Tag: "minnesota"

Posted October 4, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

A few weeks ago, we wrote about one of the community meetings held by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to address mounting frustrations over poor service from Frontier Communications. Subscribers at the meeting in Wyoming, Minnesota, complained of download speeds as slow as 0.05 Megabits per second (Mbps), outages that lasted for weeks, and unhelpful customer service representatives.

According to Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), the small town of Ceylon, Minnesota, has had to deal with even more insulting mistreatment at the hands of the company. Residents of Ceylon say that Frontier never actually finished installing its lines in the town. Instead, Frontier has left them lying in people’s yards and dangling from trees — for as long as three years, by one account.

Frontier’s “Corporate Indifference”

Internet access and telephone providers like Frontier usually bury cables underground or suspend them on utility poles to keep the infrastructure safe. In Ceylon, it appears that Frontier has taken a more lackadaisical approach, resulting in lines snaking through the grass, tied to trees, and even crossing over a propane tank. MPR notes that some people in the town have taken it upon themselves to move Frontier’s cables out of the way of harm, attaching them to posts and fences for fear of accidentally severing the connection.

Ceylon officials had previously requested that Frontier fix the problem, to no effect. At the PUC hearing in Slayton, Minnesota, City Councilmember John Gibeau said that the incomplete network installation represented Frontier’s “corporate indifference” to serving rural subscribers, MPR reports.

A representative from Frontier said the company would visit Ceylon to verify that the lines belong to them and to remedy the situation. But for now, Gibeau has a warning for Frontier: "You don't do that to my town and think you're going to get away with it."

Whatever the reason for the slipshod work, Frontier can’t blame it on lack of funding. As Bill Coleman and his team from the Blandin Foundation...

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Posted September 14, 2018 by lgonzalez

People in Wyoming, Minnesota, gathered together on September 12th to bend the ear of officials from the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Ann Treacy from the Blandin Foundation attended the meeting and recorded most of the conversation from the 100 or so frustrated and fed-up folks. The meeting was one of five organized by the PUC after a record number of complaints by incumbent telephone and Internet access provider Frontier.

A Shared Reality

It’s safe to say that “frustration” was the star of the night, as everyone who spoke mentioned how it had consumed their experience with Internet access from Frontier. People who spoke at the meeting included those who worked from home, business owners, parents with families whose kids needed Internet access for homework, and retired folks who just wanted to enjoy a quiet evening streaming a movie.

Most of the people who spoke at the meeting said that they needed to run mobile hotspots or had given up on Frontier’s DSL service and now rely solely on hot spots to avoid the frustration of dealing with terrible service. Several people at the meeting don’t have the option of mobile hotspots because there’s no cell coverage where they live.

In addition to horribly unreliable connectivity, where the only consistency is dropped service, people expressed anger about overpaying for Internet access that was down far too often — even for weeks at a time. When they were able to get online, many people who spoke at the meeting reports horrifically slow speeds and feel they are being “ripped off” because they never reach the “up to” speed that they pay for each month. Once woman has documented her line’s performance and the fastest download speed she has reached is .96 Megabits per second (Mbps); the slowest is .05 Mbps. This same person has had limited success in cajoling Frontier to temporarily lower her bill since 2012.

...

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Posted August 22, 2018 by lgonzalez

In this policy brief, we highlight the gulf between FCC broadband data for Rochester and what’s actually available to residents by examining local competition. Download the policy brief Broadband Competition in the Rochester Region: Reality vs Federal Statistics here.

Rochester Competition: Not All it Appears to Be

The city, home to the world-famous Mayo Clinic, had previously considered building a municipal network, but the idea was dropped, in part because of the incorrect perception that enough competition already exists between Internet service providers. Our analysis and the corresponding maps reveal that broadband competition in the region is more limited than many realize.

The policy brief concludes:

“Overall, Charter and CenturyLink compete for the urban center of Rochester, while the rural areas rely almost exclusively on fixed wireless for broadband service. Even where residents have a choice in broadband, anyone looking for speeds in excess of 40 Mbps will almost certainly have to subscribe to Charter Spectrum. This is why more cities, especially those with municipal electric services, are considering how smart local investments can ensure more consumer choices and a working market for these essential services.”

Shortcomings of FCC Data

As we’ve covered before, the FCC collects data by census block, which incorrectly inflates broadband access and competition data. Internet service providers self-report and describe an entire block as “served” even if they can only connect one address in that census block.

We describe the problems with self-reporting in the policy brief:

“Large, de facto monopoly providers have incentives to overstate their coverage and territory to hide the unreliable and slow nature of their service in many communities. Small providers often have trouble completing the FCC Form 477. . . Larger providers have plenty of staff to handle the form and seem to benefit the most from its flaws, as this data is often used to determine whether government programs should invest additional funds into an area, often by a competitive grant program....

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Posted August 22, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

It’s no secret that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) broadband data is unreliable. Many people, including U.S. Senators, have pointed out how federal data collection methods overstate connectivity across the country. Rochester, Minnesota, is no exception. In this policy brief, we highlight the gulf between FCC broadband data for Rochester and what’s actually available to residents by examining local competition.

Download the policy brief Broadband Competition in the Rochester Region: Reality vs Federal Statistics here.

What’s Going On in Rochester

The city, home to the world-famous Mayo Clinic, had previously considered building a municipal network, but the idea was dropped, in part because of the incorrect perception that enough competition already exists between Internet service providers. Our analysis and the corresponding maps reveal that broadband competition in the region is more limited than many realize.

Shortcomings of FCC Data

As we’ve covered before, the FCC collects data by census block, which incorrectly inflates broadband access and competition data. Internet service providers self-report and describe an entire block as “served” even if they can only connect one address in that census block.

We describe the problems with self-reporting in the policy brief:

“Large, de facto monopoly providers have incentives to overstate their coverage and territory to hide the unreliable and slow nature of their service in many communities. Small providers often have trouble completing the FCC Form 477. . . Larger providers have plenty of staff to handle the form and seem to benefit the most from its flaws, as this data is often used to determine whether government programs should invest additional funds into an area, often by a competitive grant program. Areas that appear to be well covered will not result in more investment, leaving the incumbent providers without fear of competition.”

In our analysis, we discovered evidence that at least one provider in Rochester had...

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Posted August 17, 2018 by lgonzalez

In the most recent report from the Blandin Foundation, Researcher Bill Coleman from Community Technology Advisors and his crew put boots to the ground to examine the results of Connect America Fund (CAF II) investments. Bill recently visited our office in Minneapolis to discuss the report with Christopher for episode 318 of the  podcast.

You can download the report, Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons From Two Rural Minnesota Exchanges here.

Bill and Christopher discuss the challenges Bill and his team encountered when they initially decided to gather documentation on what services CAF II funded projects brought to rural Minnesota. In order to get past those challenges, the researchers devised a methodology that other communities can reproduce.

Once the team had answered the technical questions about infrastructure, they analyzed the results and applied them to Minnesota’s statewide goals for broadband access. They determined that, in addition to lack of transparency regarding CAF II network plans, the tendency to invest in slower speeds, including DSL, will not help Minnesota achieve its goals. 

For people living in urban areas who have grown accustomed to broadband within reach, it’s hard to imagine the situation in rural Minnesota, where there are still homes that have no access to the Internet at all. The disparity in speeds and availability complicate the idea that rural folks should have access to high-quality connectivity at the same levels as people living in urban centers.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all...

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Posted August 8, 2018 by lgonzalez

The Connect America Fund provides annual federal funding to some of the largest telecommunications providers, but it can be hard for local officials to know where these dollars go.

This report digs deep into the federal subsidies for Internet service in Minnesota. Researcher Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors led a Blandin Foundation project that explored how federal Connect America Fund dollars have been used in two Minnesota telephone exchanges. In the end, researchers found that these networks would likely not meet Minnesota’s state connectivity goals.

While digging through a paper trail of right-of-way agreements and local permits, researchers also went out into the field to find the actual infrastructure in the communities. They identified DSLAMs where fiber-optic lines connect to the copper DSL lines that run to people’s homes.

Using the locations of the DSLAMs, researchers mapped where people can likely receive federal government defined broadband of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. The maps also show where people can likely get 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload which is the standard for the Connect America Fund subsidy. 

The 27-page report goes into detail on the connectivity available in the two telephone exchanges. The researchers conclude by explaining:

“In sum, CAF II investments in Minnesota are being spent to build networks that don’t meet today’s federal definition of broadband and won’t meet state goals for the future. Moreover, lack of transparency in proposed CAF II network plans and timelines is making it difficult for impacted communities to plan accordingly to ensure their broadband needs are being adequately met.“ (Page 22)

Download Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons From Two Rural Minnesota Exchanges Left Underserved from the Blandin Foundation.

Posted July 13, 2018 by Hannah Bonestroo

In his recent article written for NBC News, journalist Phil McCausland examines the impacts broadband access can have on rural communities and the challenges that persist in bringing coverage to these isolated areas. Reliable high-speed internet access can spark economic development in some of the United State’s most cash-strapped areas, but a lack of dependable data makes acquiring funding difficult.

McCausland explores how high-speed Internet access is becoming increasingly essential for communities’ economic growth. He spoke with Roberto Gallardo, the assistant director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development, who explained how having broadband access today “is analogous to the installation of a railroad 100 years ago or a highway 50 years ago.”

Bringing Broadband to Rural Areas

McCausland investigates the specific case of Lake County, Minnesota, an area home to 10,000 people that spans 3,000 square miles in the far northeast part of the state. Our 2014 report, All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Fiber Internet Access, describes how the Minnesota legislature set a goal in 2010 to achieve universal access to high speed broadband throughout the state by 2015, including in Lake County. Many of Minnesota’s local governments stepped up to try to accomplish the goal. Local leaders in Lake County decided that they needed high-speed internet in order to take part in the growing digital economy. McCausland found that after nearly eight years of planning and an investment of over $80 million dollars, the area is seeing the economic benefits of high-speed Internet access. Coverage has boosted tourism and allowed for lifestyles that involve working remotely, as well as becoming essential to the growth of local businesses. 

logo-lake-county-mn.png While conclusive data on the exact economic outcomes are yet to come, McCausland’s interviews in the area reveal that many local residents already feel a direct impact. Local sawmill owner, Greg Hull, has seen an increase in business since receiving broadband coverage. He now has an improved website that “made [his company’s] whole Internet presence a lot more viable, which has in turn opened...

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Posted June 22, 2018 by lgonzalez

Minnesota’s RS Fiber Cooperative has brought gigabit connectivity to households and businesses in small, rural towns in Renville and Sibley Counties. Within the next few years, they plan to transition households beyond towns from their wireless access as they expand their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) footprint. A recent MinnPost article features how the network has attracted a different kind of venture to one of the small member towns — a 3D printing business.

Gibbon, Minnesota (pop. 750), is known for quiet streets, rather than the shiny futuristic landscapes one associates with high-tech entrepreneurs. The community, however, was exactly what Adam Stegeman was looking for when searching for a place to set up shop. He had been selling 3D printers for years and was ready to strike out on his own. The Stegeman Family wanted a small-town environment and, since much of Adam’s work requires transfer of data intensive 3D design files, a community that also had access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity was a must. As one of the RS Fiber Co-op member towns, Gibbon met both requirements.

When MinnPost asked Stegeman about the presence of the network in Gibbon and its influence on his decision to settle there: “That was absolutely huge,” Stegeman said.

The Fabric of the Community

As we covered in our report, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative, more than 20 communities joined together to establish the broadband cooperative. Community leaders faced challenges along the way, but they pursued their vision. Through a strong sense of regional collaboration and a creative approach, the cooperative now offers better connectivity than is available in many urban areas. They’ve completed phase one, which connects each of the towns with FTTH and provides high-speed fixed wireless Internet access to premises in the extremely rural areas, such as the many local farms. Phase two should begin within the next two years.

Since publishing the report, the cooperative has attracted attention...

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Posted June 7, 2018 by lgonzalez

National ISPs with millions of customers are some of the most hated companies in the U.S. Poor customer service, contract tricks, and a refusal to upgrade services are only a few of the common complaints from subscribers who are often trapped due to lack of competition. Frontier Communications is proudly carrying on that tradition of deficiency in Minnesota. In fact, the company’s excellence at skullduggery has drawn the attention of the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which launched an investigation into the service quality of Frontier this spring.

So Much Going On Here

While many of us are used to some level of poor service when it comes to the big ISPs, Frontier in Minnesota accumulated so many complaints, the PUC felt they had no choice but to take action. According to Phil Dampier from Stop the Cap!, the Commission received 439 complaints and negative comments in a five-week period in early 2018. Some but not all, of the types of issues that subscribers described included:

  • Lack of telephone service for up to a week at a time.
  • Poor quality telephone service, including missed calls and noise on phone lines.
  • Subscribers charged for services they’re not receiving.
  • Service visits that accomplish nothing but for which customers are still charged.
  • Missed service appointments and long delays in getting repairs scheduled.
  • Mistaken disconnections, service additions customers did not ask for, and service errors.
  • Contract issues that include penalties for early termination, even if the subscriber told Frontier they did not want a long term contract.
  • Auto-renew contracts that customers were never told about.
  • Threats to customers’ credit if they don’t pay bills, even when there is a dispute regarding the charges.
  • Customer service promises of discounts not being applied, penalties on disputed bill totals, and checks sent to Frontier but not credited to subscribers’ accounts.

The PUC wanted to hold public hearings to seek out other information from subscribers and those who had previous dealings with Frontier. In order to limit the public spectacle, Frontier and CenturyLink filed comments arguing that the PUC had no authority to review Frontier’...

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Posted June 1, 2018 by htrostle

It took an extra year for a community in Minnesota to finally see high-quality Internet service. Balaton spent an extra year in connectivity purgatory while Frontier delayed a much-needed project. To learn more, we connected with the Balaton and Marshall Economic Development Director Tara Onken and Woodstock Communications Vice President and General Manager Terry Nelson.

Balaton: An Underserved Community

Balaton, is a small town of 600 people in Lyon County, located in the southwest area of the state. Balaton’s Internet service is dismal; residents have access to satellite, fixed wireless, or DSL. Satellite is unreliable, and the fixed wireless services’ max speed is 5 - 10 Mbps. DSL service varies based on how far the home is from the central office. In some places in town, DSL should be able to reach broadband speed -- 25 Mbps (download) / 3 Mbps (upload), but in reality, DSL is slow and unreliable because it is based on old copper lines. 

In 2016, the small private company Woodstock Communications decided to improve connectivity in Balaton. Woodstock already had service to a few local businesses and other members of the community were asking for service. When the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Program grant applications opened, the company requested a grant of about $413,000

The goal was to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service of 1 Gigabit-per-second (Gbps), upload and download, to the underserved residents -- 40 times faster than broadband. FTTH is the fastest, most reliable technology available but also most capital-intensive. It’s available to only about 25 percent of the U.S. population.

Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Program offers matching grants to broadband projects in unserved and underserved areas. The program aims to meet certain speed goals set by state law: By 2022, all...

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