AT&T Brings Faster Network to Southwest Minnesota

Looks like good news for SW MN…

4G LTE Expansions Means Better Mobile Internet Access for Customers in 25 Communities 

MANKATO, Minn. Oct. 13, 2017 — AT&T* made 26 individual network updates to cell towers on its 4G LTE network in 25 southwest Minnesota communities.

The communities include Adrian, Belgrade, Brooten, Buffalo Lake, Ellendale, Fairfax, Fairmont, Glencoe, Granite Falls, Hutchinson, Jasper, Lafayette, Lake Lillian, Litchfield, Luverne, Madelia, Madison, Minneota, New London, Owatonna, Pennock, Raymond (2), Springfield, Willmar and Winthrop. (In the following counties: Micollet, Martin, Kandiyohi, Stearns, Brown, Steele, Sibley, Nobles, Yellow Medicine, Renville, Meeker, Mcleod and Lac qui Parle.)The new and upgraded towers give customers faster, more reliable wireless service.

We also have up to a dozen more updates planned in southwest Minnesota by the end of the year, including in Mankato.

Additionally AT&T made 79 baseband network upgrades in 66 communities in southwest Minnesota. Baseband upgrades will help us reach faster network speeds and implement the next generation of wireless technology.

The communities include Adrian, Alpha, Appleton, Beaver Creek, Belgrade, Bellingham, Benson, Bird Island, Buffalo Lake, Canby, Chandler, Clara City, Clarkfield, Cold Spring, Comfrey, Cosmos, Cottonwood, Dassel, Fairfax, Glenwood (2), Granite Falls, Hancock, Hills, Hoffman, Holmes City, Hutchinson, Jackson, Jasper, Jeffers, Kensington, Kimball, Lake Benton, Lake Wilson, Lakefield, Litchfield (2), Luverne (2), Madison (2), Marshall (2), Melrose, Montevideo, Morris, Mountain Lake, New London, Ortonville, Paynesville, Pennock, Pipestone, Raymond (2), Redwood Falls (2), Regal, Rockville, Saint James, Sanborn, Slayton, Sleepy Eye, South Haven, Spicer (3), Springfield, Tracy, Tyler, Vesta, Westbrook, Willmar (4), Windom, Winthrop and Worthington (2). (In the following counties: Pipestone, Renville, Swift, Lyon, Stearns, Nobles, Murray, Lac qui Parle, Rock, Brown, Grant, Douglas, Stevens, Meeker, Lincoln, McLeod, Sibley, Yellow Medicine, Chippewa, Cottonwood, Jackson, Pope, Watonwan and Redwood.)

4G LTE lets customers stream videos, share on social media or text family and friends easier. We’re also boosting network speeds and capacity as we expand the availability of our network.

“We want our customers to have a great mobile experience. Thanks to this investment, southwest Minnesota residents and businesses can now enjoy faster mobile speeds than ever before on our 4G LTE network — which is the nation’s best data network**,” said Paul Weirtz, president of AT&T Minnesota. “We’re always working to provide better coverage. And these investments in our wireless network in southwest Minnesota helps accomplish that.”

“The AT&T investment in upgrades to its wireless network strengthens the connectedness that highlights our region as a competitive business and talent destination,” said Jonathan Zierdt, President & CEO of Greater Mankato Growth, Inc.  “Businesses and talent are continually seeking out the very best amenities, and AT&T’s investment strengthens our amenities portfolio.”

From 2014-2016, we invested nearly $350 million in our Minnesota wireless and wired networks. These investments drive a wide range of upgrades to reliability, coverage, speed and overall performance for Minnesota consumers and businesses. They also enhance critical services that support public safety and first responders.

In 2016, we made 1,271 wireless network upgrades in 272 communities across Minnesota. This includes adding new cell sites and network capacity to existing cell sites. Continuing to expand our network in the area has given AT&T the most wireless coverage in Minnesota.

Cautionary Language Concerning Forward-Looking Statements

Information set forth in this news release contains financial estimates and other forward- looking statements that are subject to risks and uncertainties, and actual results may differ materially. A discussion of factors that may affect future results is contained in AT&T’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. AT&T disclaims any obligation to update or revise statements contained in this news release based on new information or otherwise. 

*About AT&T

AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) helps millions around the globe connect with leading entertainment, business, mobile and high speed internet services. We offer the nation’s best data network** and the best global coverage of any U.S. wireless provider. We’re one of the world’s largest providers of pay TV. We have TV customers in the U.S. and 11 Latin American countries. Nearly 3.5 million companies, from small to large businesses around the globe, turn to AT&T for our highly secure smart solutions.

Frontier is going wireless for its CAF 2 commitment

Doug Dawson of CCG reports on Frontier’s decision to build wireless network with their CAF 2 funding…

Frontier Communications just announced that they are testing the use of wireless spectrum to complete the most rural portions of their CAF II build-out requirement. The company accepted $283 million per year for six years ($1.7 billion total) to upgrade broadband to 650,000 rural homes and businesses. That’s a little over $2,600 per location passed. The CAF II program requires that fund recipients increase broadband to speeds of at least 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up.

He outlines the good and the bad about the technology…

I have mixed feelings about using federal dollars to launch this technology. On the plus side, if this is done right this technology can be used to deliver bandwidth up to 100 Mbps, but in a full deployment speeds can be engineered to deliver consistent 25 Mbps download speeds. But those kinds of speeds require an open line-of-sight to customers, tall towers that are relatively close to customers (within 3 – 4 miles) and towers that are fiber fed.

But when done poorly the technology delivers much slower broadband. There are WISPs using the technology to deliver speeds that don’t come close to the FCC’s 10/1 Mbps requirement. They often can’t get fiber to their towers and they will often serve customers that are much further than the ideal distance from a tower. Luckily there are many other WISPs using the technology to deliver great rural broadband.

The line-of-sight issue is a big one and this technology is a lot harder to make work in places with lots of trees and hills, making it a difficult delivery platform in Appalachia and much of the Rockies. But the technology is being used effectively in the plains and open desert parts of the country today.

And why this may not be best use of federal funding…

I see downsides to funding this technology with federal dollars. The primary concern is that the technology is not long-lived. The electronics are not generally expected to last more than seven years and then the radios must be replaced. Frontier is using federal dollars to get this installed, and I am sure that the $2,600 per passing is enough to completely fund the deployment. But are they going to keep pouring capital into replacing radios regularly over time? If not, these deployments would be a sick joke to play on rural homes – giving them broadband for a few years until the technology degrades. It’s hard to think of a worse use of federal funds.

There are people who do wireless well. If federal funding is going to be spent on wireless, it’s too bad it can’t be shifted to those folks who make it their business to serve rural areas well with wireless solutions.

Video – Why 23 million Americans don’t have fast internet

There are a lot of things I like about this video – you just need to know in advance that it doesn’t end after 2:30 or 3:30. It’s great to hear about wireless solutions – but for today as the video says, we need to look to the past to get the infrastructure we need! And that solution is in the second half of the video…

Sherburne County, State, Palmer Wireless partner on project to extend broadband to businesses in St. Cloud area

An update from Sherburne County and Palmer Wireless…

The Sherburne County Board of Commissioners Sept. 12 approved a loan to facilitate the expansion of broadband service to 16 businesses and underserved residents in the St. Cloud area.

The agreement is a partnership between the county, Palmer Wireless and the State Department of Employment and Economic Development. It will be the second project in which those partners have cooperated to extend 1Gbps fiber to businesses and residential customers in Sherburne County.

The previous project focused on the area around the Big Lake Industrial Park and extended broadband to more than 20 businesses in and around the park. It also provided service to allow the Big Lake Police Department to more quickly upload its body camera footage from cameras to state databases.

Palmer Wireless is committed to delivering broadband solutions to communities in Central Minnesota, said Laura Kangas, who co-owns Palmer Wireless with her husband, Albert.

“Although our wireless solutions fill a critical need for many of our homes and businesses, Fiber To The Home and Business is the most future-proof solution to a path of 1 Gbps connectivity, however it is also the most costly,” she said. “We are grateful to Sherburne County in seeing this need for better broadband and working with us to deliver a fiber solution to our communities through a very affordable loan solution to compliment the State of Minnesota Border to Border grant award.”

Palmer Wireless’ own investment, along with the state grant and the county loan, will allow these projects to be built and to be sustainable, she said.

“That enables our communities to have state-of-the-art affordable broadband solutions to help them thrive now and into the future,” Laura Kangas said.

“Easy access to reliable, cost effective internet services has become a facilitator of economic growth and we are thrilled to partner with Palmer Wireless and the State of Minnesota to bring improved fiber infrastructure to county residents,” said Dan Weber, assistant county administrator.

The County and Palmer Wireless are partnering once again to apply for two additional Border to Border Broadband grants in 2017 that would serve property owners in both Clear Lake and Becker townships. Grant awardees are scheduled to be announced later this year.

New Airport Project Details

Project cost: $460,000

County contributes: $102,250 in existing economic development funds

Palmer Wireless contributes: $178,350

State Border to Border grant (DEED) contributes: $179,400

Palmer Wireless receives an interest-free loan from the county that they begin to pay back in year three, and finish repaying in year nine.

Big Lake Industrial Park Project Details

Project cost: $211,600

County contributes: $35,000 in existing economic development funds

Palmer Wireless contributes: $85,612

State Border to Border grant (DEED) contributes: $90,988

The county receives 100 Mbps service at the 10 Mbps rate at the Palmer Town Hall sheriff’s office location for the first seven years of the agreement. After that, Palmer Wireless will make a monthly payment to the county, paying off the loan in year 11.

Is the US ready for 5G? Nope – not according to Fortune

I’ve written before about 5G. It’s going to be fast. Although not a standard yet we’re see examples of how it’s working in urban areas. BUT it’s not a realistic option for rural area. I thought I’d share the most recent discussion from Fortune

However, the U.S. is not as well-prepared to capitalize on this opportunity [5G]. The U.S does not currently have sufficient fiber to densify the network with thousands of new small cells and hot spots, increase network capacity, and accommodate the projected four-fold growth in data traffic through 2021. Investment in “deep fiber” pushed closer to the customer could help the U.S. continue to lead in wireless innovation and foster the economic boost generated by 5G.

Investing in fiber will help prepare for 5G and close the urban-rural broadband gap…

Investing in deep fiber as we upgrade our nation’s communications infrastructure creates an opportunity to increase broadband competition and create more options for consumers. Only 39% of U.S. households have access to more than one broadband provider that offers 25 megabits per second (Mbps) or greater.

Deep fiber investment also offers an opportunity to help close the digital divide in choice, affordability, and performance that exists between rural and urban geographies. Currently, only 60% of rural communities have access to fixed broadband, whereas 90% of Americans nationwide have broadband access.

What’s the cost?

A recent Deloitte study estimates that the U.S. requires $130–$150 billion of investment over the next five to seven years to adequately support broadband competition, rural coverage, and wireless densification. Fiber infrastructure investment can enable the U.S. digital economy similar to how national highway investments did for the traditional economy in the 1950s (more than $200 billion in today’s dollars). Private investment can be the primary source of funds for deep fiber, including communications service providers, financial investors, and public-private partnerships.

Federal, state, and local governments have policy and regulatory levers that can hasten investment, including reduction of regulatory challenges, legacy technology retirement, and reforms to the Universal Services Administrative Company (USAC), so that it more efficiently coordinates and encourages deep fiber programs.

Dear rural wireless customer – you’re fired!

I love hot weather – but maybe as a Minnesotan I’m not ready for 90 degrees in mid-September because things are making me crabby. For example the fact that Verizon is cutting off 20,000 rural cell customers in states like Maine, Michigan, North Dakota and Montana because they spend too much time roaming. The Rural Blog gives a quick description of the situation…

Verizon is disconnecting wireless service to rural users in several states, including Maine and Montana, saying they use too much data to make service profitable. The issue centers on Verizon’s LTE in Rural America program, which Verizon say has brought coverage to more nearly 2.4 million people since its inception in 2010. Verizon partners with 21 small rural carriers around the country and pays them when its customers end up roaming off Verizon’s cell network and onto the rural carriers’ network. The affected customers have Verizon’s “unlimited” data plan, but don’t live in Verizon’s native service area. Verizon may be losing money on these perpetually roaming customers, Jon Brodkin reported for Ars Technica in June, when Verizon first began cutting off rural customers.

As a private company, Verizon can do what it wants. (Although Stop the Cap outlines the specifics of the services procured and now cut off in some of the states listed. Part of the frustration is that local partners – sometimes public partners – built infrastructure to entice Verizon to their areas and now Verizon is walking away.)

But this is a reminder that we need to reconsider broadband and telephone (cell or landline) standing as utilities!

There has been a push to deregulate VoIP in Minnesota – or more specifically recognize that all telephone calls are quickly transferred to IP (Internet Protocol) so in practice it’s a push to deregulate POTS (plain old telephone service). The push is an attempt to level the playing field because traditional phone companies are held to a pretty stringent standard and are expected to compete with wireless providers, who are not. No doubt, it isn’t fair.

But I think seeing this action from Verizon indicates that lowering the bar leaves consumers unprotected. Maybe the answer is that we level the playing field on higher ground!

Talking about the attempt to deregulate phone service (in April 2017) Representative Sheldon Johnson and Senator Simonson said the following…

First, under the bill there will no longer be a right to have phone service. It is expensive and unprofitable to serve rural customers and maintain infrastructure. Companies will invest their money in densely populated, more profitable urban areas and disinvest in maintenance of the network in rural, more expensive-to-serve, less profitable areas. Rural consumers will experience decreasing service quality and more outages as the system is allowed to deteriorate and resources are moved elsewhere.

Second, existing protections against charging exorbitant connection or reconnection charges would be gone. If the bill becomes law, phone companies can shut you off for no reason even if you always pay their bill on time or without notice if you are late. Companies can shut off customers simply because they are too expensive to serve and not sufficiently profitable. Who are these customers? They are older Minnesotans, people with disabilities, people on fixed incomes, and people who live in Greater Minnesota.

Third, AT&T and Comcast tell legislators that deregulation will produce more competition, lower prices, better service, more jobs, and broadband for everyone. Beware of would-be deregulated telecommunications companies bearing “gifts.”

Their second point sounds prophetic now – if you add “cell” to “phone companies”. Communication (broadband and phone) is a lifeline. Perhaps more policymakers need to look at it from that lens.

HBC gets a nod for wireless work in rural Minnesota

A recent article in the Daily Yonder looks at WISPs – Wireless Internet Service Providers  as the “unsung heroes” of rural broadband, calling out HBC by name…

Even some traditional fiber providers are seeing value in adopting a WISP mindset. Hiawatha Broadband Communications in Minnesota has been selling residents in 10 towns 25 Mbps symmetrical wireless since 2015. An internet service provider might take several years to finish a fiber network, but Hiawatha got wireless up and running much more quickly. Rather than wait for fiber, Hiawatha’s customers are overjoyed to get wireless because the only other option was dial up.

“Rather than focus on speed, the policy makers, funding agencies, and others should focus on unlimited data because if you listen to consumers, that’s what they want,” says Carr. “Fixed wireless with no data caps is the sweet spot where WISPs play. This bias against wireless in some quarters is no longer grounded in reality.”

The Daily Yonder does a good job describing the difference between fixed wireless (which is what they are talking about here) and cellular…

WISPs use fixed wireless, in which a transmitter “fixed” in one location transports data back and forth between one or more receivers fixed on homes, buildings, or other structures. Fixed wireless is different from, and performs better than, cellular data networks. WISPs generally don’t have strict data caps and high overage charges, the way many cellular data plans do.

I have often said there is a place for wireless AND wired connections. As the article points out, fixed wireless is a fraction of the cost to deploy fiber. So it is an good interim solution – build wireless to build a customer base and serve a community need while working on fiber. And even once fiber is deployed, people will want the mobility of a wireless solution.