CenturyLink expands internet access to parts of Kanabec County

According to the Kanabec Times

Rural residents that have struggled to find ways to access the internet from their homes may be in luck as Century Link is expanding services to include an additional 1,400 homes in the Braham area, and 3,000 homes in the Mora area.

While this will boost internet access and speeds in under-served areas, Doyle Jelsing of the Kanabec Broadband Initiative said it still isn’t ideal.

“This is a step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go,” he said. Jelsing explained that even though Century Link advertises speeds of at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload, actual speeds tend to vary. For Jelsing, he had hoped upload speeds would be considered equally as important as download speeds. While download speeds help consumers who are interested in streaming video, upload speeds are essential for supporting local businesses that need to send data —not just receive it.

While 10 Mbps bandwidth will be a huge improvement for those with no wired internet options, it’s still below the FCC’s definition of broadband which is 25Mbps download / 3Mbps upload.

“We welcome the improvement,” Jelsing said. “However, time will work against us as the need for broadband increases.”

Main Street Gibbon is getting a 3D printer – that’s what happens with FTTP

I love to share stories about what works when good broadband and innovation meet to the advantage of rural development. Today’s happy story comes from Gibbon, MN.

Winthrop News reports…

The Gibbon City Council has agreed to sell the State Bank of Gibbon building to Corey Theis of Gibbon. The Council asked $14,000 for the building, the amount of expenses that I has in the building.

Theis will pay 25 percent down with the balance on a four year contract for deed at zero percent interest.

Plans for the building is to create a home for a startup 3D printing service shop that will be owned and operative by a local resident of the community. Theis stated that to start with the building will be capable of making various types of plastic parts for jigs, and fixtures, manufacturing tooling, prototypes, product development and engineering consulting.

Gibbon has FTTP through RS Fiber. That makes is possible to download, upload, transfer large design files that would likely be used in 3D printing.

Blandin Webinar Archive: Homework Gap: How Lack of Broadband Hinders K-12 Education

Here are notes and video from yesterday’s webinar – Homework Gap: How Lack of Broadband Hinders K-12 Education…

Education processes are now infused with technology.  Many school districts benefit from Gigabit level services on-campus.  One-to-one device initiatives, flipped classrooms and virtual school snow days are now part of the educational lexicon.  This is all well and good until students head to their unconnected home.  How are schools coping with this inequality of educational opportunity and capability?  In some school districts, ubiquitous connectivity and affluent families make connectivity a slight challenge.  In poorly connected regions with high levels of poverty, schools face a significant challenge to cope with the digitally excluded.

Join us for a webinar roundtable discussion with regional school technology experts.  Marc Johnson of East Central Minnesota Educational Cable Cooperative and Josh Sumption from the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative will discuss the present challenges, the current responses by education leaders and options for overcoming this broadband challenge.

FCC stepping in on Minnesota’s Charter case

Ars Technica reports

The Federal Communications Commission is intervening in a court case in order to help Charter Communications avoid utility-style consumer protections related to its phone service in Minnesota. The FCC and Charter both want to avoid a precedent that could lead other states to impose stricter consumer protection rules on VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone service offered by cable companies.

The FCC has never definitively settled the regulatory status of VoIP. By contrast, traditional landline phone service and mobile phone service are both classified as “telecommunications services” by the FCC, a distinction that places them under the same Title II common carrier regulatory framework that applies to broadband Internet access. But the FCC has never decided whether VoIP services offered by cable companies are telecommunications or “information services,” which aren’t as heavily regulated.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) hoped to fill this regulatory void by trying to re-impose utility rules on Charter’s Spectrum phone service. (Charter used to be subject to Minnesota’s utility rules but evaded them starting in 2013 by transferring its phone customers to a different subsidiary.) Minnesota wants Charter to collect fees from customers in order to contribute to state programs that help poor people and the hearing-impaired access telephone service. Customers should also be able to appeal to the MPUC in the event of disputes with Charter, the state regulatory body says.

The article is good, detailed, worth reading in full. I’ll just borrow from their presentaiton of both sides…

Rule of law rendered obsolete?

Minnesota argues that VoIP phone service shouldn’t come with fewer consumer protections simply because it is provided over a different kind of network than traditional circuit-switched landline phones.

“This case presents an important question of nationwide significance: whether the rule of law may be rendered obsolete by technological innovation,” the state utility commission said.

The district court’s finding that Charter’s VoIP service is not telecommunications “strips the MPUC of its authority to regulate VoIP telephone service, [and] is contrary to binding decisions of this Court, FCC precedent, and the longstanding system of cooperative federalism established under the Telecommunications Act,” the state commission said.

The PUC also urged the appeals court to declare that Charter’s phone service is telecommunications “under the plain language of the Telecommunications Act.” The federal statute defines telecommunications as “the transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received.”

Charter’s argument

Charter argues that the case hinges on just one question: whether Charter’s VoIP phone service is an information service under the federal communications statute.

Charter phone service “offers the ability to convert the protocol of calls when Charter’s network interconnects with other carriers,” thus fitting the statutory definition of information services as those that offer the “capability for… transforming [or] processing… information via telecommunications,” Charter wrote.

Minnesota is the only state in Charter’s footprint that “seeks to extend its regulatory reach to encompass advanced services,” the company wrote.

“Its approach not only ignores text and precedent, but would allow every state to impose idiosyncratic rules, creating a nationwide patchwork of requirements that would frustrate the FCC’s longstanding policy of insulating advanced services from such a regulatory morass,” Charter wrote.

Charter got support from other telecom companies that want to avoid stricter regulation of VoIP phone services. The brief filed by AT&T, Verizon, and USTelecom argues that VoIP is an information service because it converts voice signals from one format to another in order to carry phone calls to and from traditional landlines. AT&T and Verizon both offer utility landline phone services but are shifting toward VoIP services and want to shed the utility regulations that have long applied to phone networks.

Cable industry lobby group NCTA-The Internet & Television Association similarly filed a brief supporting Charter. “Preventing the imposition of utility regulation on VoIP will promote continued competition and benefit consumers,” NCTA wrote.

It’s hard when to consumers a phone is a phone is a phone. Internet access is internet access is internet access. But each supplier of phone/internet is treated so differently in terms of policy. That’s not a level playing field for the industry. What is also difficult is that consumers need protection. Increasingly residents need phone/internet access to live as active members of society. Yet not everyone can afford access – sometimes that a low-income issue and sometimes that’s a higher than normal prices issue. Universal service funds (in one shape or another) help get everyone online. Do we want everyone online or not? Because life without a phone/internet access is not a level playing field either. I guess the question is – which field do we want to level?

Fond du Lac gets $2 Million from USDA for FTTH

Congrats to Fond du Lac recipient of a USDA Rural Development Community Connect Grants.

N Fond du Lac Band of Lake
Superior Chippewa
$2,109,007
To construct an FTTP system to provide state-of-the-art
broadband services to unserved residents and businesses in
the Big Lake area of the Fond du Lac Reservation. A
community center will be established where residents may
have access to computer terminals and free internet for at
least two years

Lake County required to pay broadband contractor remaining $2 million

The Lake County News Chronicle reports…

After five days of testimony and evidence, a jury on Friday ruled in favor of Rohl Networks LP, awarding the company more than $2.075 million in its lawsuit against Lake County regarding work done on the county’s broadband network, Lake Connections.

Rohl, of Jupiter, Fla., was the main contractor during the construction of the broadband network, Lake Connections, from 2012 to 2015. Among other aspects of the lawsuit, Rohl claimed the county failed to pay what it owed for the work it performed and didn’t obtain contracts, permits and agreements in a timely manner necessary to allow the company to perform its work.

The jury on Friday found that under the three contracts — Phase 1, Phase 2A and Phase 2B — the county owed Rohl more than $25 million. Jurors also found that under those same three contracts, the county has so far paid Rohl more than $22.8 million.

The jury did not award Rohl any money for labor or materials supplied outside the scope of the contracts, and did not award the county any liquidated damages due to the delay of the project. The jury of eight did find that Rohl owed Lake County $223,961 for back charges and/or owner-furnished (OFM) materials not installed in the project or returned to Lake County.

The article details the ins and outs of the project as it relates to the contracting work. It seems like this is just another chapter of a project that has seen its ups and downs – and a situation where the decision could have been better or worse for the county and the contractor.

Congrats to PCs for People and 1,528 computers distributed in October

From our friends at PCs for People

PCs for People distributed a record 1,528 computers to low income individuals in 45 states in October. That means more than 4,800 people – including 2,334 children – can now study, apply for jobs, improve their technical skills, and do other activities most of us take for granted. More than 1,200 new home Internet hotspots were also handed out last month. The successful October comes on the heels of what was a record-setting September, when 1,256 computers were distributed.

And some fast facts…

Studies continue to show the “Digital Divide” – the lack of a computer and broadband access is a major problem for families in poverty. Digital inclusion is a social justice problem that has far-reaching effects in equity relating to education, health, and income. Only 48 percent of households with incomes below $25,000 have a home internet connection compared to about 85 percent of households with incomes between $50,000 and $100,000.

Nearly one-third of households with school-age children and incomes below $50,000 don’t have Internet access, compared to only about eight percent of the households with school-age children and incomes above $50,000.