Overview of rural broadband program for MN Agriculture and Rural Development and Housing Finance

Yesterday the Agriculture and Rural Development and Housing Finance learned about Minnesota’s rural broadband program from Danna Mackenzie at the Office of Broadband Development, Anna Boroff, Minnesota Cable Association, Brent Christensen, Minnesota Telcom Alliance and Nancy Hoffman with Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition. The Agriculture and Rural Development and Housing Finance will be discussing broadband this year

You can listen to the meeting : http://mnsenate.granicus.com/player/clip/3122?view_id=2

Danna Mackenzie at the Office of Broadband Development

  • The state has been working on broadband since before 2008
  • The policies and programs have been iterative as we have learned
  • Four strong components:
    • Speed goals (set in 2010)
    • Mapping – to measure success
    • Office of Broadband Development – esp in DEED
    • State funding
  • The state is seeing success but some counties still need help. Four counties have less than 50 percent (Aitkin, Fillmore, Pine and Yellow Medicine) access to 25/3 access. We may need new strategies to fix this. There are feasibility studies and/or proposals for improvement in three of those counties)
  • Much talk about the maps

Question from Kari Dziedzic: When you talk about 100 percent of household have access – are you looking at affordability?
Right now we only talk about availability from at least one option. We do have resources to track affordability

Question: Do you know which schools don’t have access?
I can get the list. There’s an area in the West Central part of the state. The other school is northwest angle.

  • We now track gigabit access too

Question: What kind of investment do we need to make – wires or equipment?
The program is tech neutral so we don’t have a specific answer. But we seem to fund a range that includes equipment, tower, wires…

  • We launched a speed test for the state to track consumer experience. We have about 6,000 tests but that’s not enough to draw conclusions

Question: DO some people ask for less than 50 percent match?
Applications get extra points if they are able to match more than 50 percent

  • People often ask how state and federal funding works together. We do use maps of federal funding to make decisions. We don’t go into areas that are working on enhancements but we have partnered with new projects to increase speeds of federally funded projects

Question: IN regards to feds, do you have info on how much they have spent or houses reached or miles built?
I don’t have that info today. There are multiple streams of funding.

Question: How much does it cost to cover a township?
It depends on the type of technology.

Question: How much to cover the state?
The Broadband Task Force came up with a number to serve 25/3 – not 100/200 but the number $35 million annual until goal is met.

Question: In early days we had communities that were being undersserved? Have we tightened that up? (Have we called people on their challenges?)
We are aware of those concerns. The state policy prioritizes the unserved versus underserved.

Brent Christensen, Minnesota Telecom Alliance

  • Representing 44 providers
  • I wasn’t a fan of the grants when first introduced; but I was wrong. The Office has done a great job of helping providers – such as with MNDOT permitting. They were slow but we’re getting them expedited.
  • People recognize our success in other states. Many other states are using the MN model or looking at them. But of the success is focusing on unserved.
  • The grant have formed unusual partnerships. Such as – Big Stone County…

Question: Is fixed wireless a way to serve farms and rural areas?
Yes

  • Broadband is like a water pipe. Broadband is the pipe and internet is the water.
  • We use the cloud now – much like the mainframe environment back in the day.
  • Byte is 2-3 paragraphs of text…
  • Broadband is measured in the amount of data delivered per second
  • We want to get the internet to grow faster
  • 25 Mbps Download / 3 Mbps Upload
  • Defining broadband is a moving target; it has been redefined on a regular basis

Question: Why 25 down and 3 up? Why is it slower to upload?
The internet was original built on telephone network. Then there was more of a need to download than upload. SO they focused on download – because the telephone lines were only so big. As we transition to fixed wireless and fiber that is less of an issue.

  • What technologies are out there
    • Telephone companies – first put on telephone lines / started with dalipup to DSL to FTTH. The closer we can get people to fiber, the faster the connection. Many built fiber to the node and are now closing that gap.
    • Cable put it on cable lines / They have creted hybrid solutions and will do FTTH
    • IN the last 12 years – wireless has emerged – but really wireless connections are wired until it goes from tower to your phone.
    • Fixed wireless – will put up an antenna at your house and connect to that.
    • Satellite – uses a dish that pushes connection from home to satellite and back

Question: so the object is to get fiber as close to the house as possible? How fast is copper?
Copper will maintain 4060 Mbps down to 4500 feet

Question: Do you track how much goes to telecom vs cable vs wireless?
I can tell you who has recevedi what funding but not how many customers?

Questions: I see gaps in the maps. Are you worried about those gaps?
Yes. I belive broadband will get just about everywhere. But there are pocket, where you just can’t make a business care to make it happen and that’s where the grant program makes a real difference. It helps us get to the corners. We won’t need state support forever; how long we need it depends on how mcuh you invest per year. We only ever got to 98 percent phone coverage. We now have a way to maximize federal funding with state match.

Question: What is it like to work with the counties?
It’s all  over the map. You need to find a local unit of government to support broadband but it can happen at county or township level – such as Sunrise Township.

Question: What do you do when part of a community are not served? Does that make it more expensive?
It’s cheaper to extend an existing network than build an entirely new network.

Question: Can we get a workshop for potential grant applicants? Do they need a provider?
We do run workshops at the beginning of every cycle. There’s not requirement that a community have a provider in mind when they come into the workshops. Many do have a provider or the provider is taking the lead but the program is open to all. We offer assistance.

Anna Boroff, Minnesota Cable Assocaition

  • All major cable companies and serve almost 1 million households
  • We appreciate the Office of Broadband Development
  • We have invested $1 billion in broadband since 2011
  • Many cable companies have gig access – Mediacom serves many rural areas
  • There are areas where you can’t make a business case to serve broadband; grants have helped members serve these areas
  • Counterparts in other states are envious of the Minnesota model
  • We thinking spending money in unserved areas is important
  • CAF 2 – Midco received funds to expend fixed wireless service – they are getting 100/20 speeds
  • Adoption is an issue; members have programs to help make broadband affordable to low income customers

Question: More people choose to not get broadband than don’t have access?
Yes more choose not to get access – maybe due to affordability or other reasons

Nancy Hoffman, Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition

  • We have more than 70 members
  • Our priorities are
    • Base funding for the grants in DEED
    • Continue to support the Office of Broadband Development
    • Re-establish a MN Broadband Task Force
    • Funding grants at $70 million per biennium

Red Wing Ignite Ag Tech Challenge Final Pitch: One word – robotics

Last night I attended a fun event at Red Wing Ignite. It featured a few experts in the ag tech (aka food tech) field and three presentations from entrepreneurs looking to get a start (of $10,000) to explore a future for their tech ideas.

I don’t have line-by-line notes as I often do but I walked away with some general impressions.

Brett Brohl, from Techstars Farm to Fork, pointed out that farmers generally have about 35 chances (seasons/years) to make money in their career. So while they are always interested in technology and how to farm better, they want to see solutions with a proven ROI. When Brohl looks at investing, he looks at the team and diversity in team (inventor, marketer, business versus 3 investors) more than any one project idea. Brian Carroll, from Emerging Prairie, talked about creating community assets to spur ag technology – including makerspaces, business accelerators and building 21st century skills.

The set the stage for learning about three projects that were finalists for the fabulous prize:

  • Drainage Monitoring and Control – The goal of the project is to significantly reduce sediment and nutrient runoff from agricultural fields by implementing a monitoring and control system that can respond in real time to rain and soil conditions.
  • Robotic Sod Farm Weeder – Robotic weed pickers can be used to reduce/eliminate herbicide use on farms. Sod farms provide an easy landscape for robotic weed picker deployments.
  • Poultry Patrol – A semi-autonomous robotic system to assist in poultry farm tasks like detecting dead birds, training birds to lay eggs in the correct place, disinfecting feces, turning soil, retrieving eggs, and giving the grower an inside camera view wherever they are.

Robotics are certainly emerging. In the food industry, they are reducing the pain of labor shortages and safety concerns. As someone said, last night, robots don’t forget to wash their hands and of course you don’t have to worry about injury to a robot in the same way you do a human. Some of what we saw last night was the sweet spot for robots doing mindless chores – the kind that for me might cause inattention and accident. One of the issues right now is making the robots more affordable.

I could see in the beauty of a place like Red Wing Ignite – where techies can meet farmers and others on the frontlines. Farmers know the needs and potential for ROI; techies know what can robots do and what they can’t.

Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy: Notes and Video

Earlier today the Blandin Foundation hosted a local viewing of Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy, hosted by Next Century Cities in DC. You can watch the program yourself….

It was an interesting discussion. The spoke primarily on Rural broadband, privacy and security and spectrum and 5G. I took pretty loose notes and I’ll start with Rural Broadband. The general consensus is that it costs more money than you can make back to deploy broadband in high cost areas. That is compounded by misunderstanding that rural citizens can make do with lower speeds and higher costs than their urban counterparts when it comes to broadband. There also a divide in the provider community. Larger, national providers seem less interested in improvements in rural areas that local solutions.

There were some suggestions to help correct the problems:

  • Break down supply chain to consumer and figure out how to bring down cost
  • Make sure everyone in an area has access – there is no law saying a provider needs a service (universal service mandate)
  • We have done this with energy with smart grid – should we focus on interconnection rather than just a network?

Data and security seems like a cat’s out of the bag situation. Everyone agrees there’s a problem. There’s a problem that effects individuals and society as a whole. Some people seem reticent to work on solutions to technology that’s ever changing and there needs to be greater recognition that privacy isn’t free. Many websites and online tools are “free” but what we give up is personal data. If we can keep personal data safe, we may pay for more services. Also a good note on the blurring between sensitive and non-sensitive data. As big data goes granular information that seems non-sensitive becomes more sensitive.

There were some suggestion on how to move forward with low hanging fruit in privacy?

  • Lack of strong enforcement
  • Lack of enforcement with sharper teeth
  • Lack of technical expertise with enforcers

What does congress need to learn?

  • Need to know more about third party vendors who don’t need to get consent (when people give/sell your data)
  • Need to look into the cost of cutting off some streams of revenue (the price of a free website)

When it comes to technology we need to look at what technologies are converging and where the funding should go – both in terms of to which technologies but also whether the public or private sectors can better manage ubiquitous deployments and upgrades.

Net Inclusion 2019 April 1-3 in Charlotte

I really enjoyed this conference a few years ago when it was in the Cities…

Net Inclusion 2019 welcomes digital inclusion community practitioners, advocates, academics, Internet service providers, and policymakers to discuss:
• local, state and federal policies and policy innovations impacting digital equity,
• sources of financial and programmatic support of digital inclusion programs,
• and digital inclusion best practices from across the country.
Net Inclusion 2019 will begin Monday, April 1st with pre-conference events in the morning and Digital Inclusion Site Tours, included in the cost of registration, in the afternoon. Tuesday, April 2nd will be a full day of interactive sessions, and we will conclude on Wednesday, April 3rd at 3:00PM.

Don’t wait to book your hotel – a limited number of rooms are available at a discounted rate!

Discount early bird registration for Net Inclusion available until February 14th!

Register for Net Inclusion 2019!

Minnesota gathering to Livestream: Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy on Jan 15

I mentioned earlier that Blandin Foundation and League of Minnesota Cities is hosting a meeting to watch the Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy Livestream on Jan 15:

Livestream: Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy
Tuesday, January 15, 2019
7:45 a.m. -12:45 p.m.
League of Minnesota Cities
RSVP Online

Today I’m pleased to share the list of confirmed speakers (with a special nod to fellow Minnesotan Chris Mitchell!)

  • Blair Levin: Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
  • Christopher Mitchell: Director, Community Broadband Networks, Institute for Local Self-Reliance
  • Jonathan Chambers: Partner, Conexon LLC
  • Harold Feld: Senior Vice President, Public Knowledge
  • Brent Skorup: Senior Research Fellow, Mercatus Center, George Mason University
  • Jamie Suskind: Chief of Staff, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr
  • Neil Chilson: Senior Research Fellow for Technology and Innovation, Charles Koch Institute
  • William Rinehart: Director, American Action Forum
  • Laura Moy: Executive Director, Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology
  • Francella Ochillo: Vice President, Policy and General Counsel, National Hispanic Media Coalition
  • Ryan Clough: General Counsel, Public Knowledge

Ignite Minnesota Ag Tech Challenge – Final Pitch Event Jan 15

Hosted by Red Wing Ignite, I think this event looks fascinating. They will be looking at final pitches from entrepreneurs creating technology projects for agriculture. Here’s the info you need:

Tue, January 15, 20194:30 PM – 7:30 PM CST
Red Wing Ignite 419 Bush Street Red Wing, MN 55066
Register

Here are the finalists:

Poultry Patrol – A semi-autonomous robotic system to assist in poultry farm tasks like detecting dead birds, training birds to lay eggs in the correct place, disinfecting feces, turning soil, retrieving eggs, and giving the grower an inside camera view wherever they are.

Tile Drainage Monitoring and Control – The goal of the project is to significantly reduce sediment and nutrient runoff from agricultural fields by implementing a monitoring and control system that can respond in real time to rain and soil conditions.

Robotic Sod Farm Weeder – Robotic weed pickers can be used to reduce/eliminate herbicide use on farms. Sod farms provide an easy landscape for robotic weed picker deployments.

Minnesotans meeting to view Livestream: Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy on Jan 15

I just wanted to follow up with more details…

Livestream: Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy
Tuesday, January 15, 2019
7:45 a.m. -12:45 p.m.
League of Minnesota Cities
RSVP Online

Blandin Foundation and the League of Minnesota Cities will be hosting an opportunity to participate virtually in a tech policy discussion being hosted that morning at Google’s DC headquarters by Next Century Cities, Public Knowledge, and the American Action Forum.

The discussion, Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy, will take place from 8:30 am – 12:30 pm EST at Google’s DC headquarters. The event hosts in DC are bringing together a diverse group of leaders in tech policy to determine priorities for the new Congress around digital privacy and rural broadband.  Blandin and LMC are inviting interested Minnesotans to come together for a shared viewing and discussion of the meeting proceedings.  We will gather in a room at the LMC offices.  Further details about the event will be forthcoming in the new year.