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.

Minnesota communities making the case for State investment in broadband

Bill Coleman works with many communities around Minnesota on their efforts for better broadband. To build a case for serious State investment in rural broadband ($35-50 million) he created a list of communities with current active plans. These are the communities that will benefit from Border to Border Broadband grants…

Aitkin County
With only 3.7 households per square mile, Aitkin County is extremely difficult to serve.  The county economic development office has been working on broadband for a decade with little progress made until a 2016 broadband grant to Mille Lacs Energy in partnership with CTC.  CTC staff advocates for a higher grant percentage in places like Aitkin County as a necessity for their continued investment.  Such a heavily forested area is an unlikely candidate for a wireless solution

Kandiyohi County
While Willmar has competitive broadband services, the rural Kandiyohi county are left behind.  The county was fortunate to have two providers receive grant funding in 2016, but the remaining areas are considerably more rural and will require higher subsidies to facilitate projects.

Kanabec County
This historically poor county has pursued better broadband for many years, including the investment in a broadband feasibility study.  To date, they are unable to find a partner with which it can find an effective financial solution.  A small portion of the county has seen CAF2 investment, but the reach and quality of service is still uncertain.  Even with the county’s willingness to provide long-term loans, providers have lacked interest in Kanabec County.  They continue to talk with incumbents, cooperative telephone companies and their local electric cooperative to find a solution within the financial capabilities of the county.

Otter Tail County
Otter Tail County is one of the larger rural counties in both geography and population.  As a desirable tourism area, the county has had success encouraging telework as an economic development destination in areas where broadband is available.

Redwood County
Redwood County has been working on broadband for several years and has completed a feasibility study.  They have achieved some limited success as existing providers have edged out their broadband services to the rural areas still leaving large unserved areas.

Six SW MN Counties
Chippewa, Yellow Medicine, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray and Pipestone Counties are collaborating on a regional feasibility study to gather data and to consider prospective partnerships.  These very low-density population counties need broadband in rural areas to support precision agriculture and farm families.

Traverse County
Traverse County has completed a feasibility study and is pursuing a partnership with a wireless provider.

Pope County
Pope County has completed a feasibility study and has emerging partnerships with a number of providers delivering services in served areas of Pope County and surrounding counties.

Isanti County
Isanti County is in process of selecting a feasibility study consultant.  They have been communicating with existing wired and wireless providers in hopes of agreeing to partnership terms with one or more providers.

Roseau County
Roseau Electric Cooperative is considering broadband deployment strategies.

Collaborative Community Applications

  1. Ely, Winton and surrounding area

  2. Orr, Cook, Bois Forte, Mountain Iron, Buhl, Kinney, Hibbing, & Chisholm

Find more detail on Bill’s Community Technology Advisors’ site.

Computer Commuter – what can visitors do on the broadband bus they can’t do at home?

The Computer Commuter is a revamped mini-bus filled with computers. It travels around Lac qui Parle County, visiting 6 rural towns weekly. At each location it is able to hook up to fast (fiber) broadband. Visitors come to use the computers or come with their own computers and devices to use the fast connection. (The connections have not always been fast and some items below reference that change.) Many users come to take advantage of the knowledgeable driver and hostess – Mary Quick.

I asked Mary what folks do when they visit as a reminder of what folks can’t do at home in some parts of rural Minnesota. (Much of LqP County has fiber! But not everyone has access.)

Here’s a sample of what goes on in the Computer Commuter…

  • Ortonville Sanford Health has a wonderful website where several of my users login, schedule appointments, read test results, and email personnel questions.
  • 2 people preferred using the MNsure website on the bus during the enrollment period.  Friendly setting, my help and fast internet helped the process move along.
  • The Madison Dollar General store only took online applications.  I helped several residents apply for jobs on the bus. The application process was quite lengthy and having a strong, steady connection kept the info open and didn’t time out on us.
  • The Workforce Center in Montevideo is sending their clients to our program to boost their computer skills, and improve their ability to work online.
  • They use several online tutorials that include videos or downloading a lesson to complete and then upload.
  • We have several grandparents who watch distant grandchildren perform in concerts, sports or conferences.  They use the school’s live feed, YouTube or Facebook.  Before we had broadband at all 6 locations, we just sat and watched it spin, unable to open.  Things were so bad in Dawson and Boyd, we couldn’t even open emails, the internet was so slow.
  • At Christmas and Graduation, some users create projects using Shutterfly. There were times when the person couldn’t upload their photos – at home or with the slower connection.
  • An Avon saleswoman uses the bus to send her orders, monitor her account and print labels.  In the past, again it would be an issue of her session timing out and the task uncompleted because of slow internet.

It’s a fun glimpse at how technology changes what we do – when we have access to a computer, broadband and know how to use it!

We need a new way to measure economic impact of the Internet

The Internet Association recently published a white paper called – Refreshing Our Understanding of the Internet Economy. It’s claims that we don’t have a good way of quantifying the impact of the Internet.

The research is funded by of companies made possible by the Internet (Amazon, Uber, Google…) and they make a good point.  Finding a better way to measure the impact would make it easier to create policies that encourage growth and minimize unintended consequences.

Here’s an interesting idea that helps illustrate the need…

Perhaps a more useful approach hinted at by du Rausas et al. (2011) is to consider the internet economy as a unique market (i.e. the same way we would a sovereign nation). They estimated that in 2009 the internet would have been one of the 10 largest national economies in the world, larger than Canada, Spain, and many other large developed economies, implying a global GDP contribution of over 2.1%. And while not entirely applicable, the approach does fit many of the economic activities in the internet. Recent years have seen the development and stabilization of new currencies (bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies), the development and sale of new territory (domains and sites), new production and distribution infrastructure systems (apps and network platforms), new communities and culture (social networks), and the collection and utilization of new forms of resources and commodities that can be mined and processed into economically useful items (data, APIs, and more).

This is not to suggest that the internet should be considered a country, but it does illustrate that the types of goods and services developed via and available through the internet should, at a minimum, be given more attention than they currently receive and, as the paper argues, considered a unique class with a more sophisticated approach of incorporation.

It’s a conundrum – but getting our arms around it will help us prepare. Even without the most accurate approach, the figure below (from the report) indicates that the Internet sector contributes 6 percent to the Gross Domestic Product.

Congress Moves to Overturn Online Privacy Rules

So much is happening in the broadband world. I try to focus on Minnesota – because there are only so many hours to the day. But some news will impact us all – such as vote to remove online privacy rules. I’ve tried to find two views of the news to share.

Here’s the news from the Benton Foundation (They link to a number of related articles too.) …

Congress completed its overturning of the nation’s strongest internet privacy protections for individuals in a victory for telecommunications companies, which can track and sell a customer’s online information with greater ease. In a 215-to-205 vote largely along party lines, House Republicans moved to dismantle rules created by the Federal Communications Commission in October.

Those rules, which had been slated to go into effect later this year, had required broadband providers to receive permission before collecting data on a user’s online activities. The action, which follows a similar vote in the Senate, will next be brought to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign the bill into law. A swift repeal may be a prelude to further deregulation of the telecommunications industry. Broadband companies immediately celebrated the House vote. They promised they would honor their voluntary privacy policies, noting that violations would be subject to lawsuits.

And here’s the news from CNNTech

The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to repeal Internet privacy protections that were approved by the Federal Communications Commission in the final days of the Obama administration.

The Senate voted along party lines to undo the rules last week. The resolution now goes to Trump’s desk. The White House said Tuesday it “strongly supports” the repeal. …

e privacy rules were intended to give consumers extra control over their personal data online at a time when everything from smartphones to refrigerators can be connected to the Internet.

Opponents of the privacy rules argued it would place an undue burden on broadband providers while leaving large Internet companies like Facebook (FBTech30) and Google (GOOGLTech30) free to collect user data without asking permission.

Representative Michael Burgess, a Republican, described the rules as “duplicative regulation” on the House floor and said the repeal would “level the playing field for an increasingly anti-competitive market.”

But rather than apply similar protections to more businesses, the Republican-controlled Congress voted to scrap the rules entirely.

Here is what Senator Franken had to say…

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who has made protecting online privacy and hammering big media companies key issues in his tenure in the Senate, was ready to roll up his sleeves alongside Markey.

“The interest of consumers in Minnesota and across our country should always come before those of big corporations,” said Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.). “That’s why I’ve long championed an internet that’s open, accessible, and protects Americans’ fundamental right to privacy. I strongly believe that corporations shouldn’t be able to secretly collect, share, or auction off your private information to the highest bidder without your permission, which is why I advocated for federal rules to prohibit broadband providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from misusing customers’ personal data.

“Today, my Republican colleagues voted to kill these internet privacy rules, which is extremely disappointing. As the top Democrat on the Privacy Subcommittee, I’m going to keep fighting these efforts to undermine the rights of Minnesota consumers because I work for them, not deep-pocketed corporations.”

Popular Mechanics posted an article with steps to help you protect your information…

Your ISP may not need your permission to sell your data, but you can still go to them and tell them not to do it. The catch, of course, is this requires you to be proactive, and there’s no real guarantee that this will protect you completely. Still, do it. Get on the phone or visit the website of your ISP and opt out of every ad-related thing—and into every privacy-related thing—you can find. The process can be a little arduous—often requiring the use of your ISP-given email address that you probably never use—and it may not take effect immediately either. All the better reason to do it now.

They go into greater detail – it’s worth checking out.

Mar 31 Webinar: How the Evolution of Internet Service Technologies Impacts Digital Inclusion

I am looking forward to this webinar…

NDIA Webinar: How the Evolution of Internet Service Technologies Impacts Digital Inclusion
Friday March 31, 2017 @ 1:00 ET
Free Registration

In this webinar, Joanne Hovis will describe the evolution of consumer broadband service technologies with a focus on providing an understandable, jargon-free technical explanation for the non-technical. Technology deployment has impacted price, competition, and access — from the early days of the commercial internet (dial-up over copper) through the advent of the broadband age (cable model and DSL), all the way through today’s growing investment in next-generation cable modem, “5G” wireless, and fiber-to-the-premises. The history of how those technologies were deployed is also the history of who benefited from them – and who did not. Joanne will describe:

  • how the development of each technology impacted communities differently based on income-level and degree of rurality;
  • why mobile should not be considered an adequate substitute for fixed broadband; and
  • how the future evolution of these technologies, as they are currently postulated to develop, may further exacerbate the access and affordability divides.

For a preview of this webinar, watch the video clip of Joanne’s presentation from the San Antonio Digital Inclusion Summit.

 

Five steps to help rural communities decide federal broadband subsidies

Jonathan Chambers outlines an interesting proposal in the Daily Yonder – “to move the decisions about rural investment from Washington policymakers to individual rural Americans.”

Here are his 5 steps (abridged):

  1. Use the FCC’s data to identify all areas unserved by broadband. Census blocks would be considered unserved if they lack broadband as defined by the FCC. Broadband is defined today as an evolving standard consisting of four attributes: speed (currently 25/3 Mbps), capacity (150 GB per month of data or the median household usage), latency (100 milliseconds) and price (median national price).
  2. Use the FCC’s Connect America cost model to determine the appropriate level of public funding for each location in each census block.
  3. Make available such support to all internet service providers (ISPs) that are certified in states as eligible telecommunications carriers (ETC). The count of each ETC’s subscribers should only include broadband service and should be limited to one subsidy per location, similar to the limitation of the Lifeline program of one subsidy per household.
  4. Every six months, when ISPs submit data to the FCC indicating geographic area, speed, technology and numbers of customers, each eligible telecommunications carrier that wishes to participate in the Connect America Fund would submit their data to the Universal Service Administrative Company. The fund administrator would compensate each carrier based upon the number of locations served with broadband and the subsidy per location per census block. The FCC would also continually update its information on where services were provided without the use of a subsidy in order to eliminate those areas from further public funding.
  5. Any ISP could win back a customer it loses, and thereby win back the subsidy amount.

There are two things I really like about these steps. First the data requirements!  It opens a door to wireless solutions that are affordable. And when/if wireless options are affordable it will create much needed competition in rural areas. If I had a magic wand, I might include consumer protections around contracts – don’t require/expect multi-year contracts.

Next – I like the idea that any ISP could win back a customer. Competition motivates. Handing off rural consumers from one provider to another without incentive for improving services leaves service to the discretion of the provider and as Chambers points out that doesn’t work everywhere. (Some providers are great! Some are not motivated – hopefully this will help.) Knowing that with a customer comes government support increases the consumer protection.

State funding and coordination can only help Minnesota make the most of any federal funding opportunities. State funding provides match (when needed/desired), which makes it easier for companies to invest here. State coordination helps providers work together, work with communities and leverage broader resources. With state coordination, we’re like the kids who study for the test – we’re prepared and we do better.

Mesabi News reports on MN State Broadband funding issues

Mesabi Daily News reports on how budget talks were going at the Capitol…

Broadband funding varies in the three budget proposals on the table.

Dayton suggests spending $60 million, the Senate $20 million and the House slightly more than $7 million.

Miller indicated that he wants to spend more than his bill’s $20 million. “Hopefully, we will be able to find more resources.”

Communities with little money and little broadband connectivity would especially benefit from Miller’s bill, he said. It lowers local contributions the state requires from the existing 50 percent to 35 percent.

The $20 million in Miller’s bill would provide broadband to 8,000 more Minnesotans.