Tag: "minnesota"

Posted October 7, 2012 by lgonzalez

We have shared updates on Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS) as they roll out their fiber routes in Jackson and surrounding towns. Now, we want to share info about their use of wireless to compliment the fiber network. According to the U-reka website, LocaLoop, Inc. and its subsidiary, SynKro Southwest, will soon be working with SMBS to expand SynKro 4G wireless fixed and mobile broadband Internet service to eight rural communities in the region.

SMBS and SynKro Southwest collaborated on a six-month trial installation in Bingham Lake. Additionally, the pair continued to build out the network in seven other nearby rural communities. From the U-reka article:

"Coming off the Bingham Lake trial, we look forward to delivering the same high quality network performance and user experience to underserved rural areas  across the SMBS service territory,” said Carl-Johan Torarp, founder and CEO of  LocaLoop. “We are expanding the network to complement SMBS’s broadband  service as well as providing their customers with mobile broadband Internet.”

SMBS received $12.8 million in BIP funds to develop an FTTH network to Bingham Lake, Heron Lake, Jackson, Lake Okebena, Round Lake and Wilder. This latest endeavor will offer even more coverage to the local residents. Maps and more on the SMBS website.

Posted August 28, 2012 by christopher

If you were judging solely from the reaction of Comcast, you could be faulted for thinking Ramsey County and the city of Saint Paul were making a bold, if risky, investment to bring real broadband to local businesses and citizens in Minnesota's capital. But you would be wrong. Very wrong.

The City and the County are paying a company to build them a network to serve their own needs. The City and County are smart to want their own network but this particular approach is a poor one. Let's start with a little background:

Saint Paul and Ramsey presently rely on Comcast's network to transfer data files between locations and access the Internet. It is an old cable network, called the I-Net, that is failing to meet the present day needs for the City and County. Because Comcast provides the I-Net at no charge as part of the franchise, they put it up with its inadequacies. But government employees are less efficient than they could be due to this old, unreliable network. For instance, they have to wait for GIS files to crawl across the network.

St Paul's telecommunications problems aren't limited to just the I-Net. Even back in 2005, St Paul recognized that the Comcast/CenturyLink duopoly wasn't getting the job done for much of anyone. We had (and still have) the same basic connections that the rest of the country had, limiting our attractiveness for new businesses that have above average needs. So the City created a Task Force that produced this terrific report in 2007 [pdf]. But the economy crumbled and the report was largely forgotten.

No one, including myself, stepped up. I have lived in St Paul for 15 years and now own a home here. This has been a failure of leadership from elected officials, staff, and concerned citizens (in that order). Mayor Coleman has utterly failed to do anything but talk about the importance of broadband and the City Council has followed his lead since Lee Helgen lost his seat. A sign of this failure is an announcement that MISO is moving out of St Paul: One of its reasons for moving 90 jobs from St Paul to Eagan was better access to fiber optic connections. As long as St Paul continues to rely on Comcast and CenturyLink, there will be little reason for any entreprenuers or high tech firms to move here.

...

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Posted August 16, 2012 by christopher

In Star Tribune coverage of Mediacom's war against real broadband in rural Minnesota, we learn that Mediacom will not sue Lake County to disrupt its plan to serve thousands of unserved residents and local businesses.

And for all its accusations, Larsen says Mediacom will not sue. Spending millions of dollars on a lawsuit in a place where the company serves so few homes, he said, "is not a great business decision."

We have previously covered the many false and disproved accusations Mediacom have leveled against Lake County. The Strib article reiterates that these charges have been found to have no merit.

The article also reiterates that the County has a real need that private companies have failed to meet:

The conflict that ensued is part of a national struggle. Public officials and some of their constituents argue that rural broadband is like rural electrification: It's a lifeline for small-town America that the free market will not extend.

"We've been ridiculously underserved in this area for years," said Andy Fisher, who owns a Lake County bed-and-breakfast and a rural cross-country skiing lodge. The cable companies "are working in the interest of their profits. But if they're not going to serve this area, what are we going to do?"

And yet, Mediacom sees itself as the underdog!

"Lake County wants to make this into a David and Goliath story, where Mediacom is Goliath and poor little Lake County is David," said Tom Larsen, Mediacom's group vice president of legal and public affairs. "The truth is we're David because we're fighting [the government]. It's just the same story repeated all over the country."

Fascinating. Mediacom has billions in revenues whereas the County deals with budgets in the millions. Sure Mediacom is between 100 and 1000 times bigger than Lake County, it still wants to stop a project serving thousands of unserved people (that it believes is doomed to fail) because it is too disadvantaged.

Mediacom logo

If Mediacom actually met the needs of its subscribers, it...

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Posted August 10, 2012 by lgonzalez

In April, we reported on Spring construction of fiber installation by the Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS) in the Jackson area. This is a stimulus-funded expansion growing out of the community-owned WindomNet. The original plan was to have construction completed in Jackson by the end of August, but the job was 97% completed in July freeing the way for business and residential installs.

The Jackson County Pilot reported on the July Kiwanis Club meeting where SMBS's Naomi Pederson presented an update:

As of this past Monday, Pederson said 176 miles of the 181-mile main line had been built.

“People have been thrilled with the service,” Pederson said. “I’m sure businesses will be too.”

Pederson said crews will begin residential installs in Jackson July 16. She anticipates crews will be able to hook up around 100 homes per week.

“Jackson has been one of our best towns, with 73 percent sales — much more than anticipated,” she said. “People are very receptive and are signing up for more services than people in our other towns. More services and more sign-ups mean we’re trying our best to keep up.”

As of this past Monday, Pederson said 176 miles of the 181-mile main line had been built.

“People have been thrilled with the service,” Pederson said. “I’m sure businesses will be too.”

SMBS received $12.8 million in stimulus funds to develop an ftth network to Bingham Lake, Heron Lake, Jackson, Lake Okebena, Round Lake and Wilder. Check out a map of the fiber route on the SMBS website.

The high level of interest in these communities comes in the face of policymakers in Washington, DC, and many state capitals - they assume rural residents don't know how to use broadband or don't want it. This program shows that when you make good broadband available to people for a reasonable price, they take it in high numbers.

Thanks to BlandinonBroadband for alerting us to this story.

Posted August 2, 2012 by christopher

Of all the broadband stimulus projects, the Lake County FTTH network in Minnesota has been one of the most embattled in the nation (possibly only behind AT&T's attacks on South Carolina projects).

Mediacom has pulled out all the stops, including filing complaints with the Inspector General that included dubious allegations at best and then complaining after the Inspector General investigated and found nothing worth following up on.

What we have here is a company that wants to block a project that will deliver essential infrastructure to thousands of people who are presently lacking access. Why? Because part of that project will overlap with an outdated and overpriced Mediacom cable network that prefers its subscribers to have no choice in providers.

Recall that this is a part of the nation where a single fiber cut previously cut off all communications for 12 hours. Police could not run plates, no business could call outside the North Shore or run credit cards, ATMs were useless, 9-11 ceased functioning, and US Customs and Border Protection needed to use Canadian communications.

Minnesota Public Radio ran a solid article that explained the need for real broadband up there. It starts by talking about a local business, Granite Gear, that has suffered from the lack of proper access. (The rest of the quotes in this article come from that article.)

"The upload speeds that we have available to us here, are such that our art director frequently comes in at night and does that, when no one else is tying up the Internet bandwidth," Johnson said.

To help businesses like Granite Gear and solve the internet woes of northeast Minnesota residents, Lake County began stringing fiber Tuesday in Two Harbors, which is on Lake Superior's North Shore....

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Posted June 29, 2012 by christopher

Monticello faced a number of key decision moments throughout the history of its FiberNet. Given the recent changes in management and decision not to make up the different between debt service and revenues, some may be wondering if proceeding with FiberNet was the smart decision.

It was 2008 and the economy hadn't entered its death spiral. Monticello had overwhelmingly voted by a 3:1 margin for the local government to bond for and build the network.

When Monticello was beginning to sell its bonds, the incumbent telephone company (TDS) filed a lawsuit against the City, with the extremely dubious claim that Monticello did not have the authority to do what other cities in Minnesota had done. Courts later tossed it, finding that the TDS suit had no merit and making TDS reimburse Monticello for some of its costs due to the frivolous suit.

But the goal was never to win the lawsuit, it was to delay and harass. Monticello had to wait a year to begin building its network. Though TDS had previously maintained that its DSL was just fine for the needs of residents and busineses, it began pulling permits to significantly upgrade its DSL to a FTTH product. (TDS has steadfastly maintained, while investing more in Monticello than any other Minnesota community, that community networks result in less investment from incumbents.)

At any rate, Monticello had a decision. It faced an expensive court case and the City's action was apparently driving TDS to improve its poor network. Monticello could have backed down in the face of TDS' bullying.

And if it had? From what we have seen elsewhere, this is our best guess:

TDS Telecom Logo

TDS could have delayed its upgrades or changed its mind entirely when the economy tanked. If it continued with upgrades, it would likely have made some token investments but not lowered its prices because the threat of actual competition was removed. It certainly wouldn't have unveiled broadband tiers that were superior on speed and price to those in Minneapolis / St Paul metro area.

If they had unveiled a high-speed option like the 50/20 Mbps package, they likely would have priced it sufficiently high that few took it and then would have used that as...

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Posted June 20, 2012 by christopher

Yesterday, we released our first podcast - a short discussion with Linda Kramer of the Sibley-Renville Fiber project in rural Minnesota.

When I happened across their Facebook page this morning, I found this perfect example of why the project is necessary (and they gave us permission to reprint it):

One of my friends moved from Fairfax to Gibbon two weeks ago. Her existing provider won't hook up service to her new home until June 29. This means nearly four weeks without basic telephone service for her family (and no phone at all while her husband has his work cell phone with him during business hours).

Once she gets the service hooked up, she needs to address a billing problem, as the amount she's being billed by this company is not the same as what she was promised when she signed the contract.

Excellent local customer service is one of the things many people are looking forward to with RS Fiber. Is this important to you?

Most of us in urban areas really hate our cable providers because of the poor service they provide. But at least they are relatively timely in the terrible service they offer -- unlike in rural areas where telco technicians may be responsible for covering many hundreds of square miles.

Hesitant though I am to promote anything Facebook-related, the people in Sibley have done a tremendous job of using Facebook to organize people and share stories about why their community-owned network is so important. If you are trying to organize a community for better broadband, take some notes.

Posted June 19, 2012 by christopher

In our excitement to produce this podcast, we forgot to credit Fit and the Conniptions for the intro/outro music. Much thanks for releasing their music under a creative commons license that allows us to use it for this purpose. If you like their sound, buy an album!

We have decided to start a podcast- a recurring audio program that you can listen to on your smartphone, iPod, computer, this web page, etc. We are calling it Community Broadband Bits and our plan is to offer short (10-15 minute) interviews with people doing interesting things to encourage community broadband networks.

As this is our first attempt at such a show, we hope you will send feedback and suggestions. Eventually, we will get on a schedule, likely releasing every other week for the first few months.

To subscribe with iTunes, click here. You can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

If you simply want the audio feed for the show, it is http://feeds.feedburner.com/BroadbandBits

For our first show, we interviewed Linda Kramer with the Marketing Committee of the Sibley-Renville Fiber Project in rural Minnesota's Sibley County. In this ten minute interview, we discuss the need and demand for broadband in rural areas, as well as how the marketing committee has educated residents and demonstrated support for a County-owned fiber network.

Posted June 12, 2012 by christopher

For those waking up from a two week nap, the publicly owned FiberNet Monticello recently saw the private provider managing it step down, the City tell Bondholders that it would not make up the difference between revenues and debt payments, and us examining what the network has achieved.

On Monday, the Monticello City Council joined forces with Gigabit Squared a new organization with several experienced network operators on board that previously made news by noting it had $200 million to help build next-generation networks and would likely be working closely with Gig.U.

In a few months, they will take over managing FiberNet Monticello from HBC for a short period of time and may then continue with a longer contract.

One of the benefits of the public owning a network is that when the business plan does not work out as expected, the public still has a strong voice in what happens next. Monticello could have decided to give up on it, but we are glad to see it chose instead to try a new approach. If a private company had owned the network, it alone would have decided how to proceed and its competitors would undoubtedly pay a pretty penny to see it disappear.

Given the anti-competitive actions by incumbents (engaging in predatory pricing and frivolous lawsuits), FiberNet Monticello has to work harder to increase its revenues.

Put simply, they have two choices. 1) Expand. 2) Innovate with new, next-generation services.

From what we could tell, HBC was not particularly interested in either option in Monticello. HBC is a very accomplished triple play company (telephone, Internet access, and television) and does not appear focused on innovating new services. In fact, we have heard one of their likely future public partners saying that they would do triple play and nothing else for years.

Gigabit Squared...

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Posted June 8, 2012 by christopher

Monticello has been all over the muni broadband news lately, in the wake of a letter it sent to bondholders [pdf] alerting them that the City would no longer make up the difference between the revenues produced by the system and the debt payments. This came shortly after the company managing the network decided to step down.

Over the next year, the reserve fund will make up the difference while the City and bondholders come to some sort of an agreement.

The Star Tribune today published a good synopsis of the situation:

City administrator Jeff O'Neill said that the city has no intention of abandoning FiberNet's 1,700 customers, including about 130 businesses.

"This system isn't going anywhere," he said. "We're not going out of business."

Despite the problems, he said the city has one of the fastest Internet systems in the country that has driven down prices and improved services by providing competition.

The article also notes that prior to the City-owned network, the telephone company (TDS) provided very poor DSL service that was harming area businesses with slow and very unreliabile phone and broadband services. Without FiberNet Monticello, we don't know how many businesses would have been forced to relocate to be competitive in the digital economy.

We decided to dig a little deeper to get a sense of what Monticello has received for its investment and difficulty. We previously examined the prices charged by Charter cable in town and found that households taking that deal were saving $1000/year.

monticello-goodbadugly_0.jpg

We also noted that Charter was almost certainly engaging in predatory pricing. After talking with other networks, we would guess that Charter is losing between $30 and $50 (conservatively) per subscriber per...

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