I eat, sleep, (sadly) dream broadband and yet I have my moments of wonder what I don’t get. The technology is detailed and every changing, the policy can get dated and it’s important because as we’ve see at the State and Federal level – millions of dollars are spent based on the definitions. And as is the nature with politics, many people in the room have different agendas. Yesterday I had to step back after watching the MN Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy Committee discussion SF1536: Broadband grants use for fixed wireless broadband and mapping requirements clarification.
So what is SF1536 doing? It is changing the broadband definition of underserved and unserved to include “fixed wireless” service. Today, the State uses only wireline broadband to track whether a house is served or unserved. Listening to the testimony today, the reason that fixed wireless wasn’t included is that is can be over-reported, giving us the false sense of success. Also, when the bill was original drafted fixed wireless wasn’t as good as it is now.
What doesn’t SF1536 do? It doesn’t open a door to fixed wireless projects getting funded through the Border to Border grant process because that door is already open. Grants have been awarded to fixed wireless providers. Technology is unimportant BUT the connection must scale to 100 Mbps down and up. That doesn’t mean it has to provide that tomorrow – but that it’s working toward that.
My takeaway: this meeting was similar to a recent US Senate Committee meeting where policymakers seemed more eager to declare successful broadband expansion than facilitate successful broadband expansion. As I said then, constituents don’t care if they are served/unserved/underserved; they care if broadband is a help or a hindrance in their lives. Changing the definition doesn’t help get people better service – it just reduces the number of local people and businesses eligible for government support. The declaration of success will be short lived in constituents continue to complain when policymakers get home.
What else does SF1536 do? The bill also explicitly says that broadband mapping “reflect all broadband delivery technologies.” The State already has access to data and maps based on wired and fixed wireless status. (There is an interactive map where you can search for wireline and/or fixed wireless status.) The county maps are wireline only but since they can gather the data for the interactive map, I assume they could create a map of fixed wireless access.
But they aren’t just asking for fixed wireless here, they are asking for “all broadband”, which makes me think they are asking for satellite and cellular. No asked about that in the meeting– but otherwise the change seems unnecessary. This makes me think that tracking fixed wireless is a slippery slope. Does your mom know the difference between wireless, fixed wireless, cellular or satellite? Do you?
Satellite should reach everyone and that will color the map – but will the new low Earth orbit options meet the speed goals? With cellular do you want to count 5G, 4G, 3G? It is clouding an already difficult topic. Also I don’t see any more funding for the mapping and they didn’t discuss the fact that the Office of Broadband Development only has a budget for mapping when they are administering grants. So if the Governor’s budget of one-year funding for broadband comes to fruition, they will be asked to do more with less at a time when they are also likely to be asked to look into federal funding.
My takeaway: this in an unintentional can of worms. I suspect that the Office of Broadband could create maps that show fixed wireless access with the information they have now. (It might take resources to compile.)
Senator Duckworth ends the meeting by stating that consumers don’t care how they get served so long as it happens soon and it’s cheap. That’s true so long as the value is good. I think it consumers can get access at speeds of 100 Mbps down and 20 up that they are probably satisfied; less happy if the speeds are 25/3. I don’t know that this bill is helping them get there. I think are missing the forest for the trees. The real measure of whether a household “has broadband” – as we’ve learned acutely during the pandemic – is can parents work, kids go to school, get to the doctor when you need a watch enough Netflix to stay in quarantine.