Minnesota Broadband Task Force Meeting: Nov 2013 Full Notes

I’m going to come out and say it – yesterday’s meeting was sort of frustrating to watch. The Task Force is getting to a point where they need to transition from learning and talking about topics to writing the next report and the transition did not go smoothly. (Draft report here.)

In fairness, they say poor dress rehearsal doesn’t mean poor opening night – but it seems as if half of the Task Force wanted to comb through the draft report as if it were the penultimate version. And the rest wanted to bring up topics that were new or at least not well addressed yet by the group. It seemed like there was tension between the two approaches.

Also the shadow in the room is the Office of Broadband Development Director, a position that hasn’t been filled yet. There was some discussion on the relationship between the Director of the OBD, the Task Force and the State departments (Commerce and DEED). I caught some of it on video (really audio).

The Task Force heard from local government folks – Tom Garrison and Mike Reardon – both have been on previous iterations of the Task Force. Both made the point that each community is different and so allowing for different solutions will help fill the gap.

The Task Force also heard from satellite providers today. It was nice to see how far satellite has come in terms of speed and latency in the last few years – but the upload speeds still do not meet the Minnesota Broadband goals.

10:00-10:15 Welcome/Introductions/Public Comments/Approve minutes from October 1, 2013

  • Welcome from Dennis Fazio
  • Introductions
  • Approve minutes
  • There has been a second round of interviews for the director of Office of Broadband Development

10:15-11:00 Satellite Industry Presentation and Demonstration

Introductions by Lisa McCabe, Satellite Communications and Broadcasting Assn. http://sbca.com/

Satellite has 1.3M subscribers, 21,000 in MN

Dan Reno, Hughes Network Systems, Senior Director of Sales, North America Division

  • It’s a 2-way system
  • Exede – latency has been reduced. Service is much quicker now.
  • We try to fill the gap in very rural, rural and suburban areas. There isn’t a market for satellite service in urban areas.
  • They serve 12 Mbps in Eastern MN and California. Otherwise they offer 5 Mbps. They seem to serve about two-thirds of Minnesota.
  • Cost – relates to size of data plan. Starts at $60/month for 10 Gig.
  • Got ARRA funding and provided serve to 1,000 customers through that funding until earlier this year. The current customers can keep those accounts asis as long as they are customers.
  • ViaSat-2 launching in 2016 – will be faster speeds with larger datacaps
    • Will double the bandwidth of ViaSat-1 while increasing geographic footprint by 7x.
  • This week they are launching a zero-down option for the holidays.

Steve Shute, National Sales Manager, ViaSat, Inc.

  • 750,000 customers; 9,000 in Minnesota (4,000 as of Jan 2013)
  • They provide service to gas station credit card machines
  • Purchased by EchoStar a year ago – they have largest fleet of satellites (mostly for video)
  • They do: consumer service, enterprise, government, mobile satellite
  • Offer 10-15 Mbps in southern half of MN; more like 5 Mbps in the North
  • Most customers don’t reach datacaps; we don’t want people who really use the service. It takes up too much of our resources. Prices start at $30/month
  • Launching next iteration in 2016.

11:00-11:30 League of Minnesota Cities /Minnesota Association of Community Telecommunications Administrators (MACTA) Presentation

Introductions by Laura Ziegler, League of Minnesota Cities

129 cities / offer a range of services

Mike Reardon, President of MACTA

  • Local Government has a role
    • Protect and serve the public interests
    • Management Rights of Way
    • Collaboration – public-private partnerships work well
      • We can bond and bring money to the table that industry can’t
      • The Task Force should look at bonding issues
      • MAK note – it may take a lawsuit to do this.
  • Local Government is not a barrier to entry. If local government didn’t step in the providers would have to go to each resident to get permission
  • Dakota Future is an example of local government supporting industry.
    • Out of the collaboration was born a one-stop shop for working with cities through Dakota County on permits et al
  • Municipal delivery of broadband services
    • No one size fits all
    • Municipal ownership/operation is an option
    • If there are no sacred cows, then 65% super majority must be removed.

Tom Garrison, Communications Director, City of Eagan, and Telecommunications Task Force Chair, League of Minnesota Cities

  • The original Task Force report is more than a report card. It included the need to create a plan.
  • Can we come up with fair rules of engagement? (Think of Monticello.)
  • Access Egan – a 16.2 mile wholesale fiber network – 3 providers use service
  • What else could we do?
    • Bonding authority to extend length of ROI
    • Test bed for new ideas and technologies
    • Convene community conversations
    • Grow MN’s talent economy
    • Harden MN against cyber threats and single points of failure
  • What else should we do?
    • Cannot focus just on un/underserved
    • Keep regional job centers competitive
    • Focus on affordability
    • Focus on duties for Broadband Office
    • Identify Best Practices
    • Drill down in the data


In Chicago we learned that building fiber networks is 10% technology and 90% sociology. KC invested $3M the ROI was $265M.11:30-12:45

Working Lunch: Incentives/Best Practices Subgroup discussion with full Task Force

[Last month I took notes on the recommendations. This month the recommendations were projected onto the wall. I don’t think they really changed – just fleshed out – but I can only see and type so fast.]

Recommendation 1: Restore Sales Tax Exemption

  • Do we really need to provide exemption in in well served areas?
  • But we need more investment in areas.
  • But the market has proven that people will invest in those areas.
  • Investment is needed in Central Office to meet goals
  • We need to be strategic about where we are asking for money and this might use up all of the money that the Legislature might invest in broadband.
  • We did not want to talk about this except that the Legislature took sales tax exemption away last session.
  • The committee will need take up these issues

Discussion on – time to spend on recommendations…

  • We can’t talk about each recommendation too much or we’ll be here until 5 pm.
  • We have goals and our job is to hit those goals. We need to focus on the ubiquity.
  • We also want to be world class. We need to invest in served areas too.

Recommendation 2: Expand the Sales Tax exemption to include Outside Plant, such as fiber optic cable and fiber nodes.

Recommendation 3: Continue Connect MN Mapping Project

  • The proposed funding will only fun about 1/8 of what’s there now
  • It would include some fuding
  • Why don’t we recommend full amount ($1M) – if we’re going to have resources we need certain things.
  • The project ends 13 months from today

Recommendation 4: Create an OBD operating fund to create value ($250,000 estimate annually)

  • Support the WhyBroadband website
  • Community adoption efforts (such as
  • Coordinate public-private partnerships – we want efforts to continue
  • Statewide representation at community events
  • Encourage providers to promote with OBD
  • Provide demonstrations of technology
  • Right now the funding really only takes care of personnel – added funding would allow for more activities
  • There are tools out there that can measure ROI In community

Recommendation 5: increase funding for Telecommunications/Internet Access Equity Aid per student funding amount and expand to include Libraries, encourage fiber connections and providing access to underserved populations

  • There are schools that are doing fine; there are others that are not hitting 100 Mbps per 1000 students (recommended ratio)
  • Do we want to get more specific than increase? DO we need a dollar amount?
  • MN libraries and schools have relatively low speeds as compared to other states. In fact the whole country is pretty low – because of what was put into Legislation.
  • The costs will be different based no location and legacy.

Recommendation 6: Get rid of the super majority

  • I wouldn’t support the elimination of this
  • Do you think there will be a sun setting of this as research indicates that people are no longer putting in POTS?
  • Can we recommend language that would make legislation more clear
  • If we are looking at making changes we need to incldue transparency and information on what is happening.
  • I think the statute will stay and will include municipalities and counties.
  • Are there any other places where this requirement exists? This is unique because we are talking about government competing with private sector. This is going head to head with existing providers.
  • Could we get the history of the super majority?

Recommendation 7: Create, expand and fund new telecommunications and Internet protocol technology training programs similar to the programs that existed at Wadena and Rosemount Technical Schools These programs will train people to be workers in the telecom and internet industries.

  • Is the idea that we don’t have enough workers to get the job done?
  • Who is the audience for this recommendation? The Legislature tends not to get involved with recommendation MNSCU programming.

Create a fund to help make connectivity services for low income families –  with refurbished computers. And work with provider-sponsored lower cost access options.

Recommendation 8: Begin college level programs with majors in Cyber-Security

  • Again the question may be – who is the audience?
  • Century College, DCTC and Inver Hills is working with Thomson Reuters on something like this. Century added a Virtual Server class. And we have a co-op with students.
  • DO we need to talk to someone about their curriculum?
  • Maybe this is an agenda item for next year

Recommendations for Office of Broadband

  1. Do a high level fiber availability survey – informational for OBD, Legislature, and Economic Development
  2. Look for funding sources for digital inclusion (low income computers & broadband access)
  3. Examine E-Rate program
    1. There are national efforts to remove these restrictions
    2. Maybe a better spin is asking the OBD to play a role national discussions
    3. It’s important because it’s specifically targeting communities that need broadband access
  4. Remove restrictions on using bandwidth in the schools
  5. Digital storytelling community outreach education
  6. Corporate sponsorship of iPad similar device for economically qualified.
  7. Leverage corporate broadband philanthropic contest with Governor’s executive award.
  8. Leverage libraries and schools in getting information out to underserved populations regarding problems to help with computer equipment, computer literacy, and connectivity cost.

What sort of guidance would be appropriate for the ODB Director? Maybe we need to look at the higher picture – OBD should focus on reaching the goals – such as universal deployment and adoption.

Maybe we need to pass on priorities, not a laundry list.

We need a longer discussion. We are not the boss of the OBD. It’s being supervised by Commerce and DEED. We need to calibrate our role. We have been the main advocate – but out role and relationship may need to change. Our recommendations may be better addressed to the Dep Commissioner. OBD may be assisting the Task Force but we will not be doing the performance review. We need intermediary steps.

Right – we don’t need a laundry list of tasks. But we have a view on how the office might best serve the state.

Originally we had a list of tasks we wanted to recommend – and realized that some were best practices, some were for the legislature, some would best be addressed by OBD.

Actually our recommendations are for the Governor.

There are at least half a dozen tasks for the OBD in the legislature.

What are other states doing? We could benchmark using those as models.

I don’t know if DEED did that. The original Task Force did look at this.

Oh we won’t be putting any of this in the report!


There’s a report that shows the effect of having a computer and Internet access on household income.

We could look at starting a fund that helps providers serve unserved areas. Other areas have a fund like this – it would include direct loans, funds, bonding … The funding would go to the providers. This is meant to address infrastructure.

There’s a difference in duopolies versus areas with more funding.

Pg – 8 Where we are today

  • Given the talks from today – why don’t we include satellite update?
  • Because upload is still 3Mbps, which isn’t the state goal. The new satellite will probably only be 4-5 Mbps up too.
  • The NTIA doesn’t include satellite – partially because satellite is almost ubiquitous
  • We could note the progress of satellite in the November meeting notes
  • The FCC is starting to consider satellite

We include one map that looks at the Fed definition of broadband (4/1) partially because the Connect America Fund is based on the federal definition.

Pg 12 –

  • There is statistic is about 6 Mbps down and 1.5 up for fixed wireless then it seems like we could be mentioning satellite too.
  • But that will skew our results
  • But it would reflect the truth
  • And satellite is almost ubiquitous – but not quite. We met folks in Bemidji who didn’t have access.
  • We haven’t talked about this enough to include it now.
  • 1:45-2:00 Update/Next Meeting Agenda/Wrap-up
  • 2:00 Adjourn

Side Bar on Satellite

These are speeds that are being accessed – not available. We need to make sure that broadband is affordable. Satellite is not affordable. We need to look at options that are affordable. For most folks the speeds are there for anyone who can afford it. We’re missing the boat on affordability.

  • We need make an opportunity in affordability, access, availability, adoption. We’re looking at availability – not affordability.
  • Who defines affordability?
  • We could do back to testimony from previous meetings. We had people testify that access was not affordable to the general population.
  • Laptops are cheaper than they have ever been…
  • It might be a comparison of socioeconomic strata and affordability.
  • For many people the affordability is $20. Satellite doesn’t meet that qualification. The cost is way out of balance for folks compared to folks in urban areas.
  • There are low income households in urban too.
  • But in rural areas you don’t have bundled options.
  • We are technology agnostic. And no one size fits all. There’s a place in the pie for satellite. We haven’t talked about affordability. But do we have time?
  • We could add another section on affordability.

Pg 14

  • Do we want to note that adoption programs do increase adoption?

Pg 15-22

  • DO these just summarize projects? DO we need to go through them?

Pg 22-23

  • I will check the CAF piece with folks back at the office

Pg 26

  • We could mention that it’s important to keep up on federal happenings.
  • Does this relate with what the OBD will be doing?
  • This could be a place to talk about past money received from Feds, talk about achievement and bring up the message that Federal funding is important! The folks in DC are looking for that kind of thing!

Pg 27

  • We try to get the wireless providers to provide us with investment details. We don’t have that but I could reference a report.
  • Maybe move the sales tax recommendation to a more general section. The point is that we need investment in infrastructure.

Pg 27

  • It would be nice to have more stats on usage and adoption of wireless
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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