Minnesota Broadband Task Force Feb 21: St Paul MN

I plan to attend the meeting tomorrow and will take notes – but it’s always good for the Task Force members to hear from the public if you have something to say…

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
Stassen Office Building,
Conf. Room 2000,
600 North Robert Street,
St. Paul, MN 55146
February 21, 2017
10:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

  • 10:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Introductions, Approval of Minutes, Public Comments
  • 10:15 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Update from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD)
  • 10:30 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.  Update on Legislative Items
    • Bill Introductions
    • Testimony
    • Broadband Days on Hill (Feb. 22 and March 15)
  • 10:45 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.                 Discussion of 2017:
    • Meeting topics
    • Committee structure/chairs
    • Suggested meeting locations
  • 11:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.                Lunch
  • 12:15 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.  Lifeline Presentation
    • Tracy Smetana and Mike McCarthy from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission
  • 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.  Follow-up to Coalition Letter of 10/3/16
    • OBD Challenge Process Explanation
    • Laura Ziegler, LMC
  • 2:00 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.  Brief Mapping Overview
  • 2:15 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Wrap-up, discussion of March meeting

What to expect for federal broadband policy in 2017

Connected Nation just released a policy brief on what we can expect for broadband policy this year. Their list of big topics included:

  • New Direction at the FCC
  • Net Neutrality
  • AT&T and Time Warner Merger
  • Capitol Hill

Borrowing from the report, here’s a quick look at each…

New Direction at FCC – The New Chair is Ajit Pai. (I’ve written quite a bit about him.) Early in Trump’s tenure word was that the transition team was considering a transformative policy change that would remove much of the FCC’s regulatory power and shift it to the Federal Trade Commission.

Net Neutrality – the expectation is that the FCC or the Legislature will seek to amend, replace or eliminate entirely the 2015 net neutrality order.

AT&T Time Warner Merger – Trump criticized the merger while campaigning but folks seem to think he may warm up to it at least enough to allow it to happen.

Capitol Hill –

  • There’s a push for wireless connectivity starting with Senator Thune as well as less regulation, changes to net neutrality and a replacement for the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
  • Folks want to look at the NTIA – National Telecommunications and Information Administration (the folks who administered the much of ARRA funds) and the Small Business Broadband Deployment Act (exempts small providers from some regulation or reporting).
  • Trump has promised infrastructure spending – and the assumption/hope is that it will include funds for broadband.

Have you told your legislator how you feel about broadband?

Last month I wrote about an effort to get folks talking to their legislators by sending a picture saying why you love broadband and/or why you need it. So far we’ve had messages of gratitude for broadband funding in the past that’s made a difference to rural communities and messages of need, imploring legislators to continue to invest in better broadband for rural Minnesota.

Do you have a message for your policymakers? Join the campaign. It’s simple. Take a picture. Post it on your favorite social media channel. Tag it with #mnbroadband Not on social media – send the picture to me and I can post it for you.

FCC Chair’s Digital Empowerment Agenda – does it empower rural areas?

Yesterday I wrote about new FCC Chair Ajit Pai’s actions since taking the helm at the FCC. Generally I don’t go into detail about federal broadband policy because it’s all I can do to keep up with Minnesota policies and progress! But changes at the FCC will have an impact on rural broadband in Minnesota so I think it’s worth talking about it.

Before he became Chair, Pai published a Digital Empowerment Agenda, which outlines his recommendations for

  1. Gigabit Opportunity Zones (bringing broadband and digital opportunity to economically challenged areas)
  2. Mobile Broadband for Rural America
  3. Remove Regulatory Barriers to Broadband Deployment
  4. Promote Entrepreneurship and Innovation

There are a couple of themes in his plans – and to be fair this is an outline not a detail strategy but I think the themes are worth consideration.

Theme: Lessen Government Restrictions

Pai suggests that state and local lawmakers must adopt streamlined, broadband deployment-friendly policies, FCC should reform its pole attachment rules to reduce the costs of deployment, Congress should give the agency additional authority over poles owned by governments and railroads and  federal government should speed the deployment of broadband on federal lands and the FCC should use its existing authority to remove state and local barriers to deployment, such as unfair and unreasonable fees.

Theme: Tax cuts for Businesses

Pai recommends significant tax incentives to spur private-sector gigabit broadband deployment, tax credits to offsets the employer’s share of payroll taxes, a “rural dividend” to supplement existing funding sources and  promoting entrepreneurs’ access to capital. I’d like to see greater detail on these incentives. Pai led the FCC to vote to provide $170 million in CAF 2 funding to NY. I applaud the funding but CAF 2 only requires a provider to build to 10 Mbps down and 1 up. It’s like giving a 10 speed bike to a 16 year old who really wants and needs a car. The bike is better than nothing but it will limit what they can do – like where they can work or go to college.

Minnesota Border to Border grants require that projects are “scalable to 100 Mbps” so improvement builds to more improvement. CAF 2 doesn’t require scalable improvements. For these reasons, many people argue that CAF 2 isn’t a good use of taxpayer funds.

Theme: Wireless is Good Enough for Rural

All of Pai’s upgrades for rural areas are based on mobile technology. I have said before there will always be a place for wireless. But mobile broadband is not a good permanent solution for rural areas. There are d Distance limitations and data caps make mobile unaffordable to the end user. Some wireless providers are talking about 5G as a solution but 5G is still an undefined standard with greater distance restrictions than 4G and it requires greater infrastructure.

There are some providers who have figured out how to serve the current and future needs of rural area. (Hiawatha Broadband and Paul Bunyan to name just two.) And they aren’t focusing on mobile. We need to find a way to get the right incentives to the folks who are deploying long term broadband solutions to rural areas.

Absent Theme: Public-Private Partnership

Bucking every trend and recommendation I’ve seen related to rural broadband – public-private partnership is not mentioned once in his agenda. His solution is provider driven. It requires motivated providers.  For communities where the provider is not interested they need better tools to make it happen than tax incentives and broadband-friendly policies.

Klobuchar keeps an emphasis on improving broadband infrastructure

According to a guest column by Senator Klobuchar in the Albert Lea Tribune

Looking ahead, I want to keep an emphasis on improving our rural development programs, including grants for businesses and housing and water and especially broadband infrastructure.

Expanding access to high-speed internet is one of the best investments we can make. With just a percentage point increase in new broadband distribution, employment expands by 300,000 jobs. Still, more than 50 percent of households in Minnesota townships lack broadband access.

In Marshall, we heard stories about Minnesotans being left to cope without a high-speed connection. Take Nathan Green, who recalled his hopes of moving with his wife, Laura, and daughter to their family farm. That dream ended when they realized there was no broadband access at the farm. Laura telecommutes for work, and their daughter’s education will depend on a high-speed connection — without broadband, the move was a nonstarter.

That’s unacceptable. We can do right by our rural communities by seizing the opportunity to expand broadband access through the farm bill’s rural development title.

What’s going on at the FCC? Lots of changes – new decreases and stops on past actions

Late last month, I mention that the FCC had a new chair – Ajit Pai. One of the interesting things he did almost immediately was announce a Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee. (Applications to join the committee are due today.) Since those posts (and even before them) he’s been busy. Here’s a timeline of things that have happened.

Sep 13, 2016 – Pai creates a Digital Empowerment Agenda – there is a push to increase access to broadband by “incentivizing providers” and “remove state and local barriers to deployment.” The proposal leave heavily on the private sector expanding broadband deployment.

Dec 8 (2016) – Pai talks about cutting down net neutrality

Federal Communications Commission member Ajit Pai yesterday vowed to take a “weed whacker” to FCC regulations after President-elect Donald Trump takes office, with net neutrality rules being among the first to be cut down.

Jan 24 – Pai gives a speech expressing an interest in closing the digital divide or at least supporting the private sector as they build networks…

“I believe one of our core priorities going forward should be to close that divide—to do what’s necessary to help the private sector build networks, send signals, and distribute information to American consumers, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else.  We must work to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans.”

Jan 26 – FCC votes to provide up to $170 million from the Connect America Fund to expand broadband deployment in unserved rural areas of New York State…

The $170 million in federal funding will be coupled with at least $200 million in state funding and private investment to jump-start broadband deployment and close the digital divide in these unserved areas more quickly. This partnership with the state program will also result in more efficient and effective use of both state and federal funding.

Jan 27 – Decreases transparency for broadband providers

When the FCC passed its net neutrality rules in 2015, they included transparency measures for internet service providers. Big providers were required to submit information to regulators and consumers on data caps, fees, and speeds, but the order also included a temporary waiver for providers with less than 100,000 subscribers. After a re-extension, the transparency requirements would have gone into effect this month. …

Pai, who was just appointed to the new job this week, introduced a proposal that would not only extend that waiver for a full five years, but expand it. If passed by the rest of the agency’s commissioners, any service provider with fewer than 250,000 subscribers will not be bound by the transparency requirements.

Jan 31 – removes from consideration the option to allow non-broadband providers to make and sell cable boxes. (Reminds me of Caterfone decision.)

The FCC has good news this morning for cable and satellite companies, but bad news for their subscribers who hate the set-top boxes they usually must lease in order to watch TV.

The agency’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, has removed from its agenda consideration of a proposal that would have made it possible for independent manufacturers to sell boxes that could replace the ones providers supply. The FCC says that 99% of subscribers pay an average of $231 a year to lease the boxes, even well after they’ve covered the cost of the devices.

Feb 2 – Increases transparency for the FCC

So, in a first-ever pilot project, the Federal Communications Commission has begun publishing the full text of proposals and regulations that the public would otherwise never see until after they have been finalized and approved.

Feb 3 – Removes 9 companies from the Lifeline program.

The Federal Communications Commission dealt a blow to a program intended to provide subsidized internet to the poor, announcing that nine companies would no longer be able to participate in the plan. …

“By eliminating the designations of nine entities to provide Lifeline broadband service, the Bureau has substantially undermined businesses who had begun relying on those designations,” Clyburn said. “These providers include a minority-owned business, a provider enabling students to complete their homework online, and others serving Tribal lands.”

Feb 3 – Closes investigations into zero-rating by T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast. Zero-rating is a practice of allowing customers to stream *some* music and video without it counting toward a data plan limit…

“Today, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is closing its investigation into wireless carriers’ free-data offerings,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace. Going forward, the Federal Communications Commission will not focus on denying Americans free data. Instead, we will concentrate on expanding broadband deployment and encouraging innovative service offerings.”

It may be a popular choice but sounds a lot like what Net Neutrality marshaled against.

Feb 3 – the FCC retracts several reports released by the previous administration – released at the very end if their tenure and that is the reason Pai gave for revoking them. So what was revoked?

Spiking the investigation into zero-rating practices by telecoms is the most serious about-face, but it’s worth noting the other items going down the memory hole, unannounced, on a Friday afternoon. …

The Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau issued a 56-page white paper entitled “Cybersecurity Risk Reduction” on January 18th that addressed issues from Internet of Things security to reporting outages in submarine cables. It now has “no legal or other effect or meaning.” …

A second paper filed on the 18th examines progress made in modernizing the E-rate program, which provides discounts to schools for internet connectivity, as a follow-up to orders filed by the FCC in 2014….

A third paper ordered removed is a report on security challenges that might be encountered during the rollout of 5G mobile networks and associated devices. …

A fourth, shorter report regarding methodology in improving broadband networks was ordered nullified. …

Last is the “reconsideration” of several companies that had petitioned to be part of the Lifeline low-income connectivity voucher program. Several companies granted permission to be providers in recent weeks had that permission snatched away.

Senator Klobuchar promotes better broadband in Le Sueur County

According to Le Center Leader

Increasing broadband speeds in rural Minnesota is a high priority for both Le Sueur County residents and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Klobuchar touted broadband investment and other issues facing rural Minnesotans at the Le Sueur County Township Association meeting Saturday morning. The visit was part of her 10-County Rural Economy weekend tour throughout southern Minnesota, which Klobuchar said was to help better understand the needs of rural Minnesotans.

She mentioned efforts in the Legislature…

Klobuchar said that 61 U.S. senators were working to get the Federal Communications Commission to change the rules on how funds to expand broadband are distributed.

Sounds like she had a similar discussion in St Peter as well…

Klobuchar also mentioned broadband development and the 2018 Farm Bill to a group of five businesswomen in St. Peter at her first stop on Saturday. The businesswomen brought up issues that are hurdles for their small businesses, including ever-changing regulatory burdens, minimum wage and financial illiteracy among young people.