Impact of competition on broadband speeds may come down to type of provider

Roberto Gallardo and Brain Whitacre have a new report out – A Look at Broadband Access, Providers and Technology. They used FCC Form 477 to figure out who are the biggest providers in the country, the state of competition and access to speeds of 25/3 (FCC definition of broadband) in rural vs urban areas and more.

Here are the six largest providers in the US:

I was surprised to see Charter with 22 percent rural housing units since I think of Charter as cable and I don’t think of cable as a primary rural provider. But that wasn’t what I found most interesting in the report.

I was a little surprised to see the discrepancy between urban and rural household access to 25/3:

I don’t know why I was surprised but the stark difference between 1 percent and 26 is jarring. But even that isn’t what really caught my eye. What caught my eye was the map of broadband providers by group:

Here’s an explanation of the key:

Figure 5 shows four layers: the orange layer indicates where top 6 and non-top 6 providers overlap; the blue layer indicates where Top 6 providers were the only providers (darker blue indicates a higher number of top 6 only providers); the green layer indicates where other (nontop 6) were the only providers (darker green indicates a higher number of other providers only).

Remember “top 6” are the providers shown above.

What struck me was the blueness of East Central Minnesota – trailing up north.

Roberto was kind enough to below of the Minnesota portion of the map for me. I’d like to compare it to two other maps. In each map you can see the color pattern in East Central MN – just north of the Twin Cities.e

  • The first map blue indicates only one of the “Top 6” providers serves that area.
  • The second map shows access to 25/3 broadband; orange means 50-60% have access, beige is 60-70% and light blue is 70-80%
  • The third maps shows access to 100/20; it is more diverse but yellow indicates less than 50 percent have access.
  • The first maps also shows where there is only one “other provider” which may be a cooperative, an independent or really anyone outside of the top 6.

I think it’s a powerful image of the impact of limited competition – and impact of the type of provider. Comparing East Central MN to West Central – each has areas served by one provider but the type of provider seems to make a difference in the speed of connection.

Roberto was also kind enough to send a spreadsheet with provider numbers and types by county – but with the county-level into we lose the granularity of the map. There are areas where the county may have numerous providers but a section of that county has just one – that is better demonstrated by map.

[Updated Sep 8: I’m delighted to share a new map from Roberto that includes county boundaries and provider number/types.]

What is served? Are we serving to survive or thrive?

The Observer recently published a letter to the editor from an investigative reporter for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance Foundation. He doesn’t agree with Senator Warren’s broadband proposal, which he describes…

“I will make sure every home in America has a fiber broadband connection at a price families can afford,” she wrote.

That plan entails creating an Office of Broadband Access within her planned Department of Economic Development, which would manage an $85 billion federal grant program. Warren’s plan calls for cooperatives, non-profit groups, tribes and state and local governments to get that money. The plan would bar private providers from having access to any funding.

The grants, which would cover 90 percent of each project’s cost, would go toward fiber infrastructure in unserved or underserved areas, though the state-to-state definition of the term makes that a tricky proposition.

The article caught my eye because he compares Warren’s proposal to the Minnesota model…

A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts recently found large discrepancies in how states define those terms. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance Foundation (TPAF) previously reported on how Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Fund deems an area receiving download speeds of less than 100 megabits per second (mbps) as underserved and an area receiving less than 25 mbps as unserved. A state broadband task force member chided those metrics, telling TPAF they inflated the numbers for poor internet accessibility. (For reference: in 2015, the FCC increased its broadband standard from 10 mbps to 25 mbps. Internet speeds between six and 10 mbps are generally fast enough to stream a high-def  video.)

Warren calls for grant recipients to connect every home in their application areas, with at least one plan offering symmetrical 100 mbps speeds and a discount plan for low-income customers.

The TPAF article on the MN model is two years old. One unnamed naysayer from within the Task Force doesn’t represent the general feel for the approach. The MN model has been lauded and replicated (sometimes modified) by several other states. It is worth nothing that MN does and has given grants to larger providers.

One of the key parts of the MN model is that broadband is seen as an economic development tool. As such, the plan is to invest to see a return on that investment (and we have seen one) not just to see broadband for broadband’s sake. That approach of looking at broadband as an investment, not just a cost has worked in Minnesota. We track several stories of how broadband improved businesses and communities in our report on ROI – but one very recent example is Red Wing Ignite, a community we looked at for the report. They just got $750,000 in federal grants to support further innovation.

It’s a weird analogy but barely adequate broadband is like giving someone fish. Yes, they can access email and maybe even watch Netflix. But real broadband is like a fishing pole. Now you can innovate!

Blandin on Broadband News: Aug 2019: Broadband grant applications are open

Oct 8-10 – MN Fall BB Conference – Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work
This three-day conference at the beautiful Grand View Lodge in Nisswa, MN will offer learning and engagement on many aspects of the challenges and benefits of broadband access and use, from “Pursuing Broadband 101,” to digital inclusion tools and strategies for diverse audiences.  Check out the agenda. Exhibitor and sponsorship opportunities are available 

Minnesota Broadband Grant Application are Open
The Office of Broadband Development is soliciting applications for the Border to Border Broadband grants. Deadline is September 13. But before you apply you must alert providers in the area by Aug 2.

Minnesota broadband: more ubiquitous, not fastest
PC Mag looked at broadband speeds by region and state. For fastest statewide access Minnesota ranks 8 out of 12 of North Central States with a speed of 67.2 Mbps (down). However, Roberto Gallardo also released a study that shows that looking at statewide access to gig broadband, Minnesota is in better shape that our neighbors.

Blandin Foundation is there is help with ICF Application
The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) measures six inter-related indicators of a community’s competitiveness in the digital economy. It is a tool and an international competition. Blandin is holding a series of regional meeting to talk about the ICF process and offer assistance to communities interested in applying.

  • Red Wing Monday, August 12 9:00-10:30 am
  • Brainerd Tuesday, August 13 9:00-10:30 am
  • Bemidji Wednesday, August 14 9:30-11:00 am
  • Appleton Monday, August 19 1:00-2:30 pm

The Time is Now for Courageous Action
Dr. Kathleen Annette, president and CEO of Blandin Foundation reminds people that “The time is now.  To recognize racism and discrimination, to name and stop it when we see it.  To stand with those working to make our communities more welcoming….”

Minnesota policy front…

And national policy front…

Vendor News

  • CenturyLink under state investigation after hundreds of complaints of not responding to “call before digging” requests

Local Broadband News

CVS Health Rolls Out Telehealth to MN (and other states)

Aitkin County
Rural Minnesota Cooperatives partner to connect Aitkin County

Anoka County
Libraries without Boundaries, Dep of Education and local librarians meet with residents in a manufactured home cooperative community to discuss creating 21st century library services to suit their needs.

Beltrami County
Beltrami County in number one in Minnesota for access to Gigabit Internet Speeds

Fredenberg MN celebrates broadband – and looks at how it might happen in other areas

Lake County
Lake County Broadband is sold to Zito Media

Red Wing
Red Wing Ignite wins $750K Federal Grant

Poultry Patrol (think Roomba for chicken coops) is a great broadband application for farmers with broadband

Region Nine
Congrats to Nicole Griensewic Mickelson for ‘Friend of the CGMC’ award

St Paul
Verizon upgrades parts of St Paul to 5G 

Two Harbors
Two Harbors business comes for fiber also gets tech support

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

We are looking to add MN broadband-related events to the Blandin on Broadband blog calendar. If you have an event you’d like to add please send it to

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

As I prepare to go on a nice vacation, I am looking at the calendar of upcoming meetings and presentations for which I need to prepare before getting on the airplane.  Right when I return, I need to do a Broadband 101 for a county board in south central Minnesota.  The first place I look to prepare is the Office of Broadband Development maps.  This is a rich source of information with various ways to display the data.  The question “How well are we connected?” is not as simple as it once was.  The maps, in their various forms, should be used as conversation starters, not as a place to find definitive answers.

I first look at the maps, then go to provider websites to get more detailed information.  The DEED provider database shows 13 wired and fixed wireless providers.  Speeds vary from symmetrical gigabit over fiber to 500 Mb symmetrical via fixed wireless to 100 Mb/40 Mb over DSL.  Three different fixed wireless providers show complete to partial coverage of the county.  Seems like this county is well served, yet when I look at the Border to Border Broadband grant eligibility map, the vast majority of the county is shown as unserved and grant eligible.  According to provider information, 82% of households have wired connections of 25 Mb/3 Mb while 78% have wired 100 Mb/20 Mb.  Ten percent have symmetrical gigabit coverage.

As I talk with county commissioners, I will be asking them the following:

  • *Do you believe that the maps and provider data are accurate?
  • *What are you hearing from constituents?
  • *What is “good enough” for your county?

These questions always stimulate interesting conversations.

Blandin on Broadband eNews: Minnesota Monthly Recap (July 2019): New County Maps are Out

Oct 8-10 – MN Fall BB Conference – Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work
This three-day conference at the beautiful Grand View Lodge in Nisswa, MN will offer learning and engagement on many aspects of the challenges and benefits of broadband access and use, from “Pursuing Broadband 101,” to digital inclusion tools and strategies for diverse audiences. Registration opens soon.

New MN county broadband maps are out
The Office of Broadband Development unveils the latest Broadband County Maps. Check them out to see how your county ranks for access to 25 Mbps down and 3 up or 100/20

MN with better broadband speeds that other Midwest States
Roberto Gallardo (Purdue University) looks at Midwest urban and rural access to broadband speeds. Minnesota does best with equitably access to the highest speeds measured (Gig).

Interactive broadband map of MN based on speed tests
NEO Partners unveils an interactive map created from speed tests It highlights served (faster than 25 Mbps download) and unserved (slower than 25 Mbps) areas.

MN Contingency heads to NYC
Blandin Foundation takes a contingency to the Intelligent Community Forum Global Summit where community members learned from award-winning smart communities. Having broadband is only one ingredient to success, now Minnesotans are armed and inspired to create more ingredients.

On the Minnesota policy front…

And national policy front…

Vendor News

Local Broadband News

Cannon Falls
Blandin Foundation Strut Your Stuff Tour in Cannon Falls highlights use of technology to build a food brand and more

Fargo (ND)
It could be up to five years before customers in smaller cities like Fargo and Bismarck can expect to see 5G

Grand Rapids
Paul Bunyan Communications announces construction of new customer service and technology center in Grand Rapids

International Falls
International Falls Journal says broadband touches us all

Kandiyohi County
Kandiyohi County moves forward with broadband engineering study

Little Falls
Growth & Justice unveils latest chapter (economic development) of their Blueprint in Little Falls

Northeastern MN
Technology makes it easier for seniors to stay at home in Northeastern MN

Renville & Sibley Counties
RS Fiber and HBC form long-term agreement and plan expansions

Rock County
Blandin Foundation Strut Your Stuff Tour in Rock County highlights hotspots in libraries, buses and camping sites as well as programming

St Louis County
There was a meeting in St Louis County to talk about partnership and preparing for MN broadband grants. Local media look at it as an opportunity to get ready for better broadband

“I need better internet period!” says local business in St Louis County

Local business needs better broadband to grow in St Louis County

Fiber to the farm means food to the people in St Louis County

Stearns County
Stearns County recognizes the one-two-three public punch at broadband expansion

Swift County
Blandin Foundation Strut Your Stuff Tour in Swift County highlights hybrid welding classes, 4H app, STEM for kids and more


Upcoming Events and Opportunities

We are looking to add MN broadband-related events to the Blandin on Broadband blog calendar. If you have an event you’d like to add please send it to

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Decisions are not getting any easier for community leaders working on broadband.  The pressure to do something is increasing as the impact of being un- or underserved mount, yet new wireless technologies are providing more strategy options.

Consider just these two alternatives from the many out there for consideration:

  1. A cooperative telephone company operating nearby offers to partner on a fiber to the home project that will provide gigabit service to everyone in the area. The project will require relatively large grants from both the state broadband program and from the county.
  2. A wireless company offers to partner with the county to offer services in the rural countryside that will offer 100 Mb/20 Mb service to 80% of rural residents. Implementation of the project will require a moderate sized state grant, but no county contribution.

These two simple examples require local leaders to make judgments that they may feel unqualified to make, considering the following questions:

  • Fiber can deliver gigabit speeds both up and down and more. Wireless can now meet the 2026 state goal.  Will wireless meet the needs of farms, resorts, students and tele-workers far into the future?  What else could our county do with those local grant funds?  Would fiber provide a long-term strategic advantage for our area?
  • Will state grant makers grant our county the necessary large grant to make our project feasible or will they pass us by for solutions that serve more people at lower cost? Conversely, will state funders favor more high-capacity, future-resilient technologies?
  • What about the 20% of rural households that would not be served with the wireless solution?
  • If we only have an opportunity for one state grant, what is it that we really want long-term for our citizens?

Reaching a consensus on these questions will drive each community’s unique broadband solution.   “Go slow to go fast” is wise advice that apparently goes back Rome’s Augustus.  I suggest that you take that advice as you consider your options.

Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) Summit – Minnesota learns and shares with Top 7 Smart Communities

The Blandin Foundation led a contingency of broadband community people to the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) Summit in New York. ICF is a strategy that creates and recognizes communities that do well with the framework. In Minnesota, the Blandin Foundation has adopted (and adapted) the framework and employed it with dozens of rural communities. Each year, ICF names 21 Smart Communities, whittles that down to the Top 7 and then – we got to see the unveiling of the Most Intelligent Community. (Yay – Taoyuan, Taiwan!)

The conference highlights the Top 7 communities and the various aspect and outcomes of the ICF framework. Our contingency learned a lot and I think it was very inspiring. But we didn’t come empty-handed. We brought our own stories of success and we brought the rural perspective. It was fun to show off the hard work of so many Minnesota communities and we certainly raised the Minnesota Broadband Profile.

My aha moment came when we met with John Jung, co-founder of ICF and keynote speaker at the MN Fall Broadband Conference. He mirrored the focus on people that many presenters had also mentioned. It’s about how people can use technology but also about making sure they are resilient and flexible. He talked about how the goal of ICF is prosperity. So where ICF succeeds it can change policy. It allows a community to make decisions based on abundance, not scarcity.

Bernadine Joselyn and Bill Coleman each participated in a session:

You can read more complete notes… Continue reading

MinnPost looks at state and federal broadband policies and potential funding

Last week I wrote about the Small Business and Broadband Congressional Field Hearing in Scandia. MinnPost also wrote about it too. Stauber, Rep. Jim Hagedorn, a 1st District Republican, and Rep. Angie Craig, a 2nd District Democrat, are on the House’s Small Business Committee and showed up to the subcommittee hearing on Thursday. MinnPost covered the meeting…

In the U.S. Capitol, there’s been a mixed bag of proposed legislative fixes and changes related to rural broadband, most of them bipartisan. And while Democrats and Republicans have not yet coalesced around a package of bills, there seems to be consensus among members of congress: reliable access to broadband is necessary. And lacking. …

“The deployment of broadband is a non-partisan issue. It’s not a luxury anymore to have high-speed internet. It’s a necessity,” Rep. Pete Stauber, a Republican from Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, said. “And people understand that. Including my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.”

They talked about federal support…

Hagedorn said he was in favor of most broadband solutions, but had his eye on using two existing sources of money to help fill in service gaps in the meantime: The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC’s Connect America Fund has been the agency’s primary vehicle for expanding access to broadband in high cost areas nationwide and the USDA provides grants and loans to rural America through the Farm Bill. In 2018, the USDA announced it was offering up to $600 million to internet providers looking to expand broadband.

Hagedorn said he would like to see changes to USDA rules that may limit speeds in some parts of the country. “Probably what we’ll be able to do is something administratively, as opposed to legislation,” he said.

Craig was a co-sponsor of the Access Broadband Act and is also a co-sponsor on the Accelerating Broadband Development by Empowering Local Communities Act of 2019. Her office said the House is currently working on a package of broadband bills.

And mentioned state funding…

Rural broadband has drawn wide support at Minnesota’s Capitol, too, and they appear to have taken more concrete action than Congress. During this year’s legislative session, which adjourned last week, lawmakers mostly debated how much they could afford to spend on the issue.

In the end, they approved $40 million in the two-year budget for a grant program that helps build high-speed internet systems. The achievement was celebrated by lawmakers in the Republican-led Senate and majority-DFL House.

And detractors to funding…

There has been some opposition in St. Paul to government intervention in rural broadband policy. A few lawmakers have argued there are cheaper options than fiber-optic cable, the state’s preference. The approach is costly, yet reliable.

The telecom industry has sometimes fought to stop government broadband projects where private companies already offer some form of internet. And free-market conservative groups also say that government-owned broadband reduces innovation and competition. The Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a conservative think tank, has argued it’s also risky since they may not have the expertise of telecom companies. They have pointed to the crumbling of Lake County’s broadband service as a cautionary tale.

Still, Danna MacKenzie, the executive director of DEED’s Office of Broadband Development, said Minnesota has better broadband access than most states thanks to efforts from Republicans and Democrats.

“To be so strongly supported by all parties really says a lot about their understanding of the importance of this as kind of an underlying issue that touches all the other things they care about — whether it’s K-12, health care, public safety, rural economic development,” she said.

Event May 30: Small Businesses and Their Limitations without Reliable Access to Rural Broadband

I am planning to attend and will livestream unless there are any issues with me doing so…

Small Businesses and Their Limitations without
Reliable Access to Rural Broadband
With Congressman Pete Stauber And Special Guest
Congressman Jared Golden
ME-2 Chair, Subcommittee on Contracting and Infrastructure Connecting Families. Connecting Businesses. Connecting America.
Thursday, May 30, 2019
9:30 A.M. Registration Opens
10:00 A.M. Field Hearing
Bulltear Industries
24543 Olinda Trail
Scandia, MN 55073
Register Here
Questions? Call Congressman Stauber’s Office: 763-310-6208