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.

FCC Establishes A Portal for ISP Disclosures

Borrowing from the Benton Foundation’s summary

As required by the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, with this Public Notice, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, in coordination with the Wireline Competition Bureau, establishes a portal for Internet service provider (ISP) transparency disclosures. The Order becomes effective on June 11, 2018, and the revised transparency rule requires ISPs to publicly disclose information about their service in one of two ways – by providing the disclosure on a publicly available, easily accessible website or by submitting it to the Federal Communications Commission for posting. On May 29, 2018, this portal will be available for both ISPs submitting their disclosures to the FCC and consumers searching for any disclosures submitted to the FCC.

It seems likely to me that most providers would simply use their own website to disclose information about their service – but this portal is available too. It would interesting to see if some of the providers use their website to disclose some info and this portal to disclose other info.

 

Who has authority over broadband service in MN PUC or FCC?

Minnesota Public Radio reports…

The question of whether state government can regulate internet service has surfaced at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The PUC will take up the matter this Thursday.

The state commerce department wants consumer internet complaints about Frontier Communications included in a PUC investigation of the company. The agency has received hundreds of complaints about Frontier, many concerning its internet service. The PUC plans a series of public meetings around the state to hear consumer comments on the matter.

But the state’s telecommunications companies maintain the regulation of internet service is something only the Federal Communications Commission can do.

Frontier would like the PUC to have FCC handle broadband issues and segment out only telephone for the PUC. The Attorney General says…

“An attempt to narrow the scope of the investigation at this stage would hinder the ability of the Commission and other state government entities to hear from customers,” the AG’s office wrote.

It said the question of who can regulate internet service is something “that does not need to be resolved at this phase.”

Frontier customers have told the PUC that their internet connection speed is often slow and undependable.

In a statement, Frontier Communications said it’s cooperating with the PUC review of its performance. But the company said the investigation should be limited to Frontier telephone service.

 

US Farm Bill doesn’t pass – including support for broadband in rural areas

The Benton Foundation reports…

The House of Representatives failed to pass a massive farm bill as Republicans were unable to shore up support from their conservative members. The 641-page bill addresses a range of issues related to agriculture, such as livestock disaster programs, conservation, feral swine, farm loan programs and broadband services in rural areas, just to name a few.

The vote was 198-213. While Republican leaders said they were confident ahead of the vote, it was clear the bill was in jeopardy, and members of leadership could be seen on the floor holding last-minute negotiations, as conservative Republicans sought a promise of a vote on their preferred immigration bill. In the end, the farm bill, a measure with huge implications for low-income families and the agricultural industry, became little more than a bargaining chip in the heated intraparty battle over immigration, President Trump’s core cultural and political issue.

Supplemental budget (including broadband grants) passes – but threatened with Gubernatorial veto

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Minnesota lawmakers adjourned late Sunday after finalizing a handful of tax and spending measures, but with little chance they’d have much to show for three months of work as Gov. Mark Dayton vowed to veto most of their major efforts.

The Session Daily provides more details…

Early Sunday morning, the House passed a massive omnibus supplemental spending package. Then, around 4 p.m. Sunday, the House, in a second attempt within a week, passed a tax conformity bill that included special education funding requested by Gov. Mark Dayton. With minutes remaining before the constitutional deadline, the House passed a $1.4 billion capital investment bill and sent it to the governor.

“We’re excited, obviously,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) told the media after adjourning the 2018 session sine die. “A very successful session, passing all the big bills we had promised and delivered for Minnesotans in all the ways we said we would.”

Dayton told the media he would veto the tax and supplemental budget bills.

“It’s been a debacle,” Dayton said a few hours earlier. “But it’s been a debacle of their creation.”

And Minnesota Public Radio reports…

The bills passed on the session’s final days include:

  • a measure to cut taxes and free up more classroom money for schools

  • a construction package that could lead to $1.5 billion in projects

  • a massive budget bill that would increase state contributions to broadband expansions, provide schools money to secure campuses, take steps to attack the opioid epidemic and more.

All are shared goals of the governor and the Legislature, but most of the bills come with provisions that Dayton sees as objectionable or fail to adequately address the problems facing the state. The main spending bill spans 990 pages and would parcel out more than $130 million of a projected budget surplus.

The tax bill authorizes $225 million in spending for schools meant to avert layoffs and program cuts in some districts, but Dayton called it “fake,” because only $50 million of it was new money, and the rest comes from existing allocations schools are allowed to use in new ways.

So it’s a matter of seeing what happens at this point.

Capitol Update from MN Library Association – still $15 million for broadband

It’s hard to see what’s happening at the Capitol these days things are flying around so fast, but here’s a legislative update from the MN Library Association – they mention the $15 million for broadband…

The Supplemental budget bill is the arena for several issues of interest to MLA-ITEM. Regional Library Telecommunications Aid (RLTA) has been a source of debate this session as the MDE proposed re-purposing potential unspent RLTA funds for school telecom needs. House Education Finance Chair Jennifer Loon sought to keep these funds within the sphere of the regional public library world and her position, which we asked for, has prevailed at this point in time. The Supplemental conference report includes language allowing the regional library systems to spend RLTA funds on other broadband access related initiatives that don’t necessarily align with the federal e-rate program.

The Supplemental budget bill also contains $15 million for the broadband development fund.

Cooperative role in providing broadband – what, who, how, where and why?

The University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives has published an in depth report on what’s happening with broadband and cooperatives – especially in Wisconsin – but they use one Minnesota example (Arrowhead Electric Cooperative) and regardless of location, the driving factors leading to the need and opportunity for a coop to provide broadband is similar.

The report provides a number of examples of what cooperatives have done. In the end, they determine there’s no one-size-fits-all solution but I think the range of solutions included are helpful to anyone in a cooperative looking at their options or anyone looking to persuade a cooperative to look into providing services in their area.

I’m just going to outline some of their high level observations.

Why would a cooperative get involved in broadband?

There is a perceived connection between potential for future community and economic development and access to broadband. A National Agricultural and Rural Development and Policy Center publication concluded that rural median household income grew at nearly twice the rate where broadband technology was adopted in households compared to where it was not adopted. 1

Unmet infrastructure need in rural communities is the major reason both telecommunications and electric cooperatives were organized in the early part of the 20th century. The business model which drove investor-owned firms did not support the capital intensive investment required to develop infrastructure in sparsely populated rural areas. Cooperatives were developed to meet the demand for reliable utility services that, both then and now, are critical to modernization, innovation, and future economic development in rural areas.

How can it make financial sense?

According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, 42 percent of the nation’s electric distribution lines are owned by electric cooperatives. These lines cover 75% of the U.S. land mass to reach just over 12 percent of the nation’s meters, an average of 7.4 customers per line mile. This is much lower than investor-owned utilities, which average 34 customers per line. Public owned utilities, or municipals, average 48 consumers per line mile.20 Because electric cooperatives are organized and operated to provide service to member-customers rather than a return to investors, they have been able to develop and maintain the infrastructure to serve rural, sparsely populated rural areas.

How does it serve the mission of an electric cooperative to provide broadband?

Electric cooperatives’ primary mission is to deliver electric service to member-owners in a financially responsible manner. Boards setting the strategic direction for the cooperative have the fiduciary responsibility to assure that mission can be met into the future. However, as the necessity of broadband access grows, the lack of high speed internet is increasingly a problem for members.

In addition, technological changes that are affecting the architecture of the electric grid increasingly are making questions about broadband access more directly relevant to the electric cooperative’s own future operations. By upgrading the communications technology that is part of the cooperative’s electric infrastructure, a “smart grid” will allow cooperatives and their members to better manage energy demand and distributed energy functions that allow customers to contribute to the grid.24

Other values may also drive a cooperative board to explore providing broadband access. Many cooperatives are guided by seven cooperative principles, one of which embraces a concern for the community. In the case of electric cooperatives, management or boards often participate on local economic development boards and committees. The cooperative’s electric infrastructure is critical to community economic activity, which in turn maintains the cooperative business and supports future growth. The overlap between the electric cooperative membership and the community aligns the service goals to members with a service orientation to community.

They have a nice graphic on the spectrum of opportunities that cooperatives have to get involved with broadband in the community…

Steps to create change that might help drive the move to provide broadband…

Kotter’s eight stages for strategic change are:

1. Create a sense of urgency

2. Build the guiding coalition

3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives

4. Enlist a volunteer army

5. Enable action by removing barriers

6. Generate (and celebrate) short term wins

7. Sustain acceleration 8. Institute change

Senate votes to overturn Ajit Pai’s net neutrality repeal

The Benton Foundation reports…

The US Senate voted to reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules, with all Democrats and three Republicans voting in favor of net neutrality. The Senate approved a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would simply undo the FCC’s December 2017 vote to deregulate the broadband industry. If the CRA is approved by the House and signed by President Trump, Internet service providers would have to continue following rules that prohibit blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has scheduled his repeal to take effect on June 11. If Congress doesn’t act, the net neutrality rules and the FCC’s classification of ISPs as common carriers would be eliminated on that date. Democrats face much longer odds in the House, where Republicans hold a 236-193 majority. Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate, but Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine); Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA); and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) broke ranks in order to support net neutrality and common carrier regulation of broadband providers.