Governor’s Task Force on Broadband: Oct 2013: Full Notes

Yesterday I attended the Minnesota Broadband Task Force meeting in Windom MN. They heard from several ARRA-funded projects. I’ve been noticing how many projects have been coming to a successful close – or in most cases a successful opening of a new network. Again it was great to hear from them. Maybe the biggest lesson is that good things happen with an influx of serious money.

I also sat in on the subgroup on Best Practices and Incentives. They were discussing their recommendations and who they thought could/should address the recommendations (Legislature, Workforce Development or Office of Broadband Development). It seems to me that something is missing from the list – an oomph that might actually get Minnesota inching more quickly toward the 2015 goals.

I like the items that promote digital inclusion – it’s tough not to like those. And in terms of adoption efforts more generally, in her presentation to the group about the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities projects — one of the ARRA-funded projects in Minnesota — Bernadine Joselyn pointed out that community-based adoption efforts can make a difference.  In the case of MIRC, broadband adoption in participating communities rose 15 percent faster than in the rest of rural Minnesota.

BUT it seems like so far the recommendations do not include any big sticks or big carrots to promote the kinds of public private partnership that most folks seem to think is essential in deploying broadband. Most of the recommendations seem to support a status quo and better tracking of progress.

Maybe it’s time to assess what each side has and wants. Public wants/needs ubiquitous ultra-fast broadband. Private wants/needs to make money. Policies that support making money are policies that promote tax credits/breaks, that streamline processes and obviously anything that subsidizes coverage (such as long-term low interest loans or better yet grants). It seems like there might be room for policymakers to negotiate with providers to pass those policies BUT negotiate with an eye toward getting ubiquitous broadband in return. For example, the Task Force has publicly come out in favor of restoring the sales tax exemption on central office equipment, and their list of recommendations includes expanding that exemption to outside plant equipment.  It seems to me that these two recommendation, as is, do not advance the state broadband goals.  However, adding a stipulation that these tax savings be reinvested in building infrastructure in underserved communities, would.

It would be interesting to create a spreadsheet of public saving potential through broadband and broadband-enabled services (healthcare, education, renewing permits and licenses…). Perhaps that savings could be turned into broadband subsidies to bring more providers to the table.

It feels like those are the sort of things that could happen at the new Office of Broadband Development. Many of the recommendations discussed are near and dear to my librarian heart (databases, clearinghouses, public service announcements) but I think we need something else too – an oomph.

October 1, 2013

Business, Arts & Recreation Center (BARC)
1012 5th Ave.
Windom, MN 56101
10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

10:00 Introductions/ Approval of Minutes

10:10 Welcome by Greg Warner, Windom BARC

The Business, Arts & Recreation Center, Inc. of Windom is more commonly referred to as BARC. http://www.barcwindom.com/

  • 6 business rent here
  • 2 churches
  • 5 EFCE programs
  • Martial Arts, stained glass, other arts
  • 650 performing arts auditorium
  • Videoconferencing is available (portable w/6 hookups)
  • 12-station computer room

10:20  Public Comments

10:30      Overview of BIP  – Dominic      Henderson, RUS/USDA (Dominic was replaced by Diane Wells due to the Federal Gov shutdown.)

Update on ARRA programs:

  • BTOP – funded through Dep of Commerce$7.2 allocated in 2009.
  • BIP – Funded through Dep of Ag
  • Also funds for mapping and computer centers $4.7 million
  • Minnesota was #8 among states for ARRA funding with $238 million grants and loans
  • Most of the projects are in the wrap up phases

10:45 Presentation: Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC)  – Lyle MacVay, CTO, NESC (via videoconference)

11:00 Presentation: Southwest Minnesota Broadband Service  – Dan Olsen, General Manager, Windomnet

  • Windom, Lakefield & Jackson – offered cable for many years.
  • In 2003 we looked at cable system in terms of an upgrade
  • They decided to deploy FTTH to everyone building in Windom
  • 5 Years ago Lakefield, Round Lake, Jackson talked to us about getting them connected.
  • The stimulus program was impetus to bump up the plan
  • Network connects the communities
  • Backbone has been difficult – but through partnerships we have connections in various communities in the state – such as the MICE peering http://micemn.net/
  • We are working on wireless where we can’t get fiber.
  • SMBS – is a joint partners agreement between 8 communities
  • We are closing out the ARRA funding
  • GPON and Active EtherNet – lots of specials
  • 11 private partners (Dark Fiber, collocation, transport)
  • Schools have wireless backbone; we provide backhaul
  • Combines all have wireless connectivity
  • Farmers want access – they need to be trading all day. And they don’t blink at the cost.
  • Local trucking company with terminals and Roswell and AZ. They needed fiber to support their work. They track weather, gas costs by location, mileage, weights – all in real time due to the fiber.
  • Last money they made money

Questions:

You do direct service to private and public entities?

Yes – although we also work with providers – to serve larger companies such as Sanford or Mayo. We will often provide the last mile.

There are difference in county-based services in MN. Have you seen a chance in government services provided online?

Yes – working with Blandin we have been able to get some work done. Cottonwood has hired a new person to take advantage. Other counties have done different things. City of Windom has a range of services available online – licenses various fees or memberships.

We have the best connected gas station! The tanks are remotely tracked and filled. Lots of security cameras so folks can monitor work from afar.

11:15 Presentation: Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities/Blandin Foundation – Bernadine Joselyn, Director of Public Policy and Engagement

Broadband grew 15% faster in MIRC communities than other rural counterparts. Intervention can work if you do it right.

11:30 Presentation: AT&T Network Update – Paul Weirtz, President, AT&T Minnesota and Cory Draack, Technical Communications Manager, AT&T

  • $19.5 Billion is what AT&T spends in the US
  • $500 Million investment in MN since 2010 on wireless infrastructure
  • $300 million nationally will get 4G LTE
  • 55% of adults log onto Internet wirelessly
  • VIP – public commitment to build out infrastructure.
  • We look at coverage, capacity & speed
  • On the drive from TCs to Windom streaming a video – only buffered one
  • We are doing updates Hills and Ellsworth (former Alltel acquisitions)

Notes from the Mayor

  • We had trouble connecting without electricity and ran into troubles
  • Having access from AT&T
AT&T coverage map

AT&T coverage map

Question – what’s the plan in Minneapolis?

We have announced 4G in Minneapolis, Grand Rapids… (and other more metro communities).

Note on Office of Broadband – we hope to have more news by the end of the week

  • 11:45      Lunch

12:15 Subgroup Break Out Time 1 – Incentives/Best Practices

Ideas for Incentives: [I have marked the entity that the subgroup decided could/should address each idea]

  1. Restore the Sales Tax exemption on Central Office equipment. LEGISLATURE
  2. Expand the Sales Tax exemption to include Outside Plant, such as fiber optic cable and fiber nodes. LEGISLATURE
  3. Create and fund new telecom training programs similar to the programs that existed at Wadena and Rosemount Technical School. These programs train people to be workers in the telecom industry. WORKFORCE DEV
  4. Complete a mapping program that would show the availability of fiber and fiber-based services across the state, with particular emphasis on business services. OFFICE OF BROADBAND DEVELOPEMNT (OBD)
  5. Look for funding sources to continue and expand the C2C etc. including making free computers available. OBD
  6. Begin college level programs with majors in cyber-security. WORKFORCE DEV
  7. Examine E-Rate program and make suggestions to remove restrictions or better leverage program to increase access to underserved populations. Examples: OBD
    1. Remove restriction on using bandwidth at schools after hours
    2. Encourage E-Rate receivers to require fiber or build own fiber to increase fiber availability in underserved areas
    3. Digital story telling community outreach education OBD
    4. Corporate sponsorship of iPad or similar devices for economically qualified OBD
    5. City or county marketing assistance and or materials OBD
    6. Leverage corporate EGOs broadband philanthropic contest with Governor’s award
    7. Increase funding for the Telecommunications/Internet Access Equity Aid and expand to include Libraries, encourage fiber construction and providing access to underserved populations LEGISLATURE
    8. Make it easier for communities that do not feel they are being adequately served by telecommunication companies to enter into the telecommunications market by changing the 65% referendum under Minn. Stat. 237.19 to a simple majority referendum LEGISLATURE
    9. Leverage libraries and schools in getting information out to underserved populations regarding programs to help with computer equipment, computer literacy and connectivity cost. Maybe create a central state clearing house for the information. OBD
    10. Create fund to help pay for connectivity services for low-income populations, set up so that public and corporations can make donations – make it eligible for contribution via a “round-up” program or include on tax form as a donation (i.e, environmental fund) OBD
    11. Connect MN continue for 2 more years as a gap filler while the FCC starts its program and to provide continuity LEGISLATURE
    12. Create an Office of Broadband operating fund to allow it to create value. LEGISLATURE

Ideas for Report

  • Frame a more aggressive stance to better aid the Legislature in Broadband issues
  • Research what makes the top 10 in each category more successful than MN

Mapping program – OBD

#3 already exists MnWest Technical College has a program.

#5 funding sources such as Connect to Compete – OBD

#13 we could argue that we should get rid of this. What about Monticello/ The really didn’t need the referendum – but did it to stop incumbent from coming back to them later. Because the phone service is done differently now. It only applies to cities, not counties

Do we want a 4-year plan?

Must Do – 1 & 2 ($70-80 M), 17 (top priority need more funding and maybe funding for more years), 16 ($435,000/annual)

Year 1 – 16 & 17,

Year 2 – 1, 2

Office of BB is required to do about 11 things based on legislature. Maybe require priorities.

Do we ask them to double budget for OBD.

Maybe we need to hold off on this list until the Director of OBD is hired so that we’re in synch. Except that budget for the Department is already being requested. If we want to request funds we need to get in there.

    • Adoption
  • 12:45      Subgroup Break Out Time 2
    • Coordination       Across Govt./Monitor FCC & PUC Decisions/Cost of Broadband
    • Mobile/Wireless       Broadband

1:15 Full Task Force Discussion of December Report Content

  • Letter
  • Summary of recommendations
  • Intro and highlight
  • Recap on 2013 Leg session – including items that didn’t go as we wanted
  • Progress on statutory goals
  • Highlighting research & stories
  • Use of maps
  • ARRA update
  • Summary of Federal Activities
  • Subgroup reports
  • Conclusions
  • Looking to pepper stories of success and need throughout

Anything missing?

The plan is to write this up and give members a chance to look at it in December before it gets published.

Why don’t we add recommendation at onset? We will include them possibly as a pull out.

Does it seem like subgroups might be a strange way to organize this?

Policymakers might not read everything but if we keep subgroups as an organization they will understand the emphasis and importance.

Some of the problem is that we thought we’d have a director for the Office of Broadband Development by now and we don’t. We could include our list of what the office should be doing.

  • 1:50 Next Meeting Location and Agenda/Task Force Wrap Up
  • 2:00 Adjourn

 

This entry was posted in Minnesota Advisory Task Force, MN, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

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

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