An investment in satellite is a Band-Aid, not a cure

The Institute for Local Self Reliance reports…

“The federal government is about to spend more than $120 million on subsidies that, rather than improving rural connectivity, will make tens of thousands of families worse off.

These funds are part of a 2018 federal program intended to expand rural broadband access called the Connect America Fund phase II (CAF II) reverse auction. The program, in which Internet access providers competed for subsidies, will distribute nearly $1.5 billion over the next 10 years to connect unserved rural residents. But in some communities, the auction may do more to widen the digital divide than diminish it.

While some winning bidders committed to building out high-speed fiber optic networks, satellite company Viasat will rake in more than $120 million in subsidies to continue providing inadequate geostationary satellite connectivity to rural households that are clamoring for something better. Not only does satellite Internet access offer slower speeds, greater latency, and less reliability for a higher cost compared to other technologies, but Viasat’s subsidies are making those areas ineligible for future broadband funds, deterring other providers from building truly high-quality networks. Instead of bridging the digital divide, the process will relegate certain communities to satellite Internet access while others receive ultra-fast fiber and do nothing more than deepen the fissure.”

As you can see from the map, Minnesota doesn’t have any blocks assigned to Viasat. And because of that I nearly walked by this story, except yesterday I was a press conference where Governor Walz announced the 2019 MN Broadband grant awards. A reporter asked if the grants only went to fiber networks, because he had heard there had been great advances in satellite.

I think Commissioner Grove answered by talking about fixed wireless. (Grants have gone to fixed wireless projects in the past, not to satellite.)

The press conference was not the time or place to talk about limitations of satellite – but it was a reminder that there are some strong proponents of satellite and there’s a story out there that it is a viable, long term, public-investment-worthy technology. There is a place for satellite. It will serve users with limited requirements in areas where nothing else is available but it won’t serve a community of users and therefore it doesn’t make sense for public investment.

Text for latest version of the broadband grants in the MN House

Here’s the latest text of the House version of the broadband grant bill taken from the Journal of the House (88th Day – Monday, April 30, 2018). Starting with the details on the funding (the additions are underlined)…

Subd. 3.Broadband Development  0   15,000,000

(a) $15,000,000 in fiscal year 2019 is for transfer to the border‑to‑border broadband fund account in the special revenue fund established under Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396 and may be used for purposes provided in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.395.  This appropriation is onetime and is available until spent.  Of this appropriation, up to three percent is for costs

incurred by the commissioner to administer Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.395.  Administrative costs may include the following activities related to measuring progress toward the state’s broadband goals established in Minnesota Statutes, section 237.012:
(1) collecting broadband deployment data from Minnesota providers, verifying its accuracy through on-the-ground testing, and creating state and county maps available to the public showing the availability of broadband service at various upload and download speeds throughout Minnesota;

(2) analyzing the deployment data collected to help inform future investments in broadband infrastructure; and

(3) conducting business and residential surveys that measure broadband adoption and use in the state.

Data provided by a broadband provider under this subdivision is nonpublic data under Minnesota Statutes, section 13.02, subdivision 9.  Maps produced under this subdivision are public data under Minnesota Statutes, section 13.03.

(b) Of the amount appropriated in paragraph (a), $750,000 is for grants to satellite broadband providers under Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.395.

And details about definitions, which really amounts to details about satellite and satellite providers…

ARTICLE 12

TELECOMMUNICATIONS

Section 1.  Minnesota Statutes 2016, section 116J.394, is amended to read:

116J.394 DEFINITIONS.

(a) For the purposes of sections 116J.394 to 116J.398, the following terms have the meanings given them.

(b) “Broadband” or “broadband service” has the meaning given in section 116J.39, subdivision 1, paragraph (b).

(c) “Broadband infrastructure” means networks of deployed telecommunications equipment and technologies necessary to provide high-speed Internet access and other advanced telecommunications services for end users.

(d) “Commissioner” means the commissioner of employment and economic development.

(e) “Last-mile infrastructure” means broadband infrastructure that serves as the final leg connecting the broadband service provider’s network to the end-use customer’s on-premises telecommunications equipment.

(f) “Middle-mile infrastructure” means broadband infrastructure that links a broadband service provider’s core network infrastructure to last-mile infrastructure.

(g) “Political subdivision” means any county, city, town, school district, special district or other political subdivision, or public corporation.

(h) “Satellite broadband equipment” means a satellite dish or modem installed at a broadband user’s location in order to receive broadband service from a satellite broadband provider.

(i) “Satellite broadband provider” means an entity that provides broadband service by means of wireless signals transmitted between communication stations orbiting the earth and satellite broadband equipment installed at a broadband user’s location.

(j) “Satellite dish” means a parabolic aerial installed on a building exterior that receives signals from and transmits signals to a satellite broadband provider’s satellite communication station orbiting the earth.

(k) “Underserved areas” means areas of Minnesota in which households or businesses lack access to wire-line broadband service at speeds of at least 100 megabits per second download and at least 20 megabits per second upload.

(i)(l) “Unserved areas” means areas of Minnesota in which households or businesses lack access to wire-line broadband service, as defined in section 116J.39.

EFFECTIVE DATE.  This section is effective the day following final enactment.

Sec. 2.  Minnesota Statutes 2016, section 116J.395, subdivision 2, is amended to read:

Subd. 2.  Eligible expenditures.  (a) Grants may be awarded under this section to fund the acquisition and installation of:

(1) middle-mile and last-mile infrastructure that support broadband service scalable to speeds of at least 100 megabits per second download and 100 megabits per second upload.; and

 

(2) satellite broadband equipment installed on the premises of a broadband user located in an unserved area that can support broadband speeds of at least 25 megabits per second download and three megabits per second upload.

(b) Grants may be awarded under this section to fund monthly satellite broadband service charges for a period of 12 months for a subscriber whose satellite broadband equipment has been partially funded by a grant under paragraph (a), clause (2).

EFFECTIVE DATE.  This section is effective the day following final enactment.

Sec. 3.  Minnesota Statutes 2016, section 116J.395, subdivision 5, is amended to read:

Subd. 5.  Application contents.  An applicant for a grant under this section shall provide the following information on the application:

(1) the location of the project;

(2) the kind and amount of broadband infrastructure or satellite broadband equipment to be purchased for the project;

(3) evidence regarding the unserved or underserved nature of the community in which the project is to be located;

(4) the number of households passed that will have access to broadband service as a result of the project, or whose broadband service will be upgraded as a result of the project;

(5) significant community institutions that will benefit from the proposed project;

(6) evidence of community support for the project;

(7) the total cost of the project;

(8) sources of funding or in-kind contributions for the project that will supplement any grant award;

(9) evidence that no later than six weeks before submission of the application the applicant contacted, in writing, all entities providing broadband service in the proposed project area to ask for each broadband service provider’s plan to upgrade broadband service in the project area to speeds that meet or exceed the state’s broadband speed goals in section 237.012, subdivision 1, within the time frame specified in the proposed grant activities;

(10) the broadband service providers’ written responses to the inquiry made under clause (9); and

(11) any additional information requested by the commissioner.

EFFECTIVE DATE.  This section is effective the day following final enactment.

Sec. 4.  Minnesota Statutes 2016, section 116J.395, subdivision 7, is amended to read:

Subd. 7.  Limitation.  (a) No grant awarded under this section may fund more than:

(1) 50 percent of the total cost of a project.under subdivision 2, paragraph (a), clause (1);

(2) 50 percent of the total cost of satellite broadband equipment installed at user locations, up to $300; or

(3) $600 in monthly satellite broadband subscription charges.

(b) Grants awarded to a single project under this section must not exceed $5,000,000.

EFFECTIVE DATE.  This section is effective the day following final enactment.

House moves $15 million for broadband grants, carves out $750,000 for satellite

House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee met to finalize the Omnibus bill. One of the amendments was set to ear mark $750,000 of the proposed $15 million for broadband grants for satellite. (The bill is moved to Ways and Means.)

Video of the meeting is available online. I have pulled out the discussion on broadband…

And notes on the meeting: Continue reading

US News reports on MN House’s discussion on broadband funding and satellite

US News and World Reports wrote about yesterday’s House meeting (House Bill Would Make Money Available to Satellite Broadband) where they discussed broadband funding and introduction of satellite as eligible recipient of funding.

Here’s what the article says about funding…

Minnesota lawmakers were considering ways Thursday to improve internet speed in rural areas.

Gov. Mark Dayton is seeking another $30 million to improve high-speed internet in rural areas. Republicans, who control the Legislature, say they’ll support about half that.

Although I don’t think they changed the language of the bill, which outlines $51.4 million

Section 1. BROADBAND GRANT PROGRAM; APPROPRIATION.

$51,480,000 is appropriated in fiscal year 2019 from the general fund to the commissioner
of employment and economic development for deposit in the border-to-border broadband
fund account under Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396. The appropriation must be used
for grants and the purposes specified under Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.395.

But according to another article in US News, the House GOP budget plan has $15 million for broadband…

The House GOP’s plan also calls for using $15 million to expand broadband internet in rural Minnesota, put an extra $101 million toward road and bridge repairs, and devote roughly $30 million for school safety improvements and mental health initiatives in the wake of February’s mass shooting at a Florida high school.

Back to the article on broadband, here’s what they said about satellite…

Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo is proposing legislation allowing satellite broadband companies to tap into public funds that they couldn’t before. He said that would help connect people in remote areas where laying cable is challenging and expensive.

Some critics worry the service isn’t as reliable as cable connections, especially during bad weather, and that companies might occasionally reduce users’ speeds.

Eric Klindt, a Wilkin County Commissioner, said his satellite internet speeds sometimes drop slower than dial-up. He needs a fast internet because his work includes monitoring planes involved in agricultural spraying in three states.

“When the service goes down, I don’t know what to do,” he said.

Under Garofalo’s proposal, satellite providers would be required to meet minimum bandwidth speeds before they can get funding.

CBS Minnesota posts the same article.

MN House Job Growth and Energy Committee Hearing – addressing broadband (HF3527 and HF4180)

The MN House Job Growth and Energy Committee met today in part to accommodate testimony from members of the Minnesota Broadband Coalition. It was an opportunity for folks to tell stories. The first topic (HF4180) – the recommendation to include satellite as a provider eligible for MN Broadband grant funding. The industry spokesperson mentioned that any gran funding would be spent to offset equipment on the customer’s site because the infrastructure (satellite) is already in place.

The bulk of the meeting was spent hearing from folks on the frontlines of rural Minnesota and their support of continued funding for the MN Broadband grants (HF3527). They heard from providers, students, business owners, community leaders and the healthcare industry. Their stories are captured below. (I was having trouble  sustaining a connection to the network – so there’s a backup version of the video, with limited visuals.)

Full notes… Continue reading

A bill to make Satellite broadband providers eligible for grants (SF3892) is introduced

According to the Senate bill introductions for April 9…

Senator Draheim introduced–

S.F. No. 3892A bill for an act relating to broadband; making certain satellite broadband providers eligible for grants; amending Minnesota Statutes 2016, sections 116J.394; 116J.395, subdivisions 2, 5, 7.

Referred to the Committee on Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy.

A similar bill (HF4180) was introduced in the House late March. Here’s the text of the bill

A bill for an act
relating to broadband; making certain satellite broadband providers eligible for
grants; amending Minnesota Statutes 2016, sections 116J.394; 116J.395,
subdivisions 2, 5, 7.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA:

Section 1. 

Minnesota Statutes 2016, section 116J.394, is amended to read:

116J.394 DEFINITIONS.

(a) For the purposes of sections 116J.394 to 116J.398, the following terms have the
meanings given them.

(b) “Broadband” or “broadband service” has the meaning given in section 116J.39,
subdivision 1, paragraph (b).

(c) “Broadband infrastructure” means networks of deployed telecommunications
equipment and technologies necessary to provide high-speed Internet access and other
advanced telecommunications services for end users.

(d) “Commissioner” means the commissioner of employment and economic development.

(e) “Last-mile infrastructure” means broadband infrastructure that serves as the final leg
connecting the broadband service provider’s network to the end-use customer’s on-premises
telecommunications equipment.

(f) “Middle-mile infrastructure” means broadband infrastructure that links a broadband
service provider’s core network infrastructure to last-mile infrastructure.

(g) “Political subdivision” means any county, city, town, school district, special district
or other political subdivision, or public corporation.

(h) “Satellite broadband equipment” means a satellite dish or modem installed at a
broadband user’s location in order to receive broadband service from a satellite broadband
provider.

(i) “Satellite broadband provider” means an entity that provides broadband service by
means of wireless signals transmitted between communication stations orbiting the earth
and satellite broadband equipment installed at a broadband user’s location.

(j) “Satellite dish” means a parabolic aerial installed on a building exterior that receives
signals from and transmits signals to a satellite broadband provider’s satellite communication
station orbiting the earth.

(k) “Underserved areas” means areas of Minnesota in which households or businesses
lack access to wire-line broadband service at speeds of at least 100 megabits per second
download and at least 20 megabits per second upload.

(i)(l) “Unserved areas” means areas of Minnesota in which households or businesses
lack access to wire-line broadband service, as defined in section 116J.39.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective the day following final enactment.

Sec. 2. 

Minnesota Statutes 2016, section 116J.395, subdivision 2, is amended to read:

Subd. 2.

Eligible expenditures.

Grants may be awarded under this section to fund the
acquisition and installation of:

(1) middle-mile and last-mile infrastructure that support broadband service scalable to
speeds of at least 100 megabits per second download and 100 megabits per second upload.;
and

(2) satellite broadband equipment installed on the premises of a broadband user located
in an unserved area that can support broadband speeds of at least 25 megabits per second
download and three megabits per second upload.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective the day following final enactment.

Sec. 3. 

Minnesota Statutes 2016, section 116J.395, subdivision 5, is amended to read:

Subd. 5.

Application contents.

An applicant for a grant under this section shall provide
the following information on the application:

(1) the location of the project;

(2) the kind and amount of broadband infrastructure or satellite broadband equipment
to be purchased for the project;

(3) evidence regarding the unserved or underserved nature of the community in which
the project is to be located;

(4) the number of households passed that will have access to broadband service as a
result of the project, or whose broadband service will be upgraded as a result of the project;

(5) significant community institutions that will benefit from the proposed project;

(6) evidence of community support for the project;

(7) the total cost of the project;

(8) sources of funding or in-kind contributions for the project that will supplement any
grant award;

(9) evidence that no later than six weeks before submission of the application the applicant
contacted, in writing, all entities providing broadband service in the proposed project area
to ask for each broadband service provider’s plan to upgrade broadband service in the project
area to speeds that meet or exceed the state’s broadband speed goals in section 237.012,
subdivision 1
, within the time frame specified in the proposed grant activities;

(10) the broadband service providers’ written responses to the inquiry made under clause
(9); and

(11) any additional information requested by the commissioner.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective the day following final enactment.

Sec. 4. 

Minnesota Statutes 2016, section 116J.395, subdivision 7, is amended to read:

Subd. 7.

Limitation.

(a) No grant awarded under this section may fund more than 50
percent of the total cost of a project or, for a grant to a satellite broadband provider, 50
percent of the total cost of satellite broadband equipment installed at user locations
.

(b) Grants awarded to a single project under this section must not exceed $5,000,000.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective the day following final enactment.

Elon Musk will be launching low orbit satellites

The Washington Post reports…

SpaceX has received official permission from the U.S. government to launch a fleet of satellites designed to beam high-speed Internet signals down to Earth.

The decision marks a major milestone for chief executive Elon Musk as he pursues a dream of putting 12,000 small satellites into low Earth orbit, connecting rural and developing parts of the world to the Internet.

In more-connected areas, the technology could inject a new competitor into markets that have historically been dominated by one or two Internet providers — potentially driving down prices, increasing speeds and improving service.

They say the network will be different that what folks are used to…

The proposed satellite network would differ from current satellite data technology, which is slow and expensive. Under Musk’s plan, SpaceX’s satellite fleet would orbit much closer to Earth than traditional communications satellites that stay in geostationary orbit high above Earth. That means data will travel to and from the satellite much more quickly — increasing the speed and reliability of the connection.

Better broadband is always awesome. Satellite might suffer from a history of upgrades that while improved, have not impressed all customers. So I wanted to look into the low orbit solution a bit. This is what I learned from Wired

Traditional satellite communications systems float in what’s called geosynchronous orbit, around 22,000 miles1 above the Earth. These satellites can provide internet access to remote parts of the Earth, as well as airplanes. But the connections can lag, which isn’t good for real-time applications like online gaming or video conferencing. SpaceX and OneWeb both aim to overcome this problem by launching satellites into what’s called low Earth orbit, which ranges from roughly 100 to 1,250 miles above Earth.

The problem is that in order to reach the entire world from low Earth orbit, these companies need hundreds or thousands of satellites, raising the system’s cost. Previous attempts at building low Earth orbit networks ended in bankruptcy, including the Bill Gates-backed Teledesic and satellite-phone companies Globalstar and Iridium.

SpaceX and similar companies, like Jeff Bezos-backed Blue Origin, are trying to reduce the costs of launching rockets, which lower the cost of building such a network. But it’s not yet clear whether these companies could offer internet access at rates that subscribers can afford, and skeptics worry this will end up costing more than just trenching fiber and building cellular towers.

It sounds like cost may still be an issue, especially for the hardest to reach areas.