What do rural Minnesotans think? Broadband is essential!

Yesterday the Minnesota Farmers Union unveiled their report – What Do Rural People Think? It is the distillation of 14 conversations in 14 rural communities held between March 27 and April 6, 2017.

Here’s the quick summary (broadband is #3!)

Since the 2016 national, state, and local elections, there seems to be an ever-present question on the minds of policymakers, elected officials, the media, and organizations of all kinds: What do rural people think?

  • $43,429 per year is too much to pay for health insurance that you don’t use.

  • St. Paul politicians need to come out to rural Minnesota to listen to us about what works, and what doesn’t work, before they tell us what to do with our farms.  Rural people need to be consulted, not told.

  • Broadband Internet is an essential utility, like electricity.  It has to be affordable and available throughout all rural areas if we are going to survive and thrive.

  • Rural Minnesota does not deserve to be left behind on transportation, roads, bridges, healthcare, wages, and everything else.

  • We need to be able to pay rural health care workers more for their work in nursing homes, homes, and healthcare facilities. Right now, big box stores pay more than health care jobs can pay them. It’s our people being taken care of in those nursing homes.

  • Politicians need to really get out here and listen to us; not listen and tell; just listen and hear.

And here is what they say more specifically about broadband:

Broadband in rural Minnesota is an essential utility

High speed broadband internet is not a luxury for family farmers and rural communities.  Without it, farmers and communities cannot retain residents, or be a part of the world’s economy.  Additionally, without adequate internet, youth cannot compete with the rest of the country, to complete homework or education programs.  Farmers need it for everything ranging from working with FSA to communicating with state government to running their farm’s operations.  As more than one person indicated, broadband internet needs to be considered an essential utility, and significant state and federal funding is required in order to make it universally available.

MN Conference Committee on SF1937 Broadband Update – sounds like more next week

Today I attended the Conference Committee on SF1937. The high level takeaway? They are working on the bill. They are hoping for a conference committee meeting scheduled early next week. I will keep an ear to the ground and will hope to attend, take notes and livestream if the session isn’t already being broadcast.

Here are today’s documents (from the legislature website):

 

Conference Committee on SF1937 (Omnibus that includes broadband) to meet Wed April 26 at 4 pm

I am hoping to attend and to take notes. You can find video and notes from the last meeting here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017 – 4:00 PM

Conference Committee on S.F. 1937
Chairs: Sen. Jeremy R. Miller and Rep. Pat Garofalo
CONFEREES: SENATE: Miller; Anderson, P.; Champion; Dahms; Osmek – HOUSE: Garofalo; O’Neill; Mahoney; Hoppe; Newberger
4 p.m.
Room 1100 Minnesota Senate Bldg.

Representative Garofalo will Chair the meeting

Agenda:
S.F. 1937-Miller: Omnibus jobs, commerce, energy, labor and industry, and employment and economic development appropriations bill.

A telecom deregulation warning from Sen Simonson and Sen Johnson

The Post Bulletin posted a letter to the editor from Senators Erik Simonson and Sheldon Johnson

AT&T, Comcast, and the Minnesota Cable Communications Association are coming for your consumer rights as local phone customers.

Be afraid. Be very afraid — especially if you live in Greater Minnesota.

These companies are asking the Minnesota Legislature to completely deregulate local phone service if it’s provided by a new technology — Voice-over-Internet Protocol (or VoIP). They claim they shouldn’t have to follow any rules at all because they’re providing phone service using this more modern technology.

But don’t let them fool you. You don’t even need an Internet connection for calls to travel over VoIP technology. Basically, VoIP is just a method of getting calls from one place to another. To the consumer, the phone call is the same if it travels by VoIP, copper, fiber, carrier pigeon, or two tin cans and a string.

And if you’re a consumer, you couldn’t care less how the call gets to its destination, but you do care that calls to 911, your doctor, your families, your friends are reliably completed. You care if the company drags its feet on installing your new phone or if you have service problems and the company doesn’t fix them. You care if you go on vacation and perhaps the bill is late, you’ll still have a phone when you get home. And you care if you get bogus charges on your bill, you have recourse if the company refuses to refund them.

If AT&T, Comcast and the other cable companies get their way this year at the Legislature, all those basic protections will vanish in a heartbeat. Immediately, consumers whose telephone company sends your calls in whole or in part using VoIP technology will lose those protections.

It would be disastrous for consumers if this bill became law, especially for those who live in Greater Minnesota, where the local phone company is the only reliable provider they have.

First, under the bill there will no longer be a right to have phone service. It is expensive and unprofitable to serve rural customers and maintain infrastructure. Companies will invest their money in densely populated, more profitable urban areas and disinvest in maintenance of the network in rural, more expensive-to-serve, less profitable areas. Rural consumers will experience decreasing service quality and more outages as the system is allowed to deteriorate and resources are moved elsewhere.

Second, existing protections against charging exorbitant connection or reconnection charges would be gone. If the bill becomes law, phone companies can shut you off for no reason even if you always pay their bill on time or without notice if you are late. Companies can shut off customers simply because they are too expensive to serve and not sufficiently profitable. Who are these customers? They are older Minnesotans, people with disabilities, people on fixed incomes, and people who live in Greater Minnesota.

Third, AT&T and Comcast tell legislators that deregulation will produce more competition, lower prices, better service, more jobs, and broadband for everyone. Beware of would-be deregulated telecommunications companies bearing “gifts.”

Broadband is already deregulated – and there has been no investment. The Legislature has ponied up $50 million over the last two years (and more is proposed this session) to give to our cities to bring broadband to Greater Minnesota. If there was money to be made private sector money would be flowing.

Every part of their rationale is wrong. There isn’t a single legislator who represents rural Minnesota communities and citizens who should be supporting this bill.

 

MN Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Omnibus reading

Today the Conference Committee on SF1937, Jobs and Energy Omnibus Bill met to compare the House and Senate version of the bill. Unfortunately the meeting wasn’t streamed but I tried to get as much as I could on video:

First – the discussion on budget. (I couldn’t upload the first video but you can get it here.)

On a very high level here are the differences:

Broadband grants

  • The Governor recommends $60 million for broadband grants (over 2 years)
  • The House recommends $7 million for broadband grants (over 1 year)
  • The Senate recommends $20 million for broadband grants (over 2 years)

Office of Broadband

  • The House recommends a reduction in operating budget through a  reduction in the Commerce Adminsitrative Services budget.

Telecom Revenue Changes

  • The House budget forecasts a reduction in revenues in Department of Commerce and the PUC due to “VoIP Regulation Modification”
  • The Senate doesn’t see a reduction because they will allow for assessments to make up the loss.

There was some discussion about the proposed grants – suggesting a 50% match for unserved areas; 35% match for underserved areas and cap on grant amounts of $3 million.

There was some discussion about removing the idea of underserved areas since satellite reaches the whole state at speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up, which was the speed definition for “underserved”.

Internet Privacy – House version is more fleshed out – includes providers, search engines and social media companies.

Agencies plead their cases to the legislators – including a few words for broadband.

I am scanning the documents I can. Also I’m going to admit to being pretty sick so I’ve done what I can. Please feel free to send me any corrections. I’m afraid if I wait until I’m healthy enough to get all of the details, the next meeting may be upon us!

Three suggestions to help rural broadband happen from Wired

Wired Magazine has an article outlining steps they say would help increase broadband in rural areas:

  • Allow smaller providers to lease infrastructure
  • Improve access to utility poles
  • Streamline the right-of-way

It’s a mashup up of the Open Access network strategy, which had more momentum 7 years ago and Google Checklist from 3 years ago. I like the idea of three steps to making rural broadband happen. I’m not sure these are the right three steps – at least not for every community.

The framing of the article recognizes that policies based on the assumption of a free market only work where there is a market…

Republicans argue that the government should stay out of regulating the internet. And, in a perfect world, they’d be right. Ideally, if your internet service provider slipped permission to use your browsing history for ad targeting into its fine print or decided to charge you more to access Netflix than Hulu, you’d just switch to a different provider that offered better terms.

But that’s not an option most people in the US have.

According to an FCC report released last year, only a little more than one-third of the population had more than one internet provider that offered speeds of 25 Mbps or more, the FCC’s minimum definition of broadband. For rural America, the situation was even more dire. Fewer than half of rural residents had access to a single 25 Mbps provider.

I think it’s worth creating multiple scenarios for any policies, storyboards of potential impacts to warn of unintended consequences.

MN Broadband Policy gets nice nod from West Virginia

It’s always nice to see Minnesota get a nice nod for our broadband policy. This time is came from an editorial in West Virginia

Broadband cooperatives are a key part of an aggressive rural broadband deployment strategy in Minnesota, where Governor Mark Dayton’s (D) ambitious Border-To-Border Broadband Program to boost high-speed Internet access in rural communities — above a state established goal for Internet speed — includes investments and partnership by telecommunications providers such as Frontier Communications.

In this small comment is a recognition that Minnesota does well to support cooperatives and established telecom providers. That’s part of the beauty of the Border to Border grants especially as managed by the Office of Broadband Development. All flavors of providers are welcome to apply for grants – and grants have gone to various flavors. It suits the playing field of rural Minnesota – the communities aren’t cookie cutter and neither are the broadband solutions.