US House Agriculture Committee finds that rural Infrastructure includes transportation, water and broadband!

US House Agriculture Committee finds that rural Infrastructure includes transportation, water and broadband!

The Worthington Globe highlights the House Agriculture Committee last week including the need for non-transportation infrastructure – water and broadband…

“A strong rural infrastructure is necessary for our rural areas to remain vital but our rural economy faces unique infrastructure challenges,” U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said as the House Agriculture Committee discussed the topic on Wednesday, July 19. …

Transportation always comes to mind when infrastructure is mentioned, and it is important to rural America. But it is not just highway transportation for rural residents. Farmers also depend on water transportation to get their products to market, and more and more they need better high-speed internet connections, known as broadband, to compete.

“It’s surprising to a lot of folks but broadband access is lacking in many of these areas,” Peterson said.

It was a good reminder to be to watch the archive of the meeting:

One warning – the sound is intermittent at least for the first 30 minutes. They fixed it after that. I’m just going to post rough highlights I caught as I listened – and I’ve tried to include the time when helpful. I’ve also highlighted the parts I found most interesting. Continue reading

Rebuild Rural Coalition testifies at House hearing – broadband as important as other infrastructure

The Farm Credit reports on Witnesses representing the Rebuild Rural Coalition (RRC) testimony today before the House Agriculture Committee at the hearing on rural infrastructure. Broadband and cooperatives feature highly…

“Over the last decade, I have witnessed an alarming decline in historical competitive advantage that our transportation infrastructure has provided U.S. agriculture, and the corresponding increase in investment in critical infrastructure being made by our foreign competitors,” said Rick Calhoun, immediate past chairman of the National Grain and Feed Association’s Waterborne Commerce Committee. “We welcome the critically needed renewed sense of urgency by this Congress and the Trump administration to enact an infrastructure package that includes a reliable funding mechanism to renovate our dilapidated inland waterways system, as well as to restore our rural roads and bridges. Both are essential to the future vibrancy of rural communities and competitiveness of U.S. agriculture.”

“A robust communications infrastructure is just as important to our business as our traditional assets like poles, wires and power plants,” said Curtis Wynn, President and CEO of Roanoke Electric Cooperative. “My co-op is investing $4 million to lay a fiber communications “backbone” in our service territory. Once this foundation is in place, there are many things we can do with it. One option could be providing broadband internet to our consumers’ homes. Many people in our region don’t have access to reliable internet. That puts our consumers, schools, hospitals and employers at a disadvantage. Addressing the infrastructure challenges facing rural America requires many different types of technologies, partnerships and engagement from all stakeholders. A separate infrastructure package will give co-ops a great opportunity to make investments to ensure the success and stability of rural America.”

“Robust broadband infrastructure is critical to the current and future success of rural America,” said Jennifer Otwell, General Manager of Totelcom Communications, LLC. “But the very characteristics that enable the unique beauty and enterprise of rural America also make it very expensive to deploy and sustain advanced communications services there. Our industry is excited to participate in this conversation regarding infrastructure initiatives, and we look forward to working with policymakers and other stakeholders on a comprehensive infrastructure strategy to ensure that all Americans will experience the numerous benefits of broadband.”

Enabling the Innovators: A New View on Rural Broadband with Gary Johnson

For a Sunday break, enjoy Paul Bunyan’s Gary Johnson’s TEDx talk on rural broadband…

 

Folks who attended the Broadband Conference last year may recognize some of the themes from Gary’s keynote there. The agenda is up for the 2017 broadband conference – who knows what TEDx talks in the making we’ll see there.

 

August is Rural Broadband month at the FCC

FCC Chair Ajit Pai announces

I’m pleased to announce that August will be Rural Broadband Month at the Federal Communications Commission. Our agenda for the open meeting on August 3 will feature several items that will help bridge the digital divide.

Leading off will be a Public Notice to initiate the pre-auction process for the Connect America Fund Phase II auction. This auction will award up to $2 billion over the next decade to broadband providers that commit to offer voice and broadband services to fixed locations in unserved high-cost areas in our country. To maximize the value the American people receive for the universal service dollars we spend, this will be the first auction to award ongoing high-cost universal service support through competitive bidding in a multiple-round, reverse auction. With this Public Notice, we are seeking comment on the procedures to be used during this auction. Moving forward now will put us on track to conduct the auction in 2018.

The FCC will also consider taking the next step in implementing Phase II of another key universal service program, the Mobility Fund. In February, the Commission adopted a Mobility Fund framework to allocate up to $4.53 billion over the next decade to advance 4G LTE service, primarily in rural areas that would not be served in the absence of government support. The proposed Order on the August agenda would establish a “challenge process”—that is, a process for resolving disputes over whether areas should be eligible for Mobility Fund subsidies. This measure will allow us to proceed to a reverse auction as soon as possible. It is critical that we use accurate data to determine which areas will be included in that reverse auction. Many have complained to the FCC that the data that we currently collect through our Form 477 isn’t good enough to serve as the basis for that decision. I agree. Therefore, I am proposing to collect new and more granular data that will serve as the starting point in deciding which areas will be included in the Mobility Fund Phase II auction.

Separately, we need to do a better job collecting data through the FCC’s Form 477.

Microsoft positioning to spread broadband to rural areas. I have some questions

Microsoft unveiled its plan for bringing broadband to rural areas by July 4, 2022. It involves TV white spaces spectrum, fixed wireless, and satellite coverage. There’s a lot of like; there’s a lot to question. So borrowing from their report and other info I could find (noted when appropriate) I’m going to outline the questions I had about their plan.

How are they going to do it?

Specifically, a technology model that uses a combination of the TV white spaces spectrum, fixed wireless, and satellite coverage can reduce the initial capital and operating costs by roughly 80 percent compared with the cost of using fiber cables alone, and by approximately 50 percent compared with the cost of current LTE fixed wireless technology.

One key to deploying this strategy successfully is to use the right technology in the right places.

TV white spaces2 is expected to provide the best approach to reach approximately 80 percent of this underserved rural population, particularly in areas with a population density between two and 200 people per square mile.

Microsoft itself has considerable experience with this technology, having deployed 20 TV white spaces projects worldwide that have served 185,000 users.

But TV white spaces alone will not provide the complete solution. Satellite coverage is expected to be the most cost-effective solution for most areas with a population density of less than two people per square mile, and LTE fixed wireless for most areas with a density greater than 200 people per square mile. This mixed model for expanding broadband coverage will likely bring the total national cost of closing the rural broadband gap to roughly $10 billion.

How are they defining broadband?

Not once in their report did I read a definition of broadband. So by default, I’m going to assume they are using the FCC definition: 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload (25/3). I wonder if the goal will change as the FCC definition of broadband increases. Their stated goal implies that it will…

The time is right for the nation to set a clear and ambitious, but achievable goal: to eliminate the rural broadband gap within the next five years—by July 4, 2022— through a new Rural Broadband Strategy.

They allude to 4G a lot in the report. I think it’s worth noting that in urban areas, providers are talking up 5G. If we’re looking at parity, I might be looking at 5G in rural areas too. That being said, I recognize that the 5G standard isn’t yet set but the expected roadblocks would require early investigation.

Will the technologies they suggest meet those goals?

I’ve had to more away from the report to answer this – since again they don’t go into speeds.

I’ve written about satellite a lot – they are now claiming speeds of 25/3. Folks from the front-lines have certainly reported that satellite doesn’t work well for them. (Troubles with telehealth and costs.) And there doesn’t seem to be much room for increasing upload speeds, which means the 20 percent relying on satellite will be no better off.

Broadcasting & Cable had some info on the expectations of white space ability – but based on Microsoft’s claims…

Smith showed several prototype receivers, some of which Microsoft has used in field trials in 20 global locations ranging from Kenya to Taiwan to Washington state. The devices, built by Adaptrum, 6Harmonics and Aviacomm, are priced at under $800 now, and he said the prices would fall to $200 or less. They will be able to carry data at speeds up to 400 Megabits per second, he said, with initial models now operating at 25 Mbps and 40 Mbps. He said that Microsoft has run about 20 projects reaching 185,000 users—insisting that “this technology is ready to take off.”

Telecompetitor wrote (in 2015) about increase to white space speeds based on new standards (802.22 to 802.22b). This may be superfluous since Microsoft’s paper talks only about 802.22 but I found it interesting…

TV white spaces broadband wireless technology is on track to see a doubling in the speeds it can support, now that the IEEE has approved the 802.22b standard.

The new version of the point-to-multipoint standard can support speeds of 50 Mbps or more, said Apurva N. Mody, chairman of the IEEE 802.22 standard working group, in an email exchange with Telecompetitor.  In comparison, top speeds were 22-29 Mbps for the previous generation of the technology based on the 802.22 standard.

Additionally the number of users the technology can support will increase from 512 to 8,192 users, Mody said. While 8,192 users might sound like overkill, that capability could be important for machine-to-machine and Internet of Things communications.

Why is Microsoft doing this?

Our goal is not to profit directly from these projects, although we of course recognize that expanded broadband coverage will bring new commercial opportunities for every company in the tech sector that provides cloud services, including our own. We will rely on a business model focused on investing in the upfront capital projects needed to expand broadband coverage, and then seek a revenue share from operators to recoup our investment. We will use these revenue proceeds to invest in additional projects to expand coverage further over the next five years.

I wish I had a better feel for what revenue share meant – especially with Net Neutrality in question. But regardless – Google and Facebook have both jumped into the broadband provider business. (In fact Microsoft and Facebook built a cable from Easter US to Spain last year.) I think the connection to selling more ads was a more obvious payoff for them but it set a precedent and Microsoft cloud computing business would gain new customers with ubiquitous broadband.

Microsoft is starting with 12 states. Minnesota is not one of them but our neighbors are (North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin). It will be interesting to see how this works.

Broadband changes lives. So who is responsible to making sure we all have access?

Yesterday I read about Verizon cutting off a lot of power users. Ars Technica reports

Verizon Wireless said it is disconnecting a small group of customers who use vast amounts of data in rural areas where Verizon relies on roaming agreements with smaller network operators.

“Earlier this month we notified a small group of customers who are out of contract and primarily use mobile data on other wireless companies’ networks that we won’t be their service provider after July 30, 2017,” a Verizon spokesperson told Ars today. “This only affects a few people who primarily roam on other networks and does not affect customers who primarily use Verizon’s own network.”

The customers who are affected “are using vast amounts of data—some as much as a terabyte or more a month—outside of our network footprint,” the company said. Verizon gave the customers several weeks’ notice so they have time to port their numbers to new providers. Verizon provided no option to switch to different plans.

Why did Verizon do it? They’re losing money. I run a different kind of business – but I know you can’t keep customers who cost you money. (Yes, I mean you – who asked me to explain why your printer quit working after I built your website!) Should they have kept them on as a public good? Maybe or maybe not. I don’t even want to know the details because my question isn’t is OK for Verizon to cut them loose.

My question is – who is responsible for making sure they have an option?

I had been thinking about that when Craig Settles’ article (from the Daily Yonder) came across my desk. Craig makes the point that broadband isn’t just about doing things faster – it’s about doing new things. He’s uses stories of 3D printers used to bring jobs to rural areas (And arms – “Reynolds uses the Chattanooga Library’s 3D printer to build prosthetics for his son as he grows.”) and telemedicine to help folks recover from strokes.

These are some of the power users. Are we willing to pull the plug of opportunity for them? And if we’re not, again – who is responsible for making sure they have an option?

I think it’s going to take a village of parties to help raise the bar on broadband but Settle’s article offered one solution that I’ve seen work here Minnesota – the perspective of the cooperative to provide for their community…

“You have to challenge the old way of thinking,” says Mike Burrow, CEO of NineStar Connect, an Indiana broadband provider formed by an electric co-op and a telephone co-op.

“We did not look ourselves as an electric co-op. We look at ourselves as a solution provider for our local community, an infrastructure provider. If it enables our community to stay connected and provides vital services that help our community survive and thrive, that’s what we were involved in.”

Cooperatives seem to be a leader in bringing broadband to areas where it’s toughest to make a business case.

Follow up on finding broadband to serve boy with autism in rural MN

In May, I wrote about a boy outside of Biwabik with autism who was missing therapy because his broadband (satellite) was intermittent. In Forum has learned more about the story…

As a youth who suffers from autism, technology is a way that Dalton can connect to the rest of the world.

“He is extremely interested in anything visual,” his mother, Kirsten Klang, said. “That is how he learns.”

However, Dalton usually cannot connect to the internet for videos and other online aids because the family lives in a northern Minnesota area without wired internet service.

“He is so smart,” Klang said. “But I just don’t have the resources to get him as much internet as he could use.”

The satellite internet service Klang uses is spotty, at best, and costly for how little good it provides.

The boy’s story illustrates a push to expand high-speed Internet, known as broadband, in rural Minnesota. Gov. Mark Dayton set a goal of making broadband available to every home and business.

The situation is getting better – but not everywhere…

The government and private investments mean that not everyone’s story is like that experienced by Klang and her son.

“In general, we are seeing the momentum and the interest in the program increase,” Executive Director Danna Mackenzie of the state’s Office of Broadband Development said about state broadband construction grants.

The article goes on to highlights towns with and without access. It’s another example of the growing interest in equitable access for all!