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.

MN Rural Broadband Coalition Update:  Letter to Governor and Legislative Leaders re: Budget Surplus and Broadband

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

The Coalition recently sent this letter to legislative leaders and the Governor’s Office regarding the projected $1.6 billion budget surplus the state will have in the next two years. We will make a strong push for full funding for the broadband grant program in the final three months of the legislative session.

Here’s the letter…

To: The Honorable Governor Tim Walz
The Honorable Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman
Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt
From: Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition
2401 Broadway Ave #1
Slayton, MN 56172
March 1, 2021
Dear Leaders,
On behalf of our more than 90 coalition members, the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition urges you to include $120 million for the Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program in the 2022-2023 biennial budget. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it crystal clear that every Minnesotan needs access to broadband internet. Yet, we know that up to 20% of rural Minnesotans still don’t have access to even the bare minimum speeds necessary to work or learn from home.
The Coalition is pleased to see that the state will have a $1.6 billion budget surplus over the next two years. There may also be additional federal resources coming to the state should a coronavirus relief package pass through Congress. We can make a historic investment in broadband infrastructure with these resources and begin to finally close the digital divide in our state.
Communities with access to high-quality, affordable broadband have done better during the pandemic than those without access. Many things like working from home, virtual learning, or telehealth will not be going away, and they all require a broadband connection. The Coalition thanks you for your leadership on this issue and once again urges you to fully fund our state broadband grant program.
Respectfully yours,
Vince Robinson
Chair, Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition
CC: Sen. Torrey Westrom, Sen. Julie Rosen, Rep. Rob Ecklund, Rep. Rena Moran, Rep. Gene Pelowski, Commissioner Steve Grove, Angie Dickison, Jon Kelly

More than 12 million US households cancel home broadband service

Park Associates reports

New research from Parks Associates reports more than 12 million US households have cancelled their home broadband service and use only mobile broadband for their internet needs. Adoption and Perception of Broadband finds there are more than 15 million households in the US that have only a mobile broadband service, which includes more than three million households that have never had a home internet subscription.

“High cost is the most prominent issue driving households to cut the cord and go mobile only, although service-related issues, from slow speeds to poor customer experience, also contribute,” said Kristen Hanich, Senior Analyst, Parks Associates. “Service providers can deploy a number of strategies, including increasing speed and delivering a device that improves Wi-Fi coverage, in order to protect their customer base.”

The report was released Q1 2021, which means they are looking at Survey results during the pandemic. It is shocking to me that so many people would cancel home service at a time when so much of life (school, work, healthcare, entertainment) has moved online.

Mankato Free Press promote broadband as a good economic strategy

Mankato Free Press posts in an editorial…

Agreement between Republicans and Democrats at the Minnesota Legislature for robust investment in broadband is win-win for rural and outstate Minnesota.

Now we just have to agree how big we should go. Democrats, independents and Republicans favor at least a $120 million investment in broadband projects in Minnesota for the next two years. That is double the $20 million to $30 million annual investments made in the past.

Gov. Tim Walz initially proposed $50 million for one year, but earlier this month, DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said the investment would be upped should the state’s financial picture improve. That happened Friday with a new forecast showing the state would have a $1.6 billion surplus for the next two years instead of a $1.3 billion deficit.

That’s good news, and Walz and his team should immediately up their broadband investment to at least the $120 million proposed by Democrats and Republicans. Sen. Tom Bakk, who was once Senate DFL Majority leader and who now is an independent, co-sponsored a bill with the Republican majority in the Senate to fund broadband at $120 million. That was the figure recommended by the Governor’s Broadband Task Force and that’s the reason they proposed that figure, Bakk told MinnPost.

Minnesota also will receive $408 million over six years in federal funding for broadband.

Ending with…

Rural areas have been left behind, and the state now has the funds and political will to greatly expand broadband. It’s not only good political strategy, it’s a good economic strategy.

What can US learn from MN Broadband Model? Ask Bernadine Joselyn

This week Pew asks Blandin Foundation’s Bernadine Joselyn – What Policymakers Can Learn From the ‘Minnesota Model’ of Broadband Expansion? In the answers Bernadine does a nice job outlining the components of the Minnesota Model, why they work and how others can learn from them. I’m just going to pull out two of the questions and answers from the more complete interview…

Q: Minnesota is often held up as a leader in state efforts to expand broadband deployment. What do you see as the state’s main accomplishments?

A: There are several key elements of what we call the “Minnesota Model.” First are the legislatively mandated state broadband speed goals. The state also has an Office of Broadband Development (OBD), charged with managing the state’s Border to Border grant-matching program, which provides funding to connect homes in unserved or underserved communities, as well as the state’s broadband mapping program. The OBD is also responsible for coordinating with tribal, state, and federal agencies to help align resources and efforts toward achieving our state’s broadband goals.

The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition is another key element.

And

Q: What’s next for the task force? What are its priorities?

A: The goals in the year ahead include reviewing the state’s internet speed targets—with an eye toward emphasizing improvements of upload speeds—and continuing to help advocates, community leaders, and elected officials build the case for ongoing public investment in broadband infrastructure and adoption.

GigaZone Gaming Championship Returns Virtually in April

Big news from Paul Bunyan Communications for gamers in the 218…

GigaZone™ Gaming Championship 5 will be held online three consecutive weekends in April starting April 10. The event will feature a different gaming tournament each weekend, Cosplay contest, and door prizes with over $5,000 in cash and prizes to be given away. It is free to play or watch.
This one of a kind regional gaming event showcases Paul Bunyan Communications’ IT and web development team which custom built and integrated much of the online technology and leverages the speed of the GigaZone™ one of the largest rural all-fiber optic Gigabit networks in the country. The entire event is run off a single residential GigaZone™ Internet connection.
This year’s main tournaments are Overwatch April 10-11, Madden 21 April 17, and Super Smash Brothers April 24.
Registration for all tournaments can be done online at http://www.gigazonegaming.com It is free to enter and main tournaments are open to anyone living within the 218 area code, but space is limited. The gaming will start each Saturday at 10 a.m.
It’s free to watch and will be live streamed on www.gigazonegaming.com.
“There is a large gaming community in our area and it’s been so cool to see the GigaZone™ Gaming Championship take off. While we can’t get all together in person this time around, it will be a fun three weekends of fun online! said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.
“Our cooperative continues to expand one of the largest rural fiber gigabit networks in the country and that brings many advantages to our members. The GigaZone™ provides extreme speed and low latency which are critical for the best online gaming experience and the GigaZone™ Gaming Championship showcases just that,” added Leo Anderson, Paul Bunyan Communications Technology Experience Manager.
“There is no other gaming event like it anywhere I’ve seen. I’m very proud of our team for embracing the challenges in
going to an all virtual platform. We invite everyone to hop online to watch or play!” added Brian Bissonette, Paul Bunyan Communications Marketing Supervisor.
For more information on the GigaZone™ Gaming Championship visit www.gigazonegaming.com.

eNews: MN Monthly Recap: MN Legislature likes broadband, Feds like Broadband, all about coordination

MN Legislature looks at funds for Broadband Grants
The House has a bill to fund the Border to Border grants at $120 million for the biennium. The Senate has three bills related to broadband funding: one for $120 million for grants, one for $150 million ($30 million for unserved areas) for grants and options for lower match requirements and a bill for $50 million for  mapping. The Governor has mentioned $50 million in 2022 for broadband grants.

MN Broadband Task Force: Leg updated, Electric Coops and American Connection
The Task Force learned about recent broadband bills in Minnesota, electric cooperatives and American Connection, a collaboration that promotes broadband investment at the federal level. They also talked about subcommittees, which take responsibility for leading the effort to set recommendations in the annual report.

State Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Federal Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Impact of COVID-19

Vendor News

Local Broadband News

Aitkin County
Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative gets state grant to serve Farm Island Lake (Aitkin County)

Alexandria Lakes Area
Congrats to Alexandria Lakes Area in MN – recently named to Smart21 Communities of 2021 from ICF

Baxter
Baxter City Council will look at broadband issues during future workshop session

Beltrami, Lake Pine and Lake of the Woods Counties
FirstNet Network Expands Across Minnesota to Beltrami, Lake, Pine and Lake of the Woods Counties

Bemidji
Bemidji Ranked 8th Best Work-From-Home City by PC Magazine

Chisago County
Senator Mark Koran Applauds Broadband Expansion in Chisago County

Cook (City)
A look at how RDOF impacts the State Grant-funded project in Cook MN

Cook County
Northeast MN is a recruitment hot spot with beauty and broadband

Fond du Lac
Recent report on history and status of broadband in tribal areas includes Fond du Lac

Hutchinson
Hutchinson to benefit from MN Broadband grant (McLeod County)

Le Sueur County
Hear the frustration when RDOF trumps MN Border to Border grants in Le Sueur County MN

Lynd
Lynd MN getting better broadband through Woodstock’s MN Broadband grant (Lyon County)

Rice County
Two projects in Rice County get MN State grants – RDOF impact in other areas may have helped them

Rochester
Google is opening an office in Rochester MN to be close to the Mayo Clinic

Scott, Rice and Dakota Counties
Scott County Project gets MN State grant to serve part of Scott, Rice and Dakota Counties

Thief River Falls
Rep Fischbach visits Thief River Falls – talks about importance of broadband (Pennington County)

Upper Minnesota Valley
UMVRDC members say broadband is Number two issue for the area

Wilkin County
Senator Klobuchar talks to schools near Wilkin County MN about the broadband issue, especially during pandemic

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Part One

For rural community broadband champions, pursuing better broadband has never been more complicated.  Factors that currently have me thinking, if not stumped include:

  • RDOF
    • Will the winning RDOF bidder be approved by the FCC?
    • If yes, what will their buildout schedule look like till 2027?
    • Will they build-out the adjacent non-RDOF areas?
  • Starlink
    • Will Starlink maintain the 100 Mb+ speeds once they move from beta to large customer numbers?
    • Will they be able to deliver, as promised, to 300 Mb and beyond?
    • How will low-income households afford $500 or more in upfront costs?
  • DSL
    • Will other DSL providers follow ATT’s lead and phase out DSL services?
    • Will the majority of rural DSL customers ever see widespread speeds that support multiple users?

We should know more about some of these questions soon; other will emerge more slowly.

Part Two

The 1996 Telecom Act was supposed to spur competition, but we are going backwards. In many communities, from affluent suburbs to small rural communities, residents are effectively subject to the services, pricing and responsiveness of an unregulated monopoly provider.  Community leaders need to decide whether this is that a good thing.

The costs to build a fiber infrastructure in a community are low for a 30-year asset.  Community broadband advocates should analyze the multiple options for creating community-owned networks and promote them to elected officials.  Locally-owned networks serve the community as their first priority.

We are going to talk public ownership models at our Blandin Lunch Bunch on March 10 at noon.  Sign up here: https://blandinfoundation.org/programs/broadband/blandin-community-broadband-program-webinar-series/ .  We will discuss at least a couple models.  Chris Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self Reliance will join the conversation.

Ammon ID (https://www.ammonfiber.com) is building and maintaining its own fiber network where residents now have their choice of Gigabit providers for $49.50 per month.  Chattanooga TN (https://epb.com/home-store/internet) offers a Gb for $68 per month and solved its pandemic-magnified digital divide issue by simply providing free 100 Mb Internet to 28,000 students.  A new study documented a $2.69 billion long-term benefit from Chattanooga’s fiber network.

We will also talk about the mixed experience of Minnesota’s publicly owned broadband networks (wonders and warts!), including Southwest MN Broadband, the Cities of Windom and Monticello and Scott and Lake Counties.  And, maybe a bit on how new and expanded cooperatives might accomplish the same goals.  Join us!

EVENTS: March Lunch Bunch: Benefits of publicly-owned broadband networks (Mar 10) Smart Cities (March 24)

Each month the Blandin Foundation hosts two conversation or lunch bunch sessions; on the second Wednesday of the month the focus is Infrastructure and on the fourth the focus is Digital Inclusion and Use. Here are the topics for March:

  • Benefits of publicly-owned broadband networks (March 10 noon to 1pm CST)
    Join to talk public ownership models discuss. The group will discuss at least a couple models.  Chris Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self Reliance will join the conversation. Register here 
  • Smart tactics for cities, suburbs and town (March 24 noon to 1pm CST)
    Join to talk about smart tactics for cities, suburbs and town (Get a sneak preview from local experts at Smart North.) Register here.

Senator Goggin supports funding to expand high-speed internet access in Greater Minnesota

Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus reports…

On Wednesday, the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee heard three bills that provide funding to expand broadband access in underserved and unserved areas of Minnesota through the Border-to-Border Broadband program.

“In 2021, it is hard to imagine there are still places that can’t even get high-speed internet access,” said Sen. Mike Goggin (R-Red Wing). “But unfortunately that is too often the case in Greater Minnesota, and it caused many of those communities to feel additional pain and hardship during the Covid pandemic. This funding will bring this crucial technology to a lot of families and businesses who desperately need it.”

The Border to Border Broadband Fund targets the development of permanent broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas. Minnesota contains large areas of land that fall into the unserved and underserved categories, which shows that this infrastructure is a critical need in our state.

Senate District 21 broadband connectivity by school district:

Senator Rich Draheim pushes for expanded rural broadband

The Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus reports…

On Wednesday, the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee heard three bills that provide funds for the rural broadband grant program and appropriation for the programs.  Senator Mark Koran (R-North Branch) co-authored one of the bills, SF 1186, that will provide $25 million in 2022 and 2023 to bring service to unserved areas in Minnesota.“In today’s world, families and businesses are becoming increasingly more reliant on devices that require access to a quality broadband connection,” Senator Koran said.  “In recent years, we’ve seen the role that broadband service plays in our health, our education, and as an economic driver for the region. With funding provided by this legislation, we’re connecting more underserved areas from across the state and moving Minnesota one step closer to providing reliable access for all.”

Senator Mark Koran pushes for expanded rural broadband

The Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus reports…

On Wednesday, the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee heard three bills that provide funds for the rural broadband grant program and appropriation for the programs.  Senator Mark Koran (R-North Branch) co-authored one of the bills, SF 1186, that will provide $25 million in 2022 and 2023 to bring service to unserved areas in Minnesota.

“In today’s world, families and businesses are becoming increasingly more reliant on devices that require access to a quality broadband connection,” Senator Koran said.  “In recent years, we’ve seen the role that broadband service plays in our health, our education, and as an economic driver for the region. With funding provided by this legislation, we’re connecting more underserved areas from across the state and moving Minnesota one step closer to providing reliable access for all.”

Christopher Ali outlines broadband options for rural areas

Benton recently posted a column from Christopher Ali about the importance of cooperatives. He promotes cooperatives as broadband providers because they are local and they have infrastructure. He also quotes Bernadine…

Long story short, and to use a quote from Bernadine Joselyn of the Blandin Foundation in Minnesota, “everything is better with better broadband.”

 

But perhaps even more valuable is a succinct description of different types of broadband…

With wires, DSL, or digital subscriber line, is the most deployed broadband access technology in rural America. DSL connections are the copper wires owned and operated by telephone companies like CenturyLink. Despite its prevalence, the problem is that these types of connections are slow and outdated, oftentimes not able to meet the FCC’s definition of broadband, which is 25 Mbps download, 3 Mbps upload. More than this, DSL gets worse the further you are away from the network node. So once you’re about 3 miles from the access point, your internet is going to slow down considerably. AT&T and other providers have also begun phasing out their DSL networks, leaving many in rural America without an alternative.

Cable internet, or coaxial, or coax-hybrid internet is the most deployed type of connectivity in urban areas. These connections are owned and operated by cable companies like Comcast Xfinity. The benefit of cable internet is that you get blazing fast download speeds, which is great for binging Netflix. The problem is that the upload speed, which is so important for business and for video conferencing like we’re doing, is slower. More than this, cable internet suffers from something called “network congestion” – the more people on the network at the same time, the slower it becomes. Here in Charlottesville, my husband and I have Comcast, and we have definitely noticed slower service during peak working hours when everyone in our neighborhood is trying to make a Zoom call. It can make teaching really difficult!

Then there’s fiber optics, the “future-proof” and “gold standard” technology. It offers blazing-fast download and upload speeds, doesn’t degrade with distance, and is not impacted by how many people are on the network at the same time. The problem? It is expensive: Upwards of $27,000 per mile. And this is where counties and cooperatives and localities tend to struggle – how to raise the money necessary for fiber-to-the-home?

On the wireless side, counties like Culpeper are deploying towers with fiber-optic connections that transmit broadband wirelessly. This is known as “fixed wireless” and is provided by Wireless Internet Service Providers or “WISPs.” Fixed wireless has proven to be an important form of connectivity on its own, and for some counties, a mid-point towards fiber-to-the-home. It’s not as fast as fiber, and certainly comes with drawbacks like suffering from inclement weather and requiring line of sight, but many counties, particularly rural ones, are erecting a series of towers that are connected at the back end with fiber optics so that residents have meaningful connectivity. Fixed wireless is particularly useful for rural communities and agricultural spaces since one tower can cover a rather large distance. Others, however, say that nothing short of fiber for all will suffice. Again, the type of connectivity should be in tune with the community and the community’s needs.

Also on the wireless side is satellite, which many people don’t even consider viable because it is so problematic. Hughes and ViaSat are the two satellite internet providers in the country. Often times when I bring up satellite in rural areas, people roll their eyes at me, because it is expensive, slow, suffers from lag and inclement weather interruptions, and comes with tiny data caps. Still, the FCC considers satellite a viable complement to wireline broadband. It is available to almost everyone in the country, perhaps 99% or so. That said, I know of many residents who have to augment their satellite connections with mobile hotspots to ensure they are always connected, but at tremendous expense – sometimes $300 a month.

Many of you may have also heard about StarLink – Elon Musk’s SpaceX broadband service. StarLink is a type of satellite broadband called LEO or “Low Earth Orbital,” where the satellite sits closer to the Earth than traditional geosynchronous satellites like from Hughes or ViaSat. Theoretically, this proximity allows LEOs to provide faster and stronger service. Trials suggest StarLink is providing faster service, upwards of 100/20 in certain communities, but this pales in comparison to the original hype around LEOs, which promised speeds of gigabits per second. StarLink and others like it are just getting going, and the technology is still unproven at scale. A recent study, for instance, suggested that StarLink will reach capacity in only 8 short years. There’s still so much we don’t know about these networks. Despite this, the FCC recently awarded StarLink almost $900 million in funding. StarLink’s competitors are challenging this award, claiming that it overexaggerated its capabilities to the FCC.

We could say the same thing about 5G. While urban areas are getting a taste of what 5G can do – like blazing-fast mobile connections and the potential to replace your home broadband network – it is still in its trial stages and the type of 5G found in urban areas, known as millimeter-wave 5G or high-band 5G, is unavailable to the rest of the country. So far, 5G has not lived up to the hype mobile providers like Verizon and T-Mobile have promised us.

I get worried when I hear counties say that they are considering pausing their broadband plans in hopes that StarLink or 5G will arrive soon. Truth be told, these technologies are years away from being deployed in rural areas across our country. There is also uncertainty around cost, in addition to time. Communities that decide to pause will be waiting for something that may never come. In contrast, there are very real solutions available to counties today.

MN legislature introduces bill that allows developers to bypass App Store billing

Apple Insider reports…

Following on the heels of failed legislation in North Dakota and a similar bill in Arizona, Minnesota has joined the ranks of states trying to force Apple to allow apps to bypass App Store billing.

The proposal would reportedly make Apple and Google allow Minnesota developers to bypass App Store restrictions and commissions on their devices. Even if developers sell their apps directly or through other channels, the tech giants would be forced to allow them in their digital storefronts.

“A lot of people are concerned about the increased influence and power that Big Tech has, and I think there’s a lot of interest in trying to make sure that we have a fair and open digital economy,” said Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, the bill’s sponsor in the House.

The proposed legislation appears to be part of a broader and coordinated effort across U.S. states. A similar bill failed in North Dakota earlier in February, and the Arizona state House of Representatives is set to vote on another piece of legislation targeting app-store fees.

The Arizona and Minnesota bills stop short of requiring third-party app stores, focusing instead on requiring specific in-app payment systems as the sole way to accept payments. Both proposals also seek to prevent tech companies from retaliating against developers who bypass their payment systems.

Sen. Rarick says – Let’s push for expanded rural broadband

The Pine Journal posts a letter from Senator Rarick…

On Wednesday, Feb. 24, the Minnesota Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee heard three bills that provide funds for the rural broadband grant program and appropriation for the programs.

I co-authored one of the bills, SF 22, which appropriates $60 million in 2022 and 2023 for the border-to-border broadband fund.

Rural Minnesota has taken the economic and educational brunt of COVID and Gov. Tim Walz’s peacetime emergency. Over the last year, we’ve learned of the growing importance of reliable internet as it continues to expand and dominate every facet of life.

The legislation allows us to close some gaps, help unserved areas and ensure more Minnesotans have access to the quality broadband they need to succeed.

 

MN Rural Broadband Coalition Update: February Budget Forecast and More

From the MN Rural Broadband Coalition…

State Projects $1.6 Billion Surplus
Saint Paul, Minn.—Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) predicted the state will have a $1.6 billion surplus in 2022-2023. The state agency said, “Minnesota’s budget outlook is significantly better for this biennium and the next due to an improved U.S. economic outlook that is bolstered by large federal actions that have emerged since November.” This is most welcome news after a similar projection in December showed a $1.3 billion deficit. The massive surplus gives legislators more flexibility in crafting the state’s budget, which needs to be completed by May 17th. Leaders in both parties took the opportunity to advance their visions for how the state should proceed.
The best news of the day is that a large surplus makes it more likely that there will be room for broadband funding. We’ve requested legislators invest $120 million over the next two years in our state grant program. A letter to legislative leaders and the Governor about the surplus and broadband funding is forthcoming.

Minnesota projected budget surplus grows slightly to $1.5B

Minnesota Public Radio reports…

The state of Minnesota is expected to have a budget surplus of $1.513 billion over the next two years, the state’s budget office predicted Thursday.

This is an increase from the $1.3 billion surplus that was predicted in December.

Lawmakers will use the $1.5 billion forecast as the basis for a revised budget in the current legislative session. Going from a large surplus to a slightly larger surplus didn’t change the dynamic at the Capitol, where Democrats want to spend more on education and Republicans back tax cuts.

Hopefully this will bode well for funding for broadband, which is mentioned…

Walz intends to release a supplemental budget around March 10. Among other items, he has said his plan would include millions of dollars in spending recommendations for broadband expansion grants, disaster response, increased rape-kit testing and farm safety initiatives.