Yesterday the Minnesota Broadband Task Force met at Farmfest. They got to hear a lot of about the importance of broadband in precision agriculture as well as for other rural businesses. But not just business broadband is important for healthcare. Point to point connections have made it possible for rural clinics to obtain services through connections to larger hospitals but to move to the next level that would allow remote monitoring from a patient’s home, rural areas need more broadband.
Broadband in education was a hot topic too. People in rural communities see areas where only one side of the highway gets broadband – the other side idles outside the library to get connectivity. And it’s not just families with kids doing homework, we heard stories of teachers going to the library to upload classes and doctors going to transfer and access files.
Several attendees asked the policy panel what happened to broadband funding this year. Last year there was $20 million in state funding; this year only $10 million. People were clearly disappointed. The suggestions from the panels were that people tell their legislators that broadband is important and that communities prepare to take advantage (and apply!) for existing funds.
As importantly, lots of different people attending Farmfest learned that there was an Office of Broadband Development and a Task Force focusing on how to improve broadband throughout the state.
I also took pretty full notes.
State and Federal Broadband Initiatives
What does RUS do?
- Financing for rural small business, community tenants and home loans. Also fund infrastructure such as broadband
- Funds- for broadband deployment. $12.6M recently given to Garden Valley in Erskine. In Brainerd, Consolidated for $12.5M for better broadband.
- Loans and loan guarantees to eligible communities –
New rules for funding:
- 2 funding cycles
- USDA will fund 4/1 but encouraging 25/3M.
- Must serve at least 15% unserved.
- Max loan is $20 million
Two general field reps: Tom Jensen & Dominic Henderson
$420 million since 2009 invested in broadband in MN; $200 was ARRA; the rest is ongoing. $3.4 billion
Senator Matt Schmit
What have we done?
Two very active Task Forces – made policy recommendations
Legislatures have put policy into place – such as 10/5M goals.. We’re going to fall short.
We need to advance our goals.
Visited with more than 20 communities to get feedback to inform and advise policy. We learned:
- We need action
- A one-size approach won’t work
- We need to bring everyone to the table at the Capital
Representative Ron Kresha
Used to teach language arts – worked in a rural area – able to use the Internet in the classroom.
E-rate came in and we pulled fiber into the school
Started an online education company in Little Falls –
Brett VanDerBosch – from Senator Franken’s Office
Broadband is vital for rural communities
You need it for business, education and precision ag.
Affordability is vital and competition is necessary.
Franken looks at two things with policy and mergers: Benefit consumers – do they increase competition.
Margaret Anderson Kelliher
Wireless is great but we need wires to maintain the infrastructure.
Minnesota Lt Governor Tina Smith
Stories of people parking at libraries and McDonalds in rural areas to access broadband – students, teachers, doctors.
Business owners say they need broadband to run their businesses. Students need it to learn.
If we want an economy that works for everyone we need broadband for everyone.
Better broadband could bring $440,000 more income to Minnesota.
$20 million in state investment has brought at least $29 million more in private funding. Those projects need to be done in 2 years when they are it will mean 2000 new homes, 53 community institutions and 150 businesses will have access.
Next year isn’t a budget year but we are going to work very hard to bring up the State’s investment in broadband.
Broadband isn’t nice. It’s necessary!
Rural Broadband: The Future of Agriculture
For every farmer in a community there’s a $1 million impact – so ubiquitous broadband is viable.
Symmetrical or asymmetrical broadband?
Let’s start with coverage. You can get broadband pretty reliably at 5M. Once we have coverage – let’s look at 50M upload.
We need basic coverage and technology will adapt around it. LTE tower can handle 130,000 calls at once.
I’ve worked with farmers that just don’t have access – not broadband, not cell. We don’t need to make people feel more isolated than they are.
What about drones?
They’re a big deal. We have farmers talking about how the drone trade shows are some of the biggest ag shows right now. The drones collect great amounts of information, which increases the need for broadband.
The FFA is not completely caught up with the technology so there are regulations that don’t make as much sense if you want to promote drone use. We need the rules to catch up.
Japan doesn’t have FFA regulations and they are making great use of drones.
Amazon, Google and Facebook are using/looking into drones so they may push for change.
As a farmer, if I can make money with it, I’ll use it. We need to teach farmers how to use the data. Need to interpret data and use.
What skills do you need students to have and to they have them? Are teachers prepared and is the curriculum good?
At the community college level, we’d like to see more applied STEM courses. The two-year degree could help focus people and get them into the workforce faster. We are having trouble, which means an opportunity for community colleges.
We need more teachers in ag education. We need to connect urban kids to farms. We can (and have) do through the internet.
Agriculture is very technology-focused. We need people with a lot of IT experience. We need to get the IT folks acquainted with farms and ag industry.
We need to teach kids to problem solve. We are failing them at k12 level. What can we do to give our students special skills. Other countries are now designing and building technology – what are we doing.
We need to find ways to keep our students in the area once they graduate.
Right now broadband is being measured by people – maybe we could include anchor institutions. How can we shift the interest of state and feds about importance of internet?
There is a lot of data on how the Internet/broadband has an impact on the marketplace and economy.
Broadband for traceability is important. SO that we could trace a tomato from field to can on a shelf.
I am bringing veterans to agriculture. What do you think?
We’d like to work on that on the Farm Bureau.
Sounds like a great opportunity for us to serve them.
A lot of the GPS type skills they learned in military will crossover to ag.
Is there an image issue for farmers?
It’s about leadership. We need it at state level to make it happen.
Sometimes people in rural areas don’t know what they don’t have until they go away. So returning home because tough.
Are there security concerns?
There are technologies that focus on security. But make sure you know what you are signing. Sometimes big contractors/vendors will ask you to give up more access to info that you might want to give. Next year Data Silo will be able to help.
We are worried about citizen lawsuits.
Rural Broadband as a Rural Development Tool
Lisa Hughes, DEED
1995 – we talked about having a website at MN DEED. In 20 years, we have come quite a long way. Businesses can attract a global market. We are losing younger people but older people (30-45) are returning to rural areas. People want calmer lives and good schools. Broadband helps with better schools and opens the doors to wider economic opportunities (jobs or starting businesses).
The millennials are now the largest demographic in the workforce. They are digital natives. Rural areas need to reach them. Broadband isn’t a pull technology – but lack of it will push.
Dave Gelhar, RVI/SpecSys
Broadband is essential to our business. We need to process huge amounts of data with partners all over the world. We need broadband that allows us to compete with businesses all over the world.
We need to be able to get and retain employees in our communities. It’s hard to find good people. It’s even harder without broadband.
Bryan Linnick, Redwood Area Hospital
We can take health care to the next level when we have broadband access.
Kids are used to technology and it’s having an impact on health care. The problem right now is how to connect the technology, flattening the world and keeping things local.
63% of rural Minnesota is connected with broadband. How do we connect the rest? Hospitals have been a connection point – we bring a data connection point (from xray to stroke care). It used to be Point to Point. The next step is getting the last mile to keep people in their homes and out of the hospitals.
Kent Kelly, Future Transportation
Technology allows drivers to deliver their supplies. We use Electronic Data Interchange. It’s a set of standards and rules to transfer information. Each industry has their own data sets. Future Transportation builds a map based on customer need. We can track what kind of drive it will be – rural roads, traffic jams, weather. We can drive what the drive should be like and what it is like.
The only way you make money in the freight business is by moving. Technology and broadband are game changers.
Windomnet has helped us be competitive with their services. Growth would not be possible without broadband.
What’s your connectivity?
We are trying to transition between our multiple T1 and a fiber connection.
How do we compare to other rural parts of the country?
I’m not sure – it’s an issue we all struggle with. In another state, they used federal funding to train employees for existing business needs. The attracted data centers and customer service centers as a byproduct of the original project. It turned around an out-migration. Communities need to think of these things.
In some areas we are more advanced – in ERs and ICUs. In urban settings people can use remote monitoring; we can’t do it in rural areas. We need to make that comparison. Technology isn’t holding us back in rural health care – connectivity is!
We are in a better shape where we can compared to some places. But if a business can’t get the connectivity we need, we will move.
What’s more important the bandwidth or the speed?
We communicate with Cisco & IBM via EDI. Now we have 4 T1s and the communication runs for 5 hours a night. If there’s a glitch we have to do it again.
We have a fiber ring with backup of T1. We can’t afford fiber redundancy – but we know we need some redundancy.
How do you start a community broadband project?
Start with a conversation.
Communication is not just entertainment it’s commerce intense use. Once that shift happened – we moved into broadband being a utility.
Should last mile be wired or wireless?
If I could have everything I wanted; I’d say fiber. But that might not be possible today.
Companies assume that broadband is like electricity – that it’s going to be there. If it isn’t businesses won’t move there.