State of Broadband: better but not good enough

Craig Settles has released a new report (Revving the Community Broadband Economic Engine) on the state of broadband from the perspective of a community. He surveyed members of the International Economic Development Council  (IEDC), and looks at:

  1. the state of broadband
  2. broadband’s impact on local economies
  3. broadband-driven education and healthcare
  4. community broadband money matters

Hard to summarize such an expansive report – but I think the key is asking community members about broadband not the providers. As I found when we looked at community return on public investment in broadband – it doesn’t always coincide with profitability for a provider; just because a home or business is better off economically with broadband, that doesn’t mean they want to send a bigger check to their provider. But what providers with local roots have seen is that the investment is creating greater need (new startup businesses) and stability (greater stability for local residents, means less chance of someone leaving).

Here are some points I found interesting:

Reliability is an issue

It seems that when many communities talk about broadband quality in their area, they often are referring to network speed. But in reality, communities need to focus on reliability as much or more than speed. If kids are relying on the network to take their finals, or parents are relying on telehealth to keep them alive, being 99.99 certain that their network won’t go south tomorrow matters. A lot!

Affordability is an issue

In this year’s IEDC survey, 28% of respondents felt their constituents got great value for the money they spent for broadband. However, 27% say constituents pay too much for too little. Another 27% feel broadband in their area, if they can get it, is so expensive many cannot even afford to subscribe. 17% are happy they can get broadband but feel they should be able to get faster speeds and better service

Supply and Demand creates a vicious cycle in rural areas

On the business side of the equation, the three top barriers to broadband for businesses are codependent on each other. Rural population density, or the lack thereof, is the crux of the problem because without density it’s hard to make the financial case that draws ISPs to the table.

Without core broadband technology, it is hard to attract and retain talented people in the community. And the lack of innovative broadband enhancements after/if a community gets an initial network (because of a weak business case) just starts the circle again.

Broadband is key in economic development strategy

The percentage of respondents who are not sold on community broadband as an economic engine decreased significantly from 29% in 2014 to 13%. However, 38% say broadband is a big part of their current plan, and another 24% are incorporating broadband into their upcoming plans. 25% of respondents report that they do not have plans for using community broadband in their activities, so this stat has changed little in five years.

How does MN rank in prosperity? Pretty well

The Legatum Institute is…

a London-based think-tank with a global vision: to see all people lifted out of poverty. Our mission is to create the pathways from poverty to prosperity, by fostering Open Economies, Inclusive Societies and Empowered People.

They have created a tool that tracks how a state (or country) is doing in a number of categories:

  • Business Environment
  • Market Access & Infrastructure
  • Economic Quality
  • Safety & Security
  • Personal Freedom
  • Governance
  • Social Capital
  • Living Conditions
  • Education
  • Health
  • Natural Environment

Here’s what they say about the US…

United States is 17th in the overall Prosperity Index rankings. Since the Prosperity Index began in 2007, United States has remained at the same position.

PILLAR RANKINGS

In the Prosperity Pillar rankings, United States performs best on Business Environment and Social Capital and scores lowest on the Safety & Security pillar. The biggest positive change, compared to last year, came in Personal Freedom increasing by 5 places, whereas they dropped 4 places on Natural Environment.

Visit our Rankings table to see how United States compares to other countries.

The also have a Minnesota report. Spoiler alert: Minnesota comes in third for overall prosperity! So that’s good. And our score has increased from 62.4 to 64.3 in the last 10 years. It’s a 14-page report and it’s very interesting. I strongly suggest you check it out it’s so broad in topic. Looking at the details with a broad brush, I’d say its Minnesota’s quality healthcare and social capital that buoy our scores. Personal freedom is an area where we could use some improvement. Unfortunately our market access and infrastructure are not boosting us either.

Pew Trust new tool tracks broadband by state and compares

Pew are created a cool tool that compiles and organizes broadband policy by state. They look at

  • Broadband Programs (such as is there a Office of Broadband Development)
  • Competition and regulation (are there policies that support/hinder municipal broadband)
  • Definitions (speeds)
  • Funding and financing
  • Infrastructure access
  • Other (Such as legislative intent)

As you peruse the tool you can see how many states have legislation or other things to support broadband. For example, Minnesota is only one of 12 states to have a state broadband goal. They list 21 features or characteristics for Minnesota. Too much to copy it all here but I check out just a few things. Like state goals they list two:

It is a goal of the state that by 2022 and thereafter, the state be in: (1) the top five states of the United States for broadband speed universally accessible to residents and businesses; (2) the top five states for broadband access; and (3) the top 15 when compared to countries globally for broadband penetration.

And

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 Speed of at least 25 megabits per second and minimum upload Speed 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 Speed of at least 100 megabits per second and upload Speed of at least 20 megabits per second.

Each taken from the legislation. It seems like a slick tool – especially helpful for practitioners or anyone having to understand practitioner.

 

FCC Should Assess Making Off-School-Premises Access Eligible for Additional Federal Support

Federal funding is the reason than so many schools and libraries have adequate access. It’s a boon to those communities. But there’s still a huge gap between students with access as home and students without it.

I have three kids. I work full time. I have lots of volunteer gigs. If I had to take them to the library to get homework done we would all be less productive citizens. So I was pleased to see the US Government Accountability Office ask the FCC to look at federal support for home broadband access for students.

Here’s their recommendation…

Recommendation: The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission should determine and execute a methodology for collecting and analyzing data—such as conducting a new pilot program regarding off-premises wireless access or analyzing other data—to assess the potential benefits, costs, and challenges of making off-premises wireless access eligible for E-rate program support, and publish the results of this analysis. (Recommendation 1)

More recommendations are promised once the that step is completed. They also post an easy chart that outlines the downsides of having to leave home for access.

Local Broadband providers offer fastest connections – MN not tops for region

Motherboard reports on a study of ISPs done by PC Mag

A new study once again highlights how community-run internet service providers (ISPs) offer better, faster broadband than their private sector counterparts.

Using data from 356,925 broadband speed tests conducted over a year, PCMag recently compiled a list of the fastest ISPs in America. ISPs were then affixed a PCMag Speed Index score based on a combination of line performance, upload, and download speeds.

When all regional ISPs were compared side by side, the fastest ISP in America was independent California ISP Sonic, with a score of 610.6. Sonic has been working with select California communities to leverage their publicly-owned fiber networks.

All told, six of the ten fastest ISPs in the States were either directly run by a local community, or involved some form of partnership between the public and private sectors.

PC Mag provides top providers by region…

North Central
Includes: IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, MI, MN, MO, ND, NE, OH, SD, and WI
This area remains a Google Fiber stronghold, thanks to the (few) deployments there. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t even Google Fiber’s strongest showing in the North Central region for us; in 2017, it had a PSI of 287.4, and dipped even futher to 210.9 last year. Allo and MetroNet are in the same spots they had last year, albeit with higher PSI scores. The new addition is FairlawnGig of Fairlawn, OH, a one-city ISP that stormed onto this list with a score that even outperforms our old friends at Midco.

Comparing the North Central states, here’s how MN ranks in terms of fastest internet

  1. North Dakota – 115.7
  2. Kansas – 82.1
  3. Nebraska – 78.9
  4. South Dakota – 77.4
  5. Michigan – 75.1
  6. Missouri – 72
  7. Indiana – 70.1
  8. Minnesota – 67.2
  9. Wisconsin – 65
  10. Illinois – 63.2
  11. Iowa – 61.5
  12. Ohio – 60.8

So we’re not fastest according to PC Mag – but I want to remind folks that we recently did well for Midwest ranking comparing urban and rural county speeds – especially for high speeds. Maybe we’re not fastest according to PC Mag – but we’re more ubiquitous.

Public complaints on USDA’s Rural broadband plan

Investigate Midwest reports on public comment to proposed federal investment in rural broadband. The quick take on the action (or proposed action) in question: in January 2017, the President promised better broadband for rural areas. Following the promise, U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed the Rural Broadband Pilot Program. There was a budget (in 2018) of $600 million and a proposed budget in 2019 of $425 million BUT the Office of Management and Budget called out that amount given, the 2018 funds hadn’t been used.

That’s a very quick take because the real story is the comments on the action and proposed action. Investigate Midwest reports…

While nearly all the comments were in favor of the Rural Utilities Service’s efforts to expand broad internet, there were 3,659 references to the idea that the pilot program’s standards for speed were either not fast enough, they were focused on speed but not bandwidth, or the speed at which technology is advancing would leave those speeds obsolete in just a few years.

There were a few categories of complaints

  • Inadequate speed goals
  • Eligibility for funding (unserved vs served)
  • Accuracy of broadband maps
  • Cost

It sounds a lot like what I hear in Minnesota. One quick number I picked up in the article…

Rural Americans can pay as much as $155/month for service slower than the Federal Communications Commission classifies as “high speed internet.”

I have heard of people paying more – especially when they end up using a mobile hotspot for coverage. (Right now I have a college kid using a mobile hotspot for her broadband; I cringe with each text telling me about the $5 surcharge for additional coverage.)

21 percent of MN can access fiber through a Cooperative

The Institute for Local Self Reliance has updated their 2017 report on how Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America, because…

In the 18 months from when we originally released our report on rural cooperatives, we have seen a tremendous increase in attention on cooperatives as a key approach for dramatically improving rural Internet access. Many cooperatives have become more aggressive in building next-generation networks for their member-owners and their neighbors. This updated report reflects the latest data we could gather on this essential movement.

Here are some of the high level highlights:

    • More than 140 co-ops across the country now offer residential gigabit Internet access to their members, reaching more than 300 communities.
    • Co-ops connect 70.8 percent of North Dakota and 47.7 percent of South Dakota landmass to fiber, and residents enjoy some of the fastest Internet access speeds in the nation.
    • Georgia and Mississippi have overturned state laws banning co-ops from offering Internet access, and other states, including Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina, and Texas, have implemented legislation that will further ease the way.

And  a look at what’s happening in Minnesota.

They mention a few Minnesota coops and the impact of Minnesota state grants…

In addition to federal funding sources, co-ops
are often eligible for state and local grants. The
Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Grant
Program has awarded funds to several
cooperatives, and multiple states looked to it as
a model for their own grant programs. Local 22
government funding for connectivity is rarer, but
in Minnesota, numerous counties have
provided loans and grants to electric and
telephone cooperatives for broadband projects,
often to supplement federal or state funding.23
For example, Cook County, Minnesota, offered
Arrowhead Electric Cooperative a $4 million
grant after the co-op was awarded $16 million
in stimulus funding.