Tag: "minnesota"

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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Posted April 24, 2012 by christopher

In most states, telephone companies are required to serve everyone and when there are problems with the service, the state can mandate that the company fix them. But AT&T and ALEC are leading the charge to let these massive companies decide for themselves who should have access to a telephone, taking state regulators out of the loop.

These big companies use several arguments we are well familiar with - that mobile wireless is already available (in many rural areas, it actually is not available) and there is plenty of competition. If only that were the case.

I was thrilled to see David Cay Johnston cover this in a column on Reuters:

AT&T and Verizon, the dominant telephone companies, want to end their 99-year-old universal service obligation known as "provider of last resort." They say universal landline service is a costly and unfair anachronism that is no longer justified because of a competitive market for voice services.

The new rules AT&T and Verizon drafted would enhance profits by letting them serve only the customers they want. Their focus, and that of smaller phone companies that have the same universal service obligation, is on well-populated areas where people can afford profitable packages that combine telephone, Internet and cable television.

What happens when the states hand over authority to these companies? David has an answer:

AT&T and Verizon also want to end state authority to resolve customer complaints, saying the market will punish bad behavior. Tell that to Stefanie Brand.

Brand is New Jersey's ratepayer advocate whose experience trying to get another kind of service - FiOS - demonstrates what happens when market forces are left to punish behavior, she said. Residents of her apartment building wanted to get wired for the fiber optic service (FiOS) in 2008. Residents said, "We want to see your plans before you start drilling holes, and Verizon said, 'We will drill where we want or else, so we're walking,' and they did," Brand told me.

Verizon confirmed that because of the disagreement Brand's building is not wired. And there's nothing Brand can do about it. Verizon reminded me the state Board of Public Utilities no longer has authority to resolve complaints over FiOS.

Better broadband is not just about...

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Posted April 11, 2012 by lgonzalez

Good news for folks in Jackson, Wilder, and Bingham Lake in Southwest Minnesota! Your local broadband options are about to get much better. Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS) just announced that construction is advancing on the new network. The 125-mile fiber ring is expected to be completed by September, 2012. If you live in their service area, give them a call.

Here are contact details from the announcement:

Wilder - A sales event has been held. Please call our Lakefield office at 507-662-7000 if you still need to sign up for services.
 
Bingham Lake - A sales event will be held on April 10th from 12 PM to 8 PM at the town hall/community center. If you are unable to attend, please contact our Lakefield office at 507-662-7000.
 
Jackson - Our first three construction phases have been identified. We intend to have phases 1-3 completed by June, 2012. Our web-site, mysmbs.com will be updated as construction dates are set for phases 4-9. The entire City of Jackson will be completed by fall, 2012.  Southwest Minnesota Broadband informational material will be delivered to homes according to construction phasing in the coming months. 

SMBS is a consortium of 8 communities: Bingham Lake, Brewster, Heron Lake, Jackson, Lakefield, Okabena, Round Lake and Wilder.  Stimulus finding of $12.8 million dollars is allowing the communities to offer ftth service in this rural area, building on the network first established in Windom by the local public power utility.

SMBS recognizes the need for a community owned network in a place where the private sector does not want to invest. On their FAQ page:

What is SMBS? Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services is consortium of cities that realize today’s incumbent service providers will not be able to provide the next-generation of broadband services that will keep this area competitive with the global marketplace. SMBS will own and operate the network, employees will be your friends and neighbors and dollars will stay in your communities.

Rates and more user information are also available on their website. Congrats to SMBS and all their prospective subscribers! We look forward to reporting more about how this community's investment i...

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Posted April 10, 2012 by christopher

For people in St Paul and the surrounding communities, I will be presenting at an event about the digital divide sponsored by the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability. The details are below, but the key detail is that you have to RSVP (no fee for admission).

As the Internet and other information technologies have transformed our lives, we now benefit from greater connectivity to educational, employment and social opportunities in the Twin Cities. Yet low income communities, communities of color, and immigrant communities are often left behind. This exclusion deepens the divide between the haves and the have nots and reinforces the inequities in our region.

Join us for our next Organizer Roundtable where will we take a look at organizations who are working to bridge the digital divide. Come and learn the strategies that they are using to provide access to underserved communities in our region.

The event is at 12:30 on April 18 (Wednesday) at the Merriam Park Library.

Posted March 29, 2012 by lgonzalez

MPR News recently ran two stories on the trials and tribulations of new and prospective broadband networks. Conrad Wilson's story about the continuing Monticello drama and Jennifer Vogel's account of factors affecting the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) projects give us a good idea of the many hurdles in the way of building new fiber-optic networks.

We have reported many times on the drama that has unfolded in Monticello. The municipally owned fiber-optic network has faced some withering challenges and yet perseveres.

Monticello asked for a modern communications network but the existing service providers, the cable and phone companies, insisted the city was "sufficiently wired." Conrad's reporting suggests otherwise:

Bill Tapper, who owns a cabinet company with clients around the world, recalls a time just a few years ago when the Internet was so slow it hurt business.

"The service we had in Monticello was horrible," he said. "My employees would sometimes take the data home where they had a better Internet connection than we did and do their uploads at night."

Tapper said he lost out on business, but at the time the established Internet service providers like phone and cable TV companies told Tapper and other frustrated business owners in town that the city was wired sufficiently.

Fibernet Monticello

After the community voted in favor of a publicly owned fiber-optic network, the incumbent provider, TDS, filed a lawsuit. The lawsuit strategically succeeded in stalling the development of the new network but did not destroy the project. Even though the incumbent provider describes pre-network status as "just fine before the city got involved," TDS took advantage of the delay they caused to began building their own fiber network.

Currently, subscribers in Monticello are benefitting from their high-speed fiber in ways beyond expanded and improved access. Because of the threat of competition, Charter is...

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Posted March 8, 2012 by christopher

When Monticello, Minnesota, decided to build its community fiber network -- Fibernet Monticello -- it expected the incumbents to lower their prices and fight to keep subscribers. But Monticello had no idea the lengths to which they would go.

The telephone incumbent, TDS, delayed the project for a year with a frivolous lawsuit and then built its own fiber-optic network while dramatically lowering its prices. We have yet to find another community in North America with two citywide FTTH networks going head to head.

Because of the city's network, Monticello's residents and businesses have access to better connections than the biggest cities in Minnesota can get.

Now, Charter has weighed in by cutting its rates to what must be below cost to gain subscribers. It reminded us of a shoot-out, so we created this infographic to explore what is at stake.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in Minnesota

Download a higher resolution PDF here.

Charter has taken a package for which it charges $145/month in Rochester, Duluth, Lakeville, and nearby Buffalo (MN) and is offering it for $60/month - price guaranteed for 2 years. A Monticello resident supplied us with this flyer, which this person had received multiple times at their home over the course of a month. (See below for the full flyer).

Charter's rate sheet

This is either predatory pricing or the cable industry is out of control with its rate increases. If that package costs Charter more than $60/month to supply, then it is engaging in predatory pricing to drive competitors out of the market. Consider that Charter may be taking a loss of $20/month ($240/year) from each household that takes this offer. They can do that by cross-subsidizing from nearby markets where they face...

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Posted March 6, 2012 by christopher

We have heard rumors that the Minnesota Cable Communications Association (MCCA) has ramped up its lobbying efforts in the capitol over the past few weeks and now we know why -- Representative Runbeck is today introducing MN HF 2695, a bill undoubtedly written by the cable companies.

Update: Apparently MCCA is denying they are behind this bill. Given how blunt the bill is, I'm inclined to take them at their word. I would expect a bill by MCCA to be more strategic, refusing to admit they wanted to revoke all authority outright. Nonetheless, this bill is still a giant gift to the incumbent cable operators in the state.

Much of Minnesota lacks access to next generation broadband networks -- the kind of networks needed for economic development and maintaining a high quality of life. Minnesota law already discourages communities from building their own next-generation networks but they still have the authority to choose.

This bill would deny them a choice. If passed, MN HF 2695 would be a power grab by the state on behalf of big cable companies to prevent any threat of broadband competition, denying communities local self-determination on matters of essential infrastructure.

MCCA has been trying to kill a broadband stimulus project on the North Shore that would connect thousands of people who have no access to modern broadband because it overlaps in places with Mediacom turf. Mediacom recognizes that if it can kill the network owned by Lake County, it will have no competition to worry about for the foreseeable future.

Private telecom companies are not about to go overbuild rural areas or pick a fight with Mediacom. The only legitimate hope for a real choice in broadband in Minnesota is in areas where communities choose to do it themselves.

We believe communities should be free to make that choice. The cable companies, and a number of elected officials in Minnesota, believe that communities should not be trusted with that decision.

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