FCC Commissioner Carr is in Dakotas and Minnesota (& Dakotas) for Senate 5G field hearing & rural broadband

From the FCC…

WASHINGTON—On Wednesday, October 10, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr will head to the Dakotas and Minnesota for events focused on 5G and rural broadband.  His trip will include broadband construction projects, smart agriculture deployments, telehealth projects, and manufacturing facilities.  He will cap off his trip by testifying at a Senate Commerce field hearing in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Prior to that, Commissioner Carr will be making the following visits:
Wednesday

Carr starts off the morning in Minnesota with a tour of Meridian Blue, a woman-owned tower company.  He’ll tour two tower sites in Eden Prairie and Shorewood, MN, including a rooftop broadband deployment and another at a water tower.  Then he heads to Alexandria, MN, to visit 3M for a tour of their advanced manufacturing facility.  Next, he will meet with Medtronic to learn about their connected healthcare projects.  Then, he will meet with the Farmers Mutual Telephone Co. to see a deployment project and visit with their small business customers to discuss the role of broadband in their communities.
Thursday

Carr begins the day in North Dakota at Iteris, an applied informatics company in Grand Forks that uses big data to improve agriculture and transportation.  Following that, he goes to Emerado to visit Grand Sky, a testing and research site for drones and unmanned aerial systems.  Then the trip moves back to Minnesota, where Carr will visit Crystal Sugar, a smart-ag beet piling station in Alvarado.  Next, he heads back to North Dakota for a tour of a grain elevator and Midcontinent Communications’ 3.5 GHz CBRS testing sites in Thompson.  He’ll then head to Fargo to tour Midco’s new data center, and then will round out the day with a meeting to learn about an in-the-works project to create a fully autonomous farm in the Fargo area.
Friday

Carr kicks off the day in Yankton, South Dakota, with a visit to Ehresmann Engineering, a steel fabricating and consulting firm, which specializes in communication towers.  After that, he visits Sioux Falls Tower with Congresswoman Kristi Noem for a tower climb and meeting with tower companies.  Then, he’ll head to Rowena, SD, to learn more about the work associated with the broadcast television repacking process.  Then he’ll return to Sioux Falls to testify at a Senate Commerce field hearing convened by Chairman John Thune on “The Race to 5G: a View from the Field.”  Members of the media are invited to attend any of these events.  Contact Evan Swarztrauber at (202) 418-2261 or evan.swarztrauber@fcc.gov for more information.

October 2018 Webinar: Federal Broadband Funding: Policies and Programs to Connect America

An online, free event…

Event Time:Wed, October 17, 2018 02:00 PM

Type Of Event: Webinar

Click here to register

Join BroadbandUSA for an overview of federal funding options to support increasing broadband access in communities across the United States. Learn about recent program and policy updates from officials representing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA).

Speakers:

  • Barrett L. Haga, Ph.D., Senior Administrator for Economic Engagement, Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce
  • Shawn Arner, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Loan Origination and Approval Division, RUS Telecommunications Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • Kate Dumouchel, Attorney Advisor, Telecommunications Access Policy Division, Wireline Competition Bureau, Federal Communications Commission

We won’t get better broadband until we get better maps

The Verge recently published a fairly damning account of how bad the FCC maps are and the impact that has on broadband access and affordability. Here’s a concise description of the problem…

As it currently stands, ISPs are required to deliver Form 477 data to the FCC indicating broadband availability and speed twice a year. But the FCC doesn’t audit the accuracy of this data, despite the fact that ISPs are heavily incentivized to overstate speed and availability to downplay industry failures. The FCC also refuses to make the pricing data provided by ISPs available to the public.

Worse, the FCC’s methodology declares an entire ZIP code as “served” with broadband if just one home in an entire census block has it. As a result, the government routinely declares countless markets connected and competitive when reality tells a very different story.

The FCC’s $350 million broadband map, for example, relies on the agency’s Form 477 data to help educate users on broadband availability. But users who plug their address into the map will quickly find that it hallucinates not only the number of broadband options available in their area, but the speeds any local ISPs can provide. A recent FCC update fixed none of these problems.

 

I’ve heard providers complain about the forms, which are apparently long and unwieldy. I’ve heard consumers complain that, as the article states, the access is over stated. Usually that conversation goes something like, “They say I have access. I don’t.”

The problem is that funding is often allocated based on these maps. And people use these maps to decide where to buy a home. And providers may use these maps to figure out new markets to pursue. (And most providers would prefer to go into an area where there isn’t an existing provider at least when looking at rural markets.)

They look at Rochester (MN) as an example…

According to the FCC’s data, Rochester is awash with broadband options. The agency insists that as many as a dozen broadband providers are available to most city residents. But according to the ILSR report, the reality is far different.

At least 4,000 of the 215,000 residents living within a 30-mile radius of the Rochester city center lack access to any broadband whatsoever. Another 42,000 people lack access to any fixed-line broadband options, driving them toward satellite broadband, which is considered the black sheep of the broadband sector due to cost, high latency, and daily or monthly usage restrictions.

Wireless is often promoted as a wonderful alternative to fixed-line broadband, but that’s not always the case. Wireless is often expensive, loaded with inconsistent restrictions, and users in rural markets often find themselves booted from the network for what’s often moderate usage. A monopoly over the fiber lines feeding cell towers only complicates the problem.

In Rochester, 19,000 consumers have the choice of only one local cable broadband provider — Charter’s Spectrum — and reality looks absolutely nothing like the picture ISPs and the FCC try to paint, Mitchell’s group found.

“Even where residents have a choice in broadband, anyone looking for speeds in excess of 40 Mbps will almost certainly have to subscribe to Charter Spectrum,” the report concludes.

In policy conversations, ISP lobbyists lean heavily on the FCC’s flawed data to falsely suggest that American broadband is dirt cheap and ultra competitive, despite real-world evidence to the contrary. ISPs also use this false reality to imply meaningful consumer protections aren’t necessary because the market is healthy (as we saw during the fight over net neutrality).

Some cities like Rochester have eyed either building their own broadband networks or striking public / private partnerships to fix the problem. But incumbent ISPs not only use the false FCC data to imply such efforts aren’t necessary, but they have lobbied (and, in some cases, written) protectionist laws in more than 20 states, prohibiting that from happening.

On the wider policy level, having accurate data is incredibly important as the government determines which areas are in need of broadband subsidies. That was a major point of contention at a recent FCC oversight hearing, as states vie for $4.5 billion in rural broadband deployment funds intended to shore up connectivity gaps.

The old adage says “that which gets measured gets done” unfortunately I think that extends to that which gets measured poorly gets done poorly. There’s just no way to gauge areas of need or areas of improvement when the maps are so flawed.

The FCC is looking for comments on broadband service for veterans

The FCC is looking for comments

WIRELINE COMPETITION BUREAU SEEKS COMMENT ON PROMOTING BROADBAND INTERNET ACCESS SERVICE FOR VETERANS
WC Docket No. 18-275
Comments Due: October 12, 2018
Reply Comments Due: October 29, 2018
In this Public Notice, as required by the RAY BAUM’S Act of 2018, the Wireline Competition Bureau (Bureau) seeks information and data for the Federal Communications Commission’s (Commission) report on promoting broadband Internet access service for veterans.1 Section 504 of the RAY BAUM’S Act of 2018 directs the Commission to, within one year, “submit to Congress a report on
promoting broadband Internet access service for veterans, in particular lowincome veterans and veterans residing in rural areas” and “provide the public with notice and an opportunity to comment” in preparing the report.2 In the report, the Commission is required to examine veterans’ access to broadband and how to promote such access, and provide findings and recommendations for Congress on
those issues.3
Broadband is critical to ensuring that veterans, like all Americans, have full and meaningful participation in society. It ensures that veterans in particular can
access the resources they need to connect with health care services, find jobs, get information on and apply for military benefits, and generally participate in modern
society. The Commission’s top priority remains promoting digital opportunities for all Americans, including veterans. For example, the Commission’s recent telehealth Notice of Inquiry sought comment on “developing a Universal Service Fund pilot program to explore how to promote the use of broadband-enabled telehealth services . . . [among] low-income veterans, with a focus on such services
. . . delivered directly to patients outside of brick-and-mortar health care facilities.”4 The Notice of Inquiry identified the significant obstacles faced by lowincome
veterans and veterans residing in rural areas to obtain healthcare, and noted that veterans living in rural areas are among the largest population of … (read more)

CAF II auctions in MN: 16 winners of $38.3M for 12,000 locations

On Tuesday, the FCC released the winners of the Connect American Fund (CAF) II Auction. ECN Magazine reports…

The FCC on Tuesday revealed names of the winning bidders of its Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF-II) auction, which concluded last week and will dole out $1.488 billion to internet service providers to expand fixed internet coverage in rural areas.

The winners span a variety of different service provider types, with satellite providers, electric cooperatives and WISPs filling out those receiving the most support in auction funds.

Here are the winners listed for Minnesota:

I’ve copied items from their table which included:
Bidder – FRN –Assigned Support over 10 Years – Number of Locations

  1. Broadband Corp – 0016419392 – $428,117.00  – 128
  2. Consolidated Telephone Company – 0003742467 – $934,933.80  – 358
  3. Farmers Mutual Telephone Company – 0003747722 – $ 348,991.60 – 163
  4. Federated Telephone Cooperative – 0003741576  – $1,431,038.80 – 808
  5. Fond du Lac Reservation Business Committee – 0027389550 – $55,010.80 – 13
  6. Garden Valley Telephone Company – 0002652519 – $880,346.00 – 95
  7. Halstad Telephone Company – 0003744224 – $19,635.20 – 7
  8. Interstate Telecommunications Cooperative, Inc. – 0003741550 – $552,329.60 – 209
  9. Jaguar Communication, Inc – 0004365961 – $510,587.60 – 672
  10. Johnson Telephone Company – 0004311304 – $81,272.50 – 47
  11. LTD Broadband LLC – 0020926788 – $1,104,440.80 – 840
  12. Midcontinent Communications – 0002621951 – $27,977,283.80 – 7,410
  13. Paul Bunyan Rural Telephone Cooperative – 0002644953 – $1,313,542.60 – 315
  14. Roseau Electric Cooperative, Inc. – 0009568379 – $2,081,769.70 – 326
  15. West Central Telephone Association – 0002645612 – $611,934.40 – 532
  16. Wikstrom Telephone Company – 0004319372 – $532,556.80 – 56

Assuming I didn’t miss one – and please let me know if you notice I did, it looks like $38,331,234.20 for 11,979 locations.

FCC Broadband maps shown unreliable

The Institute for Local Self Reliance recently looked at what the FCC reports for broadband coverage in Rochester MN and what’s actually there. They found…

Our results confirm what a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators has expressed concern over: federal broadband data is deeply flawed.

The FCC data comes from self-reporting via Form 477. What I’ve heard from providers over the years is that these forms are overwhelming to complete. The report recognizes the flaws of self-reporting…

The overwhelming failure of broadband mapping results from several factors. Large, de facto monopoly providers have incentives to overstate their coverage and territory to hide the unreliable and slow nature of their service in many communities. Small providers often have trouble completing the FCC Form 477. This form requires 39 pages of instructions on how to properly complete it. Providers are supposed to submit it every 6 months, but many small providers find it confusing and frustrating- taking too much time to produce data that has dubious value given the flaws. Larger providers have plenty of staff to handle the form and seem to benefit the most from its flaws, as this data is often used to determine whether government programs should invest additional funds into an area, often by a competitive grant program. Areas that appear to be well covered will not result in more investment, leaving the incumbent providers without fear of competition.

Here is the coverage (number of providers versus population) for speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 up

Versus 100 Mbps (which is the state speed goal by 2026)…

There’s a ten-fold difference in number of unserved residents.

They also compare coverage of wired-only access:

Versus wired & wireless service…

What they found is that there is much greater competition, pricing and speeds in town as compared to the outskirts or outside of town…

The rural communities surrounding Rochester, Minnesota have few fast, affordable, and reliable Internet service options. The urban areas enjoy some limited broadband competition. Still, most residents can only access broadband with speeds greater than 100 Mbps through Charter. A majority of the rural communities around Rochester rely on fixed wireless connections. The broadband tiers from fixed wireless providers are often more expensive than wireline broadband. The two fixed wireless providers that advertise Internet access at broadband speeds around Rochester are Hiawatha Broadband Communications’ Air Internet division and RadioLink. Hiawatha Broadband Communications charges $64.99 per month for a 25 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload connection.8 RadioLink charges $85 per month for a 30 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload connection.

Within Rochester, broadband is more affordable and has faster speeds than outlying areas. As of July 2018, Charter Communications charges $30 for 100 Mbps download for one year if the service is bundled with a cable subscription in Rochester, but the service appears to cost $65 without promos or bundling and before the many fees that are tacked on.10 CenturyLink has an online offer for 40 Mbps download for $45 in Rochester, but that only applies to addresses located very close to the DSLAM and again does not include the added fees.11 Jaguar Communications offers a Fiber-to-the-Home network in select portions of the city. In a phone call, they confirmed that fiber services cost $69.95 per month for 125 Mbps download speeds, where available.

One of the main reasons we need to care about what can be seen as the minutia of technology is that policies are written and public funds spent based on these numbers. The ILSR presents one example…

In 2015, City Council member Ed Hruska claimed, “We have 19 local broadband providers and, of those, we have two cable providers, six DSL providers, four fiber providers, three fixed wireless providers and four mobile providers.”4 Our analysis shows that broadband competition in Rochester is actually far more limited.

As a whole, this may (or may not) be true about Rochester – but people need to understand that is is not ubiquitously true. If we can recognize the digital divide within and around the city, the digital divide more is likely to deepen.