. They decided that the will move forward on the next report by dividing into three groups to look at the 2009 report and pulling what they can use for their report, what needs to be updated and determining gaps. Those groups will communicate via email and phone – and next meet convene to share notes with the larger group.
  4. They got a presentation on broadband from Task Force Member Steve Peterson

Most of the time was spent with the Task Force members looking over the proposed report asis. They were making suggestions for improvement and asking questions. The hiccup with my note taking was that I didn’t have a report and I don’t have one to share. I was able to ort of watch on as someone posted their electronic copy of the report on a screen. So the notes are a little jumbled as I tried to follow along.

The bulleted notes are notes from the members. The non-bulleted notes are on the report itself. I hope that will make sense.

Here are the notes…

Continue reading