Fixed wireless project in Southeast Minnesota to start later this summer

Wallaces Farmer recently posted details on the fixed wireless happening in Southeast MN. The describe fixed wireless…

Fixed wireless broadband works in a similar fashion to cellphone communication with towers carrying a signal. Customers of fixed wireless broadband have a radio at a fixed location, maybe at home, on their farm or at a business, that communicates to an antenna on a nearby tower. Signals can be sent through a line of site to the tower approximately 5 to 7 miles depending on the strength of the radio.

And the team working on it…

Earlier this summer a unique partnership between Mabel Cooperative Telephone Co., MiEnergy Cooperative and Spring Grove Communications was announced that will bring expanded broadband access to rural residents, businesses and communities in northeast Iowa and southeast Minnesota. …

With the partnership announcement, MiEnergy Cooperative is joining Mabel Cooperative Telephone Co. and Spring Grove Communications in ownership of Harmony Telephone Co. From this partnership a new company called MiBroadband will be formed.

And the importance of broadband…

“Improved broadband access in rural areas will change the dynamic and outcome of rural America,” Finstad adds. “At USDA, we are always looking for ways to create a vibrant and future-looking community that has vitality and that can compete in a global market. This partnership is creating opportunities for families like mine to be here in rural Minnesota for generations to come.”

Adoption is decreasing in rural areas. Benefit of broadband comes from access and use

Roberto Gallardo just released info on broadband adoption in rural, urban and suburban areas. There are lots of caveats to the research – it’s from 2015-2016, based on geographic definitions from 2010 and adoption means accessing broadband at speeds of 10 Mbps down and a1 Mbps up. BUT those are the best numbers out there right now.

So first the good news – adoption rates are improving…

In 2016, 15.4 percent or 48.9 million people lived in low adoption neighborhoods, down from almost one-fifth in 2015. So, yes an improvement.

Then the bad news – that improvement has not been evenly distributed. I think his chart makes this info most accessible. He shows levels of low adoption in rural, urban and suburban areas. As you can see below, low adoption decreased in urban and suburban areas but increased in rural areas.

Here’s where having that lower speed definition of broadband helps focus the attention on adoption. According to the Office of Broadband Development 94+ percent of Minnesota households have access to 10/1 speeds. That hasn’t decreased. Access isn’t an issue. The issue is helping people realize the value of broadband. Helping them learn how to use it.

MN Farmfest Gubernatorial, US Senate and Congressional Candidate forums – all include questions on broadband

I had a great time attending Farmfest today. I attended to watch the Gubernatorial debate. There was one question on infrastructure:

 

All five candidates were there: Tim Walz, Tim Pawlenty, Lori Swanson, Jeff Johnson and Erin Murphy. Two candidates took the opportunity to specifically talk about rural broadband. Lori Swanson likened broadband to electricity and said that we need to invest in it. Erin Murphy mentioned her plan to use the newly approved online sales tax to invest in broadband; that will be $100 million or more a year.

I thought folks might also be interested in the question plans to make MN stronger.

I watched the U.S. Senate and Congressional Candidate forums from the comfort of my own home.

You can see the entire Senate Forum on the Farmfest site. There was one question on broadband and everyone said it was important to rural areas. People talked about it as a utility, expressed a need at more and faster broadband and talked about the need to continue public and private investment. Here’s that portion of the forum:

You can also see the Congressional Forum online. That forum included: Collin Peterson, Dave Hughes, Tom Emmer, Ian Todd, Angie Craig, Carla Nelson, Jim Hagedorn and Dan Feehan. (Jason Lewis had a conflict).

They also had one question broadband – and those asked felt that broadband was important for rural areas.

Rural Renaissance – broadband is paving the way in some MN rural communities

The latest Minnesota Monthly highlights the peril and the hope for rural communities…

Even in areas that weren’t hit hardest financially, changing times have made it hard for small communities to retain talented young people—who have migrated to cities—and, with them, diversity, opportunity, culture, and access to technology. To top it off, natural calamities (such as blizzards, flooding, and tornadoes) continue to shake rural communities’ literal foundations—a 1997 flood decimated East Grand Forks, and a 1998 St. Peter tornado caused $120 million in property damage. There are challenges in rural America that won’t be solved overnight.

But in the small towns of greater Minnesota, many things are also going right. Innovation can come from within, and here we have seen models of ongoing reinvention.

The article highlights broadband work on the Iron Range…

Like many rural communities across greater Minnesota, a brighter future in the Iron Range is tied to entrepreneurial growth afforded by broadband internet access—which varies based upon infrastructure, population, and investment.

“In the countryside around Ely and Hibbing, the broadband service pretty much disappears,” says Bill Coleman of St. Paul-based firm Community Technology Advisors (CTA). “That’s a challenge. Living there can be pretty attractive—if there’s connectivity. There’s a strong correlation in areas that are connected attracting younger workers and families.”

CTA runs feasibility studies to assess options for broadband access by area. Public versus private investment varies, and generally speaking, the fewer homes per mile, the greater the likelihood that public money will be necessary.

“Every community is different,” Coleman says, pointing out that while communities on the western end of the Iron Range have excellent connectivity, and east Lake and Cook counties offer further success stories, other communities have broadband access but see spotty services and rising prices. One encouraging sign is Ten Below Coworking space in Ely, which offers the town’s first fiberoptic broadband connection funded by a $15,000 Blandin Foundation grant.

And in Red Wing…

Red Wing, a southern town of about 16,500 has become known over the past century-plus as a business center for mills, factories, a once-bustling port, and, more recently, the shoes that bear the community’s name. And today, it’s showing the way for communities in rural Minnesota that aspire to be tech hubs.

Hiawatha Broadband Communications provides Red Wing with one of the state’s best broadband networks, which led to the 2013 creation of Red Wing Ignite. The business accelerator hosts events to connect tech entrepreneurs with advisors and investors and has launchd education initiatives that foster science and technology talent in young people.

“The key to innovation in greater Minnesota is collaboration,” says Ignite executive director Neela Mollgaard. “We can’t work in silos. We need to work together across organizational and city boundaries, and put the entrepreneur and business first.”

Red Wing was recently the only rural town to join the national US Ignite’s innovation-focused national network of about 20 Smart Gigabit Communities, alongside San Francisco, Austin, and the entire state of Utah. “This is so farmers in Goodhue County can use precision agriculture etechnology to improve their crop yields,” Senator Amy Klobuchar wrote in a message of congratulations to Red Wing Ignite. “Business owners will have the best technology to compete not just in the state but across the globe.”

Impact of competitive (vs monopoly) market on broadband investment – competitive gets more attention

The Institute for Local Self Reliance has taken a deep dive into broadband providers and competition for their latest report – Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable & Telecom. On the highest level, this is what they found…

Real Competition Drives Investment
: The telecom companies have invested in Fiber-to-the-Home in areas where they face competition, which are generally more urban areas. The advent of Google Fiber in 2011 further increased the competition in urban markets. Efforts to increase investment from the largest firms in more rural areas have largely failed. Though states have varied regulations, the same trend results in every state — investment by the large ISPs is correlated to competition rather than the regulatory environment. This reality does not suggest that competition between a cable monopoly and a telephone monopoly is sufficient for high-quality Internet access, but it clearly helps to ensure connections at the minimum definition of broadband.

Big Cable Companies Dominate: 
These networks are capable of delivering high-speed broadband to everyone within their service area, a legacy of the local franchising requirements that often required universal service or at least service to all areas with a specified density of housing. More than half of the states have since removed local authority to negotiate such provisions but they bear some responsibility for the far-reaching cable networks.

Big Cable and Telecom Focus on Urban Markets
: The big cable and telecom companies fight over urban customers, not rural customers. About 98 percent of the urban population (254 million people) have access to broadband. About 5 million urban residents, however, remain without broadband access. In rural areas, only 69 percent of the population (43.6 million people) have broadband access, leaving 19.3 million rural residents without high-speed Internet access.

The report profiles 6 providers: Comcast, Charter, AT&T, CenturyLink, Frontier, and Verizon. They track how many customer they have, their potential and the customers they have in monopoly areas versus competitive areas. The numbers are startling at times. The number of monopoly customers are a magnitude smaller than the competitive areas.

They give a nod to Blandin’s recent report – Impact of CAFII-funded Networks:  Lessons From Two Rural Exchanges Left Underserved, which highlights the fact that (federally subsidized) CAF II networks being deployed are not meeting Minnesota state speed goals. (CAFII only requires 10/1 speeds and with the quickly diminishing quality of the lines, that is what they are building to in many areas.)

The report leaves some advice for communities…

The fact is, the large providers, such as Comcast and AT&T, have not  answered the digital divide. Communities must find their own way,  whether be working in partnership with local ISPs, cooperatives, or  building their own community networks.

New broadband company to serve rural southeast Minnesota

Post Bulletin reports…

Three local cooperatives announced Tuesday they will work together to create a new broadband company that will provide broadband to underserved rural areas.

According to a release, Mabel Cooperative Telephone Co., MiEnergy Cooperative and Spring Grove Communications will create a new company, MiBroadband, and will work to supply fixed, wireless broadband to areas of Southeast Minnesota and Northeast Iowa.

It also said rural areas typically are defined as having less than four subscribers, and that low density makes it more difficult to plow fiber in rural areas. While still in the early stages, the three companies announced this decision stemmed from the belief rural areas should not have hindered access to high-speed internet.

Looks like they will be open for business this fall…

MiBroadband is planned to launch in late fall/early winter, with services rolled out to the Cresco and Rushford areas first. The release said other areas will be announced at a later date.

Can broadband ring in a rural renaissance? If not, why not? #Rural2pt0

Spirit of full disclosure – I think Roberto Gallardo is inspiring. He spoke at the Minnesota Broadband conference last fall. I love the idea of the digital era making way for a rural renaissance. So I wanted to share a piece of work he did recently (but recommend you check out the whole article), which was reprinted in the Daily Yonder and I wanted to invite folks to start using the hashtag #Rural2pt0 when you share something that feels like rural renaissance in action…

You see, the digital age and its applications has the potential to eliminate density and geographic proximity requirements, that were so critical during the industrial age.

It is possible then, in the digital age, for a rural community to maintain its “rural” feel and continue to leverage its natural amenities while taking advantage of what only dense urban areas enjoyed last century. Things like access to funding (crowdfunding), worldwide markets (e-commerce), savvy employees (teleworkers) and real-time information; collaboration and innovation (videoconferencing and soon mixed reality); certain level of healthcare (telehealth); and educational opportunities (massive open online courses, online certifications).

So, what is in our way to achieve #Rural2pt0?

For starters, ubiquitous ultra-fast internet connectivity. Just like electricity, internet connectivity needs to be everywhere. Data limits need to go. We have a long way to go before reaching parity regarding broadband infrastructure between urban and rural.

Another thing getting in the way to #Rural2pt0 are digital skills. The vast majority of digital savvy workers are located in urban areas. Investments to improve digital skills in rural are lacking, or very inadequate. This needs to change. A digital literate rural society is a must.

Lastly and the most serious challenge, is that the traditional 20th century mindset still exists in rural communities. A change in mindset, that better understands the implications of the digital age, is a key ingredient for #Rural2pt0. This change in mindset can take place through increasing awareness, be it through spreading the word, education, presentations and/or formal or informal conversations helping rural communities transition to, plan for and prosper in the digital age.