Elizabeth Warren announces broadband plan

Glad to see broadband make the national policy discussion. CNBC reports on Elizabeth Warren’s broadband plan…

  • The Democratic presidential hopeful unveils a plan to guarantee universal high-speed internet access and investments in rural communities.
  • Warren says she would create a federal Office of Broadband Access to manage an $85 billion grant program.
  • Her administration would “preempt” laws on the books in 26 states that discourage or prevent municipalities from building their own broadband infrastructure.

FCC makes better mapping with polygons – but will it matter?

FCC is making changes to how they do mapping. The changes are necessary; the current system has long been criticized. Doug Dawson looks at whether these changes will make a difference…

The most important new change is that ISPs have to produce mapping ‘polygons’ to show where they have existing customers. The ISP polygons can cover areas without current customers only where an ISP “has a current broadband connection or it could provide such a connection within ten business days of a customer request and without an extraordinary commitment of resources or construction costs exceeding an ordinary service activation fee.”

The new polygons fix one of the big flaws in the current broadband map. The polygons are going to make a noticeable difference when showing coverage for a cable company or a fiber-to-the-home network. Those networks have hard boundaries – there is always a last home served at the edge of the service area after which nobody else is covered. Today’s mapping by census block doesn’t recognize the hard boundaries of these networks and often counts customers outside these networks as having access to fast data speeds. This is particularly a problem in rural areas where a large area outside a small town might be counted as having 100 Mbps or faster broadband when there is no broadband.

Unfortunately, I don’t see the new maps making a big difference for the rest of rural America unless the ISPs providing DSL and fixed wireless service get scrupulously honest with reporting.  I contend that it is difficult, and perhaps impossible to accurately map these technologies – particularly for disclosing the broadband speed available at a given customer location.

Doug goes on to point out that there are a lot of factors that go into speed – distance from the DSLAM, quality of wire, age of electronics. It isn’t an apple to apple comparison. And the ISPs aren’t looking at actual speeds, they are looking at actual or standard speeds. This is where I’ve reminded of the strategy – trust but verify. It would be nice to see some on-the-ground testing of speeds. I don’t think the onus is on the providers to make that happen.

Comcast Announces Largest Ever Expansion of Internet Essentials Program to Reach all Low-Income Americans

Good news for more people where Comcast is available…

Comcast announced today it is significantly expanding eligibility for Internet Essentials, which is the nation’s largest, most comprehensive, and most successful broadband adoption program in America, to include all qualified low-income households in its service area. The expansion is the most significant change in the program’s history. The Company estimates that more than three million additional low-income households, including households with people with disabilities, are now eligible to apply. It estimates a total of nearly seven million households now have access to low-cost Internet service, which literally doubles the total number of previously eligible households. In addition, the company announced that, since August 2011, Internet Essentials has connected more than eight million low-income individuals, from two million households, to the Internet at home, most for the first time in their lives. Today’s announcement follows 11 prior eligibility expansions, including last year’s extension of the program to low-income veterans.
“This expansion is the culmination of an audacious goal we set eight years ago, which was to meaningfully and significantly close the digital divide for low-income Americans,” said David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Comcast NBCUniversal. “The Internet is arguably the most important technological innovation in history, and it is unacceptable that we live in a country where millions of families and individuals are missing out on this life-changing resource. Whether the Internet is used for students to do their homework, adults to look for and apply for new jobs, seniors to keep in touch with friends and family, or veterans to access their well-deserved benefits or medical assistance, it is absolutely essential to be connected in our modern, digital age.”
To be eligible to apply to the program, low-income applicants simply need to show they are participating in one of more than a dozen different government assistance programs. These include: Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). A full list of these programs can be found at http://www.internetessentials.com. The Company already accepts applications from households that have a student eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program, live in public housing or receive HUD Housing Assistance, including Section 8 vouchers, or participate in the Veterans Pension Program, as well as low-income seniors and community college students in select pilot markets.

According to U.S. Census data, households living in cities with the highest poverty rates, are up to 10 times more likely than those in higher earning communities not to have fixed broadband at home. For example, in Palo Alto, California, or Bethesda, Maryland – where poverty rates are very low – only about six percent of households do not have a broadband Internet subscription – 94 percent are connected. But in Trenton, New Jersey, and Flint, Michigan – where poverty rates are way above the national average – 60 percent or more of households do not have fixed broadband at home – that is, less than half are connected. That gap of more than 50 points defines the digital divide in this country.
Internet Essentials has an integrated, wrap-around design that addresses each of the three major barriers to broadband adoption that research has identified. These include: a lack of digital literacy skills, lack of awareness of the relevance of the Internet to every day life needs, and fear of the Internet, the lack of a computer, and cost. As a result, the program includes: multiple options to access free digital literacy training in print, online, and in person, the option to purchase an Internet-ready computer for less than $150; and low-cost, high-speed Internet service for $9.95 a month plus tax. The program is structured as a partnership between Comcast and tens of thousands of school districts, libraries, elected officials, and nonprofit community partners. For more information, or to apply for the program in seven different languages, please visit http://www.internetessentials.com or call 1-855-846-8376. Spanish-only speakers can also call 1-855-765-6995.
The most significant barrier to broadband adoption in low-income communities remains a basket of digital literacy deficits, lack of digital awareness, and fear of the Internet. To help address this barrier, since 2011, Comcast has invested more than $650 million to support digital literacy training and awareness, reaching more than 9.5 million low-income Americans. In addition, the company has either sold or donated more than 100,000 discounted and heavily subsidized computers to families and veterans that need one.

Guess your broadband speed – and other tools to help promote better broadband

The Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP) AmeriCorps bridges the “digital divide” for new Immigrants and low-income communities in Minneapolis and St. Paul. CTEP AmeriCorps members help youth and adults use technology to better access social, civic, educational and economic opportunities. (OK I borrowed that from their website.)

They are folks who tackle social tech issues in small groups. In the last two years, one group has tackled broadband access, primarily in Minneapolis, but they broadened much of their work to result in tools that will help rural and urban areas.

If you came to the fall broadband conference last year and noticed anyone that wasn’t me livestreaming a session – it was either Katie or Gus. They both have been great about helping out Blandin and soaking up as much broadband knowledge as they can.

In July, I attended an information session they held in Minneapolis drumming up interest in digital equity through improved access.

In Minneapolis, it’s more about affordability or in the case of some apartments – making sure that the landlord has not locked residents into a single provider without considering their needs.

Below is a fun video they created to help attendees of the meeting (and other meetings) understand the gradations of broadband. It was a big hit at an Open Streets fest and could draw a crowd at a county fair. There are some other tools they have created too – and are sharing with anyone tasked with explaining and promoting better broadband.

Here are some of the other tools they have made available:

 

Klobuchar Introduces Legislation to Crack Down on Monopolies that Violate Antitrust Law

From Senator Klobuchar’s Senate website

Klobuchar is the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, introduced new legislation to crack down on monopolies that violate antitrust law. The Monopolization Deterrence Act would give the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the authority to seek civil penalties for monopolization offenses under the antitrust laws, a power they currently do not have. The bill was introduced with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and cosponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA).

“We have a major monopoly problem in this country. So when federal enforcers uncover illegal monopolistic conduct, they need to act decisively to make sure it stops. But the threat of an injunction isn’t always enough to deter this unlawful conduct from happening in the first place. Dominant companies need to be put on notice that there will be serious financial consequences for illegal monopolistic behavior,” Klobuchar said. “Our legislation will increase the ability of the Justice Department and the FTC to deter companies from engaging in monopolistic practices that hurt competition, consumers, and innovation in our economy.”

Specifically, the Monopolization Deterrence Act would:

  • Enable the Department of Justice and the FTC to seek civil monetary penalties, in addition to existing remedies, for violations of section 2 of the Sherman Act (15 U.S.C. 2);
  • Deter future violations by providing for penalties of up to 15 percent of the violator’s total U.S. revenues or 30 percent of the violator’s U.S. revenues in the affected markets; and
  • Ensure that the two agencies work together to create guidelines for how they would exercise their penalty authority considering a number of relevant factors.

The legislation has the support of leading national consumer welfare and antitrust policy organizations Consumer Reports, Public Knowledge, and American Antitrust Institute.

“We need to make sure we have effective enforcement tools to deter dominant corporations from engaging in anti-competitive, monopolistic practices that harm the marketplace and consumers,” said George Slover, senior policy counsel at Consumer Reports. “Senator Klobuchar’s legislation will put new teeth into our antitrust laws by empowering enforcers and courts to impose significant financial penalties when a corporation abuses its dominance in the marketplace.”

“Section 2 monopolization cases are more difficult to bring than other cases, and if the government wins at court, it usually can do no more than stop the offending company from engaging in the same anticompetitive behavior in the future,” said Charlotte Slaiman, Competition Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge. “Adding monetary penalties as a percentage of a company’s U.S. revenue could help deter anticompetitive conduct and give the antitrust enforcement agencies more leverage to promote competition in these types of cases.”

“Senator Klobuchar has been a leader in smart and constructive legislative antitrust reforms. Her proposed bill to strengthen U.S. monopolization law provides for needed expansion of federal remedies to help deter anticompetitive abuses. This initiative should garner strong bipartisan support,” said American Antitrust Institute President Diana Moss.

In her role as Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, Klobuchar has championed efforts to protect consumers, promote competition, and fight consolidation in several industries including the telecommunications, agriculture, and pharmaceutical industries. In June, she led efforts to obtain details about possible FTC antitrust investigations into Amazon and Facebook and possible Justice Department antitrust investigations into Google and Apple. In the letters, the senators requested information regarding the existence and scope of the potential investigations. In April, Klobuchar and Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) sent a letter to the FTC to take action in response to concerns regarding potential privacy, data security, and antitrust violations involving online platforms. They also called on the FTC to provide additional transparency into its ongoing investigations to ensure that consumers are protected from harmful conduct relating to digital markets.

Klobuchar has also been an outspoken voice in opposing anticompetitive mergers and has introduced legislation to help prevent them. In June, Klobuchar and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced new bipartisan legislation to ensure that antitrust authorities have the resources they need to protect consumers. The Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act would update merger filing fees for the first time since 2001, lower the burden on small and medium-sized businesses, ensure larger deals bring in more income, and raise enough revenue so that taxpayer dollars aren’t required to fund necessary increases to agency enforcement budgets.

Klobuchar leads the Consolidation Prevention and Competition Promotion Act to restore the original purpose of the Clayton Antitrust Act to promote competition and protect American consumers. The bill would strengthen the current legal standard to help stop harmful consolidation that may materially lessen competition. It would clarify that a merger could violate the statute if it gives a company “monopsony” power to unfairly lower the prices it pays or wages it offers because of lack of competition among buyers or employers. The bill further strengthens the law to guard against harmful “mega-mergers” and deals that substantially increase market concentration, shifting the burden to the merging companies to prove that their consolidation does not harm competition. She also introduced the Merger Enforcement Improvement Act which would update existing law to reflect the current economy and provide agencies with better information post-merger to ensure that merger enforcement is meeting its goals. This bill would modernize antitrust enforcement by improving the agencies’ ability to assess the impact of merger settlements, requiring studies of new issues, adjusting merger filing fees to reflect the 21st century economy, and providing adequate funding for antitrust agencies to meet their obligations to protect American consumers. She introduced both bills in February.

Paul Bunyan Communications Returns Over $2.8 Million Member’s Share in Cooperative’s Success

Two years ago I looked at the community ROI of public investment in broadband. It turns out that while businesses can have a difficult time making the business case for better broadband – the community does see a return. SO it’s great to see a cooperative, such as Paul Bunyan, sharing their ROI with their customers and sharing the info with everyone…

Over $2.8 million has been returned to members of Paul Bunyan Communications, the cooperative announced today.

Paul Bunyan Communications is a not for profit company that strives to provide the highest quality service at the most affordable rates.  As a cooperative, membership in Paul Bunyan Communications includes the opportunity to share in the financial success of the company. When profits are earned they are allocated to the members based on their proportional share of the allocable revenues.  These allocations may then be returned to the individual members through capital credit retirements.

For current members with a distribution amount less than $75, a credit has been applied to your August bill. Checks have been mailed out for distributions of $75 or more.

“The state of our cooperative is very strong with over 27,600 active members throughout our 5,500 square mile service territory.  We have been very busy building one of the largest all-fiber optic rural Gigabit networks in the country, the GigaZone, which is revolutionizing the way members live, work, and play.  It is rewarding to see all those efforts continue to pay off and return these profits to our membership” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.

“For over 65 years we have been providing the latest in technology at cost.  There is no membership fee to join Paul Bunyan Communications and there are no annual membership dues. All you need to do is subscribe to either one line of local phone or Broadband Internet service and you become a member. You get the latest in technology backed up by our talented team of over 130 local employees that all live and work here” added Dave Schultz, Paul Bunyan Communications Chief Financial Officer.

“In a highly competitive industry with national competitors our cooperative has been successful because we put our region and our members first.  We don’t have to worry about customers all over the place like in Sioux Falls, Fargo, Minneapolis, or anywhere else. Our investments go here, back into our network, our services, and our communities.” added Brian Bissonette, Paul Bunyan Communications Marketing Supervisor.

If you were a member of the cooperative in 2002 and/or 2018 and accrued more than $10 in total capital credit allocations, but do not receive the credit on your account or a check by September 22, please contact Paul Bunyan Communications at (218) 444-1234 or (218) 999-1234.

Opportunity: Governor’s Workforce Development Board

I found two board opportunities today that I thought might be of interest – well two positions where it would be nice to have someone with an interest in developing greater broadband use and access…

Vacancies: 1 Seat – Business Member
Business members are from Minnesota’s six regional workforce development areas and represent the following priority industry sectors: Health care and Social Assistance, Manufacturing, Construction, Professional and Business Services and Natural Resources.

Powers and Duties: The board, under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, WIOA, shall assist the Governor in: developing, implementing,and modifying the State plan, review of statewide policies and programs, providing recommendations on actions to align and improve the workforce development system and programs, develop strategies to identify and remove barriers for better alignment, support career pathways, provide outreach to individuals and employers benefitting from the system, developing and updating comprehensive state performance accountability measures, and disseminating of best practices. The board shall provide support to local boards and regions, and assume responsibilities for Title I Workforce Development Activities, Title 2 Adult Education and Literacy, Title 3 Wagner-Peyser and Title 4 Vocational Rehabilitation. The board will also be responsible for the development of strategies for one stop partners, the alignment of technologies and data systems, the enhancement of digital literacy skills, fiscal accountability and the acceleration of industry-recognized post-secondary credentials.
Restrictions to Membership:
The board consists of 43 voting members including the Governor, Commissioners of the Departments of Employment and Economic Development, Human Services, Education, two elected officials (City/County), 23 Private sector members whom are business owners, chief executives or operating officers or employers with optimum policy-making or hiring authority representing in-demand industry sectors, five labor representatives from labor organizations who have been nominated by state labor federations, one labor member representing a joint labor-management apprenticeship or training program, two community-based organizations with demonstrated experience in addressing employment, training or education needs with a priority on individuals with barriers to employment, four education representatives as follows: one University of Minnesota senior leadership, the Chancellor of Minnesota State, one member representing public education with expertise in design and implementation of school-based, service learning (Career Technical Education), one private post-secondary senior leadership. The Leaders from the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate shall appoint two ex officio members from each. The 17 non-voting members include: one member representing Adult Basic Education, one public libraries representative, one member representing the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), two community-based organizations with demonstrated experience in addressing employment, training, or education needs with a priority on individuals with barriers to employment, one member (Chair or Executive Director) representing the Minnesota Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB), two members representing school-based service learning and secondary STEM education, a representative of the Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, a representative of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, a representative of the Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs, a representative of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, a representative of the Minnesota Council on Disability, and the Commissioners of the Departments of Corrections, Labor and Industry, Office of Higher Education, and Minnesota Management and Budget.
Meeting Information: The full board for 2019-20 will meet quarterly, at a minimum; the executive, operations and additional standing committees, ad-hoc committees or task force(s) will meet per a schedule established by the board.
Meeting Location: Quarterly business meetings are held in March, June, September and December at various locations in the greater Twin Cities metro area.

And…

Technology First Advisory Task Force
Compensation: 0.00

Vacancies:
    2 Seats – Individual with Disabilities Accessing Supportive Technology
    1 Seat – Advocating Change Together Representative
    1 Seat – ARC Minnesota Representative
    1 Seat – Assistive Technology Professional – Licensed and practicing
    1 Seat – Associations of Residential Resources in Minnesota (ARRM) – Staff or Member
    2 Seats – County Representatives
    1 Seat – Minnesota Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Minnesota)
    1 Seat – Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC) Representative
    1 Seat – Minnesota Organization of Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR) Member
    3 Seats – Minnesota Tribal Nations Representatives (3 Seats)
    1 Seat – Parent/Unpaid Guardian of a Person with a Disability Accessing Supportive Technology
    1 Seat – Speech Pathologist or Occupational Therapist – Licensed, practicing, and uses assistive technology in professional work.
    1 Seat – Traumatic Brain injury (TBI) Advisory Committee Representative

Powers and Duties:
This is an task force to advise the commissioner on how to increase the use of technology by people with disabilities.

Restrictions to Membership:
Members of this advisory task force are defined in the Laws of MN 2019 with the addition of subject matter expert members as identified by the Commissioner.
Meeting Information: Meetings are expected to be held on a quarterly basis, with the 1st meeting being approximate 6 hours, and all other meetings about 3 hours.
Meeting Location: 444 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155

Visit the Open Positions page for more info.