MACTA Conference Notes: Policy Updates and Cable Franchising

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the MACTA (Minnesota Association of Community Telecommunications Administrators) annual conference. These are the folks who work for local government on telecom, cable and broadband issues – which both an interest supporting broadband but also protecting public right-of-way. It was an interesting look at a group of folks who wear a lot of hats.

I’m going to start off topic to mention the format of their first session – 60 ideas in 60 seconds. They had four presenters – one very technical, one on regulations, one on producing TV show and one on social media. It’ was something for everyone. Very fast paced. Should be the start of every conference!

Back to the broadband-related sessions. There was a state and federal update:

State and Federal Legislative Updates (policy/legal track)

What happened during the State’s 2016 legislative session AND what is happening at the federal level that may affect cable, broadband and telecom policy?  How will the election year affect legislative activities? Key legislators and policy experts will address these items … and more.

Moderator: ◦Mike Reardon | Cable Communications Officer, City of St. Paul

Speakers: ◦Margaret Anderson Kelliher | CEO, MN High Tech Association & Chair, Governor’s Broadband Task Force

◦Rep. Sheldon Johnson | State Representative, 67B (St. Paul)

◦Bree Maki | Southern Minnesota Field Representative & Broadband and Telecommunications Representative, U.S. Senator Al Franken’s office

◦Jodie Miller | Executive Director, NDC4 & 2016 NATOA President

◦Sen. Matt Schmit | State Senator, District 21 (Red Wing)

 

Notes from Jodie Miller’s Talk

People in other states are jealous of Minnesota. We a have good foundation: the Task Force, very early roundtables that got everyone’s view to find common ground. We have three years in a row of board to border grant legislative. In other states there are drives to stop such efforts. In Colorado, they have a super majority rule to hinder city-led broadband efforts. There were dozens of cities that have voted away from that – but they are steps behind Minnesota.

What do we want in the future?

We have 201 legislative seats open this year. That will mean more education with policymakers again.

Fiber is the foundation. Wireless is the blanket on top. And rights of way is the third leg of the stool. Fiber and a wireless is never an either/or proposition.

Knowing that there are federal efforts does not make it OK to not have a state focus too.

Local franchising – can that come up in Minnesota again? We have a second entrant in the market (CenturyLink). Google has said that removing the barrier of local franchising would make it easier to enter the market.

We need to consider budget with rights of way. It’s an asset that some folks don’t consider.

The astro-turf bill reared its head. They wanted to create a study to hear more about

Notes from discussion:

VOiP – did not get through. Big question is – Is it a telecom service or an info service? Consumer protection folks are opposed to calling it an info service, which would make it easier to deregulate.

“MN is at high risk of expensive an intrusive cyber threat”

MAK – Broadband became an issue, which elevated the telecom issues as well. 3 years ago we recommended $200 million. We were pleased to see $100 million from Governor and $85 million from Senate.

“The two items that really survived the supplemental budget are equity agenda and broadband.” That’s a win.”

Sen Schmit – “I want us to be looking at $100 million for broadband next year. We set the speed goals this year”

MAK – The $500,000 for low income household is a door open to digital efforts in the state. Looking into public housing initiatives is one way to do it. Also we need to look into where people in poverty leave. We need to remember that poverty has an impact in urban and rural areas. We need to look at racial and location inequities.

A big question is – what is affordable? We need to give guidance with affordability.

We know if you subsidize broadband for 18 months, they will find a way to keep it.

We are also looking into cyber security. And workforce issues around cyber security.

VOiP proposal probably will come back next year.

Task Force supports modernization and VOiP bills. We do want to see continued consumer protection.

QUESTION – Do you see anything in Minnesota saying we want to get rid of local franchising?

CenturyLink has mentioned it. (CenturyLink says it’s working asis.)
Google has mentioned it.
But it’s not been a strong issue.

Maybe we need to look at the approach – are there opportunities for efficiencies. Simply – is there a better way of doing this?

Local franchising authorities worry that incompetents have taken the stand a that they have. We would like to work with other providers – but the incumbents are watching every more.

Observation on Cyber Security

We need a safe method to be able to bring concerns safely to the State.

WIRELESS – there was a bill introduced (small cell bill from Verizon – they established a task force, but it was included with the VOiP bill so it did not move forward.)

We need to look at all approaches that make sense. But it’s not always an even/or. We need to understand each other’s concerns. We need impact from local communities.

We need to educate policymakers about the different before wireless and fiber.

Luncheon Keynote: Updates from NATOA – Jodie Miller | Executive Director, NDC4 & 2016 NATOA President

Cable Franchising: Hot Topics (policy/legal track)

Based on a recent query of MACTA members, cable franchise renewals and competitive franchising remain hot topics for many Minnesota cities and franchise administrators, as does tracking consumer protection complaints and consumer protection issues.  This session will cover these items and any other hot topics that are current at the time of the conference.

Speaker: ◦Robert J. V. Vose | Shareholder, Kennedy & Graven, Chartered

(The video is disjointed due to technical difficulties and some musical chairs. But pretty frank talk.)

CenturyLink seeks cable franchising in Eagan

Comcast is the current cable franchise holder in Eagan – CenturyLink is looking to have a franchise as well. This presentation to the Eagan City Council is from an attorney on the topic. The presentation is really a look at why the Council should consider a second franchise and under what context.

You can watch the video. Or see the PPT presentation. The attorney really sets out what needs to happen to smooth the path to providing a franchise agreement to CenturyLink – looking at potential local and federal policy issues.

It sounds like July 21 would be the time that CenturyLink would actually present their application. It will be interesting to watch the process – in part because some of the agreements made with Comcast are not recent and the policies surrounding the issues are not necessarily recent. Although it sounds like Eagan does have fairly updated information on what residents want from a cable franchiser holder.

Cable Franchising: Learn more about it through Dakota County’s process

Cable franchising is always a prickly topic. Providers would often like to do away with or at least streamline the process of cable franchising. Local government is not always interested in losing control or revenue that stems from franchising.

Northern Dakota County is looking at cable franchising now. They recently sent an email out to residents about CenturyLink’s application for franchising. I think there’s a lot to be learned in the email – about the process in Northern Dakota and beyond…

Residents Feedback Wanted

Northern Dakota County Cable Communications Commission (“NDC4”) has received a Cable Television Franchise Application from CenturyLink, the local incumbent telephone exchange carrier operating in the Commission’s seven-city franchise area. Residents and businesses of Inver Grove Heights, Lilydale, Mendota, Mendota Heights, South St. Paul, Sunfish Lake, and West St. Paul are encouraged to submit comments or questions relating to CenturyLink’s franchise application via one of the following options:

  • Via telephone or in person during the LIVE televised and web streamed meeting on June 3rd at 7 p.m. The meeting will be televised LIVE on local Government Channel 18 (Comcast) and web streamed LIVE here.
  • Via e-mail at  www.townsquare.tv/contact-us.cfm by 3 p.m. on June 3, 2015.
  • Via US Postal Mail to NDC4 Cable Commission, 5845 Blaine Avenue, Inver Grove Heights, MN 55076, received in our office by 3 p.m. on June 3, 2015.

Submitters should indicate their name and home or business address located in one of the above-listed seven cities.

Background

NDC4 published a “Notice of Intent to Consider Application(s) for Franchise(s)” on March 8, and March 15, 2015, with the application deadline of March 31, 2015. One application was received from CenturyLink. NDC4 published a Notice of Public Hearing on April 5, 2015, announcing the opening of the public hearing to occur during the full Commission Meeting on April 15, 2015. During that meeting the Commission voted to continue the Public Hearing through the next full Commission meeting on June 3, 2015 at 7 p.m.

Documents and Video

The following documents are available at  www.townsquare.tv/customer-services-dakota-county-public-access.cfm.

You can also watch the April 15, 2015, NDC4 Commission Meeting online.

Other Information

CenturyLink has applied for franchises or requested the initiation of the process in many Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area communities. The City of Minneapolis granted CenturyLink a video franchise on May 15, 2015, and you can watch the video of that meeting here. You can read more about Minneapolis’s franchise process is available here and here.

NDC4 is a joint powers cooperative formed by its seven member cities to administer and enforce the cable television franchise ordinance for each of the seven cities. NDC4 is the local franchise authority representing cable subscribers’ consumer interests, and also overseeing seven local community access channels on the Comcast cable system. For more information, call 651-450-9891, Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or visit www.townsquare.tv.

CenturyLink to provide cable in the Minneapolis? There are a few hoops first.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, CenturyLink is looking at providing cable services…

Minneapolis residents could soon have another option for cable TV service, as CenturyLink looks to dislodge Comcast’s monopoly on the market.

CenturyLink plans to seek a new franchise agreement that would allow it to provide its Prism TV cable service alongside Comcast’s offerings. The digital cable service is distributed through a fiber-optic network and allows customers to watch live programming on smartphones and tablets, in addition to their televisions.

Such an agreement would require the approval of the Minneapolis City Council, which won’t take up the issue until the new year. CenturyLink’s move could dramatically reshuffle the local television market, as cable companies nationally are under intensifying competition from other providers and Internet streaming services, such as Netflix.

One hiccup is that CenturyLink is looking to start in just a few neighborhoods and Comcast (the cable incumbent) has issues with Minneapolis allowing that to happen…

CenturyLink does not plan to immediately offer service to all Minneapolis residents. Instead, it would offer Prism TV to a variety of neighborhoods where its network is already in place and later bring it to other parts of the city.

Comcast said in a statement it expects competitors to adhere to the same standards it does.

Minneapolis, however, seems open to the idea of competition. In fact they are opening the door to other applications (Are they hoping Google Fiber applies?)…

Council Member John Quincy, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee — which will have to sign off on CenturyLink’s plan — said state law requires franchise holders to build out their systems over the entire franchise area. Franchise holders then pay the city a fixed percentage of their revenue.

In response to interest in a new franchise, the city has issued a formal notice of intent to accept applications. Now, CenturyLink and any other companies that want a shot at the business have a window of time to file their plans, along with a $40,000 application fee.

Quincy said Comcast has been the sole cable operator for years in part because companies must be able to prove they could serve the entire city.

“The bar’s pretty high,” he said. “If you’re going to be serious about doing it, you’re going to have to demonstrate a lot of capacity and capital to do the build-out.”

It will be interesting to see what happens. The comments show a great interest in what happens too – most are very positive about the opportunity for competition.

Cable Providers Asked to Think About Local Content

Last week I went to the MTA conference. (I’m hoping to get a PPT to share and will post my notes as soon as I get it.) It was interesting to hear about how telecommunications providers are exploring new sources of revenue. The telephone/telecom game has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. (Remember long distance bills and payphones?) Cable is experiencing some similar disruptions. They have picked up broadband as a product but the content/video game is changing daily. Here’s a view form a recent editorial from Olmsted County

To remain viable, cable needs to adapt in other ways. When television was first taking hold, radio felt its fair share of growing pains. Now it is television’s turn to evolve. Much like radio, I think cable television still has a place in the marketplace, but finding that niche is essential to success. Licensing content to online companies like Netflix and Hulu works for content creators, but content distributors depending on providing viewers content delivered straight to the television are struggling.

I learned in college the best way for radio stations to remain relevant was to localize. Their content changed from being something people gathered around in the living room every night to enjoy, to in-car entertainment, and the industry survived.

I’d love to see cable television attempt to do the same. The local news broadcasts are honestly what I miss the most from our lack of a cable subscription. Harnessing the local strategy might be able to sustain cable’s content delivery, but they’ll need to be innovative in their process.

His suggestions remind me of Lake County and Cook County – both communities are building a place for local content online and/or on air with a mashup between YouTube, Livestreaming and community radio. The old motto for the Internet was always “think local, act global” – looks like that sentiment is as strong as ever.

Two-thirds of Americans can access 100 Mbps broadband

According to a recent blog post from the NTIA (National Telecommunications & Information Administration)…

Considering wireline and wireless technologies together, the slowest broadband speeds are nearly ubiquitously available, and access to very fast broadband (over 100 Mbps) has now reached two-thirds of Americans. The data, as of December 31, 2013, shows that 99 percent of Americans have access to wired and/or wireless broadband at advertised speeds of 6 Mbps downstream and 1.5 Mbps up, though this number drops to 89 percent when considering wireline broadband alone.

The NTIA credit upgrades in cable infrastructure.

I myself moved to cable fairly recently. I finally cancelled my other/old broadband service last week. As any good provider (of any services) would do, the customer rep on the phone tried to talk me out of cancelling until I told her I really needed better upload capacity. She allowed that upload wasn’t their long suit.

As much as it’s heartening to hear that so many Americans have access to good speeds, it makes me nervous to see that juxtaposed so many having access to 100 Mbps that 89 (or 99) percent have access to “6 Mbps downstream and 1.5 Mbps up” or better because that is quite a digital divide. It’s exactly what the National Broadband Plan was going for (100 Mbps to 100 million homes; 4/1 Mbps service to everyone else) but again it’s quite a digital divide.

My fear is just as I forget about the days it used to take hours to upload some of the video I post on the blog regularly now that I have cable; I’m afraid the rest of the world will forget about the 4/1 people and communities once “we all” (or at least 100 million households) get 100 Mbps.

What Lake County Residents are Seeing

Yesterday I wrote about an editorial in the Lake County News-Chronicle on the reaction of Jeff Roiland, Project Manager for Lake Connections to postcards being sent to residents in Lake County.

Today I have a copy of the postcard that is being sent to folks. It helps to frame his comments so I thought I’d share with others. I’ll include the images of the postcard; but I thought I’d type out the contents too.

Text from Lake County postcard:

Why should Lake County taxpayers take a $70 million rick on fiber optics?

Several Minnesota communities have rejected risky fiber optic projects or paid for their mistake.

FiberNet Monticello is running a $250,000 monthly loss and using city funds to cover it
TonkaConnect was unanimously rejected as too risky by Lake Minnetonka Communications Commissioners
Cook County residents are up in arms over using $4 million in special sale tax for a fiber optic network
North St Paul residents overwhelmingly voted down PolarNet 2 to 1
GoMoorhead’s red ink increased electric bills and led the city to privatize the system

Side Two:

Why have Lake County officials broken their promise and committed $3.5 million of your money for this project?

Lake County Officials said the construction of a $70 million fiber optic project “WILL NOT BE SUPPORTED BY LAKE COUNTY TAXPAYERS” (Lake County News-Chronicle, June 11, 2009)

How much more will the fiber project cost you and who pays if this project fails?

Why won’t Lake County officials let taxpayers vote of the $70 million fiber optic project? State law required a referendum (vote of the people) when a local government builds a telecommunications network that includes telephone service like the proposed fiber optic project in Lake County (Minnesota Statutes 237.19)

Too many questions. Not enough answers. Visit http://www.letlakecountyvote.com to sign the petition for a public vote!

Paid for by the Minnesota Cable Communications Association.

Clearly point of view plays a large role in the message you create. Someone who was a proponent of the project might mention communities such as Windom, Lac qui Parle, Sibley County – or they may have even spoken to different people in Cook County and Monticello.

It’s a good reminder for residents in the community – there are at least two sides to every story. And a good reminder for any community looking at broadband – there will be many sides to your broadband story too.