Representative Baker and Representative Daudt talk broadband in Willmar: Co-ops, federal funding and permit costs

Yesterday Representative Baker and Representative Daudt met with folks in Willmar (Haug Kubota) to talk about broadband. What they learned is that people are frustrated with the service they get (or don’t get) now. Like most communities, the connectivity is fine in town and much less fine five miles out. Which means the houses by the lake – the ones many Minnesotans aspire to move to – do not have broadband and therefore folks can’t really move there. Without broadband access, residents can’t start businesses, work remotely, do homework or get access to telehealth options. Many local businesses have apparently paid for FFTP – which lead to a discussion of just how much that costs between the actual work and the permits required. The folks at Haug had been waiting almost a year to get fiber to the John Deere shop directly across Hwy 12. And the cost for the permit was about $10,000 – when all was said and done.

The question is how to change it. People recognize that big money is coming in for broadband from the federal government (CAF 2) to the tune of $80 a year through 2020. Attendees knew that local providers had accepted funds and how much was designated for the areas – but not exactly where or for what speeds. CAF 2 funding supports 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up. As attendees pointed out that’s fine for Netflix but difficult for working.

Representative Baker asked an interesting question – if the state had $1 billion to improve broadband how should they spend it? People suggested co-ops because co-ops are not beholden to shareholders who don’t live in the area. They are willing to reinvest in the area. They can take into consideration communitywide savings that result with better broadband (from e-government services, telehealth keeping people in homes to kids doing homework at home – not some parking lot adjacent to public WiFi). Another option might be to find a way to use state funding as a match to CAF 2 funding and use it to entice providers to upgrade beyond 10/1.

As always it’s good to hear people talking about broadband – policymakers recognize the need to invest but broadband is wonky and expensive and they just want to know how best to do it and what people really need.

And what they said was – Minnesota has to do broadband – via fiber, wireless, satellite – whatever it takes! But it’s going to take some money. Rural towns aren’t leaving; they are changing. We want people to move here – but it isn’t viable without broadband.

Read on for full notes and more videos

Attendees:

  • Rep Dave Baker – small business owner
  • Rep Kurt Daudt –
  • Ken Warner Chamber of Commerce
  • Brain Wort – worked for Arvig
  • Bruce Vurwink – small business owner (snowmobile) – do business worldwide – in the 80s we talked to people; now they talk to 25 percent. Print drives them to the website – then business happens there
  • Jean Spaulding – construction company now – was with EDC –
  • Connie Schmoll – EDC
  • Larry Kleivil – County Admin – people want to start businesses by the lake but can’t because of limited broadband
  • San Romain – Haug – does aerial imagery / Big data is big deal in precision ag
  • Kody Aasen – Haug – IT
  • Butch Haug – Haug – owner
  • Kathy Dillion – Rice Memorial Hospital
  • Dan Richter – MVTV – fixed wireless provider covers 26 counties (6100 subscribers – to double within 5 years)
  • Donna Boonstra – Kandiyohi Power and business owner – does a lot of webinars
  • Daniel Mohs – local lawyer

Intro from Rep Daudt –

We talk a lot about roads but probably not enough about broadband. There’s more money being spent on broadband that ever in history – especially through CAF 2 funding. Half of Kandiyohi is in that area. We want to make sure that the money we spend in the State is spent wisely. We’ve seen money be spent poorly.

We’ve heard the stories of public networks being built only to have a provide provider come in and over build. Communities have nearly gone bankrupt competing with public efforts. We also know that there are new technologies coming.

We will be funding more next spring. We want to make sure that money is spent effectively. We think we may need to make changes. We need better broadband to folks in rural Minnesota.

I want to hear about how the federal grants are or are not being used here.

This issue has been politicized when it shouldn’t be. We need to join together. There is an opportunity to do that.

From Rep Baker

I have not been engaged with broadband because it didn’t affect my business. That’s why I’m out to learn more know.

Chair Garafalo thinks that the future will be cell access or satellite. The question we have is – Do we wait or do we go with what we’ve got? We can’t wait any longer.

I think the solution is wired, wireless, co-ops…

Jean –

At Qualm Construction – wanted to download MS Office on the work computer but it couldn’t happen fast enough with access. We had to move the computer to a new computer to download the software.

CenturyLink is the current providers. We’re trying to talk to Windstream and Charter. We have been talking to them since spring. We were hopeful on fiber from Windstream in October but we’re waiting to get permission to dig to lay fiber.

We have a lot of providers in the marketplace that are doing nothing. They come to the meetings. They are polite. They do nothing because the business model doesn’t allow for it. The business model needs to be reworked. The population density here is low – we farm. So we’ll never have the population we need to make the numbers work.

The ag economy really needs broadband.

Bruce

Frontier made promises. The wired telephone industry functions despite lack of customer services. There’s no funding or equipment from corporate. The corporate guys just don’t care. But I was only of the lucky ones. My farmer neighbors came to my house to get better access and get their work done.

I don’t need 50-100 Mbps. I buy 7 now – I might like a little faster. But I need for it to be reliable. I have fixed wireless.

Dan

In Windom, they built a world class manufacturer but they didn’t have the broadband they needed to reach all branches. So we met their need.

We got ARRA funding. We got USDA funding. With ARRA we wanted to add 1500 customers – we added 2500. We’re applying for state grants for middle mile. We build fiber to the node.

Daniel

I use my smartphone hotspot for broadband. We have a neighbor wannabe who would move to Willmar is he could but there’s no broadband. My wife goes into town to get online. I sued to have unlimited data – but I had to give that up when I get the hotspot. Now I have mediocre access and data limit. The data gets used up every month.

This is Minnesota. We’re progressive. We’re on top of everything. We are educated. We care about people. Why aren’t we are the forefront of broadband access.

Bruce

I looked at options. I have fiber 3 miles away. There are many small businesses in the county have paid to have FTTP. We’re frugal but we’re not cheap.

Several people

I’d pay a couple hundred dollars a month – it’s just not an option.

WHAT DO WE NEED?

The costs increase every year we delay. We can’t afford to wait. Government has to be a part of the solution. The private sector isn’t going to do it. The large providers who answer to shareholders are very problematic to deal with. $114,000 from CAF through (provider) will be coming to the area.

The co-ops are a model that works. They invest in the infrastructure. We’ve had more traction working with the co-ops. They (such as Federated) are doing work.

WHY AREN’T PEOPLE APPLY FOR FUNDS

Private companies need a 3 year ROI. (Co-ops look at a 10 year ROI.)

There are too many restrictions on funds.

Dan

To build a network takes money. People ask why we’re in these rural areas. To serve people who currently have dialup or slow satellite. We have to do this.

Swift and LqP worked with their local providers.

We invest constantly. We got $1.2 million from ARRA. We are looking at $1.8 million from the state. We match those funds. We invest constantly the grants and loans – it helps us accelerate our expansion.

We work with the community to for tower access – which can take lots of different forms.

We work with communities with Blandin funding.

HAUG

We have fiber that runs across the field. We have CenturyLink here (w/1.5 Mbps) – and Charter access the street (w/100 Mbps down and 15 up). Our problem right now is getting MNDOT permission. Railroad crossing are even more difficult.

We have difficulty depending on location and provider. There isn’t a map that would help us figure out where the providers are and where they should go.

85 percent cannot access the data they need. We end up uploading via our hotspots. There’s something wrong when the phone have faster access than at the house.

From here to access the field – Charter wants $250,000 to do it.

If we had a $1 billion – what should we do?

If the state builds the network, they will recoup costs.

The state can recoup costs – via healthcare costs, economic development, reduced e-government costs.

Why don’t the service providers talk and cooperate?

They are starting to talk to some degree.

We need to talk to MNDot and railroads about permits. Prevailing wages is another issue.

We need to look at unserved and underserved. .

We’re held hostage by the providers.

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 “Representative Baker and Representative Daudt talk broadband in Willmar: Co-ops, federal funding and permit costs

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s