Is five years the expiration date for a broadband goal or definition? If so, time’s up!

The FCC definition of broadband is 25 Mbps down and 3 up (25/3). The Minnesota State speed goals are 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026. I sat in the room while that state speed goal was hammered out – over several months in 2015 – five years ago! (Federal definition changed in 2010 and 2015.)  Keen minds will remember that that MN base upload actually decreased in 2016, when the legislature moved from:

(2010) Universal access and high-speed goal.
It is a state goal that as soon as possible, but no later than 2015, all state residents and businesses have access to high-speed broadband that provides minimum download speeds of ten to 20 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of five to ten megabits per second.

To

(2016) Universal access and high-speed goal.
It is a state goal that:
(1) no later than 2022, all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to high-speed broadband that provides minimum download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of at least three megabits per second; and
(2) no later than 2026, all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to at least one provider of broadband with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second.

Do we need new speed goals?

It seems like a good time to revisit speed goals – especially since we’ve seen an accelerated increase in demand due to COVID raising questions of equity for those are the wrong side of the digital divide. (Just yesterday Rep. Eshoo introduced Legislation to update the National Broadband Plan.) Also lots of people are looking at increasing funds to close that divide – folks like the US Senate and House, MN Legislature,  and even groups such as the American Connection Project Broadband Coalition (ACPBC). The speeds we use to define broadband and dole out funding will impact the communities that get funding and their ability to take classes online, participate in telehealth, work online – even Zoom with family and friends.

Last month, the MN Broadband Task Force heard from former FCC member, Jonathan Chambers who was very clear about saying that broadband is not a static speed. It reflects usage and need. He also reminded members about the National Broadband Plan (2010), which set a goal of 100 million homes with 100 Mbps access and 4/1 access for the rest. “Aim too low, get too low,” he said.

He shared an interactive map that shows all funding disbursed from the Universal Service Administration Corporation for High Cost and Connect America Fund programs from January 2015 through March 2020 by provider on a map that shows served and unserved areas (25/3). Below you see three views. (Click in enlarge.) First the view of served/unserved areas. Next in red we see the area served by Paul Bunyan, the orange area is still unserved and they have received $39,518,942.85 in CAF and High Cost money. Finally, in red is the area served by Frontier, orange is still unserved and we see they have received $144,143,070 in CAF money since 2015.

Those companies received funding because the areas they served were previously unserved. (So local communities care about speed goals and definitions.) They are supposed to be providing service that qualifies those areas as served. (So, providers and the funders should care about the goals and definitions.)

Speed goals and definitions matter!

What is the right speed?

You can look at what other states are doing, see how we compare with other countries, remember that in 2010 we were shooting for 100 Mbps for most homes and/or look at what industries and sectors are going to need in the future. Here are some examples…

The USDA’s A Case for Rural Broadband focuses on precision agriculture…

  • A leading, multinational network hardware and telecommunications equipment technology conglomerate projects that the average global download speed will double from 39 Mbps in 2017 to 75 Mbps by 2022
  • Disparities in broadband infrastructure directly impact rural citizens and businesses – including agriculture, which stifles the modernization of food production urban and suburban citizens rely on.
  • Rural broadband has become a national priority to address the e-connectivity gap and deliver increased economic and societal benefits. The American economy stands to capture substantial gains from e-connectivity through adoption of Next Generation Precision Agriculture. USDA’s analysis estimates that connected technologies are poised to transform agricultural production and create a potential $47-$65 billion in annual gross benefit for the United States.

Vox recognizes the need for symmetrical broadband for something we have all become almost too well acquainted with…

  • Upload capacity is key to video conferencing services. So if your Zoom meetings aren’t going so well, you might be maxing out what your old infrastructure can handle. But if you’ve got a fiber connection, you should ask your ISP about getting symmetrical upload and download speeds.

The FCC created a Household Broadband Guide. The chart says it all – or all they have to say. They aren’t specific about upload vs download but I know that even when there are only two of us at home – we are advanced users with two of us on different Zoom calls and often on our phones as well – and post COVID, I think many households are in similar positions.

The need for increased speed become even clearer if you look at their activity by speed (again only download). One telecommuter or one student using 5-25 Mbps. Again, that pushes most households beyond federal definition and quickly inching toward (or beyond) the MN 2026 speed goal.

We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but it seems getting the most broadband we can is one way to prepare. In the last week, I have been meeting with small businesses in Chisago County via Zoom. Well, I can meet with most by Zoom but several couldn’t because they didn’t have enough broadband.

That’s the difference between being able to work from home or losing your job. It’s the difference between seeing the doctor remotely or going into the office – if they’re open. It’s the difference between your kids talking classes online or to borrow from a story Senator Klobuchar shared today…

There was a story of a girl just last week out of Otter Tail County who drove to Battle Lake to do her biology quizzes in the liquor store parking lot.

This entry was posted in MN, Policy 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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