Minnesota PUC rules in favor of Charter limits state regulation by calling VoIP an “information service”

Ars Technica reports…

A court ruling that limits state regulation of cable company offerings was praised by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, who says the ruling supports his contention that the FCC can preempt state-level net neutrality rules.

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 issued Friday 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 filed a brief supporting Charter’s position in the case.

You can find the decision online.

CentraCare Health Awarded $324-K Grant For Rural Telehealth Services In Minnesota

According to KXRA...

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is awarding a 324-thousand-dollar grant to CentraCare Health in Saint Cloud to provide telehealth services in rural areas.

Congressman Tom Emmer says the grant will help make behavioral health care services more available for Minnesotans living in the Sixth District. CentraCare Senior Director Rachel Lesch called it “a great opportunity to deliver innovative mental health services in areas not possible before.” The funding will support telehealth networks to deliver 24-hour emergency department consultation services to rural providers.

AT&T invests over $1 billion in Minnesota since 2010

Here’s the latest from AT&T…

AT&T Invests Nearly $375 Million Over 3-Year Period to Boost Local Networks in Minnesota

 

AT&T Has Invested More Than $1 Billion in Our Minnesota Networks Since 2010

 

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn., Sept. 6, 2018 — At AT&T[i], we’ve invested nearly $375 million in our Minnesota wireless and wired networks during 2015-2017, including more than $275 million in the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington areas. These investments boost reliability, coverage, speed and overall performance for residents and businesses. They also improve critical services that support public safety and first responders.

 

In 2017, AT&T made significant investments in the Twin Cities to prepare for the 2018 Big Game and beyond, including investing $40 million in our Minneapolis wireless networks and launching 5G Evolution in parts of the city. 5G Evolution offers customers a taste of the future of entertainment and connectivity on their devices.

 

In addition, in 2017, we made 976 network enhancements in 299 communities across Minnesota, including new cell sites, the addition of network capacity and network upgrades.

 

From 2010 to 2017, AT&T has invested more than $1 billion in our Minnesota networks, with our investments continuing in 2018. Expanding our network in the area has given AT&T the most wireless coverage in Minnesota.

 

“We are proud of the significant investments we have made in our networks across Minnesota, especially the upgrades we have made to prepare Minneapolis for the future of next generation connectivity,” said Paul Weirtz, state president, AT&T Minnesota. “The investments we’re making prepare us for the future of 5G and innovations like smarter cities, telemedicine and virtual reality.”

 

“For Minnesota to continue to thrive and attract new jobs and innovation, sustained investment by the private sector is crucial,” said Doug Loon, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. “By continuing to build state-of-the-art infrastructure in our state, AT&T is not only helping to boost Minnesota’s competitiveness, but also providing residents with access to the latest technologies they want to stay connected and entertained.”

 

The AT&T LTE network now covers more than 400 million people in North America. Notable Minnesota network enhancements in 2017 included:

  • Launching 5G Evolution in parts of Minneapolis to provide AT&T’s latest network technology;
  • Upgrading the Distributed Antenna System (DAS) at the football stadium in Minneapolis to now offer nearly 220% more LTE capacity than at the start of the 2017 pro football season. We also added more than 800 antennas hidden throughout the stadium to help manage heavy wireless traffic and give fans strong coverage throughout game day;
  • Upgrading or installing new DAS at 16 locations throughout the Minneapolis area, including upgrading the DAS at the airport and installing a new DAS at the convention center in Minneapolis, to provide better, faster wireless coverage; and
  • Completing 178 new or enhanced cell sites in the Minneapolis area to improve coverage.

 

By building out our 4G LTE network, we’re laying the foundation for 5G, the next advance in network technologies. We’re boosting network speeds and capacity, as we continue to expand the availability of our network using the latest technology.

 

Since the formation of the FirstNet public-private partnership a little over a year ago, governors from all 50 states, 5 territories and D.C. recognized the value of FirstNet, joining in its mission to strengthen and modernize public safety’s communications capabilities.

 

FirstNet is a new nationwide communications platform dedicated to America’s public safety community. As we build, deploy and evolve FirstNet, we will build upon our current and planned investments in Minnesota to help ensure public safety’s network delivers the coverage and cutting-edge capabilities first responders expect – today and for decades to come.

 

For the 4th year in a row, AT&T earned the top spot in the telecommunications industry on FORTUNE’s Most Admired Companies list in 2018. We also placed No. 49 among the 50 most admired companies across all industries.

 

We were ranked first or second in all 9 attributes used to compile the list, including innovation, people management, quality of management, long-term investment value, quality of products/services and global competitiveness.

 

To learn more about our coverage in Minnesota, or anywhere in the U.S., visit the AT&T Coverage Viewer. For updates on the AT&T wireless network, please visit the AT&T network news page.

For more information, contact:     

Mark Giga

AT&T Corporate Communications

612-206-0193

Mark.Giga@att.com

 

 

The game is only as good as the broadband that fuels it

Here’s a fun story from the Herald Journal Blog (Delano MN) about a teen who turned into helper of the world when his parents offered an Xbox as a prize for helpfulness. Turns out Xbox was only part of the recipe. They also needed to upgrade from satellite to CenturyLink…

However, the gamechanger came shortly thereafter, when we got CenturyLink.

For the first four years of living in our house in the country, we had been stuck with satellite Internet.

We had a 60 gigabyte monthly limit, after which Internet speeds were throttled to a crawl.

Since I work from home during the day, it had been a constant source of frustration, and even anger. The quickest way to tick off Dad was by watching a video without telling him, and sucking up his precious gigabytes.

Then, in late May, CenturyLink finally reached our house, with faster speeds, cheaper pricing, and, most gloriously, unlimited Internet.

If I sound like a shill, I don’t care. It felt like Christmas. I told the installer I wanted to give him a hug.

That’s also when the real fun, and the real fights, began with the Xbox.

The first thing the boys did after the new Internet was installed was download Fortnite. If it was Christmas for me, downloading Fortnite was Christmas, Easter, their birthdays, and winning the lottery all at once for the boys.

I imagine they’ll notice this even more as school begins and suddenly everyone is able to to work from home without slowing down the connection or reaching data caps!

The GigaZone comes to areas of Cass Lake and the Leech Lake Reservation served by Paul Bunyan Communications

Good news for areas of Cass Lake and Leech Lake Reservation from Paul Bunyan

(Bemidji, MN) (September 4, 2018) – Areas of the Leech Lake reservation and Cass Lake served by Paul Bunyan Communications now have access to Gigabit Internet speeds over an all-fiber optic network, Paul Bunyan Communications announced today. Thanks to recent upgrades to the Cooperative’s all-fiber optic communications network over 2,100 more locations now have access to GigaZone services including Internet speeds up to a Gigabit per second.
“It’s an exciting day for our cooperative members in the Cass Lake area and on the Leech Lake Reservation. The GigaZone will not only provide the capacity to handle current communication technologies quickly and efficiently, it will also meet the increasing demands of the next generation of broadband innovations. Our cooperative serves a portion of the Leech Lake Reservation but we do not serve their entire geographic footprint. Working with the Tribal Council we anticipate expanding our network to even more locations on the reservation in the coming years!” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.
“We have been working on this as a team. We are very excited about the benefits it will bring to the Leech Lake Band members,” said Leech Lake Tribal Chairman Faron Jackson.
The GigaZone is currently available to over 35,500 locations, making it one of the largest rural all-fiber optic networks in the United States! Check out our online map https://www.paulbunyan.net/gigazone/availability-map/ showing the current areas of the GigaZone as well as those that will be constructed/upgraded in the future.
GigaZone service options include unprecedented Broadband Internet speeds of up to 1000 Mbps – a Gigabit in both directions, both upload/download. Members who subscribe to GigaZone Broadband can also add PBTV Fusion and/or low cost unlimited long distance service. All current service options also remain available to cooperative members within the GigaZone.
Most current wireless routers cannot support blazing GigaZone Internet speeds. To help, the cooperative is offering GigaZone Integrated Wi-Fi that uses the latest in advanced Wi-Fi technologies to maximize the in-home wireless experience. This service is free to all new GigaZone customers for the first six months, with a minimal charge thereafter.
Paul Bunyan Communications has the region’s largest and fastest all fiber optic network with over 5,500 square miles throughout most of Beltrami County and portions of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties. The Cooperative provides Broadband High Speed Internet Services including the GigaZone, digital and high definition television services, digital voice services, Residential and Business IT services, and is also northern Minnesota’s certified Apple Service Center.
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Blandin Broadband eNews: Broadband activity throughout Minnesota

Border to Border Broadband: Transforming Minnesota Oct 23-24
Join policymakers, economic and community development professionals and community broadband champions from across the state for this annual opportunity to learn, connect and engage. https://wp.me/p3if7-4E8

Is your county ready for 2026? Broadband ranking is out
The Office of Broadband Development recently released a map of county progress toward 2026 speed goals (100 Mbps down and 20 up). https://wp.me/p3if7-4HC Here are the top-ranking counties:

  1. Rock (99.93% covered)
  2. Ramsey (99.82 % covered)
  3. Hennepin (98.97% covered)
  4. Big Stone (98.91% covered)
  5. Anoka (97.86% covered)
  6. Lac qui Parle (97.35% covered)
  7. Stevens (96.747% covered)
  8. Beltrami (96.30% covered)
  9. Washington (96.10% covered)
  10. Cook (94.50% covered)

And the bottom-ranking:

  1. Otter Tail (2.36% covered)
  2. Kandiyohi (10.64% covered)
  3. Becker (12.95% covered)
  4. Mahnomen (13.53% covered)
  5. Blue Earth (14.13% covered)
  6. Aitkin (17.55% covered)
  7. Todd (17.58% covered)
  8. Norman (20.55% covered)
  9. Mower (23.31% covered)
  10. Pope (23.67% covered)

Blandin Foundation Makes Broadband Insights
Blandin Foundation sent a letter to candidates running for office in Minnesota with the following insights for improving ubiquitous broadband in the state:

  1. Continue the Governor’s Broadband Task Force
  2. Optimize the Border to Border Broadband Fund
  3. Continue the Office of Broadband Development
  4. Address Digital Equity
  5. Commit to State Speed Goals Using Scalable Technology
  6. Continue Mapping While Reviewing the Process
  7. Evaluate New Broadband Solutions
  8. Ensure Rural Business Connectivity
  9. Support Rural Business Tech Transfer

CAF II auctions in MN: 16 winners of $38.3M for 12,000 locations
The FCC releases the list of providers, award amounts and number of locations for CAF II auction winners, which includes 16 providers serving Minnesota. https://wp.me/p3if7-4HK To help visualize the locations served, CNS has created a map of winners. https://wp.me/p3if7-4HM

Broadband in the Elections/Policy

Local Broadband News

Ada
Weave Got Maille in Ada is credited for better broadband and jobs https://wp.me/p3if7-4GO

Farmfest
Farmfest attendees offer views of rural broadband from the frontlines https://wp.me/p3if7-4Gt

Litchfield, Mora & Pine City
Litchfield, Mora and Pine City are the only three cities located outside a metropolitan to have never lost population https://wp.me/p3if7-4GX

Renville & Sibley Counties
RS Fiber is hitting a crossroads, where loan guarantees may need to be paid. Or at least the parties involved need to know a time is coming. https://wp.me/p3if7-4Hm Deciphering what this means depends on where you stand. RS Fiber https://wp.me/p3if7-4HG has comments and so does Minnesota Telecom Alliance https://wp.me/p3if7-4Ho and Mark Erickson, former Winthrop EDA Director. https://wp.me/p3if7-4HZ

St Cloud
After a fire causes damage in a high school in St Cloud, the school decides to hold classes online to minimize impact on students https://wp.me/p3if7-4GT

Southeast Minnesota
A fixed wireless project will start later this summer in Southeast Minnesota https://wp.me/p3if7-4GL

Spring Grove
Broadband provider Spring Grove Communications gets rave review in local paper https://wp.me/p3if7-4Hc

Wilkin County
Red River Communications speaks up for rural communities with good broadband, including their service area in Wilkin County https://wp.me/p3if7-4HW

Upcoming Events & Opportunities

  • Sep 6: MN Broadband Task Force Monthly Meeting
  • Sep 12 (Wyoming) MN PUC hearing with unhappy Frontier Customers https://wp.me/p3if7-4H6

We are looking to add MN broadband-related events to the Blandin on Broadband blog calendar. https://wp.me/P3if7-4yG If you have an event you’d like to add please send it to atreacy@treacyinfo.com

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

We live in interesting times and that is not always for the best.  It is, at best, a chaotic broadband scene in the rural countryside. We have a host of emerging and improving technologies (many of which are highly touted, but unable to meet Minnesota’s 2026 state broadband goal).  We have existing and emerging broadband funding programs (funded, unfunded and promised) that spur community hope.  And we now have many projects to compare to look for models that meet goals of speed, coverage area, economic development and financial stability.

For those active in trying to spur quality broadband deployment (for me, that is a minimum of the 2026 state broadband goal of 100 Mb/20 Mb), it is so important to have and share accurate information.  For those actively seeking better broadband in their county, city or township, it is critical that you be prepared with questions that require real answers for your local candidates.   “Yes, I support rural broadband” is not an informative answer.  You should also be knowledgeable to be able to respond to their questions, especially about projects that are facing financial challenges.

As we compare projects, consider the following:

  • In northeastern Minnesota along the North Shore, the Arrowhead Electric Cooperative project in Cook County is considered a success while the Lake County project is facing significant financial challenges and is up for sale at deep discount.  You should know that the Cook County project was financed primarily through a federal grant while the Lake County was financed primarily through federal government debt.  If the financial packages were reversed, I suspect that the success aspects of the projects would follow.
  • In southwestern Minnesota, the Rock County project is considered a success while long-time critics call the RS Fiber Cooperative a failure since communities are likely to contribute relatively small sums of local tax dollars to make bond payments.   Yet in Rock County, $7 million of the $12 million project costs were public grants (almost 60%), including a $2 million county grant to the project.  In comparison, less than one-third of the RS Fiber project was financed with a state grants while all local government contributions have been repaid.
  • A widely-touted fiber to the home project in Sunrise Township deployed by CenturyLink was financed with approximately 80% public grant funding combining state, FCC CAF II and township bonding.

What these stories show is that rural broadband projects require public subsidy if the deployed networks are going to meet state goals.  More than one rural broadband provider has told me that the areas left unserved at this point will all require at least 50% public funding and long ROI hurdles to be feasible.

I am sure that leaders in Lake County and in the RS Fiber project area wish that they had received more in grants and assumed less debt.  While it’s a current struggle, the benefits of the network are now emerging.  Recent research projects continue to demonstrate the current and projected community benefits from broadband availability (https://blandinfoundation.org/learn/research-rural/broadband-resources/broadband-initiative/measuring-impact-broadband-5-rural-mn-communities/ and https://www.pcrd.purdue.edu/files/media/006-RPINsights-Indiana-Broadband-Study.pdf ).  Local leaders might rather deal with some debt issues than with declining population and economic viability.  Places with ubiquitous fiber broadband networks have a long term economic asset on which to build their future.

Those places without at least one quality broadband option are feeling the real pain of being left behind – economically, educationally and socially.  I have heard many specific examples of these negative effects in my work with community broadband teams across the state.  I am sure that each of the thousands of Minnesota households lacking adequate broadband access has such a story.

Adding to this pain suffered by rural communities is the mixed message that they receive about broadband from national Internet Service Providers.  Through the advertising media – online, mailings, television commercials – consumers hear from providers how important broadband is for business and family life.  Recognizing that they are just an asterisk to these providers (*Service may not be available in all areas) is incredibly irritating!  After all, no one wants to be an asterisk!