Rural counties with the highest levels of broadband have the highest levels of income

Agri-Pluse is publishing a series of articles – “The seven things you should know before you write the next farm bill.” Last week their article on Rural Development touched on the importance of broadband – using a Minnesota example…

Bob Fox, a Minnesota farmer and Renville County commissioner says that businesses looking to plant roots in a rural community often ask about the quality of roads first and the speed of broadband, second.

“It just makes a world of difference in what you can do as a business person with that broadband speed,” he told Agri-Pulse. “We have to find a way to get broadband across all of the United States.”

A study conducted for Cornell University’s Community and Regional Development Institute underscores his point. It found that rural counties with the highest levels of broadband have the highest levels of income and education and lower levels of unemployment and poverty.

But according to the most recent Broadband Progress Report, 34 million Americans still lack access to broadband benchmark speeds. This baseline map (below) visualizes broadband access at the county level and identifies connectivity gaps — the lighter the color, the lower the percentage of households with broadband access.

They recognize that reaching those 34 million is tough work…

Building out high-speed broadband in rural areas is not easy or cheap, as Catherine Moyer, CEO of Pioneer Communications, pointed out during a recent Senate Agriculture Committee field hearing.

Pioneer is a local telecommunications provider located in southwestern Kansas, serving a 5,000 square mile area – roughly the size of Connecticut but with over three million fewer people than that state.

“We provide 21,000 total connections to wireline voice, high-speed broadband and video services over a network that utilizes a mix of fiber, copper and coax facilities,” Moyer testified. “On average, we have just over two subscribers per square mile. However, when considering that 81 percent of our customers live in our small population centers, the “density” of our rural subscribers per square mile drops to just under 0.5.

“Put another way, 81 percent of our customers reside in approximately 15 square miles, while the remaining 19 percent reside in the other 4,985 square miles.

One might ask why we serve these areas, she noted in her testimony. “We are the provider of last resort –in addition to legal obligations to serve these consumers and businesses who were left behind long ago when larger companies picked first where to serve. If Pioneer does not provide them now with service, there is no one else available to do so.”

They also recognize that broadband is one facet of rural development. There are many. Agri Pulse seems to be suggesting a united front for building better awareness…

While a wide array of Rural Development programs can offer many options for helping keep farmers on the land and rural businesses growing, this part of the farm bill is often not considered to be a high priority for national farm organizations. For commodity groups, it’s usually something that surfaces after the commodity, crop insurance, and conservation titles.

And even among its most stalwart advocates, congressional staff say that support for RD is often splintered in respective silos. For example, rural water advocates do a great job lobbying for water programs and the same is true with the rural electric cooperatives, advocating for low-interest loans. And organizations like NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association have been actively promoting expansion of broadband.

But during the last farm bill debate, rural advocates say there was not a strong enough coalition of all rural and farm groups “beating the drum” for a more comprehensive approach to job creation in rural areas.

Broadband competition is essential to better service and lower costs in rural areas

Brookings recently took a look at broadband in rural areas – postulating that competition is a key component to quality broadband in rural areas…

It can be tempting to accept the view that, in an environment of scarce government resources and competing interests, merely ensuring broadband access from a single provider is enough – especially as an improvement on a status quo with little or no access at all. History tells a cautionary tale, though. In 1913, the U.S. Department of Justice settled an antitrust lawsuit against AT&T by essentially accepting AT&T’s monopoly in exchange for the build-out of the nation’s telephone system. AT&T worked hard to uphold its end of the bargain, but it was decades before competitive markets were free to serve consumers, stimulate innovation, and avoid unnecessary regulation.

In other words, as a nation, we should embrace both expanded broadband deployment and expanded broadband competition. Without competition, the pressure from consumers for better and cheaper broadband will naturally ease, and rural America could fall even further behind.

They note that for the very first time, the Federal Communications Commission concluded in 2015 that the disparity between urban and rural access to broadband provided the basis for direct agency action.

the recent FCC study found that 58 percent of rural Census blocks did not have a “fixed” broadband service provider offering broadband speeds at speeds of 25 megabits per second download/3 Mbps upload or better as of December 31, 2015. 25/3 is scarcely the fastest residential broadband – the same study shows 15.1 percent of fixed broadband connections had downstream speeds of at least 100 Mbps – but it does represent the speeds most recently established by the FCC as the broadband benchmark.

And show the breakdown of competition in rural and urban areas…

And they tell a few stories of what happens when competition happens…

For example, when the FCC looked at the use of municipal broadband (in an order that has since been reversed by an appellate court on legal grounds), it set out evidence showing that the presence of an additional broadband provider pushes down the prices and increases the quality of both new and incumbent providers. In other words, such competition is “win-win.” It benefits those consumers who switch and even those that do not but who gain from faster download speeds resulting from the incumbent’s response to competitive pressures.

Paul Bunyan GigaZone Comes to Hines and areas of Blackduck

Happy to share the big news!

The GigaZone Comes to Hines and areas of Blackduck
One of the largest rural all-fiber optic Gigabit networks in the United States continues to grow;
Now available to more than 33,400 locations in northern Minnesota

(Bemidji, MN) (March 20, 2017) – Paul Bunyan Communications has announced that the GigaZone has come to Hines and areas of Blackduck. As a result of continued upgrades to the Cooperative’s all-fiber optic communications network over 700 more locations now have access to GigaZone services including Internet speeds up to a Gigabit per second.

“We’ve made great progress on upgrading our network to incorporate even more members into the GigaZone over the past several months.  I’m very proud of all the hard work our cooperative has put in so far as we put our membership and region at the forefront of the very latest in communication networks.  We will continue to do as much as we can to bring the GigaZone to all our members and the communities we serve as fast as we can.” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.

The GigaZone is currently available to over 33,400 locations, making it one of the largest rural all-fiber optic networks in the United States!  Check out our online map showing the current areas of the GigaZone as well as those that will be constructed/upgraded in the future.

Paul Bunyan Communications recently mailed out information to the new locations that are now in the GigaZone and the cooperative has an online map available at showing the active areas of the GigaZone as well as those areas that will be constructed/upgraded in the future.

“If you are wondering when the GigaZone will reach you, the online map of the active areas and plans for the next two years is a great resource.” added Brian Bissonette, Paul Bunyan Communications Marketing Supervisor.

GigaZone service options include unprecedented Broadband Internet speeds of up to 1000 Mbps – a Gigabit.  Members who subscribe to GigaZone Broadband can also add PBTV Fusion and/or low cost unlimited long distance service.  All current service options also remain available to cooperative members within the GigaZone.

Most current wireless routers cannot support blazing GigaZone Internet speeds.  To help, the cooperative is offering GigaZone Integrated Wi-Fi that uses the latest in advanced Wi-Fi technologies to maximize the in-home wireless experience. This service is free to all new GigaZone customers for the first six months, with a minimal charge thereafter.

Paul Bunyan Communications has the region’s largest and fastest all fiber optic network with over 5,000 square miles throughout most of Beltrami County and portions of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties.  The Cooperative provides Broadband High Speed Internet Service up to a Gigabit per second, digital and high definition television services, Smart Home services, digital voice services, and more.   Service availability depends upon location, some restrictions may apply.

Better broadband helps Minnesota continue to be a state that works

The Grand Forks Herald recently ran an Op Ed from former Senator Matt Schmit on legislative priorities (infrastructure) that would lift of rural Minnesota. Legislators need to work together regardless of party or location and here’s what he said about broadband…

For many communities throughout Greater Minnesota and families living outside city limits, reliable connectivity to the information superhighway is just as important as paved highways. But more than 20 percent of rural Minnesota homes and businesses lack access to broadband and thus, the global economy.

This challenge is analogous to the need for rural electrification throughout the American heartland a century ago. Imagine life today without electricity. Broadband and its many applications for economic competitiveness and quality of life are no different.

Broadband is essential for home-based business and teleworking, distance learning, telemedicine and precision agriculture, not to mention an ever-increasing number of applications in everyday life.

Minnesota’s nation-leading Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program addresses a market failure—in this case, a situation where private investment capital is limited while consumer demand is strong, though not geographically concentrated.

In its first three years, the matching grant has funded 10 projects in northwestern Minnesota and has helped extend connectivity throughout the state to an estimated 25,000 homes and businesses and hundreds of community anchor institutions, including libraries, schools and hospitals.

It’s a great example of how smart public investment partnered with private sector or service cooperative know-how can make a real difference.

Broadband is the great equalizer for economic competitiveness and quality of life in Greater Minnesota. The 2016 Legislature recognized this fact and doubled its prior investment in the grant fund.

Now, the 2017 Legislature has a chance to build momentum around Minnesota’s proven approach to extending the reach of broadband.

Minnesota cabin owners want broadband

Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates surveyed cabin owners last year – broadband came up. The Brainerd Dispatch reports

Almost two-thirds—64 percent—of cabin and lake property owners would be interested in more state investment in bringing high-speed broadband internet to greater Minnesota. Many reported problems with cellphone and internet coverage and would welcome lower-cost coverage, the release stated.

The report also indicated that “Minnesota is about to experience the largest intergenerational transfer of shoreline property in our history.” Which means a new generation is about to inherent a lot of cabins and (the report says) a lot of debt.

It used to be that people went to the cabin to get away from work – but it seems that folks don’t want that anymore – certainly 64 percent don’t. Being able to work from the cabin means people can work and hopefully lose the debt and keep the cabin.

Pipestone County proceeds with broadband feasibility study

We’re getting the regional study report from all angle – but I think it’s helpful to get the varied points of views. Today from the Pipestone County Star

Pipestone County will participate in a multi-county study to find out what it would take to provide broadband internet access to under-served parts of the county.

The county board during its Feb. 14 meeting voted unanimously to accept a proposal from Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting to conduct the feasibility study for Pipestone, Chippewa, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray and Yellow Medicine counties.

According to the proposal, the study will include at least three scenarios: Building a complete fiber system; building a fiber backbone and using towers to provide wireless service; and building fiber only where it’s economically feasible and using wireless everywhere else.

How does Northern MN get broadband? Cooperatives, community and government support

Business North recently ran an article outlining some of the reasons Northern Minnesota needs broadband and some parts of do not have it.

Broadband is good for the economy…

In a recent opinion piece penned by Jordan Feyerherm of the Center for Rural Affairs, the author notes that rural regions with one to three broadband providers experience employment growth that’s more than 6 percent higher than areas that lack broadband access.

Rural broadband is expensive…

The primary driver behind the lack of broadband infrastructure in rural areas is simple economics – it costs more per customer to deliver. Broadband companies can see a rapid return on hardwire investment on a high-density street in Duluth. In a rural township, that same company might not see a profit for their efforts for decades – if ever.

Cooperatives make a difference…

“Where there are co-ops there’s broadband. Where there are incumbent providers, there’s not,” said Bernadine Joselyn, the Blandin Foundation’s director of public policy and engagement.

The Foundation has been a strong advocate for high-speed Internet expansion to rural areas through its Blandin Community Broadband Program. Now, however, Joselyn said the work has become more difficult. “What was easy to do has been done,” she said.

One of the most aggressive co-ops when it comes to broadband expansion has been Paul Bunyan. Based in Bemidji, the co-op has expanded broadband availability to a number of townships in northeastern Minnesota. Just last year, 1,200 residents of Balsam Township, a rural township in Itasca County, had broadband access for the first time.

The community needs to be ready…

Proximity to a co-op or company planning expansion is certainly key, but some communities have been more prepared to jump on board.

In a column analyzing the recently unveiled list of Border-to-Border projects, Brown noted a lack of funded projects in rural St. Louis County.

“The only project in St. Louis County is a small Mediacom expansion in Fayal Township south of Eveleth. Why was there only one small project in St. Louis County? In short, there were few projects to fund… Localities in rural St. Louis County haven’t organized the way they have in Itasca County and other places in Minnesota,” wrote Brown.

[I might step in and say that actually the Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative has been active in St Louis County.)

Government support…

Programs like the state’s Border-to-Border grant initiative, for now at least, seem to be the best shot rural residents have for broadband connection. …

In late January, northern Minnesota legislators joined forces to promote an expansion of the Border-to-Border program. They’re proposing a $100 million appropriation for the broadband program. The bill’s chief authors are Rep. Julie Sandstede, DFL – Hibbing, in the House and Sen. Erik Simonson, DFL – Duluth, in the Senate.