Overview of rural broadband program for MN Agriculture and Rural Development and Housing Finance

Yesterday the Agriculture and Rural Development and Housing Finance learned about Minnesota’s rural broadband program from Danna Mackenzie at the Office of Broadband Development, Anna Boroff, Minnesota Cable Association, Brent Christensen, Minnesota Telcom Alliance and Nancy Hoffman with Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition. The Agriculture and Rural Development and Housing Finance will be discussing broadband this year

You can listen to the meeting : http://mnsenate.granicus.com/player/clip/3122?view_id=2

Danna Mackenzie at the Office of Broadband Development

  • The state has been working on broadband since before 2008
  • The policies and programs have been iterative as we have learned
  • Four strong components:
    • Speed goals (set in 2010)
    • Mapping – to measure success
    • Office of Broadband Development – esp in DEED
    • State funding
  • The state is seeing success but some counties still need help. Four counties have less than 50 percent (Aitkin, Fillmore, Pine and Yellow Medicine) access to 25/3 access. We may need new strategies to fix this. There are feasibility studies and/or proposals for improvement in three of those counties)
  • Much talk about the maps

Question from Kari Dziedzic: When you talk about 100 percent of household have access – are you looking at affordability?
Right now we only talk about availability from at least one option. We do have resources to track affordability

Question: Do you know which schools don’t have access?
I can get the list. There’s an area in the West Central part of the state. The other school is northwest angle.

  • We now track gigabit access too

Question: What kind of investment do we need to make – wires or equipment?
The program is tech neutral so we don’t have a specific answer. But we seem to fund a range that includes equipment, tower, wires…

  • We launched a speed test for the state to track consumer experience. We have about 6,000 tests but that’s not enough to draw conclusions

Question: DO some people ask for less than 50 percent match?
Applications get extra points if they are able to match more than 50 percent

  • People often ask how state and federal funding works together. We do use maps of federal funding to make decisions. We don’t go into areas that are working on enhancements but we have partnered with new projects to increase speeds of federally funded projects

Question: IN regards to feds, do you have info on how much they have spent or houses reached or miles built?
I don’t have that info today. There are multiple streams of funding.

Question: How much does it cost to cover a township?
It depends on the type of technology.

Question: How much to cover the state?
The Broadband Task Force came up with a number to serve 25/3 – not 100/200 but the number $35 million annual until goal is met.

Question: In early days we had communities that were being undersserved? Have we tightened that up? (Have we called people on their challenges?)
We are aware of those concerns. The state policy prioritizes the unserved versus underserved.

Brent Christensen, Minnesota Telecom Alliance

  • Representing 44 providers
  • I wasn’t a fan of the grants when first introduced; but I was wrong. The Office has done a great job of helping providers – such as with MNDOT permitting. They were slow but we’re getting them expedited.
  • People recognize our success in other states. Many other states are using the MN model or looking at them. But of the success is focusing on unserved.
  • The grant have formed unusual partnerships. Such as – Big Stone County…

Question: Is fixed wireless a way to serve farms and rural areas?

  • Broadband is like a water pipe. Broadband is the pipe and internet is the water.
  • We use the cloud now – much like the mainframe environment back in the day.
  • Byte is 2-3 paragraphs of text…
  • Broadband is measured in the amount of data delivered per second
  • We want to get the internet to grow faster
  • 25 Mbps Download / 3 Mbps Upload
  • Defining broadband is a moving target; it has been redefined on a regular basis

Question: Why 25 down and 3 up? Why is it slower to upload?
The internet was original built on telephone network. Then there was more of a need to download than upload. SO they focused on download – because the telephone lines were only so big. As we transition to fixed wireless and fiber that is less of an issue.

  • What technologies are out there
    • Telephone companies – first put on telephone lines / started with dalipup to DSL to FTTH. The closer we can get people to fiber, the faster the connection. Many built fiber to the node and are now closing that gap.
    • Cable put it on cable lines / They have creted hybrid solutions and will do FTTH
    • IN the last 12 years – wireless has emerged – but really wireless connections are wired until it goes from tower to your phone.
    • Fixed wireless – will put up an antenna at your house and connect to that.
    • Satellite – uses a dish that pushes connection from home to satellite and back

Question: so the object is to get fiber as close to the house as possible? How fast is copper?
Copper will maintain 4060 Mbps down to 4500 feet

Question: Do you track how much goes to telecom vs cable vs wireless?
I can tell you who has recevedi what funding but not how many customers?

Questions: I see gaps in the maps. Are you worried about those gaps?
Yes. I belive broadband will get just about everywhere. But there are pocket, where you just can’t make a business care to make it happen and that’s where the grant program makes a real difference. It helps us get to the corners. We won’t need state support forever; how long we need it depends on how mcuh you invest per year. We only ever got to 98 percent phone coverage. We now have a way to maximize federal funding with state match.

Question: What is it like to work with the counties?
It’s all  over the map. You need to find a local unit of government to support broadband but it can happen at county or township level – such as Sunrise Township.

Question: What do you do when part of a community are not served? Does that make it more expensive?
It’s cheaper to extend an existing network than build an entirely new network.

Question: Can we get a workshop for potential grant applicants? Do they need a provider?
We do run workshops at the beginning of every cycle. There’s not requirement that a community have a provider in mind when they come into the workshops. Many do have a provider or the provider is taking the lead but the program is open to all. We offer assistance.

Anna Boroff, Minnesota Cable Assocaition

  • All major cable companies and serve almost 1 million households
  • We appreciate the Office of Broadband Development
  • We have invested $1 billion in broadband since 2011
  • Many cable companies have gig access – Mediacom serves many rural areas
  • There are areas where you can’t make a business case to serve broadband; grants have helped members serve these areas
  • Counterparts in other states are envious of the Minnesota model
  • We thinking spending money in unserved areas is important
  • CAF 2 – Midco received funds to expend fixed wireless service – they are getting 100/20 speeds
  • Adoption is an issue; members have programs to help make broadband affordable to low income customers

Question: More people choose to not get broadband than don’t have access?
Yes more choose not to get access – maybe due to affordability or other reasons

Nancy Hoffman, Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition

  • We have more than 70 members
  • Our priorities are
    • Base funding for the grants in DEED
    • Continue to support the Office of Broadband Development
    • Re-establish a MN Broadband Task Force
    • Funding grants at $70 million per biennium
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.

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