FCC seeking to establish a new $100 million “Connected Care Pilot Program”

The FCC announced an interest in telehealth funding…

Today, in an op-ed with Senator Roger Wicker, Commissioner Brendan Carr announced that the FCC will seek to establish a new $100 million “Connected Care Pilot Program” to support telehealth for low-income Americans, especially those living in rural areas and veterans.

Here are some of the specifics…

The FCC will vote on a Notice of Inquiry at its August Open Meeting that seeks comment on:
• Budgeting for $100 million in USF support
• Targeting support to connected care deployments that would benefit low-income patients, including those eligible for Medicaid or veterans receiving cost-free medical care
• Supporting a limited number of projects over a two- or three-year period with controls in place to measure and verify the benefits, costs, and savings associated with connected care deployments

Congrats to Danna Mackenzie appointed new BDAC member

Good news for Minnesota, the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) and Danna Mackenzie, Director of the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development. FCC Chairman Pai recently appointed Danna to serve on the BDAC.

The FCC reports

In addition, the Chairman has appointed Danna Mackenzie, a member of the BDAC’s Removing State and Local Regulatory Barriers working group, to serve on the BDAC as a representative of the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development. Ms. Mackenzie will also serve as one of the Vice Chairs of the Harmonization working group (along with David Young). “I am pleased that Danna will be joining the full BDAC and will serve as one of the Vice Chairs of the Harmonization working group,” said Chairman Pai. “She is taking on this important responsibility at a critical time for the BDAC as the Harmonization working group resolves differences between the State Model Code and Municipal Model Code to ensure that the model codes are harmonized with each other and with the BDAC’s prior recommendations. I know Danna will do a great job.”

He also appointed BDAC member David Young to serve as Vice Chair of the BDAC.

Minnesota cannot rely on federal funds to expand broadband

The Worthington Globe reports on the report Bill Coleman recently wrote for the Blandin Foundation on networks deployed with federal (CAF 2) Funding…

Minnesota cannot just rely on federal funds to expand broadband high-speed internet service, a Blandin Foundation report shows.

CenturyLink, Consolidated Communications, Frontier Communications and Windstream Communications have received $86 million from a federal program to bring internet service to 170,355 rural homes and businesses. The report says even those who get the higher speed service will be at a slower than speed the state considers to be the minimum.

“Minnesota has set ambitious broadband speed goals that position our communities for future success,” said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement at Blandin.

Joselyn said that public officials need to understand that federal, state and local funds all are needed to build adequate broadband networks. Doing otherwise, she said, “will hold rural communities back from reaching the potential they imagine for themselves.”

How correct are the FCC maps? And why does it matter?

The New Food Economy has an article out on broadband access. It is interesting to see that broadband is an issue in a trade publication that doesn’t relate to telecom or cable. It does because as they say – everyone needs broadband. They are finding that the maps that track access, the maps that determine who gets federal funding are not aligning with other maps…

The United States government recognizes that the need is dire. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the federal agency primarily charged with expanding internet coverage, has committed over $9 billion to getting rural America online. In February, it released a national broadband map, purporting to show which parts of the country had access to fixed, or non-mobile, high-speed internet. The goal of the map is to inform policies and target subsidies as the government extends broadband to over 11.5 million American who still lack access.

A closer look, however, suggests that the map is based on misleading data. A New Food Economy analysis of internet speed tests in some rural counties shows connections well below what FCC is claiming, which means the number of Americans without broadband could actually be much higher than reported.

According to FCC, Iowa is the only Midwestern state with virtually complete access to high-speed internet. Every county is covered by download speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mpbs), which the agency defines as “baseline” broadband. But another set of data tells a different story: Internet users in Iowa experience that speed only 22 percent of the time. That’s according to nearly half a million speed tests run on a diagnostic tool operated by the Open Technology Institute, a research arm of the New America Foundation, a non-partisan think tank. Data from these tests, which were run last year, mostly as Google searches, are publicly available on the institute’s website and were updated at the request of The New Food Economy.

They look at why the maps are different…

Why do speed tests conflict so dramatically with what’s on FCC’s map? Because the broadband map, which the Commission calls a “key source” of information for consumers and policymakers, doesn’t include on-the-ground measurements in the first place. The map is based on data taken from Form 477, a filing that internet providers submit to FCC twice annually. The data are the agency’s main source of information on broadband availability, and the backbone of its funding decisions.

Form 477 data have surprising limitations. Providers are not required to include information in the filing about actual on-the-ground internet speeds, which are confidential and considered a trade secret. Instead, when providers submit data, they include lists of census blocks where they “can or do” offer service to at least one location, along with the maximum speeds they advertise there, whether that’s what residents have or not. Nationwide, around 28 people live in a census block, on average. In Iowa, a rural state, the density is closer to 15.

For these reasons, it’s hard to know how many Americans covered in the federal broadband map actually have the internet their providers say they do.

 

And there are issues with the level of detail of the maps…

Part of the reason for this discrepancy is that FCC doesn’t collect granular data about deployment. “For a long time, the way that the FCC collected data about broadband was, as we found, if there is one subscriber in a census block, we presumed that it was available throughout the block,” Rosenworcel told a House subcommittee in 2017. “I think we all know that that is not a fair assumption anymore, and we’re leaving too many households behind.

And why it matters…

And faulty data can have real-life consequences. When census blocks are reported to have access to 10 Mbps downloads, which was the broadband standard in 2014, other internet service providers are disqualified from receiving FCC funds to expand service there. In other words, the government decides the area is connected enough not to require additional funds for expansion.

Federal broadband funding alone isn’t enough for Minnesota rural communities to meet state goals, finds new report

A press release from the Blandin Foundation about a new report written by Bill Coleman on the implementation of CAF 2 funded networks in two Minnesota communities…

A new Blandin Foundation report finds that telecommunications companies relying only on Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund (CAF II) to build broadband networks in rural Minnesota will not equip residents with speeds that meet the state’s broadband goals. The paper, “Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons Learned from Two Rural Minnesota Exchanges Left Underserved,” explores the effects federal broadband investments are having in Lindstrom and Braham, MN.

The CAF II program is designed to spur broadband development in unserved, high-cost rural areas. The program will infuse $2 billion into broadband projects that make service of at least 10 megabits per second (mbps) download and 1 mbps upload available to more than 3.6 million homes and businesses across America by 2020. To date, four companies (CenturyLink, Consolidated Communications, Frontier Communications, and Windstream Communications) in rural Minnesota have received $85.6 million to bring Internet service to 170,355 rural homes and businesses.

Using GIS base maps and a GPS-enabled camera, lead researcher Bill Coleman of Mahtomedi-based Community Technology Advisors, conducted field research to identify CAF II-funded broadband equipment in two rural Minnesota communities, Lindstrom and Braham, MN.

After mapping available speeds to end customers based on their distance from the broadband-fed equipment, Coleman found that, even after CAF II investment, the majority of land within these two exchanges will have access to speeds less that Minnesota’s 2022 state broadband goal of 25/3 mbps. These improvements will fall severely short of Minnesota’s 2026 goal of 100/20 mbps.

“Minnesota has set ambitious broadband speed goals that position our communities for future success,” said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement at Blandin Foundation. “It’s important that decision makers know that, without weaving together local, state and federal resources, CAF II-funded projects will be inadequate to support most broadband-based economic and community development. This will hold rural communities back from reaching the potential they imagine for themselves.”

Minnesota can look to examples of communities that have partnered with Internet providers to combine local, state and federal resources to finance and build networks to offer faster service than CAF II-funded networks alone.

Fish Lake Township, located in Chisago County, rallied community residents to support a $1.23 million bond for broadband projects. They combined local money with a $1.8 million Border to Border Broadband Grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and $1.5 million in CAF II funding to build a world-class, fiber-to-the-home network.

“There is a way forward for communities to get the network they want, but it will take collaboration at all levels,” said Joselyn. “Reaching Minnesota’s broadband goals will position our state – both rural and urban communities – to stay competitive in the growing digital economy.”

The full report is online at https://blandinfoundation.org/content/uploads/Impact-of-CAF-II-funded-Networks_WEB.pdf

Possible increase in funds for the Rural Health Care Program

Looks like there may be more funds for the Rural Health Care Program – FCC Chair Ajit Pai is interested in making that happen…

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced today that he has circulated a draft order to his colleagues that would take immediate action to significantly increase funding for the Universal Service Fund’s Rural Health Care Program.

The program’s current annual funding cap is $400 million. The cap was set in 1997 and was never indexed for inflation. Recently, demand for funding under the program has outpaced the budget, creating uncertainty for patients, health care providers, and communications companies alike.

The Chairman’s order would increase the annual cap to $571 million.

National Coalition works to expand rural e-connectivity

Posting the press release…

WASHINGTON, D.C. April 18, 2018: A coalition of stakeholders committed to the expansion of broadband services in rural America today launched the first in a series of workshops to focus attention on the wide-ranging challenges to achieving connectivity, and the opportunities improved e-connectivity could bring to the people and economies of the nation’s rural regions.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai joined executives from the five partner organizations 

–Farm Foundation, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association (NTCA), National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), CoBank, and the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC)–in kicking off the listening sessions by highlighting the importance of e-connectivity to all sectors of rural America.

The next listening session will be in June 2018 in Minnesota, with additional sessions to be completed over the next six months.

“Broadband is vital to the rural economy in what is now a highly interconnected global marketplace,” said Tom Halverson, President and CEO of CoBank. “We need leaders on both sides of the aisle in Washington to work together to facilitate broadband investment and ensure that rural America remains competitive and strong.”

Achieving e-connectivity across rural America is not a simple task. “Actions needed to improve e-connectivity vary widely by community and region,” notes Farm Foundation President and CEO Constance Cullman. “These listening sessions will serve to highlight common issues, success stories to build strong broadband systems, and challenges that are yet to be met.”

Executives from regional telecommunications companies participated in the kickoff to provide perspectives on the broadband service issues. This panel included Levoy Knowles of the Tennessee Telecommunications Association, Mel Coleman of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, and Ken Johnson, Administrator of Rural Development’s Rural Utilities Service.

“We are excited for the prospects of enhanced cooperation and coordination between USDA, the FCC, and private operators like those in NTCA’s membership–all of whom recognize the value of and critical need for sustainable broadband in rural America. In that spirit, it is an honor to have both USDA Secretary Perdue and FCC Chairman Pai offer remarks at today’s kickoff event,” said NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield. “NTCA’s nearly 850 members connect many of America’s rural communities to the world with robust broadband, and we are pleased to participate in this collaborative effort to promote better access to rural broadband.”

Rural electric cooperatives are well aware of the needs of e-connectivity in their communities, and more than 100 electric cooperatives already are providing broadband service to their members. “The widening digital divide is a national crisis deserving of a national response,” said Jim Matheson, CEO of NRECA. “For decades, electric cooperatives have enhanced the quality of life throughout rural America. Now, many of those same electric co-ops are helping reinvigorate rural economies by bringing broadband to rural homes, businesses and farms. High costs to serve areas with low population density remain the biggest obstacle to expanded rural broadband access. An expanded combination of federal grant and loan funding through USDA is a critical step to connecting rural America.”

Stakeholders emphasized the need for collaborative efforts to enhance broadband services in rural America. “Leveraging additional investment in rural broadband infrastructure will require a team effort,” said Sheldon Petersen, CEO of CFC. “Local partnerships can be a wonderful way to leverage resources, expertise and efficiencies to ensure that rural communities can fully participate in today’s 21st century economy.”