DFL Caucus talks Broadband in Willmar: Focus on more money in next legislative session

The DFL Caucus (Representatives Paul Thissen, Paul Marquart and Erin Murphy) met with folks in Willmar yesterday to talk about broadband. Similar to their meeting in Morris earlier this week the trend for all participants seemed to be disappointment in the 2015 allocation for Minnesota broadband funds and a drive to push for more next year.

The DFL Caucus (Representatives Paul Thissen, Paul Marquart and Erin Murphy) met with folks in Willmar yesterday to talk about broadband. Similar to their meeting in Morris earlier this week the trend for all participants seemed to be disappointment in the 2015 allocation for Minnesota broadband funds and a drive to push for more next year.

There were about 20 people – elected officials, one provider (MVTV), economic developers, educators, someone who lives 2 miles outside of Willmar and can’t get online and lots of folks from the Broadband committee.

Folks talked about the troubles they’ve had trying to improve broadband in the area. They praised the initiative of independent and local providers but expressed exasperation with the larger providers in the area that are not based in Minnesota. They have had bad experience with those companies making very incremental upgrades – but they seem to feel those upgrade are tokens more than investments in the area.

The mood was optimistic starting with the visiting legislators: We’re going to have a budget surplus. Broadband might be a good fit. We want to learn more about challenges and opportunities. We want to collect and tell stories of need in rural areas at the capital!

Read on for more details and rich conversation – also the folks in Willmar created a helpful sheet on Broadband in Rural areas that highlights needs of agriculture – including the traceability of food, which isn’t something that gets a lot of discussion in the Twin Cities.

MVTV – 80 percent of customers are rural. We see that cities are pretty well served but rural areas aren’t. We have 13 sites in Kandiyohi County, which means spots on towers offering fixed wireless service to surrounding areas.

Challenges to improve services in the area:
• Demographics
• Near Lakes – people want to work remotely
• Ag – no access limits preciaion ag and access to security measures

The County is serviced by 3 telcos: TDS, Centurylink and Frontier. We aren’t a priority; the big providers get grants but it feels like a token. Other funding sources help but we see progress in other rural areas with local independent providers with longer ROI expectations

Funding has gone down. Companies are willing to invest but they need predictable funding with reasonable expectations.

Question

Is it a monopoly?

No but the incumbent have different sources of funding and incremental changes are made but its not enough.

Precision ag needs better broadband. But it’s a low population density.

Public-private works with the local, independent providers but not the national providers.

From K12: We have a strong educational network. We too have difficulty getting national providers to engage.

Comments from local Resident: She lives 2 miles outside of Willmar and can’t get online. They will not upgrade because we only have 3 houses on our block and have different providers. We use Verizon hotspot.

Wireless needs wires to backhaul. As we (MVTV) grow we need fiber POPs (points of presence) to the towers. We deal with the providers that have been mentioned. The independents have done a good job. The price cap rules have provided opportunities to them that others don’t have although that’s changing with CAF (connect American Funds) and it will be interesting to see which of the big providers take CAF. Where they don’t the market will open somewhat for others to step in.

It costs $8,000-25,000 per mile to install fiber.

How do you use technology to support people? You can do it but it requires broadband – even for informal support. Also can have a big impact on carbon footprint.

We’ve tried working with incumbents – they give us the company line. “We’re doing improvements” The smaller companies will talk to us. Some want a big anchor tenant. TO the West there has been built out and we’re hoping it reaches us. The providers out there have no interest.

The bigger companies respond to stockholders and have quicker ROI requirements. The cooperatives and smaller models are OK with a slower turn around.

There is a financial gap that the State can support. The costs are going up and that’s part of why we were disappointed in the cuts to the Broadband Fund. The various branches really indicated that there would be an increase but it didn’t happen. We were very surprised and disappointed with the funding. And now the costs go up and we’ll need more funding later.

The two most important things the legislature can do in Minnesota is transportation and broadband.

To keep young people in the area we need broadband. Doesn’t matter how you define youth – 8 to 48!

It’s not enough to just have two people. It’s not just about the haves and the have-nots. It’s about the totality.

What are the costs of not having broadband across of the State of Minnesota?

Existing companies have cherry picked. Next line might cherry pick again – but there will always be fruit at the top of the tree that needs services.

The video streaming is killing the industry. Netflix is 35% of traffic – video services make up another 35% – business happens on the other 30%. That’s true in rural and urban.

The State can put out a 50/50 grant. There are smart people who will make that work. TV doesn’t make money any more. Content charges are going up. That will hit the wall as people access content through the Internet. Internet is subsiding phone and TV – where video and TV used to support broadband/data.

One of the problems in the legislators is that many rural legislators were quiet. We heard in Morris that the State needs to support 60 percent of costs to install broadband. The State needs to support it. Broadband is a necessity.

We have been pushing for $30-50 Million/year for broadband.

We had $800 million left on the table after last sessions. We could have put more into broadband. Why didn’t we?

Lack of broadband drives down market value for homes. BUT farmers can’t move. We hear from farmers that people are putting data on flash drives and driving it into town to process. We can’t process over wireless connections.

Traceability is a big issue to contain/deal with avian flu. The data involved is huge timing need is immediate. We need broadband to transmit & process.

RITA is working to teach kids but students have issues with access tools/homework/curriculum remotely. We’re having the same issue in K12. Wireless access in busses have been great to fill a need but e-rate doesn’t support it and it’s a Verizon hotspot.

Graduates can jobs if they want them and are qualified. Some are staying around. They want to live by the lake but they don’t have connectivity there. Brainerd is having the same issue.

We want to collect and tell stories of need in rural areas at the capital!

This entry was posted in Conferences, 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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