Minnesota’s Broadband Networks Industry Conference Notes: Talk to Legislators about broadband

Yesterday broadband industry leaders met in St Paul – hosted by MN Telecom Alliance and Minnesota Cable Association for the second annual Minnesota Broadband Network Conference. There were twice as many attendees as last year – demonstrating the interest in the topic. There were lots of industry folks, policymakers, lawyers and community leaders.

I will include full notes and videos below – and PPTs when I can. [Just added PPT.] The overwhelming message from policymakers – this broadband technology stuff is hard to understand. We know it’s important – really important but we don’t get the details. So we leave it to the broadband advocates to tell us what we need to know and help us remember this is important.

I paraphrase hugely and certainly many of the policymakers in the room understand the technology – but some admittedly don’t and their colleagues who weren’t there don’t either.

It’s a reminder to broadband advocates to keep talking and keep explaining.

Everyone seemed in agreement about the need to invest – but there were three numbers thrown around: $35 million from the Republicans, $100 million from the Governor and $200 million from the MN Broadband Task Force. (The Task Force recommendation is over two years.)

Representative Kresha was emphatic about the need for telecom reform and noted that the dollar investment would be contingent on how well the telecom reform recommendations went.

When it comes to reform people talked about the need to regulate all providers equally – currently telecom, cable and wireless have very different regulations. Also providers want to streamline the process for deployment – from Dig Once policies to work with rail roads. Prevailing wage was mentioned but interest in addressing it was not universal. Sales tax and support for schools and libraries were also hotter policy topics.


Intro from Mike Martin – bigger event that last year

Sounds like Mike will be retiring this summer. He received a lot of nice (and well earned) accolades and thank yous.

Intro from Jeff Freyer (Comcast)

Thanks to Mike for his leadership in the industry. You have changed the face of technology.

200,000 people work in Comcast in Minnesota – committed to customer service and community.

There has never been a more exciting time to be in the business. We are hoping to expand boundaries. $1.7 billion investment over 20 years. Last year we doubled speeds. We launched 2 Gig symmetrical services.

We are working to do more – Internet Essentials bringing low cost Internet to low income homes. But must be prepared for the digital future. We invest in people – plan to bring 400 new jobs to the TC market.

Tina Smith (Lt Governor)

Talked to people all over the state

Broadband is essential

Tale of two connections – in Fergus Falls a commodities trader can run business because he has connectivity; while students in Roseau have to stay on wifi-enabled bus to get their homework done because they don’t have access at home.

“Last year the Governor received 700 letters from citizens talking about broadband.”

WE are a state of broadband haves and have-notes. If we 244,000 Minnesotans won’t be able to participate in digital economy.

PANEL ONE – Broadband Coverage, Government Investments and Regulations

  • Eric Swason
  • Danna MacKenzie
  • Shannon Heim
  • Rep Tim Sanders

Danna – [See presentation.]

89% of Minnesota met MN broadband speeds goals – but only 75% of rural areas met goal

Minnesota Broadband Funding? $20M in 2014 and $10.6M in 2015.

Shannon –

The Fed define broadband as 25/3 but will only fund to 10/1 through CAF 2.

Rep Time Sanders –

Telecom Reform is important and is bipartisan. Telecom reform hasn’t happened in a long time.

Question – What is top priority from consumers?

DM – they want frictionless access – like electricity.

SH – depends on the consumers. The perception is that people want Netflix but to participate in all aspects of American life you need access. We are moving to paperless and if you don’t have robust access you are at a disadvantage.

TS – In the north suburbs, we want speed. We want broadband to think for us. In rural areas it’s an access issue.

Aside from funding and technology are there critical barriers to meeting consumer needs?

TS – Politically there are some issues. Regulators use statutes to regulate and those statutes are outdated so regulators don’t understand the needed changes. There’s a disconnect between regulations and where the industry is.

SH – Regulatory certainty is important for carriers. A lot of carriers didn’t have certainty of funding or regulation and so it was difficult to make long term investment. We’re talking about areas with limited to no ROI. We need to look at how much economic development (population stability) telecom can build – not ROI per line dropped. Communities who are looking at cooperatives – are looking at overall long term benefits to the community.

DM – we are getting to the 20 percent of the 80/20 rule. Access to rights of way are also an issue.

Are there other regulations we need to look at?

SH – Need to regulate all carriers in the same way

TS – we need industry to be involved at the legislature. “We need to regulate at the speed of commerce and we rely on voice of the industry”

What should we be using to judge whether regulation changes have been a success?

DM – We develop metrics to measure results and right now the map does gauge those metrics.

SH – in medium term we need to look at how rural areas are doing – population stability, economic development, education rates

TS – is innovation happening?


Introduction from Tyler Middleton (CenturyLink)

State role of telecom has been waning for years.

The regulatory system needs modernization – but not because of the technology. Change in technology is not new in this industry.

There is a right role for state regulation. Information carried via different transport is the same info – and that should be the focus on regulatory change.

We’re not going to say that we’re not going to have regulation in telecom. The question is will there be a state regulatory partner?

What are big state regulatory issues? Who is the cop on the beat?

  1. Who will police interconnection?
  2. Who deals with provider vs consumer disputes?

Where there’s a monopoly there is a greater need for state regulation. State regulation can be there when federal regulation can’t be or isn’t.


Intro from Bill Jensen (Mediacom)

PANEL – Government’s Role in Broadband

  • Tom Hauser (KSTP)
  • Rep Paul Thissen
  • Rep Ron Kresha
  • Senator Matt Schmit
  • Senator Carrie Ruud

PT – there’s bipartisan consensus on the need for broadband. In Pine City, people are still sitting in the library parking lot to access wireless after hours because they can’t get it at home. We have a surplus – let’s spend it on broadband.

RK – How much we invest in broadband is going to depend on how much telecom regulation change we can leverage?”

MS – We have had great effort from Task Forces, local communities and policy makers. We have a one-time surplus, we should spend it on broadband and encourage partnerships. MN economy is doing well – but not everywhere. Broadband is an equalizer.

CR: Represents Crow Wing and Aitkin Counties. Crow Wing does alright with broadband because we have the population density. Aitkin is a different situation. We need a solution that meets the needs. I feel like the regulation needs to be changed – it’s like we’re still working on party phone system. The investment isn’t enough

How important is this issue to people in Little Falls?

RK – It’s very important. Rural areas are prime for new business – affordable real estate and good people but without broadband it’s not possible. We are going to see distributed contractors working throughout the state if they have broadband.

It’s good to have a strong rural state

PT – It’s good to let people live where they want to live – broadband lets them to that and makes the state stronger. It diversifies us. In Willmar the city is served but area around the city is not – it’s important to have broadband because it’s a communication tool – people who are connected are not well served if there are people they can’t connect with.

MS – we need to give people the opportunity to live in rural areas and a key piece is access to education. School districts are taking a greater interest in broadband as they use devices and assign broadband-required homework. And we need to broadband to attract young people.

Why is funding important?

CR – it’s difficult to look at funding very diverse needs. We need to set priorities and figure out where the money is coming from. There are 630 lakes in my area – people have lake homes, retire homes and those people want broadband. With broadband they may stay an extra week and that has an impact on our local economy.

How do we make broadband a priority?

PT – In the final negotiations you need a champion – Kresha has been a champion. This year Kresha needs to convince his colleagues that this needs to happen. Legislators do not understand the topics at hand. They need to be educated.

What is the real number we need/can get for broadband?

MS: $100 million

CS – depends on how much we need to make the program successful. Will the prices that will go down – like calculators went down in prices in the 70s? That’s the fear of legislators who are hesitant to invest.

How do you convince people that the technology will not be obsolete?

RK – Through education

What are you going to do with prevailing wage?

MS – Prevailing wage is there for a reason but it’s really a matter of figuring out how to apply it in this situation.

RK – this is another area where we need to educate. We can’t let people spin this issue as a roadblock.

Are you considering changes to the criteria for broadband funds?

RK – we say 60% to unserved and 40% to underserved. And I removed fiber from the language.

MS – I’m open to change. We are open to tech neutrality. Wireless requires fiber. We want all applicants at the table.

PANEL – Public/Private Partnerships

  • Brad Finseth (Center for Rural Policy & Development)
  • Dan Nelson (Midcontinent)
  • Kelly Hinnenkamp (Annandale)
  • Kevin Beyer (ACIRA)
  • Brent Olson (Big Stone County)

DN – Midcontinent is going into Annandale without financial incentive

KH – Broadband has been out number one priority for 4 years. We wanted to overbuild.

KB – We have been involved in a few partnerships starting with Lac qui Parle County – now working with Big Stone and Swift County.

BO – We bonded for $4 million for broadband to enable this project and I have not received one complaint

What is “skin in the game?”

DN: TO bring broadband in Annandale it’s about $2M. We look at three things: Proximity, Ease of Last Mile: (terrain, rights of way…) and Reception market.

MNLEG 238 is an issue if you provide service holistically.

KH – Tax payers voice changes when a need is not getting met. People in Annandale will spend on broadband.

KB – Farmers worked with LqP with ARRA funding. We got a grant and a loan. Minnesota only has a grant project. We couldn’t get a loan in Big Stone as a CLEC. We had less than 3 customers per mile. They have wireless – but they couldn’t get more than 2 Mbps and data caps were a barrier. Satellite was there but not good for business. We aren’t here to make money, we’re here to keep customers in the area. We needed a 20 year loan – we got it through bonding through Big Stone.

BO – We are the Paris of Western MN – sophisticated but few of us – we needed broadband. It was helpful that Federated had strong roots in the community and that made the trust easier. We had to look at the legalities and that was a lot of work.

What were your hurdles?

DN – focus on what you want. Build trust.

KH – trust is a big factor. Communication is very important.

KB – We provide service in 40% of the county but we needed to educate people on the long term value of fiber. Fiber is always the value in the long term. It’s cheaper to go wireless but you always need to upgrade.

BO – transparency is key. Learn to embrace ambiguity.

What regulation hinders public-private partnership?

KB – Railroad right of way is an issue. Different rules for different providers is an issue.

DN – need to recognize that it’s not an analog 10-digital world in telecom anymore

Did Annandale ever talk to the local provider?

KH – we had two separate meetings. They made promises. We didn’t understand the technology details but we thought that was good. IN time we realized that the upgrade weren’t sufficient. We had three years of several directions but we turned over every rock.


Intro by Steve Katka (Albany Mutual Telephone)

Tom Emmer:

The Federal government should help support broadband expansion – between CAF and RUS. We need to look at road construction. Dig Once would reduce deployment costs by up to 90 percent.

Broadband has to do with our entire economy – not just Facebook and Netflix.


Intro from Paul Weirtz (AT&T)

A nice nod to Walter Breton who developed the transistor – imagine the difference he has made and Seymour Cray with the super computer.

Yesterday’s super computers are today’s smartphones!

Powerful forces are converging – broadband and devices!

Broadband had impacted 20% of the economy – that means 80% is still open to change IoT will push that change

Currently the average house has 5 connected devices – that’s expected to grow to 500 by 2020

The next digital divide is about more than connectivity. It’s about economy.

The most in-demand job that goes unfilled is mobile app developer

Some broadband jobs don’t need new skills– broadband just opens the doors to new locations for old jobs – pajama jobs.

5G testing has begun. Other countries have seen how helpful it will be to beat the US for the 5G market/technology.

PANEL – Broadband Impact on Public safety

  • Bill Jensen (Mediacom)
  • Jackie Mines (FirstNet)
  • Dana Wahlberg (MN Dep of Public Safety)
  • Rich Stanek (Henn County)

Should Apple allow public safety agencies access to their technology?

JM: As a citizen I am wary. As a public safety person and mother, I am more interested.

RS: Privacy and civil liberties are important but this should not be beyond the reach of the law. Look at it from a terrorist perspective.

DW: From a 911 call taker – it would make their jobs easier and more successful. The public expects their privacy but in crisis they expect an immediate response.

DEED has granted $30M for broadband – how has this impacted your operations?

JM: Given us more options – we have more paths into many communities. Brings redundancy.

RS: We are trying to build cross the county a network for first responders.

DW: I’m from Ely. It’s hard to make a call there – but it’s getting easier.

JM – Presentation on FirstNet

Why is ECN and SECB in support of FirstNet? It’s our best change to bring such a network to Minnesota

What are we done?

  • Education & outreach
  • Collect data on public safety users
  • ID public safety requirements
  • Coverage requirements
  • Device requirements
  • Demonstrate a one-site band 14 broadband network deployment

The SafetyNet RFP is now out

RS – Minnesota is working with national folks. Minnesota folks get to help create the specs.

Minnesota first responders deserve a network that lets them do their job.

Need proprietary access – yet open standards.

DW – people are surprised to learn that the existing safety network does not allow for all of the utility and applications that most of us have on our smart phone today. We need to build features and functionality.

911 has to be able to handle the new data that will be coming in from First Net, such as:

  • Text to 911
  • Geospatial call routing
  • Cybersecurity measures

PANEL – Broadband – Connections that drive Commerce

  • Margaret Anderson Kelliher (MHTA/MN Broadband Task Force)
  • John Stannoch (Science Museum of MN)

JS – Science Museum strives to support education. STEM is s focus. Minnesota has one of the most pronounced achievement gaps in the nation. Future workforce projections show a shortage of trained workers. That may lead businesses to leave or not locate here.

Minnesota has always been laser focused on providing stellar education to our students. If the moral imperative isn’t enough to motivate – do it for the economy.

SMM support teachers. To continue to be effective we need the communication channels that support our programming.

SMM needs broadband for remote visits and distance learning.

MAK –There has been a total flip in how people use broadband. In education, it’s been the flipped classroom.

If we care about reducing poverty – a key tool is a broadband connection. A family saves $10,000 a year when they have broadband – household incomes go up $2500 a year with broadband.

It’s hard to fill out forms on a smartphone. (Who wants to do their taxes online.)

Broadband is one of the top five issues at the legislature this year. We need to work together.

The Governor’s order is ubiquitous broadband coverage.

What about digital inclusion?

Subsidizing broadband costs for 18 months is enough to have someone make it a priority past subsidy.

Two legislative actions that passed last year that impacts telehealth

  • Parity law that reimburses insurance for e-visits as well as in-person visits
  • Interstate compact for medical credentials – for expedited state credentialing

And as a special bonus – a quick video of Senator Klobuchar speaking at the SDN reception directly following the conference.

This entry was posted in Funding, MN, Policy, Vendors 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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