5G has a lot of moving pieces in Minnesota and beyond

Gov Tech outlines the “messy” rollout of 5G in Minnesota

The telecom industry is once again advancing the capacity and speed of its networks, something it has done once a decade since the cellphone’s invention in 1979. But differently from the previous jumps, the move to the fifth generation of network technology, simply called 5G, is caught up in geopolitical and health debates that are beyond the industry’s control.

The result is far more noise and confusion about the promise and perils of 5G, with the upgrade carrying greater than usual risk for companies and head-scratching choices for consumers.

The cells are there, the phones are not…

For the first time, Minnesota is in the middle of the action at the start of a generational change in telecom. Verizon, the nation’s largest cellphone service provider, has already put up 5G cells in the downtowns of both Minneapolis and St. Paul. And U.S. Bank Stadium is one of 13 around the NFL this year that will have 5G antennas beaming data to fans.

But it’s a chicken-and-egg business, with carriers doing just part of the work. Cellphone makers have to produce new phones that work on the new networks. At the moment, Twin Cities shoppers can get one 5G Samsung smartphone, at around $1,300, or modify a Motorola one with a special 5G attachment that costs $200.

It looks like there are two options – short range, super fast or mid-range…

And there’s a technical issue that shapes performance. Many 5G networks will use a portion of the radio spectrum where waves move at greater frequency. Those waves will have the most speed improvement, but they travel a shorter distance and can be blocked by walls and even trees. As a result, carriers must put up more antennas to send and receive them. Verizon and AT&T are using the higher-frequency technology, known as millimeter wave.

But T-Mobile appears likely to create a 5G network in a part of the spectrum where waves travel at what are known as mid-frequency rates. Its network may not be as speedy, but its signals may travel farther and contend with less interference.

There are concerns about health…

“There’s a great deal to be said for the speed of 5G when it’s wired and safe from any impact on the environment and public health,” she said. “More research needs to be done on how to make 5G safe in the ambient environment.”

Best Buy looks at the business of telehealth

Forbes reports…

As Best Buy has said, health monitoring services for seniors and other digital health initiatives mark a key part of its growth strategy. The retailer over the next 10 to 20 years could generate anywhere between $11 billion and $46 billion in cumulative revenue from its commercial health business, according to Morgan Stanley analysts in a 64-page report released Monday. How significant is that? The high end of that range tops Best Buy’s roughly $43 billion in annual sales in 2018.

“This would be material,” the report said. “We don’t think the market fully grasps Best Buy’s commitment to health….The company has shifted its focus to tech- enabled senior care…. We believe Best Buy has a durable competitive advantage in senior care, its niche in the healthcare services market.”

And details a few things Best Buy needs to happen…

To be sure, for Best Buy to reap that long-term revenue opportunity, several things have to work in its favor, the report said. For one, the largest U.S. health insurers have to accept and cover Best Buy’s services, and Best Buy needs to see “a high rate” of adoption by seniors. In the nearer term, Morgan Stanley estimated the business could add as much as $2 billion in cumulative revenue for Best Buy through 2025.

Total U.S. healthcare spending is expected to reach about $3.6 trillion this year, or nearly 15 times consumer spend in Best Buy’s bread-and-butter consumer electronics category, according to the report. The number of people aged 65 or older in the U.S. is expected to grow by more than 50% from 50 million over the next two decades, the report added.

Best Buy is “evolving from sales of wearable devices and other healthcare technology to include the provision of healthcare services for seniors,” the report said. Healthcare “is shaping up to be Best Buy’s next frontier of growth.”

Four companies seek broadband grants for Douglas County

The Alexandria Echo Press reports…

Four companies have applied for state grants to expand internet access next year in Douglas County, according to records made public last week.

Arvig, Charter, Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association and Runestone Telecom Association are all seeking some of the $20 million the Minnesota Legislature approved this year to help expand high-quality internet access throughout the state.

They took a look at how the providers chose their areas…

Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association has applied for six grants, responding to neighborhoods that organized and asked for service, said Executive Director Dave Wolf.

“The neighborhoods we selected were all unserved as far as the state map was concerned,” he said. “We had been reached out to by residents in those neighborhoods.”

A Lake Victoria neighborhood was particularly active, he said, with residents helping to organize their neighbors.

“It’s a grass roots thing, very effective, but we encourage that,” Wolf said.

Next year, Gardonville would like to run fiber to 600 homes, including 300 existing customers and 300 new customers, he said. Gardonville chose to break up its grant requests into six projects, hoping that if one grant gets turned down, another will win approval.

Meanwhile, Runestone applied for just one grant, but it covers a sizable chunk of turf south of Interstate 94.

“This is by far the biggest one that we’ve applied for,” Hedstrom said. Runestone’s first grant was for 100 locations and its second was for 400 locations. This one includes 965 locations.

“We kind of went where people called, and where people contacted us,” he said. “It doesn’t make much sense to do (Lake) Andrew and Forada and skip everybody in between. They’re just as important as everybody else.”

And here’s a look at the specifics…

It’s unlikely that all these projects would receive full funding from Minnesota’s Border-to-Border grant program. However, they outline the neighborhoods that internet providers in Douglas County want to reach. Every project listed here would provide internet speeds well above the state’s goals.

Charter

  • Along U.S. Highway 29 southwest of Carlos, including Maple Way and Maple Lane NE. It would provide speeds of 940 megabits per second download and 35 megabits per second upload.

Gardonville

  • South of the interstate on the north side of Lake Andrew
  • Between Lakes Darling and Ida, around Lake Charley
  • Southeast of Garfield, along Centennial Drive NW from N. Oaks Lane NW to County Road 22 NW
  • Inside the wishbone of Lake Victoria, along its eastern shoreline
  • Near the Minnesouri Club, along Krohnfeldt Drive on Lake Miltona
  • Around Lakes Mina and Latoka
  • Gardonville would provide speeds of one gigabit upload and one gigabit download.

Runestone

  • Just one grant, but it’s a biggie, looping a chunk of Douglas County south of I-94. Like Gardonville, it would provide one gigabit down and one gigabit up.

Arvig/Tekstar

  • It also wants grant money to install connections in Forada and around Maple Lake; it would provide speeds of one gigabit down and 100 megabits up.

The Echo Press did a nice job getting info that is helpful to the community and beyond!

 

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.]

Like MN, Ohio PUC is looking at Frontier too

Last week I mentioned that the Timber Jay is asking the MN PUC (Public Utilities Commission) to “reconsider the decision by the Department of Commerce to let Frontier Communications avoid any civil or criminal penalties for its systematic neglect of customers in Minnesota and its violations of state law.”

It sounds as if Frontier is having the same issues in Ohio…

Today the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) ordered staff to file a formal complaint against Frontier North, Inc. regarding the telephone provider’s landline service quality. The PUCO has received numerous customer complaints regarding extended service outages which may result in safety concerns, such as a customers’ inability to contact emergency services, doctors, and family and friends.

“Customer complaints indicating extensive telecommunication outages are troubling and deserve to be examined,” stated PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo. “Today the PUCO is taking steps to investigate allegations of poor service quality.”

On Aug. 13, 2019, the PUCO staff filed a letter to the Commission citing 33 specific instances where Frontier allegedly failed to provide adequate and reliable telephone service to its basic local exchange service customers and recommended the Commission conduct a thorough investigation. Among other things, the staff identified issues concerning extended service restoration timelines, failure to provide basic telephone service that would allow customers to place or receive calls at any time and failure to comply with previous Commission orders and entries.

Today’s entry opens an investigation and directs PUCO staff to file a formal complaint against the company. Frontier will then have 20 days to respond to the allegations in the complaint.

Timberjay asks MN PUC to reconsider Frontier settlement

The Timberjay posts an editorial…

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission should reconsider the decision by the Department of Commerce to let Frontier Communications avoid any civil or criminal penalties for its systematic neglect of customers in Minnesota and its violations of state law.

Back in January, the Department of Commerce released a hard-hitting report laying bare what they termed “staggering deficiencies” in Frontier’s physical plant and for its poor service and misleading billing practices.

Just seven months ago, the department’s staff appeared loaded for bear, writing: “The Minnesota legislature has provided a clear set of remedies to curb misconduct of rogue companies, ones who routinely, knowingly, disregard the law and jeopardize the lives and well-being of Minnesotans, including hefty civil penalties and criminal prosecutions.”

Seven months later, after months of mediation, it appears the department’s bark is much worse than its bite.

The stipulation agreement first reported this past week in the Timberjay includes no recommendation for either fines or for prosecution.

While the company does agree to take a number of positive steps to improve its service to customers, the agreement runs for only two years. After that, Frontier can apparently go back to its old ways.

Fast-Tracking the T-Mobile and Sprint Merger Undermines Public Interest

A press release from Next Century Cities

Fast-Tracking the T-Mobile and Sprint Merger Undermines Public Interest
Washington DC (August 14, 2019) — Today, Federal Communications Commission leadership recommended the approval of the proposed merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, a move that would further consolidate the wireless market and eventually raise prices for consumers.
T-Mobile and Sprint are two maverick companies that have competed head-to-head to offer innovative low-cost products to consumers and create a vital resale market. Combining the two would likely raise prices across the market, and would be particularly harmful for low-income consumers who rely on mobile service as their sole connection to the internet.
Both companies have told the FCC and Congress that the merger is necessary in order to build out next-generation wireless networks, yet have simultaneously touted independent 5G deployments to the public. It remains true that ultimately, competitive pressure — not consolidation — is what will drive network upgrades.
“The FCC’s charge is to protect the interest of the public, not of private companies,” said Cat Blake, Senior Program Manager. “This deal is good for T-Mobile and Sprint, but will ultimately make it harder for Americans to access affordable, high-quality essential mobile services. Further, it is unacceptable that the FCC would move to approve a deal without first soliciting public comment on the significant divestiture package required by the Department of Justice.
The public has a right to weigh-in on whether restructuring the deal with DISH would provide adequate consumer choice in the wireless market.”
A merger between T-Mobile and Sprint would be against the public interest. The FCC should follow the 16 state attorneys general in blocking the deal.

Minnesota is one of those states striving to block the deal.