Wisconsin invests $44 million in rural broadband

Sen. Howard Marklein (WI) talks about their legislative investments…

The Legislature completed our work on the state budget, and I am proud to say that we invest in the people and the needs of our communities while protecting taxpayers. It is especially helpful for rural Wisconsin, and I have worked hard to make sure the rural voice was heard in this discussion. Rural Wisconsin matters. …

We included $44 million for rural broadband.

Great for Wisconsin – but I think I hear footsteps approaching. Minnesota plans to invest $40 million.

 

I know nothing about football but suddenly the Viking/Packer rivalry is real. That’s not really true; I’m glad that Wisconsin is investing. The nature of the network is that it’s stronger when all segments are stronger. But it is a reminder that we need to keep investing to keep vital!

FCC’s Consumer Outreach team visits Minnesota

If only I could be in two places at once, but today I’m up in the broadband meeting in St Louis County but the FCC is traveling to other places in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Benton Foundation reports

Members of the FCC’s Consumer Outreach team will take to the road again for the next in a series of Rural Tours, this time journeying to the Upper Midwest states of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

During their travels to various cities and towns, the team will meet with community leaders and groups to share information and resources regarding telecommunication issues that affect daily lives. The team will also discuss the latest telecom scams targeting consumers’ privacy and pocketbooks, particularly in rural areas.

The Upper Midwest Region Rural Tour is the fourth in a series of trips designed to build partnerships with local consumer groups and hear directly from local consumers and community members.

Topics include:

Tour Schedule as of June 14, 2019:

All events listed below are free and open to the public unless noted otherwise.

Day 1:  Monday, 6/24

  • 9:30 am
    Presentation at the Chaska Community Center – Download Event Flyer
    1661 Park Ridge Drive, Chaska, MN 55318
  • 1:00 pm
    Presentation at Nicollett County Health and Human Services – Download Event Flyer
    622 South Front St., St. Peter, MN 56082
  • Meetings with local leaders in Blue Earth County, MN; Chaska, MN and Le Sueur, MN – closed to the general public

Day 2:  Tuesday, 6/25

  • 1:00 pm
    Presentation at the Semcac Senior Dining – Download Event Flyer
    Dodge County:  Sunwood Manor, 200 1st St. NE, Kasson, MN  55944
  • Meetings with local leaders in Owatonna, MN and Waseca, MN – closed to the general public

Day 3:  Wednesday, 6/26

  • 6:00 pm
    Presentation at La Crosse Public Library – Download Event Flyer
    800 Main Street, La Crosse, WI 54601
  • Meetings with local leaders in St. Charles, MN – closed to the general public

Day 4:  Thursday, 6/27

  • 12:00 pm
    Presentation at the Kupper Ratsch Senior Center – Download Event Flyer
    10025 Superior Ave., Tomah, WI 54660
  • Meetings with local leaders in in Mauston, WI; New Lisbon, WI; Sparta, WI and Tomah, WI – closed to the general public

Day 5:  Friday, 6/28

  • 12:00 pm
    Presentation at DeForest Senior Center – Download Event Flyer
    505 N Main St., DeForest, WI 53532
  • 3:00 pm
    Presentation at Portage Public Library – Download Event Flyer
    253 W. Edgewater St., Portage, WI 53901
  • Meetings with local leaders Portage, WI and Wisconsin Dells, WI  – closed to the general public

 

St Louis County broadband efforts and opportunities to be highlighted at public event

I mentioned the meeting in a previous post. Here are more details. I am planning to livestream via Facebook

Saint Louis County broadband efforts and opportunities to be highlighted at public event

GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. (June 20, 2019) — Iron Range Broadband Communities invite Saint Louis County community members to attend a presentation on their project progress on June 25 from 1:00 to 3:30 p.m. at the Mountain Iron Community Center.

Over the past two years, 10 community initiatives from across the Iron Range have been working to improve both access and use of broadband technologies.  These efforts are being supported with resources from the Department of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation, Blandin Foundation and Saint Louis County.

As broadband services grow increasingly important for community and economic development, community efforts to improve broadband access in Saint Louis County are gaining momentum.  Compared to much of northeastern Minnesota, Saint Louis County has large areas where local access and needs are considered unserved or under-served.

Feasibility studies analyzing broadband construction costs and revenue streams have been conducted in an area stretching from Hibbing to Mountain Iron and another in the Ely area.  Additional studies are planned that would include the Tower area, East Range and Laurentian Communities.

The event will highlight emerging broadband projects and related accessibility maps, feasibility study results, and insights on how to work with local broadband providers.  An opportunity for informal discussion over coffee and cookies will conclude the meeting. Co-sponsored by the Department of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation, Blandin Foundation and the Iron Range Broadband Communities, the event is open to the public.  There is no charge, pre-registration is not required.

Senator Anderson reports on $40 million for MN broadband grants

Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus reports an update from Senator Anderson…

Rural communities need fast and efficient access to online education, resources, and other important services. We invested $40 million to expand rural broadband this year to continue the effort to provide rural areas the same opportunities as those in more metro areas. You can visit the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition’s website for more details on the expansion: http://mnbroadbandcoalition.com/

We already have more ideas for next session and we always have our farmers in mind while we are working at the Capitol. We rely on them and we are thankful for all the work they do for our state. Please reach out with any additional questions or concerns.

Next week, we will look at the highlights in the Commerce, Jobs, and Energy budget. I hope you enjoy your weekend!

Illinois Congressional Delegation To FCC: Improve Rural Broadband Maps

Having just spent the last few days looking at maps and data from the Office of Broadband Development, I can tell you how important it is to have good benchmarking. It tells us where we need to bring better service but also historically we can look to see which areas are doing well, when they started to do well and perhaps figure out a why. Same for areas that are doing less well.

If we are going to spend federal, state and local money of broadband (and to reach the high cost areas, we probably need to) we should know where we need to go and what’s happened to areas where we have invested. So it was interesting to see the entire Illinois Congressional Delegation tell the FCC, we need better maps…

Today, the entire Illinois Congressional Delegation sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai and the four FCC Commissioners urging the FCC to improve the nation’s broadband maps by reforming the mapping process for broadband services. The members noted that currently the mapping process lacks detail, accuracy, and granularity, meaning many underserved areas, including many rural communities in Illinois, could go without critical funding to improve broadband services.  The Commission’s recently released 2019 annual Broadband Deployment Report found that more than 21 million Americans still lack access to high-speed internet service, though this number may be much higher due to inaccuracies in broadband maps.  According to the FCC, only about 61 percent of rural areas in Illinois have access to fixed broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps.

“As we work to repair and rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, we must ensure that those in rural America have access to high-quality and reliable fixed or mobile broadband.  In addition to developing our nation’s rural economy, broadband helps expand educational horizons for students and allows rural health providers to offer more flexible and cost-effective delivery approaches,” the members wrote in a letter to Chairman Pai.

Today’s letter was signed by the entire Illinois Congressional Delegation: U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and U.S. Representatives Bobby Rush (D-IL-01), Robin Kelly (D-IL-02), Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03), Chuy Garcia (D-IL-04), Mike Quigley (D-IL-05), Sean Casten (D-IL-06), Danny Davis (D-IL-07), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-08), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09), Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Mike Bost (R-IL-12), Rodney Davis (R-IL-13), Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14), John Shimkus (R-IL-15), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL-16), Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17), and Darin LaHood (R-IL-18).

Full text of today’s letter is available here and below:

June 17, 2019

Dear Chairman Pai:

We write to urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to improve our nation’s broadband maps by reforming the mapping process that illustrates where fixed and mobile broadband services are available within the United States.

What should be of great concern to government, the telecommunications industry, and American consumers is the significant lack of detail, accuracy, and granularity of these broadband maps.  For example, an entire census block may be considered served even though only a single location within the block has access to fixed broadband service.  This misidentification could result in the denial of vital funding which could otherwise bring service to these underserved areas.

Indeed, the Commission’s recently released 2019 annual Broadband Deployment Report found that more than 21 million Americans still lack access to high-speed internet service.  An overwhelming majority of these Americans are living in rural areas.  However, some have called this data into question and argue that broadband connectivity is even worse than the Commission’s data illustrates.  In fact, recent research shows that more than 162 million Americans are not using the internet at broadband speeds of 25 Mbps.

The challenge, in part, lies with the FCC’s current Form 477 process, which is overly reliant upon the data self-reported by service providers.  We urge the Commission to explore developing a process to validate or authenticate the information produced by service providers.  This will lead to more accurate and reliable data collection.  Inaccuracies within the data may currently be translated onto the broadband maps, which are used to allocate important grant funding and federal financing through programs administered by the Commission, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Commerce to bring broadband access to lacking areas.  A failure to allocate federal investment to where it is needed the most ultimately falls on constituents.  Without sufficient broadband access, small businesses struggle to operate and students are forced to complete their homework in library parking lots just to use WiFi.

Specifically, in Illinois, we’ve seen a variety of cases that may reflect a nationwide problem.  For example, some Rural Local Exchange Carriers (RLECs) have been unable to apply for or receive funding due to inaccurate maps.  These RLECs have provided detailed engineering studies, collected and prepared customer “testimonial” documents, and submitted an extensive FCC petition for reconsideration regarding competitive overlap.  They also have filed comments and documents with the FCC requesting a review of these core issues.  Despite these efforts, inaccurate mapping has continued to hurt the ability of affected companies to expand broadband to rural communities.  In one case, a small Illinois RLEC was initially declared as one hundred percent competitively overlapped due to inaccurate 477 reporting by another broadband service provider; and as a result, was deemed ineligible to receive funding.  Many other small RLEC companies have attempted to secure loan and grant funding to serve our constituents, only to be denied.  As a result, many rural areas, which cannot realistically be served without federal support, remain unserved.  Both rural providers and consumers would benefit from a validation and challenge process to more accurately depict broadband availability and quality standards.

Therefore, as the country looks to close the digital divide between rural and urban communities through the deployment of and robust investment in fixed and mobile broadband infrastructure, the capacity to accurately depict which communities are the least connected is vital.  We ask that the Commission double their efforts to improve the broadband mapping process through three specific proposals.  First, develop more standardized granular reporting of broadband availability – while also balancing the burdens of reporting especially for smaller operators.  Second, establish a suitable validation process by which the self-reported data from service providers can be verified by the FCC.  And third, develop a process through which state and local governments, as well as other interested parties, can challenge the data displayed in the maps for accuracy while not adding unnecessary costs or delays.  These three common-sense reforms would work to collectively improve the accuracy of the data being used to make decisions on billions of dollars in federal funding and financing.

As we work to repair and rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, we must ensure that those in rural America have access to high-quality and reliable fixed or mobile broadband.  In addition to developing our nation’s rural economy, broadband helps expand educational horizons for students and allows rural health providers to offer more flexible and cost-effective delivery approaches.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  We look forward to working with you as the Commission works to ensure that every American has access to dependable broadband service.

MN Broadband Coalition meeting – celebrating success and planning for more

On Tuesday, 16 people met for the MN Broadband Coalition. It started with a congrats to everyone for $40 million for broadband grants in the legislature. It was nice to see in the introductions how members are planning and preparing to apply for grants (state and other) to extend broadband in the state. On the one hand, it’s great to see the interest and enthusiasm; on the other hand, it’s clear that communities need even more support to get broadband to everyone.

It was nice to see an array of members including many communities or association of communities and providers. People mentioned upcoming events (will post details when I get them) and/or mentioned that broadband has a place at the various annual meetings.

They did well with the legislature because we all worked from the same fact sheet. They had a unified voice. The work they did in 2018 built up a momentum and that helped. They had broadband bipartisan support. We got early media coverage. Getting letters to the editors of local papers was helpful.

Outside of the Coalition, the legislation passed Telecommute Forward, which is a great opportunity for communities. It’s a reason for many communities to talk to the Office of Broadband. For communities with broadband, it’s a chance to promote themselves. For communities without broadband, it’s a reason to rally.

Right now Minnesota is known as a leader for our broadband situation. It would be nice to build on that.

Plan for the future

April and May revenues for the State have been ahead of forecast. If there is a surplus, they will go for it. Even if they don’t get the funding, they build a momentum.

There were bills that were introduced related to policies. They consulted with people and decided not to pursue broadband policy changes:

  • The challenge process
  • Helping tribal areas and places without the tax base to raise 50 percent match

The new broadband Task Force might be a good forum to introduce policy. There are lots of events that the coalition could attend – for example the fall broadband conference. The hope is to keep the buzz going.

Senator Westrom celebrates agriculture, rural development, and housing budget bill

The Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus reports…

Senator Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) joined Governor Tim Walz (DFL) as he signed into law, SF 1, the comprehensive agriculture, rural development, and affordable housing budget bill chief-authored by Westrom. The bipartisan budget legislation, a component of the overall state budget agreement, places an emphasis on rural broadband expansion, invests in affordable manufactured housing and home ownership, prioritizes value-added agriculture opportunities that directly impact farmers, and increases resources for farmer mental health services.

And the details on broadband…

Further, the bill funds the Minnesota Border-to-Border Rural Broadband expansion program at $40 million over the next two years million, a significant increase in the legislature’s appropriation over the last biennium.

“From health care, to education, to small businesses, broadband access is essential to our way of life in the twenty-first century,” added Westrom. “Communities that lack access to broadband cannot flourish. This significant investment addresses this issue head-on.”