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.

Sen Westrom talks about broadband for Wilkin County

The Wahpeton Daily News reports…

Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, and Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, held a town hall meeting Friday, Feb. 15 at Breckenridge City Hall. The listening session was one of several held at various locations in west central Minnesota.

Rural broadband is a topic heavily discussed in committee, Westrom said. It is an important topic affecting Wilkin County as well as rural Minnesota because it ties into economic development.

“It really does mean jobs for small and large businesses, gives those the ability to telecommute for their jobs, operate home-based businesses, or any employment through the Internet,” Westrom said. “ It is becoming increasingly obvious how important that is. It is very important for school work as well.”

Jane Vangsness Frisch, a Traverse County resident who lives just outside of Dumont, Minnesota, reported on how horrible the Internet is where she lives. There is access across the road from her, she said, but not at her place.

While she was finishing up her doctoral degree, she had to drive 75 minutes to have Internet access. The only way she currently can have Internet access is through her cellular carrier.

FCC says the digital divide is narrowing – but is it getting deeper?

According to a press release from the FCC

The Chairman’s draft of the annual FCC report to Congress shows that since last year’s report, the number of Americans lacking access to a fixed broadband connection meeting the FCC’s benchmark speed of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps has dropped by over 25%, from 26.1 million Americans at the end of 2016 to 19.4 million at the end of 2017.  Moreover, the majority of those gaining access to such high-speed connections, approximately 5.6 million, live in rural America, where broadband deployment has traditionally lagged.

The private sector has responded to FCC reforms by deploying fiber to 5.9 million new homes in 2018, the largest number ever recorded.  And overall, capital expenditures by broadband providers increased in 2017, reversing declines that occurred in both 2015 and 2016.

Other key findings of the report include the following, based on data through the end of 2017:

  • The number of Americans with access to 100 Mbps/10Mpbs fixed broadband increased by nearly 20%, from 244.3 million to 290.9 million.

  • The number of Americans with access to 250 Mbps/50 Mbps fixed broadband grew by over 45%, to 205.2 million, and the number of rural Americans with access to such service more than doubled

Based on these and other data, the report concludes that advanced telecommunications services – broadband – is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis.   The Commission is expected to vote on the report in the coming weeks.

It strikes me that 19.4 million people don’t have access to 25/3 broadband while 290.9 million have access to 100/10 and 205.2 million have access to 250/50. There may be fewer people on the far end of the digital divide but the chasm between the haves and have-nots is deepening.

What does the MN Charter VoIP decision have in common with state net neutrality? A move to federal policies

Clayton Caller recently ran an article that outlines how “Ajit Pai helped Charter kill consumer-protection rules in Minnesota” and what impact that might have on state’s voice with Net Neutrality. It’s one of those times when I wish I were a teacher again and I could stand in front of the class and say – I think this one is going to be on the test. The details are wonky but understanding what’s going on is important.

Here’s the gist of the Charter case from the article…

The new court ruling found that Minnesota‘s state government cannot regulate VoIP phone services offered by Charter and other cable companies because VoIP is an “information service” under federal law. Pai argues that the case is consistent with the FCC‘s attempt to preempt state-level net neutrality rules, in which the commission reclassified broadband as a Title I information service instead of a Title II telecommunications service.

The ruling was by the US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, following a lawsuit filed by Charter Communications against the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC). A three-judge panel ruled against Minnesota in a 2-1 vote—the FCC had  supporting Charter‘s position in the case.

“[F]ederal law for decades has recognized that states may not regulate information services,” in response to the ruling. “The 8th Circuit‘s decision is important for reaffirming that well-established principle: ‘[A]ny state regulation of an information service conflicts with the federal policy of non-regulation‘ and is therefore preempted.”

I’ve posted about the Charter case before but I think what’s important here is bumping authority from the state to federal level…

Pai said the ruling “is wholly consistent with the approach the FCC has taken under Democratic and Republican Administrations over the last two decades, including in last year‘s Restoring Internet Freedom order,” which repealed net neutrality rules and reclassified broadband. While and other states are imposing net neutrality rules, the FCC says the reclassification should preempt any such attempts at regulating broadband at the state level.

Despite Pai‘s contention, a lawyer involved in the net neutrality case against the FCC told Ars that the 8th Circuit ruling “has no bearing” on the net neutrality case.

Last week, Representative Stephenson introduced HF 136, a state version of a Net Neutrality bill. Proponents talked about the public’s support for the idea of Net Neutrality. Opponents talks about the Net Neutrality as a federal issue, not state issue. Couple that with the fact that at the federal level there is a push for a rural broadband office within the FCC. It seems like a wave is building to move broadband policy to a federal level. What will that mean for funding, for mapping, for broadband availability, affordability and use?

Rep Kresha introduced HF 1137 – $100 million for broadband funding

The Brainerd Dispatch reports…

Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, authored a bill, H.F. 1137, that would provide $100 million to improve high-speed internet access for unserved and underserved areas of the state.

Kresha has been a strong proponent of broadband expansion throughout his first six years in the House and has successfully authored previous legislation to fund Minnesota’s Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program, according to a new release.

Here’s more info on the bill:

Proposal for a rural broadband office at the FCC

 

StateScoop reports…

Four U.S. senators introduced legislation this week that would create a dedicated office for rural-broadband expansion inside the Federal Communications Commission. The bill arrives as the FCC plans to revise its national map of high-speed internet coverage and as multiple states have created their own broadband offices.

The bill, text of which has not yet been released, is sponsored by Republicans Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and John Hoeven of South Dakota and Democrats Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Here are some of the details…

If enacted, the legislation would order the FCC to create an Office of Rural Broadband. That new agency would coordinate with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service and the Universal Service Administrative Company — an FCC-backed nonprofit that distributes broadband funds to underfunded areas — to maintain information on federal rural broadband programs.

At least 20 states have created their own dedicated broadband offices, as bringing high-speed internet access to rural areas remains one of the most popular objectives of elected leaders across the country. Wyden’s home state of Oregon added an office to run statewide broadband policy last December when Gov. Kate Brown proposed the creation of a four- or five-person office plus $5 million in rural broadband expansion projects. Neighboring Washington is also opening an office of its own, along with up to $25 million in bonds and grants to expand internet access in its underserved rural areas.

The broadband office bill was also introduced a bit more than two months after the FCC decommissioned its National Broadband Map, which relied on information the commission called “dated.” That map, first published in 2011, was based on a data set last published in 2014, the FCC said when it shut down both the map and its application program interface. The FCC now uses a Fixed Broadband Deployment map, which was first published in February 2018.

The Minnesota Office for Broadband Development has been instrumental in the success of broadband expansion in the state. It seems like there’s the same opportunity for a national office, especially if they are as good as the staff we have in Minnesota.

 

ACT highlights technology-based, learning disparities between rural/urban students

A recent paper from ACT reports…

High school students in rural parts of the U.S. face significant challenges accessing technology that may adversely affect their learning — access that students in more populated parts of the country and policymakers may take for granted, according to surveys of students who took the national ACT® test. However, ACT’s experts also suggest stakeholders can take important steps that can help every student succeed, no matter where he or she lives.

The report, “Rural Students: Technology, Coursework and Extracurricular Activities ,” found that rural students were less likely than non-rural students to claim that their home internet access was “great” (36 percent vs. 46 percent).

Similarly, rural students were almost twice as likely as non-rural students to state that their internet access was “unpredictable” (16 percent vs. 9 percent). At school, however, there were no substantive differences in reported internet quality between rural and non-rural students.

Rural and non-rural students also had differing access to devices both at school and at home. Notably, rural students reported somewhat less access to a laptop or desktop computer at home compared to non-rural students (82 percent vs. 87 percent).

Given that rural students lack access to rigorous coursework, this lack of technological access may impede their course-taking success and their ability to participate in online courses and other opportunities for personalized learning.

It outlines the inequity in rural/urban access to education resources brought on by broadband and technology disparities. Something worth consideration for policymakers, community leaders and educators.

The ACT also makes recommendations…

1. Improve access to technology both at school and home.

The Federal E-Rate program must continue to fund access to affordable broadband internet to rural areas and completely close the gap between schools with broadband access and those without

2. Increase opportunities for rigorous course taking.

Students must have access to and be encouraged to take a minimum core curriculum of four years of English, three years of mathematics, three years of science, and three years of social studies. The survey found that students in rural areas were less likely than non-rural students to complete (or plan to complete) the ACT-recommended core curriculum (76 percent vs. 81 percent).

3. Expand opportunities for personalized learning.

Students need the opportunity to receive personalized, student-centered learning. In the case of the rural students in the survey, personalized learning could help provide greater access to advanced coursework.