Position open on the Minnesota Broadband Task Force

Steve Lewsader left the Minnesota Broadband Task Force at the end of 2017. That leaves one seat open and they are looking for applications.

Here’s the mission as reported on the Boards & Commissions website

To develop, implement and promote state broadband policy, planning and initiatives to achieve State broadband needs and goals. Inventory, assess and report on various aspects of broadband. Develop a Minnesota Broadband Plan outline.

It looks like they will review applications on Feb 4. The group meetings monthly. Two people have already applied. You can apply directly from the website.

FCC proposes $500 million increase for Rural Broadband

According to Telecompetitor

FCC rural broadband funding could increase by over $500 million if the commission votes to adopt an order circulated by commission chairman Ajit Pai. According to an FCC spokesman, the funding would include about $180 million for the current funding year for the nation’s smaller rate-of-return (ROR) carriers who get their support through traditional legacy mechanisms and up to $360 million over the next 10 years to ROR carriers who receive support based on the A-CAM cost model.

In a statement Pai said he had heard “from community leaders, Congress and carriers that insufficient, unpredictable funding” has kept them from deploying broadband more extensively to close the digital divide. The funding, he said, will “boost broadband deployment in rural America and put our high-cost system on a more efficient path, helping to ensure that every American can benefit from the digital revolution.”

The $500 million would come, in part, from reserves, the spokesman said. In addition, the order seeks comment on the Universal Service Fund (USF) budget, he noted.

More funding is always good news. I would just like to see a current definition of broadband. I know this time last year (Jan 24, 2017), the FCC announced 182 rate of return companies that elected to received A-CAM support. Below is a chart of Minnesota companies in that list and their obligation to provide service as specified speeds. You’ll see not all of the speeds mentioned would meet the Minnesota speed goals for 2022 (25/3) and none of them meet the speed goals for 2026 (100/20).

(I know that table won’t translate well online – you can also download it in Word.)

State (RoR) Holding Company Annual ACAM Support Locations in Census Blocks Receiving Model-Based Funding Locations with Obligation at 25/3 Mbps Locations with Obligation at 10/1 Mbps Locations with Obligation at 4/1 Mbps Locations Remaining on Reasonable Request Standard
MN  ARVG  Arvig Enterprises, Inc.           21,559,568                    33,455                      20,993                        6,998                        2,732                        2,732
 MN  CHRS  Christensen Communications Company                536,263                        420                            83                            28                          154                          155
 MN  HNSN  Hanson Communications, Inc.             2,572,081                      2,466                       1,179                          393                          447                          447
 MN  INTR4  Interstate Telecommunications Cooperative, Inc.                994,999                        779                          155                          156                          117                          351
 MN  LRSN  Larson Utilities, Inc.             1,423,622                      1,160                          243                          244                          168                          505
 MN  MBLC  Mabel Cooperative Telephone Company                633,384                        518                          186                            63                          134                          135
 MN  NRTH8  Northern Telephone Company/Wilderness Valley Telephone Company                330,942                        231                            33                          101                            24                            73
 MN  NWLM  New Ulm Telecom, Inc.             6,118,567                      7,913                       3,414                        1,138                        1,680                        1,681
 MN  PRKR  Park Region Mutual Telephone Company             3,092,315                      4,351                       2,735                          912                          352                          352
 MN  RRLC  Rural Communications Holding Corporation             4,433,893                      6,035                       2,784                          928                        1,161                        1,162
 MN  RTHS  Rothsay Telephone Co. Inc.                448,181                        335                            24                            73                            59                          179
 MN  TDS  Telephone and Data Systems, Inc.             5,099,964                    10,788                       7,362                        2,454                          486                          486
 MN  VNCE  VNC Enterprises, LLC                274,969                        302                            36                          108                            39                          119
 MN  WKST  Wikstrom Telephone Company, Inc.             6,782,806                      6,587                          997                        2,992                          649                        1,949

I’ve abbreviated heading row above from : “Number of Locations in Eligible Census Blocks with Obligation to Offer” to “Locations with Obligation at”

Study shows Community-Owned Broadband Networks provide best value – and access to pricing info is difficult to get

Harvard University recently published a report that compared public-owned FTTH networks with private options in the same market. They learned a few things – perhaps most important to note i- they learned it’s difficult to get info on pricing and packages available from some providers in some markets, which makes it very difficult to have a real conversation about broadband affordability. In this study or any other.

Here’s the abstract from the report…

We collected advertised prices for residential data plans offered by 40 community-owned (typically municipally owned) Internet service providers (ISPs) that offer fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) service. We then identified the least-expensive service that meets the federal definition of broadband—at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload—and compared advertised prices to those of private competitors in the same markets. We found that most community-owned FTTH networks charged less and offered prices that were clear and unchanging, whereas private ISPs typically charged initial low promotional or “teaser” rates that later sharply rose, usually after 12 months. We were able to make comparisons in 27 communities. We found that in 23 cases, the community-owned FTTH providers’ pricing was lower when averaged over four years. (Using a three year-average changed this fraction to 22 out of 27.) In the other 13 communities, comparisons were not possible, either because the private providers’ website terms of service deterred or prohibited data collection or because no competitor offered service that qualified as broadband. We also made the incidental finding that Comcast offered different prices and terms for the same service in different regions.

Here are their highlights…

  • When considering entry-level broadband service—the least-expensive plan that provides at least 25/3 Mbps service—23 out of 27 community-owned FTTH providers we studied charged the lowest prices in their community when considering the annual average cost of service over a four-year period, taking into account installation and equipment costs and averaging any initial teaser rates with later, higher, rates. This is based on data collected in late 2015 and 2016.
  • In these 23 communities, prices for the lowest-cost program that met the current definition of broadband were between 2.9 percent and 50 percent less than the lowest-cost such service offered by a private provider (or providers) in that market. In the other four cases, a private provider’s service cost between 6.9 percent and 30.5 percent less.
  • While community-owned FTTH providers’ pricing is generally clear and unchanging, private providers almost always offer initial “teaser” prices and then raise the monthly price sharply. This price hike in the communities we studied ranged between $10 (20 percent) and $30 (42.8 percent) after 12 months, both imposed by Comcast, but in different communities. Only one community-owned FTTH provider employed this marketing practice for a data-only plan. This exception was a student discount offered by the MINET network in Oregon.
  • Language in the website “terms of service” (TOS) of some private ISPs strongly inhibits research on pricing. The TOS for AT&T, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable (now owned by Charter), were particularly strong in deterring such efforts; as a result, we did not record data from these three companies.
  • While the United States has 40 community networks offering broadband FTTH service (many of them serving more than one municipality), we did not make comparisons with private competitors in 13 cases, either because the TOS prohibited data collection or because no competing broadband service existed in the community network’s home community.
  • We noted that Comcast varied its teaser rates and other pricing details from region to region. Our sample size was small; just seven of the communities we studied were served by Comcast. Understanding Comcast’s pricing practices and their consumer impacts across the United States would require much deeper study.
  • In general we found that making comprehensive pricing comparisons among U.S. Internet service plans is extraordinarily difficult. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not disseminate pricing data or track broadband availability by address. Additionally, service offerings follow no standard speed tiers or definitions (such as the specifics of video or phone service bundles). We focused on comparing entry-level broadband plans in part because of these complexities.

They looked at two communities in Minnesota and this is what they found in terms of average cost per year over four years; it takes into account all fees and recurring cost:

In Monticello:

  • Monticello Fiber Network a 50/50 connection is $640.29
  • TDS Telecom a 25/10 connection is $763.03
  • Charter Spectrum a 60/4 connection is $678.63

In Crosslake:

  • Crosslake Communications a 30/20 connection is $1,030.40
  • Emily Cooperative Telephone Company a 30/30 connection is $1,067.65

It’s interesting to see the differences in those two areas. And to see that we really aren’t talking about apples to apples comparisons – especially when you account for upload and download speeds. Again to me half of the story here is the difficulty in getting the information. The National Broadband Plan paid lip service to gathering more standardized info on services and prices…

Recommendation 4.2: The FCC and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) should collect more detailed and accurate data on actual availability, penetration, prices, churn and bundles offered by broadband service providers to consumers and businesses, and should publish analyses of these data.

But that doesn’t seem to have happened. Think about the impact of the cost (or calorie) per serving info at the grocery store. Now image how nice that would be for broadband and how that would help us pinpoint real issues based on areas and technologies. Is the problem access or affordability (or something else)? And are there some providers who have been able to overcome challenges to provide affordable access in rural areas – how can we reward and/or emulate them in other areas. Because I know there are providers (public, private and cooperative) who are serving happy customers in hard to reach places.

Mille Lacs unhappy about not getting broadband grant

The Pine and Lakes Echo Journal reports on Mille Lacs not getting a broadband grant…

The denial of a state grant to partially fund a countywide wireless network in Mille Lacs County has officials frustrated, the Mille Lacs Messenger reported. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development did not select the county’s application for broadband funding.

This rejection comes after a year’s worth of studies and public outreach, and county officials said they believed their project received less consideration than some that would impact 100 or fewer residents. The Mille Lacs County project would serve approximately 26,000 residents.

A consulting firm working with the county on the project intends to request information from the state concerning grant selection criteria.

The article captures the frustration that all of the communities that don’t get funding must feel – because applying for broadband funding is an undertaking as the article points out. Many communities will do a feasibility study, public outreach, partnership development and even some engineering planning before applying for funding. Many are good projects but there just isn’t enough funding to meet the need. The difficult thing about the effort is that without ongoing grants, if your community isn’t selected, you don’t know if you’ll get a chance to try again and even if you do, you’ll probably need to update the research and application.

The Minnesota Broadband Task Force has recommended ongoing funding for grants – that would ease some of the frustration I’m sure.

Comcast Increasing Internet Speeds for Twin Cities Customers

Good news for some folks in the Twin Cities, according to Business Wire

Comcast today announced it is increasing the speeds of its Xfinity Internet service packages for existing customers in the Twin Cities area at no additional cost.

The speed increases will vary based on the Xfinity Internet customers’ current speed subscriptions, and the majority of customers will see an increase of 50 Mbps. New and existing customers can expect to experience enhanced speeds this month.

“In today’s fast-moving, always-on world, quickly connecting to the internet is more important than ever,” said J.D. Keller, regional vice president, Comcast Twin Cities. “These increases reflect our ongoing commitment to offer the fastest speeds to our customers and deliver a great experience anytime, anywhere.”

To get the increased speeds, most customers will simply need to re-start their modems when notified by Comcast that the new speed is available. Comcast will also notify customers who may need to upgrade their modems to receive the increased speeds. Those who own their own modems and need to upgrade them to receive the increased speeds will need to purchase a new one or can lease a new modem from Comcast.

Minnesota Broadband Task Force Report – what Minneapolis Star Tribune and Mankato Free Press are saying

Yesterday I posted about the latest Minnesota Broadband Task Force report. Today I’m reading about it in various publications. Here’s what people are saying…

Minneapolis Star Tribune – Minnesota task force says $35.7 million needed annually to expand broadband

Minnesota spent tens of millions of dollars expanding high-speed broadband internet in recent years, but nearly $1.4 billion in public and private investment is still needed to get access to all households, according to a state task force report. …

The task force’s goal is to connect all of those households by 2022. The $1.4 billion price tag to meet that goal would be covered by a variety of sources, including federal, state and local funding and private companies.

In November, state officials forecast a $188 million budget deficit over the next year and a half. Given that outlook, the task force’s financial request “is a little daunting,” said Kelliher, a DFLer who once served as speaker of the Minnesota House and now is president and CEO of the Minnesota High Tech Association.

The report is a good conversation starter, said Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls. The next state revenue and expenditure forecast in February will help determine what’s affordable, he said.

“That being said, I think they’re on the right path,” Kresha said of the task force. “Certainly we don’t want to stop the great work we’ve done for rural broadband. And if there [are] any opportunities to continue to expand efforts — whether that’s through policy, funding or innovation — we should do it.”

Mankato Free Press – Broadband Task Force renews push for high-speed access

Bill Otis, president of New Ulm-based NU-Telecom, said rural phone companies like his rely on federal and state grants to help build costly fiber networks.

“We’ve made progress (in adding fiber) but it’s slow without some of the grants. We’ve been involved in grants that allow us to build out to areas that would be economically unreasonable without the grants. And even with the grants, it’s sometimes questionable economically. Getting the fiber out to some of these more remote rural areas can be tough,” Otis said. …

But Otis said those minimum speeds are relatively slow for the growing demands on the internet. “You’d like to say everyone should have 100 (megabits) down and 20 up. And to be perfect you’d have 100 by 100.”

He said that when putting in new lines, having the minimum 25-3 megabit is “underusing your fiber.”

And the demand for more speed is only going to grow as more video content, self-driving vehicles, smart cars, enhanced 911 systems, smart homes and other technology all vie for internet and fiber optic space.

“The projections are for unbelievable, exponential growth in the next five to 10 years,” Otis said.

MN Office of Broadband Development is hiring

Great people, great mission…

Job Class: Grants Specialist Coordinator
Working Title: Broadband Grants Administrator

  • Who May Apply: Open to all qualified job seekers
  • Date Posted: 01/10/2018
  • Closing Date: 01/16/2018
  • Hiring Agency/Seniority Unit: Employment and Economic Development
  • Division/Unit: Broadband Development
  • Work Shift/Work Hours: Day Shift
  • Days of Work: Monday – Friday
  • Travel Required: Yes
  • Salary Range: $24.32 – $35.91/hourly; $50,780 – $70,980/annually
  • Classified Status: Classified
  • Connect 700 Program Eligible: Yes

Job Summary

The purpose of this position is to develop, promote, implement, provide technical assistance for, evaluate and report on state and/or federally funded financing programs of the Office of Broadband Development. The Office develops and administers programs designed to achieve high quality broadband access for all Minnesotans and to support and promote the skills necessary to adopt and use broadband tools for economic, educational, health, and institutional benefits.  Programs administered include the following:

  1. Border-to-Border Infrastructure Grant Program which provides state financing for DEED approved broadband infrastructure expansion projects.
  2. Supporting and maximizing Minnesota entities participation in federally-funded broadband infrastructure programs.
  3. Digital literacy, broadband adoption and use programs.

Minimum Qualifications:

Bachelor’s Degree in Planning, Community and Economic Development, Political Science, Public Administration, or related to broadband AND two (2) years of professional grant management experience involving evaluating, administering, accounting for, training and/or monitoring of grants proposals, grant agreements, or grant recipients.

Extensive knowledge of federal and state laws, rules, regulations, policies and procedures with the ability to effectively interpret and communicate those to grant recipients.

Professional experience working with training and workforce issues, including but not limited to business and economic development issues, instructional design and methods, labor market data and employment projections, accrediting standards, industry certifications, training resources, federal poverty guidelines, strategic planning, finance, and marketing.

Working knowledge of generally accepted accounting principles, financial training to understand financial statements and records and have the training and/or ability to analyze both corporate and municipal financial statements, audits, forecasts, budgets, and demographics

Preferred Qualifications:

Relevant experience and familiarity with the broadband industry in Minnesota or another state.

Additional Requirements

Resumes of all applicants to this posting will be evaluated against the Minimum Qualifications stated above.  If your skills match the required skills for this position, the department may contact you.  Employee reference checks will be conducted on all finalists.  This may include a review of documentation related to job performance.  It includes contact with the applicant’s current and/or former employers.

A Criminal Background Check will be conducted on all finalists for this position.  A criminal conviction will not automatically remove you from consideration for employment.

When the position requires travel and the applicant drives a state owned or leased vehicle, a driver’s license and record check will be conducted.
Application Details

Why Work For Us

GREAT BENEFITS PACKAGE! The State of Minnesota offers a comprehensive benefits package including low cost medical and dental insurance, employer paid life insurance, short and long term disability, pre-tax flexible spending accounts, retirement plan, tax-deferred compensation, generous vacation and sick leave, and 11 paid holidays each year.

How to Apply

Click “Apply” at the bottom of this page. If you are unable to apply online, please contact the job information line at 651.259.3637.

For additional information about the application process, go to http://www.mn.gov/careers.

Contact

If you have questions about the position, contact Jolene Blaser at jolene.blaser@state.mn.us