Notes from Industry Broadband Networks Conference: Connections that Matter

Today I attended the Broadband Networks Conference hosted by Minnesota Cable Communications Association, MN Telecom Alliance, AT&T, Comcast and others. It is an industry look at broadband policy and includes local legislators, national viewpoints and stakeholders.

I tried to take pretty complete notes, which I’m going to post below with minimal proofing – mostly because I have to catch up with legislative happening and county profiles. The bird’s eye view a few themes emerged:

  • Minnesota is focused on broadband. Legislators understand it’s important and ubiquitous coverage will require state support. It’s a matter of how much support is available.
  • Rural areas without broadband will be left behind. People will not move to areas without broadband.
  • People are talking about 5G. The legislation related to 5G is the small cell access to public rights of way. National speakers recognized that 5G will be great for downtown areas and college campuses but not a solution rural areas.
  • There is interest in modernizing broadband-related regulation – such as how VoIP is handled, call completion.
  • National politics are a wildcard at this point. Everyone is hopeful that investment in infrastructure will include investment in broadband – although the timing is uncertain. Industry seems happy with the new FCC Chair – especially in terms of Net Neutrality.

Intro from Jeffery Freyer at Comcast- they double capacity of network every 18-24 months. Expanded local workforce with 400 new jobs. Will be hiring 100 more this year. Internet Essentials – expanded program last year by adding HUD housing.

Lt Governor Tina Smith

Think about 20 years from now. Minnesota is a global leader in innovation. How did we do it?

  • Invested in people – education from early ed to graduate
  • Invested in ideas – tax credit for innovation
  • Invested in high speed internet access

Broadband is private-sector led but public sector needs to support. We can’t control the speed of technology – but we can ride the wave.

Paul Bunyan Communication is a leader with their GIgazone. They are ever-expanding and drawing business.

We are a tale of two connections.

We have big goals. State statutes outline big regulation. We know the private sector needs to lead. Private sector invests a lot. Sometimes the last mile is not feasibility without government support (Border to Border broadband grants).

We propose $60 million over next two years.
We can’t wait for technology.
20percent of MN households don’t have access to the Internet.

2017 MN Legislative Session Priorities and Update (Panel)

What is the public role for broadband?

Sen Gazelka –
This is like REA. Broadband is critical – for health care, business, ag and education. If we don’t have that in rural areas; we can’t compete. The private sector can’t do it alone. It’s unique in that way.

Sen Bakk –
Some parts of MN need a public-private partnership. Some parts do not. Rural areas do need help. The question is how much? We need to maintain options for people to get the levels of service they need and can afford. It’s not good to build out a system that people can’t afford.

Sen Hortman
Broadband is like roads. The private sector can’t take care of it. Where we put roads is where economy happens. Broadband is the same. If we choose not to invest, we choose to leave rural people behind.

Speaker Daudt
Broadband is a necessity who wants to start a business. In rural areas the population density don’t make a good business case. So private companies will upgrade urban before rural areas. We’ve put a record investment in broadband last year. There’s CAF money. We don’t want to invest in technology that’s obsolete. We don’t want to invest in fiber if wireless is going to be faster or nearly as fast soon. Lack of broadband will prevent economic growth. People don’t want to move to areas without broadband.

Broadband is a priority. But there are competing concerns. We’ve invested heavily in the last two years. It’s a bipartisan issue. Tough to give a month.

We have a proposal to fund at $100 million. We have a divide with some with great opportunity and some with limited opportunities and broadband plays a role in that – especially in rural areas.

Does piecemeal funding help?

Sen Bakk –
It’s going to take a while to build statewide. Investment makes sense. We can figure on a number. Where do we direct that money – unserved or underserved areas? I think unserved areas should be first.

You don’t need a 4-lane highway to run a business from your home but you do need broadband. It’s a great economic development tool – you can live and work more cheaply in rural areas that the Cities. We don’t’ have a number we should have one next week. But broadband will be a priority. We just want to make sure that we’re not investing in technology that won’t make sense. We want to compliment CAF 2 funding not replace or compete.

Families need to have broadband at home. It’s going to be expensive but we need it. Every two years we have to compete for dollars and there’s a lot of uncertainty on health care with federal issues. Broadband is one-time funding for build out; not ongoing and that’s an advantage.

HOrtman –
Broadband is a healthcare equalizer. Minnesota kids just don’t compete with other MN kids – they are competing with kids from around the world. There’s tons of good info online. If we don’t invest we leave them behind.

Gazelka –
I have kids who use an iPad for homework. Her reports are amazing because she has access to online resources. Telemedicine is a way to bring advanced medication and health care to rural areas. Broadband helps keep people in their homes.

Last year we worked to get wifi on buses. First I thought kids would play Pokemon Go – but apparently it’s really worked out. Seniors with high speed internet can monitor their health, safety and security. Think of the reduced costs. Broadband is a benefit for everyone.

Currently there’s a $1.4 billion surplus. We move budget deadlines up to give us more time for discussion. I think there will be $200-400 million in additional revenue. We want to see tax relief and a good bonding bill to support transportation.

We did some things early – and with good communication so we have time for big issue later. Maybe even on time. We need roads and bridges, a budget that works for everyone, bonding.

The uncertainty at the federal level is a big issue. We need to reserve more money because of the uncertainty at the federal level. We’ve had early deadlines in the past but unless/until we exchange written offers we can’t really work.

An issue in the legislature in gotcha politics and people making decisions based on the next campaign. So let’s use the early deadlines well.

Duane Ring – Intro to Congressman Emmer
We surveyed millennials they said broadband as #1, air was #2. Baby Boomers ranked air at #1. Maybe that’s a reflection on our education.

Congressman Emmer

On Broadband Caucus and Cybersecurity caucus.

My generation got along without Facebook… We used libraries to write out reports. Now if you want to write a report, you only have to open a computer. It’s easier to do that and communication with others.

Expanding broadband networks is the best way to keep our state and country relevant.

Government is responsible for keeping roads going. Broadband is the next and most important part of our infrastructure. It’s imperative that government support it at all levels.

We need to find ways to change outdated regulation – such as 1934 Telecom Act that. The US House of Rep wanted to update regulation with things such as the  email privacy act. A warrant is not required to see email. Right now law enforcement can read email after 6 months.

We need to investment in broadband infrastructure. I think the new FCC Chair can capitalize on infrastructure funding. I hear from constituents that have limited to no access to broadband.

We need to support STEM education and opportunities. We at my office support the congressional app challenge and other opportunities.

Broadband Telecommunications Public Policy

What are your broadband priorities?

Kresha –
$17.5 million per year. (To be introduced today) BUT even more important – we need to update regulation and get regulation certainty. I’d like to see increase in fudning to the broadband but this is going to be a tough budget state.

Thissen –
Issues seem to cycle in the legislature. We understand now that we need to investment it’s just a matter of how much. That’s progress. We’re seeing excitement about the local grants and a sense of empowerment. The way the grants are designed – encouraging local communities and providers to work together – is helpful. We still need to work on regulation. I am going to work with people who oppose those changes to help bring them along. The changes in DC also will have an impact.

We might see some bipartisanship. We are starting to move towards 5G – maybe that’s a technology that will make sense for larger towns in rural areas. But that involves public rights of way so we need to work on that. There are a lot of new rural members in the caucus, broadband is a big issue for them. We need to continue these grants.

Kresha –
You’re the author of the VoIP bill. The modernization of the bills is as important as funding. We need certainty. We also need equalization. I look at who’s not getting broadband and why? We spent $500,000 in low income and wireless on buses. It’s a way to get kids connected without having to reach their rural homes. We have to continue to educate people. Just getting people to talk about ILEC and CLEC was tough. We need to alleviate fears about taking away technology –

33 states have modernized telecom regulation. I think we can get that through the House. Hoping that the Senate can get it through. We’re going to have a fight with Commerce, AG and Governor’s Office. Minnesota is thoughtful and diligent. And so things happen here but they happen more slowly and often more carefully.

I too an optimistic about regulation modernization. The other side is worried about the CenturyLink deal. People on the other side have limited trust. There’s concern that the federal government will through a spanner into the works entirely, which is leading to a wait and see attitude. We are going to start to see 2018 politics play into this bill. That will have an impact.

We have a good opportunity to move regulation forward. Last time the senior citizens were worried about people taking away their landline phones. The governor and LT seem to be realizing that there needs to be a change in VOIP. Kresha will be introducing this first and we’ll be watching in the Senate to see what happens.

In 2014, we removed the sales tax from telecom equipment. There’s a move to expand that to include other materials. I support that effort. This will come from a new legislator, Matt Bliss (Bemidji), he has a technology background and that’s helpful. Chair David supports it.

I support the sales tax exemption for telecom supplies.

I also support the tax exemption – it means we’d get more for our grant funding.

How much do you think we should invest in Broadband funding?

I think we should invest $500 million. There’s more need than budget. But it’s a matter of priories. We’ll know more about the budget next week and then we can give a serious answer to amount invest. We all benefit when we all get better broadband. It’s a priority.

The Governor’s proposal is aggressive. It would be hard to cut back from what we had before. Another concern I have to that in the next two years we may be seeing a recession.

What do you think the broadband industry (cable, telecom, wireless) can do to foster the debate?

You are well served by the people you have at the capital. When we ask for “peace in the valley” they understand that we can’t have fights; we need a bill that everyone can give with. Are there ways to reduce the costs of deploying broadband – after the tax exemptions?

Yes the folks on the capital are doing a good job and people believe them. A key is education, education, education. Pick a few legislators and make sure they understand the issues and can communicate them effectively to their colleagues.

The news shows fights between parties. That only happens 15 percent of the time. We do have agreement; and this is one of the issues.

Question – The Governor is asking for $60 million for the biennium – is that $30 million per year?

Yes – it’s $30 million per year. You raise a good point – it would be nice for people to be able to know this was here. Maybe it makes sense to look at long term solutions. That would allow communities and providers to not rush into applications.

Question from Don Niles – what about cyber security and data practices? The ability for state agencies to be able to share content without regard to Freedom of Information.

I work in healthcare I understand the need for cyber security. I don’t know much about the security or privacy between state agencies. You might want to bring that up.

Brad Finseth – Center for Rural Policy & Development

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We’ve been talking about broadband for a long time.

Broadband focus:

  • Who: Consumers, communities, government, business
  • Where: Location, location, location
  • When: yesterday
  • Why: access, access, access

Looking at population trends

Is being connected a right or a privilege? If it’s a right it’s up to Government to help.

Broadband is about jobs.

Broadband is a top issue when people are deciding to move.

To be a healthy state we have to be a healthy state – and that means supporting rural.

Educating legislators about broadband is important. Educating community members is important.

What can we do?

  • Let solutions be decided at the local level.
  • Communication: Things go more smoothly in rural communities when all stakeholders are better informed and involved.
  • Don’t try to choose technology winner and losers. Weight the importance of getting fast internet services vs getting any service at all.
  • Networks with generous upload speeds are crucial for economic activity
  • Technology changes fast, but we still need the basic network. Make sure we’re building upgradeable and future-ready networks and not just good enough.

There’s a sentiment where the concern is beyond broadband. We need to figure it out and be done. We need to think about what’s beyond broadband. How do we serve the tough to serve areas?

Industry has done a ton of work picking off the low hanging fruit – how do we get the hard to reach?

Question – back to is broadband a right or a privilege?

At one time the REA decided that electricity is a right. When will we do that with broadband? We can’t keep waiting for the new technology to come around. We need to act.

Legislators are tentative to do that – because with that right comes responsibility.

But we can’t just sit back and wait.

How can technology help us draw people back to rural areas?

It will be; it is the 1, 2 or 3 answer that people give to deciding where to live.

With the RPDC be continuing this research?

We are a small shop and we’ll continue to do this if we are helping but if there are other folks doing we leave it. That’s what we no longer do the Internet surveys. The question is do we have the budget to make a difference.

Office of Broadband Development – Danna MacKenzie

Governor recommends

  • $30M per year
  • $5M reserved for tribal/low income – these applications about qualify for 75 percent match.

FirstNet and Next Generation 911 – Jackie Mines

From Dept of Public Safety – we build out first responder networks. We work on having a solid 911 system. We are looking into wireless broadband network.

We have a partnership – it’s essential to making sure that 911 calls are timely and with the info valuable to the caller. The police now can be better prepared when they pull a car over – by having access to information.

Big projects:

  • 911 network goes down two paths
  • The idea of FirstNet came from 9/11
  • 2012 – FirstNet is developed. They have been educating and communicating ever since
  • 2016 (Jan) – RFP posted to build network
  • 2016 (May) – applications due
  • A responder has filed a complaint so a vendor has not been announced.
  • Once that happens, we’d have a Minnesota plan to opt in or not. Which means police can buy into FirstNet OR commercial option

We are hoping a plan will be in place to review by the end of 2017.

We are finding in rural areas that even if E-911 works, the areas will need better coverage to ensure that a person in need would have coverage to use their mobile phone to call 911.

Minnesota wants the competition inherent in being able to choose between FirstNet and a Commercial provider.

The Emergency Board is getting input from the communities.

Working on a 5-year plan.

We have the bonds that built radio network as quickly as possible. Were able to refinance – at lower rate.

Deaf and hard of hearing use text – we need to deploy the ability to do that with 911.

Renewed contract with Motorola.

Creating GIS project that helps track calls with addresses.

Future of Telecommunications – Barry Umansky

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Advanced Technology will always prevail – some may try to stop or slow that down. But tech will win

Broadband is key to many things (health care, business edu)

Benefits of 5G

  • Public Safety – E-911
  • Telemedicine is a benefit
  • Public Utility – advanced supply/demand utility management
  • Smart Grid
  • Transportation – reduce traffic congestions with traffic management to driverless cars
  • Virtual and augmented reality – education, healthcare

Question – Statewide video franchising

It’s a good recipe and it works well. It encourages competition.

Legitimate community concerns: rights or ways and fees.

Broadband Connections – Critical to Commerce (Panel)

  • Scott Geyer (House of Print in Madelia)
  • Nathan Redman (IBI Data in Brownsdale)
  • Greg Anthony (Mayo Clinic – Center of Connected Care)
  • John Dukich (MHTA)

Greg Anthony

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They do remote access to healthcare. Direct to patients and through local healthcare facilities.


  • ·         Increase patient access to clinical care
  • ·         Assist in decrease societal costs of care

Key challenges:

  • Digital infrastructure – rural patients lack access
  • Regulations – such as licensure
  • Payers – being willing to pay for digital care

John Dukich

MHTA – represents businesses including broadband providers

Manipulation, storing and moving of data – shape the business landscape – local examples:

  • Target used technology to predict buying patterns – broadband helps
  • Drones – monitor crops
  • Censors monitor commercial office space to maximize comfort
  • ADM cardiovascular – monitors heart conditions, partners with AT&T to facilitate remote access to data

Scott Geyer

Have used broadband since 56K. They were first cooperative newspaper printing company: they printed New Ulm, Fairmont and Marshall.

We were leaders in digital transfer of daily pages. Now they are so good they have customers all over the US. We can only compete because we have sufficient broadband.

Nathan Redman

It’s always been a struggle to get the broadband we need. We have a call center. We do research. We build websites. We do that for many fortune 500 food businesses.

In the 90s we had trouble getting enough copper. Currently we have 2 broadband providers – one uses copper. It’s more reliable but slower. There’s fiber across the road but we can’t get into it. Our direct wireless connection. It’s faster but it’s not as reliable as the wired connection.

Our business relies on reliability of broadband access.

We are worried about employee shortages but broadband helps. We can hire folks anywhere.

We will run into issues where it’s quicker easier to mail a flash drive than to upload/download online.

Question – Will patients drive telemedicine expansion?

Yes. We hear that older folks aren’t as savvy to online options but you really just need well designed systems with good training. Younger populations are savvy but don’t need as much healthcare – but there may be as they age

Question – How can we help business with broadband?

On the regulatory side – we need to make sure broadband is available everywhere.

Ensure we have regulatory framework that promotes private investment in broadband.

Share stories of business with legislators.

Question – what does a business need to do to connect with providers?

It’s a two-way street. Providers need to ask what business needs. And as a business we need to ask providers to give us what we need.

Question – how do you handle reduced face-to-face communication?

It has saved us a lot. We’re two hours from an airport – so travel takes up a lot of time. We don’t get as many clients visiting us but that’s OK. We can give them a video of our plant.

Question – is privacy an issue with remote access to telehealth?

Our systems are well vetted.

Question – has Mayo thought about licensing with smaller facilities?

Yes we do. We focus on our patients first, then existing partnerships, then we look to partner with others. The tele-stroke is one example. We bring services to the household but also help smaller facilities stay open longer. They can keep the patients with our help. SO critical care hospitals are able to expand.

What is next for Telecom?

Shirley Bloomfield

New President who doesn’t fit into a paradigm. We know we’ll see less regulation. We might see less interest in regulations.

FCC Chair Pai – means Pres thinks Pai is awesome or doesn’t get the attention enough to be of interest to him.

Sen Thune is very knowledgeable. Already tacking issues

Congressman from Oregaon (Alden?) also very knowledgeable.

Congress make look at more issues.

Looking at 2-5 things:

  • Infrastructure – it might be a unifier in DC and it should include broadband. There’s a hearing on Wed – on what broadband means. We’ll see if Congress will make the more to invest.
  • USF  – we want it to be done and done right. Need a budget. Contribution reform is big – who will do that?
  • CAF 2 – how does that meld with State program. They are making movement to more future-proofing networks (fiber-based).
  • Sen Klobuchar is a champion on call completion. She is a voice for rural and MN.

Rick Cimerman

Got great companies in MN – Sjoberg, Midco, Mediacom, CenturyLInk…

In the last 5 months spent tons of time on infrastructure policy. Every discussion was on how to work with Clinton – then we had to shift gears.

The President wasn’t a $1 trillion plan for infrastructure. It’s a key issue for him. Every member of congress who has talked about infrastructure has included broadband. We need to distinguish between broadband (private sector success) which works (albeit with gaps) compare that to crumbling state infrastructure. We need to fix areas where there’s no broadband but we don’t want to replace that with government.

Klobuchar is a proponent of Dig Once. That’s a regulatory streamline that makes sense.

There are funding needs in rural areas.

Today there was an article in DC saying that infrastructure may slip to next June.

Word from Paul Ryan – indicated that infrastructure is not top item.

We need to turn broadband legislation into economic motives – need to make the connection to the community.

2015: rural broadband brought $25 billion in ecnomic growth – 2/3 of that in urban areas

Other Issues

  • Waiting to see if Clyburn will stay at FCC. If she leaves the FCC will be unable to do much. (They need a quorum.)
  • Privacy – The FTC is regulator for privacy. When FCC adopted Net Neutrality that took away regulation of providers by FTC. So FCC stepped up to regulate. We think the FCC shodl just adopt what FTC does BUT they went a much more onerous route. We want to go back to the way we were treated before because it’s tricky for the consumer.
  • You have to opt in with what a provider can do with your data; in most cases (like Google) it’s an opt out rule.

Internet Order transparency cause – small providers didn’t have to adhere to transparency regulations that was extended and expanded to larger (250,000 customers) providers

Under Wheeler they set onerous regulations on providers due to Net Neutrality; we think many regulations will be repealed. We hope congress will step in and regulate in this area – because we don’t want pendulum swings of policy.

Title 2 regulations – have some precautions that have bene valuable.

Policy has for two years been asking providers for white papers on various issues.

Chairman Pai – Digital Empowerment Agenda

·         He wants to address pole attachments. Out big issue with municipal and coop-owned poles; they are exempt.

·         He has created a BDAC.


One of his first meeting was with providers. He’s collaborative. He’s all about deployment. When he started at FCC he did a rural broadband conference. He talks to providers, businesses and residents.

And he’s a nice guy.

About 5G…

In DC we educate legislators to tell them that “wireless needs wires”. The standards are a few year away. It’s a great marketing piece. Spectrum is reach. There are penetration issues – it doesn’t carry for long distances. It requires a lot more infrastructure.

“5G is good for college campus or downtown – not a rural solution.”

There may be wireless solutions but not 5G.

“satellite will have more capacity than all prior satellite options combined.

Question – talk about privacy policies for Google vs broadband providers.

We should be treated the same way as edge providers (Google). The idea that providers see more customer activity that Google isn’t right.

It will be interesting to see if Google gets a continued warm reception in DC.

How can we monetize analytics? We want to look at use more than activity. Does broadband use good up during college spring breaks?

Small providers are penalized to adhere to Title 2 requirements – they don’t have the staff or lawyers to handle common carrier status issues. It’s too costly.

We haven’t talked about wifi or unlicensed spectrum. These are big issues in DC. Over 50 percent of all data goes over wifi networks. People have lots of devices in their home – they run over wireless networks

Question – Chairman Pai – friend or foe?
Friend. Friend.
He will be more collegial. He will listen to others more than Wheeler.

Question – What happens to reclassifying services with Net Neutrality issues?

Lawyers are talking about this. It’s complicated. Proponents (supposed public interest groups) that fought for public utility standing (and that was a reversal of existing FCC policy) are saying you can’t reverse a decision – even though they previously advocated for a reversal of decision.

Some folks who keep an eye on politics may reserve what the 3-person FCC does.

Minnesota is an interesting success – with provider collaboration and Danna’s work at the Office of Broadband Development

This entry was posted in Conferences, 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 (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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