MN Broadband Task Force recommendations $70 million to meet speed goals (100 Mbps down and 20 up by 2026)

The Minnesota Broadband Task Force has released their annual report. It’s an abbreviated version of usual report as they are gearing up for next year’s report, which unless something changes will be the last.

Here’s the quick take on the status of broadband in Minnesota…

As reported by Connected Nation in October 2017, 88.11 percent of Minnesota households have wireline broadband access available at a speed of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload (25 Mbps/3 Mbps), while 73.45 percent of rural Minnesota households have a wired broadband connection that meets these speeds. Nearly 70 percent (70.04 percent) of Minnesota households have wireline speeds of 100 Mbps/20 Mbps. In rural areas of Minnesota, 52.88 percent of households have access to these speeds. As Minnesota strives to meet its updated broadband speed goals, much work remains.

Their recommendations…

This report contains two recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature:

  • Provide $71.48 million in on-going biennial funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, until the state achieves its broadband speed goals.
  • Provide the Office of Broadband Development with $500,000 on-going biennial funding and maintain the existing partnership with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, until the state achieves its broadband speed goals.

I want to highlight the first recommendation because the recommendation in the report itself is different from what is in the press release. Here’s the recommendation as stated in the press release:

  • Provide $71.48 million in on-going biennial funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, until the state achieves its broadband goals. This funding amount, which accounts for federal funding through the FCC’s Connect America Fund (CAF II) and the FCC’s Alternative-Connect America Cost Model (A-CAM), would provide service to the 252,000 Minnesota households that currently lack Internet service at the state’s speed goals of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and minimum upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps.

The big difference is that the press release only alludes to the 25/3 speed goals (with a goal date of 2022). The state also has a speed goal of 100/20 by 2026. The state funding has required networks to be scalable to higher speeds; the federal funding does not.

Here’s the text from the statute:

It is a state goal that (1) no later than 2022, all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to high-speed broadband that provides minimum download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of at least three megabits per second; and (2) no later than 2026, all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to at least one provider of broadband with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second.

The difference is a big one – especially since the future of the Task Force is uncertain. The statute leaves room for 25/3 being a stepping stone, not a resting place for broadband speeds.

And a look at state versus rural status…

Sen. Tina Smith Throws Support Behind Proposal to Restore Net Neutrality

Sharing the press release…

Sen. Tina Smith Throws Support Behind Proposal to Restore Net Neutrality

Joins Nearly 40 Senate Colleagues in Fight to Overturn Recent FCC Decision That Ended Net Neutrality Protections

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. [01/09/18]—Today, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) backed a Senate effort to restore the national net neutrality protections that were recently gutted by President Trump’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

 

“Net neutrality is the basic—but important—principle that what we read, view, and watch on the internet is free and open to everybody,” said Sen. Smith. “And that principle has long allowed for the internet to be a pillar of innovation that powers our modern economy. Tearing up net neutrality gives giant internet service providers the ability to pick and choose how Minnesota families, schools, and businesses use the internet. We can’t let that happen, which is why I’m backing the effort to restore the net neutrality protections that millions of Americans fought to establish.”

 

Last month, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai went against the will of a majority of the American people by scrapping the federal rules that prohibit internet service providers—like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon— from blocking, slowing down, or discriminating against content online. Repealing those net neutrality rules could lead to higher prices for Minnesota consumers, slower speeds, or even blocked websites. A recent poll showed that 83 percent of Americans do not approve of the FCC action to repeal net neutrality rules.

 

Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has pledged to introduce a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would undo action by the FCC and restore the 2015 net neutrality rules, and Sen. Smith added her name to that effort today.

Senator Smith makes broadband a priority while talking to the Range

I posted notes from the meeting – but wanted to archive mainstream coverage of the event too. Here’s what SouthernMinn has to say about Senator Smith’s visit to the Range over the weekend…

Smith said her broad priority in Congress is an overall successful economy for the Range and rural Minnesota. There’s many folds to that goal, including rising health care costs, the opioid drug epidemic and rural broadband.

As lieutenant governor Smith was among the state’s biggest advocates for pushing the expansion of rural broadband. After visiting steelworkers in Eveleth she hosted a panel discussion in Mountain Iron, a rural broadband community, to discuss the successes and challenges.

“If you don’t have access to internet today, it’s like being disconnected from the 21st Century,” she said.

Last year Smith championed two major programs that provided $500,000 for school boards and $34 million for local communities to expand access. The programs were infused with an additional $26 million in state funding to provide grants for municipalities to build or expand broadband, and centered around public-private partnerships.

In the Senate, Smith will have an opportunity to look at the broadband issue on a nationwide scope.

Minnesota take on Connect America Fund Phase II Auction

The next phase of federal broadband funding through Connect American Fund Phase 2 is an auction

Moving forward, CAF-II will use competitive bidding to efficiently support deployment of networks providing both voice and broadband service, thereby expanding broadband availability to millions more unserved Americans.

The eligible areas are sparse but include some portions of Minnesota (as seen on the map to the right).

Here’s more info on application…

Short-Form Application — Entities seeking to participate in the auction must establish baseline financial and technical capabilities in order to be found eligible to bid. There are two pathways for establishing eligibility:

  • Demonstrate two years of experience providing a voice, broadband, and/or electric distribution or transmission service and submit one-year of audited financials, or

  • Submit three years of audited financials with the short-form application and a letter of interest from an eligible bank willing to issue a letter of credit for a specified amount

Entities may wait until after they are announced as winning bidders to obtain eligible telecommunication carrier designations from the relevant states or the Commission, if applicable.

Long-Form Application — Winning bidders must:

  • Provide in their long-form applications additional information about qualifications, funding, and the network that they intend to use to meet their obligations
  • Within a specified number of days, submit a letter from an eligible bank committing to issue a letter of credit; upon notification that the entity is ready to be authorized, must obtain a letter of credit from an eligible bank that remains open and covers disbursements until build-out is complete and verified
  • Within 180 days of being announced as winning bidders, certify they are eligible telecommunications carriers in any areas for which they seek support and submit relevant documentation

Once a winning bidder’s long form application is approved, it will be authorized to begin receiving support. Any entity that files a short-form application to participate will be subject to a forfeiture in the event of a default before it is authorized to begin receiving support.  Defaults include, but are not limited to, failing to meet submission deadlines, defaulting on a bid, or otherwise being disqualified for any reason.

E-marketing training changed this Hibbing business completely

Broadband can help businesses but two things need to happen. First, you have to have adequate broadband. Two, you have to know what to do with it. I spend more time talking about getting broadband here, but I enjoy the stories of using it too.

The Hibbing Daily Tribune recent posted a story of seven businesses in Hibbing that received digital marketing…

Businesses were selected through a contest. In addition to Cobb Cook Grocery, small business assisted in round one included: Range Steel Fabricators, Pink Tie Design, Andy’s Auto Sales, Benders Shoes, Range Floral and Sunrise Bakery.

All combined, the businesses received $20,500 worth of consulting hours, according to Lory Fedo, president of the Chamber and co-chair of the Hibbing Broadband Steering Committee.

“Consultant Molly Solberg did an incredible job providing about 20 hours of time to each business, training them to bring their technology to the next level,” said Fedo. “Our goal was not to do the upgrade for them, but to teach them how to do it themselves so that they can continue to improve and grow after Molly is done.”

Andy Koschak of Andy’s Auto Sales said the training changed his business completely.

The project was part of the Iron Range Broadband Community project…

The consulting was a broadband project funded through the Blandin Foundation and the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources, according to the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce. Early December marked the completion of round one of the customized small business digital marketing consulting.

As one of six Iron Range Broadband Communities, Hibbing leaders have completed a process to identify the community’s top technology priorities and create projects to address them.

The Hibbing Broadband Steering Committee submitted these customized consulting and several other projects for funding in 2017.

Senator Tina Smith hearing from the Broadband frontlines in Mountain Iron MN

Today Senator Smith met held an open round-table with a handful of broadband experts in Mountain Iron – about 25 people showed up to participate. The conversation wasn’t shocking but important. It’s always good to hear from folks on the wrong side of the front-lines. Senator Smith noted that broadband is absolutely necessary for 21st century economy.

Attendees talked about what a difference broadband could make to small businesses, home-based businesses, education and recruitment. One attendee said that he sits in the parking lot of Gilbert City Hall to upload his videos, which get millions of views. Another noted that the schools had a one (iPad) one students policy but that it felt discriminatory to the kids who don’t have broadband at home and those kids might live just a mile or two out of town.

The meeting was held at the Northeast Service Cooperative – home to middle mile fiber for the region. There’s hope and frustration with being so close and yet so far away to having fiber to the home. The communities are trying to find ways to get last mile providers into the market. There’s also frustration with the belief that some of these areas have service, when in practice people say they don’t have the broadband they need.

There is a need for public funding for broadband – in partnership with private investment. An announcement is expected (Monday) on federal infrastructure funding; people are cautiously optimistic. Funding is helpful but there is concern about the details. For example, a tiered service with different speeds for rural vs urban areas is not acceptable. There were suggestions to make sure that federal money is spent on networks that are built for the future and on streamlining process (quicker permitting and Dig Once policies) that would speed builds and encourage builds that serve entire areas – not just towns, leaving the outskirts unserved.

Affordability was emphasized, especially in terms of added costs such as data caps.

Mostly it was amazing on a cold Saturday with just a few days’ notice to have a full room people excited to talk about broadband.

Foundation for Rural Service hosts Youth Tour for kids interested in broadband

I learn about the Youth Tour from Paul Bunyan Communications. (More on that soon.) Apparently there’s a broadband camp for teens. Or as the Foundation for Rural Service puts it…

Every summer, the FRS Youth Tour brings together high school students from across rural America to visit our nation’s capital and learn about rural telecommunications. The tour provides a forum for teens to meet and interact with their peers from other rural communities, as well as, key legislative, regulatory and government figures. Since its inception in 1995, the youth tour has hosted thousands of students.

The event draws from member communities…

NTCA member companies can sponsor a student from their local community. FRS leaves the selection of the youth tour participant completely up to the telco. The program offers sponsoring companies an excellent public relations opportunity by increasing their connections with local schools and the community in the rural areas they serve.

NTCA member companies can also sponsor a chaperone to attend the Youth Tour. FRS relies upon the support of chaperones to assist us with ensuring that the students have a safe and productive experience. Serving as a chaperone is a wonderful opportunity for a staff member of your organization.

I learned about it from Paul Bunyan because they sent me a press release. Folks in their area might contact them for more info. Folks in other areas might contact their local provider to see if they have an y programs that might help get a kid to DC. (Or if other providers want to send me info I’m happy to post here.)

Here’s the info from Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan Communications 2018 Youth Tour Essay Contest

Chance for 16-17 year old high school students to win a free trip to Washington D.C

(Bemidji, MN) (January 3, 2018) – Area High School Students age 16 o 17 are encouraged to enter the Paul Bunyan Communications Essay Contest for a chance to attend the 2018 Youth Tour in Washington, D.C. June 2-6, with all expenses paid by Paul Bunyan Communications.

Students interested in attending the Youth Tour need to submit a short essay, no more than 500 words in length, on why they would like to attend the Youth Tour. Students must be 16 or 17 years of age and in high school with their parent/guardian a member of Paul Bunyan Communications Cooperative.

Entries can be dropped off at the Paul Bunyan Communications office in Bemidji or Grand Rapids, or they can mailed to:

Paul Bunyan Communications Essay Contest
1831 Anne St. NW
Bemidji, MN 56601

The deadline for entries is Friday, March 16.

The trip features a comprehensive overview of the telecommunications industry, including careers in telecom, the critical role telecommunications plays in rural America, and how legislative and regulatory decisions affect the industry.  The tour allows youth to meet with members of Congress who represent rural constituents.  They also participate in educational sessions about the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  Students visit some of the nation’s most historic sites, including Mount Vernon, the Smithsonian Museums, and a beautiful night tour of our Washington D.C.

“We hope that by providing our youth with telecommunications services comparable to those found in urban areas, as well as exposing them to cultural and educational opportunities, such as the FRS Youth Tour, our youth will remain in and become active members in their rural communities,” said Brian Bissonette, Paul Bunyan Communications Marketing Supervisor.

The Foundation for Rural Service is dedicated to informing and to improving the quality of life throughout rural America.  Each year, it organizes the Youth Tour, designed to educate rural youth about the telecommunications industry and the federal political process.  The FRS is a subsidiary of the NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association of which Paul Bunyan Communications is a member.

This is the 22nd consecutive year that Paul Bunyan Communications has participated in sending a local high school student to the Youth Tour.