Advice for broadband-seeking communities – be prepared, be vocal: MN State Bar Association Forum

Today I attended the MN State Bar Association Communications Annual Forum. It’s always an interesting event, perhaps because the technical and wonky people are pretty plain spoken and the policymakers are pretty frank.

I have my full notes below but wanted to start with a few highlights:

  • There was a general recognition from the policymakers that broadband lost momentum in the Legislature. Too many people thought greater funding for next year was a forgone conclusion. To stop that from happening people need to contact their representatives early and often. (Think of your representative as your lobbyist!)
  • The Broadband Task Force is going to focus on changing the speeds goals and helping schools optimize e-rate funding.
  • We need to do more teaching to policymakers and others. Technology can be difficult to understand – we need to make the nuances accessible. (For example wireless connections require wired infrastructure.)
  • A basic question came up – is broadband a utility? It’s difficult to promote it as a utility and promote competition.

8:00 – 9:00 Keynote Presentation: The Rapid Evolution of Broadband in the United States, Five Years After the National Broadband Plan

In 2010, the FCC published the National Broadband Plan. Five years later, where do things stand on the successes, challenges, and remaining milestones involved with meeting the plan’s ambitious goal of ensuring that every American has access to broadband capability?

Welcome: Jason Topp, Associate General Counsel, CenturyLink

Speaker: Chin Yoo, Deputy Division Chief, Telecom Access Policy Division, FCC Wireline Competition Bureau

4 funding streams – are they working together?

How do we help rural carriers serve the most customers efficiently?

E-Rate – in 1996 the plan was to get all schools are connected. Finished the mission – but education continues to need more. What is the best way to target the funding now? Two new deals:

Congress told FCC to make sure there’s connectivity in classroom – so they support internal connections. Identify the WiFi gap. Trying to get all schools to have WiFi. Cost $1 billion annually

Also interested in setting a minimum speed and making it affordable.

If state supports network, fed will support up to 10 percent. There’s an effort to promote state/federal support.

High cost areas are encouraged to serve schools and libraries.

Rural healthcare – provides subsidies to connect to the Internet and other healthcare providers. Did reform in 2012 – much based on pilot project and lessons learned:

There’s no one size fits all

Benefit to making people work together

Views:

  • Universal service goals:

  • Get broadband to everyone

  • Be financially responsible and hold fund recipients accountable.

  • There’s an increased focus on real world now. All past FCC Chairmen have come from business world and have pushed staff to look at not just what’s legal but what’s the cost and benefit and how do we track it?

Technology allows so much more now in terms of policy – for example the impact of mapping.

People on the ground don’t generally have time to tell the policymakers.

Questions:

Municipalities – what about municipalities?

Under Wheeler we have been doing more. It may seem slow but from a regulatory perspective change has come. The FCC is usually about 5 years behind with technology. The FCC may need to get out of the way.

We can maybe give voice to views rather than rush regulatory. It would be nice to hear more from folks who are doing well.

KB: At USAC – we had phone calls with groups of people that was a way to talk to several tech folks at once.

9:00 – 9:45 Broadband in Minnesota: An Update and Vision

The Office of Broadband Development is the new kid on the block in Minnesota broadband law, policy and program. The Border to Border Broadband grant program is a key feature of the agenda for the Office. Danna MacKenzie will discuss the work of the agency. Margaret Anderson Kelliher will highlight the work of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband. Their comments will provide a perspective on the future of broadband development in Minnesota.

Speakers: Danna MacKenzie, Executive Director, MN Office of Broadband Development and Margaret Anderson Kelliher, President and CEO, MHTA and Chair, Governor’s Broadband Task Force

MAK: 385,000 households in Minnesota do not have broadband at home

SO what does that mean? It’s more than watching NetFlix. It’s about starting a business from home, getting a degree online. 40 percent of classes at MNSCU have an online component.

If we want economic growth, we need to make ourselves more productive and that means better broadband.

Access to healthcare is also compelling. It started with electronic medical records – but it has expanded.

In 2010, the legislature set a goal of 10 Mbps down and 5 Mbps up (10/5). But those goals were set many years ago. We haven’t achieved it, but we’re aiming for it.

About the Task Force

  • Members represent a balance of broadband interests
  • Provide recommendations – to legislature but read by many
  • Develop an action plan
  • Ensure everyone has access to the tech and info they need (partnership with OBD helps)

2014 Funding Recommendation

  • $2.9M for program delivery and continued mapping
  • $200M to the Broadband Development Grant Program
  • $6.6M for Regional Library Telecom Aid
  • $9.75M for Telecom aid equity for schools

We will be celebrating rural broadband day at FarmFest.

We want to update speed goals AND recommendations on e-rate. Minnesota could do better if we had a plan that fit with federal policy.

DM: Office open since Jan 2014. We focus on:

  • Be a focal point in government to talk/think broadband
  • We are the centralized resources – we get into to policymakers, providers and citizens. We track what’s happening in MN, other states and on national level.
  • We develop program recommendations and implementation. A big piece of that is administering Broadband Grant program.

The OBD works with the Task Force. But they are distinct and different.

Stuff we work on:

Grant program – Some projects are finalizing financing; we have some that are being deployed. $10.58M for fund this year. We’re looking at late summer applications and fall announcements for grants but keeping an eye on CAF funding, which will relate.

Issues:

  • Prevailing wage – it doesn’t work in rural areas.
  • Environmental and historical reviews
  • Inconsistency and expense of railroad crossing
  • State participation in Dig Once – what’s the role for a state?

Broadband Data and Mapping

Gives us a tactical tool for making investments

ARRA paid for mapping – the state has picked some of that up. Connected Nation (Connect MN) just completed final round of mapping.

We track federal programs that touch broadband.

A new program – Workforce investment and opportunities act – digital literacy opportunity.

Looking at e-rate and lifeline.

Community anchor institutions – we are trying to augment existing surveys – especially for schools and libraries.

Digital Inclusion and Literacy – on the to-do list, partially because workforce development, Blandin Foundation and active library groups are working on it too.

Being placed in DEED has helped frame our view on broadband. We meet with economic developers and we talk up broadband in our department to help people think more about it.

Questions:

Has any 2014 money been declined?

There is one awardee that might decline, which means those funds will get rolled into the 2015 pool.

Have you broken down projects by technology?

Most are fiber based – but we don’t have the stats now. We didn’t fund any exclusively wireless project.

What do you think about the expected change in speed goals?

We need to work on the definition – it doesn’t mesh with the federal definition. (10/5 versus 25/3) The Task Force will work on it together. For the purpose of the grants – there’s also language saying awarded projects must to scalable.

What about the idea that “everything is going wireless”?

It’s been a challenge. It was a bigger challenge this year. We are always looking at ways to get people to understand the role of wired even in a wireless network. People need to understand the physics and it requires a lot of education. Perhaps we can do more of that in the next Task Force report.

10:00 – 10:30 FCC Panel: Where are They Now – A Big Picture Look at Recent Regulatory Developments in the Federal Universal Service Programs

The telecommunications regulatory world is rapidly evolving and savvy telecommunications practitioners know that a cutting edge knowledge of the changes in broadband and federal universal service regulation is a must. The panel will discuss recent changes in FCC broadband and federal universal service regulation and what they mean for telecommunications and broadband providers in the broadband era.

  • Speakers: Chin Yoo, Deputy Division Chief, Telecommunications Access Policy Division, FCC Wireline Competition Bureau and
  • Shannon Heim, Senior Counsel, Government Policy and Telecommunications Regulatory Attorney, Dykema Gossett PLLC
  • Moderator: Kristin Berkland, Associate, Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs Attorney, Dorsey & Whitney LLP

CY: Universal service – historically we dealt with carriers. Now it’s a consumer issue again. We keep them in mind with policy.

SH: Focus on broadband is a good thing. It has created instability in the carrier market. There really isn’t a business case to build infrastructure. The lack of predicable funding (transfer order) has been an issues too. There’s an increase in policy and a decrease in funding.

The more than government can provide stability, the better off we’ll be.

CY: There’s no such thing in future-proof with technology – but true with policy too. We can’t just do one reform every 10 years. We need an iterative process.

SH: There are areas that we will never be able to serve – that makes ubiquitous policy difficult to deploy. The middle mile network needs to support the whole network.

CY: 25/3 is aspiration standard. We might need a slower standard to support other areas. DO we use the standard from a bully pulpit or as an actual gauge of who gets funded.

SH: IN a universal service context – with phone everyone got a dial-tone. With broadband – is it really universal service if the speed goals are different?

CY: Size of the country is an issue.

Nearly 10 million Americans can’t get broadband access.

CY: We are trying to fine tune the tools we have. We recently made it easier for networks that serve schools and healthcare. It makes sense. And it saves money. We need to look at how we structure efficiency for other investors too.

SH: Makes the case of asking what is universal service? SO with e-rate you can no longer get a tradition phone service. That’s OK for some schools. But for some people (who don’t meet lifeline restrictions) it will hinder any access. We are risking dial-tone.

Question:

If you do FTTH – the cost of doing phone is insignificant.

SH: Agreed. But I’m not talking about areas with fiber. I’m talking about people who don’t have access nor a business case to build the infrastructure. They are worried about keeping the lights on – upgrades are out of the question.

Question:

But why support a network that’s 40 years old? What not begin aggregation? Why don’t you encourage that?

SH: You can’t have aggregation when you don’t have population. Sometimes it works and that’s great. But not always. It’s difficult to sink millions of dollars into a system when the customer base is in the hundreds.

Question:

How does FisrNet fit in? Minnesota opted into FirstNet.

SH: My concern from a carrier perspective is funding for FirstNet – they will build a network by selling excess capacity. That scares the incumbents.

CY: Excess capacity — in rural health care program in 2006, we set up a pilot because healthcare wasn’t taking advantage of funding because they lacked infrastructure. So they sort of ended up building a network but few did a fiber network because they just wanted services. They built when they had to – but not when there was another option.

SH: FirstNet has a statewide network in mind – so it may be different.

10:30 – 11:30 Legislative Wrap Up: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Legislators and lobbyists who are leaders in telecommunications and broadband issues will share their views on the results of the 2015 legislative session and provide perspective on next steps.

Speakers:

  • Representative Sheldon Johnson, Minnesota House of Representatives
  • Representative Ron Kresha, Minnesota House of Representatives
  • Senator Matt Schmit, Minnesota Senate
  • Brent Christensen, President and Executive Officer, Minnesota Telecom Alliance
  • Dan Dorman, Executive Director, Greater Minnesota Partnership
  • Moderator: Milda Hedblom, Dain Legal Services & Professor, Augsburg College

SJ: The good – the extent to which broadband was raised in profile. He bad – lack of funding for broadband. Should have been higher. I want regulatory parity – but we weren’t able to take that on. Three topics: Rep Sanders introduced VOIP deregulation bill. Bill 1066 co-authored by SJ & RK. We’re going to continue with that to regulate ILECs and CLECs. There are folks on both sides of the issue – so we’ll need to find middle ground. Chair of Jobs Committee wasn’t a fan of broadband. We need to push harder for funding in rural areas.

RK: The good – was at a St Paul event where RK & SJ found common ground. We found connections and ties on each side. The bad – wish we had more funding BUT we got $10M and that was a big deal. In our caucus we are careful with money. We left $870M on the bottom line. Garafalo is not on board but he does know his stuff. His contention is that we open up funding to all technologies. Education on this issue is important. People don’t understand the technology. Government won’t run fiber to every home. $10.5M is not enough – real number is $20-25M. We’ve already put $20M into the projects last year. Counties who want this are not lobbying very well. They haven’t done their homework. The companies building infrastructure need financial support. The ugly – we saw some fracturing among our groups and this is a potential election issue and that will cost us time. Rhetoric and hyperbole get in the way.

MS: We want a regulatory environment that brings in capital. We need to invest in infrastructure – and that’s fiber. Wireless requires fiber. How do we connect folks who lack access? Ten years ago we set goals of 10/5 – apparently we’re 80 percent there; 60 percent in rural areas. This summer the Task Force will be looking at speed changes. We look at how we can spur economic development — think of what we could do if everyone had broadband to be entrepreneurial. Upstate NY is getting $500M. We invested $20M last year and that was a good thing, we lost ground this year. To gear up for Year Three – we campaigned on broadband. I expect broadband will get money next year because we need to put money where our mouth is. There’s been misinformation that has hurt the effort – wireless will not replace wired. There are spectrum and cost constraints.

BC: The is not a partisan issue. Education is a huge deal. I have built networks and ran a carrier. MTA represents 42 rural providers (one member has 190 subscribers). We will not get border to border broadband without funding. Eleven projects last year went to MTA members. We didn’t get as involved in the Legislative push this year we focused on: deal with regulatory issues for incumbents, railroad crossings (MTA members get bills for up to $72,000 for crossings) and sales tax and fiber and conduit. We need to focus on broadband grant next year.

DD: We have 90 members focused on greater MN. Broadband is an issue for our members, especially as an economic development tool. It seems like economic development wasn’t part of the scoring metrics for the 2014 broadband grants. Transparency is an issue. The Task Force was originally a boondoggle, an opportunity to do something without spending money. We are 22nd in the national; that’s terrible. We need more competition – in all flavors. There is no free market in rural areas. We need to promote that – maybe with municipal networks. Politics is driving this right now. It’s interesting to track who says they support broadband and then who actually follows through.

BC: DD & MS bring up a good topic – do you want competition or rural electrification (utility/monopoly).

DD: We de-regulated an industry – with unregulated monopoly. Maybe we should re-regulate. Get PUC more involved.

RK: We’re a diverse state. Broadband is and isn’t an economic development issue. It is a economic driver in some areas – but in some areas it’s more of a quality of life issue. Upgrades won’t bring businesses into some areas – but telehealth helps. It needs to be balanced out. Rural electric is a good analogy if you believe broadband is a utility.

QUESTIONS:

How do you capture economic development as a factor in grant?

DD: There were some ways to measure that in original bills. Count businesses. Annandale thought we would score better based on the economic impact. I think lobbyists have had an impact on the economic development issue. There are some people in the state who don’t want this to happen. Because neighboring cities will have new expectations.

People did drop the ball in lobbying for more money this year. So maybe next year we need to focus and get lobbyists? How does a community play in that field?

MS: When round two opens – we need people to apply to make the case that there’s need. And they need to contact legislators to let them know they think the funding is a good thing. Legislators need to hear about broadband in their own district from their constituents.

But what about getting to the legisltors?

RK: We are representatives. I understand the lobbyists – sometimes they run us the wrong way. They create friction. Annandale got a lobbyist. It made them a squeaky wheel but for some of us it makes us support the level playing field. I want to know my constituents have a fair chance. I don’t like to think that every small town is going to get a lobbyist. Representatives can/should advocate for their communities – but we need to hear from the communities about what they want. A constituent group – one that repeats the visit – makes a difference.

Telling a community to get a feasibility study and work with providers to apply is difficult.

DM-: There will be an expression of intent as well as full applications to gauge interest and need.

BC: We are going to have a chance to see the projects that are funded now. Then we will see the public-private partnership in action and that will be data we can take to the legislature about what works and what doesn’t.

RK: If someone takes 30 seconds to make a call weekly or so that would make a difference.

MH: There’s a structural issue you need to work with the counties – but they have levels.

There’s a lot to be said about visionary leadership. Sometimes you have to take a lead like Michigan, Utah… That’s why we are ranked 22 – we didn’t have that vision.

Last two minutes:

RK: We don’t have the voting block yet. It’s true on both sides.

BC: It was like a train where the momentum took over after a slow start. Next year will be fast we need to be prepared.

MS: I am very optimistic. We need to stay engaged.

SJ: I agree with the need for leadership. We have some (MS, RK, DA). It seems like broadband is a potential win-win for House republicans .

DD: Hope it will be less political and I won’t have to use an earmark, which work in other bills but not here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s