Yesterday Senator Franken met with dozen or so people yesterday all representing different stakeholder in the broadband world. Everyone agrees broadband is important. It’s like electricity. It helps economic development. It’s as important as textbooks in education. A home without access to broadband loses its value. A farm that loses connectivity can’t run – even milking machines are online!
Franken started by asking about how public-private partnerships were serving the goal of ubiquitous and better broadband. What were the hurdles?
Broadband is a little different than other utilities in that there are many privately owned providers and there is competition. There is government support (CAF, USDA, Minnesota Broadband Funds) but some of that support misses the mark. Providers worry that it misses the mark by requiring customers to buy telephone service, which is a service man people don’t want. Communities worry that the speeds required to receive public funding are too low. Both are concerned that the funding focuses on building, not managing and sustaining the networks.
CAF (Connect American Funds) were mentioned. The folks at the Office of Broadband Development were kind enough to supply the numbers – here’s the amount of federal funding that will be coming into Minnesota – and how many locations should get upgraded (by provider who accepted CAF funding)
Minnesota State Summary
- PC Carrier – Eligible Locations – Support Amount
- CenturyLink – 114,739 – $54,035,149
- Consolidated Communications – 4,266 – $2,516,502
- Frontier Communications – 46,910 – $27,551,367
- Windstream Communications – 4,440 – $1,519,856
- Total – 170,355 – $85,622,874
Right now only the bigger providers have had the opportunity to accept CAF funding. If they don’t accept funding in a given area that will open the door to other providers to step up. Many of those smaller location providers want to step up. One suggestion was that CAF/USF need to change rules are collect more money. Right now the federal funds accrue through a tax (Universal Service Funds) on telephone lines – but again fewer folks want telephone lines.
They also talked about the cooperative model. The Cooperative model has worked well in Cook County with Arrowhead Electric. They have expanded their services to include broadband. And it’s starting to work in Renville-Sibley County an area where the municipal model wasn’t a perfect fit because the local townships were not in agreement on whether to get involved. Each rural area is unique and each solution will be unique but we need policies and funding that afford the opportunity for customization based on needs and assets of a community and interest of providers to serve an area. The parameters of the MN Broadband Grants have been held up as best practice – those funds to support a wide range of solutions.
Finally there was a little talk of ubiquity. Should we “wire” the BWCA? Does everyone want broadband? Two quick observations from attendees:
- We don’t get to first by trying to be first – we get there by focusing on equity.
- There won’t be a time when everyone is wired. The question is when will everyone who wants access be able to get it.
In the room
- Katie Clark Sieben- Commissioner DEED
- Brent Christensen – MTA (Minnesota Telecom Alliance)
- Colleen Landkamer – USDA has invested $427 million into Minnesota for broadband
- Tom Jensen – USDA – they loan money to (mostly) small telephone companies to expand broadband. Our issues are high cost loops and uncertainty. We ne
- Jim Beattie- Bevcomm – small rural telephone company. We are trying to reach most remote areas. We are applying for funds. There’s progress being made but the real challenge is reaching the people on the far end of the service territory. Programs through USDA & DEED can help. We are committed to serving the last mile but it will take time. We are committed to serving gig are
- Tyler Middleton – CenturyLink. We are looking to increase broadband. We recently accepted $500 million CAF funding a year for 6 years. That’s $54 million a year for 112,000 households
- Shannon Heim- Senior Counsel, Dykema– works with rural providers – there is no one-size fits all solution. We need a diversity of options
- JoAnne Johnson – MN Public Broadband Alliance (muni-systems) – we are looking for the killer app
- Denise Dittrich- MN School Boards Association – MN School board passed a policy paper supporting broadband. We know kids at home need broadband; it’s as important as
- Gary Pedersen – MN Assn of Townships – we are trying to get true broadband to everyone
- Bill Coleman – lead consultant to Blandin Foundation – they set a policy to support broadband years ago – both deployment and adoption. World Class broadband is still a good goal. We are now looking at the standard broadband required for CAF funding and that’s an issue. We have been looking at Coops as an option.
- Steve Lewsadwer – CWA (Communications Workers of America) and member of MN Broadband Task Force – CWA came out with Speed Matters years ago. We want better speed and ubiquity. We hope that the deployment and expansion will bring god jobs both ro build and maintain networks
- John Dukich MHTA – supports broadband deployment and will continue that.
- Bill Jensen – VP for Mediacom and Pres of MN Cable Association – We got $132,000 MN Broadband Grant.
- Danna MacKenzie – Office of Broadband Development