Senator Klobuchar talks about broadband in Willmar: We need broadband to compete

I am getting to know the path to Willmar well. I was there yesterday for a small meeting of local folks and Senator Amy Klobuchar talking about broadband. As always it’s inspiring to hear what people are doing with broadband (fun precision ag from Haug Implement) and frustrating to hear about barriers (Ridgewater College has to be careful about how they approach federal funding when students don’t have ubiquitous broadband access at home).

It’s clear that people need broadband to go to school, start a business (or continue a business) to access the preferred healthcare. It’s also clear that communities need it to attract businesses, investments and people – especially young people.

It was interesting to hear the view from Frontier because part of the equation that weighs heavily on them is ROI.

Funny enough Senator Klobuchar touched on that need in her introduction when we talked about the need to improve universal service funds in a way that opens the door to better broadband without hurting the businesses that have made investments. There is a feel – which echoed last week’s meeting – that the local independent providers are better positioned to create solutions that meet the hometown need as demonstrated by a local provider who was able to create a solution for the K12 network when the incumbent changes how they provided service.

Again the question is how to best support smart investment in markets where the business case is difficult to make because if we can businesses like Haug can innovate, flourish and lead economic growth in Minnesota.

Read on for full notes..

Attendees included elected officials, Chamber, K12 and higher education, healthcare, business representatives and Frontier Communications.

Senator Klobuchar starts out talking about getting more money from usf without hurting cuurent use. She needs to know more about:

  • Whats wrong?
  • Best solution
  • Dropped calls

She’s looking for stories like the one about the first house to get broadband in Red Lake – and how the neighboring teens hung out around the house taking advantage of the WiFi and “excess capacity”. Each attendee had an opportunity to tell their story.

One problem is diversity of costs Tony Alsleben explains that in Willmar cost for broadband is $9.95/mg vs $110/mg in Spicer vs $118 in Litchfield. One solution would be to focus funding on local providers so that they can bring down costs to everyone.

People expect Doctor moves here from Chicago thinking he can get online and continue to work. And he can’t because he can’t get online. Young people will hesitate to move to the beautiful lakes area – which means they won’t move to these areas. And cell coverage is even worse.

Cell coverage is an issue.

Family farm needs reliability to manage larger farms. Irrigation equipment runs off info provided by cell service. We buy the software knowing

Precision ag specialists – aerial imagery. We’d like to do processing in-house but we can’t do it with the speed. In pipeline of data transfer, we’re the chose point. We have the fastest connection we can get in Willmar – and it’s good for most purposes but it doesn’t meet our business needs. It takes us up to 6 hours to upload our data. It would take 10 hours to upload in Litchfield. We joke with our farmers suggesting they bring their laptops to McDonald’s. If we are to meet the food demand – we need better broadband. We’re doing unique stuff.  We are trying to be on the cutting edge of ag but we need broadband to be there.

The government needs to support private sector – that includes broadband providers. Maybe we needs an RCA (akin to REA) to lend money to local governments.

We want to beef up the total money available for broadband. There is money from USF. We want to make sure there’s enough money for rural telecom providers. We want to shift it to rural broadband (Klobuchar and Thune). We need to change the way they manage that fund.

There are demographics in the county that are creating challenges. The Lakes areas supports telecommuters. The farmers need higher upload speeds. We need broadband to monitor plant to apply fertilizer and nutrients. If we can upload that immediately, the data support smart choices to create better crops. We find that some areas are not able to participate because of the broadband limitations.

Right now the larger providers are not meeting the needs. We need to support the smaller, more local providers. Union wage is an issue and can impact price 20-25 percent.

We have been working on Internet since Kandilake in the 1980s. We focus on intergovernmental cooperation. What we’ve found that sometimes the governments get what they need without providing solutions to private sector. We need public-private partnerships.

We’ve had challenges with bird flu. But ag has been strong. And we’re lucky that the area is diverse enough to support downtimes that are industry or sector specific.

At the county level – we have services and send social workers to the field who know have to come back to the office to input data when they get back to the office. It’s a waste of staff time and means slower processing for patient need.

We have residents who are unable to be remotely monitored for health concerns because they don’t have home connections. That limits they access to healthcare and reduces quality of life. We pay a lot of money to have mobile hotspots in our vehicles but that’s costly. We will not be prepared for e911 and the next gen system – especially if we want to support video.

At the college we are concerned for our patients who are off campus. They have limited access to online courses but even for on-site classes communication (homework, video syllabus) is available online through an online portal. Students can’t access that are at a serious disadvantage. We received a federal grant (RITA). The point of it is ability for virtualization. Lack of broadband is jeopardizing our ability to apply for federal grants for education.

We have a wireless provider at home farm. I could tell the strength of the signal based on location of the lawn chair from kids nearby. Investments we should make are broadband and transportation. The question is how do we get there? We need to be strong about saying this is for our future.

We have a lot of online webinars in my industry. The buffering takes hours when it should take minutes, which creates a barrier to participate. We are on the cutting edge of a lot of things but not broadband.

We asked local businesses about happiness with utility – and broadband was one the lowest graded. We don’t compete on that level.

For K12 – we have had to actually build around some of the incumbents. We have 750 Mbps – 10 times what we did 10 years ago. We offer sign language, knee surgery (interactive), it’s been a great way to connections students to the rest of the world.

Some of the national providers are changing the services and aren’t able to continue services we’ve had from years. Luckily we have local providers who stepped up to meet our needs. In 1989 we were saving $240,000 a year though the collaboration. We continue to save. [Added 8/20: we increased Internet usage 10x in 5 years!]

We are regional center and we take that job seriously. We have built up infrastructure but we need broadband if we are going to meet business need and market ourselves as a prospect home for businesses.

We are looking for ways to partner with the federal government. I’m happy to push more within the state.

From Frontier … it’s important to voice what you feel. It helps to separate between wireless, DSL and wifi. I am in the DSL business.

CAF2 is exciting. New maps will be available in a few weeks, which will tell us which areas are eligible. The concept is similar to REA. There are investors and ROI. When we drop charges it impacts our ROI. We need to upgrade to compete with the world. CAF2 will help us.

Frontier is getting $27 million in Kandiyohi to upgrade to 10/1 Mbps. [Ann’s note I’m not 100 percent sure on that number.] That’s not enough for business but it’s better than what folks had. We will put remote devices in the field. We will be using copper to the homes but copper to DSLAM.

I live 5 miles out of town – and DSL doesn’t work well enough for us.

Jennie-O – we have folks who could work remotely but some need hotspot, which are expensive. We’d rather they have DSL or another choice.

We work with hundreds fo farmers. We want them all to have broadband access. We want to push training and information to the farms. But it doesn’t save time if they have to sit through buffering. And we’d like for them to have equitable access so that we can continue to work with each equally.

We have about 50 farms connected now. There was a hiccup during the bird flu scare. But we’re working on it again. For us we don’t’ care if the phones work – we can if the computers do. The farm can be totally monitored and farmers can react accordingly if they can get, process and analyze data in time.

As we work farm to farm there’s an opportunity to work with residents en route and get them connected as well.

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.

One thought on “Senator Klobuchar talks about broadband in Willmar: We need broadband to compete

  1. I believe the answer for rural and other sparsely populated areas is wireless and wireless will only be practical with distances of 20 to 30 miles from the wireless towers. This would require the government to put a priority on providing available bandwidth to internet providers that are in the communication business vs. phone or dsl or cable business. (Some of my terminology is off.)

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