Lyon County Broadband Feasibility Study: hybrid fiber and wireless solutions are economically viable

With funding from the Blandin Foundation, Lyon County worked with Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting on a study that would look at if and how the county might take on bringing better broadband to all corners of the county.

Here’s the executive summary of the Lyon County Broadband Feasibility Study – check out the full study for greater details and next steps…

Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting submit this report of our findings and recommendations for the feasibility of finding a broadband solution for those parts of the county without broadband today. The county is typical of many rural counties where a substantial part of the county has or will soon have good broadband, including fiber, while other parts of the county have little or no broadband. This disparity in broadband coverage is already harming those portions of the county without broadband and you can expect those areas to suffer lower housing prices and become places where families and business don’t want to be located.

Our study area looked at the feasibility of bringing broadband to the parts of the county that are not expected to have fast broadband to homes and businesses over the next few years. The areas served today by Woodstock Communications already have fiber. Minnesota Valley Telephone plans to build fiber in their exchange. Marshall and Tracy are served by two cable companies with fast broadband. Finally, Midcontinent Communications got a grant this year to improve broadband speeds in Taunton, Minnesota and Ghent. That leaves a study consisting of the rural areas served today by CenturyLink and Frontier Communications including the towns of Green Valley, Cottonwood, Amiret, and Florence. We also looked at scenarios that build fiber to Balaton and Lynd, even though Woodstock Communications has requested grant funding to build fiber to those towns.

The studies looked at two scenarios—building fiber to the study area and building a hybrid combination of wireless technology and fiber. The wireless network designed by Finley is intended to supply at least 25 Mbps download to rural homes in the county, which is a significant improvement for those without good broadband today. Some customers will be able to get even faster speeds on the wireless network.

However, we know the county’s goal is to eventually have fiber everywhere and so implementing a wireless network would not be a permanent solution. All of the broadband trends in the country show that the amount of bandwidth needed by a typical home will keep growing, and at some time in the future a wireless network would become obsolete in the same manner that has happened in the past with dial-up and DSL broadband.

We view the hybrid fiber and wireless solution and a great first step towards improving broadband. This option would bring fiber immediately to about a third of the rural homes in the county, including the towns of Green Valley, Cottonwood, Amiret, and Florence. And the fiber constructed for this scenario is a first step in getting fiber closer to everybody in the county. We think a reasonable business plan is to start with the hybrid option and extend fiber to everybody over time.

Our analysis shows that it is not economically feasible to build fiber everywhere in the rural parts of the county using the existing Border-to-Border grant program—the 50% grant matching in that program is not enough to create a sustainable network. However, the hybrid fiber and wireless solutions all look to be economically viable.

The report discusses the next steps the county needs to take after digesting the results of this study. These include such things as looking for a partner to bring broadband to those areas without it today. The goal would be to have a partner by next year to be ready for future state grant funds.

T-Mobile Fined $40 Million After Tricking Rural Customers With ‘False Ring Tones’

Gizmodo reports…

T-Mobile has admitted it engaging in misleading calling practices with its rural customers, and as part of an FCC settlement, is coughing up $40 million.

What exactly was T-Mobile trying to get away with? At issue is the practice of injecting false ring tones, causing rural customers to think their calls had already connected. Practically, that means while T-Mobile was trying to establish a link between parties—sometimes using additional local carriers for some of these more secluded customers—the phone was ringing in the earpiece of the caller, even though the callee might have never gotten a single ring.

A bill relating to Minnesota ISPs activities (HF4411) is introduced

According to the April 16th Journal of the House

Hilstrom introduced:

H.F. No. 4411, A bill for an act relating to broadband service; prohibiting certain activities by Internet service providers serving Minnesota customers and those under contract to the state or political subdivisions; proposing coding for new law in Minnesota Statutes, chapters 16C; 325F.

The bill was read for the first time and referred to the Committee on Commerce and Regulatory Reform.

USDA Seeks Applicants for Rural Broadband Access Loans

As announced by the Benton Foundation…

The Rural Utilities Service (RUS), an Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), announces that it is accepting applications for fiscal year (FY) 2018 for the Rural Broadband Access Loans and Loan Guarantees Program (the Broadband Program). Applications will be processed on a first come, first served basis. Every ninety (90) days, RUS will conduct an evaluation of the submitted applications.

Here’s more info from the Federal Register...

SUMMARY: The Rural Utilities Service (RUS), an Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA),
announces that it is accepting applications for fiscal year (FY) 2018 for the Rural Broadband Access Loans and
Loan Guarantees Program (the Broadband Program). RUS will publish on its website  
the amount of funding received through the final
appropriations act.
Since the passage of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (2014 Farm Bill), RUS has only accepted applications according to discrete application windows as identified in notices published in the Federal Register. However, based on a
review of the applications submitted since the implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill, RUS has determined that the use of application windows has not
effectively supported the Agency’s mission to finance improved broadband service in rural areas. As a result, RUS is accepting applications on a rolling basis throughout FY 2018. This will give RUS the ability to request additional
information and modifications to a submitted application whenever necessary.
Applications will be processed on a first come, first served basis. Every ninety (90) days, RUS will conduct an
evaluation of the submitted applications. During the evaluation period, applications will be ranked
based on the percentage of unserved households that the applicant proposes to serve. RUS anticipates that it will
conduct at least two evaluation periods for FY 2018. Because the Agency will receive applications throughout the
fiscal year, subsequent evaluation periods can alter the ranking of applications.
In addition to announcing its acceptance of FY 2018 applications, RUS revises the minimum and
maximum amounts for broadband loans for the fiscal year.
DATES: Applications under this NOSA will be accepted immediately through September 30, 2018. RUS will process
loan applications as they are received.

In 10 years the digital economy grew 5.6% compared to overall economic growth of 1.5%

The Bureau of Economic Analysis just released a report – an inaugural report on the digital economy – Defining and Measuring the Digital Economy.

The working paper set out to do a few things – define the digital economy, measure it and create conversations to move measurement and research forward.

Here are some of the economic highlights from the report:

  • Digital economy real value added grew at an average annual rate of 5.6 percent, outpacing the average annual rate of growth for the overall economy of 1.5 percent
  • In 2016, digital economy real (inflation‐ adjusted) value added totaled $1,302.2 billion, 82.2 percent larger than it was in 2005.
  • During this economic recovery, prices for digital economy good and services decreased at an average annual rate of 0.4 percent (chart 8). Prices for all goods and services in the economy increased at an average annual rate of 1.5 percent.
  • Workers in the digital economy earned average annual compensation of $114,275 compared to the economy‐wide average of $66,498.

The report also set out to define the digital economy. There has been a push for a better way to measure the economic impact of broadband for at least a year. I think this is a good first step. Here’s a brief take on what they did..

Conceptually, a digital economy satellite account should include all goods and services related to the digital economy. However, the preliminary estimates presented here are based on goods and services that are primarily digital. There are numerous challenges to estimating the economic contribution of “partially‐digital” goods and services which are laid out in this report. These challenges are opportunities for future research to expand these early estimates into a complete digital economy satellite account.

They have included things like digital‐enabling infrastructure (hardware, networks) but not peer-to-peer economy such as Uber. So I think there are ways to improve on their definition – but they do too. In fact, they ask for feedback!

West Central Regional Roundtable on Broadband – providers, legislators and community leaders

Back at the regional tour of broadband discussion with Bill Coleman with a stop in Fergus Falls today to talk with the Mid-Minnesota Region. There were 50 people in the room including Rep Jeff Backer, Rep Paul Anderson, Rep Bud Nornes and representatives from Senators Klobuchar and Smith.

It was a good mix in the crowd with folks who knew policy, folks who knew technology and folks who knew they needed better broadband. It was interesting to hear what Otter Tail County has done to ensure that everyone in the county gets broadband in the future. They are working with providers, getting a view of what’s happening and likely to happen with a feasibility study (thanks to support from the Blandin Foundation).

We also got a quick update on policy from the legislators who attended.

Continue reading

Broadband and Cooperatives: A Winning Strategy for Minnesota

Last week a group met to talk about the potential role of cooperatives in bringing broadband to unserved rural areas. Minnesota has always done well with public private partnerships as a tool to expand broadband. There were several cooperative providers in the room, cooperatives who wanted to learn more and potential partners.

We started with a conversation on why Cooperatives and Broadband make sense

  • Members trust their cooperatives
  • Staff member have relationships with members
  • Customer/billing system in place
  • Fleet in place
  • Aerial infrastructure
  • Managed conservatively (cash available)
  • Allowance for longer payback periods
  • Relationship with financial institutions
  • Smart Grid and other internal communications
  • Cooperatives used to work toward reliability and growth. Growth has slowed, which may be an issue in being sustainable so maybe it’s a god time for electric to look at broadband especially if there are partnerships.

Then attendees heard from a number of people – here are the presentations below.

MN Office of Broadband Development Update Q1 2018

SmartGrid Broadband from Barry Electric

CAF II Case Study from Bill Coleman

Broadband Via Cooperatives – Electric and Telecom Partnerships from CNS