President Obama announces plans to support broadband expansion including funding for rural areas

Yesterday was a big day in broadband! I was happy to hear the big news about President Obama’s plans for broadband while attending the Gigabit Cities Summit in Kansas City. (More on that later!) For sake of archive I will do multiple posts on the announcement and a couple of other big details. Starting with…

President Obama visited Cedar Falls to congratulation them on their Gigabit broadband and unveil some details on his community-based broadband plan. Here are the highlights:

  • Calling to End Laws that Harm Broadband Service Competition: Laws in 19 states — some specifically written by special interests trying to stifle new competitors — have held back broadband access and, with it, economic opportunity. Today, President Obama is announcing a new effort to support local choice in broadband, formally opposing measures that limit the range of options available to communities to spur expanded local broadband infrastructure, including ownership of networks. As a first step, the Administration is filing a letter with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging it to join this effort by addressing barriers inhibiting local communities from responding to the broadband needs of their citizens.
  • Expanding the National Movement of Local Leaders for Better Broadband: As of today, 50 cities representing over 20 million Americans have joined the Next Century Cities coalition, a nonpartisan network pledging to bring fast, community-supported broadband to their towns and cities. They join 37 research universities around the country that formed the Gig.U partnership to bring fast broadband to communities around their campuses. To recognize these remarkable individuals and the partnerships they have built, in June 2015 the White House will host a Community Broadband Summit of mayors and county commissioners from around the nation who are joining this movement for broadband solutions and economic revitalization. These efforts will also build on the US Ignite partnership, launched by White House in 2012, and which has grown to include more than 65 research universities and 35 cities in developing new next-generation gigabit applications.
  • Announcing a New Initiative to Support Community Broadband Projects: To advance this important work, the Department of Commerce is launching a new initiative, BroadbandUSA, to promote broadband deployment and adoption. Building on expertise gained from overseeing the $4.7 billion Broadband Technology Opportunities Program funded through the Recovery Act, BroadbandUSA will offer online and in-person technical assistance to communities; host a series of regional workshops around the country; and publish guides and tools that provide communities with proven solutions to address problems in broadband infrastructure planning, financing, construction, and operations across many types of business models.
  • Unveiling New Grant and Loan Opportunities for Rural Providers: The Department of Agriculture is accepting applications to its Community Connect broadband grant program and will reopen a revamped broadband loan program, which offers financing to eligible rural carriers that invest in bringing high-speed broadband to unserved and under served rural areas.
  • Removing Regulatory Barriers and Improving Investment Incentives: The President is calling for the Federal Government to remove all unnecessary regulatory and policy barriers to broadband build-out and competition, and is establishing a new Broadband Opportunity Council of over a dozen government agencies with the singular goal of speeding up broadband deployment and promoting adoption for our citizens. The Council will also solicit public comment on unnecessary regulatory barriers and opportunities to promote greater coordination with the aim of addressing those within its scope.

What does this mean in Minnesota?

Minnesota does have a law on the books that hinders municipal broadband networks- specifically municipalities need to hold a referendum to vote on whether they can provide telephone service to the community and the vote requires a super-majority (2/3 approval) to pass. I’m sure this will come up.

Minnesota already has one city participating in the Next Century Cities coalition (Winthrop). Perhaps we’ll see more joining.

And of course Minnesota communities will be welcome (and I’m sure interested in) applying for federal funding.

Has Minnesota had had an influence on these announcements?

I was pleased that the White House document, Community-Based Broadband Solutions featured Minnesota’s own Scott County and their network…

Scott County, MN: Municipal government sees savings for county, school operations

In the early 2000s, Scott County started exploring options for increasing broadband services for county government buildings and schools. In 2007, the County issued $3.5 million in bonds to install a high-speed middle-mile network. The network connects all county-owned facilities, including schools, libraries, city halls, policy and fire departments and public safety towers. It also connects with the state’s high capacity backbone network and with multiple private providers. From the beginning, the project was a joint effort between local and state government and the private sector. While the county paid the upfront costs, the state pays for the network’s operating costs in exchange for use of the network. The open architecture of the system allows private companies to offer their own services; private providers, in turn, cover the network’s maintenance costs.

The network has achieved significant benefits. Scott County’s annual bond payment for the construction of the backbone is $35,000 less than what the County was paying for leasing private sector lines. Local schools have seen even greater savings. The costs for Scott County’s school districts per megabit of Internet service went from an average of $58.00 to $6.83 per megabit for all school districts—a cost reduction of nearly 90 percent per megabit. The net effect was a tripling of availability (100 to 300 megabits) while costs fell from $5,800 to $2,049 a month. At the state level, the government is saving approximately $1 million per year from access to the public network. The network has also helped attract significant private investment and fostered job creation. In 2010, for example, Emerson Process Management was finalizing a decision on where to site a new $70 million investment that would create 500 jobs. Emerson’s two finalist sites were the town of Shakopee in Scott County, Minnesota and Chihuahua, Mexico. Recognizing the savings from the high-speed broadband network, Emerson chose Scott County.

This entry was posted in Community Networks, Funding, 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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