Blandin Broadband eNews: Broadband activity throughout Minnesota Monthly Recap

Blandin Broadband eNews: Broadband activity throughout Minnesota Monthly Recap

On the Minnesota policy front…

And national policy front…

Vendor News…

Local Broadband News

Business in Ada is paying $800 per month for fiber

Google plans to build a data center in Becker

There are IT Job openings in Cloquet MN

International Falls
UnitedHealth Group transitions to remote workers in International Falls

Lake County
MN Watchdog takes on Lake County Network sale

Lincoln County
Broadband expansion in Lincoln County is happening through Woodstock

Otter Tail County
Otter Tail County makes broadband expansion a main focus

Region Five
Broadband expansion happening in rural areas of Region Five

Red Wing
Red Wing Ignite Ag Tech Challenge hosts final pitch

West Central MN
Meet MN Millennial Farmer, a voice for an industry and generation

Upcoming Events & 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

Bernadine is fond of the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia classic quote: “Somebody has to do something and isn’t it pathetic that it has to be us?”  While this is true no matter where you live or work, I find it especially true in rural communities.  During meeting introductions as we ask attendees to list their community connections, we find that some folks have quite a long list of volunteer, leadership, and probably financial, commitments. These folks are true community champions and this is a strength for Greater Minnesota.

As for “us” having to do something, I am asking you to support the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, the unified voice on rural broadband. The coalition provides that unified rural voice necessary to convince legislators to do the right thing for greater Minnesota broadband.  While in January and February, there are many public policy groups willing to speak up for broadband, we know that as the session winds down, organizational lobbyists narrow their focus to their own highest priority bills.  Funding this unified, full-time voice means raising money.  We believe that the coalition has been successful in its work to build a bipartisan consensus around the need to spur rural broadband deployment, but we cannot ever rest until that last gavel comes down in May.

We need you, our rural broadband champions to join the coalition and to recruit others in your community or industry segment as well. Prospective members range from school districts to banks to health care providers to chambers of commerce to cities and counties. We have members in each of these categories, so join your colleagues and peer organizations by becoming members.  Those local units of government and telecom providers who hope to apply for Border to Border Grant Funds should especially consider a commitment since investing in the coalition will improve the odds of a significant border to border broadband grant appropriation. Those contributing $500 or more earn a voice in how the coalition operates and in our policy platform.

We all know that fundraising can be a particularly pathetic task and our broadband coalition team is working hard on it, but we need your help to succeed!  A call to a personal or professional connection does wonders. We have raised about two-thirds of our goal, but need to raise an additional $20,000 before the session ends in May.

Check out the coalition website, our upcoming activities and the benefits of membership information at  Join us!

Thank you.

FCC Net Neutrality and more hearings

Ars Technica has a good recap on last week’s FCC Neutrality/Title II hearing. Here are some of their highlights

Broadband – telecommunication or info service?

In order to deregulate broadband, the FCC argued that broadband itself isn’t a telecommunications service and is instead an information service. Under US law, telecommunications is defined as “the transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received.”

By contrast, US law says an information service is “the offering of a capability for generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information via telecommunications.” It’s up to the FCC to determine whether something is a telecommunications or information service, but FCC decisions can be overruled by a court if they aren’t justified properly.

Throttling unlimited data plans?

Blocking, throttling, or any sort of paid prioritization that causes other traffic to be delivered slower than prioritized traffic could affect both public safety agencies and consumers who rely on broadband to get emergency messages, she noted. As an example, she said her county’s public health website provides information about vaccine stock in case of influenza outbreaks.

US law requires the FCC to consider public safety impacts, Goldstein said. “The FCC can’t fail to address public safety, especially in an order that purports to preempt state and local government’s ability to fill that regulatory gap,” she said, noting that the FCC is attempting to preempt state and local net neutrality laws.

After-the-fact remedies aren’t sufficient for public safety, because such remedies would come after emergencies causing death, she said.

Millett grilled Johnson on the public safety topic. “Post-hoc remedies don’t work in the public safety context, and unless I missed it, that was not addressed anywhere in the [repeal] order,” Millett said.

Johnson responded that “the burden ought to be on them [the public safety agencies] to show concrete evidence of harm.”

Does Net Neutrality harm investment?

Johnson also had trouble explaining why the FCC claimed that net neutrality rules were harming broadband investment, given that broadband providers themselves told investors that the rules did no such thing.

Johnson called those statements to investors “ambiguous.” Millett was not convinced.

“What is ambiguous about, ‘it’s not going to affect us, we’re going to keep going ahead [with investment],'” Millett asked. Statements to investors “have to be true,” she continued. “It’s almost like someone doing something under oath. That’s pretty good evidence, if there’s a penalty if they’re lying or even engaging in misleading puffery.”

As Millett pointed out, publicly traded companies are required to give investors accurate financial information, including a description of risk factors involved in investing in the company.

When Lifeline dwindles: the FCC is decreasing the field of players

Lifeline is a federal program that subsidizes phone and internet access for low income households. It can offset internet access by $9.25 a month. Right now only 28 percent of eligible households take advantage of Lifeline programs.

New America reports that the FCC is making it harder for more people to access the funds…

Unfortunately, the FCC, under Chairman Ajit Pai, recently limited the number of providers that can offer Lifeline service in tribal areas (though that decision is now tied up in legal proceedings), and in November 2017, the agency proposed a series of changes to the program that, together, would severely hobble the program and take Lifeline service away from millions of people. Put differently, the FCC is chipping away at the one federal program charting a path of opportunity for Americans cut off from the internet.

“Our statistics suggest the program has shrunk 30 percent under Chairman Pai’s watch,” John Heitmann, a partner at Kelley Drye & Warren LLP who has represented Lifeline-participating companies, said at a recent New America event, which broadly explored the function of the Lifeline program and the need to protect it.

Heitmann elaborated on the 30-percent drop in the program over the past two years, attributing it to, “in large part, regulatory uncertainty created during Chairman Pai’s administration. [Pai] started by eliminating [Lifeline Broadband Provider] LBP designations within weeks of walking in the door,” Heitmann added, referring to Pai’s decision, at the very beginning of his administration in 2017, to revoke nine broadband companies’ official designations, which had allowed them to participate in the program. “That sent a signal to the marketplace that we have problems. … The companies have been having difficulty attracting investment to grow in the Lifeline space.”

The FCC is also trying to change the rules on who can be a Lifeline providers. The funny thing is that the big wireless providers don’t really want the “business” of serving reduced rate retail service; instead they seem happy to work with resellers…

The FCC has also put a target on wireless resellers—indeed, this was one of the central points of conversation at the event. The FCC has proposed that only companies that build and operate wireless networks—so-called facilities-based providers—should offer Lifeline service. This is supposedly to fuel broadband infrastructure investment, which is a worthy cause, but, notably, that’s the task of several other FCC programs—not Lifeline. Wireless resellers, as their name suggests, purchase service from facilities-based providers and resell that capacity to their own customers, including Lifeline customers. Frequently with Lifeline providers, these resellers tailor their products for Lifeline recipients to ensure that they’re affordable, maximizing the $9.25 per month subsidy; often the service is free to the customer. Banning these providers from the program would potentially leave millions of low-income Americans unserved.

Heitmann noted that all four of the country’s large network providers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint) “voluntarily resell their services to Lifeline wireless resellers.” These four providers are “happy to resell their services … because they’re not particularly good at serving these low-income consumers.”

Yosef Getachew, Director of the Media and Democracy Program at Common Cause, echoed these sentiments, noting that the proposal to eliminate wireless resellers would take away the “actual carriers” serving the low-income communities who “don’t necessarily have a bank account or good credit history or are suffering from disabilities” and thus require affordable services made possible through the Lifeline program. Given that wireline and facilities-based providers don’t have incentives or the motivation to serve these communities, Getachew added, “it’s the resellers who have actually developed the relationships, the customer base, and the credibility to actually provide service to these communities.”

Think of it this way: The proposed elimination of wireless resellers not only contradicts the very purpose of the Lifeline program, but it also undermines current revenue streams that nurture broadband infrastructure investment.

It sounds like a federal program that is already under-utilized is getting harder to access…

The FCC’s proposal, on the whole, represents a wholesale attack on the Lifeline program. Instead of merely rescinding its program, the agency has rebranded a series of coordinated attacks that would obstruct the program’s ability to help consumers as “reforms.” Thankfully, these proposals haven’t been formally approved by the FCC. But as long as they remain on the table, they live on as a constant threat to millions of low-income Americans who rely on the program for the communications services they require in their day-to-day lives.a

State looking for new Technology Advisory Committee Member

Seems like some reader would make a good candidate…

Technology Advisory Committee
Vacancies: 1 Seat — Business Planning – Member

Membership includes one member designated by Minnesota Association of Counites; six members appointed by the governor, who are actively involved in business planning for state executive branches; one member appointed by the governor, representative of union that represents state information technology employees; and one member appointed by the governor who is a representative of private business.

Learn more or apply online.

Pioneer Press reader asks for more broadband ASAP

The St Paul Pioneer Press recently ran an editorial from a reader in Roseville in support of broadband for all, especially rural Minnesota…

I fail to understand the logic of some people (mostly rural conservatives, apparently) who are fighting the idea of governmental aid for more rapid broadband development in Minnesota. Do any of them remember farming without electricity to drive milking machines and fill silos and hay mows? I do. I don’t want our state to return to those days. We are on the front edge of the world-wide cyber electronic age. Now individual entrepreneurs who rely for their business, on electronic connection can live anywhere — if they can communicate with their customers. …

If Minnesota wants to compete and grow in the modern world, we need to invest today and build comprehensive broadband communications into our infrastructure. Citizens of Minnesota outside the metropolitan areas need to demand equal treatment in this modern cyber age, something that has been lacking. Our goal needs to be modern low-cost broadband passing every home, every cabin and every business in the entire state. As soon as possible.

MN Attorney General Keith Ellison puts broadband on his short list

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Ellison said his office will organize a task force to analyze compliance with the Women’s Economic Security Act and said drug prices, wages and issues affecting residents in greater Minnesota would round out four items “that we are going to push for the next four years.”

Ellison said his staff is working to build a “unit that can make sure we’re working on fair pay and fighting wage theft all the time.” He said that would involve building up the office’s investigative capacity to address wages while also working with agencies on agricultural, broadband and telecommunication disparities in greater Minnesota.

You know broadband is a hot topic when the new Minnesota Attorney General is putting it on his agenda. In the last couple of years, former AG Lori Swanson was involved with Comcast case, Net Neutrality and  CenturyLink. Maybe he’s referring to those or something new.

Otter Tail County makes broadband expansion a main focus

Fergus Falls Daily Journal reports…

Leaders in Otter Tail County are putting together their main legislative priorities to bring to the Minnesota Legislature in St. Paul. The Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners outlined funding priorities and announced their legislative priorities.

The priorities set by the commissioners are to expand broadband infrastructure, asking for funding of the Broadband Development Grant Program.

“Everything runs on broadband now,” OTC Board Chair Dough Huebsch said. “It is very important to have fast internet to attract workers and families to OTC. Whether it is working from home, farming or doing homework, it is becoming vital for every household to have a fast internet connection. In the less populated areas of the county it is less appealing, for providers to make the investment in fiber, because of the low number of subscribers. In the past, we subsidized electricity and phone service as necessary needs. Broadband is in that category now and we need to work together to find solutions.”

Broadband expansion along with other economic growth is a main focus for the OTC Board.