Toolkit from Institute for Local Self Reliance for communities wanting to support community broadband

The Institute for Local Self Reliance has a new toolkit to “States and Cities Can Beat Back Corporate Control and Build Thriving Communities“…

Across the country, local and state officials and citizens are struggling to overcome a set of deep and challenging problems, which have been further revealed, and exacerbated, by Covid. These include stark inequality, persistent poverty, disappearing small businesses, racial oppression, failing family farms, fraying community institutions, and entire cities and towns that have been marginalized and left behind.

There are many drivers of these trends. But there is one phenomenon in particular that has profoundly shaped all of these dynamics, and every single sector of our economy — the consolidation of corporate power.

They look at a number of facets:

  • Banking
  • Broadband
  • Electricity
  • Food and Farming
  • Pharmacy
  • Small Business
  • State Attorneys General
  • Waste

Clearly the ILSR (Muninetworks) is all about community self-reliance. They look at the infrastructure and adoption and offer the following policy recommendations:

  • Give Local Governments the Freedom to Connect
  • Allow Cities to Issue Bonds for Broadband Infrastructure
  • Support and Guide Smaller Communities
  • Collect ISP Data
  • Build Municipal Networks and Partnerships
  • Procurement Policies
  • Establish a Broadband Grant Program
  • Create “One-Touch Make-Ready” Rules
  • Organize a Listening Tour

OPPORTUNITY: 2021 Congressional Innovation Fellowship Application Open

A great opportunity for the right person…

APPLICATIONS FOR THE CONGRESSIONAL INNOVATION FELLOWSHIP ARE OPEN

Be part of the team to build a Congressional Innovation Fellowship on Capitol Hill.

Apply by 11:59pm ET on Thursday, August 27, 2020. Late applications will not be accepted.

The fellowship will run from January 2021 to December 2021.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and visit our blog for the latest news and information about the fellowship.

And a little info on the program…

The Congressional Innovation Scholars fellowship program will place you among the top tech decision makers in the United States government at a time when technology is reshaping society in fundamental ways. Even if you’ve never considered working in government, the Congressional Innovation Scholars program will allow you to make change at the highest levels and at a scale unparalleled in the private or public sectors.

EVENT JUl 23: Digital Redlining & Connectivity Barriers In Marginalized Communities

I wanted to share the following invitation from Public Knowledge…

Thursday, July 23rd at 2 PM EST
Attend Event

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically exposed how digital inequities are further marginalizing minority populations. Internet service providers invest less in broadband infrastructure in communities of color and low-income communities because doing so is considered to be less profitable.

The same neighborhoods that were redlined by banks and insurance companies now face similar discrimination by internet service providers — deemed “digital redlining.” On top of this, many people in marginalized communities can’t afford to connect to broadband or purchase connected devices. Accordingly, the residents of these communities find themselves unable to engage in distance learning, work remotely, access telemedicine, or connect with loved ones virtually.

The consequences of America’s extreme digital divide have been amplified in the current pandemic. Join us for an expert discussion on policy solutions to these connectivity barriers.

Speakers:

Maurita Coley- President and CEO of Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council

Lukas Pietrzak – Policy Associate at Next Century Cities

Daiquiri Ryan – Strategic Policy Counsel at the National Hispanic Media Coalition & Co-founder at Neta Collab

Angela Siefer – Executive Director of National Digital Inclusion Alliance

Moderator: Jenna Leventoff – Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge

We’ll send call-in information to registrants in advance of the webinar.

Share this event on Facebook and Twitter.

We hope you can make it!

Cheers,

Public Knowledge

Broadband definitions matter – and EFF says 25/3 is too slow

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is speaking out on the need for a faster definition of broadband…

Today, that metric is 25 megabits per second download (25 Mbps) and three megabits per second (3 Mbps) upload. Based on that metric, the most recent broadband deployment report from the FCC has found that everyone, everywhere in America has broadband. Mission accomplished; we have solved all the problems of Internet access, right? Obviously, no. No one thinks we have actual universal broadband in the United States today. The needs of Internet users have long ago surpassed the FCC’s 25/3 metric. It’s possible this metric was out-of-date from the moment it was established.

In short, the FCC’s 25/3 metric is not only a useless metric, it is an actively harmful one. It masks the rapid monopolization of high-speed access occurring in the United States and obscures the extent to which low-income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left behind. And, it attempts to mask the failures of our telecom policy to promote universal broadband. But this failure can’t be masked during this pandemic, when millions of Americans are experiencing it as they try to work, learn, and entertain from home.

They provide a nice history of how we got to 25/3 and why they think it’s insufficient and they end with a recommendation moving forward…

We at EFF support more regular and rigorous means of assessing broadband, as detailed in our recent FCC filing. Rather than wait an indeterminate amount of time before the FCC is willing to acknowledge the United States has a real problem, it should be baked into the process that every two to three years we assess what level of broadband is needed to meet the growth in consumption. It should be done with publicly available data that measures user behavior. Five years and counting is an abysmally long time to wait.

We also need to begin assessing the future potential of networks to stay ahead of demand in order to weed out legacy networks that are no longer relevant. Determining the potential rate of obsolescence is critical to the federal policy goal of maintaining universal broadband access because it flags where new investments are lagging or are completely absent. And perhaps most importantly we need to start assessing the price ISPs are charging for broadband to see where consumers are being gouged due to a lack of competition. A recent study by the Open Technology Institute has found that the United States has the most expensive and slowest broadband networks amongst advanced economies. Our median upload speed today is 15 Mbps while the EU is at 40 Mbps, and Asia enjoys an eye-popping 500 Mbps due to an aggressive fiber policy.

There are no good reasons why the United States is not a world leader in broadband. Efforts are underway, such as the House of Representatives’ universal fiber plan and state efforts to create fiber infrastructure programs, that will reestablish our leadership. But so long as we hold onto useless metrics like the 25/3 federal definition of broadband as the means to determine our progress, we will never even take the first step.

I think the reminder that the US is not a world leader is important. We have policies that maintain the national status quo and as we continue to aim for goals set in 2015, the rest of the world is passing us by.

Federal Funding for Broadband and Education

Some folks at the Blandin Foundation were able to get a presentation from Sara George and Michael Diedrich from the MN Department of Education on Federal Fends for broadband. They started with a nice background on equity and the need for grants and then dig into the nitty gritty of how these grants are awarded. In the broadband world, I think we’re used to competitive grants many of the education grants are based on formulas.

It’s interesting from any perspective but especially interesting if you are involved with a school or school district…

Using food stamps online – great in a pandemic but it comes with a price

As we watch the world around us change dramatically, it’s been great to see how (and how quickly) technology can help make things easier for people. It has been literally a life saver for many who have been able to work, learn, stay healthy and shop online rather than risk pandemic infection. But with quick technology changes, I’m always a little worried about unintended consequences.

The Center for Democracy just released a report (Does buying groceries online put SNAP participants at risk?) that reminded me of consequences. The good news they report is that prior to the pandemic, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participants could not use their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards (the contemporary version of what used to be known as “food stamps”) to make online purchases. But now they can. But that comes at a cost…

People who need government food assistance should have access to the same kinds of online services that others use to feed their families while staying safe. The SNAP online purchasing program could be critical to achieving that goal.

However, as this report shows, the program could also expose participants to increased data collection and surveillance, a flood of intrusive and manipulative online marketing techniques, and pervasive promotion of unhealthy foods. While all U.S. consumers who use online ordering services face many of these risks, SNAP participants are likely to be disproportionately harmed.

In the following pages, we present the results of our research on the eight retail companies selected to participate in the SNAP online purchasing pilot. Our study reveals that these companies deploy a range of data-driven targeting and e-commerce practices that are at the center of today’s digital marketplace. The entire e-commerce system has evolved in a largely unregulated environment, without federal or state policies that provide adequate protections for consumers. Neither the USDA nor the companies in the pilot program offer sufficient protections to SNAP participants.

I had a client who worked in the world of SNAP, so this caught my eye. I’m not going to delve deeply because it’s slightly off topic but as we work to improving lives with technology, it’s good to get a reminder of the doors we open without realizing it.

If you have the time, the report is interesting. What I always think is interesting is that the debate isn’t always “should” we use big data to effect change but “who” can use it and how. We frown on businesses using it to sell potato chips and cola but using it to promote apples is seen diffierently.

For a very different perspective on data privacy, look at the clash between US and EU privacy laws. The Washington Post reports…

 The European Union’s top court on Thursday threw a large portion of transatlantic digital commerce into disarray, ruling that data of E.U. residents is not sufficiently protected from government surveillance when it is transferred to the United States.

The ruling was likely to increase transatlantic tensions at a moment when President Trump has already been threatening tariffs and retaliation against the European Union for what he says are unfair business practices. It was a victory for privacy advocates who said that E.U. citizens are not as protected when their information is transferred to U.S. servers as when that information stays inside Europe.

It’s not an apples to apples comparison, but it is an ideologically different take on privacy.

With COVID-19, Telehealth was implemented quickly in rural area – they need more help

Broawnfield Ag News reports…

Rick Breuer, CEO of Minnesota-based Community Memorial Hospital, says they were going to spend a year preparing a telehealth platform for the community and instead had it ready in two weeks because of COVID-19.

“A lot of rural facilities were in the exact same boat because you just had to if you were going to maintain viable service,” he says. “So, we did it and we had a great team that got it up and running and we had very patient providers willing to work through all the bugs,” he says.

He says telehealth services will remain in place long after the country recovers from the pandemic.

Breuer and Moyer say assistance from the administration has helped, but more must be done in the future.

Breuer says there are some rural clinics that haven’t been eligible for assistance, but he hopes they will be soon. Moyer says she’s hopeful Congress will address universal service and the Keeping Critical Connections Act.

Candidate Biden announces $2 trillion plan to include broadband infrastructure

The Duluth News Tribune reports…

On a virtual campaign event for Joe Biden, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and Minnesota union heads touted the Democratic presidential candidate’s newly released environmental, economy and infrastructure plan.

Biden announced the $2 trillion, four-year plan on Tuesday, July 14, which he says will create jobs in the building, manufacturing, engineering and energy sectors as Americans continue to lose their jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic economic fallout. According to the New York Times, the plan promises environmentally conscious projects to improve transportation, wastewater and broadband infrastructure, as well as affordable housing and green energy. Biden also pledged to achieve net-zero carbon pollution in the electricity sector by 2035.

Broadband maps no good? Maybe try something new!

Multichannel News reports…

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said that a lot of ISPs, “for whatever reason,” claim they have service where they don’t, something he said everyone knows “has been going on for years.”
He said that since Democrats and Republicans agree the maps aren’t good, the FCC would just be throwing $20 million out the window by starting to give out most of the Rural Development Opportunities Fund (RDOF) subsidy money.

I have recently hit that stage of COVID crisis where I just roll my eyes and say “just fix it” about everything. Lightbulbs that have been burned out for weeks are now fixed; I have pictures on several walls. I threw out unmatched socks. Maps been wrong for decades? Fix ‘em.

We don’t need to know why those maps are wrong – just like I don’t how the lightbulb blew out. We just need to find a new way to measure actual availability. Throw out those unmatched socks and start again. And guess what – in Minnesota we are working on a new way to do that.

In May (2020), GEO Partners presented their mapping solution to the MN Broadband Task Force. (See their presentation below.) They have a way to track speeds through speed tests from folks in the field. Are speed tests perfect? No – a poor local network or old computer can impact a test. Yes – customer may not choose highest tier service. So the answer is you have to get as many people as possible taking the tests. Everyone in my zip code getting 50/50 and I’m at 10/1? Maybe I need to look at my home equipment. The provider in the area sells 50/50 and everyone in my zip code gets 10/1? We need to consider actual speeds delivered and/or cost.

We could even balance this info with the maps created from 477 forms, which means provider input. A check and balance system!

So what would it take?  In Minnesota, GEO Partners are currently working with a few communities (St Louis, Koochiching and Itasca Counties). They have been talking with the Blandin Foundation and others about offering a statewide solution if communities are interested and interested in paying. (Let Association of Minnesota Counties know if you are a county that wants to know more.)

The technology solution is just one piece; the maps, as indicted above, are most valuable when a critical mass of community members participate. So there needs to be a push (local or statewide) to get people to take the test. And then you need people to analyze, assess and share the info once the maps and data are available.

I don’t want to offer this as the only solution – but it certainly seems to one a possible solution for an issue that has been discussed often:

Can 5G Compete with Cable Broadband? A response from 5G

I asked Nokia’s Brian Pickering about Doug Dawson’s timely Pots and Pans 5G blog post today.  Brian shared this response with me and Blandin on Broadband blog readers.  You can see Brian’s presentation to our Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable here:

Bill,

This has been a heavy debated topics with the big operators, cable industry and others.  The discussion has always centered around the business case for 5G – number of house covered, uptake of customers per cell site, etc  vs trenching fiber to the house or through a subdivision.

mmWave and cmWave is the best for this solution.  mmWave having large bandwidth, but small coverage AND requires an external antenna to receive the signal as the signal will not penetrate the exterior walls.  There is a high power CPE coming to the market in the 2H 2020, which may eliminate the outdoor antenna.  cmWave is great for the coverage, but the speed may be comparable to cable guys, and outdoor antenna is not required.

I have heard from a cable company, they believe 5G to the home is a case by case for deployment – a tool in the tool box.  Will use 5G where it makes the most economical sense.  With that said, the big cable operators do not have a large amount spectrum yet.  Windstream small regional operator has 28Ghz spectrum.

Verizon as you know have pushed 5G to the home and had small success with it.  They have launched it in 6 markets, but its very limited in its geographic area.  Tmobile stated over a year ago they will go after the cable industry using their 2.5Ghz spectrum, using the same business model and process they do for wireless.  The cable guys continue monitor and test 5G to better understand what the telecom guys are doing.

Prior to the pandemic, cellular systems were lightly loaded in residential areas during the day as everyone went to work, traffic picked up in the evening, but overall still not heavily loaded.  Verizon looks at 5G to the home as a benefit to the network, as it helps use a lightly loaded network in the evenings or at night.

5G to the home is probably more appealing to the 20 &30 year olds – where they can take it anywhere at any time.  Example, my eldest has a 6 month co-op internship, he was  not able to get cable at his apartment because the cable company wanted a 1 year contract.  So, he is connecting his computer to his cell phone so he can watch Netflix, youtube, etc.

Hope that helps.  If you have any questions, please let me know.

Brian

A call in US Senate to fund library hotspots for check out

The Washington Times reports…

A bipartisan pair of senators has called for a two-year, $160 million pilot program to purchase and distribute Internet-connected devices to libraries in low-income and rural areas.

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin call their proposal the Hotspots and Online Technology and Services Procurement for our Tribes and States Act, or the HOTSPOTS Act. They said the funding would help rural and low-income residents with the growing shift toward online services in the country.

Collins said residents around the country have had to move everything from workplaces to health care to online models due to the coronavirus pandemic. That puts people who don’t have reliable broadband at home at a disadvantage, she said.

That would two years to find ways to extend adequate broadband to rural locations and make it affordable.

MN Farmers Union on American Connection Project Broadband Coalition

WNAX Radio 570 reports…

The American Connection Project Broadband Coalition has been formed to advocate for public and private sector investment to bring high speed broadband internet access to Rural America. 49 groups including the National and Minnesota Farmers Unions and Land O Lakes Farmer Cooperative are part of that group. Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish says the pandemic outbreak has enhanced the need to get caught up for proper internet access for Rural America.

AG Ellison settles with Frontier – including info on compensation for customers

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said Monday his office has settled an investigation into possible deceptive practices in Frontier Communications’ billing and sale of internet services.

Under the settlement, Frontier agreed to fully disclose its prices for internet service to new customers before they take service. Many current customers will be allowed to cancel their service without penalty. Frontier also agreed to invest at least $10 million over four years to improve its broadband network and to pay $750,000 in restitution that Ellison’s office can distribute to Frontier’s customers.

Frontier provides telephone and internet service to about 90,000 customers in Minnesota, many of whom live outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and have limited options for high-speed internet service.

The Attorney General provides info for customers…

Minnesotans who are customers of Frontier may submit a claim for restitution through a dedicated claim form on the Attorney General’s website, or by calling (651) 296-3353 (Metro) or (800) 657-3787 (Greater Minnesota).

And here is more info on the investment requirements…

Frontier agrees to make an investment of $10,000,000 in capital expenditures to provide or enhance internet services in Minnesota over the four-year period following the
Effective Date of this Assurance, in addition to the Frontier expenditures to fulfill: (a) the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund build out requirements; (b) any State or local government grant for internet broadband funding build out requirements; and
(c) Frontier’s existing franchise commitments in Minnesota. Such expenditures shall be made in furtherance of providing or improvement to internet service to locations that are not required to fulfill build-out requirements of these subsidies and franchise commitments. With regard to
Frontier’s $10,000,000 capital expenditure obligation, Frontier shall: (i) expend no less than $3,000,000 within two years after the Effective Date; (ii) no less than $5,000,000 within three years after the Effective Date; and (iii) no less than $10,000,000 within four years after the
Effective Date.

Is five years the expiration date for a broadband goal or definition? If so, time’s up!

The FCC definition of broadband is 25 Mbps down and 3 up (25/3). The Minnesota State speed goals are 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026. I sat in the room while that state speed goal was hammered out – over several months in 2015 – five years ago! (Federal definition changed in 2010 and 2015.)  Keen minds will remember that that MN base upload actually decreased in 2016, when the legislature moved from:

(2010) Universal access and high-speed goal.
It is a state goal that as soon as possible, but no later than 2015, all state residents and businesses have access to high-speed broadband that provides minimum download speeds of ten to 20 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of five to ten megabits per second.

To

(2016) Universal access and high-speed goal.
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.

Do we need new speed goals?

It seems like a good time to revisit speed goals – especially since we’ve seen an accelerated increase in demand due to COVID raising questions of equity for those are the wrong side of the digital divide. (Just yesterday Rep. Eshoo introduced Legislation to update the National Broadband Plan.) Also lots of people are looking at increasing funds to close that divide – folks like the US Senate and House, MN Legislature,  and even groups such as the American Connection Project Broadband Coalition (ACPBC). The speeds we use to define broadband and dole out funding will impact the communities that get funding and their ability to take classes online, participate in telehealth, work online – even Zoom with family and friends.

Last month, the MN Broadband Task Force heard from former FCC member, Jonathan Chambers who was very clear about saying that broadband is not a static speed. It reflects usage and need. He also reminded members about the National Broadband Plan (2010), which set a goal of 100 million homes with 100 Mbps access and 4/1 access for the rest. “Aim too low, get too low,” he said.

He shared an interactive map that shows all funding disbursed from the Universal Service Administration Corporation for High Cost and Connect America Fund programs from January 2015 through March 2020 by provider on a map that shows served and unserved areas (25/3). Below you see three views. (Click in enlarge.) First the view of served/unserved areas. Next in red we see the area served by Paul Bunyan, the orange area is still unserved and they have received $39,518,942.85 in CAF and High Cost money. Finally, in red is the area served by Frontier, orange is still unserved and we see they have received $144,143,070 in CAF money since 2015.

Those companies received funding because the areas they served were previously unserved. (So local communities care about speed goals and definitions.) They are supposed to be providing service that qualifies those areas as served. (So, providers and the funders should care about the goals and definitions.)

Speed goals and definitions matter!

What is the right speed?

You can look at what other states are doing, see how we compare with other countries, remember that in 2010 we were shooting for 100 Mbps for most homes and/or look at what industries and sectors are going to need in the future. Here are some examples…

The USDA’s A Case for Rural Broadband focuses on precision agriculture…

  • A leading, multinational network hardware and telecommunications equipment technology conglomerate projects that the average global download speed will double from 39 Mbps in 2017 to 75 Mbps by 2022
  • Disparities in broadband infrastructure directly impact rural citizens and businesses – including agriculture, which stifles the modernization of food production urban and suburban citizens rely on.
  • Rural broadband has become a national priority to address the e-connectivity gap and deliver increased economic and societal benefits. The American economy stands to capture substantial gains from e-connectivity through adoption of Next Generation Precision Agriculture. USDA’s analysis estimates that connected technologies are poised to transform agricultural production and create a potential $47-$65 billion in annual gross benefit for the United States.

Vox recognizes the need for symmetrical broadband for something we have all become almost too well acquainted with…

  • Upload capacity is key to video conferencing services. So if your Zoom meetings aren’t going so well, you might be maxing out what your old infrastructure can handle. But if you’ve got a fiber connection, you should ask your ISP about getting symmetrical upload and download speeds.

The FCC created a Household Broadband Guide. The chart says it all – or all they have to say. They aren’t specific about upload vs download but I know that even when there are only two of us at home – we are advanced users with two of us on different Zoom calls and often on our phones as well – and post COVID, I think many households are in similar positions.

The need for increased speed become even clearer if you look at their activity by speed (again only download). One telecommuter or one student using 5-25 Mbps. Again, that pushes most households beyond federal definition and quickly inching toward (or beyond) the MN 2026 speed goal.

We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but it seems getting the most broadband we can is one way to prepare. In the last week, I have been meeting with small businesses in Chisago County via Zoom. Well, I can meet with most by Zoom but several couldn’t because they didn’t have enough broadband.

That’s the difference between being able to work from home or losing your job. It’s the difference between seeing the doctor remotely or going into the office – if they’re open. It’s the difference between your kids talking classes online or to borrow from a story Senator Klobuchar shared today…

There was a story of a girl just last week out of Otter Tail County who drove to Battle Lake to do her biology quizzes in the liquor store parking lot.