MN Broadband Task Force: Fixed wireless, satellite, CAF and MN grant challenge process

Today the Minnesota Broadband Task Force met; the topics of the day were fixed wireless and satellite. It was interesting to hear from the various vendors. In short they got an update on what’s going on with fixed wireless and then a demo of satellite. (There was public feedback in the form of letters that came in from rural satellite users.)

I think most folks in the room would agree that this is the B-side of broadband. (There might not be agreement on whether they will stay on the B-side.) These are the folks that are interested in serving rural areas and/or in playing the role of competitor to an incumbent provider. We heard dismay at how CAF money is being spent on expanding slower connections – rather than upgrading services. The presenters attract customers who have slow connections and whose providers have said they have no plans to upgrade. They see the frustration and are able to capitalize on it by offering service that they say is better.

One red flag was a discussion on the CBRS (citizen band radio spectrum) and fear that the government may sell that public property to the highest bidder. A bidder that may choose to not use the spectrum. The problem is that can keep the competition away – leaving community members with limited choice for broadband.

Folks were also talking about the grant challenge process for the MN broadband funds in light of what’s happening in Kandiyohi County. (I will try to get more details on what’s going on there.) The issue is that a grant applicant must inform an incumbent (or nearby) provider if they intend to seek funds to upgrade service. Then the incumbent/nearby provider has a chance to challenge. One issue is that even if they don’t challenge – they know competition is coming, which means they can make just enough changes to make it difficult for the newcomer to the area. (Discussion at 3:30 in video below.)

Lots of interesting discussion….

 Here are more detailed notes…

10:00 a.m. –10:10 a.m. Introductions, Approval of Minutes, Public Comment
10:10 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Office of Broadband Development Update

I will post the PPTs when I get them. Here they are:


What’s up with Kandiyohi County?

CTC has declined the award. The County was going to bond. There was a $700,000 increase in interest cost. And went from preliminary to final engineering the cost went up $500,000. SO what they worked out is that they would try to reach out to people in project area to get 50 percent take rate with $25 deposit. They had 50 percent sign up but only 40 percent paid deposit.

It was a revenue bond.

TDS is going to do a $10 million project using CAF. That announcement came out a week before CTC/Kandiyohi had to make a decision. That may have had an impact on people signing up. At the County Fair that was the most common question – about broadband. People wondered what was going on.

Maybe we could hear more about this.

There has been discussion on the role of the challenge process.

TDS challenged but they would not commit to building to 25/3.

The money will go back into the pool for this year’s bucket.

The OBD administers the grants. The Task Force makes a recommendation to the Governor about how to get broadband to everyone. We have said we don’t’ like the challenge process. We are technology neutral.

10:15 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. Fixed Wireless Panel

We haven’t heard from fixed wireless in a while. Nor have we had a demo of satellite.

We have had more of a bent toward wireline – especially for business.


  • Tim Johnson, MVTV Wireless
  • Paul Hess, Advantenon
  • Dave Giles, Invisimax
  • Steve Schneider, Bug Tussel Wireless (AT&T partner)

People talk about the Internet of Things. We are technology neutral – how does wireline fit into fixed wireless? What is the impact of fixed wireless and security?

Steve Schneider, Bug Tussel Wireless  (AT&T partner)

We do wired and wireless and continued to interact in those spaces. There will be more areas where we interact – which as TV white spaces.

There were a lot of holes in cellular coverage – seems like these are the same holes we see with broadband.

We’re a rural economic development provider. We build sites to prove that rural areas are economically viable.

Everyone has a different definition of broadband. FCC says 25/3. But really people care about what they can get. For many people it’s Netflix or does my phone work?

We try to integrate all of these concepts. We try to be a one-stop-shop. John Deere tractors don’t need real broadband.

Before we get to broadband – we need good wireless.

70 percent of traffic touches a wireless app.

We partner with a mobile provider to bring fixed wireless and cellular access to customers.

How do we work?

Step One: We acquire access to wireless spectrum. We own spectrum in MN that we’re not using now. Nor do we have plans to use it.

Step Two: We build a tower. That is our greatest challenge.

Step Three: Bus Tussel University – we do training with local community to figure out the community need/definition of broadband. Seniors are the biggest data users if they know how to use it.

Sometimes all we do is provide LTE. Sometimes we offer fixed wireless.

We do demand side roaming. Cost of roaming can be more than overbuilding – so we buy their towers where roaming might be required. They can buy back if we get enough customers to make it worth them.

We can develop a market for the big 4 providers. Once we develop the customers, the big four can take them on.

What is 5G?

Getting closer to the customer with more capacity. So if we have a community that needs cellular – we use white space. We put LED lights (making it a smarter community) and small cell equipment in public spaces. How you take the services you need and get them

People have defined it as millimeter spectrum but that doesn’t make sense in rural areas. TV white space is big waves but we need that to get further in rural areas.

We are trying to come up with a 5G-like service for rural areas. If broadband is 25Mbps. There’s argument about whether that’s going to go up. I don’t think it’s the speed as much as access to service that’s appropriate. Our 5G will be slower than 4G but it will go farther and be more reliable.

We like communities with 400-800 people.

SO when approached by counties where we don’t have interest – we will do conduit bonds. We will build it for them and pay them back.

Tim Johnson, MVTV Wireless – a nonprofit cooperative starting to bring TV to rural Granite Falls.

Services provided:

  • Wireless Internet – service packages from 1 Mbps to 25 Mbps (fewer than 5 percent of customers subscribe to that)
  • Digital TV
  • Network Extension – how to get broadband to the entire farm
  • Point-to-Point
  • Virtual Networks

Why is there a Future for Fixed Wireless? Cost!

Unserved rural areas – 87% of MVTV’s members reside in townships

Economic of Delivery – Cost per last mile deliver <$70 | Cost per mile of infrastructure $1500 (including plant)

IoT and Fixed Wireless

Most of our customers are happy with 5 Mbps. At one point we increased everyone’s package to 10 Mbps as a test and we only saw a 20 percent increase in overall traffic.

The value of wireline:

  • A requirement for aggregation
  • Provide access to the Internet
  • Access in an incidental cost  – a commodity
  • Its value may be cost prohibitive

Paul Hess, Advantenon

Services range from 4 Mbps to 100 Mbps (10 Mps seems to be most popular connection)

Fixed Wireless Future

Innovation of pace of hardware

Fixed Wireless Challenges

  • Unlicensed space are getting crowded
  • Most promising (CBRS) licensed space in under attack
  • Speeds offered to customers traditionally underwhelming
  • CAF II and support for large telco DSL – developed a poor reputation with customers. 100 percent of our customers have said their old DSL was not sufficient and the companies have said they have no interest in upgrades.

Customer Trends

  • Over the Top services
  • Subscription services

Wireless vs Wireline

  • Most ISPs will create hybrid systems
  • Fiber and Fixed wireless replacing DSL, cable and traditional wireline technology

Why fixed wireless?

  • Last mile is built only as required, reducing costs
  • Re-sues tower infrastructure
  • Fixed Characteristics provides good distance options
  • Licensed spectrum is stable
  • Speeds and good
  • Utilizing existing backhaul

Policy Decision

  • MN – like to see changes in grant challenge proves.
  • US – don’t like to see CAF money going to expansion of networks that aren’t fast enough.

It used to be that people sent in proposals and then could be challenged. Now the incumbents have time to challenge earlier. This program has always had a challenge process

Dave Giles, Invisimax

WISPA – wireless provider association

Our biggest customer (511 service) has a 100 x 200 Mbps. Most of their business is uploaded.

We have service/price goal of 50Mbps for $50 and 100Mbp for $100.

LTE takes different channels of spectrum and binds them together. It’s rapidly growing and gaining investors.

Future of Wireless

  • Google is moving to fixed wireless
  • AT&T move to fixed wireless
  • Microsoft talks up fixed wireless
  • WISPA has 800 fixed wireless providers

Triple Play is becoming content and data.

Internet or Things is going to require better management of traffic. We can’t be leaving the “internet lights” turned on all of the time.

Fiber support fixed wireless and fixed wireless expands fiber.

Thoughts in Microsoft’s plan

  • Microsoft days they don’t want to be a provider. They want tp support providers. They see TV White space as another tool in their toolbox.
  • Most people will take a broadband connection at $30/month
  • Their goal is to sell cloud computing

MidCo is partners (or Invisimax) they have servers everywhere – all cloud companies want to have access to more customer and better broadband is a way to do that.

What can TF do?

  • Learn more about fixed wireless
  • Learn more about CBRS – citizen band radio spectrum
  • TVWH – tv white spaces


The Big 4 – who are they?
Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile an Sprint

Right now – you can only get MN grant for backhaul. If that was removed would you use money for something else?

  • Yes. We were successful once. One issue is the growing to 100/100.
  • But perhaps we could create funding to improve service for existing customers.
  • We invest less in the state because competitors can apply for funding.

In Wisconsin – we require 25/3 to end customer and can’t charge more than $50. But they sometimes over service. Some of them have 400 x 1 network plans.

The program was set up to build broadband in areas where no one was going to build. Unserved Minnesotans come first – then underserved Minnesotans. We get into turf wars when we look at underserved areas.

11:45 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.  Lunch (Governor’s Dining Room–basement of the Capitol on tunnel level)

12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Satellite Demonstration – Megan Kueck, Manager, State and Local Affairs, Satellite Communications and Broadcasting Association

One post demonstration question – what are the current data caps? 10-50MB Unlike many cell services, customers don’t get charged for overages. Their connection will be throttled instead.

We’re had citizens write to us about the experience with satellite. Here are the letters. They have been suing satellite and had trouble.

It’s difficult to make decisions based on users. We don’t know their individual experience.

1:30 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. Wrap-Up, Discussion of September Meeting, Adjourn

Let’s discuss the funding level for broadband grants. We could shoot for that conversation in October?

It would be nice to have a draft ready by Sep 21. That gives time to work on issues, gaps, get stories.

This may be the last report to this administration. Next year might be a retrospective. We will have a new Governor after November 2018.

Next year we could prepare the Governor for what’s happening with broadband now.

There’s been a dip in State Revenue. We won’t have a report until early December. Broadband has been the beneficiary of one-time funds. That’s daunting.

When we look at economic development – know that Blandin Foundation is working on case studies to demonstration ROI for broadband funds.

  • 1:45 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. Subcommittee Work Time

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