Connect Minnesota Broadband Summit: Full Notes

Yesterday Connect Minnesota hosted a broadband summit. A lot of the discussion centered around public-private partnership. Providers spoke about reducing barriers as a way to make it easier to deploy broadband. Policy makers and watchers spoke about incentive programs such as E-Rate, Connect American Fund, tax exemptions and increased adoption as tools to boost access and use. Communities spoke about homegrown solutions to broadband adoption that started with passion and a vision.

Both Senators Klobuchar and Senator Franken sent inspiring videos. Keynote Thomas Cohen outlined broadband strategy options in business terms that focused on customer needs. JoAnne Johnson was named the Broadband Hero.

Panel: Providers and Technology

Wes Kerr, Connected Nation
Brent Christensen, MTA
Mike Martin, MN Cable Association
Andrew Sackreiter, AT&T Mobile

The mapping project has been a huge success. The industry has been very supportive.

What have you been doing to expand reach in rural areas:

MM: The cable industry has evolved since the 1996 Telecom Act. Between line extension and expansion, we have grown. But without a subsidy we have been confined to municipal areas. As services evolve that changes.

AS: AT&T has spent $500,000 in infrastructure in the last year. That’s equipment. We’re halfway through LTE deployment; we have another yea rot go on that.

BC: We serve municipal and rural areas. We build broadband networks. We reinvest in the network. We replace copper with fiber. The goal is to get service to the end customer. We have some folks who used fixed and mobile wireless due to financial and geographic constraints.

What new factors are impacting deployment?

MM: The technology – cable uses fiber to node, coaxial to home. As DOCSIS has improved the companies have been able to ramp us speeds. Competition is another factor. The high cost in rural areas and potential for competition is a factor.

AS: Devices and availability to do video. We see 10 times uptick in data traffic at times. Voice is not growing. The fester the technology, the more demand there is. IN rural MN, we see interesting patterns. We see large uploads at night.

BC: It’s customer drive. Land lines are going away. Our members are trying to figure out our niche. We are pipe providers.

How does technology impact change?

BC: The regulation is a factor and its different from other industries. The FCC transformation order has caused a state of flux. We deal with uncertainty that inhibits investment. We lost a sales tax exemption. That’s been a factor.

MM: Pressure on cable is to innovate and build new services. As we get faster, the customers get more options – such as Netflix.

AS: Shift to single platform LTE, which has been a good thing. But now we have to find ways to differentiate ourselves via speed, coverage, services. Only a few are focused on coverage. We need to look at capacity. The sales tax issue drives slower deployment.

From Telecom: Regulation is a factor. FCC transformation order has caused a state of flux. We lost a sales tax exemption. Uncertainty that inhibits investment.

What other applications are driving services you plan to deploy?

MM: For cable we compete with telecom.

BC: Applications drive need and dictate need for bigger pipes. In rural MN, we focus on economic development and telework.

AS: We talk a lot about video – but the other half is business applications. Trying to work from the cabin gets easier with better broadband. Broadband makes it possible to work from anywhere.

What are you doing to reach the 2015

MM: Our technology continues to improve DOCSIS 3.0 is protocol that will bring 100MBps down to folks. DOCSIS 3.1 is in the pipeline, we’ll see it in the next few years. It’s an issue of cost. And reaching the last farm and lake home is a public policy issue.

BC: IN 1994 we have the first Internet connection. I don’t’ know if we’ll reach the goals. It’s a laudable goal but without financial help from state or feds in form of USF, it won’t happen. We have a lot more that have 10 down and 3 up – which is fine for most folks. But speeds increase naturally.

MM: CAF funds are just starting to come in. We’re in Phase 1.2. Some of the construction is happening now.

AS: We meet 10/5 goal when we roll out LTE. We’ve hit a lot of areas – Red Wing, Brainerd…

In the TCS we have good speeds, but not as much in rural areas. What role can private public partnerships play? Connected Nation tries to tie demand to supply. What incentives do you need?

BC: Google Fiber is a good example. They chose KC because KC removed all barriers and did what they could do make it work. That model works. And that extends beyond the city limits.

MM: Support and subsidy mechanisms need to be focused. CAF is demonstrating the importance of focus. It’s going to be census tract by census tract. And companies need to see ROI.

AS: Standardization of rules would be helpful – such as with cell sightings.

BC: NO the mission and know your role. We need an honest and open discussion. We are providers, we provide services. We don’t try to govern.

MM: Improving adoption, improves take rate makes the business case easier.

BC: Baxter is a good example of where partnership works.

AS: We are working with municipalities when we select sites.

Mobile is going to have issues

Is there an ideal environment for deploying wireless.

AS: We are just working on our small cell build out. We are partnering with other providers to get access to rights of way and poles. Many companies don’t want a new pole. We need to target areas. IN a place like Chicago we have franchise – we don’t here. Customer demand drives deployment too.

PANEL: State and Federal Policy: The Impact on Minnesota’s Broadband Landscape

Bill Hoffman – Connect MN
Rep Sheldon Johnson
Lindsay Shanahan, Connected Nation
Senator Matt Schmit
Kim Babine, DEED

What is the role for government in broadband? IN MN we have goals for availability and we think adoption is important?

MS: Let’s have a conversation that optimizes private and public investment to become a world leader. We have a highly educated workforce. Broadband is an equalizing force. The government can break barriers and remove barriers. There’s great opportunities. We need a conversation. The un-session might be a time to think about policy that no longer makes sense.

KB: At DEED we see our role to be the convener. We aren’t going to solve problems but we can get people together. We can help develop strategies to leverage finances required from fed, state or philanthropic funding.

LS: There isn’t one role. There’s no one solution. We should focus on ubiquitous and affordable broadband. We need to be flexible. The E-Rate is flexible and has made a difference yet educators need more. They say they need more. We need to think long range. And we need to bring everyone to the table. We have maps and statistics. People in metro areas don’t’ get that rural areas are unserved. With adoption we think of digital natives, but that may not be the case.

SJ: One important issue is availability in rural areas for economic development. What incentives and policies will make that happen? Hopefully the Office of Broadband Development will be able to do some economic development modeling. We need to come up with strategic investment plans.

Last session, the legislators removed the exemption for telecom sales tax – do you think that will change?

SJ: The prospects are dim. We will get forecast on budget tomorrow. We still owe schools delayed payment of $238M; that will be priority. There are other industries that are also looking for support.

MS: The 2013 session was historic, but we weren’t perfect. The sales tax exemption is an example. Sales tax exemption is an issue I agree on to show that Minnesota is a good place to invest. We have been getting good financial news so I think there’s a chance.

Connect America Fund – where do we stand?

LS: In 2011, the FCC reformed high cost USF to create CAF to support broadband expansion as opposed to POTS. There are two phases planned. Phase 2 is a big deal in Minnesota. It will offer 3 price cap carriers $380M over 5 year period to serve unserved areas. Things could look very different in MN in a year. We will know more spring 2014. The parameters have not yet been released especially if/when carriers don’t’ take advantage of opportunities.

What can we do legislatively to support public-private partnerships?

SJ: It’s going to be a fast session. We are involved with overhaul of Chapter 237. We plan to work on it. Clearly it’s outdated. We are going to take a look at it. The goal is threefold

  1. Promote competition
  2. Flexibility to providers
  3. Consumer protection

We are going to seriously look at 65% super majority.

MS: There are areas where the ROI for broadband doesn’t work. IN those cases we need partnerships. How can we form them? What incentives do we have? I am open to suggestions. What about using state bonds? Right now we can bond at local level but not state. It’s worth considering a higher level investment. My goal is a constructive conversation that focuses on areas that are unserved and underserved today and tomorrow. It is a live conversation now.

OBD can be a convener but what is the value? What does the agency want to get from the convening?

KB: We have legislation goals but also since this is in DEED we want to see measureable goals in job creation, expand markets, spur innovation and serve healthcare, schools and public safety. And we want to see collaboration with other departments: Commerce, MNIT.

What should we pay attention to n terms of Federal legislation?

LS: CAF is a hot topic. E-Rate, it’s undergoing reform. There’s a push to connecting schools for digital learning.

What could be done outside of legislation?

MS: Creativity and entrepreneurial spirit at the local level will make the difference. I just heard from folks in the field. We need to think about how the applications of today can transform their community. We have so much great talent in rural Minnesota. Technology can help us tap into it. At the state we need a partner that makes those ideas happen. We’ve had great conversations over the last few years. It’s time to do something. We need to elevate those ideas.

KB: The state may be able to do something in the un-session. The Governor is passionate about getting rid of outdated laws that have become barriers. We need to capitalize on what’s already happening. The OBD will help us advance broadband outside of the session.

SJ: Affordability is a big issue. Mobility is an issue.

Kit Hadley – We are approaching access and adoption in siloed ways. Department of Ed and DEED are doing interesting things.

Isn’t the real issue digital inclusion?

MS: There are a number of elements that are being discussed today. With access the topic is rural. We have goals for access. When it comes to adoption, it’s just as important in rural and urban areas.

SJ: We need increased competition. We need affordable access.

JoAnne Johnson – If there’s no reversal of tax exemption – can we dedicate half of the revenue stream through broadband promotion?

SJ: Yes it’s a good idea. The ROI is there to make that a good call.

Casey Sorenson – PCs for People works with 15 departments to get their computers. We refurbish them and give them out. Could we work on letting other departments know about the opportunity?

MS: This is exactly the sort of thing we should be promoting.

KEYNOTE: Thomas Cohen

  • What should we be envious of FTTH? The value of your home goes up $5-10,000.
  • People want fiber. People want to move to fiber communities. You don’t want to be last fiber community.
  • There’s not enough licensed spectrum out there. So people are shrinking cell sites and putting in fiber.
  • Telecoms are grabbing unlicensed spectrum.
  • Consortium of 3-4,000 hotspots from cable
  • A frictionless world – broadband without thinking. Data capacity you need, mobility you need, FTTH allows that.
  • Tools people use to promote broadband – broadband tax credits
  • 100 muni-networks – they are sporadic and they are difficult builds. But people have made it work (Bristol, Chattanooga, Lafayette)
  • Google is a game changer – they build networks to sell advertising
  • LA sent an RFP for fiber but they didn’t offer much other that opportunity. Louisville made the opportunity more appealing

Question: Sam Drong – What Net Neutrality come up with a FIOS sort of network?

The incentives are more complicated that you think. The bigger the pipe, the more opportunities to get revenue from customers, not content providers.

Question: Pavvo Pykken – in the case of Google, are the same advantages being offered to incumbents?


Question: Pat Henderson – the legislators need to see this sort of presentation. It talks about value to what the citizens want and need.

PANEL: Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Update

Margaret Anderson Kelliher
Dick Sjoberg
Shirley Walz
Danna MacKenzie

MAK: As a Task Force we realized that adoption was a big topic – as well as the legislative focus on access. We have written several reports (available online). We are working on another one that will be available in early 2014. I testified 9 times last year. There’s a wide range of understanding of broadband. IT takes hard work to educate and engage people. We’re excited to have Office of Broadband Development.

DM: I have been involved with government relations – especially federal. It’s moving slowly. We have convened meetings. We met with libraries, rural interest groups, unserved, wireline and wireless providers and lots of digital literacy groups. We told them the state was working on knocking on barriers and they helped to inform policy. We’re excite about the upcoming report –

  • it builds upon recommendations in 2012
  • we have some directions for the OBD

MAK: Why an OBD? It provides accountability and focus on broadband.

DS: I worked on Best Practices with other members. We have talked to many providers in the area. We ask them what they need to get higher adoption rates, higher broadband ubiquity. We talked to libraries. Libraries are one of the mainstays for digitally disadvantaged. We are asking for funding for staff for libraries.

  • Restore sales tax exemption
  • Expand to cover fiber cable and nodes – both generally and/or in unserved areas
  • Continue funding Connect MN
  • Create fund for OBD to create programs such as adoption
  • Increase funding for school connections
  • Remove super majority barrier for communities
  • Help pay for broadband access for low income populations
  • Establish uniform cell siting
  • Encourage creation of more training for tech workers to deploy fiber
  • Encourage college level programs for cyber security
  • Within OBD – develop a fiber mapping program to show basic availability of fiber throughout MN – for education, economic development and consumers

MAK: The report is still in a draft format

SW: IN 2006, a group in MHTA decided we wanted to make MN more globally competitive. We wondered why people didn’t have it; and when they had it, why didn’t they use it. We built a website: and have been working on how to get the word out on it.

MAK: We are always looking for places to visit and stories to tell.

Kit Hadley – Why isn’t there more demand coming from business sector?

MAK: Businesses that need high speed have been able to purchase into it. We have done research on impact of a business website. But that doesn’t need high speed.

SW: We can get what we need. (At Thompson) But it’s about getting the workers the broadband they need to work from home. Before we upgraded (at home) a year ago I had troubles doing anything online.

DS: There are two types of business: The ones who get it; the ones who don’t. The bigger companies tend to get it. Digikey does $1B in sales each year. They understand their clientele. Smaller businesses don’t’ get it. Mercedes Benz has an app – you point to a restaurant, it shows you the menu. It gets back to adoption.

DM: It’s digital literacy fluency. Blandin has been working on it. We need to work more.

Question – James M – What kind of employers are looking for remote workers?

MAK: Often the employers is locating in a regional center. They want knowledge base workers. We see healthcare, healthcare analytics – especially around Rochester. Some companies are moving away from flexible workspace. A driver is a talented person who can leverage remote access. Businesses will adapt to get the people we want.

SW: The employers have to gain trust. You need to lay boundaries. IN my department we have people all over the world. We have 540 locations.

DM: We have a tech writer, a medical artist, a high level project manager – these people live in Grand Marais.

PANEL: Community-Led Approaches to Increase Broadband Adoption:

Bernadine Joselyn
Janice Gale – Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
Fatima Said – Project FINE
Sam Drong – PCs for People

BJ: Adoption is a key component for meeting the Minnesota broadband objective. Key messages:

  1. Investing in programs that stimulate use of broadband delivers meaningful economic development
  2. Broadband adoption efforts do work. 56,6000 new subscribers after MIRC adoption programs – 2% above expected growth

JG: We wanted to create a place where day labor workers could unite to write a resume, do homework to generally get work done. The reservation is widespread. We have 13 communities that need help. We wanted something for all of them. We have 1,000 participants. We provided basic internet training.

FS: Works with newcomers to Minnesota. Focus on Integrating Newcomers to Education (FINE). It’s not easy to make a new life in the US. You need information, resources and support. We surveyed our participants on 15% used Internet access. Technology means something if you can use it. As people get access at home they can access to better job info, school support…

SD: PCs for People gave out 3028 computers to low income families in rural MN between 2010-2012. 70 percent have never had a computer. 78 percent are unemployed. Average income is $12,000. We offer some broadband access (in TCs). 90 percent of people who start with our discount startup rate stay with the access.

Advice for communities?

SD: We come to a community. People want to give computers to families. They don’t know if there’s a demand. There is demand – but that need is not vocal. We work with school districts. We looks and free and reduced lunch recipients. PCs for People support computers with low cost repair services. We have two different clients: the families we serve and the businesses (gov et al) that donate the computers. We have become an end of life cycle computer management service. We work with people in three ways:

  1. We can do a drive in a community and redistribute computers locally
  2. We do mobile refurbishing events
  3. We establish an affiliate (like franchise) locally

FS: Partnership and collaboration is key. We can’t address all needs of our constituents. Everyone benefits from education we provide. We have tutors that go into people’s homes. We have to be passionate. We have to be flexible. We need to find the rest of the people in our community who aren’t online.

JG: Seeking out the need is essential. Talk to community members. Find out what they need and desires are.

BJ: It takes passion and a champion. Leadership: You have to do it yourself but you can’t do it alone.

Mike Reardon – What about cities that lease computers?

SD: We get computers from City of Minneapolis. They were rented from someplace. But they got the leasing partner to agree to donate to us rather than resell. We don’t’ charge anything. We’ll pick it up for free.

Broadband Hero Award – JoAnne Johnson

This entry was posted in Conferences, MN, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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