Senator Klobuchar Call with Benton, Chisago, Isanti County Officials on how Infrastructure Bill will Expand Rural Broadband: Notes and archive

Here’s the intro…

On Monday, November 22, at 2:00pm CT, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, will hold a call with community broadband advocates from Benton, Chisago, and Isanti Counties to discuss how the recently enacted bipartisan infrastructure bill will help expand broadband to rural Minnesota communities.

Klobuchar will be joined by Chisago Lakes Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Katie Malchow, Isanti County Administrator Julie Lines, and Benton County Commissioner Jared Gapinski, as well as Mary Magnuson, a broadband program administrator at the Blandin Foundation.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill included the largest investment our country has ever made in broadband infrastructure, with many provisions based on Klobuchar’s legislation with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) to help bring high-speed internet to every corner of the country.

And my notes, which are bulleted to keep up. From Sen Klobuchar:

  • Broadband coverage seems random at times
  • Blandin was way ahead of its time in recognizing broadband issues in rural Minnesota and creating solutions
  • Access to email isn’t enough anymore; students need to be able to take tests remotely and corporate/healthcare workers need to be able to consult remotely
  • Problems: mapping, giving money to providers that have a history of not meeting needs
  • Solutions: open access to funds to all providers and get money back from providers who don’t meet needs
  • Make broadband affordable – average monthly cost in MN is $68/month

From Katie Malchow

  • Broadband isn’t about politics, it’s about getting people connected
  • We started out broadband journey working with Blandin Foundation
  • We surveyed residents and found a disconnect between what providers said they offered and what consumers saw at home
  • Not all providers are created equal and some have not met the needs of MN residents for a while now. Maybe it’s time to ask folks on the frontlines who they would choose.
  • This is going to be a one-time investment, it’s spend it wisely.

From Jared Gapinski

  • Started talking about broadband as community in Jan 2020 (he’s new to county commission) in Jan 2021 when they realized they have 600-700 hotspots in student home, which meant that many households were un/underserved
  • They want to do a middle mile fiber project to get providers into the area
  • He pays for 100/100 Mbps connection – but it tests at 30/11
  • The community is stuck in RDOF/LTD limbo – waiting to hear from FCC is LTD got the contract
  • We need time to plan and educate to make sure we spend money wisely.

From Julia Lines

  • Broadband coverage is good in the cities but bad in the land between
  • East Central Energy is (finally) talking to them about providing broadband
  • The boundaries of cities/towns/counties are getting in our way
  • MidCo is helping in the cities but not rural areas
  • If we want people to relocate from the Cities to rural areas, we need to provide metro-quality broadband

From Mary Magnuson

  • We worry about the Swiss cheese effect that leaves certain areas unserved and as others become better served those areas fall farther and farther behind
  • RAMS is now hosting the MN state broadband speed test – available to everyone
  • Local places need to have local buy in – especially when it comes to choosing providers in their communities

Most recent RDOF Award winners include Midcontinent and Roseau Electric in MN

FCC announced latest RDOF awards

The FCC today announced that it is ready to authorize $709,060,159 in its fourth round of funding for new broadband deployments through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.  Together with three prior funding wave announcements, the Commission has now announced over $1.7 billion in funding to winning bidders for new deployments.  In this funding wave, 50 broadband providers will bring broadband service to over 400,000 locations in 26 states. …

The 26 states slated for today’s funding include Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.  The bulk of today’s funding will go to nonprofit rural electric cooperatives to deploy broadband throughout their service areas.

Here are the awards in Minnesota:

Midcontinent
Census blocks 683
Locations 5706
Total Award $4,453,800.60

Roseau Electric
Census blocks 76
Locations 266
Total Award $1,228,494

And from the small print, in case there’s something to learn or we need it in the future…

With regard to its ETC designation in Minnesota, MidCo was able to secure its designation from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on May 28, 2021, and submit the Order to the Commission on June 1, 2021, prior to the June 7 deadline.[1]  Thus, we dismiss as moot MidCo’s request for waiver with regard to Minnesota.

[1] See Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, Docket No. P-6186/SA-21-124, In the Matter of a Notice to Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Grant Winners et al., (May 28, 2021).

Chippewa County looks at broadband options as from RDOF-LTD lens

Montevideo American News reports

Chippewa County Commissioners are discussing the various funding sources and policies that are impacting the county. Numerous state and federal funding programs have resulted in plans that will provide new options to many in rural parts of the County.

LTD Broadband was recently awarded $1.3 billion in federal funds to provide a combination of fiber and fixed wireless broadband service to customers across 15 states including large portions of rural Chippewa County. This could mean new opportunities for many rural residents that are currently considered “unserved” by the Minnesota Office of Broadband Map. This investment must be rolled out in the County by 2027 according to the FCC rules. Chippewa County representatives will be actively monitoring the roll out of this broadband improvement.

Meanwhile, this federal grant renders these “unserved” areas of the County ineligible for other grant funds until the company builds their network. This means Chippewa County is limited on how it can apply for and use other state and federal funds dedicated to improving broadband service.

County leaders are getting into national discussions…

County staff are also engaging in important broadband development policy discussions on a national scale. Terry Ocaña, Chippewa County’s IT Director, is an active member on the National Association of Counties Broadband Task Force, participating and staying up to date on broadband issues and policies and bringing that knowledge and information back to Chippewa County to guide conversations about local options. This taskforce recently released a national report on the importance of broadband throughout the country.

More RDOF grants made: Windstream only MN winner with 2,830 locations

From the FCC

The FCC today announced that it is ready to authorize $554,150,641 million in its third round of funding for new broadband deployments through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.  Together with two prior funding wave announcements, the Commission has now announced over $1 billion in funding to winning bidders for new deployments.  In this funding wave, 11 broadband providers will bring fiber-to-the-home gigabit broadband service to over 180,000 locations in 19 states.  The Commission also denied several waiver petitions by companies that did not diligently pursue their applications.

You can get the details on winners; I’ve pulled out the Windstream totals:

Windstream:

  • Census blocks 20
  • Locations 2,830
  • Total Award $6,548,963.30

The was some news about LTD broadband. Although not in Minnesota…

The FCC also continued to work to ensure that funding only supports providers that comply with program requirements.  The FCC denied LTD Broadband’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline to be designated as an eligible telecommunications carrier in Iowa, Nebraska, and North Dakota, and denied NW Fiber’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline for submitting a post-auction long form application.

More RDOF grants made; 16,406 locations in MN – no word on LTD

The FCC reports (yesterday)…

The FCC today announced that it is ready to authorize $163,895,636 to 42 providers in the second round of funding for new broadband deployments through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. The Commission is also continuing its work to refocus the program to ensure that funding goes to unserved areas that need broadband. As part of that process, 85 winning bidders have chosen not to pursue buildout in 5,089 census blocks in response to letters the FCC sent asking applicants to review their bids in areas where there was evidence of existing service or questions of potential waste.

“More help is on the way to households without broadband,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “This is an important program for getting more Americans connected to high-speed internet, and we are continuing careful oversight of this process to ensure that providers meet their obligations to deploy in areas that need it.”

In this funding wave, 42 broadband providers will bring fiber-to-the-home gigabit broadband to approximately 65,000 locations in 21 states over the next 10 years. The Commission continues to closely review long-form applications of other winning bidders that were previously announced to ensure they meet the technical, financial, and operational capabilities to comply with program obligations.

There was no mention of LTD awards. (There are controversies around LTD potential awards, especially in Minnesota.)

Here’s the scoop in MN

  • 7 winners in Minnesota
  • 2,076 census blocks
  • 16,406 locations
  • 10 year total investment $63009843.5

Here are the details (done in paper in pencil so close but maybe not exact) on each provider:

Arrowhead Electric Cooperative
Census blocks 440
Locations 4879
Total Award $18,462,273.1

Consolidated Telephone Company
Census blocks 121
Locations 979
Total Award $18819119.10

Federated Telephone Cooperative
Census blocks 85
Locations 248
Total Award $517399

Garden Valley Telephone Company
Census blocks 186
Locations 492
Total Award $2792139.40

Paul Bunyan Rural Telephone Cooperative
Census blocks 763
Locations 5088
Total Award $16307892.10

Savage Communications
Census blocks 509
Locations 4542
Total Award $6090479.10

Winnebago Cooperative Telecom Association
Census blocks 57
Locations 178
Total Award $ 20541.7

 

FCC announces some RDOF winners – in MN that’s Farmers Mutual Telephone Company

FCC announced 466 RDOF winning bids. The only winner announced in Minnesota was Farmers Mutual Telephone Company. Here’s the announcement

By this Public Notice, the Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB), in conjunction with the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force (RBATF) and the Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA), authorize Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (Auction 904) support for the winning bids identified in Attachment A of this Public Notice.

For each of the winning bids identified in Attachment A, we have reviewed the long-form application information, including the letter(s) of credit and Bankruptcy Code opinion letter(s) from the long-form applicant’s legal counsel.  Based on the representations and certifications in the relevant long-form application, we authorize support for the winning bids listed in Attachment A.

We will also soon post a state-level summary under the “Results” tab on the Auction 904 webpage at https://www.fcc.gov/auction/904/round-results.  The summary will provide for each long-form applicant included in this Public Notice:  1) the total support amount over 10 years and total number of locations that the long-form applicant is being authorized for in each state, 2) the total number of locations to which the authorized support recipient must offer the required voice and broadband services for each performance tier and latency in each state, and 3) the eligible census blocks included in the winning bids that are being authorized in each state.

Here are some of the details for the Farmers Mutual bids:

Winning bid MN-073-1801002

  • 26 locations
  • $21,054.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1801001

  • 2 locations
  • $ 7,626.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1801003

  • 6 locations
  • $ 2,294.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1802001

  • 119 locations
  • $ 216,152.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1802002

  • 37 locations
  • $ 166,258.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1803001

  • 39 locations
  • $ 152,096.00

Winning bid MN-073-1803002

  • 78 locations
  • $ 177,172.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1803003

  • 25 locations
  • $ 17,170.00 over 10 years

No word on LTD.

What about the RDOF areas that are already served?

Fierce Telecom reports on what’s happening with the RDOF grants. As you may recall, the FCC asked providers to look at the areas they wanted to serve to make sure that they weren’t already served. Providers are doing that but it’s raising questions – what will happen to the money the FCC slated to serve those areas…

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently urged operators to ensure money awarded to them in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I auction wouldn’t go toward unnecessary coverage, and they responded – with a wave of waiver requests. As a result, millions in broadband funding could be left on the table.

Top RDOF winners including LTD Broadband, Windstream, Frontier Communications and Starry, were among those seeking to relinquish winning bids without penalty, after receiving warning letters from the FCC last month. Collectively, the waiver requests cover thousands of census blocks across at least 26 states.

The FCC issued letters to a total of 197 RDOF winners, flagging potentially redundant funding in a total of 15,187 census blocks. Operators had until August 16 to request waivers for these areas.

LTD Broadband requested waivers for more than 3,000 census blocks spanning California, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin. The operator was notably the top bidder in the RDOF auction, winning $1.3 billion in funding to provide service to 528,000 locations across those 15 states.

… and what will happen to the providers in question…

It is unclear exactly how much funding is associated with the waiver requests mentioned above. Last month, the FCC revealed more than 60 bidding entities have already defaulted on winning bids totaling $78,533,385.30 and covering nearly 11,000 census blocks.

According to RDOF rules, operators in default of winning bids are subject to a penalty of $3,000 per violation. But the FCC said in its warning letter last month it would consider waiving the fees if operators could demonstrate why defaulting on their bids would serve the public interest.

Wisconsin looks at failed history of federal funding for broadband

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel does a nice job detailing the illustrious history of federal funding for broadband over the past few Administrations. The title of the article says it all…

With poor data, deficient requirements and little oversight, massive public spending still hasn’t solved the rural internet access problem

There isn’t a lot new in the summary but it’s a good and succinct account, starting with the stories of people who have been waiting for decades for the federal funds to trickle down to deploy broadband to their homes and including lots of good details, facts and figures. They boil the issue to a few high level points: inadequate mapping of the problem and minimal requirements and even less administration.

The need…

The Federal Communications Commission has said that nationwide around 14 million people lack access to broadband, also known as high-speed internet. However, the firm Broadband Now, which helps consumers find service, estimates it’s closer to 42 million. And although Microsoft Corp. doesn’t have the ability to measure everyone’s actual internet connection, the tech giant says approximately 120 million Americans aren’t using the internet at true broadband speeds of at least 25-megabit-per-second downloads and 3 Mbps uploads — a further indication of how many people have been left behind.

The attempts so far…

None of the efforts under any of the administrations succeeded, and some of the reasons were fairly straightforward. The data on who has broadband  — and who doesn’t  — has been flawed. Some of the upgrades quickly became obsolete. There’s been limited accountability.

“We have given away $40 billion in the last 10 years … and haven’t solved the problem,” said Tom Wheeler, who was FCC chairman in Obama’s administration. “I always thought the definition of insanity was doing things the same way over and over and believing that, somehow, something will change.”

And so the digital divide, which some say has become a chasm, remains.

And the funders having little to say about who gets service…

Under the Connect America Fund requirements, grant recipients had a great deal of latitude in where they deployed upgrades. They were allowed, for example, to bypass thinly populated sections of rural counties and make up the difference in other CAF II-eligible areas that had more customers.

It’s really hurt places like Price County, according to Hallstrand, who says the government subsidies should be used to cover the areas most in need of better service before the money’s spent in other places.

“That’s how rural America gets broadband,” he said.

In one rural Wisconsin county after another, Connect America Fund II has left a trail of skepticism and frustration. Many communities have initiated their own broadband expansion projects, seeking state grants and local partnerships, because they haven’t seen much help from the federal government and big-name service providers.

Interactive map of RDOF winners and bids in default

Last week, the FCC announced some of the winners and losers of RDOF awards. CNS has created an interactive map that include that info. Specifically, as they reports. The maps include

  • Initially won RDOF block groups
  • LTD and AB Indiana bidders’ declined waivers
  • Bids ready to be authorized
  • Bids in default
  • Potentially previously served blocks within winning areas

More on FCC’s scrutiny of RDOF awards – necessary but leaving communities in limbo

Ars Technica reports

The Federal Communications Commission wants SpaceX to give up a portion of the $885.51 million in broadband funding it was awarded in a reverse auction in December 2020.

SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband division was one of the biggest winners in the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) grants announced in Ajit Pai’s last full month as FCC chairman. Overall, Pai’s FCC awarded $9.2 billion over 10 years ($920 million per year) to 180 bidders nationwide, with SpaceX slated to get $885.51 million over 10 years to serve homes and businesses in parts of 35 states.

Pai apparently mismanaged the auction, as an announcement yesterday from Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s office said the FCC has to “clean up issues with the program’s design originating from its adoption in 2020.” The FCC cited “complaints that the program was poised to fund broadband to parking lots and well-served urban areas.” The FCC suggested that SpaceX give up its funding in about 6 percent of the census blocks where it’s slated to get money. Other ISPs are being asked to give up smaller portions of their funding.

The rules that Pai set for the first RDOF auction required funding to go only to census blocks where no providers offer speeds of 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up. A planned Phase 2 auction would target such areas, but the first auction was meant only for places that are completely unserved.

Rosenworcel’s office sent letters to dozens of winning bidders yesterday, suggesting that they voluntarily give up a portion of their funding. The letter to SpaceX stands out for the sheer number of census blocks—about 6,500 in 34 states—where the FCC is challenging SpaceX’s funding. Those 6,500 are among about 113,900 census blocks where SpaceX tentatively won FCC grants.

The letters to SpaceX and other ISPs pointed to concerns “that certain areas included in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction are already served by one or more service providers that offer 25/3Mbps broadband service or otherwise raise significant concerns about wasteful spending, such as parking lots and international airports.”

Lots of folks (including me) have written about the concerns of funding going to odd areas (like the Vikings practice facility) and the ability of a provider to deploy what they have promised. Locally that concerns highlights LTD’s experience providing FTTP. Just yesterday I was in conversation with communities that are in a holding pattern because they are in RDOF areas and subsequently their applications for MN State funding for broadband was turned down last year and now they don’t qualify for funding – because they are theoretically going to be served by RDOF projects.

It’s a good idea to investigate the funds, clearly we don’t want money going to areas where it won’t help or won’t be used to help enough (or as promised) but for communities on the frontlines this game of waiting is getting old.

FCC makes some announcements on RDOF funding – nothing on LTD in Minnesota

I want to get this out because it’s something we’ve all been waiting for – and it’s important. At highest level – looks like Consolidates and Farmers have gotten word to move ahead on some projects. (Not sure if it’s all projects.) It looks like Aspire was offered (and took) the opportunity to withdraw. Nothing about LTD in Minnesota. However, LTD was denied its extension to get ETC designation in California, Kansas and Oklahoma so is in default there. FCC deferred for five other states where LTD requested extension for getting ETC designation (Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas).

Side note: I’m going to ask for some generous leniency here – if I got something wrong please let me know and I’ll fix it. I really wanted to get this out but there has been a disturbing incent across the street from my house. (It was a shooting in St Paul that will likely be covered in News.) So my concentration is not stellar.

Today’s action represents the first funding to be approved through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.  As a result of today’s announcement, 48 broadband providers will bring 1 Gbps broadband speeds to nearly 200,000 homes and businesses over the next 10 years.  Here are the Ready to Authorize Long-Form Applicants and Winning Bids (in MN):

(Info on each line – Applicant Name, FRN, Winning Bid Name, State, Area Codes, # of Census Blocks, #of Eligible Census Blocks, # of locations, Winning Bid over 10 yrs, Amt due on LOC – easier to read in PDF – but now search able here.)

  1. Consolidated Communications    0003713930MN-103-4805021Minnesota                                 361375            1             2             12             $ 11,126.00              $ 1,112.60
  2. Farmers Mutual Telephone        0003747722MN-073-1801001Minnesota                                     369020            1             2              2               $ 7,626.00               $ 762.60
  3. Farmers Mutual Telephone        0003747722MN-073-1801002Minnesota                                     369020            1            11             26             $ 21,054.00              $ 2,105.40
  4. Farmers Mutual Telephone        0003747722MN-073-1801003Minnesota                                     369020            1             3              6               $ 2,294.00               $ 229.40
  5. Farmers Mutual Telephone        0003747722MN-073-1802001Minnesota                                     369020            1            13            119            $ 216,152.00             $ 21,615.20
  6. Farmers Mutual Telephone        0003747722MN-073-1802002Minnesota                                     369020            1            21             37            $ 166,258.00             $ 16,625.80
  7. Farmers Mutual Telephone        0003747722MN-073-1803001Minnesota                                     369020            1            19             39            $ 152,096.00             $ 15,209.60
  8. Farmers Mutual Telephone        0003747722MN-073-1803002Minnesota                                     369020            1            36             78            $ 177,172.00             $ 17,717.20
  9. Farmers Mutual Telephone        0003747722MN-073-1803003Minnesota                                     369020            1            11             25             $ 17,170.00              $ 1,717.00

At the same time, the FCC also took steps to clean up the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program.  In light of complaints that the program was poised to fund broadband to parking lots and well-served urban areas, the FCC sent letters to 197 winning bidders.  The letters offer providers an opportunity to withdraw their funding requests from those places already with service or where significant questions of waste have been raised. Here are the Bids in Default (in MN):

(Info on each line – Applicant Name, FRN, Winning Bid Name, State, Area Codes, # of Census Blocks, #of Eligible Census Blocks, # of locations, Winning Bid over 10 yrs – easier to read in PDF – but now search able here.)

  1. Aspire Networks 2, LLC          0030311583MN_05b                  Minnesota                                 2            155          1,150             $ 6,709,428.00

Next, the FCC made clear that it will not tolerate any provider participating in the program that is not serious about providing broadband service or has not made appropriate efforts to secure state approvals.  To this end, the FCC rejected requests from AB Indiana in Florida and LTD Broadband in California, Oklahoma, and Kansas to waive program deadlines, in light of their failure to act in a timely way to seek state certification.

Greenwood Township is looking at options for better broadband

The Ely Timberjay reports

There may be no easy answers on how to get broadband internet service to Greenwood Township, but there will be some options if the township decides to move forward. The lack of decent internet service, let alone high-speed service, is seen as a major issue facing the township in the future, particularly as increasing numbers of residents and new arrivals seek to work from home.
The town board met with Joe Buttweiler, from broadband provider CTC, along with IRRRB staffer Whitney Ridlon and RAMS director Steve Giorgi, during a special meeting on June 15.

Greenwood Township is caught in an RDOF area that is not hopeful about their prospects…

But the awarding of Rural Digital Opportunity Funding (RDOF) has put a monkey-wrench into broadband project planning in the area, with the possible awarding of a huge amount of federal money to a small internet company with no experience putting in fiber optic-based systems, let alone doing projects nationwide.
“The problem is,” Buttweiler said, “nobody believes they can do what they said they would do. It costs too much.”
Currently the FCC is vetting the company, LTD Broadband, but there is no timeline for the process, and Buttweiler said he did not expect a decision until a new FCC commissioner is installed. LTD could possibly receive $312 million for projects throughout Minnesota, not just for this area.
While this is underway, most other state or federal grant programs are unwilling to fund projects in the RDOF area, which includes huge areas of St. Louis County.

But they have a few options…

Buttweiler said there are other options for bringing in broadband, but they would involve a major investment from the township, though that investment could be paid back by the provider over the course of several years.
CTC is a co-op, he said, and doesn’t have access to huge amounts of capital. In other areas they have done arrangements where the local governmental unit comes up with the capital costs up front, and then enters into a construction agreement with CTC who would then lease the fiber from the township, including responsibility for maintenance and operational costs. This agreement could include giving CTC the option to buy back the fiber network from the township, once the costs are paid off by their annual lease payments.

And…

Another option would be to have CTC finance a smaller portion of the project up front, possibly bringing in other partners and grant dollars, along with funding from the township.
Greenwood has applied for $110,000 in federal funding, which isn’t tied to RDOF. There is also funding available from the IRRRB that could be accessed. Whitney Ridlon, who works on broadband issues for the IRRR, said they have $2 million for local matches for broadband projects, but would probably only award up to $750,000, or up to 25 percent of a project’s cost.

They are looking for input from the community…

Greenwood residents are encouraged to complete a survey on the CTC website, to indicate any interest in broadband internet service. CTC also offers television and telephone service in bundled packages. CTC is currently adding broadband service in Cherry Township (rural Hibbing), and offering broadband-speed service at approximately $60/month.
Anyone with an address in Greenwood Township is asked to fill out the survey at https://join.connectctc.com/front_end/zones.

Charter waves a red flag on RDOF results based on map inaccuracies

Fierce Telecom reports

Charter Communications filed a waiver request on May 11 with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) related to its award in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction.

Charter, like all RDOF auction winners, promised to bring broadband to unserved areas. But the company has been auditing the census block grants (CBGs) where it was awarded funds, and it’s found that several of these areas already have broadband or will soon be receiving it.

Bidding under the name of CCO Holdings, Charter was awarded $1.22 billion in the RDOF Phase 1 auction, which concluded in December 2020. Charter won 5,366 CBGs, representing about 1 million homes and small businesses across 24 states for which it’s promised to deliver fiber broadband services.

Similar to something I posted about last week when we dug into Minnesota maps and they showed similar inaccuracies in MN RDOF award areas

Through RDOF LTD Broadband was deemed eligible to receive $1.32 billion in the US, including $312 million in Minnesota to build FTTH to unserved locations. There is some controversy about that decision – but this post isn’t about LTD, it’s about the maps.

Looking at maps where LTD is eligible to received funding, there are some surprises. For example the Vikings Practice Facility shows up as eligible, as does Henry Sibley High School, lots of locations along the highway and spots in commercial portions of suburban Twin Cities – just feet away from areas that were served. And then there are areas where locations seem to be on or under the highway.

Literally billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on the RDOF; $16 billion in phase one and $4 billion in phase two. The program duration is 10 years, which means anomalies and discrepancies not caught now make take 10 years to emerge, which may leave some communities unserved for 10 more years. Already some communities in RDOF areas are disqualified for other funding to secure better broadband. There are worse things than changing your mind at the alter – especially when the partnerships impact so many people. Maybe it’s time to reassess what’s on the table.

US poised to award $100B to SpaceX Starlink – will it help rural residents?

Telecompetitor reports…

The analysts estimate SpaceX’s total addressable U.S. market at full deployment at between 300,000 to 800,000 households, or less than 1% of the market.

It’s a particularly noteworthy number, considering that SpaceX is poised to receive nearly $900 million from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to cover some of the costs of bringing broadband to unserved rural areas. And considering that the total number of locations for which SpaceX was the winning RDOF bidder is 642,000.

Why do they have doubts?

MoffettNathanson’s estimate of SpaceX’s addressable market is based on several assumptions, which according to the researchers, are conservative. These include:

  • Although Starlink currently has about 1400 satellites deployed, the analysis is based on the nearly 12,000 satellites that the company expects to launch, approximately one third of which will cover the U.S.
  • Based on satellite inclines of 53 degrees, researchers estimate that only about 3% of Starlink’s satellites will be visible to U.S. customers at any given time.
  • According to SpaceX FCC filings, each satellite will have a capacity of 17-23 Gbps, but future developments could expand that. Therefore, the researchers assumed a doubling or tripling of per-satellite capacity.
  • The average broadband user consumes data at a constant rate of 2.2-2.7 Mbps during peak consumption hours, leading to researchers’ assumption that 4 Mbps of bandwidth per user would be needed to provide good quality of service today. The researchers forecast that requirement to increase to 10-18 Mbps per user in the next five years

One last factor…

SpaceX is charging customers $499 for a rooftop antenna, which according to news reports, cost the company $2,400, which suggests that the company is subsidizing each installation by nearly $2,000.

It seems like that $499 installation fee could increase at any time, which would make satellite much less affordable to deploy for the household. The authors also remind us that Starlink is in line to get $100 billion from the US government through an RDOF award.

Is MN a broadband winner or loser? A look at Federal Funding RDOF and CAF

Telecompetitor reports on the RDOF ranking by state. Turns out Minnesota ranks highly for funding per rural resident…

The states with the most funding per rural resident, in descending order, were California ($830), West Virginia ($530), Arkansas ($377), Minnesota ($328), Massachusetts ($327), Mississippi ($313), Pennsylvania ($254), Wisconsin ($248), Illinois ($205) and Michigan ($201).

You’d think that would make Minnesotans feel like winners but it doesn’t because there is great concern over what that money is going to buy and when. The biggest concern is about LTD, undeniably a big winner with an opportunity to bid for almost $312 million project to build FTTH (fiber to the home) to 102,005 homes. This is especially surprising because they are a small company that always has focused on fixed wireless not fiber.

I’ve written a lot about this – so a quick rundown:

This story may sound familiar. It reads an awful lot like what I posted about CAF II awards in 2015

If I’ve learned nothing else from the TV show Toddlers in Tiaras, I learned that sometimes you don’t want to win the first crown. Winning the first crown is better than winning nothing, but it usually puts you out of the running for Best in Show. Getting access at speeds of 10/1 is better than what the communities receiving CAF 2 funding have now. And any improvement is an improvement. BUT those speeds are slower than the Minnesota speed goals of 10/5 (The MN Broadband Task Force is looking to update those speeds.) and they seem even slower when you compare them to rural areas that have Gig access, such as Grand RapidsRed WingLac qui Parle CountyNew PragueRogersMelrose and others.

Five years later, CAF II winners CenturyLink (Lumen) and Frontier report that they “may not have met” CAF II deployment deadlines for 2020. Here’s what I said when that announcement was made in January…

The frustration is that this leaves many people without broadband – again. The goal is to build to 25/3 (even lower in some areas) and they haven’t done that. To put that in perspective, it does not get them closer to the MN State speed goal of 100/20 by 2026. In Minnesota we are used to the State MN border to border broadband grant rules where project must build networks that are scalable to 100/100. That is not the case with these networks and getting to 25/3 does not mean getting to 100/20 will be easier.

Also there is the concern for customers that the promise or threat of building has kept competitors out of their market. The promise of a CAF II network has made it more difficult for the communities to get funding from other sources. CAF II funding focused on the providers only – communities didn’t not sign up or on to the program.

Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Frustration is watching from the sideline as decision makers make the same decision again and again, especially when you are the community that suffers the consequence.